Amtrak sprints toward a higher speed future

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
Planned NEC Service Patterns

The Northeast Corridor’s “New Jersey Raceway” is receiving some of the most significant improvements since the original NECIP and NHRIP projects.

With the exception of roughly 20 miles in Rhode Island on the North (New York-Boston) segment of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, where Acela Express trains attain speeds of 150 mph, the relatively tangent four-track main stretching from New Brunswick to Hamilton, N.J., is the fastest railroad line in North America.

The 24-mile “New Jersey Raceway,” also known as the “Speedway,” was originally constructed by the Pennsylvania Railroad and electrified with variable-tension catenary in the 1930s. Over the years, PRR/Penn Central Metroliners, the United Aircraft TurboTrain, the European X2000 and ICE high speed trainsets, the Acela Express, and other types of equipment have proven their high-speed mettle on it.

In cooperation with NJ Transit, a team of Amtrak engineers, led by Chief Enigineer Bruce Pohlot and supported by Deputy Chief Engineers Dave Staplin (Track), Robert Vorhollo (Electric Traction), Keith Holt (C&S), and Al Fazio (Section Improvements), is in the midst of the NJHSRIP (New Jersey High Speed Rail Improvement Program), a multi-year project that, when completed, will enable top train speeds of 160 mph and improve reliability and capacity for Amtrak and NJT. It’s the most ambitious undertaking on the NEC since NECIP (Northeast Corridor Improvement Program) and NHRIP (Northeast High-speed Rail Improvement Program).

Among the improvements are constant-tension catenary, higher-speed interlockings, track additions and realignment, and resignaling. Two Speedway projects are moving ahead simultaneously. The “Midline Loop Project,” located near Monmouth Junction, N.J., will eliminate a cross-the-plant move at Jersey Avenue (New Brunswick) and allow NJT trains to reverse direction above the right-of-way, bolstering Inner-Zone NJT service. Nearby, NJT will be expanding capacity at Amtrak’s County Yard to improve storage capacity, also relieving conflicting moves generated by trains entering the NEC at the yard near Jersey Avenue Station. NJT and Amtrak are coordinating design of the two projects through the efforts of NJT Assistant Executive Director, Capital Programs and Planning Steve Santoro, Amtrak Program Director Jim Buechler, and Amtrak Director of Systems Integration Dana Shaeffer. Installation of 80-mph crossovers just west of New Brunswick is coordinated directly with NJT’s future zone service pattern; these crossovers will permit NJT’s Outer Zone expresses, which will move at a very respectable 100 mph, to stay clear of Amtrak’s 160 mph “high wheelers,” thereby permitting a second high speed train to be scheduled each hour.

Amtrak has also initiated a system-wide safety analysis to identify and address potential issues associated with high speed operations on the NEC. Amtrak Director of System Safety Engineering for High Speed Rail Theresa Impastato is coordinating Amtrak’s efforts to ensure continued safe operation, among which are facilitating involvement from craft employees in joint labor/management hazard analysis working groups. Additionally, in reviewing the body of research surrounding high speed train operations, Amtrak has worked closely with the FRA’s Office of Safety and the John A Volpe National Transportation Safety Center to further analyze potential safety concerns, such as the aerodynamic effects of the high speed trains and the impact to existing operating rules and practices.

Concept of operations (CONOPS)

Planned NEC Service PatternsThe NJHSRIP currently extends as far west as “Ham” Interlocking and includes new high speed interlockings consisting of No. 32.7 crossovers at “Delco” and “Adams” and provisions for the Midline Loop track and an NJT North Brunswick Station to be constructed by NJT at a former Johnson & Johnson manufacturing facility. The Loop would eliminate at-grade crossings of the entire four-track alignment by NJT trains that currently originate at the Jersey Avenue Station. Elimination of the at-grade crossings of trains moving in and out of the yard at “County” interlocking effectively increases available train capacity in this segment of the NEC. Another important aspect of the CONOPS is the change from that established for the original NECIP program, whereas high speed trains would (in four-track territory) diverge to the adjacent high speed track. Under the new concept, they will diverge to the local (outer) track to bypass an obstruction—hence the need to include a 125-mph cab signal aspect on tracks 1 and 4 only. In conjunction with other improvements, the Loop will allow for future service increases for Amtrak and NJT. (The planned operation for this segment of the NEC is illustrated opposite.) The reconfiguration of the NEC between “County” and “Ham” interlockings is directly related to NJT’s and Amtrak’s concept of operations (ConOps) for “high performance commuter and regional rail” coupled with “improved high speed [intercity] rail.” This segment of the NEC is to be configured to a specific service plan, while retaining flexibility to adapt to alternate or temporary service patterns.

Service patterns that are anticipated on this reconfigured section of the NEC include operational requirements that serve as a basis of the configuration design:

Amtrak HSR:
This consists of through service, stopping at Newark, N.J. with limited stops at Metropark (Iselin, N.J.) operating at speeds of up to 160 mph on Tracks 2 and 3 (inner tracks). Ultimately this service will be provided by Tier III equipment (preferred design), which will first supplement, and then replace, the existing Tier II (Acela Express) fleet; the planned configuration supports higher speeds and current service levels. Currently, Amtrak operates one HSR frequency per hour; the near term goal is to increase this to two frequencies per hour. A longer-term design goal is the operation of three HSR frequencies per hour. Amtrak Regional and Keystone Service: This includes through service with selected station stops at Newark and/or Newark Liberty International Airport, and/or Metropark and Trenton. Currently, Amtrak Regional service also provides for a limited number of stops at Princeton Junction and New Brunswick. This service is provided by Tier I equipment with maximum speeds of up to 125 mph. Trains stopping at Trenton today use “Fair” Interlocking; this general dispatching pattern is expected to continue. Included in this class of service are the Amtrak long-haul trains. The design goal for this service is two frequencies per hour to accommodate future state-supported services.

Amtrak Long-Distance Service: This consists of through service to points beyond the NEC with station stops at Newark and Trenton. Current service levels and stopping patterns are expected to remain unchanged, with the potential exception of Trains 50/51, the Cardinal, to run daily after receipt of additional long distance equipment (Viewliner IIs) now in production. Long-distance equipment is designed to Tier I standards and will be capable of 125 mph service once the current “Heritage Fleet” is retired.

NJT Outer Zone Express Service: This consists of Regional Express Service with trains operating on Tracks 2 (eastbound) and 3 (westbound) east of “Adams” and Tracks 1 and 4 (inner tracks) west of “Adams.” Service is provided predominantly by electric locomotives and MultiLevel coaches in push/pull configuration at speeds of 100 mph to 110 mph. Outer Zone stations are Trenton, Hamilton, and Princeton Junction. On the shoulders of the peak, NJT Outer Zone trains add stops in New Brunswick. This service currently operates on Tracks 1 and 4 between Newark and “Midway” Interlocking in order to overtake and pass NJT’s Inner and Middle Zone trains and will continue to do so but in a shorter, more efficient zone in the future. Outer Zone trains will utilize the new “Delco” and “Adams” interlockings to move from/to the inside tracks. The currently planned track and signal configuration provides for the potential implementation of the proposed new station in North Brunswick. Outer Zone express trains might service this new station on the shoulders of the peak but are not expected to serve it during the height of the peak. NJT Outer Zone expresses will operate in revenue service to Trenton and be serviced and yarded at NJT’s Morrisville Facility.

Slide13NJT Middle Zone Service: This consists of Semi-Express service between New York Penn Station and Jersey Avenue Station, with a possible extension to the new station in North Brunswick. Service will be provided with existing Arrow III EMU equipment that will be supplemented and ultimately replaced by electric-locomotive-powered MultiLevel consists. Speeds for this service are expected to be in the 80 to 100 mph range and will generally operate on Tracks 1 and 4. The majority of Middle-Zone trains are expected to be yarded at an expanded facility near County Yard/ Loop, reducing requirements to deadhead equipment to/from Morrisville. The configuration of the projected improvements also permits these trains to continue to Trenton on the outside tracks with no interference to HSR service. If the proposed North Brunswick Station is not implemented, improvements will be made to the Jersey Avenue Station, including adding an eastbound platform alongside Track 4. This would permit this station to function properly with the Loop.

NJT Inner Zone Service: These trains will serve stations between Newark-Penn Station and Rahway (inclusive), operating on tracks “A” and “B” between “Elmora” and “Union” interlockings, and then operate either west along the NEC to Jersey Avenue and/or Trenton, or down the North Jersey Coast Line, which joins the NEC at “Union.” Track or platform configuration currently permits inter-zone transfers at Rahway. North Jersey Coast Line service is also supplemented by frequent express trains that operate without stopping between Newark and “Union” and that then depart the NEC.

Freight: Operation of local freight (Conrail, CSX, Norfolk Southern), although largely diminished in volume from levels of 10 years ago, is expected to continue in the current or a similar pattern. Currently, locals are operated from Morrisville Yard on the west end of the project or from Edison Yard on the east end, with traffic relayed to/from “Lane” Interlocking, where it exits the NEC.

Amtrak says that a cab speed of 160 mph will be available on Tracks 2 and 3 only, “County” to “Ham,” with possible extension east to Edison, N.J. (MP 28). Maximum cab speed on Tracks 1 and 4 will be 125 mph, with capacity optimization at 80 mph. Preliminary planning for higher future service levels for Amtrak and NJT is under way. Additional coordinated planning is required to determine precise requirements; Amtrak and NJT say they are “confident that our current projects build toward these future additional requirements.”

Signalization and train movement patterns

All tracks “County” to “Ham” will be signaled for NORAC Rule 562 (cab, no wayside). In order to improve capacity on Tracks 1 and 4, controllable “station” signals will be installed at Princeton. Additional possible projects allowing higher levels of service include an added track through Elizabeth, N.J.; increased trans-Hudson capacity and station capacity in New York; added or realigned tracks through Newark, Linden, and Rahway; and additional infrastructure near Trenton. NJT’s work on the Midline Loop Project, expanded County Yard, and preliminary analysis of the North Brunswick Station has considered the ability to add or extend tracks in this area.

Amtrak’s next-generation electric

AMTKlocoTaking full operational advantage of the track, catenary, and signaling improvements under way on the Northeast Corridor will require new equipment. Amtrak’s AEM7 electric locomotives have served the railroad well, nearly 40 years since their introduction. The Bombardier/Alstom HHP8s are approaching 15 years in service and will soon be due for a mid-life overhaul. It’s time for new power, and it has arrived in the form of the Siemens ACS-64 (Amtrak Cities Sprinter, 6.4 MW/8,320 hp) electric locomotive, 70 of which are being built.

The first units of the $466 million order will be field tested this summer for entry into revenue service on the NEC this fall, augmenting, and eventually replacing, the AEM7s, each of which have average mileage of more than 3.5 million miles, with some approaching 4.5 million miles.

Three ACS-64s will undergo a comprehensive testing program this summer—two in Pueblo, Colo., at TTCI, and one on the NEC. Production of the remaining units will occur through 2016. Components for the ACS-64s were supplied by Siemens plants in Norwood, Ohio, Alpharetta, Ga., and Richland, Miss., as well as from 70 suppliers representing more than 60 cities and 23 states, in keeping with a 100% federal domestic content requirement. The new locomotives will handle Northeast Regional trains at speeds up to 125 mph on the NEC, and also up to 110 mph on Keystone Service trains between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa. Long-distance trains operating on the NEC also will be powered by the new locomotives.

Amtrak says the ACS-64 offers high efficiency, reduced life cycle cost, and better reliability and availability than Amtrak’s existing electrics. In terms of traction capability with the maximum specified trainload, the ACS-64 can accelerate 18 Amfleet coaches with a Head End Power (HEP) load of 1,000kW to 125 mph in just over eight minutes.

The ACS-64 is designed for easier maintenance, and will improve energy efficiency through regenerative braking that feeds energy back into the power grid. Regenerative braking up to 100% rated power is possible.

ACS64 CabThe ACS-64 features an integral monocoque wide-body, double-cab design suited for push-pull operation. The carbody is comprised of four major elements—underframe, sidewalls, operator cabs, and three detachable roof sections. It is designed to allow compression forces of 800,000 pounds of buff load and is equipped with an AAR F-type coupler with a push back mechanism to achieve full anticlimber engagement. Instead of a “conventional” mechanical safety concept in accordance with American Crash Standard AAR S-580 with collision and corner posts, the ACS-64 features a front end Crash Energy Management (CEM) system that provides better safety to crews while offering the advantage of lower weight and better reparability.

The locomotive has a center walk-through engine room. More space is available for components, maintenance access is much better, and component thermal effects are minimized, enabling better ventilation. This is the standard engine room layout for the Siemens European EuroSprinter and Vectron locomotives, and most of the electrical components are identical.

Since Amtrak’s NEC has three a.c. catenary voltages, the ACS-64 is designed for 25kV 60Hz, 12.5 kV 60 Hz, and 12 kV 25Hz. A rotary switch in the converter connects the transformer windings for the required configuration.

The traction control system consists of two cubicles located in the center of the locomotive on both sides of the walk-through, each containing components for one two-axle truck as well as the HEP supply.

Each converter cubicle has two water cooled input inverters (four-quadrant choppers) and three water cooled output inverters with IGBT power semiconductors. The two input inverters feed one common d.c. link for the three output inverters in one cubicle. Two of these output inverters are connected to the two a.c. traction motors of one truck in a single-axle control configuration, and one output inverter provides the redundant feed for the HEP and locomotive auxiliary systems.

Traction and locomotive control is performed by the Siemens SIBAS® 32 control system. The core of the control system is the Multi-Vehicle-Bus (MVB), interfacing with the subsystem control computers, all the I/O stations, as well as the Man-Machine Interfaces such as controls and displays on the engineer’s console. The ACS-64 contains a 100% redundant HEP and AUX inverter system. It can operate at full speed at 100% traction power with one failed HEP inverter, or with a potential delay with one or two traction inverter or traction motor failures. System-critical components such as traction motors, inverters, and control system components are derived from service-proven systems.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,