Shiny New Locomotives – Fast, Too – For Amtrak

For you tired old Amtrak trains in the Northeast U.S., retirement might be just around the corner.

A Sacramento, Calif., Siemens plant is now producing what the company and purchaser Amtrak call “advanced technology electric locomotives” that are intended to provide speedy, more energy efficient and more reliable service to intercity travelers in the Northeast.

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A new Cities Sprinter at the yard in Sacramento (image via Amtrak)

The government backed rail service is buying 70 of the locomotives for $466 million, and the first of the units will be tested in the field this summer – two at a U.S. Department of Transportation facility in Pueblo, Colo., and another in Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

If all goes well, the new locomotive, dubbed the Cities Sprinter, will begin to go into service this fall. It will operate at speeds of up to 125 mph in the Northeast Corridor from Washington, D.C., to Boston and up to 110 mph on the Keystone Corridor from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, Penn.

The Cities Sprinters will replace existing units that have been in service for 25 to 35 years and have traveled an average of 3.5 million miles – and in some cases up to 4.5 million miles – Amtrak said.

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A look at the cockpit (image via Amtrak)

“The new Amtrak locomotives will help power the economic future of the Northeast region, provide more reliable and efficient service for passengers and support the rebirth of rail manufacturing in America,” said Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman.

What makes these locomotives more energy efficient? Regenerative braking systems – the sort of technology you see in hybrid cars – that feed energy back into the power grid, Siemens and Amtrak said.

Amtrak also emphasized the economic benefit the made-in-America locomotives are bringing; assembly is happening at  Siemens’ Sacramento, rail manufacturing plant but parts are being built at Siemens’ plants in Ohio, Georgiaa and Mississippi. Plus, Amtrak said, nearly 70 suppliers, representing more than 60 cities and 23 states are also getting work from the project.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.