The popular Amtrak Cascades passenger trains that connect Oregon, Washington and B.C. are expected to receive 48 new railcars as part of a proposed $7.3 billion national spending plan announced Wednesday.
The new railcars, which would be built by Siemens Mobility in Sacramento, California, provide about 20% more space than existing types, said Ron Pate, director of rail, freight and ports for the Washington State Department of Transportation.
“We are excited for the new train sets. It’s going to be state of the art,” he said.
Features include brighter lighting, USB ports, Wi-Fi, and touchless restroom equipment, he said.
A typical Cascades train contains six passenger cars, but the new versions can be easily changed out, Pate said, so that trains could be longer at busy times of day.
Siemens announced it would deliver its first cars to the Northwest starting in 2024, assuming the funding is approved by Congress. However, WSDOT anticipates that after testing, the cars would go into service during 2025 and 2026.
The railcars, similar to the Siemens Venture models used in Florida, provides 74 seats per coach railcar, but after space for food service and business class, a six-car train would provide a total 350 seats, said WSDOT rail spokesperson Janet Matkin.
The new Washington state railcars cost about $150 million, of which WSDOT previously secured $75 million in local and federal money, said Pate. That includes insurance proceeds that Amtrak paid WSDOT for equipment ruined in the December 2017 crash in DuPont, Pierce County.
The speeding passenger train derailed on a corner and spilled onto Interstate 5, killing three rail enthusiasts and injuring 65 other people.
Nationwide, Amtrak intends to replace 83 passenger trains. These include New York, New England, California and Virginia routes.
WSDOT already operates a full set of nearly new Siemens locomotives, and has retired its older, lightweight Talgo railcars the National Transportation Safety Board criticized after the 2017 wreck as too lightweight.
The new trains are capable of 125 mph, but currently there are no plans for Cascades to exceed the current state maximum of 79 mph. Among other reasons, most trackways are shared with BNSF Railway freight traffic, Pate said.
Amtrak ridership hit a record 32.4 million passengers in 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic, according to its CEO, Bill Flynn. Volumes have returned to 62% of normal nationally, he said.
“These new trains will reshape the future of rail travel by replacing our aging 40-to-50-year old fleet with state-of-the-art, American-made equipment,” Flynn said in a statement
The Cascades route serves 800,000 riders in a typical year. There are currently four round-trip trains to Portland daily. The route will eventually regain a full schedule of six round trips, including Vancouver, B.C., service when the Canadian border fully reopens.
Meanwhile, Amtrak crews are making practice runs on a new corridor between Tacoma and DuPont, where trips were suspended since the 2017 crash. That segment, which is quicker than the current path around Point Defiance, doesn’t have a reopening date yet from Sound Transit, which owns the tracks there.
President Joe Biden, a former Amtrak commuter, has proposed $66 billion for freight and passenger rail, in the latest version of his infrastructure proposal. Supporters say increased use of transit and rail would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.