California is a no-show

State officials cancel bilevel presentation at conference, send statement instead
Trains Industry Newsletter
Get a weekly roundup of the industry news you need.
By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine. View our privacy policy.
WASHINGTON — “Ongoing negotiations” are what stopped California rail officials from presenting information on a long-stalled bilevel car order at a national transportation conference on Tuesday.

At the Transportation Research Board conference in Washington, California Department of Transportation’s Bruce Roberts was slated to speak about bilevel cars CalTrans ordered from Sumitomo Corp. of Americas. The contract is worth $551 million with a Sept. 30, 2017 deadline set for the first bilevel deliveries. To date, no cars have been built.

Instead of a presentation, the discussion panel’s chairman read a statement from Roberts’ replacement as head of rail and mass transportation with the California agency. It thanked attendees for coming and added little new information to the public record.

“At this time, final design of the [Next Generation Equipment Committee] compliant cars has not yet been completed and approved. The contract is behind schedule and negotiations are currently underway to address the delays,” Steven Keck, CalTrans’ interim chief for rail wrote. “At this time no further information can be presented.”

In a follow-up email with News Wire after the panel’s conclusion, Keck confirmed the statement’s content and said he sent it instead of a presentation because of on-going negotiations. Keck did not specify who the agency was negotiating with.

Despite CalTrans’ absence in Washington, research board panelists who helped develop or manage design work spoke about the bilevels. According to these experts, there have been 243 design changes, so far, on the bilevel cars. Each change may require months to process or as little as two weeks for urgent production needs. Bilevel designs were also the first produced by the all-volunteer Next Generation Equipment Committee. Designs now include locomotives, diesel multiple units, and single level passenger cars.

The panelists declined to comment further on bilevel progress and directed further questions to Keck.

California's transportation department became the lead agency for a coalition of states that want to run new passenger cars on Amtrak trains and ordered the next generation committee-designed bilevel cars from Sumitomo in 2012. The first prototype of that design failed a crucial safety test at Sumitomo contractor Nippon-Sharyo’s Rochelle, Ill., plant in September 2015.

Nippon has since had massive layoffs and has repeatedly declined to answer Trains News Wire questions about the order, though Roberts did speak with News Wire in May 2016 about an upcoming funding deadline.

At stake are 130 bilevel cars slated for use in the Midwest and the $551 million put up by the Federal government from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for their purchase. Unless Congress steps in to change the law, the deadline for spending the stimulus funds is Sept. 30. After then the funds must be returned to the federal government.

In his email to News Wire, Keck confirmed that Roberts is still the lead contact with between CalTrans and Sumitomo, but that he’s moved into a policy development role with the agency

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

  • Previous Day
  • January 11, 2017
  • Next Day
Leave a Comment
Want to leave a comment?
Only registered members of are allowed to leave comments. Registration is FREE and only takes a couple minutes.

Login or Register now.
Please keep your feedback on-topic and respectful. Trains staffers reserve the right to edit or delete any comments.
Big Boy

Big Boy

All about the world's biggest locomotive


Learn more about the stories and photos in this months issue

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy
Subscribe Up To 54% off the newsstand price!
Subscribe To Trains Mag Today