Amtrak's New Siemens Locomotive With Digital Controls Cruises Rails

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2014-02-14 Print this article Print

Amtrak's new ACS64 Cities Sprinter locomotive from Siemens is designed to haul passenger trains along the length of the Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston safely and efficiently at 125 miles per hour. But this is more than just another high-speed railroad locomotive. It's fully digitally controlled, the equipment is all solid state, and it's designed to recover much of the energy it uses and feed it back into the power grid. Every aspect except one—the braking system—operates under full digital control, and the locomotive is outfitted with sensors for all its operational elements. It's designed to stay in constant communication with Amtrak's servers allowing real-time remote monitoring of the machine's critical systems via machine-to-machine communications through the cellular phone network using equipment from Wi-Tronix. The monitoring system alerts technical support staff to impending problems so they can reconfigure the locomotive to keep it running. In some cases, the ACS64 can reconfigure itself and it can recommend courses of action to the engineer and remote technical staff. It can do all this while traveling along the rails with a full passenger load. Photos: Wayne Rash/eWEEK

  • Amtrak's New Siemens Locomotive With Digital Controls Cruises Rails

    by Wayne Rash
    1 - Amtrak's New Siemens Locomotive With Digital Controls Cruises Rails
  • Amtrak's Sprinter Arrives at Washington's Union Station

    Amtrak and Siemens show off a shiny, new Cities Sprinter locomotive at Washington, D.C.'s Union Station right across the platform from Amtrak's famed Acela high-speed train. The Sprinter is nearly as fast, cruising the Northeast Corridor at 125 miles per hour with as many as 18 passenger cars behind it.
    2 - Amtrak's Sprinter Arrives at Washington's Union Station
  • The LCD View

    This is the engineer's control position on the ACS64 locomotive. The array of LCD screens spread out before the engineer allows monitoring of everything from speed to bearing temperatures to wheel spin. All the controls, except one, are digital.
    3 - The LCD View
  • Analog Versions of Digital Displays

    The central computer systems in the ACS64 display the information needed to control the locomotive digitally, but it can also present the display of the information in an analog form, which is easier for the engineers. Here, on the main display screen, information including speed, acceleration and tractive effort are displayed both as digital numbers and analog representations. The locomotive's speed shows on a speedometer dial, and tractive force displays as a digital amount and as an analog bar graph.
    4 - Analog Versions of Digital Displays
  • You Can't Miss These Signals

    The train control system communicates with a computer in the locomotive to display current messages from the railway's signaling system, showing the current signal condition, speed restrictions and the current authorized speed at any time. With this in the cab on the control console, the engineer can always see the current signal condition, and be prepared to slow or stop the locomotive in advance.
    5 - You Can't Miss These Signals
  • An Eye Behind

    The ACS64 has a pair of rear-view cameras, one on each side of the locomotive, that let the engineer keep an eye on passenger cars behind without having to open a window and look outside.
    6 - An Eye Behind
  • Looking at Everything

    This is the main status display of the ACS64, showing the current readings from the sensors in the locomotive. The engineer can see everything important at a glance. This screen will also display the diagnostic information and recommended actions when the central computer discovers an anomaly, or when the remote monitoring tech support staff wants some action taken. This screen can show detailed views of sensor data, if needed.
    7 - Looking at Everything
  • Making It All Stop

    This is the braking console for the ACS64. The big, red lever on the left side of the console is for applying the brakes for the entire train, and it's not digital. In fact, this is the only analog control in the locomotive, and it's tied directly to the train's airbrakes. You can't risk a blown fuse with the train's brakes. The black knob to the right of the console is an electronic control for the locomotive itself.
    8 - Making It All Stop
  • Not Exactly a Throttle

    The large lever tells the locomotive's computer to make the train go faster when it's pushed forward. When the lever is pulled back, it changes the locomotive's power system to a dynamic brake, which makes the traction motors become alternators; from there, electrical power is fed into the power cables above the track and, from there, into the power grid. The locomotive can generate up to 5 megawatts of electricity from dynamic braking.
    9 - Not Exactly a Throttle
  • In the Power Room

    This is part of the power control system for the ACS64 locomotive. Behind this panel are the control electronics for the management system—which, in turn, controls the supply of electricity coming from the electrical power in the overhead wires to the traction motors.
    10 - In the Power Room
  • Yes, This Is a Switching Power Supply

    The electrical power for Amtrak's Northeast Corridor varies from 11,000 volts at 25Hz near Washington to 12,500 volts at 60Hz between New York and Connecticut, to 25,000 volts at 60Hz between Connecticut and Boston. The control systems behind these panels sense the voltage and frequency of the power and automatically configure themselves to handle it properly. During dynamic braking, the control system also matches the phase of the power so that it can be fed back into the grid.
    11 - Yes, This Is a Switching Power Supply
  • Everything Is Solid State in This Locomotive

    Even the headlights and ditch lights (which light up the area next to the tracks as the train travels along) are LED lights—kind of like the LED lights in a Lexus, except much brighter. Obsolete incandescent bulbs are gone from this locomotive in the name of weight and maintenance. And, yes, they do worry about weight even in a 217,000-pound locomotive.
    12 - Everything Is Solid State in This Locomotive

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