Amtrak unveiled today its sleek new Superliners, new long-distance passenger trains that will replace all of Amtrak's existing conventional eqiupment on its major routes west of Chicago.
The new, stainless steel, two-level cars will go into mainline passenger service on Oct. 28 on Amtrak's Empire Builder between Chicago and Seattle and will be introduced on Amtrak's six other major western routes between now and next fall as the new cars are delivered.
A total of 284 of the double-decker luxury cars -- coaches, sleepers, diners and sightseeing lounge cafes -- have been ordered from Pullman Standard at a cost of $250 million.
"We've waited a long time for these new cars," Amtrak President Alan S. Boyd told reporters at Chicago's Union Station before a press trip on the train to Lisle, Ill., and back. "They represent the most modern railway passenger equipment in the world."
The cars are the first long-distance passenger cars built in this country in more than two decades and will be the last built by Pullman Standard before it leaves the passenger train business.
"We want to go out with as big a bang as George Pullman came in with 100 years ago," James Mcdivitt, Pullman Standard's president, said before the trip.
Each car in the Superliner series, which Boyd called "tastefully luxurious," has two decks connected by a central stairway. The sleeping cars have both deluxe bedrooms with private bathrooms and exonomy bedrooms, as well as a family bedroom that sleeps five (if two are small children) and a special bedroom for handicapped travelers.
The dinners have full-length upperlevel dining rooms seating 72 with a modern electric kitchen below. The coach cars have 68 roomy coach seats on the upper level with reclining seats leg rests and reading lights; on the lower level are 16 more seats and five restrooms as well as special seating for the handicapped.
Double-decker lounge cafe cars to be built next year feature windows that start at the floor and wrap around the ceiling for sightseeing.
The new cars ride on a cushion of air to eliminate the noise and bumps of metal-to-metal contact, and sound-absorbent carpeting is used extendsively throughout the train, covering floors, walls and much of the ceilings.
All together, Amtrak has ordered 70 sleepers, 102 coaches, 39 diners, 25 sightseeing lounge cars and 48 coach and baggage combination cars. The stainless steel cars are 85 feet long with red and blue stripes. Amtrak has invented a brushless car washer to keep the cars and Plexiglass windows clean.
Sleeping accommodations on the Chicago-Seattle route range from $52 for a single occupancy in an economy bedroom to $206 for a double deluxe bedroom; a bedroom on the regular train now costs $171, Amtrak officials said. The sleeper cost is a supplemental charge on top of the coach seat price of $147, although a family plan cuts down the cost for spouse and children. The Empire Builder leaves Chicago just before noon and arrives in Seattle at 9 a.m. after two nights on board.
The dining menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner was priced extremely reasonably by Washington standards.
Boyd said early marketing projections predicted the new equipment would increase the number of passengers on its major western routes by 30 percent but some increase has already been generated by the effects of the energy crisis.
"This eqiupment is not only attractive, but it works," Boyd said in an interview aboard the dining car. "We've been operating with 30-year-old steam equipment that doesn't work in extreme high and low temperatures. That's all behind us now." All of the new units are electric-powered, making the air conditioning and heating systems more reliable than the existing steam equipment.
"Until now, we've been carrying passengers on equipment built in 1947 when our competition is an automobile built in 1977," Boyd said.
He was optimistic about Amtrak and its place in the American transportation picture. "Amtrak is in business to stay; Congress made that very clear in authorization and funding." We have bottomed out and we are on the way up," Boyd said.
A beaming Boyd had begun the morning by telling reporters, "gather round folks and let me tell you a tale -- about old Casey Jones getting back on the rail."