New engines for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor roll out of California plant

May 15, 2013

SACRAMENTO, Calif.(May 13)–The first of 70 new electric engines assigned to pull Amtrak trains at speeds up to 125 miles per hour rolled out of a Siemens Corp. manufacturing plant on schedule.

Known as an ACS 64, or “American Cities Sprinter,” the 8,600-hp double-ended engine was operated briefly at low speeds on a test track outside the building where it was assembled from parts manufactured by 69 suppliers in 61 cities located in 23 states.

“It was built in the United States,” said Amtrak President Joseph Boardman at the rollout ceremony. “Today we are having a rebirth of rail transportation in the U.S.”

The first ACS 64, numbered 601, and a second engine, are scheduled to be sent to Pueblo, Colo., for rigorous field testing on a high-speed electrified track at the Association of American Railroads’ Transportation Technology Center.

A third ACS 64 will be tested by Amtrak on portions of its Northeast Corridor connecting Boston, New York and Washington, as well as on its 104-mile Keystone Corridor connecting Philadelphia with Harrisburg, Pa.

Once the engines pass their tests, they will be turned over to Amtrak for introduction in regular service pulling the company’s 125-mph Northeast Regional trains and 110-mph trains on the Keystone Corridor. Siemens expects to complete two locomotives per month until the complete 70-unit delivery is completed in 2016.

The new engines are expected to replace all of Amtrak’s existing Northeast Corridor power, which ranges in age from 25 to 35 years and is nearing the end of its useful service life.

The Sprinters will be the first Amtrak electric engines to feature regenerative braking, an energy-saving technology used successfully for many years in Europe. Instead of applying air brakes that press brake shoes against discs mounted on the axles, the engineer reverses the electrical polarity of the engine’s traction motors to transform them into generators. The motors capture the kinetic energy of the rolling train, transform it into electrical energy and feed it back into the overhead wire for use by other trains that need to draw power..

Several years ago the German national railroad Deutsche Bahn said regenerative braking allowed it to cut its overall energy costs by about 30 per cent.

Amtrak appears to be counting on those kinds of savings to pay for the 70 new Siemens engines. The railroad borrowed $532 million from the Federal Railroad Administration to cover the $466-million Sprinter order along with other purchases, but it says it expects to pay back the loan with receipts from its growing ticket sales plus about $300 million in energy savings generated by regenerative braking.

Unfortunately, regenerative braking is not available to Amtrak trains in the Midwest. Electrification never spread much beyond the Northeast Corridor, so trains in most of the U.S. and Canada are powered by diesel locomotives which have no way of returning surplus energy into the electrical grid.. Many of the nation’s freight locomotives are equipped with a decaf version of regenerative braking in which trains are slowed by reversing the locomotive’s traction motors, but because there is no overhead wire into which to feed the captured energy, the excess amperage is simply turned into heat which is dissipated into the air through fans and grids on the roof of the locomotive.

“What a waste,” said Corridor Capital Chairman James E. Coston.

Coston noted that research is under way to discover whether it would be possible for diesel-electric locomotives to store captured electrical energy in batteries or capacitors from which the engine could tap the stored power for quick acceleration after station stops.

“But the research is just in its early stages at this point,” he said. “Nobody really knows whether we will have a practical method for capturing and re-using surplus electric power generated by diesel locomotives when a train is in braking mode.”

What would be more practical, Coston said, is a federal initiative to electrify more of the nation’s increasingly busy railroad main lines.

“Electrification has a huge capital cost, but if a railroad is busy enough the cost can be justified,” he said. “Electric engines are more powerful than diesel locomotives, and their mechanisms are simpler in construction and easier to maintain, so their service lives are longer. Electric engines can accelerate faster and brake more securely, plus they’re quieter and produce no fumes or emissions. Because they accelerate and decelerate faster than diesel-powered trains, they don’t require as big a ‘slot’ for their movements, so more trains can be operated safely on the same track.

“And as Amtrak’s new Sprinters are about to demonstrate, they can be paid for out of fuel savings. I look forward to the time when we can bring electric traction to some of our key Midwestern passenger and freight routes.”

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