Amtrak is replacing its fleet of trains: What riders can expect

DETROIT — Amtrak is betting big on a return of ridership.

The nation’s passenger railroad wants to replace its nearly half-century-old fleet with state-of-the-art trains that can operate on electricity or diesel fuel. It plans to spend $7.3 billion to buy 83 trains made by Siemens, with options to buy more if ridership increases. Funding must still be approved by Congress, but William Flynn, Amtrak’s CEO, says he’s confident it will happen.

If it doesn’t, then Amtrak will finance the trains and repay its debt with money from state train services and passenger fares.

The more efficient trains, which will be built in California, are scheduled to start running in 2024. They will have more comfortable seating, better ventilation systems, power outlets and USB ports, Wi-Fi and panoramic windows. Many can run on either diesel fuel or battery power when needed.

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This image provided by Siemens shows a rendering of one of the new Amtrak trains to be built in the U.S. by Siemens Mobility.   Amtrak announced plans on July 7, 2021,  to spend $7.3 billion to replace 83 passenger trains, some of which are nearly a half-century old.

The Associated Press spoke recently with Flynn about the new trains, how Amtrak ridership is recovering from the pandemic and how infrastructure measures may boost intercity rail service.

The interview was edited for clarity and length.

How will these new trains help passengers?

These are 125 mph operating speed trains. They’ll make some trips shorter because in some states we have to change locomotives from electric to diesel. The new trains are dual-mode. It will absolutely be a better passenger experience in the cabin itself. We’re very focused on our (Americans with Disabilities Act) riders and have worked with the ADA community to make sure we have incorporated attributes that are important to them. Certainly in some cases where track is reconstructed, speeds and trip times will improve.

How fast can these trains go?

125 mph. The limiting factor in most cases is track construction, where we’re talking about 90 mph and less, depending on the state and the condition of the track. We’re talking about track that, for the most part, is owned by freight railroads that we have access to.

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