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NE Regional 176, Amtrak shop tour

Adventurers in the Appalachia

My First trip on the Southwest Chief going to the 2018 NRHS Convention in Cumberland, Maryland

Chapter Twelve

Northeast Regional to Wilmington, DE

Amtrak shop tour

 August 2, 2018



Robin Bowers

Text and Photos by Author

The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent.

Comments are appreciated

    We had a 5:00am wake-up call and with our clothes and boots set out, it was easy to get ready this morning. Chris went down to the lobby to check us out of Hotel Roanoke where I met up with him as he was talking to the bellhop who moved east from Torrance in Southern California. We walked out into the dark damp, air crossing over on the bridge and down one short block to the Amtrak station. We put our luggage in a dry area and waited. Today's trip purpose is to get Chris and I to Wilmington, Delaware so we can start the northern leg of Adventurers in Appalachia. We learned that the train is overnighted in the Virginian Railroad yard over by their Roanoke station. About 5:50am the train was backing into the station.


Backing into the station or was the train leaving without us.


Northeast Regional Train 176.


Amtrak P42DC  64 will pull us to Washington, DC.

    We boarded the Amtrak train taking seats in an Amfleet coach for the trip to Wilmington, DE. We left on time at 6:19am and just down the tracks, we passed the N &W shops just as the sun was breaking and cracking the darkness. In times past there was a lot of product rolling out these buildings. The rains started up again and before we reached our first stop at Lynchburg, VA, I went to the cafe car for a cup of railroad coffee. After a couple of sips, I had my fix and was ready for the day. Two hours later just before Culpeper, I returned to the cafe car for a breakfast sandwich. The train was now heading for Manassas, then Burke Center and then Alexandria before crossing the Potomac River and stopping in our nation's capital for engine change, diesel for electric.


Street scene looking through the mall in DC.



Office buildings for Congress, House of Representatives.


Our train at Washington station platform.





First Class Conference Car 9800.


You served us well 64, now find a new run.


An Acela Express ready to leave on the upper platform.


Amtrak GP38 721 and Amtrak MP15D 576.


64 has found a mate.


Amtrak ACS-64 634 would power our train the rest of the way to Wilmington and beyond to Boston.


A last look as we left DC.

    After the engine switch, we left DC on time and went to New Carrolton and then my old friend BWI Airport station which I first became acquainted with at the turn of the century, this being my third time passing by it on this trip back east with a fourth one coming in a few days from now, then going to Baltimore Penn Station with final non-stop run to Wilmington where we detrained on time.


    Wilmington’s newly rededicated Joseph R. Biden Jr. Railroad Station finished a major restoration in the spring of 2011. One of Amtrak’s 20 busiest stations, the Wilmington station was completed on June 29, 1908 built by the Pennsylvania Railroad and has remained in continual use. Wilmington is also served by SEPTA commuter trains and Delaware Transit Corporation (DART First State) buses.


    The tracks go through the station on the second floor. Designed by renowned architects Frank Furness and Allen Evans, the station was completed in 1908. The ticketing area under the tracks features exposed steel beams studded with rivets - a powerful industrial and decorative element. This unconventional arrangement, where the trains thundered overhead as they arrived and departed, was part of Furness’ celebration of the power of the locomotives, and of the industrial and modern America of that day.


    We detrained and then went down inside the station to the Enterprise counter, where Chris filled out the rental car agreement. The transaction was finished up at curbside where our Toyota Camry was parked. With the keys in hand we were on our way to our next stop. From here it was a short hop to the Amtrak Wilmington Shops.


    We checked in at the gate then drove to Building 12 where we met our tour guides Paul Allen, Manager of Mechanical Operations and Kelly Bradigan, General Foreman for this unique special and private tour.


The Wilmington metropolitan area is home to various Amtrak offices and two major heavy maintenance facilities, whose history and current functions are discussed below.

Wilmington Shops

The Wilmington Shops have an especially rich history that dates back more than a century and starts with the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR). At the dawn of the 20th century, the PRR was one of the nation's most prominent corporations and considered a model for its industry. Its lines stretched from the East Coast through the Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states as far as the Mississippi River. In an effort to improve its infrastructure, the railroad embarked on an ambitious program to straighten its tracks for increased speed and safety and construct new bridges, viaducts, tunnels and passenger stations that improved capacity and conveyed a sense of permanence.

In the Wilmington area, the PRR, through its subsidiary Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington Railroad, initiated a construction program that included a new viaduct through downtown, swing bridge over Brandywine Creek, passenger station, office building and equipment shops.

A new maintenance and overhaul facility for steam locomotives and cars was needed because the realigned tracks and new station necessitated the removal of existing downtown facilities along the Christina River. The earliest structures, completed in the mid-19th century, had become outdated and crowded.

The PRR turned to a parcel of land approximately two miles northeast of downtown in a largely undeveloped area known as Todd's Cut. Located between the Brandywine and Shellpot creeks, it included wetlands that were filled with gravel and soil-to an average depth of 10 feet-starting in fall 1902. Following foundation work, brick and steel buildings began to rise the next year, and all the necessary machinery was in place by early 1904.

In an April 1904 article, The Railway Age magazine noted: "The whole plant, from the general layout to the location and power of individual machine tools, is the result of careful design." Among the structures built on-site were a roundhouse, coal trestle, power house and locomotive, blacksmith, paint and car erecting shops. Once completed, the facility could accommodate 35 locomotives and 75 coaches per month for maintenance, repairs and overhaul. All buildings were spaced apart to guard against the spread of fire and allow for the easy movement of materials. They were also designed to be doubled in size if needed in the future.

More than 3,100 piles were driven into the ground at the southern end of the property for the 30 stall roundhouse , which was intended to eventually contain 44 stalls. The $125,000 building had a turntable that measured 75 feet across. The locomotive building encompassed nearly 92,000 square feet and was divided into erecting, machine and boiler/tank shops. The central erecting shop measured 80 feet across and had three pit tracks. Two 65-ton Shaw cranes, each with a span of 78 feet, towered over the erecting bay. In the machine shop, one encountered tools including lathes, shapers and milling machines.

The paint shop, which included a varnish room and tin shop, could hold a maximum 28 coaches. In the car erecting shop were spaces set aside for upholstery and cabinetry. Unlike the other buildings, these two structures featured brick construction with wooden roof trusses.

In conjunction with work on the shop complex, developers started building modest workers' housing in the vicinity of Vandever Avenue at the southern end of the property. Following completion of the PRR's Wilmington improvements, the railroad employed approximately 2,500 city residents in 1915. Those employees were divided among the shops, switch yards and train.

The PRR and its successor Penn Central, borne of the PRR's 1968 merger with the New York Central Railroad, continued to run the Wilmington Shops until 1976. That year Amtrak gained control of the Northeast Corridor as a result of the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act.

Then, as now, the NEC was considered the busiest stretch of railroad in North America. According to the Fiscal Year 1976 Amtrak Annual Report, "The Corridor is responsible for an average of 960 trains a day, including over 120 Amtrak intercity passenger trains, nearly 660 commuter trains...and more than 170 Conrail freight and mail trains." Today, that number has more than doubled to 2,000 Amtrak, commuter or freight trains traveling over some portion of the NEC each day.

The NEC purchase included the majority of the 457 route miles between Boston and Washington, excluding sections that Penn Central had previously sold. In addition, Amtrak obtained more than 100 railroad stations as well as maintenance shops and rail yards to service locomotives and rolling stock.

Today, the Wilmington Shops remain the primary facility for the maintenance, repair and overhaul of electric locomotives used on the NEC, including the Amtrak Cities Sprinters (ACS-64s) that began entering revenue service in 2014 and the high-speed Acela Express power cars. Skilled employees perform truck repair, wheel work, HVAC work, traction motor repairs and component repair and re-manufacturing work.

Our Tour

Before we started we went over safety rules and were given safety glasses and hard hats to wear. We had to ask if we could take pictures of anything inside the shops. In one shop building we had to use ear protection. Safety is Number One Rule in this building. With that, we started our private tour.


We started with a picture in the office taken by Don Wood back in the 1950's showing the Wilmington Shop full of Pennsylvania Railroad GG-1s. We went into the locomotive shop next.


Amtrak MP15D 572 built in 2004 by Motive Power Industries in for rebuilding.


Also in for work are Amtrak GP38-3 724 built by EMD in 1976 and Amtrak MP15D 570 built in 2004 by Motive Power Industries.


    Amtrak ACS-64 639 built by Siemens in 2015. They told us that Amtrak thinks Siemens did an outstanding job of building these and Amtrak has had no major problems with any of them. We then went into the cab of this locomotive.


The cab controls of Amtrak ACS-64 639. These units have a central aisle which makes maintaining them much easier than any other kind of engine.


Next we went into the truck shop. Then we went outside.


Amtrak GP38-3 720 built by EMD in 1976 in the locomotive shop bay door.



Amtrak 80-ton shop switcher 1100 built by General Electric in 1952.


Next we went into the Wheel Shop where we saw the wheel lathe.


Wheel sets with an "S" means the wheels are to be scrapped.


A new set of wheels and axles ready to be used.


Rebuilt axles.


Parts, parts and more parts.


A parts washing machine.


Next we walked outside to our next destination. The old steam power house on the right was converted to electric energy.


Building two was the old car shop building.


Next we toured the Electric Shop building.


    After that we got to see the transfer table. We walked back through the Electric Shop Building and by the locker rooms to an Acela Express train set. They are replacing seats on all the Acela Express train sets.



Acela Express 2019 used for training purposes. From here we went back into Building 12 and went upstairs to the Conference Room.




The last thing we saw was an aerial picture of the Wilmington Shops. We thanked out hosts and then we left the Amtrak Wilmington Shops for NJ.

    We drove US 13 to I-95 then US 40 to I-295 to US 130 to the Travelers Inn in Dayton, NJ to spend the night. We ate dinner at the Dayton Diner which was across the motel parking lot. We both enjoyed our dinners and then it was back to our room to end the day.

Thanks for reading.

Next Chapter 13 - Princeton Junction and Dinky plus Pine Creek RR museum >>

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Text and Photos by Author

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