The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

May 13, 2013

Amtrak unveils locomotives to replace aging fleet

(Continued)

Among the improvements in the new locomotives are computers that can diagnose problems in real time and take corrective action and a braking system capable of generating 100 percent of the energy it uses back to the electric grid — similar to the way a hybrid automobile's motor acts as a generator when braking, according to Michael Cahill, CEO for Siemens Rail Systems. That could produce energy savings of up to $300 million over 20 years, the company estimates.

They also feature crumple zones, which are basically cages built onto the front end of the train that can absorb impact from a collision. The new models will be the first in North America to use them, in compliance with new federal safety guidelines, Cahill said.

The locomotives, called Amtrak Cities Sprinters, are based on Siemens' latest European electric locomotive and will replace Amtrak equipment that has been in service for 20 to 30 years and has logged an average of 3.5 million miles.

Simply having the same type of locomotive in operation should cut costs, according to Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm. Amtrak now uses three locomotive models, requiring slightly different maintenance, parts and training.

"Now, we will have one model, one inventory and one training program, and all that will help efficiency," Kulm said.

About 750 people are employed at Siemens' Sacramento plant. The locomotive project also involves Siemens plants in Columbus, Ohio, Richland, Miss., and Alpharetta, Ga.

The ripple effect spreads farther. As a condition of the Department of Transportation loan, 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.

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