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.
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.
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.