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Superliner I cars on the San Francisco Zephyr in November 1980
Interior of a Superliner I Sightseer lounge
|Line(s) served||Auto Train, California Zephyr, Capitol Limited, City of New Orleans, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Heartland Flyer, Pere Marquette, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited, and Texas Eagle|
|Car length||85 ft 0 in (25.91 m)|
|Width||10 ft 2 in (3.10 m)|
|Height||16 ft 2 in (4.93 m)|
|Maximum speed||100 mph (160 km/h)|
|Weight||148,000 lb (67,132 kg) (coaches)|
|Power supply||Head-end power|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
The Superliner is a type of bilevel intercity railroad passenger car used by Amtrak. Pullman-Standard built the first cars, known as Superliner I, in 1975–1981; Bombardier Transportation built a second batch, the Superliner II, in 1991–1996. The design descends from the Budd Hi-Level, employed by the Santa Fe on its El Capitan. Car types include coaches, dining cars, lounges, and sleeping cars.
The first Superliners entered service in February 1979. Amtrak employs the Superliners on all its Western and some Eastern long-distance routes; tunnel clearances prevent their use on the Northeast Corridor. Superliner coaches can also be found on short-distance corridor services. Derivative designs such as the California Car and Surfliner are used in California.
Amtrak assumed control of almost all private sector intercity passenger rail service in the United States on May 1, 1971, with a mandate to reverse decades of decline. Amtrak retained approximately 184 of the 440 trains which had run the day before. To operate these trains, Amtrak inherited a fleet of 300 locomotives (electric and diesel) and 1190 passenger cars, most of which dated from the 1940s–1950s.
Amtrak employed a mix of inherited cars on its long-distance trains in the Western United States. Most these were conventional single-level, but Amtrak had also inherited 73 Hi-Levels from the Santa Fe. The Budd Company built these between 1954–1964; the bilevel design was well-suited to the long distances in the west. When Amtrak issued a request for proposal (RFP) in 1973 for a "totally new" passenger car it "was assumed" that the design would be bilevel. Thirteen companies responded to the RFP; Amtrak selected the proposal by Louis T. Klauder & Associates. The design was finished by mid-1974 and Amtrak invited four companies to bid on its construction: Boeing, Budd, Pullman-Standard, and Rohr, with Pullman-Standard winning the contract.
The Superliners resembled the Hi-Levels but differed in several ways. The most obvious difference was the height: at 16 feet 2 inches (4.9 m) the Superliners are 8 inches (20 cm) taller. The Superliners also used 480 volt head end power (HEP), which Amtrak had just adopted as its standard. The Hi-Levels, which used steam heating and diesel generators, would be converted to match this standard.
The Superliner I cars ride on Waggon Union MD-76 trucks. The trucks required more frequent overhauls than comparable domestic designs and were "were notorious for their rough riding characteristics." The Superliner IIs ride on GSI-G70 outboard bearing trucks, also found on the Horizon. The Superliner has a maximum speed of 100 mph (161 km/h).
The Superliner I cars stored waste in onboard retention tanks, but then macerated and dumped it along the tracks once the train had attained a preset speed. This was an improvement on the Hi-Levels, which dumped directly to the tracks. Growing public concern about such dumping led to the adoption of a full-retention system in the Superliner IIs. They were the first long-distance cars with such a system. Additionally, the Superliner I cars were retrofitted with a full-retention system in the early 1990s. 
Initially the cars could not be worked east of Chicago because of limited overhead clearances, but by the 1980s many eastern railroads had raised clearances on their tracks to permit tri-level auto carriers and double-stack container trains, which also permitted the operation of the Superliners.
The New York Times described the Superliner I interior color scheme as "soft hues of beige, rust, brown and green." For the Superliner IIs Amtrak introduced a new scheme incorporating gray, aquamarine, and salmon.
Pullman-Standard built 102 Superliner I coaches and 48 coach-baggage combination cars. Bombardier built 38 Superliner II coaches. As built, Superliner coaches could carry 62 passengers in the upper level and 15 passengers on the lower level (later reduced to 12). The coach-baggage cars had a baggage compartment in lieu of the lower level seating area. The total capacity of 75–77 represented a small increase over the 68–72 on the Hi-Level coaches, which did not have seating on the lower level. Each coach weighs 148,000 pounds (67,132 kg).
Seating on the upper and lower levels is 2×2 with reclining seats. The seats are 23 inches (58 cm) wide with a pitch of 50–52 inches (127–132 cm). Included are adjustable footrests and retractable legrests, but no center armrest. There are overhead luggage racks on the upper level and a luggage storage area on the lower level across from the stairs. There are four unisex toilets per coach, all on the lower level. A shower was included in the original design, with the proviso that it be locked when the coaches were used in short-haul service. It was deleted from the final design. After a grade crossing accident in 1999 the Transportation Safety Board of Canada faulted the layout on the lower level; the exterior door, when opened and locked in position, prevented egress from the wheelchair-accessible bathroom.
Two-piece windows are located at each seat row. Integral blinds were rejected in favor of curtains on maintenance grounds. An upper level of "skylight" windows, similar to those on the Sun Lounges, were rejected as too expensive but incorporated into the Sightseer lounges.
Amtrak rebuilt 34 of the coach-baggage cars as "smoking coaches" in 1996–1997. The baggage room was converted to a self-contained specially-ventilated smoking lounge. After Amtrak banned smoking on long-distance trains in 2004, the cars were reconverted.
Five Superliner II coaches were rebuilt in 1996–1997 as "family coaches" or "Kiddie Cars." These cars featured a children's play area on the lower level instead of seating and were assigned to the Coast Starlight. Amtrak rebuilt these five cars again in 2008–2009 as "arcade cars" with video game machines in the lower level. The cars were converted once more in 2015 to provide business class service on the Coast Starlight. The service began in June 2015.
Caltrans paid to rebuild six wrecked Superliner I coaches and one baggage-coach for use in Amtrak California service. The seating capacity was increased to 76 on the upper level and 20 on the lower level.
Pullman-Standard built 70 Superliner I sleeping cars; Bombardier built 49 "standard" Superliner II sleepers and six "deluxe" sleepers. The standard Superliner sleeping car contains 14 roomettes, five bedrooms, a family bedroom, and an accessible bedroom. The deluxe sleeping car contains ten bedrooms, four roomettes, a family bedroom, and an accessible bedroom.
Roomettes measure 3 feet 6 inches (107 cm) × 6 feet 6 inches (198 cm). In daytime configuration each features two facing seats; these are combined to form a bed. A second bed is folded down from the ceiling. Bedrooms measure 6 feet 6 inches (198 cm) × 7 feet 6 inches (229 cm). Like the roomette, there are two berths; during the day the lower berth acts as a sofa. The room also contains a chair which faces the beds. Unlike the roomette, a bedroom includes a private toilet, shower, and sink.
The family bedroom is found at one end of the lower level of the car and measures 5 feet 2 inches (157 cm) × 9 feet 5 inches (287 cm). It can hold up to two adults and two children in four berths. During the day the berths form a sofa and two seats. At the opposite end of the car from the family bedroom is the accessible bedroom, which measures 6 feet 9 inches (206 cm) × 9 feet 5 inches (287 cm). It sleeps two people in two berths and includes a wheelchair-accessible toilet, but no shower.
The standard sleeping car has five bedrooms and ten roomettes on the upper level. The bedrooms are set against one side of the car with a hallway along the edge, while the roomettes are located to each side with the hallway running down the centerline. At the center of the car are the stairs to the lower level and a bathroom. A hallway runs through the centerline of the lower level with the accessible bedroom at one end and the family bedroom at the other. To one side of the stairs are three bathrooms and shower. To the other are four more roomettes. Luggage racks are located opposite the stairs. The layout of the deluxe sleeping car is similar. There are ten bedrooms on the upper level with a continuous hallway along one edge. The lower level contains opposed family and accessible bedrooms, four toilets, four roomettes, and a luggage rack. Two bedrooms may be combined to form a "bedroom suite."
As delivered, the Superliner I sleeping cars had five bathrooms, all on the lower level, and no public shower. Roomettes were termed "economy bedrooms" and bedrooms "deluxe bedrooms." During the 1980s Amtrak retrofitted the cars to add a bathroom on the upper level and a public shower on the lower level, at the expense of one bathroom. The Superliner II cars incorporated these improvements into their design.
Pullman-Standard and Bombardier each built 25 dedicated lounge cars, dubbed "Sightseer" lounges. Windows wrap upward into the ceiling, providing lateral views of scenery along the train's route. This design element was drawn from the Hi-Level lounges and the Seaboard Air Line's Sun Lounges.
The upper level contains a mix of seating options. At one end are eight tables, four to each side, each seating four passengers. In the center is a lounge area with a wet bar and several groups of seats. The stairs to the lower level are located here as well. At the other end are swivel chairs. The lower level contains a bathroom, additional tables, and a snack bar. As built the lounges had seating for 73. The cars were built with an electric piano in the lower level, which has since been removed.
In addition to the Sightseer lounges, Amtrak converted five Superliner I dining cars to lounge cars in 1998 for use on the Auto Train. These cars may be distinguished from the Sightseer lounges by their conventional windows.
Pullman-Standard built 30 dining cars; Bombardier built another 39. The dining cars can seat a maximum of 72 people on the upper level in tables of four. The kitchen occupies the entire lower level. At the center of the car are stairs down to the kitchen. A dumbwaiter is used to bring food and drink to the dining level, as well as to return dishes, glasses, and cutlery for washing.
Amtrak rebuilt 17 Superliner I dining cars as diner-lounges in the late 2000s. Dubbed the "Cross-Country Cafe," they were intended to reduce food service losses by replacing both a traditional dining car and the Sightseer lounge on long-distance trains. One end of the car was converted into a cafe area, with tables and a small serving area near the stairs to the kitchen. The other side remained dedicated to traditional diner seating, but the standard two-by-two tables were replaced by booths.
Bombardier built 47 "transition sleeper" or dormitory cars. The car had two purposes: to provide sleeping accommodations for train personnel, and to provide access from the bilevel Superliner and Hi-Level cars to single-level equipment. Hi-Level "step-down" coaches had previously performed the latter role. Most transition dormitory ("transdorm") cars have 16 roomettes on the upper level for crew accommodations, plus an accessible bedroom and small crew lounge on the lower level. Bathrooms and showers are located on both levels. At one end of the car is a high-level end door and diaphragm; at the other is a short staircase from the upper level leading to an end door at the height of standard single-level car. On some trains, Amtrak will make the roomettes closest to the high-level end door available for sale to passengers.
Between them Pullman-Standard and Bombardier manufactured 479 cars:
|Builder||Class||Type||Quantity||Original road numbers|
|Bombardier||Superliner II||Deluxe sleeper||6||32500–32505|
|Pullman-Standard||Superliner I||Sightseer lounge||25||33000–33024|
|Bombardier||Superliner II||Sightseer lounge||25||33025–33049|
|Bombardier||Superliner II||Transition dorm||47||39000–39046|
Amtrak ordered 235 Superliner I cars from Pullman-Standard on April 2, 1975, with deliveries scheduled for January 1977–June 1978. The order then consisted of 120 coaches, 55 sleepers, 34 diners, and 26 cafes. Amtrak soon increased the order to 284 cars. The initial order cost $143.6 million;  with the additional cars and other payments the cost rose to $250 million.
The name "Superliner" was chosen by Needham, Harper & Steers (then Amtrak's advertising agency) and announced in 1977. Prior to the announcement Amtrak had run an employee contest to determine the name but the winning entry, "Vistaliner" (harkening back to the "Vista-Domes" of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad), was already under copyright by another company.
As the cars arrived in 1978–1979 Amtrak employed them on short-haul routes radiating from Chicago. The first coaches entered revenue service on February 26, 1979, running from Chicago–Milwaukee. The coaches, led by an EMD F40PH, displaced the regular Turboliner equipment on No. 337. The equipment continued to operate on the run for several weeks. The Illini (April) and Shawnee (June) received Superliner coaches soon after; the first Superliner dining car ran on the Shawnee as a lounge.
Equipping the fleet
A public unveiling took place at Union Station in Chicago on October 11, 1979, followed by a short trip over the Burlington Northern Railroad to Lisle. The following day, the Shawnee had the dubious distinction of the first accident with Superliners after a minor collision with an Illinois Central Gulf Railroad freight train.
Amtrak's first choice for Superliner assignments had been the financially-troubled Floridian, but the two years' delay in delivery scuppered these plans. Amtrak turned next to the Empire Builder. This train encountered harsh weather conditions which frequently sidelined traditional steam-heated equipment and would benefit from modern head-end power. The Empire Builder became the first long-distance train to use Superliners, and the first train permanently assigned them, on October 28, 1979. Amtrak's new national timetable depicted a Superliner coach on the front cover, and the listing for the Empire Builder carried a heading which read "Amtrak's Superliner is Somethin' Special."
With the Empire Builder in operation, Amtrak began reequipping the remaining long-distance trains in the west. The second permanent Superliner train was the Desert Wind, which gained coaches on June 30, 1980. The San Francisco Zephyr followed on July 7, 1980; it received the first of the Sightseer lounges on January 6, 1981. Amtrak assigned Superliners to the Southwest Limited in October 1980. The Southwest Limited, formerly the Super Chief, traveled the same route as the El Capitan, whose Hi-Levels had inspired the design. The design impressed the management of the Santa Fe sufficiently that they permitted Amtrak to restore the name Chief to the train, and Amtrak renamed it the Southwest Chief on October 28, 1984. The Chief was the first train to receive Superliner II sleeping cars in September 1993.
The Coast Starlight began operating with Superliners in January 1981. The Sunset Limited gained them in February, resulting in a commendation from the Texas State Legislature. The Pioneer gained Superliner coaches on April 26. The Eagle began carrying Superliners in October on those days it connected with the Sunset Limited in San Antonio. Superliner assignments became permanent in the 1990s.The last car of the order, a sleeper delivered in July 1981, was also the last car ever built by Pullman, and was named in honor of the company's founder, George Mortimer Pullman.
Amtrak ordered 140 Superliner II cars from Bombardier Transportation in 1991; Bombardier had acquired the Superliner patents after Pullman-Standard's closure. The order consisted of 55 sleeping cars, 38 coaches, 20 dining cars, 15 lounges, and 12 transition-dormitory cars. The initial order cost $340 million, and included an option for 39 cars. In late 1993 Amtrak exercised the option for 55 additional cars at a cost of $110 million, bringing the total order of Superliner II cars to 195. The option included ten dining cars, ten lounges, and 35 transdorms. Bombardier built the order in Barre, Vermont.
The new order allowed the displacement of the remaining Hi-Level cars as well as the employment of Superliners on trains running with single-level cars. Trains gaining Superliners included the City of New Orleans (March 1994); Capitol Limited (October); and Auto Train (March 1, 1995).. A project to enlarge the First Street Tunnel enabled the Cardinal to begin using Superliners in September 1995; these would be withdrawn in 2002 because of equipment shortages. Superliners were used on the International from November 1995 until early 2000.[a]
- California Car (railcar) - The first generation intercity railcar, based on the design of the Superliner.
- Dome car
- Surfliner (railcar) - The second generation intercity railcar, based on the design of the Superliner.
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