Amtrak replacing pre-WW II electrical equipment to keep trains on the move

WASHINGTON – Amtrak is using $25 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to replace transformers and other electrical equipment—some of which date to before World War II— at 40 substations that deliver the power needed to propel passenger trains on the electrified tracks between New York and Washington, D.C.

“Amtrak is re-energizing the Northeast Corridor tracks to make certain there is a reliable and uninterrupted flow of electricity to keep trains and passengers on the move,” said Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman, noting that this week a transformer in operation since 1934 is being replaced at the railroad’s substation in Landover, Md.

Boardman explained substations essentially take 138,000 volt electricity from the overhead transmission lines, lower it to 12,000 volts and then send it to the catenary wires located above the tracks to power the trains. He said in 2002 Amtrak embarked on a long-term program to upgrade and modernize 82 outdated substations along the Northeast Corridor. The need for the improvements was dramatically highlighted during a significant power failure and service disruption in May 2006 between New York and Washington, D.C. that left thousands of passengers stranded on trains.

The ARRA funding is accelerating Amtrak’s substation modernization program and is supporting projects located in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. For example, the work being done at the Landover substation this week was not slated to occur until 2013.

Specifically, transformers in service for as long as 75 years are being removed and replaced with modern models that are more efficient, have less environmental impact, require reduced maintenance and provide increased reliability and redundancy. In addition, enhanced technology designed to self-monitor key substation operations is being installed to identify and alert technicians to potential issues before major problems arise. The electrical and installation work is being performed by Amtrak employees.

Amtrak also received additional ARRA funding that is helping to reduce the backlog of infrastructure projects required to bring the Northeast Corridor closer to a state of good repair, such as the replacement and rehabilitation of several bridges, the installation of thousands of new railroad ties, and enhancing stations for better access by disabled persons.

All ARRA-funded projects are to be completed by February 2011.

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