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A first look at the trains that will replace Amtrak’s 50-year-old rail cars

Railroad officials said the design phase is nearly complete and the first car shell is in production in California

Amtrak has ordered 73 trains from train manufacturer Siemens Mobility. The trains are expected to enter service in 2026. (Amtrak)

Amtrak on Thursday unveiled details of the trains that will replace some of the carrier’s 50-year-old rail cars, starting in 2026.

The images offer a glimpse of the multi-powered Amtrak Airo trains being built in California by manufacturing company Siemens Mobility as part of Amtrak’s multibillion-dollar plan to upgrade its rolling stock over the next decade.

The rail cars will have panoramic windows and more comfortable seating with movable headrests and seat-back tablet holders. The trains also will have a redesigned cafe car and come with individual power outlets and USB ports, onboard WiFi, and better lighting, officials said.

“Our new trains will transform the Amtrak experience with significant environmental benefits, a progressive design and world-class amenities,” Amtrak President Roger Harris said in a statement.

Amtrak last year announced a $7.3 billion plan to modernize its equipment, including a contract with Siemens worth $3.4 billion for 73 multi-powered train sets. Railroad officials said another $1.5 billion would include an additional 10 train sets.

Railroad officials said Thursday the design phase is nearly complete and the first car shell is in production at Siemens’s Sacramento plant.

With the order, Amtrak will replace nearly 40 percent of its rail car fleet by 2031, including cars that have been in service for five decades. Amtrak said it is also investing $2 billion in facilities upgrades systemwide.

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 can operate at speeds up to 125 mph.

The trains, built with bidirectional capacities, will reduce turnaround times while their dual-power engines — electric and diesel — will help to reduce the time it takes for them to transition from electrified into non-electrified service. 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.

The new trains include remote monitoring and a digital diagnostics system expected to increase reliability. Amtrak said the new trains will produce 90 percent less particulate emissions in diesel operations.

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The Siemens deal is one of the railroad’s biggest investments in its 51 years of operation.

Amtrak officials said Thursday the first of the Amtrak Airo trains will carry passengers in 2026 in the Cascades corridor in the Pacific Northwest. Eventually, the new rolling stock will operate in the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak’s Palmetto route along the East Coast and along several state-supported routes.

The entire new fleet is expected to be operating in 2031.

It is unclear how much of the rail car program is funded. Congress authorized $200 million for the rail cars and Amtrak said Thursday it expects funding from the infrastructure bill that passed last year will go toward the program.

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

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Amtrak next year is expected to debut the first of 28 new Acela high-speed train sets under construction in Upstate New York by French manufacturer Alstom. Those trains, part of a $2.5 billion project, are expected to enter service in the fall after delays caused by testing, as well as production and training interruptions during the pandemic.

Some of the equipment being replaced was inherited when Amtrak began operations in 1971 and some was acquired later 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.

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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.

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