Two Years After Troubled Debut, Amtrak Says ALC-42s Performing Well

Amtrak says locomotives have suffered four times fewer failures this winter compared to last and are performing better than older locomotives. On April 25, 2023, locomotive 306 leads the northbound Coast Starlight at Moss Landing, Calif. Photo by Elrond Lawrence. 

Two Years After Troubled Debut, Amtrak Says ALC-42s Performing Well

By Justin Franz

Two years after their debut was mired by technical problems and a year after cold winter weather exacerbated the fleet’s teething issues, Amtrak officials say its new Siemens Mobility ALC-42 “Chargers” are finally performing as hoped. 

The new long-distance locomotives first appeared on the point of Amtrak trains two years ago this month. But that inaugural run on the Empire Builder in February 2022, was tarnished by technical issues that required an older P42 — the very locomotive the ALC-42s are supposed to replace — to lead the train out of Chicago. The problems only continued from there. 

But officials tell Railfan & Railroad that many challenges have been resolved and this winter the locomotives experienced four times fewer road failures than they did during the winter of 2022-2023. In fact, the ALC-42s are now performing better than the P42s they will eventually replace (specifically the ALC-42s are reaching a higher “Mean Miles Between Service Interruptions” measure than the older units). As of this week, Amtrak has received 52 ALC-42 locomotives and 46 are now in service. 

Last winter, cold weather resulted in problems with transformer oil piping. As a result, the locomotives struggled to produce both head-end power and traction power. However, a change in the piping resolved that on the existing units and Siemens is now installing the new style piping on the new locomotives (as of last year, Amtrak had sent Siemens at least 70 design changes). This winter, there have been problems with the diesel exhaust fluid dosing system and engine fuel cut-off switches (the pushbutton cut-off switches are located around the locomotive and can be inadvertently triggered by snow and ice). Like past issues, these new ones are presently being addressed. 

As of this week, the ALC-42s are operating on or have been approved for service on the Empire Builder, City of New Orleans, Coast Starlight, Capital Limited, Palmetto, Cardinal, Crescent, Silver Star and Silver Meteor. 

A locomotive engineer that Railfan & Railroad spoke with recently said he generally likes the new units. However, there are some frustrating quirks with them, including misaligned ditch lights, number board lights that shine down on the cab control screens and the occasional frozen toilet (the bathroom in the locomotive is apparently not heated). But “if they’re working properly, they’re a pleasure to run,” he said. 

This article was posted on: February 23, 2024