Steel Wheels 3rd Quarter 2023 issue available online

The 3rd Quarter 2023 issue of RailPAC’s magazine Steel Wheels can be downloaded by clicking here.

In this issue:

  • Los Angeles Metro Link Union Station
  • Lessons from Switzerland
  • Coast Starlight 2023: a shamefully shrunk train
  • Zero-emissions rail options
  • …and more

Reader comments on this issue:

From RailPAC member Jim Gerstley, comments on Steel Wheels 3Q23

Re: ADA accommodation

On trains such as the single level long distance with chair and Viewliner sleepers:

A] One idea is a paired coupling where one unit has combined diner and lounge facilities and the other some combo or business and sleeper accommodations. The question to answer is how many to provide for per long distance train?

B] If more than one sleeper/business car needed, could do what UP did on one of the 1938 trains: two sleepers articulated together, each having possibly different accommodation layouts as UP did.

C] for fewer disabled clients on a train, could do what UP did: a sleeper/lounge. For example, the 5 bedroom lounge concept where it is all built into one car. And possibly the car attendant with the small number of clients could handle both the accommodation and the lounge duties. The lounge would also double as food service.

On High level [Superliner] cars

Lower level can be set up for disabled passengers.

Like now, option of food from diner served in room so access to same food. Lounge is more difficult. But could put disabled passengers next to lounge with lower level passage to lower level of lounge car and access thus to snack bar and possible lower level tables/counter. Depending on how sleeping accommodations are set up for ADA, perhaps they might be considered premium rooms and sold accordingly if not reserved for ADA within a certain period before departure.

Articulated cars weren’t that popular with the railroads. Other than the SP Daylights, the Lark and Cascade triple unit kitchen-diner-lounge, and one of the 1938 UP trains [forget if City of Los Angeles or San Francisco) with articulated chair, sleeper and diner service, hardly any were built after 1941. I don’t know how Talgo does its regularly scheduled maintenance without taking a train out of service. Prior to that it meant taking  the articulated set out of service, whether two or 3 cars. Plus special trucks were needed under the articulations as they carried more weight–4 wheel trucks for the articulated chairs, 6 wheel trucks for articulated sleepers and diners.  Articulated advantages included lower weight and shorter trains, and maybe reduced initial cost.


I agree with a lot of what is said about the positives.

DINER: Community seating: On the Coast Starlight when it was running its full complement of sleepers and coaches, there wasn’t an empty seat in the diner even with just sleeper passengers. Originally both sleeper and chair car passengers were accommodated, resulting in no empty seats and longer mealtimes but I thought it was appropriate that chair car passengers have the same access to the diner as sleeping car passengers except they had to pay for their meals. The Pacific Parlour car offered more individual seating arrangements, and there was always the option of eating in your room if you didn’t want to eat communal style [we enjoy communal style]. So I disagree with the writer about passengers having the option of eating communal style or by themselves except maybe during off hours when the diner is less crowded. But not during peak hours.

PACIFIC PARLOUR CAR: I thought Anderson said he’d sold the cars. Or was that only to quiet the complaints that the cars were no longer available? After they were gone, I talked to one lounge attendant who said she’d told Anderson those cars were too cold and uncomfortable. We never experienced that, though I did experience a very cold regular lounge on one trip. These were the most comfortable cars on the train. Supposedly also removed for not bringing in enough income [though their value for attracting customers to the Coast Starlight I’m sure was never entered into the equation]. Towards the end they did sell tickets for wine tasting [by then they’d pretty much removed the cheese and crackers to go with the wine]. And the food options were, to us, rather boring compared to that served in the diner.  And I liked the morning pastries many years ago that were served here. 

CAR NUMBERING: I like the way Amtrak does it. It tells the passenger and the train staff when looking at the ticket that it is for the correct train [first two numbers] and whether coach or sleeper [3rd number]. The 4th number then numbers the sleepers as a group and chair cars as a group. A lot better than numbering cars 1-12 on each train [for example] as stations with multiple long-distance trains could result in passengers trying to get on the wrong train. Some railroads also put the train number before the car number [such as SP Lark which I rode many times].

How do we get Amtrak to use the money given them for long distance trains?

A] Specify they cannot spend any more money on NE Corridor than they spend on the long-distance train operation & maintenance?

B] Require that they must have [x] number of each service of car in operation at any given time, or within a given time frame?

C] Change the goal Amtrak is judged by: profitability [and how to determine that]; passenger miles/train; $/passenger/$/mile, total benefit of train operation and how to measure that etc. But something that favors the long-distance trains vs the NE Corridor that puts them on a more equal footing so that it is worthwhile, in management eyes, to keep/maintain/increase/improve long distance trains.

I also believe Amtrak’s short Coast Starlight is an attempt to make the train look bad financially. A page from the railroads when they wanted to get rid of a train–start by reducing services, then available accommodations, then maybe changing from daily etc. So far no complaint about onboard services on Coast Starlight and SW Chief.  

Thanks for all the hard work you and others put in to give us passenger train service.

Jim Gerstley

Santa Monica CA