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High-speed 'Charger' locomotives being tested on Midwest state-supported routes

High-speed 'Charger' locomotives being tested on Midwest state-supported routes

(UPDATE, April 24, 2017): The Missouri Department of Transportation will give the Charger a test run along the state-supported Missouri River Runner route between St. Louis and Kansas City on April 25-26. The new locomotives are expected to go into revenue service on the route later this year.

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(Original story, April 21, 2017): New Siemens Charger locomotives have begun testing in Illinois, the Illinois Department of Transportation has announced.

Testing is expected to last through Sunday (April 23), with the locomotives expected to go into full-time service later this spring, the agency said in a news release.

“The delivery and testing of these attractive new locomotives will certainly get attention now and in years to come as they serve riders in our great Illinois communities,” said Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn. “Their arrival will be a welcome sight and put us one step closer to providing more efficient and reliable passenger rail service throughout our state and our neighboring states.”

The testing involves a Charger locomotive pulling empty Amtrak cars along the Chicago-Milwaukee, Chicago-Carbondale and Chicago-Quincy lines. Engineering staff from both Amtrak and Siemens will be riding the locomotives to perform the required tests and monitor performance.

The new equipment will run on state-supported corridors in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin. Testing will be conducted on each of the states’ corridors prior to service on a route.

Illinois is the lead agency in a multi-state procurement for the locomotives with Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin, California and Washington. The Midwest states will receive and own 33 of the 4,400-horsepower locomotives, which were purchased through $216.5 million in federal funding. 

Assembled by Siemens in Sacramento, Calif., the Charger was developed under standards created by the Next Generation Equipment Committee. Capable of sustained speeds up to 125 miles per hour, the Chargers are powered by a 4,400-horsepower, Cummins QSK95 diesel-electric engine. It is the first locomotive engine to comply with the U.S. EPA’s highest emissions standard (Tier 4), and features electronically controlled regenerative braking systems – energy used from the traction motors during braking is converted into electricity, thus decreasing the train’s dependence on fossil fuel. Their emissions will be 90 percent less than trains operating Tier 0 locomotives (those built between 1973 and 1992 for mainline locomotives, or 2001 for switchers). They will also be substantially quieter.

MIPRC Chair Tim Hoeffner saw the Charger being tested last August at the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colorado.

“What I see with this is increased reliability, decreased emissions, better air quality, better acceleration, better de-acceleration and better fuel consumption,” Hoeffner said at the time. “But the real key is that reliability piece and being able to run for many, many, many hundreds of miles without any concerns.”

Federal funding for the locomotives was awarded to the Midwest in 2011 as part of a grant to replace aging Amtrak equipment and help accommodate projected increases in ridership, improve operational reliability, reduce operating costs, achieve a state of good repair, and promote standardization of rolling stock on eight Midwestern state-supported corridors.

In addition to the Midwest, California and Washington, the locomotives also will operate in Maryland’s MARC commuter rail service and on Florida’s Brightline passenger rail service, which is scheduled to begin this summer between Miami and West Palm Beach (with eventual extension to Orlando).

Delivery of all 33 locomotives is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.

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