Amtrak has had trouble making money in recent years, and has had to rely on Federal government subsidies to stay afloat. Despite enormous growth in ridership and the fact that most routes – particularly the shorter ones in the Northeast – are profitable, the largest passenger train service in the country still loses a great deal of money on its longer, less frequently traveled lines.
However, the company may be closer to solving the profitability problem.
On May 13, Amtrak unveiled the first electric locomotive in a fleet of 70 that is expected to replace its aging lineup of diesel-powered trains. The new models will feature more efficient energy usage, streamlined maintenance and improved reliability, all of which could lead to lower costs to the business and higher revenues.
"The new Amtrak locomotives will help power the economic future of the Northeast region," said Amtrak President Joseph Boardman in a statement. "Built on the West Coast for service in the Northeast with suppliers from many states, businesses and workers from across the country are helping to modernize the locomotive fleet of America's Railroad."
The trains were built by German manufacturer Siemens AG and were constructed at a plant in Sacramento, California. They feature regenerative brakes, a system used on electric vehicles, which sends electricity back into the grid when the train is braking.
Amtrak predicted that the electricity generated by this system would save the company $300 million over 10 years and produce 3 billion kilowatt hours of energy.
If the U.S. continues to convert its electricity production to renewable energy sources, the new locomotives could usher in an era of environmentally friendly commuter travel in which the transportation sector emits far fewer greenhouse gases and pollution into the atmosphere.