Why Amtrak is rolling out new locomotives

The more efficient engines are headed to the booming Northeast Corridor line, whose growing ridership is also paying for them.

By Jason Notte May 13, 2013 4:46PM
One of the new Amtrak Cities Sprinter Locomotives built by Siemens Rails Systems in Sacramento, Calif. on May 11, 2013 (© Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo)Amtrak isn't rolling out 70 new locomotives to placate Americans who view it as a wasteful government money loser. It's wringing a little extra efficiency and cash out of regions where the rail line is not only surviving, but thriving.

More than 31 million passengers rode Amtrak in the 2012 fiscal year, generating a record $2.02 billion in ticket revenue. Amtrak says it will be able to pay back a $466 million federal loan for the locomotives over 25 years using net profits from the Northeast Corridor line, where ridership hit a record high last year for the ninth time in 10 years.

The new engines will be used on the Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C., and Boston and on Keystone Corridor trains that run between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa. Three were unveiled Monday before being sent out for testing. The first is due to go into service by this fall, and all 70 are expected to be in service by 2016.

A study by the Brookings Institution recently found Amtrak is "in the midst of a renaissance" fueled by consumer frustrations with the rising costs and hassles of both car and plane travel as well as a renewed interest in passenger train travel.

The study notes Amtrak ridership is up 55% since 1997, with the rail service now carrying an all-time high of more than 31 million passengers annually. That makes it the fastest-growing mode of transportation in the U.S. The nation's largest 100 cities, especially those in the Northeast and Far West, generate nearly 90% of Amtrak's customers.

Those ridership increases and thriving hubs are creating a whole bunch of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. as well. Amtrak's 70 locomotives are being built by Munich-based Siemens AG at its plant in Sacramento, Calif. The company makes about one of every three light rail vehicles in North America and is building light rail vehicles for Minneapolis, Houston and San Diego.

As a condition of the Department of Transportation's loan for the locomotives, the majority of the products and materials used to build the locomotives must be made in the U.S. As a result, some lighting parts are coming from Connecticut, the driver's seat from Wisconsin, insulation from Indiana, electronics from Texas and hydraulic parts from California. In all, 70 suppliers in 23 states are providing components, Siemens said.

More on moneyNOW

May 13, 2013 6:05PM
start running across country!!  Midwest..western states..not just Cal..and east coast states!
May 13, 2013 7:57PM

please, please restore service to orlando, fl. from new orleans, la.
we use to travel the sunset limited all the time.

please give us our joy back!

May 13, 2013 7:15PM
Absolutyy,  I would love to go to Michigan from Arizona by Amtrack.
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