Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Washington conducting national "test drive" of state-of-the-art locomotive on Amtrak Cascades route

By Barbara LaBoe

You just might catch a sneak peek of Amtrak Cascades' future this month as we test a new state-of-the-art locomotive along our route.

We've been selected to conduct the national certification testing of the new Siemens Charger locomotives. That means one of the sleek, high-tech machines will be traveling up and down the Amtrak Cascades corridor a couple of different times this month.

We're buying eight of the Charger locomotives as part of a multi-state procurement and these tests will certify the locomotives for use across the nation. Just as importantly, this work moves us one step closer to using the new locomotives on our Amtrak Cascades passenger train routes. (We, along with the Oregon Department of Transportation run the Amtrak Cascades service).
We’re taking this new Charger locomotive, parked at King Street Station in Seattle, on a series of test drives this month
to certify them for national use. We’ll receive eight of these machines this spring for our Amtrak Cascades line.

The tests are essentially a large-scale test drive. The locomotive, attached to an Amtrak Cascades trainset, will travel various sections of our existing Vancouver, British Columbia to Eugene, Oregon corridor. No passengers will be on board, but Amtrak and Siemens staff will be on hand to test and monitor how the locomotive operates. Previous tests were conducted in a special closed-track facility in Colorado, but the Washington tests put the locomotive on active tracks for the first time.

Why is Washington conducting these tests? We've been recognized by the Federal Railroad Administration for our progress on our $800 million federally funded Cascades High-Speed Rail program, and we also had necessary contracts in place to allow the testing to happen. We're honored and excited about getting some early experience with the new machines.

These "next generation" locomotives will have higher acceleration rates and top speeds, on-board positive train control safety features designed to automatically control train speeds and movements if an operator fails to take appropriate action, and greater reliability. The 4,400-horse power engines also meet new, stringent emissions standards, making them better for our environment. For now our trains will continue to run at 79 mph, but the locomotives give us options for faster speeds in the future.
One of the 4,400-horse power engines being lowered into a new Siemens Charger locomotive body in a California factory
where our eight locomotives are under construction. The Cummins QSK95 engines are 42,000 pounds, 8-foot tall
and meet new, stringent emission standards.

Our eight locomotives are currently under construction in California, so we're using a new Illinois locomotive for the testing. This locomotive will have generic Siemens designs on it. Our new locomotives will sport a new Amtrak Cascades-specific design, which will be unveiled in early April.

Combined with the rest of the rail improvement work we've done along the corridor, the new locomotives will help us add two more daily Amtrak Cascades roundtrips between Seattle and Portland while reducing the travel time and improving on-time reliability. The new service will begin this fall.

Until then, keep your eyes peeled for the Charger during the next few weeks, as well as news about when our new locomotives will arrive in April.


Unknown said...

Having suffered through a round trip on the Empire Builder this winter, which involved more hours of delay than I care to remember, rising before dawn only to end up on a bus trip across the state, I can only hope that there are train enthusiasts who care about this--personally, I'd walk before I give Amtrak another dollar.

Aaron Hudson said...

The Empire builder is a long distance train that travels over mountain passes making it entirely different than the cascades which do not traverse mountain passes.

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