Amtrak’s Overnight Train Cars Are Finally Getting Replaced After 44 Years

Whether you consider the Amtrak Viewliner a classic or simply outdated, its days are now limited.
Amtrak's next-generation Siemens trainset

Amtrak has begun the process of replacing the aging railcars used on its long-distance routes after more than four decades in service. The new rolling stock is planned to enter service on its most important overnight routes, notably the scenic lines connecting the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Amtrak’s current fleet of long-distance railcars, including the Superliner, Viewliner, and Amfleet series, dates as far back as 1979. They recently received $28 million in modernizations, and continue to serve on routes such as the Auto Train, California Zephyr, and Empire Builder. However, the ends of their service lives are on the horizon, which is why Amtrak has begun the process of replacing them.

In January, Amtrak announced it sent bid requests to possible suppliers regarding the scope of its overnight train fleet and asked for input on its replacement. Up to 10 manufacturers are expected to submit proposals for successor railcars, which Amtrak wants to be safer and more accessible, efficient, and reliable, with features travelers will need for overnight journeys. Formal procurement requests will be issued later this year.

New long-distance railcars form only a small part of a larger fleet overhaul, which coincides with plans for expanding and improving service. The first of 125 new Cummins-powered Siemens Charger locomotives began replacing the aging GE Genesis in 2022, while Amtrak announced in December that its flagship high-speed Acela in the Northeast Corridor will switch to Avelia Liberty locomotives. They will pull new Siemens Venture passenger cars, branded “Airo” for this purpose.

Over the last two years, Amtrak has also spent $580 million improving accessibility at its stations, with $1.75 billion in total earmarked for improvements.

Amtrak’s anticipated 2035 service map. Amtrak

Amtrak accounts for a tiny minority of passenger travel in the U.S., achieving barely 3% of the ridership that airlines did in 2022 according to Forbes. Its operations are much less CO2-intensive than airlines, and some stations in rural areas remain vital transit connections to the outside world. The quasi-nationalized service has big plans for expanding its national network too, which it hopes to implement by 2035. High-speed service however is expanding slowly, both at Amtrak and under various public and private programs.

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