Amtrak’s newly refreshed seating areas. Image via Amtrak

If you’re traveling via Amtrak sometime in the next few months, don’t be surprised if the train coach you get onto looks nothing like what you’re remember. At long last, Amtrak is doing a total refresh of its Amfleet I train interiors – and it actually looks pretty neat. Over the next six months, an overnight crew will come in and upgrade over 450 coaches, resulting in new seat cushions, LED lighting, flooring, restrooms, carpeting, wainscoting (wooden paneling lining the lower sections cars)  and partitions, also known as bulkheads, and even a redesigned galley for the café. The trains with these seat updates will serve primarily the Northeast and Midwest routes. 

The entire “refresh” will be completed in three different phases. Phase One, which took place in Fall 2017, saw the installation of new restrooms, LED lighting, and Coach and Business class carpetings and seat cushions. Phase Two, taking place in Winter 2017, will see continued installations of carpets, cushions, and lighting, but will add curtains in Business Class, new wainscoting and bulkheads, and a redesigned galley for the café. Phase Three, taking place in the Spring/Summer 2018 season, will see the finalization of the refresh.

Amtrak is aiming to have the old seats, pictured here, completely refreshed by Spring 2018.

The new seating layout for Amtrak

The new seat cushions and coverings, carpets, and lighting give a much different atmosphere inside the train coaches. Instead of the tired, drab feel that reminds you of the early 1990s, the new seat profile, with the shark-grey seat coverings, and bright lighting, brings a modern, sleek look. On top of that, the seats are really comfortable.

Duncan Copland, the senior manager of industrial design, responsible for designing the refresh, said, “This [the old interior] looks twenty years old, so it wasn’t difficult to come up with a new look. Really, we focused in on the seat cushion, because it’s the first take-away, when you walk into the carriage. We changed the profile, and we added a lot more to the cushion’s ergonomics: we added to the profile to support your head a little more, give better lumbar support, and better sight support; we also changed the construction of the cushion in that the dress-cover has a laminated quarter-inch of foam on the inside, so you get a softer feel. Then we went in for more of a sculpted, fitted look with seams and paneling, to just really give a visual take-away again; it resembles closer to what you would see on automobiles.”

While the last update Amtrak did to their interiors took six to nine years, this time, they’re trying to get the entire refresh completed in six months, with the majority of work completed by overnight crews. Alison Simon, a corporate representative for Amtrak said, “Our biggest constraint by far was that [the refresh] had to be done overnight, otherwise we’re back to a nine year process. So, when you start with that as the option, you get tunnel vision on what you can do.” Emphasizing the importance of getting things done as quickly as possible, Amtrak did a trial run in one of their facilities to see how fast they could install the wainscoting.

While we all love an update, we’re also looking for sustainability, and Amtrak is more than ready to step up to the plate. With 52,000 seat cushions being pulled out of the old cars, combined with tons of carpeting and paneling, a total of 133 tons of material is being replaced. “It’s really important for Amtrak to maintain a sustainable footprint,” Alison Simon commented, “so we’ve set up a separate recycling program just for this refresh project, and we’ll be recycling as close to 100% of the materials that have been pulled out of the old cars.”

For more information on the Amtrak refresh, please visit their website at

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