Amtrak Sends Off its AEM-7s With Farewell Excursion between Washington and Philadelphia

Amtrak AEM-7 No. 951 leads a Regional train into Stamford, Conneticut, on July 13, 2000. Once ubiquitous on the Northeast Corridor, the AEM-7 have now been retired from revenue service.

Amtrak AEM-7 No. 951 leads a Regional train into Stamford, Conneticut, on July 13, 2000. Once ubiquitous on the Northeast Corridor, the AEM-7 have now been retired from revenue service.

AEM7 septa

Commuter operators MARC and SEPTA still operate AEM-7 locomotives in the Northeast Corridor. SEPTA No. 2306 is seen in Trenton on May 14, 2016. (Photographs by Craig Sanders)

On Saturday, June 18, Amtrak operated an eight-hour Farewell to the AEM-7 (electric motor) excursion on the Northeast Corridor from Washington Union Station to Philadelphia and back to mark the end of the 35-year reign of what former Amtrak President Paul Reistrup once called, “One of the two locomotives that saved Amtrak.”

The diesel-electric F40PH was the other Amtrak-saving locomotive.

The 7,000 horsepower B-B electric motor (AEM-7 stands for Amtrak Electric Motor, 7,000 hp) is based on a Swedish design and were built by a partnership between Sweden’s ASEA (later becoming the “A” in successor company ABB) and the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors. The body shells were built by the Budd Company.

Delivered in 1981-1982, the AEM-7s replaced the venerable Pennsylvania Railroad GG-1s, and, eventually, their hoped-for replacement GE six-axle E60 heavy electrics.

The E60s turned out to be unsafe to operate above 100 mph.

A sell-out crowd of 476 enjoyed a brilliantly sunny (and hot) day that included a short segment of rare mileage while turning the train at Zoo interlocking in Philadelphia.

They also had a tour of Amtrak’s main electric locomotive shops in Wilmington, Delaware.

The train was led by a couple of the last remaining operable AEM-7s on the roster, Nos. 942 and 946, pulling a nine car train that included Amtrak business car No. 10001, the Beech Grove, carrying the markers.

Amtrak President Joe Boardman was aboard the Beech Grove and joined the tour of the Wilmington shops.

I didn’t catch the significance of lead unit 942, but 946 was the last unit of the 1981 first order of AEM-7s.

In 1988, Amtrak bought seven more AEM-7s (Nos. 947-953) to replace several that had been wrecked or suffered fire or other damage.

Class unit No. 900 was destroyed along with No. 903 in the Train No. 94 wreck at Chase, Maryland, in January 1987.

Neither of the two motors on the excursion had received any special repainting or body repair for the excursion and both looked very tired and worn.

We were told that Amtrak couldn’t justify to Congress fixing up two locomotives that were going to be retired after the trip.

Both motors did operate trouble-free all day and the air conditioning worked in every car.

With only six weeks of lead time from announcement to trip day, the trip sold out amazingly fast.

My understanding is that tickets were gone by June 9 for a trip that really didn’t cover rare mileage, didn’t consist of rare, historic passenger cars and didn’t include a spectacular photo run-by.

However, the Amfleet I coaches are now at least 40 years old.

The photo opportunity  was at the MARC Penn Line Halethorpe station located between Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and Baltimore Penn Station. The train backed up about a quarter of a mile and slowly arrived back into the station, stopping exactly where it had let the passengers off.

Even on a Saturday, traffic on the Corridor prohibited a more spectacular display.

Indeed, at least three other Amtrak or MARC trains passed us while we were at Halethorpe and the next MARC train to Baltimore was right behind us when we left.

We then operated non-stop to Philadelphia 30th St. Station at up to the maximum allowable speed of 125 mph for an AEM-7.

The Amtrak official providing the running commentary was well-versed in the history and geography of the Corridor as well as the history of Amtrak’s electric locomotives.

The crew for the train consisted of four hourly employees, the engineer, two conductors, and a lead service attendant in the cafe.

Every car had a car host who were salaried Amtrak employees, mostly office or management employees who had volunteered to work the train on a day off.

They wore specially made “Farewell AEM-7 Excursion” and “staff” tee shirts.

There also was a heavy – at least to me – Amtrak Police presence in the stations and at Wilmington Shops. At one point one of their K-9s walked the train with its handler.

At Philadelphia, we stopped in the station for about 30 minutes to receive bag lunches of turkey subs from Jimmy John’s and possibly to wait for scheduled traffic to clear before we slowly made our way out to CP Zoo to turn the train and return to Washington.

In addition to lunch, every passenger also received a commemorative farewell AEM-7 pin.  After another brief stop at 30th St. Station to return the trays the bag lunches were delivered on, we operated non-stop to Wilmington shops, where the train backed into the facility for a scheduled 2.5-hour layover for tours and photographs of the shops and equipment.

At least 20 and probably more shop employees were present to guide the passengers around a carefully taped-off route through the shops.

Various work stations in the facility were marked and parts and components labeled so you could discern what they were and where they went on a locomotive or coach.

They also spotted locomotives around the facility for photography and brought in some pieces for the occasion.

For instance, both Amtrak’s electric and diesel veterans tribute units – Nos. 42 and 642 – were displayed together.

You could also photograph an Acela power car with its front cowling open, something the public rarely gets to see.

There were at least 10 or so AEM-7s scattered around the facility, including a dead line of at least seven next to our train.

Other notable units on display included the final new replacement motor for the AEM-7s, ACS-64 No. 670, Amtrak Phase III Heritage P42 unit No. 145, the Wilmington shop switcher (GE 80 Tonner No. 1100, which had been polished-up), and out-of-service HHP-8, No. 690.

Some cab doors were open for photography, but taped off to prevent anyone from entering them.

We had been told to start heading back to the train by 3:20 pm for a 3:50 p.m. departure.

Being a very hot day, everyone was back on a little early and the train departed at 3:45 p.m.

We then operated non-stop except for some very slow running for other traffic around New Carrollton, Maryland, on our way back to D.C.

On the return trip, Amtrak took the opportunity to sell-off now obsolete shelf-stock AEM-7 number boards and a few other components, such as a bell and a horn valve.

There were more than 100 number boards sold at $75 each and they sold them by lottery during the approximately 90-minute run back to Washington. Each winner was announced over the PA system.

Arrival back at Union Station was 25 minute early at 5:15 p.m., which I was grateful for because I had to drive straight back to Ohio for Father’s Day.

All in all, it was a successful day for all on board, as well as for Amtrak.  Perhaps we’ll see more such excursions in the future.

As for the fate of the AEM-7s, we were told that at least a couple were being kept serviceable for now.

I spotted No. 917 on a MARC consist laying over in Baltimore Penn Station. For the time being, MARC and Philadelphia’s SEPTA still operate a handful of AEM-7s.

So, it will be possible to see one running a little longer.

Article by Paul Woodring

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