Remember the 2010 stimulus package? Way back then, money was set aside to build new trains for Amtrak California. They were supposed to be similar to the existing bi-level models, but with an updated design, and arrive around 2016. Their arrival would allow for Amtrak California to expand train service on all three routes.
Unfortunately, the company who won the bid (Nippon-Sharyo), completely failed at that task. After several years of building a prototype, they said they could not build what they said they would. In 2016, Amtrak California announced a plan B: they would buy existing Talgo trains that had been built for Wisconsin, but never used. Except that never happened, and there’s no official reason as to why. They just stopped talking about it.
In 2017, Amtrak announced a plan C. They would buy trains from Siemens, who had set up a modern factory to provide trains for the new Brightline service in Florida. The plan was to have them enter service in 2020.
Well 2020 is here, and guess what? The trains are being tested for delivery later this year as planned! Even with COVID-19, the new cars have been attached to existing trains to get miles on them, and to test for any issues. They’re being tested on the Northeast Corridor because that is where they can reach 125mph speeds. While the San Joaquin line currently tops out at 79mph, the trains were ordered with future track improvements in mind (including potentially running on the High Speed Rail tracks before they’re connected to the Bay Area).
Here is a video a rail-fan took in Princeton, New Jersey. You can see the new car attacked the a regular train at 0:27, 1:00, 1:31, etc
The new cars look much more modern than the 40-year old trains being used on the Northeast Corridor. Larger windows, larger doors, and no tube shape (which was supposed to be “modern” like an airplane).
The River Rail Photos Facebook account caught them testing through Stamford, Connecticut.
Check out the size difference, much more passenger space!
When these enter service later this year and next year, the existing bi-levels will be shifted to the Pacific Surfliner and the Capitol Corridor. As the order is completed, the Comet Cars (built in 1968!) will be retired. Remember, these cars were only bought as a stop-gap measure to be used for 4 years until the new bi-levels showed up. Because of all the delays, they will have been in San Joaquin service for closer to a decade before they retire again.
A delay in delivery is very unlikely at this point as Siemens has been churning them out for Brightline. They are also making almost identical trains to be used by Amtrak in the midwest. The only differences will be cosmetic.