Stephen Smith reports on Amtrak’s new overpriced and overweight locomotives:
Like all of Amtrak’s trains, the Amtrak Cities Sprinter will be fatter, slower, more expensive and more difficult to maintain than the models that Siemens sells to other countries.
The ACS-64, as the new model is known, is based on Siemens’ EuroSprinter, but has been modified to meet American regulators’ globally-unique crash safety standards. Many railroads across the world order changes to their trains, but the special requirements of the Federal Railroad Administration go far beyond what others ask.
Other countries use high-quality signaling to prevent collisions from happening in the first place, and crumple zones to protect light trains in case it does happen. The FRA, on the other hand, insists that American trains be bulked up to survive crashes with minimal deformation, with all of the inefficiencies that heavier trains that must be specially ordered entail.
The ACS-64 will weigh in at 98 metric tons, while other versions of the EuroSpriner, from Korea to Belgium, clock in at 80 to 88 metric tons. The Belgians paid around $4.6 million per locomotive and the Italians paid around $5.1 million; Amtrak is paying $6.7 million for each loco, despite putting in a much larger order. (Protectionist rules requiring Siemens to build the locomotives in America—the ACS-64 is mostly manufactured in Sacramento—certainly didn’t help keep the price tag down.) The ACS-64 can travel 135 miles per hour, but will be limited to 125 in everyday operation. The standard EuroSprinter model, by contrast, does 140, despite having a less powerful engine.
The locomotives will also in all likelihood also be more difficult to maintain than off-the-shelf models, as customized products are by their very nature relatively untested.