Amtrak launched its new Siemens’ ALC-42 locomotives this week on the Feb. 8th Empire Builder traveling west from Chicago to Seattle. Locomotives 301 and 302 mark the first of 75 new locomotives being added to long-distance routes between now and 2024.
These ALC-42 locomotives are markedly more efficient than the P40 and P42 predecessors. According to specifications released by Amtrak and Siemens, the locomotives “will reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide by more than 89 percent and particulate matter by 95 percent, while consuming less fuel than the locomotives being retired and reaching a greater top speed, 125 mph.”
“We’re focused on being the solution to get people out of cars and planes and onto rail for greater emissions reductions" said Amtrak Vice President and Chief Mechanical Officer George Hull in a brief ceremony at Chicago Union Station. “While railroading is a small portion of the emissions picture nationally, we want to take these steps to be the cleanest passenger railroad operating diesel trains in North America, commuter or interstate.”
These new locomotives will increase reliability compared to their predecessor units, many of which are 25 years old. However, their introduction wasn't seamless: a P42 was added onto the inaugural run, which Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari clarified was “for technical reasons related to positive train control” when asked by Trains News Wire.
That came only a week after the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and Amtrak quietly introduced a handful of the new Siemens Venture coaches into revenue service between Chicago and St. Louis.
“We’re planning an official grand opening in mid-February,” said Jennifer Bastian, Section Chief of Passenger Rail Rolling Stock at IDOT. “The first ‘married pair’ of a coach-cafe and business-class car is leaving Siemens in Sacramento this week, and we have to determine when it will fit into the next consist that we release.”
Train No. 303 was the unofficial inaugural run, and—with the $7.3 billion deal between Amtrak and Siemens that was announced Summer 2021—it’s a sign of big things to come. Coach deliveries to the Midwest fleet will arrive first, with new business class cars scheduled for 2022 and café cars for some time in 2023.
There are some clear improvements, including faster Wi-Fi, upgraded bathrooms and wider aisles to improve accessibility. However, many passengers shared complaints with Rail Passengers regarding the narrowness of the new seats. The Siemens Venture coaches feature a seat width of 19.1 inches, compared to 21 inch seats on the Horizons and Amfleet 1s. Since the seats appear to have been narrowed to accommodate the wider aisles, it’s unclear whether this feature will be locked-in on future iterations of the train. Bastian did tell reporters the Midwest Venture business-class seat cushions will be 26 inches wide.
This new equipment is only the tip of the iceberg. With new tens of billions of dollars in new funding provided by the bipartisan infrastructure bill, we can expect a sweeping renewal of America's aging passenger rail fleet, creating tens of thousands of family-wage manufacturing jobs in the process.
“These new locomotives serve as another step forward to advance safe, clean, reliable, and efficient passenger rail across the country,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose. “With President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we’re positioned to make even more investments in modernizing rail infrastructure that will make a difference in the lives of Americans.”