Amtrak is revived in its 50th anniversary with an influx of federal funding and support from President Biden. It recently released its ambitious plan for Connect US to expand and improve service throughout its national network and bring train traffic to and through cities that are not currently meaningfully served.
This week, it also announced a major order to completely replace its aging fleet of railcars and locomotives on the East Coast, bringing together a number of #PaxEx and operational improvements. By 2030, the Amtrak, which passengers love, or love to hate, will look completely different on the East Coast and Pacific Northwest.
The $ 7.3 billion transformation plan Will replace all 1
The new trains will be delivered in three different phases between 2024 and 2030, leading to a major change in the locomotive that Amtrak uses. The first phase runs from 2024 to 2025 and replaces the unique Talgo units on the Cascades route. This route sticks to a diesel-only operation representing the most modest change announced by Amtrak.
The second phase extends from 2025 to 2029 and completely replaces the Amfleet I fleet with new buses and twin-powered diesel-electric engines. The so-called ALC-42E locomotive is a new variant of the already very popular Siemens Charger locomotive used throughout North America.
This phase will also see the near-complete retirement of the current Siemens ACS-64 Sprinter fleet, as Amtrak will sell or lease the fleet rather than provide them with a mid-range repair. A small handful are stored to support long-distance trains running into New York’s Penn Station.
The new ALC-42E locomotives open up interesting operating and route options for Amtrak, partly to support its Connecting us level. Amtrak’s current fleet of 67 sprinters can only run in electrified areas using wiring harnesses, which limits Amtrak’s ability to seamlessly run trains to destinations outside of electrified areas.
These routes currently require a time-consuming switch between electric and diesel locomotives and add approx. 30 minutes for each trip each way. Amtrak will be able to run trains like the Vermonter, which require an engine replacement in New Haven, both on diesel and electrified territory and through New York’s Penn Station, which does not allow diesel operation due to ventilation issues.
The new locomotives will also allow Amtrak to expand existing trains running entirely within electrified territory, such as expanding Keystone trains from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh. Double-powered trains will also be able to run along the northeast corridor in the event of a problem with overhead line power, which today will stop a train.
When Amtrak completes this phase, only Acela will operate as a pure electric train in regular operation. All other trains use a combination of electric and diesel power. The first new Acela train set should come into service in 2021, but problems during testing in the Northeast Corridor have resulted in a delay until 2022.
The third phase and arguably the most interesting extends from 2029 to 2030 and will see eight hybrid battery units delivered for use in the New York Empire Corridor. The Empire Corridor train to Penn Station currently uses 1990s GE Genesis P32AC-DM diesel engines running on third rail electric power to enter Penn Station and use diesel power elsewhere.
The hybrid battery units designed for the Empire Corridor will use a diesel-powered ALC-42E locomotive, but instead of relying on third rail power, they will be battery-powered. Instead of distributing battery power through the passenger buses, a single tight battery trailer is coupled to the ALC-42E, a first of its kind in the United States.
When asked why such a complex and technically challenging option was chosen over the tested third rail, Amtrak noted that the battery car will provide operational and performance improvements during typical operations along with increased fuel efficiency and reduced emissions. Amtrak was unable to provide information on the expected range for battery operation only, but Empire Corridor trains only need to run on battery power in and out of Penn Station.
Of course, new trains mean new passenger facilities. The new Amtrak fleet will increase the passenger experience by decades and feel more like trains running in Europe and Asia.
Amtrak promises more comfortable seats (a high bar for Amtrak’s already excellent comfort levels), USB ports in addition to individual AC sockets, free Wi-Fi, much larger panoramic windows, more “modern” food service with the addition of self-service options, digital seat reservation and greatly improved built-in customer information technology.
Amtrak will also introduce a number of new accessibility enhancements with the new fleet. The new passenger buses have inductive hearing loops, accessible toilets, halls and food trucks. Automated steps will also be included to speed up boarding at stations without high-level platforms, while lifts give passengers with reduced mobility and wheelchair users an easier opportunity to board.
Overall, Amtrak is planning a significantly brighter future with all new equipment on many popular routes. It still has a long way to go to improve the physical infrastructure on the east coast, but many passengers should see noticeable time savings and a much improved experience within this decade.
Highlighted image credited to Siemens Mobility