Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A final helping of Amtrak’s “Swedish Meatball”

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A final helping of Amtrak’s “Swedish Meatball”

You know you’re getting old when a locomotive that has hauled passenger trains on which you’ve ridden as an adult winds up in a museum.

I used to take my sons, when they were little (they’re driving now—another mark of “dear old dad”) to the Strasburg Rail Road and Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania to ride behind steam locomotives and gaze in awe upon the massive, streamlined albeit static, silent countenance of a GGI electric. In the 1960s, growing up in Newark, N.J., my dad used to take me for rides on Newark City Subway PCC cars downtown to Penn Station Newark, where we’d watch Pennsylvania Railroad trains hauled by GGIs pull in. At age five or so, I didn’t know what they were, and I didn’t understand that I couldn’t see the wheels because of the high-level platforms.

Today, a trip to Strasburg and the museum will get you a look at an AEM-7 electric, which was, until replaced by the Siemens ACS-64 not too long ago, the mainstay of Amtrak services in the Northeast Corridor for 37 years, amassing more than 220 million miles.

Railfans and some railroaders refer to the AEM-7s as “toasters,” because of their shape, or “Swedish Meatballs” (or simply “Meatballs”) because of their origin. The AEM-7 is based on the Swedish, ASEA-built Rc4, which Amtrak tested between 1976 and 1977. Amtrak ordered 30 AEM-7s in 1977, 17 in 1980, and 7 more in 1987. The Electro-Motive Division of General Motors (EMD, now Electro-Motive Diesel) built them, with carbodies from the Budd Company and electrical and running gear imported from Sweden. Two commuter railroads in the Northeast ordered AEM-7s: MARC (4 in 1986) and SEPTA (7 in 1987). SEPTA’s AEM-7 fleet will be retired and replaced by the ACS-64 in 2018-2019.

NJ Transit operated 32 ALP-44s, built by ABB (ASEA Brown Boveri, now Bombardier). These are similar to the AEM-7 but are actually derived from the Swedish Rc6 and Rc7. ABB provided one ALP-44 to SEPTA; it will be retired when SEPTA’s AEM-7 fleet is replaced.

On Saturday, June 18, 2016, Amtrak will operate a special Farewell to the AEM-7  excursion trip. The AEM-7 excursion train will depart from Washington Union Station en route to Philadelphia, where the train will reverse direction and head for a visit and tour of Wilmington Shops in Delaware, the maintenance home of the AEM-7. The train will then return to Washington. Amtrak is offering a limited number of tickets, which can be purchased online or at 1-800-USA-RAIL. Tickets are $155 for adults. Children ages 2-12 ride for half price with each adult ticket.






William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

With Railway Age since 1992, William C. Vantuono has broadened and deepened the magazine's coverage of the technological revolution that is so swiftly changing the industry. He has also strengthened Railway Age’s leadership position in industry affairs with the conferences he conducts, among them Next-Generation Train Control, Light Rail, and Rail Insights. He is the author or co-author or editor of several books, among them All About Railroading; John Armstrong’s The Railroad: What It Is, What It Does; Railway Age’s Comprehensive Railroad Dictionary; and Planning, Engineering, and Operating Light Rail, With Applications in New Jersey.

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