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Sunday, March 3, 2019


Siemens Mobility’s SC-44 Charger locomotives are built in California.  Photo: Eric Peterson

New Siemens Locomotives Akin to Sausages Replacing Serpents
GUEST BLOG / By Eric Peterson, train aficionado and author of “The Dining Car,” a fictionalized account of one fateful trip across the country in a lavish private railcar.
Have you spotted the new diesel-electric locomotives on the Pacific Surfliner trains running between San Diego and Los Angeles?
They’re built by Siemens Mobility, a division of Siemens, the global German conglomerate. They look like sausages.
When I saw one of these engines parked at San Diego’s Santa Fe Depot, the name “Siemens” painted on the side, my first thought was, “What bonehead at Amtrak just bought a fleet of locomotives from Germany?”

I was hasty in my criticism.

Siemens Mobility’s SC-44 Charger locomotives are built in California just south of Sacramento at the company’s French Road factory, a 600,000 square-foot facility on a 60-acre campus. The factory employs more than 1,300 workers.

The rail manufacturing plant in Sacramento is one of the most modern and most important manufacturing places of the Siemens Mobility Division worldwide. The train on the left shows a painted shell construction of a charger locomotive for the California State Department of Transportation (Caltrans). The train on the right is a ready for delivery charger locomotive for the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).
The 4,400 horsepower, 16-cylinder Cummins QSK95 diesel engines that power these locomotives are manufactured in Seymour, Indiana.
The Seymour-Sacramento collaboration makes the Charger locomotive “Buy American” compliant, according to Amtrak.

Siemens is German-based
but its bratwurst shaped
Charger is American
Lots of Mustard
Amtrak ordered 75 of these sausage shaped locomotives to replace its aging engine fleet. The order was valued at $850 million and will be funded “from the railway’s own resources,” Amtrak says. In addition to supplying the locomotives, Siemens will provide parts/technical support for 20 years.

It takes about 45 days to build a Charger locomotive, and the company can make four at a time, Siemens says.
Amtrak will take delivery of the locomotives between 2021 and 2024. The railroad plans to put the new engines into service principally on their long-distance trains, including the California Zephyr, the Coast Starlight, and the Southwest Chief. (At present, the majority of Amtrak’s long-distance trains are powered by General Electric P42DC Genesis Series 1 locomotives, which look like more like serpents than sausages.)

State-supported Amtrak routes, such as Pacific Surfliner, in California, and Amtrak Cascades, in Washington, have already pressed these SC-44 Charger locomotives into service.

Washington’s Charger locomotive #1402 led the inaugural run of Cascades Train #501, which derailed in December 2017 as it approached a bridge over Interstate 5 near Lakewood, WA. Three people died in the accident, and a number of automobiles on the freeway were crushed.

The data recorder showed the train was traveling at 78 mph, nearly 50 mph over the train’s speed limit.

Ironically, speed is one advantage these Charger locomotives have over the locomotives they’ll replace. They can operate at up to 125 mph, compared to a top speed of 90-100 mph for the P42DC.

There are other advantages to the Siemens locomotives: more hauling power, increased reliability, less noise, lower emissions, and improved safety features, such as Positive Train Control, which was not in effect at the time of the Lakewood Cascades crash.

The Brats take over.
The prospect of a new diesel-electric sausage pulling a classic train like the Southwest Chief saddens me. It signals the end of an era in American railroading. 

Give me old fashioned multi-chime horns sounding in the distance, a Mars light oscillating on the nose of an elegant EMD F7 streamliner, the thrum of its power plant reverberating through your bones as the locomotive passes, soot and smoke belching from its roof exhaust, the train running 16 hours late—this to me will always be true railroading.

Who wants to see Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint climbing into an upper bunk together, on a German-built diesel-electric train with Tier-4 emissions technology that runs on time? In case you do (see below)  there's a pix of the couple from the movie "North by Northwest" circa 1959.

Less noise, crazy fast speeds, the promise of more reliable engines—it makes you wonder what the world is coming to.

Amtrak to replace its aging fleet of General Electric P42DC locomotives (above).
Wait, how did Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint get into this blog? Talk about one track minds.

A P42DC locomotive leads the Sunset Limited out of Tucson
A Kansas City Southern F7 at Kansas City Union Station

A Santa Fe F7 in classic "war bonnet" paint scheme, Galveston, TX, Railroad Museum

Eric Peterson's debut novel, “Life as a Sandwich,” was a finalist in the San Diego Book Awards. His most recent book, “The Dining Car,” won the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Award for Popular Fiction, the San Diego Book Award Gold Medal for Best Published Contemporary Fiction, and the Readers’ Favorite Book Award Silver Medal for Literary Fiction. The story follows a former college football star who signs on as bartender and personal valet to a legendary food writer and social critic who travels the country by private railroad car. His books are available in better bookstores and online.

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