Amtrak 945 has become the second preserved AEM-7 electric locomotive. The Illinois Railway Museum announced this week that the motor arrived in Chicago as will soon be moved to its new home in Union. It will be the first Amtrak engine at IRM, and with a 1982 date of construction, the newest. Given its top speed of 120 m.p.h., it is also the fastest. Like the GG1 it replaced, the AEM-7 ran off 25,000-volt catenary and cannot be used under the 600-volt IRM wires, and will accordingly be a static display.
The AEM-7 is the third significant electric locomotive from the Northeast added to the IRM collection in recent years, following a New York Central S-2 and a Virginian/New Haven EF-4.
A total of 54 AEM-7s were built for Amtrak by EMD between 1978 and 1988, based on the design of the Swedish SJ Rc4. The origin of the design led railroaders to dub the units “meatballs,” and its boxy appearance inspired railfans to call them “toasters.”
Nicknames aside, the engines performed well enough in service that Amtrak retired all of its remaining GG1s and began shedding its E-60s a year after the first batch of AEM-7s arrived. Car and Locomotive Cyclopedia said it did more to improve train speed and efficiency than any engine since the New York Central Hudson.
The first AEM-7 to be preserved was Amtrak 715, which was donated to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg in 2015. It is displayed with PRR 4800, the first GG1, which was nicknamed “Rivets” due to its riveted carbody, unique to the prototype. The AEM-7 ultimately replaced the GG1 in Northeast Corridor Service after General Electric’s E-60 proved unable to perform well on corridor trains.
The final day of AEM-7 operations on Amtrak came with a special “Farewell to the AEM-7” excursion, operated between Washington DC and Philadelphia on June 18, 2016. The last AEM-7s operated by MARC in Maryland were retired in April, 2017, leaving seven units on SEPTA as the last ones still in regular service. Those are expected to be retired over the next year as ACS-64 unit arrive.
Other Amtrak AEM-7s still surviving include Amtrak 928 and 942, which were sent to the AAR/DOT test facility in Pueblo, Colo., in 2017. Another pair were reportedly sold to Caltrain for use testing their new electrification system and for retention as backup power.
—Eric Berger, Railfan & Railroad