unveiled this week the third revision to its Fleet Strategy Plan, which
outlines how -- given the financial resources to do so -- the company will
renew and augment its aging locomotives and railcars over the next 20 years. As
Amtrak acknowledges, and NARP has been saying for many years -- a fleet of
sufficient size to provide reliable and enjoyable service to passengers is the
foundation upon which the success of
CEO Joseph Boardman said in a statement that the updated plan "is designed
to provide a roadmap to replace and supplement the current Amtrak fleet in
tiered procurements through 2023." It is based on "a conservative
view of [Amtrak's] growth prospects and a clear vision to dramatically expand
The plan continues to be based a 2% across-the-board assumption of annual ridership growth, a figure that has been exceeded in the three most recent fiscal years. While a conservative estimate, Amtrak calls 2% annual growth "substantial," saying that such growth will require "considerable additional equipment, above and beyond that required simply to replace the existing fleet." The plan also leaves open the possibility of unforeseen dramatic events, such as a major spike in gas prices or a major contraction in the airline industry, that may force Amtrak to expand its fleet more aggressively than planned.
In fiscal 2011, only 87% of all of Amtrak's railcars, 86% of its diesel locomotives, and 76% of its electric locomotives were available for use at any given time. Amtrak's goal is to raise these percentages to 90% of cars, 87% of diesels and 79% of electrics by fiscal 2016. (Amtrak's fiscal year is the same as the federal government's: October 1 to September 30.)
After the equipment that is currently on order -- 70 new electric locomotives for the Northeast Corridor (due by 2016) and 130 new single-level cars for Eastern long-distance service (due by 2014) -- the next orders Amtrak plans to make (Attachment 2, page 52 of the Plan) are for 40 new high-speed Acela cars (due by 2015) and 100 new single-level long-distance cars to replace and augment the Amfleet II fleet (due by 2016), followed by 100 additional single-level cars (to replace and augment both Amfleet I and II fleets) each year through 2022.
Next in line will be 322 diesel locomotives including switchers due by 2021, 508 bi-level cars (to replace and augment Superliners and Surfliners, and new Dome Parlor cars to completely replace the 5 heritage Pacific Parlour Cars used on the Coast Starlight) due by 2023, 80 auto carriers due by 2025, and 42 next-generation high-speed trainsets for the Northeast Corridor due by 2026 (with the first 10 trainsets due in 2020).
The new plan also declares Amtrak's intention to be more closly involved in the work of the Next Generation Corridor Equipment Pool Committee, a partnership with the Federal Railroad Administration, states, and host railroad representatives that has developed standards for new corridor equipment and will make significant purchases of cars and locomotives for use in state-supported short-distance trains. Amtrak says it will use the Committee's specifications as guides for its own next rounds of equipment purchases.
Amtrak's ability to meet this aggressive schedule of equipment orders is, of course, contingent on sufficient funds being made available, either through federal or state grants, partnerships with private firms, federal loans or bonds, or future revenues from customers. "Dedicated and reliable funding sources will be essential if the recapitalization program is to be pursued," says the Plan (page 33). "Without funding, Amtrak cannot commit to long-term investment, limiting the supplier interest in the commitments and investment necessary for the development of the intercity passenger rail market."
This leaves passenger advocates' work cut out for us in convincing Congress that the need is there, that ridership growth will probably be greater than Amtrak's conservative estimate, and that investing in renewing and growing Amtrak's fleet will pay off with a myriad of public benefits.