4,400hp from a 95-liter V-16: Here’s Amtrak’s Charger locomotive

Across the country, Amtrak and local transport authorities are, ahem, rolling out new Siemens Charger locomotives. At their Los Angeles unveiling for the Pacific Surfliner route, we took a look inside.


Geoffrey Morrison

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Pacific Charger

To get to the unveiling of the new Charger locomotive at Union Station, it seemed fitting to take the train. Either that or sit in traffic for 90 minutes. Hard pass. Metrolink, Southern California's commuter rail, runs a varied fleet of trains, including this Hyundai Rotem cab car.

For the full story about the new Charger and its Pacific Surfliner unveiling, check out Charger into the future: Inside Amtrak's new 4,400hp locomotive

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Union Station

Union Station is the largest train station in the western US, and, for Los Angeles, a pretty old building. I mean, 79 years isn't old compared to, say, the 150-year-old St Pancras in London, but pretty good for LA.

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There is something gorgeously grand about old train stations. Los Angeles Metro, which owns the station, describes it as a combination of "Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, Mission Revival and Streamline Moderne styles."

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Ticket counters

Not much need for this many ticket counters anymore.

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The new Siemens Charger, in Pacific Surfliner livery.

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Up close

Probably best if you don't try to get a photo from this angle. The Charger is the first passenger locomotive to pass the EPA's Tier IV emissions standards.

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The Charger has a reinforced monocoque carbody structure that, according to Siemens, gives it additional strength with less overall weight compared to other designs. It's stronger than its European siblings, which don't have to meet the American 800,000-pound buff strength requirements.

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Fully air-conditioned with seating for two. 

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Multifunction displays, positive train controlcab signalling and even a heated windscreen.

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Eyes on the road, er, rails

Not going very far today, however.

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Comms and diagnostics

A simple button layout. The screen in the upper right shows diagnostic info like engine and traction motor status.

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OK to run

My favorite thing here is a huge button simply labeled "Acknowledge." I want that to ring a comically loud buzzer somewhere as a passive-aggressive answer to any question.

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Emergency stop

If you're curious, the sign on the right doesn't mean the train lacks heart, it means the magnetic fields beyond the door could mess with a pacemaker, which is significantly less fun.

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Electrical Equipment Compartment 1

On to the serious parts. 

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Just a few controls, but a lot of electrical breakers. Logical for a modern diesel-electric train.

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Convenient placement. 

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The main cab is air conditioned, but the rest of the locomotive isn't. Under the early-autumn Southern California sun it was very warm back here. Were the engine running, it'd probably be even hotter.

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Engine compartment

The massive Cummins 95-liter V-16 diesel prime mover. In most Chargers, this engine produces 4,400 horsepower. Florida's Brightline version produces 4,000. Each cylinder has more volume than an entire Lamborghini Huracán engine.

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An engine that size produces a lot of heat, and these radiators, vented to the outside via the partially open panels, help dissipate that heat.

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Tight fit

While the rest of the aisles are tight, getting through this section requires a sideways squeeze.

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More radiators as you come around to move back toward the engine compartment. I expect this would be rather breezy when on the move.

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Access to the other side of the V-16, but no through walkway back to the cab. Despite it's size, this engine has 90 percent better emissions compared to the current Pacific Surfliner locomotives, and gets 16 percent better fuel economy, according to Siemens.

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Machine room

At the bottom of the "Y" of access passages letting you move around the locomotive guts is the machine room, or "Electrical Equipment Compartment 2." Here the power produced by the engine and generator gets converted to the power used by the traction motors and for the head-end power (HEP) required by the rest of the train. 

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Finally, some dials

I was getting disappointed there weren't more dials and levers. I mean, this is a train, after all. Under braking, energy can be recovered from the traction motors to power the auxiliary and HEP. So really, it's like a big Toyota Prius. A Toyota Prius with a 4,400hp V-16. Which is exactly the kind of Prius I'd like to own.

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Read me

So new it still has the owner's manual attached. 

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The Charger has a "Bo-Bo" wheel arrangement, which means four axles in two bogies. Top speed is 125 mph or around 202 kph, but in Surfliner use, it will top out at around 90/145.

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Not too different from your car's wheels and suspension, right?

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Diesel only

Fuel tank size varies depending on what service the Charger's intended for, but between 1,800 and 2,200 gallons (6,814 to 8,328 liters). 

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Amtrak's second-busiest corridor, the Pacific Surfliner sees 3 million boardings per year. 

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The typical bi-level Surfliner coach.

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Lower level

Not too fancy, but they get the job done.

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Upper deck

If you take the Surfliner going south, sit upstairs on the right side for the best views. Left side when going north.

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The old guard

At the other end of the three-car trainset on show at the unveiling was one of the EMD F59PHIs being replaced by the Chargers.

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If you notice on the far right, at the rear of the locomotive's roof, there's a bit of a lip. This is only found on the California Chargers for better aerodynamic performance with the bi-level coaches.

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Ribbon cutting

I've never seen an actual ribbon cutting in person before. Comically large scissors and all! From left to right: Shirley Choate, interim district director Caltrans District 7; Jennifer Bergener, managing director LOSSAN Rail Corridor Agency; Tony Kranz, board member LOSSAN Rail Corridor Agency; Brian C. Annis, secretary of California State Transportation Agency; and Armin Kick, vice president, Locomotives and High-Speed Trainsets, Siemens.

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Headed home

Event over, I took the train home. Well, "a" train, not the new Charger. Here are two more trains currently used by Metrolink. On the left is one of the new EMD F125s, which took me home. These are replacing the much older EMD F59PH, seen here adjacent and on the far right. 

For the rest of the story about the new Charger and this unveiling, check out Charger into the future: Inside Amtrak's new 4,400hp locomotive.

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