CHARGERS ARE COMING

De-facto replacements on western state-operated commuter routes (and for Maryland's commuter agency in 2018) may be 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.

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 are 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 are being broken in at the FRA facility in Colorado, and have had positioning moves on Amtrak's Southwest Chief and Empire Builder. It appears that the first four Cascade-dedicated units (WSDT4601-4604) may go into revenue service shortly. 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).

WHERE WILL THEY RUN

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

So far, California (CDTX) state-owned units are the first to be in revenue service, albeit with a traditional Amtrak Chicago unit leading. It is said that this situation will last until sometime in June 2017. Midwest units are staying at Pueblo. 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 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).

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 also 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.

But 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. The 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 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 were to be equipped with them. However, Illinois has asked Amtrak for a 50% budget cut due to a state financial crisis which has been unresolved now for more than two years. It is likely 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. 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.

Amtrak had not placed any orders as of November 2016. 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 successor, Wick Moorman, now has that issue on his plate.

ELSEWHERE OUTSIDE OF CALIFORNIA

Outside of California, the states with the most successful operational programs so far are Washington and Oregon in the northwest, 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) corridors, the two states suffer from chronic budget problems that also traditionally favor highways over mass transit.

Amtrak on a national level does not yet have a clue what to do with the new state-owned engines. Presumably a contract base will be established in the Chicago area for warranty and maintenance work.

While some minor tweaking has yet to be done with the Chargers, the biggest holdup seems to be that Amtrak Chicago is not yet prepared to handle them. A maintenance regime and base facility has yet to be established there. This lack of support will compromise the further development of Chicago commuter corridors.

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. 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 Washington and Oregon during late 2017, in California in early 2018, and possibly in Michigan by mid to late 2018. Illinois and Maryland will probably see them running regularly in 2019.

Updated 25 May, 2017
DUH