In recent decades, there has been a noticeable revival of rail in the US and Canada. The volume of passengers is rising, the number of rail routes and networks growing, infrastructure and rolling stock are being modernised. In line with this development, over the years Siemens has steadily built up a multifaceted business in rolling stock with a portfolio comprising light rail vehicles (LRVs) for both the inner and outer city, trams, locomotives, and, most recently, rail passenger coaches. All these activities are centred around a flagship 60-acre plant in Sacramento, north of San Francisco.

Purchasing the Sacramento facility in 1992 was an important move, enabling the company to develop and nurture skills. Today, the plant employs a workforce of around 800 and boasts full manufacturing capabilities that include design, engineering, testing, subassembly and final assembly.

Putting down permanent roots and investment in expertise over the years appear to have paid off. Today, Siemens is the only constructor in North America to manufacture welded bogies, it is the market leader in LRVs, and has recently landed some milestone vehicle contracts (see bottom of article) including a major tram order for San Francisco.

Boosting network capacity and efficiency

Famous for its tramway the world over, be it in film, TV, fiction, or daily life, San Francisco is stepping up a gear.

Part of the Muni public transport network, the tramway comprises six lines, extends over 36.7 miles, and is served by 151 trams manufactured by AnsaldoBreda (now Hitachi). Ridership currently stands at 730,000 passengers daily.

Yet the popular system is already over capacity and the fleet more than two decades old. Furthermore, with upwards of 130,000 new households and 310,000 new jobs expected in and around the city within the next 20 years, boosting the network capacity and efficiency is a must. Upwards of 80,000 additional tram riders per day are anticipated from 2040.


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A streetcar named S200

Under construction at Siemens’ Sacramento plant, the order for 215 two-car S200 trams followed contracts signed with San Francisco Metropolitan Transit Agency (SFMTA) in 2014 (175 units) and 2015 (40 units). The whole order, placed following a competitive tendering process, is worth an estimated US$830 million (£642 million). Rollout will take place over 2017/18.

“It’s important for us to learn from previous procurements to avoid repeating mistakes, one of which was that we didn’t buy enough tram cars last time round,” commented John Haley, director of transit at SFMTA.

The S200 has been developed from the constructor’s S70 model, of which over 1,300 vehicles are currently operating across North America. Each two-car unit has capacity for 203 passengers and the new model will eventually replace the entire current fleet, thus serving to both upgrade and expand the Muni system.

“What’s exciting is that out of the total units on order, the first batch of 64 will expand the existing fleet,” Mr Haley enthused. “Of these, nine will be delivered, and possibly even enter commercial service in 2017, which will have a major impact on crowding.”

Reaching out

Despite some impressive rolling stock orders (see box), Siemens Mobility isn’t resting on its North American laurels. While building trains, trams, and LRVs remains at its core, the constructor took a strategic decision in 2009 to develop vehicle service, maintenance and repair activities. To consolidate this move, 2015 marked the opening of a new 60,000 square-foot facility (near the flagship Sacramento plant) solely dedicated to growing these segments.

Why diversify? “To smooth the gaps between rolling stock orders that might or might not come,” explained Peter Tuschinski, VP strategy and development, Siemens Rail Systems Division.

“In response to changes in the market, it’s evident to do more in the rail services space such as maintenance, technical support, spare parts, digital services and upgrading,” said Chris Maynard, head of customer service. “With a service life of at least 30 years, but with technology changing so fast, rolling stock has fallen into the technology game. The challenge today is how to get different generations of trains talking to each other and so operating as one, rather than separate fleets.”

Perhaps keeping one step ahead of the game is another reason for the company’s staying power in North America. “Most of the OEMs out here don’t do services like this, just as we didn’t some years ago,” Chris added.

Digitalisation – getting trains and tracks talking

While continuing to multiply its rolling stock and rail service contracts across North America, Siemens is also determined to stay ahead of the digital game. “We are spending considerable time and money on digital services, which is probably one of the biggest emerging markets,” Chris Maynard reported.

Through the power of digital technologies, going forward Siemens plans to ramp up the added value it offers customers. This may take the form of energy efficiency, regenerative braking, eco-driving and vehicle analytics for rolling stock. Systems for infrastructure are on the cards too, as Chris Maynard explained: “For the railroads, we can put in a box at level crossings that talks to other track equipment and enables remote inspections.”

April 2017 marked the launch of Digital Rail Services, a new business that will use smart sensors and advanced software platforms to put intelligence behind billions of data points created on the country’s rail systems.

By bringing infrastructure and vehicles into the digital era through this ‘Internet of Trains’, Siemens says it is looking to help operators reduce unplanned downtime, improve operational efficiency, enable improved business planning and performance, as well as generate energy and cost savings.

“Today, rail vehicles send between one and four billion data points per year and rail infrastructure can send billions of messages just inside a specific system,” said Simon Davidoff, head of Siemens Mobility Digital Services in North America. “With our Digital Services business, we’re taking not only experience from our global rail footprint, but also our extensive company-wide digital expertise to turn billions of data points into action. This includes the ability to detect malfunctions well before they can cause problems and information that helps improve arrival times and punctuality for riders.”

Together with Siemens, the City of Atlanta and Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) will be among the first transport actors to take digital steps by putting big data to use from its existing fleet to improve operations and safety.

High speed ahead

Last, but by no means least, Siemens has high-speed rail in its sights too. Yes, it will be making a play to build trains for the California project, if and when it takes off. In anticipation, the constructor has already purchased land to extend its Sacramento facility. Watch this space…


Current workload for Siemens Mobility in North America

Calgary Transit: modernisation of 32 SD160 LRVs – signed in 2013, delivery ongoing.

Amtrak: maintenance of 70 ACS-64 locomotives for 15-year period – signed in 2014.

Amtrak: construction of a traction power feed-in station plus a new Sitras SFC Plus static frequency convertor in New Jersey – signed in 2014, completion scheduled for mid-2017.

Brightline: 5 Charger locomotives + 20 passenger coaches for operator All Aboard Florida – signed in 2014, delivery from 2017.

Amtrak: 92 Charger SC44 diesel- electric locomotives for multi-state (Illinois, California, Michigan, Washington, Maryland, Missouri) project – signed in 2014 & 2015, delivery from 2017’

San Francisco (SFMTA): 215 S200 LRVs – signed in 2014 (175 units) & 2015 (40 units), delivery from 2017 Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD): 29 SD-160 LRVs – signed 2015, delivery from 2019.

Metro Transit: 5 S70 LRVs for Minneapolis-St Paul – signed in 2015, delivery from 2019.

All Aboard Florida: servicing and maintenance of Brightline trainsets for 30-year period – signed June 2015.

New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority: installation of CBTC in New York subway – signed in August 2015, installation ongoing.

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SETPA): construction of 13 ACS-64 electric locomotives, supply of spare parts, and provision of operation and maintenance training – signed in 2015, rolling stock delivery from early 2018.

Sound Transit, Seattle: 152 S70 LRVs – signed 2016, testing starts in 2019.

San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS): 45 S70 LRVs – signed 2016, delivery from end 2018. Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS): 6 S70 LRVs – signed in 2016.


This article was written by Lesley Brown.