New SEPTA Locomotives bring more power to regional rail

SEPTA General Manager Jeffrey M. Knueppel is feeling good. With 15 new SEPTA locomotives on the way, he recently went for a ride in a model of train locomotive that isn’t just fast but reliable.

“I’m so excited to be in a new locomotive coming in, I rode in the front of it on the way in,” said Knueppel, who did not operate the train but rode in front for the inaugural Siemens ACS-64 ride on train #901 on the Paoli-Thorndale line. “These locomotives are so powerful. Their acceleration is just phenomenal. … It’s a game-changer for us.”

He’s got good reason to be excited. The 15 new ACS-64 electric locomotives have an 8,600-horsepower engine with more powerful acceleration than most other SEPTA locomotives in their Regional Rail Division.

“More powerful and reliable than our existing equipment, the new locomotives are equipped with our Positive Train Control system and they have a regenerative braking feature,” Knueppel said before the inaugural ACS-64 ride on July 11. “From the cab console, our engineers will be able to monitor the performance of all locomotive systems in real time.”

The ACS-64, which has twice the horsepower of a large freight train, can reach speeds of 100 MPH, although with Positive Train Control on Regional Tracks, no train will go over a top speed limit of 80 MPH. The regenerative braking helps them build power when they brake. 

Eight of the new locomotives are now in service, with the remaining ones slated to start running by October 2018. 

SEPTA locomotives, siemens, acs-64, regional rail

The new SEPTA locomotives will be put into service toting trains on the Paoli/Thorndale, Wilmington/Newark, West Trenton and Media/Elwyn lines, the most popular Regional Rail lines. SEPTA paid $132.7 million for the locomotives, made possible by the 2013 passage of Act 89 with funding for SEPTA, Knueppel said. On some mid-day rides, they will go to other lines and be used in conjunction with Silverliner IVs to help those aged trains perform.

High-powered New SEPTA Locomotives

The new locomotives ordered in 2015 and will be replacing older locomotives dating back to the ‘80s and ‘90s, which Knueppel said were responsible for recent service interruptions and power outages on the Regional Rail lines.

“We had more breakdowns than I would ever have cared to have,” Knueppel said. “Unfortunately, they were carrying some of our biggest trains.”

The new locomotives will begin replacing SEPTA’s ALP-44 locomotives, ordered in 1996, and its eight 30-year-old AEM-7 locomotives, the last of that model used in any passenger transit system in the country. By October, those locomotives will be gone. The Silverliner IVs and Vs multiple-unit trains will remain in service.

But Knueppel said the new locomotives would be instrumental to updating the Regional Rail to meet its growing ridership, which is up 50 percent since 2000. The ACS-64s will also be compatible with 45 brand-new 144-seat multi-level trains SEPTA expects to acquire by 2020-21 (6,390 seats), joining the existing 45 passenger cars in the fleet, all but eight of which have recently been refurbished.

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