Step Into the Huge Factory Forging America’s Fancy New Trains
The Siemens factory near Sacramento, California, is building some of the most modern, high tech, high speed trains to hit US rails. It takes 6,000 work hours to build just one coach from scratch, but a team of welders, electricians, painters and engineers is pumping them out at the rate of four per month. In a country hardly known for its trains, this rolling stock will deliver high-end, feature-packed comfort.
The trains are the centerpiece of Brightline, a privately-funded venture in Florida that will connect Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Orlando starting this time next year. They will carry commuters and tourists over the 235-mile route at up to 125 mph. That will disappoint those familiar with European and Asian high-speed rail, but thrill anyone used to Amtrak’s typical 80 mph.
“The idea of being able to connect downtown Miami to Fort Lauderdale in 30 minutes”—which is more like a 50-minute drive, even without traffic—“really changes the way that we think people are going to move about,” says Michael Reininger, Brightline’s president. His line will be the first express, intercity service in the US to run without any public funding.
To acquire the necessary trains for that vision, Brightline turned to Siemens, whose 600,000-square foot factory produces many of the streetcars, light rail, metros, and high- and low-speed trains running across the US. Brightline’s speed may not match European standards, but the carriages will be familiar to anyone who has taken a rail trip on the continent. Company execs looked there for inspiration on how to improve the US rail experience, as well as at the problems with American trains. “A lot of smart people said these are things that always bugged us, and in the next generation of trains we need to fix them,” says Michael Cahill, president of Siemens Rolling Stock.
That translates to things like extra-large “picture windows” that align with each seat for the best views. Passengers get access to Wi-Fi (which is promised to be the actually useful high-speed variety), tons of power outlets, and reclining seats. To accommodate those traveling with children and luggage as well as older, mobility-impaired passengers—demographics that make up a large part of the anticipated Florida ridership—the trains offer wide aisles and overhead luggage storage.
The drivetrain is one of the latest available—a Cummins diesel-electric locomotive. The 42,000 pound powerplant’s 16-cylinder engine operates purely as a electric generator. 42 miles of cable feed electric motors for movement, as well as for the lights (and laptops) in the passenger carriages. This efficient configuration means the engine meets the Federal Railroad Administration’s tough Tier IV clean air standards.
Inside the huge warehouses in Sacramento, Siemens welders cut and join bare metal to form shells, mount them on bogey undercarriages, paint them, fit them with interiors, and eventually check them out on a short section of test track. And they need to move quickly—the initial Brightline service from Miami to West Palm Beach starts in just a year.