Amtrak, California eye purchase of new electric high-speed trainsets

High-speed rail development in California could be a hop, skip and jump away from becoming reality.

If you remember in “Amtrak modernizing locomotive fleets on Northeast, Keystone Corridors” on July 11, 2013, I brought to the attention of readers how in separate Amtrak and Siemens Transportation Systems news releases the two entities announced: “‘The first units of the $466 million order will be field tested this summer for entry into revenue service in the fall.’” The locomotives are destined for operation on both the Northeast and Keystone (Pennsylvania) Corridors.

Well, trains, Amtrak and the Northeast Corridor (NEC) – with the addition of California high-speed rail this time – are in the news again.

320px-FLV_California_train[1]Tim Sheehan reported in The Fresno Bee that: “The California High-Speed Rail Authority and Amtrak have been in talks since January to team up on their purchase of electric trains that will be capable of carrying passengers at more than 200 mph. Last week in Sacramento, the California agency formally authorized CEO Jeff Morales to sign an agreement with Amtrak to ask for bids.”

The reason? “California and Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor hope to leverage economy of scale by teaming up to seek bids from manufacturers to build dozens of new sets of high-speed trains,” the Bee columnist noted.

Under the current proposed plan as I understand it, California would get around 20 trainsets, initially. Prototype testing could commence possibly as early as 2018, according to Sheehan.

A combined Amtrak/California High-Speed Rail Authority trainset order, from a cost-savings standpoint, has merit. California’s approximate 20, coupled with an initial 12 unit Amtrak order to augment NEC Acela service, would bring the total to roughly 32 sets of electric trains. There exists the possibility that by the 2020s as many as 20 Acelas could be replaced.

The California order, if realized, would be worth approximately $871 million. Trainsets capable of carrying between 450 and 500 passengers each is being sought for Golden State operations, apparently. A trainset in the California high-speed rail context, meanwhile, indicates powered end-units or control cars flanking powered passenger cars in between.

“Combining California’s and Amtrak’s orders, [California High-Speed Rail Authority Chief Program Manager Frank] Vacca added, will help make it worthwhile for manufacturers who must comply with federal ‘Buy America’ requirements for high-speed rail equipment. ‘It will require a technology transfer to the U.S., and it will take a period of time for the successful manufacturer to do that technology transfer,’” Sheehan wrote in citing Vacca.

Amtrak AEM-7 engines slated to be replaced by 2016
Amtrak AEM-7 engines slated to be replaced by 2016

Current top speed on the 457-mile Boston to Washington, D.C. NEC is around 150 mph with a 70 mph average speed, according to Sheehan.

The Merced to San Fernando Valley (Sylmar) initial California high-speed rail operating segment is slated to open for service in 2022 while construction could commence in the San Joaquin Valley between Madera and Fresno sometime this year, according to Sheehan in the Bee report.

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