Hi-Level Railcar No. 532 on the Santa Fe train El Capitan in 1956.

(Santa Fe Railway-photographer-R. Bradley, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)



A bilevel car (American English) or double-decker coach (Canadian English) is a type of rail car that has two levels of passenger accommodation as opposed to one, increasing passenger capacity (up to 57% per car in extreme cases).

The use of double-decker carriages, where feasible, can resolve capacity problems on a railroad, avoiding other options which have an associated infrastructure cost such as longer trains (which require longer station platforms), more trains per hour (which the signaling or safety requirements may not allow) or adding extra tracks besides the existing line.

Double deck trains are claimed to be more energy efficient, and may have a lower operating cost per passenger. A bi-level car may carry up to about twice as many as a normal car, if structure and loading gauges permit, without requiring double the weight to pull or material to build. However, a bi-level train may take longer to exchange passengers at each station, since more people will enter and exit from each car. The increased dwell time makes them most popular on long-distance routes which make fewer stops (and may be popular with passengers for offering a better view).

Double deck cars may not be usable in countries or on older railroad systems with low loading gauge, most notably the majority of the British railway network. In some countries such as the UK new lines are built to a higher than the existing structure gauge to allow the use of double-deck trains in future.



The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad placed bilevel Gallery cars in commuter service in the Chicago area in 1950. These were successful, and led to the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway introducing long-distance Hi-Level cars on Chicago–Los Angeles El Capitan streamliner in 1954.


Typical Design

The double-deck design usually includes lowering the bottom floor to below the top level of the wheels, closer to the rails, and then adding an upper floor above. Such a design will fit under more bridges, tunnels and power wires (structure gauge). For cost and safety, this design also minimizes car height (loading gauge) and lowers the centre of gravity.

Depending on train station platform heights, three designs can be used for entry – high platforms require use of a "split level" car design, where the doors are located on a middle level, with access into the upper or lower level branching off – with stairs or ramps going both up and down (sometimes this configuration includes a section of seating at the middle level in the entry section, with double levels only in part of the lengths of the car). For low train station platforms, a "two-floor" design with level entry onto the lower floor is used. Occasionally a third, very tall "two floors over-wheel" design is used. This is a traditional single floor car "with a second story" design which, when using a low platform, requires steps up to a traditional floor height and then internal stairs up to the upper floor.


Bi-level New Jersey Transit train led by a cab car with quarter-point and end doors. Note how the cab car makes the train less aerodynamic in push operation.

(MTAEnthusiast10, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)


United States

Bilevel passenger rail cars used in the United States are manufactured by Bombardier (now Alstom), Kawasaki, Colorado Railcar (today US Railcar), and several others, with the former two having produced the majority of the high platform "split level" commuter rail cars in use in the northeastern states.

Colorado Railcar produced bilevel DMUs and Ultra Dome passenger cars. Colorado Railcar cars measure 19 ft 9+1⁄2 in (6,033 mm) in height and have steps that enter to a lower deck that is 51 in (1,295 mm) above the rail.

Other designs, including rolling stock made by Colorado Railcar, Budd, Pullman-Standard, Bombardier and others have an entrance on the lower deck rather than an intermediate level. Amtrak Superliners are double-decker cars of this variety, with the entrance a step or so up from the lowest station platform level, or at the level of slightly higher platforms, and allow passage from car to car on the upper level.

Some operators in the United States use a specific design of bi-level car known as a "gallery car" (see below).

Long-distance trains
Most of Amtrak's intercity passenger trains operating to points west of Chicago use Superliners, as do select trains east of Chicago, like the Capitol Limited and Auto Train. In addition, Alaska Railroad operates passenger trains with a mix of traditional passenger equipment and large fleets of Colorado Railcar Ultra Domes (sometimes as many as 15 in one train) owned by several major cruise ship lines.


Nippon Sharyo gallery car used on Caltrain service. (Yuko Honda, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)


Amerail Gallery Cab car used on Metra service leading three cabs ahead of the locomotive. (H. Michael Miley from Schaumburg, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)


Northeastern United States
Most passenger rail lines in the Northeast have a loading gauge that can only accommodate cars 14 ft 6 in (4,420 mm) or less in height. This is due to structure gauge restrictions such as bridges and tunnels that are too low, and may also have electrified lines overhead.

Nevertheless, commuter railroads such as the Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit, MARC, and MBTA all use bilevel railcars built to unique designs to clear specific structure gauge problems on those systems. The bilevels used on LIRR, MARC, and MBTA were built by Kawasaki Rail Car, Inc., while the bilevel cars used by NJ Transit were built by Bombardier. Recently Hyundai Rotem has built additional new cars of a similar design for MBTA.

In each of these agencies' bilevel cars, two levels are present between the trucks of the car. At each end, stairs lead from both levels to a common floor which is located at standard height over the trucks. All LIRR bilevel passenger rail cars have two wide quarter-point doors on each side, for high level platforms only. The bilevel cars used by NJ Transit and Exo have four doors on each side, two quarter-point doors at high level platform height and one at each end vestibule, with traps used to reach low level platforms. The bilevel cars used by MBTA have side doors with traps at each end vestibule. MARC operates both of the latter two types of cars.

The Superliners used for many Amtrak intercity services do not fit in these systems. Single-deck Viewliners and Amfleet IIs are used instead.

Due to the typically-generous clearances on California railroads due to freight railroads expanding clearances to accommodate double-stacked containers, bilevel cars are common in the state. The California Department of Transportation owns 88 California Cars, which are based on the Superliner body shell, but with high-density interiors suitable for corridor trains. These cars, along with 39 owned directly by Amtrak, are dedicated to state-subsidized Amtrak California routes including the San Joaquin, Capitol Corridor and Pacific Surfliner routes. The Surfliner also serves Amtrak's California lines.

Metrolink, which serves Southern California, has 137 active Bombardier BiLevel Coaches (Sentinel Fleet) and 137 Hyundai Rotem bi-level cars (Guardian Fleet).

Caltrain in the Bay Area uses both Bombardier BiLevels and Nippon Sharyo gallery cars. From 2024, bilevel Stadler KISS electric multiple units will run on the newly electrified network.


Southeast Florida's Tri-Rail commuter service between Miami and West Palm Beach uses the Bombardier BiLevel Coach and Rotem Commuter Cars. SunRail, which serves the Greater Orlando area, also uses Bombardier BiLevel coaches.

Metra has a large fleet of gallery cars, and Highliner II gallery electric multiple units (EMUs). The NICTD South Shore Line fleet also includes very similar gallery EMUs. Chicago does not have the loading gauge problems that affect passenger rail lines in most northeastern states because it has very few railroad tunnels for the lines of these passenger trains except for a brief distance in the city.

In January 2021, the Metra board approved the purchase of 200 of a new design of multilevel car from Alstom, with options for up to 300 more.

Former Metra coaches were operated by a number of other agencies in the first two decades of the twenty-first century; as of 2021, they are still used for Nashville's WeGo Star (formerly branded as the Music City Star).


The MBTA utilizes both bilevel and single level railcars. Unlike some bi-levels, MBTA's may be used with single-level cars.
The MBTA is the public agency responsible for operating most public transport services in Greater Boston. Its MBTA Commuter Rail system currently uses 213 bilevel passenger cars made by Kawasaki and Hyundai Rotem.

New Mexico
The New Mexico Rail Runner Express utilizes Bombardier BiLevel cars on its route from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Belen, New Mexico.

Virginia Railway Express operated 13 Kawasaki bi-level cars between 1999 and 2008, after which they were sold to MARC (these cars were originally procured as an option on MARC's larger order). From 2001, VRE also operated a number of ex-Metra Pullman-Standard gallery cars. These were all gradually replaced by new Sumitomo/Nippon Sharyo gallery cars between 2006 and 2018.

FrontRunner commuter rail, operated by the Utah Transit Authority to connect multiple cities along the Wasatch Front, utilizes Bombardier BiLevel Coaches.


Bombardier BiLevel Coach in Tri-Rail livery at the Deerfield Beach Tri-Rail station. (Joedamadman, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)


Hyundai Rotem bilevel car approaching Salem, Massachusetts. (Pi.1415926535, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Hyundai Rotem bilevel car approaching Salem, Massachusetts. (Pi.1415926535, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

All GO Transit trains use Bombardier BiLevel coaches.

(Milan Suvajac, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)



Canada's national passenger railway company, Via Rail, does not currently operate any bilevel coaches in its fleet, apart from the dome cars used on some long-distance services. These coaches include two levels over part of the length of the vehicle.

The Ontario Northland Railway operates a bilevel dome car on its Polar Bear Express service with two levels along the entire length of the vehicle.

The Bombardier BiLevel Coach was originally designed by Hawker-Siddeley Canada for the GO Transit commuter rail network in southern Ontario. It is now used by 14 different railway operators across North America, including all three of Canada's commuter rail systems. All train services operated by GO Transit and West Coast Express use Bombardier BiLevel coaches, while Montréal's Exo trains use a mix of Bombardier Bilevel, Bombardier MultiLevel and various single-level coaches.

The private rail tour company Rocky Mountaineer uses bilevel full-length dome cars built by Colorado Railcar.


See Also:

Passenger Cars