Myth-busting and fact chasing Frequently Asked Questions
Colorado Railcar is a private company, doing big, big things. And it's natural to make assumptions and fill in the blanks. The problem is, with the number of things going on, a lot of those blanks have been filled in negatively.
One benefit of this site is that I have enjoyed a very good relationship thus far with CRM staff and management. That has resulted in my being able to deflate some of the myths and rumors that surround the company, and give a clearer picture of an otherwise less accessible entity. So let's get right to it and answer some questions about Colorado Railcar, and maybe knock out a few rumors on the way.
Ultradomes are made out of Pullman bilevels, aren't they? While that was true of the first four cars built, it was found to be much more economical to build the cars completely from scratch. You can view the manufacturing process by looking here.
How many times has Colorado Railcar's predecessors filed for bankruptcy? One word. Zero. Reports of CRM's previous demise are greatly exaggerated. And there have been a bounty of reports that Rader filed after the FFT and Phillip Morris projects were cancelled. But after a fairly active search for official information, I found nothing reliable to substantiate that claim. What I do have is the word of CRM president Tom Rader, and it goes a little something like this:
"But, there was not, nor has there ever been a bankruptcy of any of my companies. This is a serious bit of misinformation that needs to be fixed."
Sounds pretty convincing to me. And since bankruptcy records are public information, if there was something to these claims it would be easily found. Truth of the matter is that the rumored filing is just that rumor. Rader Railcar was reorganized as Colorado Railcar mainly to protect its customers.
Just how good are the ultradomes and their brethren? The folks in control of the millions of dollars at Princess, Rocky Mountaineer, Holland America seem to like them. Rocky Mountaineer Railtours has the largest fleet of cars on the planet - 12 with the pending delivery of the 9523 in Feb., 2004. Princess Tours has 10 cars, Royal Celebrity Tours purchased four cars in 2001 and 2002, and Holland America is awaiting the second half of an eight car order in March, 2004. At roughly $3 million a piece, that's $102 million invested, not a just a drop in the bucket, and certainly not the type of investment that four reputable (and I may say "for profit") companies would make in anything less than the best equipment available.
Isn't CRM's effort to push the DMU commuter car just a veiled method of promoting its cars to rich carriers? Give me a break. Look at it this way: There is only a limited market for full dome cars. If there wasn't, there would have been more built to begin with. (Remember that the construction of full dome cars by Budd and Pullman combined amounted to only 30 cars.) As it is, CRM is set to topple that number with the delivery of five cars to two carriers in the first quarter of 2004. But it's still a finite market.
No, CRM's DMU production is intended to be just that. Up until the prototype hit the rails, no "heavy" DMU existed that met the FRA's stringent crashworthiness requirements. Siemens, Bombardier and Alstom all produce DMUs that have a proven track record in European markets, but none come close to meeting the FRA requirements, and thus are classified as "light" DMUs.
The problem with putting a light DMU into service in the US is that it must run under an FRA waiver that requires either a time (ie Day vs. Night) separation or spatial separation (ie two sections of track separated by derails or some other form of exclusion) or both to keep the light DMU from being around heavier equipment. And that means not only freight trains, but passenger trains and heavy DMUs.
These requirements represent a substantial liability for potential commuter carriers, the bulk of which would require the cooperation of a host railroad that may not want to run its trains in the middle of the night exclusively. Colorado Railcar has offered the first solution to this problem with its DMU prototype, and while it's expected that other manufacturers will follow suit, CRM is trying to establish itself as a player in this growing market.
I don't like the DMU. It's ugly. So? Beauty is only skin deep. I'm not wildly in love with it either, but it doesn't look all that bad. Besides, it's what's underneath the sheet metal that makes the DMU what it is. Remember, this is the only car thus far to endure the required FRA crashworthiness tests. That means subjecting the frame to an 800,000 pound buff load. In contrast, Bombardier's quite attractive Talent DMU will withstand roughly half that.
So it comes down to value to the customer. An additional swooping nose would have to extend away from the frame, while the crew stays inside. That means that there would be some loss of visibility, and, in the event of a collision, a substantial amount more sheet metal damage and resulting cost of repair. Sure, customer perception is an important part of transit planning, but the perception of safety is as well, and in that regard, the heavy DMUs outshine their lighter cousin.
Colorado Railcar's DMU isn't intended to compete against Bombardier's Talent and the Siemens Regio Sprinter. FRA classifications have made that a moot point. The DMU was designed to provide an alternative to locomotive-hauled trains, and in that regard it shines. The DMU is substantially more fuel efficient, convenient, and potentially has lower maintenance costs. And that's what really counts.
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