NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, July 7th, 2021

Amtrak announces huge fleet modernization project to benefit Cascades, other routes

Today Amtrak announced plans to invest $7.3 bil­lion in up to eighty-three new trains, a wel­come devel­op­ment that will bring across-the-board improve­ments to train trav­el’s pas­sen­ger expe­ri­ence and car­bon footprint.

Rendering of new Amtrak locomotive

Ren­der­ing of a loco­mo­tive being built in the U.S. by Siemens Mobil­i­ty for Amtrak (Siemens Mobility)

Accord­ing to the new con­tract, trains will be made by the Ger­man firm Siemens in Sacra­men­to, California.

The new pow­er units will include a hybrid pow­er sys­tem, mak­ing train trav­el much bet­ter than diesel-guz­zling loco­mo­tives for the environment.

Siemens’ Cal­i­for­nia fac­to­ry is also most­ly pow­ered by a 2.1 megawatt solar pan­el complex.

Trav­el­ers can expect mod­ern ameni­ties aboard the new trains.

More self-ser­vice din­ing options reflect the chang­ing con­sumer demands of the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry. Dig­i­tized seat-reser­va­tion and nav­i­ga­tion­al dis­plays will bring the pas­sen­ger expe­ri­ence in line with con­tem­po­rary air­line travel.

Excit­ing­ly, the very first of the new rail­cars will be rolled out in Wash­ing­ton, on the pop­u­lar region­al Cas­cades route between Van­cou­ver, British Colum­bia and Eugene, Oregon.

“We look for­ward to the deliv­ery of the new trains for Amtrak Cas­cades ser­vice,” said Ron Pate, Wash­ing­ton State Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion (WSDOT) Direc­tor of Rail, Freight and Ports. “Since our trains will be the first off the assem­bly line, it’s excit­ing they’ll be unveiled in the Pacif­ic Northwest.”

Since the 1990s, WSDOT has oper­at­ed Amtrak Cas­cades ser­vice in Wash­ing­ton with Tal­go Series VI rail­cars. They were paint­ed in the icon­ic green, maroon, and white Cas­cades liv­ery which invokes the ever­green forests that cov­er the route’s name­sake moun­tain range. Fea­tur­ing dark, wood­en hues, the inte­ri­or was sim­i­lar­ly North­west-inspired. There was even a ceil­ing map of Cas­ca­dia in some din­ing cars.

Amtrak's Empire Builder in Montana

Amtrak’s Empire Builder in Mon­tana, head­ing east­bound at Two Med­i­cine Tres­tle (Pho­to: Loco Steve, repro­duced under a Cre­ative Com­mons license)

These com­fort­able train cars were most­ly retired in 2020, hav­ing neared the end of their use­ful lives. Right now, WSDOT is bor­row­ing con­ven­tion­al train­sets from Amtrak.

These are the sil­ver train cars you usu­al­ly find on long-dis­tance trains from Chica­go and Los Ange­les. They are ser­vice­able, but they lack the Cas­cades identity.

When the Series VI sets were retired, WSDOT did not announce imme­di­ate­ly a plan to replace them.

Now, Cas­cades is at the front of the line to receive new train­sets from Siemens. Man­u­fac­tur­ing will begin in 2023; the first train­sets are expect­ed to be oper­a­tional by 2024.

After its ini­tial roll­out in Wash­ing­ton, the new equip­ment will replace rolling stock on more Amtrak ser­vices, includ­ing on the Empire Builder, which con­nects Chica­go to Seat­tle and Port­land. Deliv­er­ies will run through 2030.

Cur­rent­ly, Amtrak has around $200 mil­lion already approved by Congress.

The rest of the pack­age — already approved by Amtrak’s board of direc­tors — still will require con­gres­sion­al approval. 

Main­te­nance costs and $2 bil­lion in facil­i­ty upgrades are also includ­ed in the $7.3 bil­lion price tag, in addi­tion to loco­mo­tives and train cars.

Pri­or to the pan­dem­ic, Amtrak Cas­cades was one of the most pop­u­lar train routes in the coun­try. Fre­quent trains con­nect region­al trav­el­ers in Ore­gon, Wash­ing­ton, and British Columbia.

As trav­el begins to pick up again, demand for Cas­cades ser­vice remains strong. Already, four dai­ly round-trips con­nect Seat­tle to Port­land and Eugene, just two shy of the pre-pan­dem­ic benchmark.

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