Classic Streamliners - TRAINCYCLOPEDIA
Manufacturer: Pullman Company (Superliner I), Bombardier Transportation (Superliner II)
Constructed: 1978–1981, 1993–1995
Entered service: 1979
Number built: 479
Number in service: 431
Number scrapped: 22
Capacity: 96 maximum
Lines served: Auto Train, California Zephyr, Capitol Corridor, Capitol Limited, City of New Orleans, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Heartland Flyer, Pacific Surfliner, Pere Marquette, San Joaquin, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited, and Texas Eagle
Car length: 85 ft 0 in
Width: 10 ft 2 in
Height: 16 ft 2 in
Entry Step Doors: 1 or 2 depending on car type
Maximum speed: 100 mph
Weight: 148,000 lb gross weight for coaches
Power supply: Head end power
Braking system: Air
Track gauge: 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in
The Superliner is a bi-level passenger car used on long-haul Amtrak trains that do not use the Northeast Corridor. The initial cars were built by Pullman-Standard in the late 1970s and a second order was built in the mid-1990s by Pullman's successor, Bombardier Transportation. As delivered, the cars came in various configurations, including coach, diner, and sleeper.
The Superliners were the first Amtrak passenger cars to be equipped with an on-board waste treatment and disposal system linked to all toilets. The initial design of this system retained toilet wastes until the train attained a preset speed (or a manually operated lever was moved) to dump the waste along the tracks beneath the moving train. Eventually a full-retention system was installed that stopped this practice. Initially the cars could not be worked east of Chicago because of limited overhead clearances, but by the 1980s many eastern railroads had raised clearances on their tracks to permit tri-level auto carriers, and double-stack container trains, which also permitted the operation of the Superliners.
The Superliner I and Superliner II differed somewhat in interior fittings, primarily in color - the newer cars tended toward gray, aquamarine, and salmon rather than the shades of brown and orange favored on earlier cars. Interior color schemes have become more similar as both fleets have gone through renovation programs in the 2000s. Externally, the two classes differ in a number of subtle respects, but they are readily distinguished by the type of truck the car uses: Superliner I cars use a German design originally fitted with an air bag suspension (replaced with springs), while the Superliner II cars use a General Steel Castings truck of the same type used on Horizon, Viewliner, and the original self-propelled 1969 Metroliner cars. The Superliner has a maximum speed of 100 mph.
A total of 102 Superliner I coaches were built, as were forty-eight Superliner I coach-baggage combination cars with a secure baggage hold instead of lower-level seating. Thirty-eight Superliner II coaches were added to the roster.
The "normal" Superliner coaches have 12 seats downstairs in addition to the 62 seats upstairs. The lower-level coach seating is handicapped accessible (with space for a wheelchair or two) and is a special reservations category (with no additional charge). The coach-baggage combination cars have only upstairs seating. On the lower level in all coaches there are sizable luggage racks and, typically, four unisex toilets, a wheelchair-accessible toilet, and a "dressing room" with a vanity counter.
Superliner coach seating is unlike airplane coach-class seating. Superliner coaches have wide two-and-two reclining seats, with adjustable footrests and retractable leg rests. The seats have a 50-inch "pitch" (distance from one seat-back to the next.) There are overhead open luggage racks, but they are not suitable for bulky objects.
Thirty of the coach-baggage combinations were later converted into "smoking coaches" with a smoking lounge replacing the baggage area and the outside baggage door in the side of the car sealed shut. Since all Amtrak trains are now non-smoking throughout, all smoking coaches were converted back to coach-baggage cars. The City of New Orleans uses a coach-baggage car in lieu of a stand-alone baggage car, and the Texas Eagle used to use one prior to the delivery of the Viewliner baggage cars. The Empire Builder uniquely uses both a coach-baggage car and a conventional baggage car, as it splits into two segments at Spokane, with the standalone baggage car being part of the Seattle segment of the train, while the coach-baggage car is used on the Portland segment.
In June 2015, Amtrak launched a three-month pilot program on the Coast Starlight converting the lower level of a standard coach to a business-class seating section. This car was formerly used as an "Arcade Car" that was occupied downstairs by arcade games and token machines and upstairs by coach seats, and prior to that as a "Kiddie Car" that included a children's play area on the lower level. In 2007, Caltrans accepted delivery of seven rebuilt Superliner cars (which had been damaged in accidents) for use in Amtrak California service. These cars are painted in the Amtrak California or Surfliner schemes and have had their interiors reconfigured with denser seating than a standard Superliner coach.
Of the 188 coaches of various types originally delivered, 166 are "in service" (as of June 2015), the remainder either wrecked and scrapped or wreck-damaged and awaiting either repairs or scrapping.
Two configurations exist for Superliner sleeping cars. Of the 125 sleeping cars, 119 are configured as below, and the remaining 6 cars (which are exclusively used on the Auto Train) are configured with all Bedrooms on the upper level.
5 Bedrooms (formerly known as "Deluxe Bedrooms"), on one side of the car with the corridor on the other; furnished with upper and lower bunks, a sink, and shower-equipped private toilet
10 Roomettes (formerly known as "Superliner Standard Bedrooms" and "Economy Bedrooms"), on both sides of the car with a central corridor; with upper and lower bunks
1 shared toilet for Roomette passengers
1 Family Bedroom (entire width of the car), two adult bunks and two child bunks
1 Accessible Bedroom (entire width of the car), two bunks and private sink and toilet
3 shared toilets for Roomette and Family Bedroom passengers
1 shared shower
vestibule (unlike single-level passenger cars with a vestibule at each end of the car, a Superliner's single lower-level vestibule is in the center of the car)
When originally delivered starting in 1981, Superliner I lounges were referred to as "Lounge Café" cars. These were fitted with enormous windows that wrapped upward into the ceiling, providing lateral views of scenery along the train's route. With the arrival of Superliner II cars in the 1990s, the nomenclature for all Superliner lounges with large windows became "Sightseer Lounge". In addition to the 50 Sightseer Lounges, five cars were converted from Superliner I dining cars for Auto Train lounge service. These cars, which are only found in that train, lack the larger windows of the Sightseer Lounge cars.
Superliner lounge cars once had an electric piano downstairs (featured briefly in the movie Continental Divide). In past years, smoking was allowed during set times in the lounge car. At one time, a large mechanical filter designed to clear the air of cigarette smoke was located on the lower level. Most cars retain a small operating wet-bar on the upper level near the centrally located stairs. The operation of this upper station is coordinated by the Lead Service Attendant, who operates the primary snack bar on the lower level of the car. When the upper-level station is not staffed, it is frequently used for storage of paper stock and supplies.
The upper lounge station is often reactivated during seasonal peak periods on long-distance trains, but only to serve light snacks like pretzels and cans of soda. This station is often staffed by an extra-board Attendant who turns back short of the full trip. On other routes, this upper bar may be used as a speaking podium for volunteer National Park Service rangers from the Trails and Rails program. The rest of the upper level is filled with a mixture of tables, swiveling chairs, and loveseats facing the expansive windows above a full-length beverage-holding trough. Video monitors are located on the end walls of the upper lounge, and on some overnight trains movies are shown en route. Snacks are not vended all night; and in the late evening, the lights are turned down to allow better outside viewing. Ceiling-mounted spotlights above the seats and tables may be turned on by passengers to permit late reading or game-playing and socializing.
Superliner dining cars have almost the entire upper level available for seating, while the galley (kitchen) occupies the entire lower level. A dumbwaiter is used to bring food and drink to the dining level, as well as to return dishes, glasses, and cutlery for washing. Amtrak operates 69 Superliner dining cars.
Forty-seven "transition sleeper" cars were built for use on Superliner-equipped trains. Transition cars have been used in the past to connect single-level head end power (HEP)-equipped cars with Superliner cars or other opposing transition cars on rare occasions. High-level Coach-Dorms had half of the upstairs space devoted to coach seating and were the predecessors to the current Superliner transition dorms. These coach-dorms often had a small table that was used as an office by the conductor and his train crew.
Transition sleepers feature roomette accommodations for members of the train's service crew (dining car and lounge car staff) on the upper level, and a handicapped bedroom and small crew lounge on the lower level. On most trains, the half of the upper level closest to the revenue sleepers is sold for public occupancy. Sanitary facilities (toilets and showers) are on the upper and lower levels, along with the standard center vestibule. The "transition" in the name refers to the fact that these cars have a high-level end door and diaphragm at only one end; the other end has a short staircase from the upper level leading to an end door at the height of standard single-deck railcar end doors. Theoretically, this could be used to allow passengers passage from single-level to Superliner cars in a single train; in practice, it is only used to allow the crew on-the-road access to the locomotives or the older, single-level baggage cars still used on many Superliner trains. During the initial rollout of Superliner II equipment on the Auto Train in the mid-1990s, these transition cars were located in mid-consist and they allowed Superliner Coaches to be mixed with Amfleet equipment and HEP-equipped Heritage diners, domes and sleepers.
When funding became available for Amtrak to acquire new cars, plans were made to acquire bi-level cars based on the 1956 Budd-built El Capitan Hi-Levels operated by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (which were purchased by Amtrak upon formation in 1971). The initial order of 235 Superliner I cars was placed with Chicago coachbuilder Pullman Standard on April 2, 1975, and later increased to 284 cars, totaling $241 million. The first car was delivered in October 1978, and they debuted on the Chicago - Milwaukee service on February 26, 1979. The coaches were the first cars delivered, so it was not until October 28, 1979, that the first Superliner-equipped long-haul train, the westbound Empire Builder, ran from Chicago to Seattle. The last car of the order, a sleeper delivered in July 1981, was also the last car ever built by Pullman, and was named in honor of the company's founder, George Mortimer Pullman.
When the Superliners began to arrive in the late 1970s, many Hi-Level coaches were converted into Coach-Dorms for crew use on Superliner trains. These were replaced in the 1990s by new Superliner II Transition Sleepers. Five El Capitan lounge cars were refurbished as the Coast Starlight's Pacific Parlour first-class lounge cars. These cars have a service bar, booths, and chairs on the upper level, and a theatre on the lower level. All other Hi-Level cars are no longer on the company's active roster.
The Superliner II fleet of 140 cars was built in 1993-94 at a cost of $340 million by Bombardier in Barre, Vermont, who acquired the designs and patents from Pullman in 1987. The introduction of these new cars permitted the use of Superliner cars on some East Coast routes, such as the Capitol Limited and AutoTrain.
The name "Superliner" was chosen by Needham, Harper & Steers (then Amtrak's advertising agency) and announced in 1977. Prior to the announcement Amtrak had run an employee contest to determine the name but the winning entry, "Vistaliner" (harkening back to the "Vista-Domes" of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad), was already under copyright by another company.
After a 1999 collision with a gravel truck near Limehouse, Ontario, in which 13 passengers and four crew members were injured on a joint Amtrak - Via Rail route (the International Limited) that was pulling Superliners, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada found that many of the injuries could have been prevented if the passengers and baggage in the Superliners were restrained, that emergency equipment was difficult to find and in some cases impossible to access without the proper keys, the wheelchair accessible toilets automatically locked when the car doors were opened and could not be opened without a special key, and the sidewalls of the cars did not provide sufficient protection in a collision. The latter issue was raised with the Federal Railroad Administration. Via Rail and Amtrak withdrew the Superliner from use in Canada, using instead Amfleet or Heritage Fleet cars.
Upper level of Superliner I Sightseer Lounge (formerly Lounge Café) car.
By Matthew Neleigh Gummigoof - Own work (Original text: self-made), CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16538186
Superliner II Diner Car, seen in January 2006, just north of Sanford, Florida.
By Matthew Neleigh Gummigoof at en.wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7740975
"Amtrak's Superliner is Somethin' Special" poster, 1980s. Multicolor printed paper poster highlighting the arrival of new bi-level Superliner equipment; dates from 1979 to the mid-1980s. A full size version of this poster is available from the Amtrak Archives site. Click here: https://history.amtrak.com/archives/amtraks-superliner-is-somethin-special-poster-1980s
Text: wikipedia.org. Images: Public Domain; http://www.commons.wikimedia.org (unless otherwise specified) and 17 U.S. Code § 107 fair use. References: Lewis, Robert G. The Handbook of American Railroads. New York: Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corporation, 1951, 2nd Edition 1956. Site Map Contact webmaster HERE.
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