Amtrak Turboliners


The original RTG Amtrak Turboliners were purchased from French company ANF in an effort to modernize their fleet, and increase ridership in the service area. The ROHR Turboliners were seven train sets delivered to Amtrak in 1976, and were based on the French built RTG Turboliners already in use on Amtrak’s mid western routes. The RTL Turboliner was utilized on the Hudson Line for all of its operable years, until being officially retired in 2003. 

The lineage of the Turboliner traces back to the year 1967 in France, when a passenger diesel multiple unit was converted into a prototype gas turbine train called the XR 8575 trainset. This experimental trainset retained its original diesel motor, while the gas turbine was fitted in the trailing car. The XR 8575 trainset eventually evolved into the first French gas turbine set, called the ETG turbine set, which included four cars and was fitted with a Voith gas turbine engine.

Todd and Jack Humphrey

RTG Turboliner

Constructed between 1973-1975, the RTG Turboliners were ordered to modernize Amtrak’s aging fleet, and to increase ridership on its mid western routes based out of Chicago. These Turboliners, built by French company ANF, increased ridership significantly on mid western routes. Prior to the arrival of the Turboliner, Amtrak, which was formed in 1971, had inherited the passenger equipment from various railroads, which dated back to the forties.

Interestingly, the RTG sets were instrumental in the construction of the prototype TGV, the TGV 001, which was gas turbine powered. Although these modern train sets significantly increased ridership, the semi-permanent arrangement hindered the ability to alter the fleet due to fluctuations in ridership. The design of the train-sets were pleasing to passengers, as they included amenities such as a cafe car and large picture windows. These upgrades drastically improved the ridership of the Midwestern services, as the train soon became a modern and sleek mode of transportation between Midwestern cities. These types of trains were considered modern and streamlined, and hoped to draw an increase in ridership due to the emerging popularity of air travel.

Charles O’Rear/Public Domain

Beginning in 1973, Amtrak initially leased two turboliner trainsets. During their service on various routes stemming from Chicago, the turboliners were praised by the media as being the next revolution in transportation. Based out of Chicago, the turboliners thoroughly impressed passengers with their high speeds and ability to navigate tight turns at considerably higher speeds than a conventional train. Upon realizing the improvement in ridership and passenger comforts achieved by utilizing these train sets, the decision was made to purchase the existing two train sets and an additional four sets to be utilized on the midwestern corridors.

In order to properly service the Turboliners, Amtrak was required to open a new maintenance facility in Chicago specially designated to Turboliner maintenance and repair. The RTG turboliners remained in use in the midwest until 1981, when the fleet was withdrawn, citing their significant expense, and Amtrak’s preference to utilize conventional equipment on these routes. Following retirement, several RTG Turboliners, designated RTG-II were rebuilt for use on New York’s Empire Corridor, which included the addition of a third rail shoe for service into Grand Central Terminal. However, due to various issues surrounding the rebuilt RTG Turboliners, they were retired in the mid-nineties.

Todd and Jack Humphrey

RTL Turboliner

Due to Amtrak’s dire need to modernize their fleet, and the success of their RTG Turboliners already in use in the mid west, Amtrak contracted ROHR Industries in Chulu Vista, California to construct seven new train sets. With some similarities with the RTG Turboliner, the RTL sets included North American couplers and an updated cab control car on either end. These sets were utilized on various services along the Hudson line, such as the Adirondack to Montreal, Maple Leaf to Toronto, as well as the New York City-Albany runs. The RTL was the last of the gas turbine powered train-sets developed for the North American market throughout the sixties and seventies, as conventional trains were more cost effective and versatile.

The RTL Turboliner entered service in 1976 and operated on various routes servicing upstate New York, as well as on Canadian services such as the Adirondack to Montreal. The RTL Turboliners were rebuilt numerous times throughout their operating life. In 1995, the train-sets were rebuilt by Morrison-Knudsen, costing $2 million per train set. The power cars were equipped with new turbines, interiors refurbished in Beech Grove, and the exterior livery slightly altered. These rebuilds proved more fuel efficient and allowed the sets to reach a speed of 125 mph.

Todd and Jack Humphrey

Further rebuilds of the train sets were considered in 1998, when Amtrak, in cooperation with the state of New York sought to refurbish the train sets through the High Speed Rail Improvement Program, which aimed to improve the efficiency and speed along the Empire Corridor. New York’s Super Steel Schenectady was contracted for the program, and the refurbished train sets were slated to begin service in 1999 on various Empire Corridor services. However, due to various delays and disagreements, the sets were not scheduled to enter service until 2003. The new sets were slated to receive Amtrak’s new Acela livery, and included a reconfigured front end.  In 2001, the first refurbished trainset was nearing completion, and was tested on both the Empire and Northeast Corridors, reaching a speed of 125 mph.

As delays continued to mount, the first day of service for the rebuilt sets was not until April 2003. The agreement between Amtrak and the State of New York stated that ownership of the sets would be passed to the state after entering service, however, numerous issues caused the finished sets to be sidelined after just two months of service. Furthermore, Amtrak failed to upgrade the track on the Empire Corridor, which resulted in a lawsuit to be filed by New York against Amtrak for not following through on their side of the agreement, which surpassed $400 million. The sets were then placed in storage in Amtrak’s maintenance facility in Bear, Delaware. A settlement worth $5.5 million was agreed upon with Super Steel Schenectady for the cancellation of the project.

Thomas Eckhardt

Technical

RTG

The RTG turboliner, built by French company ANF, was powered by two Turbomeca Turmo III gas turbines, one being located in each power car. Based on a French design, the train sets were equipped with buffer and turnbuckle coupling between the cars, and knuckle couplers on the ends of the power cars. Furthermore, due to different regulations in North America and Europe, the trains received a waiver that allowed them to operate without reaching the recommended buff strength requirement of 800,000 lbs. The unique Creusot-Loire Trucks under the train allowed for a smooth ride for passengers, even on rough track.

Date Built1973-1975
Quantity Built6
Horsepower 2,280 horsepower
Max Speed125mph
Length86ft 1in.
Width9ft 51/2 in.
Prime Mover Turbomeca Turmo III gas turbines.

RTL

The RTL Turboliners were similar to the RTG, however, differences included the adherence to the buff strength requirement of 800,000 lbs, and an updated power car design. Furthermore, the RTL turboliners were slightly wider and more spacious than the RTG Turboliners, as aisle space was often a complaint from passengers. The trains were equipped with 600 volt third rail capability, as diesel and gas turbine engines were prohibited in the confined space of Grand Central Terminal. When operating under gas turbine power, the train sets were capable of speeds of  125 mph, however, the infrastructure of the Empire Corridor curtailed their max speed. Under third rail power, the trains were capable of just 45 mph.

The RTL Turboliners were equipped with turboshaft gas turbine prime movers in each power car, providing the train with 2,280 horsepower. After their first refurbishment in 1995. the train sets were equipped with two Turbomeca Makila T1 turbines, providing 1,600 horsepower each.

Date Built1976
Quantity Built7
Capacity 264
Length425 ft.
Width10 ft.
Max Speed 125 mph
Prime Mover Turboshaft
Horsepower 2,280
Third Rail600 Volt DC

Todd and Jack Humphrey

 

 

Josef

Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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