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Rocky Mountaineer 9523 under construction

When I ended up in Denver in early November, 2003 on business, I didn't hesitate to call up Colorado Railcar and arrange for a tour of the facility. My timing couldn't have been better. In addition to the regular stock of cars on site, I also had the opportunity to see several cars in various states of completion, including Rocky Mountaineer 9523.

The car wasn't as far along as some of the Holland America cars, which gave me a unique chance to see an ultradome in the early stages of construction. You can also get a look at the construction progress of Holland America's 1055 by clicking here.

Sitting on the construction floor, the 9523 barely resembles its future glory. At this point, the car exterior has been almost completed, and temporary lighting is installed while work is done on the interior. Note the sanding and filling marks over the welds on the corten steel exterior, which reveals a bit of the bridge truss type framework that hides beneath the skin of each car. A better look at the framing can be seen by looking at any of the unskinned demo cars, like the SC-1 and LC-2. Unlike the Holland America 1055, the 9523 has yet to receive its genset and a/c units.

Inside, much of the existing interior appears to be roughed up. The spiral staircase to the upper level is a good example. It's completed structurally, but lacks the polish that it will have several months from now when the car is complete.

Though the car was not as far along as the four Holland America cars that it was sharing the construction floor with, the 9523 is expected to be delivered in February, a month before the remaining cars in the HALX order.

Upstairs in the 9523 will look so much different once work is complete, but the bare essentials shown here gives us an opportunity to see some of the car's inner workings. They're hard to see, but there are small vents at the bottom of the dome frames and along the floor to either side of the aisle that will comprise part of the patented air circulation system that helps keep the domes at a comfortable temperature. The rounded enclave at the front is the stairway, while the service bar is starting to take shape behind it. The wheelchair lift is at the far end of the car.

The 9523 is a bit of a departure in styling from some of the earlier RMR cars. Besides its increased size and the larger windows, the 9523 and 9521 (delivered in August, 2003) feature a slightly different floor plan, with the service bar moved from the end of the car to the area beside the stairs. There have also been some changes in interior colors. I don't have any photos of the completed cars, but you can get a feel for the new color scheme by checking out the photo of the new seats on the shop tour page.

One other noteworthy detail is the safety bars that have been tack welded across the windows. It really doesn't hit you until you look out through the open hole to a concrete floor 17 feet below you that these are REALLY big windows!

One of the most important features of any ultradome is its HVAC system. Dome cars are like giant greenhouses, with all that glass doing a great job of collecting and holding heat inside. Making an ultradome tolerable and comfortable requires a staggering 40 tons of A/C. But putting that A/C to work requires a very innovative (and patented) system of ducts and openings. The idea is not only to feed the air to the upper level, but to circulate it.

Dome cars have a tendency to fog up their windows; especially the full domes, which collect more heat and have a harder time dissipating moisture. This system provides a very effective solution. And you'd never know it was there.

The modern, all stainless steel kitchen is being installed on the end of the car opposite the small observation platform. When completed, this kitchen will be set up to handle all of the food service requirements for the car while in transit.

The dining area of the 9523 is starting to come together. Look at the tour of the 9509 to see what this area will start to look like when it's completed.

All in all, it was a fascinating opportunity to take a look at the work that goes into putting an ultradome on the road. It will be even more interesting when I can catch up with this car after it is delivered, and get photos from the same spots to do a before and after feature.

From here, we proceeded to Holland America 1055, and walked through it as well. There are some photos of that tour at this link.

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