Amtrak has unveiled details of its newest train – the Amtrak Airo – that will replace its 50-year-old trains starting in 2026.
Siemens Mobility will build 73 Airos in California for Amtrak. The new trains will first roll out in the Northeast Corridor, and also along some state-funded routes. The entire fleet is expected to be operational in 2031.
The train cars are being funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which provides $66 billion in rail funding to “to eliminate the Amtrak maintenance backlog, modernize the Northeast Corridor, and bring world-class rail service to areas outside the northeast and mid-Atlantic,” according to the White House website.
How they’re powered
The Airos will have bidirectional capabilities and operate at speeds up to 125 mph. They’ll feature dual-power electric and diesel engines, which will reduce the time it takes for them to transition from electrified to non-electrified.
Tracks aren’t electrified on the West Coast, so those trains will be diesel-only. Amtrak states that its “new trains are more fuel efficient and produce 90% less particulate emissions in diesel operations,” but doesn’t go into details about how that’s achieved.
In New York, the hybrid-engine trains will have zero emissions while going through tunnels.
Amtrak Airo car features
The Airo cars feature panoramic windows in both business and coach, and there’s a choice of single or double seating in business. (I recently sat in a single seat in business on the Vermonter line, so while it’s not new, it’s good they’re keeping this feature, as it’s pretty great.)
Amtrak says the seats on Airo are ergonomically designed, have plenty of legroom, feature bigger and sturdier tray tables, moveable headrests, and dedicated cup and seatback tablet holders. There are also individual outlets, USB ports, and onboard Wi-Fi. (Again, Amtrak already offers those tech features, and I’m hoping the Wi-Fi is faster on the new trains, because it’s currently kind of slow.)
Airo will also have a redesigned cafe car, with “self-service options.” Amtrak doesn’t elaborate on what that means – vending machines? – but I’m intrigued.
I am a huge train fan, and that includes Amtrak. These train car updates are welcome and long overdue. They will inevitably reduce emissions because they’re more efficient and technologically advanced, and they run on electricity at least part of the time.
On a day where the Biden administration just announced $750 million for the development of green hydrogen technologies, it makes a bit wistful when I see the word “diesel” in the same announcement as new train cars. But I get that hydrogen is super new – Germany only just launched the world’s first entirely hydrogen-powered train line in August – and these train car upgrades needed to be rolled out asap.
Here’s the thing: According to the EPA, the transportation sector is the largest producer of emissions in the US. And when you break it down by source, rail only creates 2% of emissions. Compare that to light-duty vehicles at 57%. So these beautiful new train cars will hopefully entice people to ditch their gas cars and ride the rails more often.
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