Happening Now

A Glimpse of Amtrak’s Future

November 4, 2022

By Rail Passengers Staff

If all goes as planned, next month Siemens will start making car shells for Amtrak’s new InterCity Trainsets (ICTs), and by next Spring the first actual train car should be in final assembly at Siemens’ Sacramento plant.

Design reviews started last summer, almost immediately after Amtrak announced the $7.3 billion deal for at least 83 and as many as 213 dual-power (diesel and AC catenary) trainsets from Siemens, which will resemble the Brightline trainsets operating today in Florida.

Your Association staff – including President & CEO Jim Mathews – have taken part in several design review walkthroughs since May, sharing our observations and feedback with the Siemens and Amtrak design teams bringing this new equipment to life. We can tell you that the teams are incredibly dedicated to getting this right, and excited to be doing a new, properly funded project at Amtrak.

Much of the branding remains under wraps, especially in the food-service car, but Amtrak is allowing us now (finally!) to share a glimpse of some of what we saw during the latest walkthrough at the end of September.

“These are simply beautiful trainsets,” Mathews said after his most recent walkthrough in Philadelphia. “They’ve done a great job incorporating stakeholder feedback, ours as well as others such as representatives of the disabled community. Carpets and coverings are modern and appealing, the interior spaces will be light-filled and inviting, and regardless of whether you’re in Business or Coach class you’ll have a comfortable seat, at-seat power and amenities, and leg room that will put any domestic U.S. airline First Class cabin to shame.”

He was especially impressed with how the design team handled the considerable physical challenge of creating much more space and accommodation for wheelchair users without making the car shells themselves any wider and without losing seats.

“For the first time, two wheelchair/ADA passengers” (a reference to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which governs accessibility in public places) “will be able to travel together, in a space with a table, sitting across from each other if they wish,” Mathews said. He noted that getting tables designed that satisfy the Federal Railroad Administration’s crashworthiness standards while also providing an obstructed space underneath for the wheelchair/powered wheelchair profile and the passenger’s feet and legs was a special challenge.

“You can’t brace it with a stiff bar from the edge, because now you’re blocking the legs,” Mathews said. “These tables meet the FRA standard, accommodate the ADA passengers, move up and down, include access to call buttons and power outlets, and still let folks travel together.”

We’re also including a picture we took of the new seats in the mockup, but please don’t write to us to tell us that the seats don’t match. This configuration was just part of the walkthrough process, to look at different color treatments, leathers, and stitching. The new seats are very comfortable and will have more padding than the firmer seats on the Siemens-built Venture cars which launched on Amtrak Midwest service earlier this year.

Jim was able to review many features and elements he and Madison Butler discussed with the team during previous walkthroughs, including details in the ADA-compliant restroom design and arrangement, accommodating additional wheelchairs/mobility devices in the new multi-ADA seating area, using innovative lighting and fabric throughout the design, including at-seat cart food/beverage service as an addition to pickup service at the counter or lining up at the counter to place an order, and refining visible cues for things like grab handles, doorways and entryways, and seating classes.

“I was especially pleased to see real movement on an issue I have pushed Amtrak on for nearly 15 years – getting automated defibrillators installed in every trainset,” Jim said, noting that designers agreed to put in a change order to include two AED units on each train.

In addition to Amtrak’s Northeast Regional routes, these new trainsets are expected to run on the long-distance Palmetto, plus the state-supported Adirondack, Carolinian, Cascades, Downeaster, Empire Service, Ethan Allen Express, Keystone Service, Maple Leaf, New Haven/Springfield Service (Amtrak Hartford Line and Valley Flyer), Pennsylvanian, Vermonter, and Virginia services.

“In 2019, when I testified before the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, I told lawmakers then how important it was to give Amtrak the ability to commit long term to replacing what I called a ‘rolling museum’ of tired old equipment,” Mathews said. “This most recent 'hard mockup' review in September continued the exciting progress we’re seeing in finally giving America’s passengers what they deserve: modern, clean, accessible, comfortable, appealing trainsets that will be new enough – and supported well enough – to ensure that passengers will get where they need to go safely, efficiently, and on-time.”

We can’t wait to show you more, and we know you can’t wait to ride the first trains!