First Look: Amtrak Airo™ (Updated Dec. 19)Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
Amtrak has released visuals of its upcoming new long-distance and corridor service single-level, semi-permanently-coupled push/pull trainsets—the Siemens Mobility-built Amtrak Airo™—which will replace aging Amtrak-owned Amfleet I equipment.
Airo™ trainsets, described as “state-of-the-art,” are expected to debut in 2026 on the railroad’s Cascade service before eventually operating on routes throughout the country, including all Northeast Regional train and other trains that originate in Penn Station New York, Amtrak President Roger Harris announced Dec. 15.
Amtrak awarded Siemens Mobility $3.4 billion in contracts in July 2021 to design, manufacture and provide technical support services and maintenance for 83 trainsets of three power configurations, with options for up to 130 additional trainsets. A share of the railroad’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) funding will support the procurement of the Amtrak Airo™, said Amtrak, whose total $7.3 billion investment includes the purchase of equipment and long-term parts supply and service agreement, facility modifications and upgrades, and other program expenses.
Amtrak Airo™ trainsets, of which there are three configurations, “are built for the future,” Amtrak says, and will “elevate the journey with a focus on comfort and efficiency.” The new equipment, which is being built in Siemens Mobility’s California plant, features “a modern design with world-class amenities.” The Airo™ name, one of several considered, blends the word ”aerodynamics” with Amtrak’s original 1971 arrow logo, with inspiration (mainly the letter “A”) from Amtrak’s higher-speed Acela Northeast Corridor service. All configurations have a cab car and a Siemens Charger AC-traction diesel-electric locomotive equipped with a Cummins QSK95 4,400-hp Tier IV-compliant prime-mover.
The three configurations:
- Dual-power push/pull in a configuration that, according to Siemens Director of Business Development, Passenger Mobility Systems Steven Morrison, is brand-new technology. As described to Railway Age by Siemens Mobility President, Rolling Stock Michael Cahill, the Charger locomotive is coupled to a powered, pantograph-equipped passenger coach called an APV (Auxiliary Power Vehicle). The APV has an underfloor transformer to handle the Northeast Corridor’s 25kV and 12.5 kV AC catenary power, a 4QS (Four-Quad Chopper), and four powered axles with AC traction motors. The APV is connected to the Charger locomotive with a DC link. In AC catenary mode, the Charger’s diesel engine and traction alternator are shut down; the APV is powering its own four traction motors as well as the four on the Charger, for a total of eight. Siemens calls this “distributed traction.”
- Conventional diesel-electric push/pull, with Charger locomotives. There are eight trainsets for Washington State DOT (WashDOT). The order contains only two Charger locomotives, as WashDOT already operates six in Cascades service with Amfleet cars.
- Battery-hybrid push/pull trainsets equipped with a Charger locomotive and a Battery Coach with a DC Link but without powered axles. The Battery Coach supplies traction power to the Charger locomotive on routes or locations (such as some stations in non-electrified territory) where diesel emissions are prohibited or restricted, for example, on Empire Service trains originating in Penn Station New York that currently use dual-mode (diesel/third-rail) P32AC-DMs.
Carbody design, which is similar to the Venture coaches for Caltrans, Amtrak Midwest, Brightline and VIA Rail Canada, is based on the Siemens Viaggio Comfort electric trainsets operated by ÖBB (Austrian Federal Railway), according to Steven Morrison.
Amtrak Airo™, whose routes will include the Amtrak Northeast Regional, Empire Service, Virginia Services, Keystone Service, Downeaster, Cascades, Maple Leaf, New Haven/Springfield Service, Palmetto, Carolinian, Pennsylvanian, Vermonter, Ethan Allen Express™ and Adirondack, will “provide even more advantages to traveling by rail,” including:
- “Elevated Experience: With its modern, spacious interior and panoramic windows, customers have an improved view of the best sights in the country while connecting to the passing landscape.
- “A Greener Impact: The new trains are more fuel efficient and produce 90% less particulate emissions in diesel operations.
- “Reduced Travel Times: The new [dual-power] trains will operate at speeds up to 125 mph and offer near seamless transition between power sources where time-consuming locomotive changes were previously required.
- “Redesigned Café Car: More contemporary food service provides self-service options.
- “Wayfinding: Signage creates a cleaner, more evident and accessible way to identify and differentiate cabins, both on the exterior and interior through a color-coded system.
- “Spacious Seating: Each spacious seat prioritizes ergonomics, offers enhanced comfort with plenty of legroom, bigger and sturdier tray tables, moveable headrests and a dedicated cup and seatback tablet-holder.
- “Business Class: Choice of double and single seats offer customers greater flexibility.
- “Amenities: Features enhanced lighting, improved technology with digital customer information systems and touchless restroom controls, dedicated individual outlets, USB ports and onboard Wi-Fi.”
“As we invest in the future, Amtrak is leading the way with a new era of rail,” said Harris. “Our new trains will transform the Amtrak experience with significant environmental benefits, a progressive design and world-class amenities.”
In response to “a strong customer demand,” the railroad says the new trains are part of a larger transformation that “will revolutionize the Amtrak experience, including the new Acela II trains,” and adds that its “move to the future” also includes major infrastructure projects, service expansion, station upgrades, modernization efforts and improved track capacity along the Northeast Corridor.
Siemens ACS-64 locomotives will continue to haul Amfleet II coaches on the NEC for the foreseeable future.
“Americans deserve modern, safe, reliable passenger rail service, and introducing brand new railcars is a major step toward improving the daily experience of [passenger rail users] who depend on Amtrak,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose. “This year, FRA provided nearly $4.3 billion in annual funding to support these improvements, and with President Biden’s historic investments in Amtrak, we’re poised to make intercity passenger rail an even more efficient, convenient and accessible mode of travel for Americans.”
Railway Age Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono contributed technical descriptions to this story.