[US] Visiting Siemens in the USA part 1: The Charger diesel locomotive

In a time of car-congested cities, air pollution and climate change, the United States is slowly re-discovering rail transport as a modern, comfortable and efficient way of travelling. With the help of German tech company Siemens many operators are now spending serious money on their fleets, showing the US how rail travel could be, and should be.

We are going to show you two large projects that are excellent examples of such comprehensive, game-changing railway projects. One urban and local, the other long distance and nationwide. Both will help to change the rusty image of rail travel in the USA:

  • Part 1: The Siemens Charger diesel locomotives (scroll down)

  • Part 2: New Siemens LRVs for San Francisco (to be published)

Let’s start with part 1, in which we tell you everything about the Siemens Charger diesel locomotive. How was Siemens able to get a foothold in the US market, who ordered these machines and how are they built?

Copyright: Railcolor Design

Siemens in the USA part 1: The Charger diesel locomotive

Since 2009, Siemens is gearing up in the US. The company is differentiating its ‘made in the USA’ product portfolio to improve the continuity of the workload of its Sacramento factory. The production and maintenance of LRVs for the North American market remain its core business, but by entering other rail markets, its wants to fill the gaps between large LRV orders. Electric and diesel-electric locomotives have been added to the program, the first passenger coaches are currently being commissioned. And the future? Maybe Sacramento will even be building high speed trains in the near future…

1.1 Starting of electric
It is quite remarkable. Siemens building diesel locomotives for US operators. Within a few years the German company successfully entered new markets. First there was the CitiesSprinter electric that was developed after securing a contract with Amtrak. US’ national passenger operator was searching for a new standard generation of locomotives to replace all its old and/or unreliable AEM-7 and HHP-8 type machines used on the on the Nord-East Corridor (NEC) between Boston and Washington DC.

Amtrak’s ACS-64 CitiesSprinter no. 603 – Photo: Amtrak

Between 2013 and 2016 seventy locomotives were built, tested and commissioned. The Vectron locomotive for the European market could successfully serve as basis for a new product to the US market. The ‘Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’ (SETPA) decided to follow and order 13 similar electrics that are soon to be outshopped.

Although the ACS-64 ‘CitiesSprinter’ – its full Siemens designation – was criticized being heavy (increased crash-worthiness and system redundancy!) and expensive (a 500 million-dollar deal!) it does bring reliability, availability and energy efficiency to a whole new level in the US. Something we already take for granted here in Europe. Finally, Amtrak is able to meet reliability expectations of its customers in the next decades.

Another key element here, and this goes for all Siemens USA projects nowadays, are the ‘buy American’ requirements. The majority of all components of the Siemens products for the US market are produced locally, by Siemens itself in its factory in Sacramento or provided by sub-suppliers based all over the country. The CitiesSprinter project alone already resulted in 250 additional jobs in the US rail industry.

On of the first tangible results of the Charger development, a scale model back of the Charger on display during InnoTrans 2014 – Photo: Simon Wijnakker

1.2 Diesel trains all over the place
In 2013, it was time for the next game-changing order; a 225-locomotive frame contract with several US states. True, European manufacturers have been exporting their products to the US market before, but not in these numbers, not a machine that can become a new standard for diesel passenger trains across the country. The Charger can become just that and is going in the right direction. In several steps, different transport authorities have placed orders, amounting to a total of 65 machines in order. The interesting thing is that these operators all work under entirely different conditions, have different fleets and service demands, are active in entirely different places, east coast, west coast, the mid-west, but Siemens has managed to supply them with a locomotive that can meet all these variable conditions.

Siemens Charger ‘desert train’ at the Siemens stand during InnoTrans 2016 – It tells us that the Gulf States are/were also a targeted market for Siemens – Henk Zwoferink

1.3 In disguise: Chargers a part of a ‘higher speed train’
Another game-changer in which the Siemens Charger got the lead role is Florida’s Brightline project, initiated by Florida East Coast Industries (FECI), a company active in real estate, transportation, and infrastructure. They are short before the launch of their new train service that will show the people of the ‘sunshine state’ that rail travel can be efficient, fast, comfortable. Track works, new stations new trains, all payed with private money.

For the Brighline, Siemens is not just building locomotives. Siemens is delivering complete ‘higher speed’ diesel passenger trains. A trainset has two locomotives and four intermediate coaches of the new Siemens Viaggio USA type – yet another portfolio extension for Siemens USA. A combination of industrial design (the Charger can have extra nose-sections) and graphic design (making the trains look like a true DMU) forces you to look twice to recognize the locomotives as Chargers.

 2. The Siemens Charger SC-44; the concept

Siemens has developed to Charger locomotive for regional services. Modern technology meets solid a construction that meets all stringent US federal standards as formulated by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). It 16-cilinder Cummins diesel engine from Cummins feed IGBT traction convertors that provide single axle control for up to 125 mph (200 km/h). Key points during development were component redundancy, maintenance and energy efficiency. The Charger has a electronically controlled pneumatic braking system and recuperative braking.

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Its machine room layout is based on the European Vectron locomotive design. Its monocoque carbody structure is reinforced to fulfil the specified 800,000 lbs buff strength while offering full-width anti-climber engagement. Its push-back couplers are part of the Crash Energy Managment System.
The Charger has bogies which design is based on experience with Amtrak’s ACS-64 ‘CitiesSprinter’. They feature a center pin and traction pivot design, that offers a low connection to the locomotive body. The bogie itself is an integral welded structure.

More technical details:

  • Power type: AC Diesel Electric
  • Crashworthiness: CEM and AAR–S–580
  • Configuration: Bo’Bo’ / single axle control
  • Compatibility: all Amtrak DE and E Locomotives
  • Clearance Diagram: ‘D-05-1355 Amtrak’
  • Bogie centers: 13.050 mm
  • Curve radius track: min 250 ft (coupled to 85 ft coach)
  • Wheel diameter: new 1.118 mm, minimum 1.041 mm
  • Design speed: max 135 mph
  • Rated DE power: max. at 1800 rpm
  • HEP power supply: 800 kW (600 kW) (3AC 480 V) Redundant
  • Aux power supply: ≤ 150 kW (3AC 480 V) Redundant
  • Starting tractive effort: 290 kN
  • Continuous tractive effort: 275 kN
  • Brake effort: 120 kN

The Charger’s platform logic allows makes it possible to customize it specifically for long-distance traffic, cab car version and even a dual mode variant is possible.

3. The operators that have placed orders for Charger locomotives, an overview

In March 2014, the state of Illinois was the first to place an order for Siemens Charger locomotives, in conjunction with the Departments of Transportation of Missouri, Michigan, California and Washington. Back then, 32 units were ordered, a framework contract was signed for 225 additional locomotives. Until now (September 2017) 75 units have been ordered.

Even before the locomotives enter service, many of them have to be transported over large distances. The different customers are far apart from one other:

3.1 Illinois/Missouri/Michigan (Amtrak Midwest branding)
The state of Illinois is the launch customer for Siemens’ Charger locomotive. Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) placed its order in March 2014 in conjunction with the Departments of Transportation of Missouri, Michigan, California (Caltrans) and Washington (WSDOT) for 32 locomotives in total. With two supplemental orders this number was raised to 47.

Impression by Railcolor Design

The Charger locomotives for the states of Illinois/Missouri/Michigan have a Amtrak paint scheme in silver and blue with red and white stickers. They run under the Amtrak Midwest brand which was officially presented in August 2017.

The first Charger units that came of the assembly line in March 2016 were painted in this color scheme, although they did not sport the Amtrak logos yet. Instead, many of them got larger Siemens logos in the months that followed. The Amtrak Midwest branded locomotives carry a number in the 4600 series, starting with no.4601. In August 2017, production had progressed up to number 4623.

Charger no. 4611 with the new Amtrak Midwest logos. These were presented on 28.08.207 at Chicago station – Photos: Siemens USA

It is in the summer of 2016 when dynamic trials with the Charger loco commence at the Transportation Technology Center TTC at Pueblo. Unit no.4601 is the first to arrive and featured in Siemens’ promotional video footage.

Finally, after deliveries are completed, the 33 locomotives will be deployed on these trains:

  • from Chicago: Lincoln Service, Illini/Saluki and Illinois Zephyr/Carl Sandburg
  • Hiawatha Service in Illinois and Wisconsin
  • Wolverine Service/Blue Water/Pere Marquette to and from Michigan
  • Missouri River Runner between Kansas City and St. Louis

3.2 Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT)
The Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is receiving eight locomotives from the original 2014-order this year. These are exclusively ordered for the Amtrak Cascades services between from Vancouver (British Columbia) south to Seattle, Washington, Portland to Eugene. Special for the United States; WSDOT has bought seven articulated trainsets manufactured by Talgo from Spain for the Cascades services. For European standards, such cars are already different in profile (wider, lower), image these now behind a tall US diesel locomotive. Charger locomotives are less tall, so they will form a nice combination with the Talgos.

Impression by Railcolor Design

The WSDOT Charger have the Cascades paint scheme (and logos) consisting of colors the agency calls evergreen, cappuccino and cream. They are numbered 1400-1407. The new machines will replace six EMD F59PHI locomotives leased from Amtrak.

IDOT Charger no. 1400 leaving Sacramento factory – Amtrak Midwest 4611 was used for preliminary tests in Washington state – no. 1403 during its presentation at Seattle main station – Photos: Siemens USA / WSDOT

The first WSDOT units were outshopped early 2017, leaving the factory perimeters on March 6. By then, test runs had already been made on the Cascades routes, for which Midwest Charger locomotive no. 4611 was taken to Washington state in December 2016. On 21.05.2017 the WSDOT charger was officially presented to the public at Seattle King Street Station.

A Cascades test train on 18.02.2017 in Portland with 4611 – Photo: Jake O’Halloran

3.3 California Department of Transportation – Caltrans branding
The California Department of Transportation is an executive department within the U.S. state of California. Caltrans manages the state highway system and is involved with public transportation systems throughout the state. Via Caltrans three intercity rail routes are being financed. Amtrak operates the services and maintain the rolling stock.

  • the Pacific Surfliner: San Luis Obispo – San Diego
  • the Capitol Corridor: Auburn to San Jose
  • the San Joaquin: Oakland/Sacramento – Bakersfield
Impression by Railcolor Design

Siemens has now completed the first batch of six Chargers for Caltrans, ordered in 2014. The designated CDTX 2101 to 2106 have a blue and silver paint scheme and sport Caltrans logos and striping. CDTX is Caltrans’ reporting mark.

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Caltrans liveried Charger no. 2016 in Sacramento on 14.03.2017 – Photo: Simon Wijnakker

The Caltrans locos have a spoiler at the back end of their roof, to enhance aerodynamics when bi-level passenger cars are being used. In 2018, Caltrans will receive another sixteen Charger locomotives from Siemens. Possibly these will have different liveries, matching the rolling stock of the services they will be used for.

3.4 All Aboard Florida – Brightline branding
The trains for All Aboard Florida (AAF) are a different story. It has no relation to the other orders, as it is a 100% privately owned/funded project. AAF is a daughter company of Florida East Coast Industries (FECI) active in commercial real estate, transportation, and infrastructure. Since 2013, All Aboard Florida develops ‘innovative multi-use community spaces that incorporate a unique transportation service’. Using existing tracks, the first phase of the transportation service is going to connect Miami with West Palm Beach with a stop in Fort Lauderdale. Services are planned to start at the end of 2017. A second phase is planned that will bring the trains of AAF to Orlando. This requires the construction of new railway tracks.

In September 2014, AAF announced that it placed an order with Siemens for five ‘trains’, consisting out of five ‘Viaggio USA’ passenger coaches and a locomotive on each end. The trains are designed for speeds up to 125 mph (+/- 200 km/h) but between Miami and West Palm Beach (phase 1) the maximum speed will be 79 mph (+/- 127 km/h). Higher speeds will only be released on the phase 2 section to Orlando. AAF has announced it intends to order supplemental coaches in the future to form 7-car consists. For phase 2, an additional five trains would be required.

Impression by Railcolor Design

At first, the choice to order diesel locomotives for a modern ‘higher speed’ seems a bit ought. But it is a matter of perspective. Here in Europe diesel trains are regarded as, well, less modern, louder, slower, compared to electric trains. Electrifying lines so EMUs can be used instead, and developing alternative propulsion systems making use of batteries and/or hydrogen are the trends here, but that it is still a bridge too far for the US. In Florida, the Brightline diesel trains have to compete with airlines, with highways, for which it is a far more efficient and environmentally friendly alternative. Also compared to many diesel locomotive type currently used in the US, the Charger locomotive is far more fuel-efficient and silent. Its emissions are lower.

Final modifications are being made on AFF/Brightline no. 108 in Sacramento on 14.03.2017 – Photo: Simon Wijnakker

And why are there two locomotives in every train? One would suffice, right? Yes, the short four-car Brightline trains are overpowered with two locomotives. But as already said, the Brightline trains were developed with having to possibility in mind that they could be longer, up to nine cars even. Also, AAF wanted locomotives for its trains, as these bring extra safety to the driver and passengers, as the Charger has a reinforced monocoque carbody structure. Safety demands in the US are much different from ours, high-demanding as the passenger trains often are in mixed services with very heavy freight trains.

The second reason to have two locomotives is redundancy. The Brightline trains travel relatively long distances and thus can be far away from the closest dedicated workshop (up to 300 miles). When one locomotive breaks down, the other one needs to be able to take the train home.

All Aboard Florida is the only customer so far for Siemens’ Charger that receives the locomotive with an additional nose section. This improve the aerodynamics and gives the locomotive a more ‘speedy’ look. It is modular, the AAF Chargers have the same body design as all other machines.

Brightline is building a colorful fleet of diesel power higher speed trains with new Siemens Charger locomotives and Viaggio USA coaches – Photos: Brightline

In November 2015, the name of the new train services was officially presented: ‘Brightline’. Developed by LAB of the Rockwell Group, Brightline offers a ‘seamless travel experience, from departure to arrival’. The Birghtline concept incorporates all design elements at the stations, the in- and exterior design of the rolling stock as well all services offered along the way; Think about the ticketing machines, waiting accomodation, Wi-Fi, catering and entertainment.

Coming back to the trains, most remarkable is that every set of coaches has a different livery. The white, yellow and grey is combined with one extra specific color, resulting in different names for each set. Siemens delivered all locomotives and coaches in the first half of 2017. Pulled by a freight locomotive, these trains completed a 3.052-mile run before arriving in Florida. An overview:

  • BrightBlue: arrived in Florida in January 2017
  • BrightPink was the second to arrive in March 2017
  • BrightGreen and BrightOrange came together in May 2017
  • BrightRed was last, arriving in June September 2017

The ten locomotives are numbered 101-110. Set 1 has locomotive 101 and 102 and so on. Of course, this will get mixed up in the future because of service operation conditions. One of the locomotives of the BrightRed set was the 100th locomotive produced by Siemens in Sacramento. This number includes all Siemens ACS-64 electrics for Amtrak.

By the way, Siemens will also maintain the Brightline rolling stock for a period of 30 years. 40 employees of AFF and 70 specialists from Siemens will ensure an availability of the trains of well over 95 percent.

3.5 Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) – MARC branding
In August 2015, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) decided to purchase eight Charger locomotives. These will be used for MARC (Maryland Area Regional Commuter) passenger services, replacing the electrics (!) of the HHP-8 type (no. 4910–4915) from the 90s. They will be used on MARC’s only electrified line – the Penn Line – connecting Washington, D.C.  and Perryville – Maryland- via Baltimore. The order is part of 225-unit framework agreement between the US states and Siemens.

Impression by Railcolor Design

First test for the MARC project commenced this summer. Amtrak Midwest no. 4604 was sent Maryland for testing.
By closing a cooperative purchasing agreement with the Illinois Department of Transportation, MARC was able to get new locomotives at a volume discount. Hence the rather untypical decision to buy diesel machines for services on electric lines. The HHP-8 are known for their unreliability and Amtrak, which is responsible for the maintenance of these electric units, has announced to stop its support. Amtrak itself has already replaced its own HHP-8s with new Siemens ACS-64 electrics.

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No MARC branded Charger locomotives have been released from work until now. In different presentations, the machines are shown having a white livery with blue and orange details. The MARC branding is prominent. They will be numbered as 4600 series.

Early December 2017 the first three Charger locomotives for MARC left the factory. The designated 80, 81 and 82 have a more silver livery as expected. Matt Liverani was able to catch the machines on camera on 03.12.2017 at Delle, Utah, on transport together with SEPTA no. 901.

SEPTA 901 on its way from Sacramento to Pennsylvania together with MARC 80-82 – Delle 03.12.2017 – Photo: Matt Liverani

4. How it is built; visiting the Siemens USA factory in Sacramento

On 07.01.2015, Siemens officially started the Charger locomotive production. In March 2016, the first machine was released from production. Since then the Sacramento facility has been continuously outshopping Charger locomotives. The production is mixed, meaning that locomotives for different customers are not built in batches, but all on one production line. In March 2017 were able to take a close look at the production lines in the US factory in the state of California. We could watch people working on machines for Caltrains, IDOT, Brightline and the Mid-west in various stages of production. An interesting sight as locomotive and LRV production go hand-in-hand in every hall.


So, let’s go on a tour through the Siemens USA factory at Sacramento, starting in the halls for bogies and body work:

Bogies for Charger locomotives.
Upside down: a frame for a Charger locomotive under construction. Up front you see the anti-climbing feature (with the horizontal lines) that prevent the locomotives to ‘climb’ onto the other vehicle. In the back one sees the fuel tank. The Charger is a highly standardized product, so in this stage it is not visible yet for which operator this machine is being built.
A look inside a fuel tank under construction. It can contain up to 4.400 liters of diesel fuel. Siemens claims its ‘light weight’ Charger locomotives can save up to 5% of fuel compared to the competition.
Nop Sacramento is not just an assembly factory. Siemens-trained welders are building the frames and bodies in a large hall. Again, locomotives and LRVs are mixed here.

The Paint shop

In the paint shop, Siemens stated their artist are at work. After applying basic paint layers, the locomotive gets its final livery here. Here you see the vehicle being used to transport the Charger locomotive under construction within the facilities.
Inside the paint shop
The ‘artists’ at work
A painted body for a Midwest Charger is sat next IDOT locomotive no.1402, fully assembled, but logos are still missing.
The same two locomotives seen from the back.

Final assembly hall

The main assembly hall: Charger locomotives 4613 and 4614 (front) are machine no. 27 and 28 of the Charger production line. The locomotives for different customers are built on one line.
IDOT locomotive no. 1406 is production no. 24.
The Brightline branding is being applied to locomotive 107.
Yes, Siemens USA now also built new passenger coaches. For Brightline twenty coaches are built in five sets of four. Every set has a different color. This coach will be part of the ‘BrightGreen’ consist.

Outside fitting

Finetuning is also done outside, where IDOT no. 1403 is having its front lights mounted.
Caltrans Charger no. 1406 is ready for delivery. Not the service number is still black here (hard to read). Later on they replaced by white ones.

Siemens main location for rolling stock production is its factory in Sacramento with a workforce of around 1.000 people. The factory was opened around 30 years ago and has been extended and modernised continuously. Sacramento offers a complete program for the production of rolling stock, including its own development department, body work and welding, its own paint shop, assembly lines and maintenance facilities. Over 100 million dollars was invested over the past ten years in the factory and its skilled workforce (good welders are hard to get!). The factory is largely solar powered. Large solar panels are being installed above the car park area for employees, so the installations also keep the cars cool.

Important Sacramento facitily upgrades:

  • 2006:  Expansion and in-sourcing of carshell manufacturing in Sacramento
  • 2008:  Bogie and truck-frame manufacturing began at the Sacramento plant
  • 2009:  Sacramento plant began operating mostly on solar power
  • 2010: Purchased 22 acres adjacent to the plant for further expansion – envisioned to become high-speed rail center of excellence
  • 2012: Locomotive manufacturing upgrades complete at the Sacramento plant
  • 2014: Building expansion to increase capacity for welding and carshell manufacturing

And there can be more. Siemens has already acquired an adjoining lot that is already planned for a facility to build Velaro high speed trains. Siemens is participating in the Californian high speed project (construction of the line is on its way now) and is actively promoting its proven highspeed trains to the future operators of this line. A first indication of who will be selected to build the new rolling stock is expected for 2019.

5. Tests and commisioning

As of the summer of 2016, dynamic trials with Charger locos are held at the Transportation Technology Center TTC in Pueblo, Colorado. To machine is being pushed to its limits. The trial program includes acceleration and braking testing and runs with speeds up to 200 km/h. The images show unit. 4601 at the TTC:

Charger no. 4601, to be delivered to the Mid-West, at the TTC in Colorado.
The driver cab
On 10.08.2016, customer representatives were invited to Colorado to inspect the progression of the testing program.

During the next months we will closely follow the commissioning of the new Charger locomotives. Also, the first MARC units will be outshopped and lets see if the next batches for Caltrans will have a different livery than the machines that already have been built. If you have good images of Charger locomotives, please contact us, they are always welcome!

For now, we end this article with a video from the Colorado test center:

A brand new Siemens LRV next to one of many heritage trams still in everyday use in the west-coast city – Photo: Simon Wijnakker