Editorial: Engines that could

As Greenfield patiently awaits what everyone hopes is the dawn of a new era in passenger train service — with Amtrak service scheduled for sometime next year and Metro North service planned to cover the New Haven-Springfield section — a new type of engine that will help Amtrak into the next few decades was unveiled Monday.

The first three of an anticipated 70 locomotives went on public display at the plant where they are being produced in Sacramento, Calif. The first is due to hit the rails by this fall. All of the locomotives — called “Amtrak Cities Sprinters” and built here in the United States by Munich-based Siemens AG — are scheduled to be in service by 2016.

And while the Amtrak network is nationwide, these new engines are slated for the Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C., and Boston and on Keystone Corridor trains that run between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa.

So they should become a common sight in the region.

These locomotives are seen as good news for Amtrak in a number of ways. They will replace engines that have been in use for 20 to 30 years and that have logged an average of 3.5 million miles each. Besides reducing maintenance costs through improved designs, these locomotives are also expected to cut energy use. Siemens officials estimate that the new trains will produce savings of up to $300 million over 20 years. And these locomotives include a new safety design, incorporating “crumple zones,” which according to an Associated Press story, “... are basically cages built onto the front end of the train that can absorb impact from a collision.”

Also, Amtrak is expected to see savings in having just one kind of locomotive in its fleet. At this time, the passenger rail service uses three different versions. “Now, we will have one model, one inventory and one training program, and all that will help efficiency,’’ said Steve Kulm, an Amtrak spokesman.

This unveiling comes at a critical time for Amtrak, particularly in the Northeast Corridor. Ridership there hit a record high for the ninth time out of the last 10 years. Overall Amtrak saw more than 31 million passengers in the 2012 fiscal year — generating a record $2.02 billion in ticket revenue.

This influx of riders and money allowed Amtrak to pay back a $466 million federal loan for the locomotives over 25 years using net profits from the Northeast Corridor line.

We hope that Congress, particularly passenger rail detractors, are paying attention to all this. Amtrak critics have wanted the service to be more financially viable and that seems to be happening.

For that reason, and for simple common sense, we would like to think Congress would be more amenable in the future when it comes to money for track improvements and expansion of services.

Could it be that the U.S. is finally beginning to appreciate rail service?

We hope so.

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