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Amtrak signs deal for 83 multi-powered trains. Some will replace rail cars that are 50 years old.

Amtrak will replace nearly 40 percent of its rail car fleet by 2031 and invest $2 billion in facilities upgrades systemwide.

A rendering of one of the new Amtrak trains to be built in the United States by Siemens Mobility. (Siemens Mobility)
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Amtrak has signed a mammoth contract with manufacturing company Siemens Mobility for 83 new train sets, part of a $7.3 billion plan to upgrade its rolling stock over the next decade.

Under the plan announced Wednesday, Amtrak will replace nearly 40 percent of its rail car fleet by 2031 and invest $2 billion in facilities upgrades systemwide. The oldest cars in Amtrak’s fleet would be taken off the rails after five decades of service.

The deal marks one of the railroad’s biggest investments in its 50 years of operation and comes as the company is pursuing an ambitious $75 billion expansion to bring trains to dozens of cities and towns across the nation.

Amtrak officials say they hope to have the first of Siemens’s Venture trains operating in 2024 and the entire new fleet in service in 2031, although funding has yet to be secured. Congress, so far, has authorized $200 million for the rail cars. Amtrak says it expects funding from transportation reauthorization and infrastructure bills being debated in Congress.

Amtrak is a top travel choice in the Northeast. With an ally in the White House, it wants trains in the rest of America.

“This is really the next big piece of our transformational effort for intercity passenger rail across America,” Amtrak President Stephen Gardner said in an interview. “It’s a huge moment for Amtrak, and really, the start of a whole new chapter in terms of Amtrak vehicles.”

As part of the contract, California-based Siemens will provide Amtrak with technical support and maintenance for 20 years after delivery of the first train set.

Amtrak also is on track to replace its Acela fleet with 28 high-speed train sets from French manufacturer Alstom. Those trains, part of a $2.5 billion project, are expected to enter service next spring after delays caused by testing, as well as production and training interruptions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Amtrak’s base contract with Siemens, worth $3.4 billion, calls for 73 multi-powered train sets and the service agreement for Siemens to provide support, parts and materials. Railroad officials said another $1.5 billion would include an additional 10 train sets. Amtrak said the deal also facilitates the procurement of 130 trains to support Amtrak’s growth plans.

Some of the equipment being replaced was inherited when Amtrak began operations in 1971 and some was acquired in the 1970s. It includes the Amfleet I cars run on the Northeast Regional line stretching from Washington to Boston, as well as the 1960s Metroliner cab and the Cascades service cars in the Pacific Northwest.

“This equipment is now 40 to 50 years old. It’s definitely earned its keep, but now it is ready for retirement,” Gardner said. “This effort is to replace that equipment with state-of-the-art, modern, versatile, efficient train sets.”

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The new equipment will be similar to Siemens’s Venture train sets in use on Florida’s Brightline service, a privately run intercity train in the Miami area. The train sets are certified to operate at speeds up to 125 mph.

The train, built with bidirectional capacities, will reduce turnaround times while their dual-power engines — electric and diesel — will help reduce the time it takes for trains to transition from electrified into non-electrified territory. The fleet will include diesel-only train sets for use on the West Coast, where tracks are not electrified, and some battery-diesel hybrid trains.

Once the trains are in service, passengers could save time as delays associated with maintenance of the older fleet are reduced. Amtrak officials say they could run trains more often and accommodate 1.5 million more passengers annually.

The new trains include remote monitoring and a digital diagnostics system expected to increase reliability. They will include more comfortable seating, individual power outlets and USB ports, onboard WiFi, better lighting and panoramic windows.

Amtrak earlier this year said it selected Siemens after a competitive procurement process that began two years ago. Siemens, whose parent company is in Germany, also produces light rail or streetcar equipment for transit systems in several U.S. cities, including San Francisco and San Diego.

The train sets will be manufactured at a Siemens facility in Sacramento.

“We have more than 2,100 employees that are ready and willing and able to build these trains,” said Michael Cahill, chief executive and president of Siemens Mobility Rolling Stock in North America. The Amtrak contract is the company’s largest in North America, he said.

DJ Stadtler, executive director of the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority, which is overseeing the state’s plan to double Amtrak intercity trains within the decade, said the trains will “drastically improve rider experience” and are critical to increasing capacity in the state.

“It’s going to give us the opportunity to get more folks on the train,” he said. “The ability to add service on new, shiny, safe, energy-efficient train sets is just an added bonus.”

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He said another benefit will be the elimination of a 30-minute delay for trains headed south of the Potomac River, where they change from electric power to a diesel engine.

“These new locomotives will make that engine change obsolete,” he said. “The train will pull in, people get out, people get on and then it can continue on its way out. … This provides for a seamless trip between anywhere in Virginia up through Boston.”

The new rolling stock will operate in the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak’s Palmetto route along the East Coast and along several state-supported routes.