New Trains in the Midwest
By Rick Harnish
The Illinois Department of Transportation and Amtrak did a soft launch of the new Siemens Venture coaches on Tuesday, February 1. The official launch will be in mid-February.
The cars are being introduced at a rate of 8 cars per month starting with the Chicago - St. Louis Lincoln service then expaned to other routes as more cars become available.
These are the first new coaches to come to the Midwest in about 30 years and offer many new features that have been standard overseas for decades.
I rode on that first revenue run to Joliet. Here's a quick overview of what makes these cars a big step up from the Amfleet and Horizon cars they are replacing.
The first thing you notice are the retractable steps, which make it safer to board. Soon, step boxes will be a thing of the past.
The steps can be set for 8 or 15 inch platforms. "Traps" make level boarding at 48 inch platforms possible.
Automatic "plug" doors are weather tight.
The steps and the doors can be controlled by a single crew person, and since the steps are so much safer, all the doors can be opened at once, cutting dwell times at stations.
The cars feel more open and inviting. The windows are much bigger, letting in more light and better views.
The interior paint scheme and upholstery is well done.
The wider aisles make passing people much easier.
More importantly, they allow wheelchair users to access the entire train from a single lift that will be on the cafe cars.
The seats seats all face the middle. With the middle set facing a table. Most seats have a fold-down tray table.
The seats slide forward to recline rather than the back moving into the space behind.
I found the seats to be perfect for my back in the reclined position, though other regular passengers missed the full recline.
There has been concern about the seat being slightly smaller at 19.1 inches vs the Amfleet and Horizon cars 21 inches. This is made up for somewhat with space between them for standard electric outlets and USB plugs. Southwest Airlines seats are 17 or 17.8 inches wide.
Each end of the car has a luggage rack. One has space to store wheel chairs, the other can be converted to carry bikes.
The attractive paint scheme will help market the service.
And, the big red reflective stripe will make them more visible at un-signaled rural crossings.