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New locomotives charge onto Midwest's state-supported routes
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New locomotives charge onto Midwest's state-supported routes

UPDATE (Sept. 15, 2017): The second paragraph of this post has been updated to reflect more accurate information about the Chargers' rollout (changes in boldface).

Your eyes are not deceiving you, those are the long-anticipated Siemens Charger locomotives zipping along Amtrak’s Midwest state-supported routes.

Twelve of 33 Chargers ordered by the Illinois Department of Transportation for Midwest service have been delivered and are being phased into service on routes in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Missouri, including Michigan services (the Wolverine between Chicago and Detroit/Pontiac, Blue Water between Chicago and Port Huron, and Pere Marquette between Chicago and Grand Rapids); Illinois services (the Zephyr/Carl Sandburg between Chicago and Quincy, the Saluki/Illini between Chicago and Carbondale, and the Lincoln Service between Chicago and St. Louis); and the Hiawatha service between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Once all locomotives have been delivered, by January 2018, Chargers will also be in service on the Missouri River Runner between St. Louis and Kansas City.

The locomotives were officially welcomed on Monday with a dedication ceremony at Chicago Union Station. (See our previous coverage of the Chargers here and here.)

Illinois’ DOT was the lead agency on this multi-state order, with California and Washington receiving additional units as well. The Midwest’s new fleet of locomotives, which will be owned by the states and leased to Amtrak, is branded "Amtrak Midwest." Approximately 2.6 million passengers ride Amtrak in the Midwest each year. 

“We are proud to have led the effort to bring these attractive, modern locomotives to Illinois and our other state partners. Passenger rail customers will benefit the most by enjoying a ride that's more reliable and more comfortable as they travel between our state's great communities, institutions and attractions.” Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn said during the dedication ceremony.
 
“This procurement with partnering Midwest states has shown we can work together for a common goal,” said MIPRC Chairman Tim Hoeffner, who also is director of the Michigan Department of Transportation’s Office of Rail. “In the coming weeks, Michigan will begin the replacement of older engines with brand new, high-tech locomotives operating on all of our passenger rail corridors, which will complement our 110-mph service.”

Likewise, Michelle Teel, Multimodal Operations Director for the Missouri Department of Transportation, said Missouri “is proud to be a partner welcoming safer, cleaner, faster and better locomotives to the Amtrak Midwest fleet. Missouri River Runner passengers will benefit from improved performance when the locomotives go into operation soon between St. Louis and Kansas City.”

Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin will jointly own, manage, and maintain the Midwest fleet, under the authority of the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact.

Manufactured by Siemens in Sacramento, Calif., the new fleet offers numerous advantages over the locomotives currently used by Amtrak, such as lower maintenance costs, reduced fuel consumption and quieter operation.
Powered by a Midwest-made 4,400 horsepower Cummins QSK95 diesel engine, the locomotives are able to operate at speeds up to 125 mph, with faster acceleration and braking for better on-time reliability. They meet all the latest safety regulations and feature better traction for improved performance. They also are the first higher-speed passenger locomotives to meet the highest federal environmental standards, meaning a 90 percent reduction in emissions and a two-thirds reduction in fuel consumption compared to the previous locomotives that are more than 20 years old.
 
Purchased through $216.5 million in federal funds, the locomotives are just one part of a larger effort to improve passenger rail service in Illinois and the Midwest. Foremost among these are the improvements being made on the Chicago-St. Louis and Chicago-Detroit/Pontiac corridors, which include rebuilt tracks, new and upgraded stations, and  crossing and signal improvements that will lead to improved safety, reliability and speeds up to 110 miles per hour. In Missouri, the Missouri River Runner route has also benefited from more than $71 million worth of infrastructure investments to improve speed and reliability.

“Our individual Amtrak Midwest routes are made even stronger by being a part of a network of connecting trains, stations and reservation systems, which are a product of our state partners working together under the Amtrak umbrella,” said Michael Franke, Amtrak’s senior director of state contracts. “These locomotives will power the Amtrak Midwest brand, bringing even better service to our customers.”

(Photo: Amtrak/Marc Glucksman, Map: Amtrak)

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