Amtrak 301 Across Colorado – July 18, 2021

On December 21, 2018, Amtrak announced the purchase of 75 Siemens Charger locomotives to replace the venerable P42s in long distance service. The new variant would be known as the ALC-42, having a few modifications to better suit them to the long distance trains: larger fuel and DEF tanks, larger sand tanks, and an extended nose cowling to ease repairs in the event of grade crossing collisions. Deliveries will start this year (2021) and continue through 2024. If the locomotives are successful, Amtrak has an option to purchase up to 100 more.

The very first unit, AMTK 300, left the Siemens plant out in Sacramento, California on June 11, and was moved east dead-in-consist on the California Zephyr leaving Emeryville on June 12. AMTK 301 was delivered to Amtrak just a few days ago on July 16, and was added to July 17th’s eastbound Zephyr.

301’s paint commemorates Amtrak’s first painted locomotive – E8 #4316. There are some conflicting reports. Amtrak’s press release and Trains Magazine state that it was painted for display in NYC Penn Station on “Day 1” – May 1, 1971 – but a couple other railfan sources indicate that it wasn’t painted until mid-summer. Regardless, the paint harkens back to Amtrak’s very earliest days.

While in the current day we would think of an E8A is archaic, to someone in 1971 it really wasn’t that old. PRR 5716, the engine that would become AMTK 4316, was built in October of 1952. That would make it about 18.5 years old on “Day 1”. To add some perspective, of the P42DCs leading the Zephyr this Sunday, 176 is 20 years old and 51 is 24.5 years old. I still remember riding behind the F40s, so to me the P42s seem like the “new power”, but they’re all 20-25 years old with millions of miles on them. They’re well and thoroughly used at this point. Hopefully the ALC-42s will carry on this legacy and I look forward to riding behind them for decades to come.

Chasing 301

I woke up a bit late Sunday morning after a very late Saturday night, and saw on the internet that 301 was making its way east. Normally, getting out of the house around 10:30 would have barely made the trip worth it, as I wouldn’t have caught it much before maybe Kremmling. However, #6 has been chronically late recently, and had just left Helper, UT, at 10:10 – 3h30 down from schedule. That left plenty of time to intercept the train between Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs, even accounting for horrific Colorado traffic.

Sure enough, I beat it into Glenwood by about ten minutes. From there it was pretty much a chase at track speed, aside from a slight delay west of Dell. For about 3-4 blocks around McCoy, Amtrak was running on approach signals. My guess is that there was an eastbound freight in front of it that was getting put in the hole at Dell, but I never did see the thing. I wound up following it all the way to Fraser, where the rapidly failing light and the long drive home made me finally call it a day.

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