Amtrak acquiring new, power-saving locomotive fleet

Amtrak will acquire 70 new power-saving electric locomotives as part of a plan to rejuvenate its aging fleet on the Northeast Corridor, the manufacturer Siemens AG is expected to announce Friday.

The company has been awarded a $468 million contract to provide the new generation of locomotives over a six-year period. The engines are expected to eventually replace all of Amtrak's AEM-7 and HHP-8 locomotives — breakdown-prone models used by both the national passenger railroad and Maryland's MARC commuter service.

Amtrak has announced a long-range plan to upgrade its fleet over the next 30 years. The Siemens contract is the second to be agreed to under that program, said Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham. A $298 million contract was announced in June for 130 new railcars.

Graham said the new locomotives will replace aging equipment now used on Northeast Regional trains and are not part of a separate high-speed rail strategy. She added that the engines have been in service 20-30 years and have put in average miles of 3.5 million per unit.

"They're essential to meet service reliability expectations and to handle the growing ridership demand in the coming years," Graham said.

Siemens said the locomotives and their main components would be produced in the United States, with most of the 250 resulting jobs going to its manufacturing plant in Sacramento, Calif.

Many of the locomotives are expected to be used on the Boston- Washington Northeast Corridor, which would bring the engines through Baltimore's Penn Station on a regular basis. Others would be used on the Keystone Corridor in Pennsylvania.

Oliver Hauck, president of Siemens' Mobility Division, said the Cities Sprinter models will include energy-saving technology that will let them feed the electricity generated by braking back into the power grid. Siemens estimated that the engines could use 25 percent less power than Amtrak's existing locomotives. The company also said the new locomotives would have more power and greater ease of maintenance.

"This isn't your grandfather's locomotive," Hauck said in a statement released by the company.

According to Siemens, 1,600 comparable models are in use worldwide.

"We have extensive experience with them, and we believe these locomotives will be reliable," said Siemens Vice President Jurgen Wilder.

The company said the version Amtrak has ordered will be able to operate at sustained speeds up to 125 mph in the Northeast Corridor — not as fast as the Acela but faster than the locomotives now used by Northeast Regional trains.

While the contract does not involve Maryland's MARC service, it could influence Maryland's future locomotive acquisitions. The electric models currently in the MARC fleet are all models used by Amtrak, which maintains the state's locomotives.

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