An 85-year-old traction power facility at Metuchen, N.J., on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor—originally installed by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1933 during a major Depression-era electrification program—was recently upgraded with state-of-the art technology from Siemens Mobility Division.
“This station is one of the oldest power sources for the NEC,” Siemens noted. “Its rotary power converters, installed in the 1930s, provided limited power capacity.”
Amtrak approached Siemens to address the problem. “Amtrak needed a modern solution to augment the outdated rotary technology at Metuchen,” Siemens explained. “Any new technology had to meet exacting specifications. For example, it had to be able to stand up to the extreme weather the region experiences in the winter months in order to maintain service in an emergency. Moreover, the upgraded infrastructure needed to efficiently support the additional power needs of a growing rail service.”
Siemens replaced the rotary converters with two Sitras SFC Plus static power frequency converters, resulting in greater power output, “more than doubling its current capacity, and giving Amtrak the ability to run more trains with faster speeds in the region,” Siemens said. “The improved power supply allows more-frequent unscheduled stops—an activity that uses more power than normal scheduled operations. Importantly, the updated converter technology is better-equipped for extreme weather, helping ensure that trains continue to receive power in emergency situations.”
One such situation occurred in May 2017, when a fire at Sunnyside Yard in New York caused several NEC converters to go off-line. During this time, the new Siemens converters were the only power source north of Philadelphia feeding the 25 Hz section of the NEC between Washington D.C. and New York City. “They operated as expected, and were able to keep power flowing to trains along the route, avoiding possible delays or shutdowns,” Siemens noted.
Siemens and Amtrak worked closely to design, build, deliver and install the two new static frequency converters within limited confines at Metuchen. The Siemens Sitras SFC Plus converters augment the existing technology at the facility by coupling the 230 kV 60 Hz power supply with a 25 Hz generator bus bar, modernizing the aging infrastructure while leveraging existing assets to save on costs.
“The Metuchen project was executed by Siemens Mobility Division with no delays and came in under budget,” Siemens said. “We helped Amtrak save $18 million compared to the initial cost it had budgeted for the upgrades.”
The Sitras SFC Plus frequency converters transform 60 Hz power into “functional, reliable” 25 Hz electricity. The converted electricity is then transferred from Metuchen to the various systems that power [catenary] on the NEC. The upgraded converter technology enables increased power output, more than doubling the facility’s capacity, from 25 MW to 85 MW.
“With these improvements, Amtrak has the ability to run more trains at faster speeds,” Siemens said. “Power-generation reliability has also improved. Trains are now ensured the energy they need in emergency situations so that riders get home safely. The converters can also operate in ‘black start’ mode, meaning they can ramp up quickly in the rare case of an outage.
“The Metuchen traction facility directly benefits from the state-of-the-art electronics onboard the Sitras converters—which make the units simpler to maintain. Additionally, an improved control system allows dispatchers to manage the system remotely. The new converters also provide greater efficiency. Their innovative design allows them to operate at a higher voltage. In addition, they also eliminate many of the components from the older generation of converters. This reduces power loss by almost 50%.”
Editor’s Note: The historic engineering project referred to in this article was the PRR’s “Pennsylvania Electrification Project,” which encompassed the main line between New York and Philadelphia. It involved upgrading the entire rail line, including catenary, power supply, signals, switches and locomotives. It involved such suppliers and contractors as Vare Construction, United Engineers & Constructors, Ohio Brass, Bridgeport Brass., Carnegie Steel, American Steel & Wire, Locke Insulator., Allis-Chambers Manufacturing, Exide Batteries, Kerite Insulated Wire & Cable, AIRCO, General Steel Castings, General Electric, Westinghouse Electric and Westinghouse Air Brake, Union Switch & Signal, Baldwin Locomotive Works, Timken, Republic Steel, SKF, Standard Steel, Railway Steel-Spring, Edgewater Steel, National Malleable and Steel Castings, Wood Preserving, and Lima Locomotive Works. Many of these companies are still serving the industry, some under different names (Wabtec, Ansaldo STS USA, Koppers, etc.) Pennsylvania Electrification was the first step in a series of projects conducted by the PRR, New Haven and, later, Amtrak that resulted in the entire Boston-New York-Philadelphia-Baltimore-Washington D.C. being electrified by 1999. Railway Age chronicled the project in a Feb. 25, 1933 (Vol. 94, No. 8) 108-page special supplement, the cover and introductory page of which is reproduced below. — William C. Vantuono