SEPTA Is Buying 13 New Locomotives for $118 Million

SEPTA's chief engineering officer for rail vehicles says the locomotives will be much easier to maintain than the current models.

New SEPTA locomotives

Image via Siemens

SEPTA announced today it has formally awarded Siemens a $118 million contract to build 13 new locomotives, for delivery in 2018.

“The purchase of these new locomotives is the first of several new vehicle purchases which are part of SEPTA’s Building the Future program,” SEPTA General Manager Jeff Knueppel told Railway Gazette. “We are looking forward their arrival to help provide faster and more reliable regional rail service for our rapidly-growing ridership.”

The sleek new SEPTA ACS-64 locomotives are similar to those Amtrak purchased for inter-city service in the Northeast Corridor. SEPTA says they’ll feature regenerative braking (which stores power from braking to be reused) and have self-diagnostics for all key systems. According to Dave Warner, the chief engineering officer for rail vehicles at SEPTA, they’re also a bit more powerful than current locomotives. They’re also better equipped to deal with locomotive wheelslip, which will help during slippery wheel season.

Warner, who worked for SEPTA on procuring these locomotives, said the chief advantage of these locomotives is on the maintenance side. These will replace the AEM-7 and ALP-44 locomotives (made by ABB) that SEPTA currently uses, which are so old they’re hard to find parts for. (Amtrak is retiring these locomotives, Warner says, and SEPTA is attempting to purchase parts.)

“This is like a 1950 Maytag washing machine — you can’t get parts for it,” Warner says. “We’ve been scrounging parts for a long time. Maintenance is a real headache.”

The ACS-64 locomotives, which first went into operation on Amtrak in February 2014, can travel at a top speed of 135 miles per hour, though it’s limited to 125 miles per hour in operation. The locomotive — also called the Amtrak Cities Sprinter — was originally based on Siemens’ EuroSprinter, but modified to meet U.S. rail guidelines. It’s heavier and more powerful than the European model.

First announced in May, the original order was for 13 locomotives with an option to purchase five more. That option still exists; SEPTA can decide to execute it down the line. If SEPTA chooses to buy five more, the total price will be $154 million.

But, as some have asked online, what’s up with the price tag? The similar locomotives purchased by Amtrak cost $6.7 million each, while SEPTA’s 13 locomotives for $113 million is about $8.69 million per car. Why are they so much more expensive?

Warner says it’s likely just a matter of the purchase order. Amtrak ordered 70 of these cars in 2010. SEPTA is ordering 13 of them in 2015. “You get less of a discount with smaller quantities,” he says.

Siemens is scheduled to deliver the new locomotives, along with spare parts and staff training, to SEPTA in early 2018.