• Colorado DMU questions

  • Discussion about RDC's, "doodlebugs," gas-electrics, etc.
Discussion about RDC's, "doodlebugs," gas-electrics, etc.
  by miamicanes
1) Do the non-powered coaches sold by Colorado Railcar to be used with a DMU depend entirely on the powered DMU for their electricity (a/c, lighting, etc), or do/can they have their own generator for power when they're freestanding?

Giving a relevant example... suppose a hypothetical future intercity rail service in Florida ran from Miami to West Palm Beach with an Orlando-bound coach and DMU pulling a Tampa-bound coach. After making the trip from West Palm Beach to the Tampa-Orlando rail somewhere parallel to I-4, it would stop, unhitch the Tampa-bound coach, then continue onward to Orlando. Then, a few minutes later, a Tampa-bound DMU + coach from Orlando (or maybe Jacksonville) would come from the opposite direction, connect to the parked Tampa-bound coach, connect, then push it the rest of the way to Tampa.

If it's not obvious, the main idea is to offer the convenience of direct service between MIA/FLL/WPB and Tampa without having to pay for a separate DMU (and drivers)... ultimately, they'd get to Tampa a little faster than they would if they had to disembark from an Orlando-bound train and board the next Tampa-bound train, and enjoy a much more convenient trip.

1b) If the unpowered coaches don't have generators of their own (and depend 100% on the powered DMU for electricity and A/C), could they be built with a socket so that they could be parked at a station (probably somewhere around Winter Haven or Davenport) and plugged into a special power outlet adjacent to the track by an employee (kind of like jets parked at an airport gate, boats in a marina, or RVs at a campground) for power after being unhitched, then unplugged prior to departure once the next train arrives and hitches up to them?

2) If a powered DMU hits the limit that requires its engine to be overhauled, but the railroad isn't quite ready to do it right that instant and needs the coach capacity, could it be legally hitched to a "normal" diesel unit and pulled like an unpowered coach in the meantime? Ie, if it's the DMU's "engine-ness" that's triggering the requirement, could the requirement be temporarily sidestepped by simply refraining from the use of those capabilities?

3) I saw a maximum speed of something like 90 or 100mph listed somewhere. Is that just the maximum speed that they're allowed to run under their own power, or also the maximum speed at which they can be pulled? Going back to the southeast Florida->Tampa/Orlando example, suppose traffic between southeast Florida and Tampa were to pick up a bit. Could a train be run that had a normal diesel engine capable of 110-120mph, 3-8 coaches, and a DMU at the tail end, whereby the DMU were pulled at 110-120mph as an unpowered coach, then upon reaching the Tampa-Orlando line, be unhitched (along with one or two unpowered coaches) and continue under its own power at its rated speed for the final ~50 miles to Tampa (while the rest of the train, pulled by the normal engine, continued towards Orlando)?

Or, as a slight variant, if similar train were to race to West Palm Beach from Orlando at 110-120mph while pulled by the normal engine, then immediately unhitch from the DMU and tail-end coaches after coming to a stop in WPB & proceed nonstop at full speed to Miami... while meanwhile, the DMU gets powered up and used to push the remaining coach or two onward from WPB to Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale (shaving ~10-15 min from the Orlando-MIA time by sparing Miami-bound passengers from the intermediate stops)?

  by Sir Ray
The CRC website has a pdf of technical specs which can answer some of your questions (it's from 2005 apparently - not sure what has changed since then)


Checking throught it, the DMU max design speed is 100mph, and max operating speed (guess continous average, but not sure) is 90mph. Meaning you don't want to operate the DMU (powered or unpowered) above that speed for any length of time.

Next, power supply is apparently 175KW on-board generator (which I guess must mean the power-car) or standard HEP.
There is the option for customer-specified Lower Power Supply (12-72 VDC depending on order), which I take to be battery supplied.
Anyway, I guess if using stationary HEP outlets can be done at stations today for, say, Amfleets or Superliners, then they probably could do the same for the CRC coaches - but does anyone do this now?

Finally, I doubt if you'd want to run the powered DMU as a coach - I suppose you could, although I'm not sure about braking controls.
Again, did anyone do this back in the day with Budd RDCs (yes, I know they did it in the 1990s for VRA, but those Budds were remanufactured to be coaches).

Alas, although there is more detail in the supplemental brochure, you must order it by telephone:

"Hello, Ms Messa of Colorado Railcar - how can I help you"
"Yes, I'd like to request the supplemental DMU brochure"
"Certainly - may I ask what company or authority are you associated with?"
"Oh, none - I'm just a railfan poster from railroad.net..."

  by miamicanes
"Oh, none - I'm just a railfan poster from railroad.net..."
Sigh.... probably right.
I doubt if you'd want to run the powered DMU as a coach
Well, the main reason for wondering is because I've seen that the main argument against DMUs seems to be that when FRA-mandated overhaul time arrives, you effectively lose two vehicles (an engine AND coach). If stopgap operation of the overdue-for-overhaul DMU as an an unpowered coach were legal, at the very least it might mitigate that potential disadvantage a bit and make the logistics less painful for the owner. In a pinch, they could lease an engine, and pull it around as just a coach for a few days until a planned lull in service came up and do it THEN.

Actually, while I'm at it... just how big of a ceremony IS it to uncouple and couple a car? I've gotten the impression that it's not that big of a deal and takes less than a minute, but I've also read that Amtrak hates/refuses to split and join trains.

Am I correct in guessing that the main reason why Amtrak hates/refuses to do it has less to do with the technical challenge/time needed to split/join trains, and more due to what could nicely be described as "user error" (ie, passengers inevitably seeming to end up in the wrong end of the train after a split, regardless of how many announcements they made, running up to the conductor in tears 20 minutes after a split because their train is now 30 miles away and heading in the opposite direction)

  by wigwagfan
The Colorado Railcar DMU, on its demonstration run a few years ago, was hauled around behind standard Amtrak trains. I know one person who had the opportunity to have an impromptu tour of it while passing through one town, and it appeared (from his photographs) the DMU had electricity.

CRC has a history of building all kinds of cars for all kinds of users - so I would imagine it would pose no problem for them to alter the electrical system to be compatible with anything else, or to utilize Amtrak's 480V HEP line when in tow behind a train (or at a station) when not under its own power.

  by miamicanes
How subjectively "smooth" is the ride when operating in the 60-79mph range on track that's physically capable of handling 110mph trains (concrete ties, continuous rail)?

For some subjective comparisons... if you were on the train and had a laptop in front of you, is the ride:

A) smooth enough to do work with Photoshop (ie, like a turbulence-free plane)... barely a vibration, let alone bumps.

B) a little too bumpy for Photoshop, but not bad enough to interfere with typing

C) frustratingly bumpy, to the point of making it hard to type and use the mouse... but not so bad that you can't tolerably surf the net

D) so bad, you get frustrated and head to the dining car to eat in the hopes that the track will get better by the time you're done

F) so bad, you put your laptop away because you're afraid it's going to bounce off the table onto the floor

I personally would give out the following ratings:

Amtrak, on good track between Miami and WPB -- B-

Amtrak, on brutally awful track between WPB and Orlando -- F

Tri-Rail, dual-level Bombadier coach, between Miami and WPB -- C+

Interestingly, it seemed like Amtrak's cars had slightly better suspension than Tri-Rail's. HOWEVER, it's also possible that Amtrak's top speed was lower than Tri-Rail's (I don't think we ever overtook a Tri-Rail train when I was on Amtrak). The bumpiness seemed to get a LOT worse when we were running at the same speed (or faster) as cars driving next to us on I-95. I was actually pretty surprised when I rode Tri-Rail today... it actually seemed bumpier NOW than it did the last time I rode Tri-Rail (back when they still had lots of segmented track and were only about halfway through double-tracking). Minimal rocking (the last time I was on Tri-Rail, it rocked so hard I held my breath a few times, convinced we were going to roll over), but it definitely felt like a "harder" ride.

Is "A" even a realistic goal with any train? Does Tri-Rail just cut corners with the shocks since they're a commuter line and figure that nobody cares anyway? Or are there bad consequences (besides higher cost) that creep up if you try to dampen the bumpiness TOO much with better shocks and suspension?

  by miamicanes
Well, I found some interesting info online in this cost analysis of Tri-Rail's experiences with the DMU -- http://www.coloradorailcar.com/economics.pdf

From that, I've come up with the following initial rough analysis of what it might cost to run a single, double-height DMU on a single 9-hour, 504-mile round trip between Miami's Amtrak station and Tampa's Union Station... I'd appreciate any comments for things I've overlooked or got grossly wrong :-)

Distances (straight from Amtrak's brochure):
Miami to Fort Lauderdale: 22 miles
Fort Lauderdale to WPB: 43 miles
Fort Lauderdale to Winterhaven: 144 miles
Winterhaven to Tampa: 43 miles
Total Miles: 504

Assumes trip can be made in 4 hours, with 4.5 hour official end-to-end time (ie, almost 100% guaranteed to make unless the train literally runs over a drunk homeless guy and is forced by police to stop while the vehicular homicide department investigates the scene)

The marginal maintenance cost (including overhauls) of a single 504-mile trip with a single dual-level DMU alone is $1,610 ($3.19/mile x 504 miles)

The marginal fuel cost of a single dual-level DMU alone is $999 ($3/gallon x .6 gal/mile x 504 miles)

Tri-Rail's estimated labor cost is $135 per revenue hour for 2 engineers and a conductor. Let's be pessimistic and roughly double that, so we can add three cabin attendants (one per level, plus one just for first-class) -- 9 revenue hours x $250 = $2,250 per round trip.

I'm kind of flying blind on track usage costs. The example I found explored the cost of running commuter rail in New Jersey and California, and came up with $6 per train-mile for track fees, dispatching, maintenance, etc. I have zero idea how valid this really is... but anyway, it comes out to about $3,024 per round trip

So... adding up all the direct costs borne by running the DMU on a round-trip from Miami to Tampa, instead of leaving it in the storage barn unused:

$1,610 (DMU maintenance)
$ 999 (diesel)
$2,250 (labor)
$3,024 (track use)
$7,883 represents the total direct cost of making one round trip instead of not making one round trip. Since we're kind of playing fast and loose with costs at this instant, let's say $8,000 per round trip.

By "direct cost", I'm counting costs that will be borne ONLY if the trip is made, and not borne at all if the trip is not made. I'm explicitly excluding the fully-allocated cost of initial track and infrastructure construction & debt service, as well as the acquisition cost of the rolling stock itself. The goal is to figure out how much has to be collected in ticket revenue from passengers so we'd be at least as well-off (or badly-hurting) financially as we'd have been without having made that specific round trip.

So... does roughly $8,000 sound about right? High? Low?

Assuming the estimate isn't completely off-base, that suggests that a route like that would need to average approximately 25 first-class passengers each way paying $80 per trip, and approximately 50 coach passengers each way paying $50 per trip, to fully cover its day-to-day operating expenses and pay the interest on its metaphorical credit card debt for initial startup capital, and would probably be solidly in the black if each trip averaged just 50% of the carrying capacity of a single bi-level DMU -- 30-40 first-class passengers and 60-70 coach passengers.

Or, put another way, if the service collected enough money to completely cover its operating costs, the acquisition costs of its original fleet of DMUs and rolling stock & their eventual replacement costs... but never collected enough to pay down even one cent of the approximately 1 billion dollars it might cost to do the initial track upgrades to get the end-to-end time reliably down to 3.5-4 hours each way, and the taxpayers of Miami/Ft. Lauderdale/WPB/Tampa/Orlando had to personally eat every cent of that cost... it comes out to a budget-breaking loss of about $8 per resident per year for 25 years... after which time it would be operating in the black. Which actually makes it look fairly sane, considering that Tri-Rail had more daily riders than that back when they ran every 2.5 hours AND were almost guaranteed to be at least a half hour late :-)

While I'm at it... some inspirational Photoshop fantasies...

Phase 1: 4.5 hours Miami-Tampa, Miami-Orlando, Jacksonville-Tampa.


Phase 2: Orlando-Jax abandons Palatka route and is shunted from CSX to FEC northeast of Deland along new ROW, JAX-MIA added via FEC, Track between Tampa-Orlando and WPB-Auburndale completely double-tracked to reduce endpoint times to 3.5-4 hours


Phase 3: Track between Tallahassee & Jacksonville completely double-tracked to 110mph standards; JAX-Tampa = 3-3.5 hours, Tampa-Tally = 4.5-5 hours. Sadly, Miami-Tallahassee is still a lost cause, but then again, Tallahassee is so far from Miami, even maglev would be a 2+ hour trip... :wink:


  by Lucius Kwok
An Amtrak Regional doing 125 mph in NJ on the CWR is so smooth that you don't notice how fast it is unless you time the mileposts. It helps that the Amfleet II cars are much heavier than a typical commuter railroad car. It also helps to reduce the unsprung weight, which includes the trucks and motors on EMU cars.

  by miamicanes
Does anyone know what Colorado Railcar's current lead times and production capacity are? It's almost starting to look like they're in serious danger of becoming too popular.

I'll admit to being really fond of them, but with all the orders they've had lately, I suspect that if a dotcom millionaire showed up in Colorado with a money order for $112 million wanting to buy 20 bi-level DMUs and 12 bi-level coaches, with an urgent delivery date 14 months from now, there's no way in hell they could even fantasize about accepting the order. The guy would laugh, look at the check, blanche, excuse himself, and go cry in the bathroom because he'd have to turn it down.

If CR's owner is smart, he'll be taking a trip over to China real soon now to go tour some factories and keep at least one or two in mind as a contingency plan just in case he ever did get some humongous order that he could never fill himself. Transit agencies might grimace about buying anything foreign-made, but at least it would give him some viable options for selling with private companies who could care less either way and just want their trains yesterday.

Also... even though they're not approved for use as such in the US, has CR licensed (or developed) a coupling system comparable to the one used on German Ice3 trains? The one that allows a train to dynamically uncouple the tail end while it's still rolling and speed off, while the conductor in the tail end brings it into the station under its own power? I know the FRA would still require the whole brake-test ceremony when they were coupled up, but having rolling-coupling/uncoupling capabilities would almost certainly expedite joining/splitting maneuvers anyway :-)
Last edited by miamicanes on Thu Aug 03, 2006 8:31 am, edited 1 time in total.

  by DutchRailnut
The German ICE3 does not have that capability your confused with the Flexliner IC3 as demonstrated on Amtrak.
The rolling couple uncouple procedure is not even done in Europe or Israel, as even their railroad rules prohibit such practice.

  by miamicanes
ah, right. That's the system I was talking about.

If a train equipped with the system were used in the US, according to FRA rules (stopping, doing the brake test, etc), how long would it take from the moment the train stopped until it could pull away from its now-uncoupled rear? Likewise, how long would it take from stop to start to connect two such trains together and do the required tests?

  by DutchRailnut
Only few minutes if conductor or car inspector is inplace.
uncouple, do on of at rear truck, verify the markers and off they go.
The second part takes a little longer unless the new Headend was pre-tested and documented at origination terminal.
But Commuter railroads do this here all the time.

  by wigwagfan
miamicanes wrote:Does anyone know what Colorado Railcar's current lead times and production capacity are? It's almost starting to look like they're in serious danger of becoming too popular.

I'll admit to being really fond of them, but with all the orders they've had lately...
I may be mistaken, but exactly where are all of these orders?

Colorado Railcar has currently one transit DMU customer: SFRTA. SFRTA owns exactly six vehicles - one Aero DMU, three bi-level DMUs, and two bi-level coaches (non-powered). The demo DMU, that was in process of going to SFRTA, was damaged beyond repair at the AAR Test Track. And TriMet has apparently ordered four vehicles - three DMUs and one trailer (all single-level); the original intent was to order five vehicles. Although TriMet has not solidified whether the DMUs will be the "aero" nose or not, I do know that they will have two doors per side and will not have the wrap-around windows. It will have an operators' cab on both ends of the car for bi-directional use, as now TriMet plans to operate single vehicle trains (with an extra coach for peak loads).

No other transit agency who has expressed an interest in DMUs, who is or has built a commuter rail line, or is looking for vehicle replacement, has ordered from Colorado Railcar - they have either ordered conventional locomotive-and-car trainsets, or gone to foreign builders. TriMet, when planning to spec their vehicles, partnered with a North Carolina transit agency - however that agency went with a Japanese consortium builder.

  by miamicanes
Hmmm. It looks like you're right. Somehow, I had the crazy idea that SFRTA (Tri-Rail) and CFRTA (CFRAIL) went berserk and ordered 20 bi-level DMUs plus a dozen coaches between them. I guess I was off by several orders of magnitude. Oops. :-D

Still, though... I'm surprised they've sold so few (compared to what I thought they'd sold). On paper, they look absolutely perfect.

So... how in god's name did they manage to damage one of them beyond repair at the test track? Did the DMU itself fail due to stress or something, or was it just old-fashioned human stupidity (like derailing it by running at high speed over a switch set the wrong way, accidentally colliding with another railcar, etc)?

  by wigwagfan
miamicanes wrote:So... how in god's name did they manage to damage one of them beyond repair at the test track?
It involved a fire/explosion during refueling.

  by miamicanes
CRC's fault? AAR's fault? Random bad luck?