Tuesday, June 25, 2024

New Trains for Amtrak


Talking Transportation

By Jim Cameron
Author: Off The Record: Confessions of a Media Consultant

Don’t you just love that “new car smell”?  Well, that’s coming… slowly… to Amtrak, as the nation’s passenger railroad replaces its old fleet of cars.

GOODBYE AMFLEET:  Amtrak’s remaining fleet of almost 600 Amfleet cars date back to the 1970s and was modeled after the Budd Company’s successful Metroliner cars, which ran from 1969 to 2006.  Some of those Amtfleet cars have traveled over four million miles by now so, despite maintenance and the $17 million “refresh” of their interiors in 2017, they are ripe for replacement.

The round-sided stainless steel cars, mimicking an airplane, have smaller windows than what’s planned to replace them.  Connecticut’s own Cesar Vergara, who designed the interior of Metro-North’s M8 cars, criticized the Amfleet design for trying to look like a jetliner.

“The vision for the future of the railroad should be based on defining its own dreams, not appropriating them solely from someone else’s experience,” he wrote in 1992.

HELLO AIRO:  The new cars Amtrak has ordered will be built by Siemens, which has an order for 83 trainsets which should be in service by 2026 if all goes well.  The first prototype debuted in October 2023.  The total contract is worth more than $3 billion.

The new cars will have the same two-by-two seating with AC and USB plugs for each row.  Their tray tables will be bigger and stronger than Amfleet’s clunky models and will feature a cup holder so your java doesn’t hit your lap if the train should lurch during the ride.  And yes, they’ll also have 5G Wi-Fi (Metro-North take note!).

Pulling the trains will be electric locomotives, also built by Siemens.  Outside of the electrified Northeast Corridor these Charger locos will be diesel.  There’s also a hybrid engine in design that will run electric “under the wire” and use batteries on non-electrified lines.

When delivered, the first Airo trains will run in the Pacific Northwest then come to Washington to Boston trains in the Northeast.  There will be traditional coaches, first class and café cars.

The new cars are based on Siemens’ Venture cars already running on Florida’s Brightline and Canada’s VIA Rail.  Those cars are similar to the company’s Viaggio Comfort electric trainsets running in Austria.

TESTING:      The new cars have over 4000 electrical connections, so extensive testing will be required before they go into service.  As Metro-North learned when it took delivery of its new M8 cars from Kawasaki in 2010, it takes a while to work the bugs out.

BUFF TESTING:      One of the most interesting tests that all new trains in the US must pass is called “buff testing”, to see how they’d survive a crash.  The cars’ under-frames must sustain 40 tons of stress without deforming, a much higher standard than European or Japanese requirements.

That means US trains are heavier and less fuel efficient but, as we’ve seen in European high speed train crashes, will be much more survivable in the event of a collision.

It will be a while before the new Airo fleet passes muster and joins the Acela-replacement Avelia Liberty trains that, after extensive delays, will go into service on the Northeast Corridor later this year.

Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and advocates for Connecticut rail riders. His weekly column “Talking Transportation” is archived here.  You can contact Jim at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com.


  1. BRAVO to Amtrak for overdue enhancement.

    Longterm success should prove to be a function of:

    ▪︎ Aggregate reliability
    ▪︎ Wholistic comfortability
    ▪︎ Comprehensive affordability (in contrast to plane, auto & bus travel costs)
    ▪︎ User-friendly scheduling options
    ▪︎ Highest ‘safe speed’ capability (for more efficient point A to point B travel times)

    Either way, in due time,
    it will certainly be exciting to see out with the old, in with the new!


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