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Amtrak Superliner Transition Sleeper (Crew Dormitory)

Amtrak Superliner Transition Sleeper, one of the cars on Amtrak Superliner Passenger Trains. Here you will find photographs and detailed descriptions of seats, rooms, train cars and services.

Note: The information and photos on this page may have been posted many years ago so may be out of date. This page will remain posted as it may be of historical interest.

The following was added on October 22, 1998:

Since the time that this web page about the Transition Sleeper was originally posted back in June of 1996, I've received occasional e-mail asking about the Transition Sleeper and how one can ride in one.

The Transition Sleeper is almost exclusively used for the onboard crew of the train. There is only one time that I am aware of that passengers were ever booked into rooms of the Transition Sleeper. That was on the Amtrak Southwest Chief during the Summer of 1996. Evidently, Amtrak was getting too many requests for bookings for Standard Bedrooms (called Economy Bedrooms back in those days) than could be accommodated in 2 Sleeping Cars. Thus, they experimented by adding on a Transition Sleeper and booking passengers into that car. They turned the "crew break room" into a lounge area for Sleeping Car Passengers. In those days, "Dorm Cars" which I think were from the old Santa Fe Hi-Level fleet were still being used to house the onboard train crew.

This experiment was short lived. I don't know if they used these Amtrak Transition Sleepers for passengers for just a few weeks or a few months, but it did not extend beyond 1996. Since that time, I don't know if Amtrak has ever allocated an entire or even part of a Transition Sleeper for passenger bookings. In over 100,000 miles of Amtrak travel over 3 years, I have never been in another train where they allowed passengers into the Transition Sleeper.

My understanding is that the original design and intent of the Transition Sleeper was to accommodate a mix of crew and passengers. The original plan was to have each Sleeping Car Attendant sleep in Room 1 of the car that was in their care. To this end, you will find there is a light panel in that room which signals the Sleeping Car Attendant whenever someone uses the "Call Attendant" button. This panel indicates exactly which room is requesting his attention. With the Sleeping Car Attendants sleeping in Room 1 of each Sleeping Car, there is plenty of free rooms in the Transition Sleeper.

However, I don't think I have ever seen a Sleeping Car Attendant sleep in Room 1. They often inform the passengers in their car when they are turning in for the night and they then go to a room in the Transition Sleeper. There will almost always be a Car Attendant from one of the Sleeping Cars on duty during the night and be keeping his eye on the cars where the regular Car Attendant has turned in for the night. Someone has to be available to board and see passengers off at stations during the middle of the night. Thus, passengers aren't being abandoned during the night when their Car Attendant leaves the car to get some sleep.

Going back to the original plan, if the Sleeping Car Attendants were not using rooms in the Transition Sleeper, that would be 2 or 3 more free rooms depending on the train. My understanding is that there are a few more rooms available beyond that in the Transition Sleeper. It is likely these rooms are being used for purposes not envisioned by the original designers. For example, they make a convenient place for linens and other supplies. They might also be used as on "onboard office" or break area for members of they crew whose job does not require that they be on the train long enough to require a sleep period, such as Conductors and Assistant Conductors. My understanding is that there is already an area in the Transition Sleeper that was specifically designed as an office for the Conductor.

I have been told there is a special partition specifically in the design of the Transition Sleeper to separate the crew area from the passenger area. But, as mentioned above, I don't believe that these Transition Sleepers have ever been used in this mixed mode. I've seen Transition Sleepers only used exclusively for crew members with the "crew only" sign on the entrance to the car. The only two exceptions to this of which I am aware were: (a) the one period of time in 1996 where the entire Transition Sleeper on the Southwest Chief was being used 100% for passenger bookings and no crew slept in this car, and (b) on the inaugural Texas Eagle / California Service train which had more passenger cars than I have ever seen on an Amtrak train and in which a number of invited guests were accommodated along with crew members in a Transition Sleeper.

The reasons that I have heard for the Transition Sleeper never being used in a mixed crew and passenger mode are only rumors and I cannot attest to any factual basis. I have heard that the onboard service crews feel they are "off-duty" when they are in this Transition Sleeper and mixing passengers in the same car with crew in their "off-duty" activities and conversations is a very bad idea; that a simple "staff only" sign on a hallway partition is not enough of a separation. I've also heard that Sleeping Car Attendants do not like sleeping in Room 1 as there are some passengers that abuse the 24 hours "on-call" status of the Car Attendant by ringing at all hours for non-urgent services. These requests are more properly handled by the one Sleeping Car Attendant on-duty during the night who periodically checks through the Sleeping Cars for any pulled "Call Attendant" buttons.

As far as I know, all Amtrak Superliner II Transition Sleeping Cars are of the Superliner II Series. I've never seen a Superliner I Transition Sleeping Car.

Also, you may be interested in the reason for the word "Transition." The reason for this is that this car is the only Superliner Car to have a door on one end of the car at the normal upper level, but the door at the other end corresponds to that of single level cars! Thus, this is the only car that can be placed in the middle between double-level and single-level cars which will allow a person on the train to "transition" between the double and single level cars! Customarily, the baggage car will be attached to the Transition Sleeper so that the crew, usually a specific Assistant Conductor, can get into the single level baggage car while the train is still moving. Because of this, the Transition Sleeper will almost always be placed at one end or the other end of the very last car accessible to passengers.

I'm sure Transition Sleepers have also been used on some special train configurations where both single and double level passenger cars were in the same consist. I've never seen a train like that, but I have heard of trains like that being configured for some special events. It could also be used to allow passage between Superliner Cars and single-level private cars, but this is also seldom done. The Transition Sleeper is not usually placed next to private cars at the end of an Amtrak train so there is usually no way for private car passengers or crew to go between the private car and the rest of the train while the train is in motion.

Below is an excerpt from one of my trips on the Amtrak Southwest Chief that I took in June of 1996 which talks about the "Transition Sleeper".

Long before I embarked on this journey I would occasionally stop by the Fullerton Station and watch the Southwest Chief come and go. I noticed that the last sleeping car was always a "Transition Sleeper". I've seen "Transition Sleeper" cars on trains before, but they were for the use of the train crew. This "Transition Sleeper" was being used by passengers.

I should have asked at the start of the trip for a tour of the "Transition Sleeper" car, but instead I waited until almost the end of by trip on the Southwest Chief before asking about it. As it turns out, the "Transition Sleeper" is being used as sort of a Lounge Car for Sleeping Car Passengers.

The Transition Sleeper is very similar to other Superliner Sleeping Cars. One big difference is that there are no Deluxe Bedrooms and no Family Room in it. It was actually designed as a dormitory for the crew members. Upstairs are all Economy Sleepers. Downstairs there is one Special Bedroom for handicapped use and the toilets. Where you would normally find four more Economy Sleepers and one Family Room, there is a good size lounge area instead!

I took a number of pictures of the lounge area in the Transition Sleeper. That lounge area had four "Captain Seats", big comfortable chairs with arms that swivel and also two full tables similar to what you would find in the Dining Car or the cafe in the Sightseer Lounge Car. Most of the space in that lounge area is pretty open. There are windows on both sides that you can see out from every seat. The captains chairs will swivel around to either directly face the closest windows or can be made to face each other and the windows on the opposite side of the car.

I asked the Car Attendant if many people use that lounge as it was empty when I went down to take pictures of it. She said it depended on what type of passengers were on the train that trip. If there were a number of card players or talkers, they would often spend most of the trip in that lounge. She said that the Transition Sleeper was empty for most of this trip since the people on this train didn't seem to be either card players or very talkative.

I have another explanation for the lack of use of the Transition Sleeper Lounge Area. I don't think that most passengers even knew that it was on the train! And those that were aware of it, didn't even know they had the right to use it unless their room was in the Transition Sleeper Car. I earlier had heard two people talking about that car. One was very disappointed as her travel agent had promised her that her room was in the Transition Sleeper Car. Evidently she believed she wasn't allowed to use that lounge unless her room was in that car. Two Car Attendants made it clear to me that it was available to ALL sleeping car passengers in any of the sleeping cars!

I would have mentioned something to those people myself, but at the time I overheard the conversation, I didn't know what was in the Transition Sleeper nor who was allowed to use it. The fact that the Transition Sleeper existed, what it was, and who was allowed to use it was never mentioned or explained by any of the staff to the passengers! I had to specifically ask about it to learn about it.

Click here for photographs of the Transition Sleeper.

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