Amtrak rolls out a new fleet of electric locomotives set to take the rail company into the future.
The new engines will be used on the Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C., and Boston and on Keystone Corridor trains that run between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa. Three are unveiled Monday before being sent out for testing. The first is due to go into service by this fall, and all 70 are expected to be in service by 2016.
Amtrak awarded the contract in 2010 to Munich-based Siemens AG, which has made a big investment in the American rail industry over the last decade. The company makes about one of every three light rail vehicles in North America and is building light rail vehicles for Minneapolis, Houston and San Diego at the Sacramento plant where Amtrak's locomotives are being produced.
Among the improvements in the new locomotives are computers that can diagnose problems in real-time and take corrective action and a braking system capable of generating 100 percent of the energy it uses back to the electric grid — similar to the way a hybrid automobile's motor acts as a generator when braking, according to Michael Cahill, CEO for Siemens Rail Systems. That could produce energy savings of up to $300 million over 20 years, the company estimates.
They also feature crumple zones, which are basically cages built onto the front end of the train that can absorb impact from a collision. The new models will be the first in North America to use them, in compliance with new federal safety guidelines, Cahill said.
The locomotives, called Amtrak Cities Sprinters, are based on Siemens' latest European electric locomotive and will replace Amtrak equipment that has been in service for 20 to 30 years and has logged an average of 3.5 million miles.