CHARGERS ARE HERE

De-facto replacements on west coast and midwest state-operated commuter routes (and for Maryland's commuter agency in 2018) are the new SC-44 "Chargers" from the Siemens assembly plant at Florin, California. They are environmentally tier-IV compliant and 125 mph capable, using Cummins 4400 horse powerplants.

The state-owned locomotives were bought with federal stimulus funds, and gifted to the states. At the present time it is unclear that any of the ordering states except California will actually have the necessary state funding to operate and maintain them.

It has not been disclosed on what basis the states will reimburse Amtrak for maintenance, but evidently the 33 midwestern units will be maintained by Amtrak at its Chicago and Beech Grove bases.
In late August, 2017, a new "Amtrak Midwest" logo was applied to the portion of 33 midwestern units that had been previously delivered. A dozen of these are said to be assigned to Chcago routes: Hiawatha, Quincy, Carbondale, and St. Louis. Details of assignments to Michigan and Missouri have not yet been disclosed.

In additon, the privately-operated Florida Brightline service already has their first three or four on-site for service beginning 2017 between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. These (other than Brightline) are state-owned, and Amtrak has not ordered any for "national" Amtrak trains.

While European in ancenstry, the new engines were FRA tested in the latter half of 2016 at the FRA facility near Pueblo.The Charger order thus far appears to have been completed in a three-year timely manner, unlike most recent passenger rail procurement deals. The first orders were placed in 2013 for 32 of them, with a supplementary order for 37 more in 2015.

The first IDTX unit was accepted for in December 2016 but has not been plced into revenue service. Caltrans accepted its first in February 2017, and WSDOT in March. Road tests have been underway in 2017, and apparently there were about a dozen completed units as of April, 2017.

Test runs on the Michigan lines, to Carbondale, Milwaukee, and Quincy occurred in May 2017. The units assigned to the Washington State DOT were first broken in at the FRA facility in Colorado. Positioning moves put them on Amtrak's Southwest Chief, California Zephyr, and Empire Builder as they were moved, first to Pueblo, and then to their bases in Chicago, Los Angeles, Oakland, and Seattle.

It appears that the first four Cascade-dedicated units (WSDT4601-4604) may go into revenue service in Fall 2017. They've already had their road tests, public introduction, and are on-site. Eventually the Cascades corridor will receive four more Chargers. Whether or not the existing F59's will be retired or not remains to be seen, as there may be a desire to get rid of the older cab cars first (depowered former Amtrak/EMD F40's). As the west coast routes are expanding service (in contrast to national Amtrak), it may be that the older Amtrak leased units will stay on the west coast.

WHERE WILL THEY RUN

Florida Brightline (privately owned) service is projected to begin between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami in late 2017. Plans are to extend the service to Orlando in a few years.

So far, California (CDTX) state-owned units were the first to be in revenue service, albeit with a traditional Amtrak Chicago unit usually leading until late summer. Midwest units began operating solo out of Chicago in August. The California ones are owned and operated by Caltrans (California Department of Transportation), Division of Rail and Mass Transit under Joint Power Agreements.

The (Amtrak) California situation is unique, as a Joint Powers Authority was set up to operate California's passenger train services. California is not necessarily required to rely on the national Amtrak legal framework for liability protection, operating authority, contracting, and maintenance. The services now include Surfliners in southern California, and the San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor services in the Bay Area and Central Valley. These services operate at maximum speeds of 79 mph in California, except for a short 90 mph Surfliner segment on the BNSF (between Santa Ana and Sorrento).

Most of the rest of the natonal passenger rail system outside of the northeast corridor also runs at peak speeds of 79 mph. There are some exceptions in Michigan and Illinois. In those two states the respective Departments of Transportation have become railroad passenger train operators (and in the case of Michigan, trackage owners).

Michigan received federal money to upgrade the now-state owned trackage between Porter, Indiana and Ann Arbor. Speeds of up to 110 mph can be achieved west of Kalamazoo, and upgrades to allow 79 mph running have been taking place on the former Norfolk-Southern portion of the line east of Kalamazoo.

In Illinois, more than ten years of federally funded upgrades have supposedly taken place to the Union Pacific owned trackage between Joliet and Alton. This is the trackage used by Lincoln Service trains. A short portion of this line is now 110 mph capable.

NO REAL SPEED INCREASES ANYTIME SOON

At present, the average spped of Surfliner trains in California is 46 mph between end points, and including station stops and dwell times. The Capital Corridor comes in at 46 mph as well. San Joaquins do a bit better at 54 mph.

California is developing an incremantal approach to higher speed rail, with some 125 mph services planned between Bakersfield and Sacramento. The IOS (Initial Operating Segment) will connect Fresno and Bakersfield. These improvements are planned to dovetail into an eventual high speed (200+ mph) corridor at some future time. The first actual short segment of higher speed trackage is being constructed currently. It will be tied into the existing BNSF trackage currently used by the San Joaquin trains until 2050 or later, when connections can be completed into the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

Metrolink currently runs commuter service from Los Angeles Union Station to Lancaster on the Antelope Valley Line. But since 1971 been a gap in mass transit rail between there and the south end of the central valley at Bakersfield. This segment is where the big hold up (and cost) would be in ultimately linking the Los Angeles area with the central valley and Bay Area. While passenger trains used to run on the Southern Pacific (now Union Pacific), no significant effort was made to reactivate the LA to Bakersfield corridor until California's Governor Jerry Brown proposed boring through the mountains on a new alignment.

The state 2013 rail plan will be revised in 2018 so we will still have to wait a few more years to see what comes of this.

For the forseeable future in California, like in Illinois, there will be only a handful of short, non-contiguous higher-speed segments, that will be capable of 125 mph speeds anytime soon. Newer Charger locomotives should be able to better handle the higher speeds on those segments, and make faster station stops, than do existing locomotives on those corridors.

ROAD NUMBER ASSIGNMENTS

There have been five blocks of new road number assignments for the Chargers so far. Road numbers 4601 and up are in the Illinois (IDTX) order while California (CDTX 2101 and up) and Washington (WSDT 1400 series) are marked and numbered differently. Illinois' six trainsets are being equipped with them. However, Illinois has also asked Amtrak for a 50% budget cut due to a state financial crisis which has been unresolved now for more than three years. It is possible that some of Illinois' Chargers will go elsewhere.

In California, the first of 20 units are to go on the San Joaquin's, where 4 Amtrak Chicago P42's may eventually be relieved of duty.

As of Labor Day 2017, plans for Michigan and Missouri are not yet announced, but the same thing may happen there. Four Amtrak P42's currently working on Illinois Lincoln Service may be freed up, as may possibly be 4 more units working Quincy and Carbondale routes.

Washington tested the first of its new units on Talgo trains in the first quarter of 2017. Others outside of the Pacific northwest will operate on standard consist trains (although there are two sets of already completed but uncommitted Talgo's that could end up somewhere else in the future. One of the Talgo trainsets remained out of service as of August 2017, because of damage suffered in a minor derailment While Cascade services are still set to expand in early 2018, it is unknown at this time if the Talgo's will be back, or if older Amtrak equipment will substitute.

Amtrak had not placed any orders for new diesel locomotives as of August 2017. Nor have any plans for accelerated overhaul schedules for P42's been announced. In June 2016, then- outgoing Amtrak president Joseph Boardman acknowledged, for the first time, that the GE fleet is worn out and needs to be replaced. His interim successor, Wick Moorman, had that issue on his plate, but did not address it.

ELSEWHERE OUTSIDE OF CALIFORNIA

Outside of California, the states with the most successful operational programs so far are still Washington and Oregon in the northwest (Cascade Services), and Maryland (MARC) in the east. These states have existing corridors, which will be upgraded with the new equipment.

Maryland will be receiving the first of its eight units from the supplementary order, scheduled for completion in 2017 and delivery in early 2018.
Most other states are not financially capable or politically inclined to making significant investment in mass transit. Generally they are starting pretty much from scracth. While both Michigan and Illinois have existing (former Amtrak national) corridors, the two states suffer from chronic budget problems and political leanings that traditionally favor highways over mass transit.

Some minor tweaking was done with the Chargers over the summer of 2017. The maintenance regime and base facility upgrade has yet to be established there. This lack of support will compromise the further development of Chicago commuter corridors. A minor battery box fire occurred on one of the early Hiawatha runs between Chicago and Milwaukee over the summer. Those units then in service with companion P42's were briefly pulled from service to address that issue.

Illinois Lincoln Services currently operate four daily roundtrips between Chicago and St. Louis. Missouri does not directly contribute to the cost of these services. But Missouri has two sets of River Runner equipment that shuttle between St. Louis and Kansas City, and will benefit by receiving new Charger locomotives for these trains. In the past, Missouri trains ran through from Kansas City to Chicago, but a few years ago they were rebranded as "River Runners" and now remain captive to Missouri. Passengers in St Louis must deboard one train and then board another.

The River Runner and Lincoln Service use trackage owned by the Union Pacific Railroad. The UP has benefited by taxpaper infusions of money in both states. In Missouri, some bottlenecks were improved, but no increase in speed of trains is planned. In Illinois, trackwork has been underway for ten years which, it has been said, will ultimately make the corridor safer, and enable shorter trips in the future. In Michigan, 110 mph speeds are currently being achieved between Niles, Michigan and Kalamazoo. This line was originally privately owned, then deeded to Amtrak, and recently to the State of Michigan. It is still being maintained with federal funding, and Michigan does not have the ability to upkeep it on its own. Similarly, an extension of state-owned trackage recently occurred east into Ann Arbor, as the Norfolk Southern deeded its ownership to the state. Amtrak Michigan took over the responsibility for dispatching this segment in May 2017, but track speeds are not being significantly upgraded in the near term.

The new Chargers would be of greatest benefit on the 110 mph portion of the Chicago-Detroit corridor, assuming the state can afford to run and maintain them.

One can likely expect to find Chargers running in California, Illinois, Washington and Oregon during late 2017. California began running their first four in May 2017 behind traditional leader units. Michigan is an unknown, but is expected to transition by 2018. Maryland will probably see them running regularly in 2019 (because their order was placed later)...while the Illinois situation is budget-driven. It would not be a surprise if Chargers originally earmarked for Illinois were transitioned to other states. The first solo run of an Illinois IDTX unit took place in August 2017 on a Hiawatha.

Updated 31 August, 2017
DUH