North Carolina tubes out railcars at home, creating local jobs and building nation’s fastest-growing passenger-train system

November 27, 2013

RALEIGH, N.C. — Tobacco isn’t as important as it used to be to the economy of North Carolina, but some people here still “roll their own.”

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That’s what the North Carolina Department of Transportation did when it decided to get into the passenger-railroad business by acquiring a fleet of 1960s-vintage streamlined passenger cars and “tubing them out” so they could be rebuilt to contemporary standards.

Although the 50-year-old coaches were sent away to the Delaware Railcar Co. in Wilmington, Del., for rebuilding, the “tubing out” process— stripping the cars down to bare sheet metal and structural skeleton — was done in North Carolina by local workers…



“In the last batch of cars we bought we had cars from St. Louis, California and New Jersey,” McDowell said.

That batch is made up of five cars—three 56-seat coaches and two lounge-baggage cars, a configuration North Carolina riders have come to prefer because it offers the right balance between spacious private coach seating, public table space for eating and drinking, and storage space in the baggage area not only for large pieces of luggage but also for the bicycles that have become increasingly popular with tourists in the scenic rolling hills that make up the Piedmont territory.…

During that process, the seats, plumbing, electrical wiring, floor coverings, sidewall and ceiling panels, bulkhead panels and lighting fixtures are removed from the car by NCDOT employees.

“But we have to call in a certified asbestos-abatement contractor to take out the insulation and dispose of it at an approved site,” McDowell said. “Yes, they wear ‘moon suits’ while they work, and each car has to be wrapped in a plastic envelope to prevent asbestos particles from escaping into the atmosphere.”

What’s left is a bare steel or aluminum shell and a set of wheels. Once the car has been taken down to bare metal it is moved to Delaware for rebuilding into a modern coach.…

The final touch for each car is an application of the colors in the North Carolina state flag—blue from the roof to the bottom of the windows, then gray below the windows with a red horizontal strip at the bottom of the carbody. Passengers can distinguish a North Carolina-owned train from an Amtrak train instantly.

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And they like what they see. Ridership on the two daily Piedmont frequencies grew 4.7 per cent last year, making the Piedmonts among the most successful passenger trains in America. That’s why NCDOT recently used some of its 2009 funding from the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act to purchase five more 60s-vintage passenger cars that will be tubed out and sent to Delaware Railcar for remanufacturing so the Department can beef up the Piedmont corridor with two more frequencies, one to start running in 2016 and the other in 2017. That rebuild will give NCDOT a 20-car fleet able to support four daily Piedmont round trips. Along with Amtrak’s Carolinian the Piedmonts will give travelers in the Charlotte-Raleigh corridor a choice of five daily departures from each end of the line.

And in 2018 NCDOT plans to go to six frequencies per day—the Carolinian plus five Piedmont departures.…

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More information about the Piedmonts in USA Today, 23 November 2013

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