riding through the scenic Alaskan wilderness. The soothing clickety
clack of the rails only a distant sound, the majesty laid out before
you virtually unimpeded by walls or structure. As you gaze at the splendor,
you become immersed. You are a part of it. That's the Ultradome experience.
much of the first half of last century, railroading was a luxurious,
competitive industry, wooing travelers with opulent car decor and top
notch service. Inroads from the newfangled automobile and later the
airplane took their toll on passenger trains, eroding customer bases
and reducing profits. Following World War II, the introduction of new
streamlined equipment to many well known trains and routes helped bring
about a brief and well remembered revival.
of the most recognizable icons of those days of trains adorned in matched,
brilliantly painted schemes or bedecked in gleaming stainless steel
was the glass topped vista dome car. Inside, riders were treated to
a spectacular panorama on the train's route. Some trains sported several
in their consist. The original domes seated either 20 or 24 depending
on configuration. The dome section on those cars comprised only about
half the total length of the car. Later full domes seated as many as
railroading has experienced a renaissance over the past decade, having
reinvented itself as a luxury mode of vacationing. Today's ultradome
is an extension of that legacy. It's a dome car with a modern flair.
Bigger, roomier and stronger than the domes from streamlined railroading's
golden age, ultradomes are some of the most luxurious railcars riding
the rails today.
history of the cars and the history of their builder, Colorado Railcar
of Ft. Lupton, CO., are intricately interwoven. I would encourage you
to read the company history that
I have compiled for a more complete look at the formation of Tour Alaska
and the inspiration for the original ultradomes.
Ultradome is a trademarked name owned by Princess Cruises, and
refers to their cars built by Colorado Railcar. Throughout this site,
you will see the word ultradome used in reference to the cars as a whole,
mainly for lack of a better term. In effect, every dome has been custom
built. You can't just pick one out of the CRC catalog. But they follow
some basic criteria.
most recognizable thing about the ultradomes and their single level
variants is the glass. And lots of it. Each of the curved glass panels
measures six by seven feet, and weighs in at about 600 pounds.
The first four Ultradomes (Tour Alaska 7080,
and 7083, later to Princess
Tours) were built using former Southern Pacific Railroad bilevel gallery
commuter cars. In effect, the tops were chopped off of each car, and
replaced with a taller upper level with frames to accommodate the large
glass dome windows. These cars are easily distinguished from all other
ultradomes by the doors in the center of the carbody.
this was a good method of proving the concept, it proved to be very
time intensive. In order to streamline the process of building the cars,
it was decided for the second order (also for Princess Tours) that the
cars could be stripped right down to the center sill and then have the
entire body built from scratch. From there, it was only a logical step
to an all-new car construction.
ultradomes are built from the ground up at Colorado Railcar's facility
in Fort Lupton, CO. and custom decorated to the purchaser's order. The
cars utilize a bridge truss-like design built out of tubular steel,
with steel sheathed sides. For a closer look at the manufacturing process,
A car mechanic I know once likened a Budd full dome car to a
big rolling greenhouse. Well, that applies to the ultradomes doubly
so. That's why so much effort is put into creature comforts. From the
top, the ultradomes feature a triple laminated glass the use five layers
of tinting to reduce solar gain by an impressive 62 percent. Add to
that an amazing 40 tons of air conditioning, and the ultradome is well
equipped to handle the needs of its interior environs. And that's quite
a bit of room over 1600 square feet between the two levels. (bigger
than my house...)
cars are designed to be ADA-accessible the first dome cars to
be thus equipped. The majority of the CRM domes built after 1995 feature
wheelchair elevators to reach the upper level, as well as wheelchair
tiedowns and ADA-compliant restrooms.
ultradomes are built basically to order, but there are a number of options
available, including kitchen/galley space, downstairs dining areas,
outdoors observation platforms, and downstairs lounges. Colorado Railcar
also has touted a number of options that have yet to be built into an
ultradome, including balconies, upstairs lounges, and (this would be
great) upstairs sleeping quarters. For a look at some of these concepts,
take our tour of demo cars
SC-1 and LC-2.