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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / Amtrak tests Charger locomotives on ‘Empire Builder’ route NEWSWIRE

Amtrak tests Charger locomotives on ‘Empire Builder’ route NEWSWIRE

By Justin Franz | January 28, 2020

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Charger locomotive No. 4627 leads an Amtrak test train through Wauwatosa, Wis., on Tuesday afternoon. Amtrak is testing the locomotives for use in long-distance service.
TRAINS: David Lassen

CHICAGO — People along Amtrak’s Empire Builder route are getting a preview of the future of long-distance passenger service this week as the railroad runs a test train powered by two Siemens Charger SC-44 locomotives.

On Tuesday, the test train led by two Chargers departed Chicago bound for Seattle. Along with the SC-44 locomotives, the consist includes a P42 and nine passenger cars to simulate the weight and length of one of Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

“The purpose of this trip is to gather data,” says Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari, adding that officials from Amtrak and Siemens were on the train.

The train was expected to arrive in Seattle on Thursday morning. Additional tests are expected on the Coast Starlight and California Zephyr routes in the near future.

In December 2018, Amtrak announced that it was purchasing 75 Siemens Charger locomotives for long-distance services [see “Siemens to supply 75 new Tier 4 locomotives to Amtrak,” Trains News Wire, Dec. 21, 2018]. The locomotives will replace Amtrak’s aging fleet of GE-built P40 and P42 locomotives, some of which have been in service for more than 25 years. The new locomotives are expected to start arriving in the summer of 2021.

16 thoughts on “Amtrak tests Charger locomotives on ‘Empire Builder’ route NEWSWIRE

  1. @Al, the 75 unit order comes with options…lots of options. That said, it’s a good thing they bought all of those baggage cars to facilitate test trains like this. Excellent forethought.

  2. Somehow the numbers make no sense; 75 locomotives to replace 300? Every LD train uses two, and in some cases three locomotive units. If you factor in the numbers for three or more trainsets for each route, plus spares, plus maintenance and inspection downtime, 75 won’t do the job. Added to the fact that there is no plan in place to replace the Superliners, I see ultimate discontinuance of the LD’s, and these locos used to power the replacement regionals as quite adequate single units. I believe the “test runs” to be a smoke screen.

  3. I believe the F125 has more horsepower than the Charger.
    When Siemens won the bid I believe it was protested.
    At that time it was stated that the Cummins prime mover could not produce its full rated horsepower for sustained periods of times like on a long upgrade.
    The HEP would have to be shut down to maintain speed.
    If any one has more info on this please let us know.

  4. PETER – When we lived nearby we had a similar bad experience at the exact location you cite. I won’t get into details because it will make us sound like idiots. Suffice it to say we just didn’t hear the train until it was almost too late. After that I realized that a train that can be heard a mile away might not be evident to a person with good hearing standing by the track.

    This looks like a terrible place for a connection given the geometry, environmental concerns and the Milwaukee County parklands. Another place CNW engineering looked at for a connection was on the north side of Milwaukee where the CNW line east from Butler Yard crosses over the Milwaukee Road main going north. This relates directly to my next point below.

    When WisDOT was in the early stages of planning the Zoo Interchange reconstruct (now completed), I looked into any or all connections or detours that would enable the UPRR (ex-CNW) Belton Line to be closed for widening IH 94 beneath. In the end, WisDOT built a new rail bridge over IH 94 off alignment.

  5. Charles, a retired CNW bridge engineer relayed a story to me about a misadventure he had at the bridge in the photo. Back when the CNW thought it was going to take over the MILW, the CNW engineering department was told that a connection track would be installed at this location. He was sent out to the site to survey in the point of intersection between the two alignments. At one point he was down on the MILW tracks laying out the centerline of the track in this time well before FRA On Track Safety Rules. He was wise enough to do most his measuring outside of the gauge, but nonetheless he lost track of his situational awareness for just a moment. Looking up at the last second he saw an Amtrak train rounding the curve at him at speed. He stepped back so fast his hardhat flew off in front of the oncoming locomotive. The hardhat hit the plow of the Amtrak loco and flew off into the weeds.

    It is one of those stories he tells someone when they complain about complying with all of the FRA’s OTS rules.

  6. BTW, VIA Rail is changing over to SIemens Chargers and Siemens coaches as well for it’s rail corridors.

  7. @Penelope Vinson- I agree with your comment. To me Amtrak buying Superliners was a backward move. If they would have focused on one single level car design for Regional, and LD service.. Instead of handicapping themselves with cars that can’t traverse the NEC, and Hudson River Tunnels..

  8. Last year (2019), Amtrak did a test run with two Siemens Charger SC-44 locomotives pulling a train of Viewliner cars representing a re-equipped ‘Southwest Chief’ from Chicago to Los Angeles. This is encouraging for those of us who prefer single-level passenger cars over bilevel cars. Scaling stairs to access the main level of a bilevel train is cumbersome for some of us when the ultimatum is being confined to the lower level of one (bilevel) car.

    Single-level trains are more aesthetically pleasing when the cars and locomotives are approximately the same height. And therefore have greater aerodynamics.

    As for the Siemens Charger SC-44 locomotives, I can only hope the production model for long distance trains will have the sleek nose design of Brightline’s Siemens Chargers. [In the 2020s, passenger train locomotives should not look like cats missing their snouts.]

  9. I’m not sure where people are getting the news that the SC-44’s are always late; I live on in Downers Grove on the route of two SC-44 lead trains (Carl Sandburg and Illinois Zephyr) and the trains are no more off schedule that they were with P42’s

  10. For those who like watching trains from the narrow sidewalk of an overpass, this photo was taken from Watertown Plank Road two blocks west of Highway 100 a/k/a 108th Street. The CP Rail route (lower) is the former Milwaukee Road. The truss bridge carries the ex-CNW, now UPRR “Belton Line” bypass around Milwaukee.

    For those who like to sprawl out on the grass rather than stand on the narrow sidewalk of a bridge, both railroads can be seen from Milwaukee County’s Oak Leaf bike trail (at rear of the photo, by the Superliner). From the bike trail the view is best after the leaves have fallen in the autumn.

    Left hand running as shown in the photo is not normal.

    The curve in the photo is one of many on this indirect route, part of the reason why the proposal for “high speed rail” to Madison was not feasible.

  11. Now that Amtrak is testing new motive power for the LD routes its leadership continues to berate by manipulating data, why beat around the bush anymore?

    Why the silence on replacing the Superliner fleet? Why the waiting game, other than to facilitate the elimination of LD routes due to equipment failure?

    Instead of contending with another fiasco of a false start by a foreign, overseas firm not vetted when under bidding its response to the RFP to build intercity bi-levels, when does Amtrak get moving on proformas for approval by Congress to build new Superliners? To make it easy, Bombardier operates a bi-level factory in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Certainly, their are other competent European builders of bi-levels.

    As we know, the new Siemens power can be utilized in short haul corridors, it is a matter of if and when Amtrak moves against the LD routes. The real question is do the LD routes get re-equipped, or not? While at it, when will food & beverage services be outsourced to enhance customer satisfaction?

  12. An historical tidbit about testing on the Milwaukee west thru Wauwatosa; when scheduling permitted the 4-4-2 Hiawatha Atlantics (#1-4) did high speed brake tests.

  13. Last March I was on the Texas Eagle. Our locomotive broke down north of Lincoln. We got into a siding. A following Lincoln service train with a Charger locomotive ran ahead of us and backed down to us on the siding. They hooked us up and towed us along to Chicago. It seemed it had no trouble at all towing both trains at track speed. That was a real test.

  14. I’ve been watching the F125s performances lately and I can see that they are improving, not every mechanical problem is related to the F125, cause I have seen Metrolink Trains with mechanical problems and the engine involved is an older engine such as an MP36, or F59. Also the F125s have been arriving at the stations a few minutes early ahead of schedule almost all the time now when they depart the stations right on Time. And crews hardly complain about them. Plus the crews even say the F125s are more powerful, and I have seen most of the F125s in service running for months and months and months now without any issues.

    Yes Progress Rail sadly rushed their Tier 4 locomotives into production but I’ve seen improvements in them and other people can agree.

    If the F125s were still braking down a lot, Metrolink wouldn’t be decommissioning its old F59s this fast and they wouldn’t be leading Trains by themselves. And Metrolink’s ridership is still high.

    Plus Siemens doesn’t have any further orders for their Chargers and not every passenger rail network is buying new right now most commuter railroads are rebuilding what they have now.

    Even though the Tier 4s still haven’t proven themselves reliable yet, I see that the manufacturers are gradually making improvements in their engines.

  15. @August Hahn: What alternative do they have? It seems at this point that US builders aren’t even making an effort to build new passenger locomotives. The F125 seems to have gone nowhere since Metrolink bought theirs in SoCal.

    Also, while anecdotal evidence is great, is there empirical evidence from Amtrak or other operators of the Chargers (Virgin in Florida?) regarding the availability and reliability of these locomotives relative to the current worn-out P42s? Every machine has a limited service life; you can only rebuild the old stuff so many times before you have to replace entirely.

  16. It’s a mistake waiting to happen, almost everywhere you go, People have asked crews on how the Siemens units run and its all been negative from the crews that operate them. They can barely make steep grades, they have big blind spots on the sides of the windows, they are also constantly braking down, and almost every train that has 1 is always running late.
    So it’s not just the Railfans that hate them the engineers don’t like them either. Every engineer I have heard has said they much rather prefer the P40s, P42s, and also like the old F59PHIs as well. It’s just more ugly engines that only the manufacturer could love.

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