The ALP-46 is the third generation of electric power to serve New Jersey commuters. In the 1930s, the Pennsylvania Railroad's landmark electrification linked New York City to much of New Jersey with MP54 electric commuter cars and trains hauled by GG1 electric locomotives. When New Jersey Transit took over commuter rail service in 1983 from Conrail (which had inherited the operation from Pennsy successor Penn Central), the GG1s were still soldiering on and badly in need of replacement.
But in the half-century since the GG1s' delivery, building electric locomotives had become a lost art in the United States. Looking for new power, NJT took a cue from Amtrak and ordered the Swedish-designed ALP-44, a near-copy of Amtrak's AEM-7. The first ALP-44s arrived in 1990.
Fast forward a decade and NJT was once more in the market for new locomotives, with increased ridership and double-decker cars creating the need for a more powerful engine. Turning again to Europe, NJT contracted with German-headquartered ADtranz to build the ALP-46, based on their Class 101, the flagship electric of Germany's national railway. During production, ADtranz was taken over by Bombardier Transportation, which then became the largest rail equipment manufacturer in the world.
While unique to New Jersey Transit, the ALP-46 shares the basic shape and technology of Bombardier electrics in service throughout Europe. It offers a near-perfect combination of speed, safety, and practicality. Designed for aerodynamics but also for economical construction, its streamlined shape is composed almost entirely of flat surfaces. The ends are raked at an angle that slices through the air - but a steeper, more streamlined angle was avoided in order to minimize air turbulence between the engine and the following car.
The controls, of course, are computerized with myriad safety systems. With nearly 900 horsepower available to each of its eight wheels, wheelslip control on the ALP-46 was mandatory. Another system monitors the pantograph shoe that contacts the overhead wire. In the event of shoe breakage, it automatically lowers the pantograph to prevent wire damage. The trucks on the ALP-46 are derived from those on Germany's high-speed Inter-City Express (ICE), with modifications for the tighter curves on commuter lines. In full flight, the ALP-46 can reach 100 mph, but its trucks are designed to be safe at 160 mph.
Built in Bombardier's plant in Kassel, Germany, the NJT's fleet of 29 ALP-46s was delivered in 2001-2002. It is used largely in push-pull service with single-level coaches and bi-level Bombardier-built cars; the engine leads the train in one direction, and on the return leg the engineer drives from a cab in the end coach. The locomotives proved so successful that NJT took delivery of 36 additional units in 2009-2011, with upgraded electonics and designated class ALP-46A.