• Best Practices for Low Density Passenger Rail

  • Discussion about RDC's, "doodlebugs," gas-electrics, etc.
Discussion about RDC's, "doodlebugs," gas-electrics, etc.
  by North9ON
I'm new to the forum and I've read the most recent posts on this topic... So, I will pose my question. Is there a good DMU option for North American passenger rail service?

One railway I know of serves a sparsely populated region in Canada with conventional diesel locomotives and unilevel passenger coaches. Conceptually, it seems to be inefficient to use a locomotive with an APU or HEP to pull a maximum of three coaches for hundreds of miles. Conceptually, a DMU seems interesting but is there a viable product on the horizon that will run on a mixed freight and passenger line? If so, what is it likely to cost (unilevel or bilevel)?

One possible alternative that I have seen is a company on the east coast that is remanufacturing Budd cars.

Any thoughts?

  by wigwagfan
North9ON wrote:a sparsely populated region in Canada with conventional diesel locomotives and unilevel passenger coaches.
Therein lies the entire problem.

The U.S. FRA is quite strict with the crashworthiness regulation that has all but eliminated MU use in the United States. European models are virtually off the table, unless the operator is able to obtain a waiver and demonstrate to the FRA that there is positive separation of conventional rail vehicles and MU vehicles that don't comply with 49CFR229. This approach is employed by the New Jersey Transit RiverLine (using a vehicle manufactured by Stadler) and the North County Transit District Sprinter (north of San Diego, CA, using a Siemens Desiro DMU). TriMet's WES service (near Portland, Oregon) uses Colorado Railcar DMUs which do comply with Part 229 as does the South Florida Regional Transportation Agency's Tri-Rail service, however the vehicles are no longer in production. The Trinity Railway Express (Dallas-Fort Worth, TX) uses rebuilt Budd RDCs which are grandfathered into legislation, but could not be employed in a new system.

Canada - on the other hand - is a bit more relaxed. While you don't see as many operations you are able to see a few RDC operators as well as the OCTranspo (Ottawa, Ontario) O-Train using Bombardier Talent (equivalent to Deutsche Bahn class 643) DMUs. The O-Train also employs single-man operation - something that is not possible in the U.S.

That's just the vehicle choice...then you must have a supporting railroad and stations to serve it. Again, in the U.S. the rules are more strict - stations must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, for example. And using just any old railroad track won't cut it, the track must be reconstructed to strict tolerances. I'm most familiar with the WES route - this was an existing railroad that could easily meet or exceed FRA Class 2 track standards, and likely meet Class 3. However in the end the entire railroad was rebuilt from the sub-grade up with a new signaling system (including automatic train control). What was supposed to be a cost-effective "starter" DMU system turned out to become a $170 million project and while hasn't been called a "failure", is also not being called a "success" either and has generally been an embarassment for TriMet (who is hoping to redeem itself by opening a new light rail line in less than twelve hours).

I want to say that VIA Rail, along with the Alaska Railroad, have some good practices for using inexpensive equipment and providing a necessary service. The service that CN inherited from BC Rail, the Lillooet Shuttle (which replaced a long-distance RDC train from Vancouver) is also another example of using low-cost vehicles (the vehicles were built by a man in California who wanted to use it as a "super" speeder on a nearby branchline, but the railroad which gave him permission to run the trains revoked his permission, and he sold the cars to BC Rail who modified them and put them into service). The reconstituted Edwards Railcar Company seems to offer a low cost vehicle that can be used on historic routes or disconnected routes without FRA waivers, but the cars are limited in speed. One of their cars is on a railroad brokerage site for less than $200K.

So there are good prospects up north, or when speed is not important on a tourist line. Honestly, I could see an operation on the Port of Tillamook Bay (currently disconnected from anything else due to multiple washouts in the Coast Range) to get cars off of U.S. 101. But elsewhere, there are too many regulations, too many demands, and too much money involved. A "low cost" operation quickly becomes very expensive - and smaller, more rural communities can't afford a $10 million project, let alone a $50 or $100 million project. Without a viable vehicle and without support for relaxing the crashworthiness regulation, low density passenger rail is not very likely to happen - especially when someone can dangle a top-of-the-line MCI or Prevost motorcoach for under $500K each with all the bells and whistles inside, and it doesn't require new infrastructure, expensive stations, or two people to operate.
  by wigwagfan
North9ON wrote:One possible alternative that I have seen is a company on the east coast that is remanufacturing Budd cars.
That would be Industrial Rail.

Great concept, but besides VIA and Trinity Railway Express, no orders. TRE only uses their Budds on off-peak hour trains and is unlikely to purchase more. My contact at TriMet told me that they asked, and would not consider a Budd RDC. There was even speculation that Oregon Dept. of Transportation purchased three RDCs for an excursion train from Portland to Astoria and that those cars would be made available to TriMet after the three year run - however those cars ended up on a tourist railroad in northeastern Oregon. I've since been told that U.S. law would prohibit it, anyways (since it's a new operation). I do believe that VIA is sending some of their RDCs to get rebuilt, however.
  by electricron
North9ON wrote:What do you think of the prospects for a US-built DMU like the Colorado Railcar?
For smaller cities, I think it's not good. Why? Just check out the specifications of the USA Railcar (ex-Colorado Railcar) DMU diesels engines, Two 640 hp, or 1280 hp per DMU. For comparison purposes, a Stadler GTW 2/6 has at least 2 diesels at 275 kW (369 hp), total 550 kW (737 hp), with motors powering the wheels 470 kW (630 hp).

With 1280 hp per USA Railcar DMU vs 737 hp per Stadler GTW, guess which one gets better fuel milage and will be cheaper to operate over 30 years? To give the USA Railcar its due, a powered DMU can pull a few trailers, saving some on fuel costs but also lowering its acceleration.

Simple Newtonian physics, the lighter the train, the less energy its going to take to move it. (f=ma)

But I believe FRA compliant DMUs will be a popular choice while transit agencies wait on the FRA to change its rules over crash energy management.
USA Railcar has no history, Colorado Railcar had a poor delivery history. Several vendors with much better delivery history want to enter the FRA compliant DMU market, including Siemens and Nippon Sharyo The Siemens FRA compliant DMUs look sharp.


For example, Siemens will be willing to assembly these DMUs in America, probably at its Sacramento plant. Therefore, any advantage the USA Railcar had being built in the USA will be compromised. I believe the Siemens DMUs will capture any FRA compliant American market fairly quickly. For non-compliant DMUs, I believe Stadler GTWs will capture that market.