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Midwest's high-speed 'Charger' locomotives one step closer to service

Midwest's high-speed 'Charger' locomotives one step closer to service

MIPRC Chair Tim Hoeffner was in Pueblo, Colorado, last week to witness the testing of the new Siemens Charger locomotive, which is being built for the Midwestern states, California and Washington, as well as other states and localities.

The Charger was developed under standards created by the Next Generation Corridor Equipment Pool Committee.* Capable of sustained speeds up to 125 miles per hour, SC-44 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’ll also be substantially quieter.

The test program on a 12-mile loop of track at the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo evaluated the Charger’s acceleration, braking and overall performance, and included maximum speed runs. Examples of test runs can be seen in this video (more videos and interviews are available on this page at Siemens' website).

 

Hoeffner was pleased with what he saw. “What I see with this is increased reliability, decreased emissions, better air quality, better acceleration, better de-acceleration, better fuel consumption,” Hoeffner said. “But the real key is that reliability piece and being able to run for many, many, many hundreds of miles without any concerns.” Hoeffner added that the Charger seems to have solved a problem that has plagued higher-speed operations – the vibrations caused by the wheel-track interactions, and the havoc those vibrations have wrought on ties and track geometry. “I think these locomotives solve that problem and that’s a huge benefit, I think, in the long run, for everybody,” he said.

In 2012, the Federal Railroad Administration awarded the Midwest $268 million for new locomotives and train cars, replacing aging and obsolete Amtrak equipment with new locomotives and bi-level cars that will add capacity to 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. Built at Siemens’ plant in Sacramento, California, the locomotives will also operate in Maryland’s MARC commuter rail service and Florida’s pending Brightline passenger rail service, scheduled to begin next summer between Miami and West Palm Beach (with eventual extension to Orlando).

The first locomotives are expected to arrive for use in the Midwest late this year; Siemens says all 66 Chargers on order will be delivered by the end of 2017.  The test was covered in local and industry/trade publications, including Business Wire, Railway Gazette and the Pueblo Chieftain. *Section 305 of the federal Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) required Amtrak to: “…establish a Next Generation Corridor Equipment Pool Committee, comprised of representatives of Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration, host freight railroad companies, passenger railroad equipment manufacturers, interested States, and, as appropriate, other passenger railroad operators. “The purpose of the Committee shall be to design, develop specifications for, and procure standardized next-generation corridor equipment. . . .”

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