The first engine has been installed in a new Siemens Charger locomotive, a key step in supplying the Washington State Dept. of Transportation with eight new Siemens Charger locomotives as part of a nearly $800 million Cascades High-Speed Rail federal grant to improve passenger rail.

Siemens USA is building new diesel-electric locomotives for six states, including Washington. The Evergreen State will use its supply of eight locomotives to power the Amtrack Cascades route running from Eugene, Oregon, through Western Washington to Vancouver, British Columbia, a program jointly administered by WSDOT and the Oregon Dept. of Transportation. The new locomotives will have higher acceleration rates and top speeds while lowering emission rates and increasing safety and reliability.

The first locomotive engine signifies a pivotal step for the multi-state purchase agreement. Information from Siemens showed off the sheer size of the project, as a crane lowered in a 4,400-horsepower Cummings QSK95 engine into the body of the locomotive.

WSDOT expects their eight locomotives to get delivered in late 2016. Following extensive testing and commissioning, they plan to have them in service in early to mid-2017.

“The future of passenger rail service is rolling into the Pacific Northwest with these state-of-the-art locomotives,” says Ron Pate, WSDOT rail director. “They are truly impressive machines that will be more effective, produce fewer emissions, and will keep our expanded service operating reliably.

The $65.8 million locomotive purchase is part of a larger $800 million federal grant to improve passenger rail service. Once complete, the Cascades High-Speed Capital Rail Program will add two more daily round trips between Seattle and Portland, reduce travel time between the cities by 10 minutes and increase on-time performance to 88 percent, according to WSDOT.

Another portion of the larger project includes a $50.4 million upgrade to tracks and signals at Seattle’s historic King Street Station, a project that started Friday. The work, overseen by WSDOT, will extend tracks, install additional turnouts and add a new platform and canopy while replacing hand-thrown switches with a computerized system.

The improvements should make it easier for trains to enter and exit the station, reducing delays on the Cascades corridor. The King Street Station will remain open through construction, which should rap up in early 2017.

Follow Tim Newcomb on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.