National passenger railroad operator Amtrak recently executed a contract option to order 10 additional Airotrainsets – bringing the total contract order to 83 trainsets – as demand for passenger rail travel is reportedly exceeding expectations.
[Above image by Amtrak]
The new Airo trainsets are scheduled to debut in 2026 on select routes throughout the country, including the Amtrak Northeast Regional, Empire Service, Virginia Services, Keystone Service, Downeaster, Cascades, Maple Leaf, New Haven/Springfield Service, Palmetto, Carolinian, Pennsylvanian, Vermonter, Ethan Allen Express and Adirondack.
“We are thrilled to satisfy the soaring demand for train travel with new state-of-the-art, American-made equipment that ensures the highest standards of comfort, service and amenities,” said Amtrak President Roger Harris in a statement.
“As we advance this vision, we’re committed to getting people where they need to go, while reducing road and air congestion, creating jobs and supporting the American economy,” he added.
Amtrak noted that a share of its funding from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA will support the procurement of its new trainsets, manufactured by Siemens Mobility Inc. in California; part of a $7.3 billion deal Amtrak signed with Siemens in July 2021 to build those new trainsets for use on various state-supported and long-distance routes.
The new Airo trains will operate at speeds up to 125 mph and offer “near seamless” transition between power sources to reduce time-consuming locomotive changes, Amtrak said. Those new trains are also touted to be more fuel-efficient as well and produce 90 percent less particulate emissions in diesel operations.
The new Airo rail cars will feature a host of passenger amenities as well, with more specious seating and legroom, enhanced lighting, improved technology with digital customer information systems and touchless restroom controls, dedicated individual outlets, and onboard Wi-Fi, among many other new features.
Amtrak said the new trains are part of a larger “transformation” of its network, which includes the addition of new Acela trains, major infrastructure projects, service expansion, station upgrades, modernization efforts, and improved track capacity to support future ridership growth.
Amtrak’s Harris also expects state departments of transportation to play a larger role in those rail service upgrade and expansion efforts.
He noted during a presentation at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Council on Rail Transportation 2023 Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C., that in 2022 Amtrak logged seven million new riders, which he called “an incredible marker for the growth of our business.”
However, Harris stressed that what is different going forward in light of the added funding from the IIJA is how it’s enhancing the partnerships Amtrak has with state transportation agencies.
“That’s where the real transformation is occurring,” he explained. “It is allowing us to open things up and think about new services.”
One example of those new services is the recent deployment of an all-electric transit bus in partnership with the Washington State Department of Transportation on the Amtrak Cascades route.
Daily mid-day buses provide additional connectivity beyond the morning and evening train service between Seattle and Bellingham, WSDOT noted, with those Cascades Thruway buses also stopping in Everett and Mount Vernon and connecting with trains heading to and from stations south of Seattle. As the first-ever EV in the Amtrak National Network, the bus — owned and operated by MTRWestern — can make the nearly 200-mile roundtrip on one single charge.
“WSDOT is pleased to be the first in the country to offer electric bus service on an intercity route that’s part of Amtrak’s national network,” explained Roger Millar, WSDOT secretary and AASHTO president, in a statement.
“Adding a bus to our fleet that is powered by clean energy further affirms our commitment to offer environmentally friendly travel options in the Pacific Northwest,” he said.