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November 15, 2017

Amtrak Updates Northeast Train Seating, With Some Improvements in Time for Holidays
Amtrak officials say renovations to Northeast Regional trains will delight several senses of their customers.

Fresh carpeting and seat cushions have a new-car smell. LED lighting is brighter than its incandescent and fluorescent predecessors. And simulated-leather seats feel like the latest airline seats rather than the previous blue fabric.

The $16 million in renovations are being phased in among the 450 railroad cars on the Northeast Corridor, and on connecting routes such as the Empire and Keystone services, the Downeaster and the Vermonter.

Midwest routes that will also see the improvements are: Hiawatha, Missouri River Runner and the Illinois and Michigan services.

“This is what some lucky people who take the Northeast Regional home for Thanksgiving are going to be experiencing,” said Mark Yachmetz, Amtrak’s vice president for Northeast Corridor business development, during a tour Monday.

“Hopefully (customers) will notice the new-car smell, and the leather cushions, the leather seats, the new carpet, the cleanliness has just been updated significantly,” he said.

The enhancements are being phased in as materials become available and can be installed between shifts, to avoid reducing capacity. For example, some cars have new carpeting, seat cushions and lighting, but await new curtains or wainscoting, which is the fabric on the lower walls.

All the improvements are scheduled to be finished by early May. About 16.8 million a year ride all the cars that are being updated, according to Amtrak.

The updates coincide with the arrival of CEO Richard Anderson, who arrived in July after leading Delta Air Lines from 2007 through 2016. While his No. 1 priority is safety, Anderson is also bringing airline sensibilities to improving customer service with different furnishings and more frequent updates to train cars that date to the 1970s.

Amtrak’s board will decide during the next year whether to completely overhaul the railroad cars, gutting them to their metal shells, or to buy new cars, Yachmetz said. But the current renovations are intended to improve customer service immediately because replacing or gutting the cars will take at least six years.

“You lose the expectations of customers when it looks dated,” Yachmetz said. “We expect to operate this equipment for several more years.”

The previous major overhaul of furnishings happened in the late 1990s, just before the introduction of the high-speed Acela in 2000, Yachmetz said.

Carpeting is typically replaced about every four years. Seat cushions can be sent out individually for cleaning. But stains and smells clung to the longstanding blue seating fabric and carpeting.

“No matter how many times you try to clean that cloth cushion, it doesn’t work. It starts looking shabby, Yachmetz said. “With this process, we are getting caught up.”

The nine-month improvement project will replace more than 50,000 seat cushions. Vents will be cleaned and air filters replaced.

The new faux-leather seating, which is designed to prevent messes from soaking in, can be cleaned with soap and water. New carpeting will replace eyesores.

Once officials get a sense of how long the carpet lasts, it could be replaced as often as every 90 days, like airlines do, Yachmetz said.

All of the construction materials are being manufactured in America at a dozen companies, including FellFab Corp. in Atlanta; LEDtronics in Torrance, Calif.; and Mannington Flooring in Calhoun, Ga.

To avoid reducing the railroad’s seating capacity, the materials are being installed when cars are available overnight or between shifts at locations such as Roanoke and Lynchburg, Va., and Washington, D.C. Summer track construction at Pennsylvania Station in New York City meant fewer trains were running there, which allowed more summer installations at the Sunnyside Yard in Queens, Yachmetz said.

Some changes are less noticeable than others.

The previous tile in restroom floors had cracks between panels that allowed fluids and smells to linger. The floors are being replaced with single panels of anti-microbial flooring, said Seth Geist, a senior industrial designer with Amtrak.

The number of seats will remain the same – on the same seat frames, Geist said. The distance between seat headrests will remain 39 inches in coach and 46 inches in business class.

“Fiscally we were trying to keep costs as low as we could, and get the most bang for the buck,” Geist said.

Copyright 2017 Gannett. All rights reserved. From By Bart Jansen, USA TODAY.
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