With the demise of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1968 and the near-death of American passenger trains around the same time, the market for electric engines dried up. Designing new electric locomotives became a lost art in the United States. Not so in Europe, however, where overhead wires were the dominant source of motive power, and virtually every country had a thriving national passenger carrier. It was no wonder, then, that Amtrak turned to Europe in 1977 for a replacement for its aging fleet of ex-Pennsy GG1 locomotives - after an earlier effort, the General Electric E60, had been a bust.
In a contest reminiscent of the 1934 competition between General Electric and Baldwin-Westinghouse designs that spawned the GG1, Amtrak imported a Swedish and a French electric to vie for the title of the G's successor. The four-axle Swedish design proved more suited to American track than its 6-axle French rival, and Amtrak placed an initial order for 30 locomotives. Trucks and electrical gear were made in Sweden by ASEA (Allmänna Svenska Elektriska Atkiebolaget), bodies came from the Budd Company, and American diesel-builder EMD did the final assembly. Officially named the AEM-7 ("A" for ASEA, "EM" for EMD, and "7" for 7,000 horsepower), the engines were soon affectionately dubbed "toasters" for the boxy silver appearance or "Swedish Meatballs." Flying Toasters might have been more appropriate; with nearly half again as much power as a GG1, they can do 125 mph and were the fastest thing on American rails until the Acela arrived. For more than two decades, the Toasters have been the backbone of service on the Northeast Corridor, and today nearly all of them are still in service alongside more modern HHP-8 engines and Acela trainsets.
The handwriting is on the wall, however, for the venerable AEM-7s, which collectively have logged more than 200 million miles. In mid-2013, Amtrak took delivery of the first of 70 Siemens-built ACS-64 Cities Sprinters, which will replace all AEM-7s and HHP-8s by 2016.