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Talgos take over Cascade corridor

01 Feb 1999

INTRO: Amtrak and Washington State DoT have put new tilting trains into service in the US Pacific Northwest, where traffic has doubled in the last five years. Julian Wolinsky reports

THREE STYLISH new Talgo Pendular 200 trainsets began running in the Pacific Northwest of the United States last month, giving passengers a taste of swift, European-style rail travel. Two trains entered service in the Seattle - Portland - Eugene corridor on January 11 and the third was due to take over the Seattle - Vancouver, BC, run on January 25.

Branded as Amtrak Cascades, the Talgos are the latest element in a long range plan that could see up to eight daily return trips between Seattle and Portland at up to 200 km/h. The first set was unveiled at Seattle's King Street station on November 9. Following three days of successful high-speed tests at Pueblo, an inaugural run with local and national VIPs was held on November 30 (RG 1.99 p25). However, supply problems delayed the start-up originally planned for December 1.

According to Jean-Pierre Ruiz, CEO of Talgo Inc, the seating supplier Coach & Car Equipment Corp failed to produce sufficient seats to equip all three trains by December 1, despite repeated promises to do so. In addition, the manufacturer of the battery chargers, AGC of Quebec, failed to meet its delivery schedule. For now Kawasaki rectifier battery chargers that meet Amtrak specifications have been installed, but Ruiz still wants the AGC units because they have extra features.

The new Talgos replace a set of conventional Amtrak stock and two leased Talgo Pendular 200 sets. 'They are very much custom built for the Northwest,' said Stan Suchan from the Washington State Department of Transportation. 'We have completely redesigned the seats. We lightened the tint on the windows so you can see both in and out of the trains ... on our (dark) winter days. It's little things like that.' One set is assigned to Seattle - Vancouver and the other two shuttle between Seattle and Portland, with one trip extended to Eugene, Oregon. The three sets are named Mount Hood, Mount Baker and Mount Rainier.

Amtrak has assigned some of its latest General Motors F59PHI diesel locos to the service. These have been painted in the Talgos' dramatic livery of cappuccino, Castilian copper and evergreen. The end coaches of the low-profile trains have been fitted with 2100mm high tail fins which provide a sweeping transition to the taller locos, reminiscent of the styling of American cars in the 1950s.

Early reaction to the trains has been extremely positive, further vindicating WSDoT's aggressive pro-passenger rail policy. The new stock forms part of a $200m programme to improve services and upgrade the 750 km Cascade corridor, most of which falls within the state. Some funding has come from Oregon, the US federal government, and British Columbia. Allowing the tilting Talgos to run at higher speeds through curves has already cut 25min off the 3h 55min schedule for conventional Amtrak rolling stock.

Annual ridership in the corridor has jumped from just over 226000 in 1993, the year before the first of two leased Talgos were placed in service, to 550000 in 1998, an increase of 137%.

Local manufacture

In 1996 WSDoT issued a tender for two tilting trainsets and selected Talgo Inc, the train building subsidiary of Renfe Talgo of America, which is wholly owned by Renfe and Talgo. Contract price was approximately $10m per train. Amtrak subsequently agreed to buy a third set.

To achieve some economy of scale and provide demonstration sets, Talgo decided to build five trains. The fourth has already been painted in Cascades colours and is expected to be bought by Amtrak, which plans to inaugurate a second daily Seattle - Vancouver run next summer. The fifth is destined for a Los Angeles - Las Vegas service, heavily subsidised by some of the Nevada city's casino operators. However, the start-up for this has been delayed from early spring to autumn because Union Pacific is claiming lack of capacity on the route once used by Amtrak's LA - Chicago Desert Wind.

Talgo was required to assemble the aluminum-bodied trains in Seattle because of a 25% 'Buy Washington' requirement attached to the WSDoT contract. The 50% 'Buy America' mandate for the other three was waived, although total US content is equivalent to about one-third of the package value.

The Talgos operate in push-pull mode with a so-called cabbage (cab-baggage) car at one end. These are life-expired F40 locos with the diesel engine removed and the engine compartment converted into baggage storage space. The cab and controls are retained to work with the F59.

Each 12-car set has a capacity of 243 passengers and meets all requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, including a built-in wheelchair lift. There are six coach-class vehicles, an extra-fare Custom Class car, a bistro, and a lounge-diner. One end vehicle is a baggage car with racks for skis and bicycles, and the other provides hotel power.

The on-board entertainment system includes four audio channels plus television monitors suspended from the ceiling that show videos and displays from a GPS location system. 'The Cascades offer a superior mode of travel that is safe, comfortable and convenient,' said Kurt Laird, General Manager of Amtrak's Pacific Northwest corridor.

CAPTION: The first two of three Talgo Pendular 200 trainsets have entered service on Amtrak Cascades services from Seattle to Portland. The end cars have tall fins acting as a styling link between the low-profile Talgo cars and the EMD-built F59PHI diesel locomotives

CAPTION: CEO of Talgo Inc Jean-Pierre Ruiz toasts the Cascade Talgos in the Bistro