The Acela Express is Amtrak's high-speed rail service along the Northeast Corridor (NEC) in the Northeast United States between Washington DC and Boston via 14 intermediate stops including Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City. Acela Express trains are the fastest trainsets in the Americas (which will be broken by California High-Speed Rail); the highest speed they attain is 150 mph in revenue service. Acela trains use tilting technology, which helps control lateral centrifugal forces, allowing the train to travel at higher speeds on the sharply curved NEC without disturbing passengers.
Acela operates along routes that are also used by freight and slower regional passenger traffic, and only reaches its maximum speed along short sections. This occurs mostly along the 226-mile route from New York's Penn Station to Washington DC's Union Station, with a fastest scheduled time of 2 hours and 45 minutes and an average speed of 82 mph, including intermediate stops. Over this route, Acela has been extremely successful, capturing a 75% share of air/train commuters between New York and Washington in 2011, up from 37% in 2000. Due to this competition, one airline canceled service between Washington and New York.
On other portions Acela is limited by both traffic and infrastructure. On the 231-mile section from Boston's South Station to New York's Penn Station, the scheduled time is 3 hours and 40 minutes, or an average speed of 63 miles per hour. Along this section, Acela has still captured 54% share of the combined train and air market. The entire 457-mile route from Boston to Washington takes 7 hours, at an average of around 65 miles per hour.
Acela carried more than 3.3 million passengers in fiscal year 2013; second only to the somewhat slower and cheaper Northeast Regional, which had over 8 million passengers in FY 2013. The Acela Express had a total revenue of $530,820,821 in FY2013, up from $409,251,483 in 2009. The Acela service accounted for approximately 25% of all total revenue generated by Amtrak services. (Another 25% came from Northeast Regional traffic, and roughly 25% each for long-distance trains and state-supported corridor services throughout the rest of the country).
Origins and history
Following the success of Japan's newly inaugurated Shinkansen network, the High Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965 authorized the U.S. government to explore the creation of high-speed rail in the U.S. which resulted in the introduction of Metroliner trains, the predecessor to Acela. During the 1980s the US Federal Railroad Administration explored the possibilities of high-speed rail in the United States. On December 18, 1991 a slate of five potential high speed rail corridors were authorized ("Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) (PL 102-240)") including the Northeast Corridor. During October 1992 another five corridors were announced individually. During 1993, the US government under Bill Clinton discussed a $1 billion funding program to drive the development of a 2,000-mile high-speed rail network.
Amtrak asked railway equipment manufacturers to submit proposals. An X 2000 train was leased from Sweden for test runs from October 1992 to January 1993. It was operated from Washington DC to New York City from February to May and August to September 1993. Siemens showed the ICE 1 train from Germany, organizing the ICE Train North America Tour which started to operate on the Northeast Corridor on July 3, 1993. This testing allowed Amtrak to define a set of specifications that went into a public tender in October 1994.
Building and development
On March 9, 1999, Amtrak unveiled its plan for a high-speed train, the Acela Express. Twenty new trains were to run on the Northeast Corridor. Several changes were made to the corridor to make it suitable for the trains' operation. It was necessary to provide electrification from New Haven to Boston to complete the overhead power supply along the 454-mile route, and several grade crossings were upgraded or removed.
In October 1994, Amtrak requested bids from train manufacturers for a trainset that could reach 150 miles per hour. A joint project of Bombardier (75%) and GEC Alsthom (now Alstom) (25%) was selected in March 1996. An inaugural VIP run of the Acela took place on November 17, 2000 followed by the first revenue run on December 11, a few months after the target date.
The Acela service has been a success; by 2005, Amtrak's share of the common-carrier market between New York and Boston had reached 40% from 18% pre-Acela. With the increasing popularity of the faster, modern Acela Express, Metroliner service was phased out in late 2006. To meet the demand, more Acela services were added in September 2005, and more trains may be purchased. By August 2008 crowding had become noticeable.
By 2011, the Acela fleet had reached half of its designed service life. Amtrak proposed several replacement options, including one as part of its A Vision for High-Speed Rail in the Northeast Corridor. In 2011, Amtrak announced that forty new Acela coaches would be ordered in 2012 to increase capacity on existing train sets. The existing trains would each receive two more coaches for an almost 40% capacity increase. The additional coaches would lengthen the train sets from a 1-6-1 configuration to a 1-8-1 configuration (power car - passenger cars - power car). The longer train sets would have required the modifications of the Acela maintenance facilities in Boston, New York and Washington. The first of the stretched train sets was to enter service in Fiscal year 2014. This plan was cancelled in 2012 in favor of replacing, rather than refurbishing, the Acela fleet.
In January 2014, Amtrak issued a request for proposals on 28 or more new model Acela trainsets, in a combined order with the California High-Speed Rail Authority. These bids were due May 17, 2014. After discussions with manufacturers, Amtrak and the California High Speed Rail Authority concluded that obtaining a meaningful common platform would result in below-optimal solutions for Amtrak and the Authority, and create risks to schedule and costs; thus the joint procurement program was not pursued.
Amtrak's original contract with the Bombardier-Alstom consortium was for the delivery of 20 trainsets (6 coaches each, with power cars at front and rear) for $800 million. By 2004, Amtrak had settled contract disputes with the consortium, paying a total of $1.2 billion for the 20 trainsets plus 15 extra high-speed locomotives and the construction of maintenance facilities in Boston, New York, and Washington.
Despite billions of dollars in investment, Acela Express's fastest schedule between New York and Washington DC was 2 hours and 45 minutes in 2012. $450 million was allotted by the Obama administration to replace catenary and upgrade signals between Trenton and New Brunswick, which will allow speeds of 160 mph over 20-mile runs sometime after 2016. This section of track holds the record for the highest speed by a train in the USA, which is 170.8 mph (274.9 km/h), achieved in a test run by the U.S./Canada - built UAC TurboTrain on December 20, 1967.
In practice, the Acela's speed depends more on local restrictions along its corridor than on its trainset. In addition to speed restrictions through urban areas, the Acela's corridor includes several speed restrictions below 60–80 mph over older bridges, or through tunnels a century old or more. Altogether, Amtrak has identified 224 bridges along Acela's route that are beyond their design life.
The Acela name was announced on March 9, 1999, as a part of the original announcement of the service itself. Amtrak originally intended for this move to be part of a rebranding of the majority of their Northeast services, forming three levels: Acela Express, Acela Regional, and Acela Commuter. The branding team based the name "Acela" on the ideas of acceleration and excellence.
There were then three classes of trains on the Northeast Corridor (and its extension south to Newport News, Virginia)— Philadelphia-New York Clockers, the express Metroliners, and the umbrella term NortheastDirect, applied to other trains on the corridor (in addition to unique names assigned to each departure). Empire Service trains used the Empire Corridor from New York City to Niagara Falls, and Keystone Service ran along the Keystone Corridor from Philadelphia to Harrisburg. Other named trains also used the corridors, branching off or continuing beyond their stations. The original plan included renaming the Empire, Keystone, and NortheastDirect services to Acela Regional, while the Metroliners would be replaced with the new Acela Express service. However, the Empire and Keystone services retained their names.
The Acela Regional name was first applied to NortheastDirect trains 130–133 on January 31, 2000. Those trains, 130 and 131 running weekdays only and 132 and 133 running every day, were the first electrified trains to run on the full Northeast Corridor. As more trains were electrified, they too were rebranded. In 2003, due to confusion between the lower-speed Acela Regional trains and the Acela Express, the Acela branding was removed from the NortheastDirect service (now the Northeast Regional) and the Acela Commuter had its name changed back to the Clocker for a similar reason and ultimately discontinued on October 28, 2005.
The Acela trainset is a unique set of vehicles designed specifically to satisfy governmental rolling stock requirements established primarily by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). This includes the ability to withstand a collision with a freight train at speed without collapsing. Most manufacturers which bid on the Acela were unable to meet the structural requirements, due to increased costs and complications for the manufacture of the trains, and the need for manufacturers to make significant engineering changes to their standard designs. In the end, only three qualified bidders remained: ABB (Swiss manufacturer of the X 2000 train), Siemens (manufacturer of the German ICE), and a consortium of Bombardier (manufacturer of the LRC trains) and Alstom (manufacturer of the French TGV).
The design, using identical 6,200 horsepower (4,600 kW) power cars at each end which operate on a voltage of 11,000 volts AC, and either 25 or 60 Hz frequency, resembles France's TGV. Several components are directly derived from the TGV, such as the third-generation TGV's traction system (including the four asynchronous AC motors per power car, rectifiers, inverters, and regenerative braking), the trucks/bogies structure (a long wheelbase dual transom H frame welded steel with outboard mounted tapered roller bearings), the brake discs (although there are only three per axle, versus four on the TGV), and crash energy management techniques to control structural deformation in the event of an accident. Acela trainsets "are not strictly TGV trains, but they do include a significant content of TGV technology."
The tilting carriages are based upon Bombardier's earlier LRC trains used on Via Rail rather than the TGV's non-tilting articulated trailers. Acela power cars and passenger cars are much heavier than those of the TGV in order to meet the United States Federal Railroad Administration's different approach to rail crash standards. French and Canadian crews testing the Acela referred to it as "the pig" due to its heavy weight. The extra weight leads to the Acela's power-to-weight ratio is about 22.4 hp per ton, compared to 30.8 hp for a SNCF TGV Reseau trainset. The Tier II crash standards, adopted in 1999, have also resulted in the passenger cars being designed without steps and trapdoors, which means that the trainsets can only serve lines with high-level platforms such as the Northeast Corridor. Acela trains are semi-permanently coupled (but not articulated as in the TGV) and are referred to as trainsets. Bombardier later used the Acela carriage design and a diesel/gas turbine variant of the power car for its experimental JetTrain.
The Acela is certified with a top speed of 165 mph (and reaches a maximum of 150 mph in regular service. The Acela Express is the only service in North America that exceeds the U.S. Department of Transportation's 125 mph definition of high speed rail. The Acela achieves an average speed (including stops) of 81.7 mph between Washington and New York, and an average speed of 66.9 mph from Washington to Boston. The average speed from New York to Boston is a slightly faster 69.8 mph. The average speed for the entire length excluding stops is 84 mph. Its maximum speed limit is 150 mph on three sections of track totaling 33.9 miles in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Amtrak also upgraded the track along the Connecticut shoreline east of New Haven to allow maximum speeds in excess of 110 mph. West of New York City, the Acela's top speed is 135 mph. One limiting factor is the overhead catenary support system which was constructed prior to 1935 and lacks the constant-tension features of the new catenary east of New Haven. The Pennsylvania Railroad, however, did run Metroliner test trains in the late 1960s as fast as 164 mph) and briefly intended to run the Metroliner service at speeds reaching 150 mph. The Acela Express trainsets are capable of 165 mph operation, but the FRA regulations generally do not permit any speeds above 150 mph on tracks that are shared with freight and slower passenger trains. Certification testing for commercial operation at 160 mph involving test runs at up to 165 mph began between Trenton, NJ and New Brunswick, NJ in September 2012.
The slowest section of the electrified NEC is the portion owned by Metro-North Railroad and the Connecticut Department of Transportation between New Haven, Connecticut and New Rochelle, New York and is heavily used by commuter trains. Amtrak's trains here achieve 90 mph only on a limited 4-mile stretch in New York State and rarely exceed 60 mph at any time eastbound through Connecticut until reaching New Haven. Additionally, tilting is not allowed anywhere along the line as at a maximum 4.2° tilt, the Acela Express trainset would pass other trains on parallel tracks only 10 inches away, too close for FRA-mandated clearances. In 1992, ConnDOT began plans to upgrade the catenary system, replace outdated bridges, and straighten certain sections of the New Haven Line to enable the Acela to run slightly faster. As of 2013 the catenary replacement and bridge work are underway and expected to be completed in 2015; however, curve straightening was deemed too expensive, and there are no current plans to increase speeds on the New Haven Line.
On July 9, 2007, Amtrak introduced a limited-stop round trip, with trains stopping only at Philadelphia between New York and Washington. This shortened the trip between the two cities to just 2 hours 35 minutes, making the trip roughly an hour faster than some of the Northeast Regional train services. These trains were an experiment on Amtrak's part to find ways to expedite travel time on the Acela. Amtrak has since dropped these two limited-stop trains.
High speed infrastructure
The dense population of the northeastern United States makes the Northeast Corridor the most heavily traveled portion of the American passenger rail system. Two-thirds of rail passengers in the United States live in New York City, also home to the nation's busiest passenger rail station, Penn Station. In order to compete with airliners, Amtrak needed to increase the speed of trains in the region. However, the former Shore Line, from New Haven to Boston, is burdened by sharp turns and grade crossings, the crossings being of special concern.
Tilting enables passengers to ride more comfortably on curved sections of track faster than would otherwise be possible, by leaning into the bend. Acela trainsets tilt above 60 mph on most of the system, but some segments of track in the Northeast Corridor are too close together for the cars to safely tilt while maintaining FRA minimum space between trains on parallel tracks. Furthermore, Metro-North Railroad restricts tilting on the segment of track north of New York which it owns. While the system was originally designed for a 6.8° tilt, the cars were redesigned 4 inches wider to accommodate wider seats and aisles that reduced allowable tilt to a more modest 4.2° to fit within the clearance constraints of the existing tracks. Traveling at higher than 135 mph also requires constant-tension catenary, which is only implemented on the more modern catenary system north of New York City. South of New York City the trains are restricted to 135 mph. By comparison, Northeast Regional and the now-defunct Metroliner service reached 125 mph. Acela trainsets can achieve 165 mph but are restricted to 150 mph due to track conditions, other traffic, FRA regulations, and other factors.
Acela service was originally expected to begin in late 1999 but was delayed. The catenary system could not support the intended speeds between Washington DC and New York City, but the newer system between New York City and Boston allows the higher speeds. Attention was drawn to the decreased 4.2° tilt, but this was not the root of the speed problem, as the tracks from New York to Boston are similar to those between New York and Washington, and the tilt mechanism is not the factor enabling higher speeds. Following repairs, the first Acela service began on December 11, 2000, a year behind schedule.
With the completion of electrification between New Haven and Boston, all trains on the line have become faster partly because of the removal of a 10‑minute delay in New Haven while swapping diesel and electric locomotives, partly from a faster acceleration away from station stops enabled by electric locomotives and partly because of the faster speed achieved on some sections of track. Acela travels between Boston and New York in about three and a half hours (an improvement of half an hour); New York to Washington runs take two hours and forty-five minutes. These schedules, as well as the relative convenience of rail as opposed to air travel especially after September 11, 2001, and direct downtown-to-downtown service have made the Acela Express more competitive with the air shuttles.
Platform track speeds
Along most of their route, Acela trains do not pass near the platforms of local stations at high speeds. However, there are at least two locations where the Acela trains speed through platform tracks at or near the top operating speeds. At Kingston Station in Rhode Island, the trains zip through the platform tracks at 150 mph. Another location is at Mansfield station in Massachusetts. The station, which serves MBTA commuter rail, has two platform tracks but they are also used by Acela to pass through at the speeds of 120 mph.
Commuters and politicians were concerned over inadequate warnings and safeguards. The two-foot wide yellow platform markings may not be wide enough to keep commuters away from the edge when Acela trainsets pass though at high speed. Suggestions include the installation of platform safety barriers, or using different announcements between approaching MBTA and Acela trains. In 2011, federal transportation grants were awarded to improve Kingston station, including the construction of a third track to be used by the Acela as a through track to bypass the station, helping to alleviate safety concerns.
In August 2002, shortly after their introduction, Acela trainsets were briefly removed from service when the brackets that connected truck dampers o the powerunit carbodies ("yaw dampers") were found to be cracking. The Acela returned to service when a program of frequent inspections was instituted. The damper brackets have since been redesigned and old brackets replaced by the newer design.
On April 15, 2005, the Acela was removed from service when cracks were found in the disc brakes of many passenger coaches. The Bombardier-Alstom consortium replaced the discs under warranty. Limited service resumed in July 2005, as a portion of the fleet operated with new brake discs. Metroliner trains, which the Acela Express was intended to replace, filled in during the outage. Amtrak announced on September 21, 2005, that all 20 trainsets had been returned to full operation.
The Acela Express trainset consists of two power cars, a café car, a first class car, and four business class cars, semi-permanently coupled together. It has fewer seats than regional service counterparts. The first class car has 44 seats, being three seats across (one on one side, two on the other side) and four seat tables. There are 260 business class seats on each trainset; these cars have four seats across (two on each side) and four-seat tables. The car adjacent to first class is designated as the quiet car, where passengers are asked to refrain from loud talking and mobile phone conversations.
Automatic sliding doors provide access between cars throughout the length of the train and reduce noise. Baggage may be stowed in overhead luggage compartments, or underneath the passenger's seat. Reservations guarantee seating but seats themselves are not assigned. Acela trains are also wheelchair-accessible. Passenger cars and the cafe car have one or two toilets each, with one being ADA compliant.
Staffing and operation
Generally Amtrak train crews consist of an engineer, a conductor, and at least one assistant conductor. Acela trains also have an On-Board Service crew consisting of two First Class attendants and a Cafe Car attendant. In addition to the food service provided in the Cafe Car, on most trains an attendant will also provide at seat cart service, serving refreshments throughout the train. First Class passengers are served meals at their seats on all services.
At Amtrak, the On-Board Service crew is considered separate and subordinate to the Train and Engine crews. Acela maintenance is generally taken care of at the Ivy City facility in Washington, DC; Sunnyside Yard in Queens, New York; or Southampton Street Yard in Boston, Massachusetts.
The Acela trainsets underwent minor refurbishments between mid-2009 and 2010 at Penn Coach Yard, next to 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. These refurbishments included new blue leather seats throughout the trainset.
Wireless Internet station service began in 2004, originally through AT&T Wireless. In March 2007, Amtrak's vice president for marketing and product management announced that the Northeast Corridor would soon get wireless Internet service. On October 29, 2009, Amtrak announced that it would begin deploying Wi-Fi on the Acela line with access being free, for the time being, then possibly roll Wi-Fi out to other Amtrak trains in its five-year plan. The GBS Group was selected to design the network and Nomad Digital to supply the hardware for the new Wi-Fi service branded as AmtrakConnect. On March 1, 2010, Amtrak deployed AmtrakConnect on all 20 Acela trains. AmtrakConnect (SSID AmtrakConnectAcela) supports 802.11 a/b/g/n, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz and supports the use of standard VPN connections.
On September 27, 2005, a southbound train became the first Acela Express to be involved in a collision at a grade crossing when it struck a car at Miner Lane in Waterford, Connecticut, one of the few remaining grade crossings on the Northeast Corridor. The train was approaching the crossing at approximately 70 miles per hour when the car reportedly rolled under the crossing gate arms at a low speed and was struck by the train and dragged 1,000 feet. The driver, a 62-year-old woman, and her 8-year-old grandson, were killed instantly; a 4-year-old girl survived and was airlifted to a hospital where she died nine days later. The gates were later inspected and declared to have been functioning properly at the time of the incident. The incident drew much criticism from the public about the 11 remaining grade crossings along Amtrak's busy Northeast Corridor.
Overhead view of an Acela power car in Boston.
By Derek Yu - _JY_1124_Crop, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4422448
Acela Route Map
By Aude - Self-published work by Aude, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=510069
0 mi - Boston South Station
1 mi - Boston Back Bay
11 mi - Route 128
43 mi - Providence
105 mi - New London - Ferry to Long Island
156 mi - New Haven
195 mi - Stamford
across Byram River
East River Tunnels
231 mi - New York - Penn Station
North River Tunnels
241 mi - Newark - Penn Station
255 mi - Metropark
289 mi - Trenton
across Delaware River
322 mi - Philadelphia - 30th St. Station
347 mi - Wilmington
416 mi - Baltimore - Penn Station
427 mi - BWI Marshall Airport
457 mi - Washington - Union Station - Northeast Regional to Virginia
Classic Streamliners - TRAINCYCLOPEDIA
Acela Express Overview
Manufacturer: Bombardier, Alstom
Entered service: 2000
Number built: 20 trainsets
Number in service: 20 trainsets
Formation: 8 cars (2 x power car; 6 x passenger car)
Fleet numbers: 2000-2039 (power cars)
Capacity: 304 (44 first class; 260 business class)
Depots: Ivy City, Washington DC Sunnyside Yard, New York City Southampton Street Yard, Boston
Line: served Northeast Corridor
Car body construction: Stainless Steel
Train length: 665 feet 8.75 inches (202.91 m)
Car length: 69 feet 7 inches (21.21 m) (Power car), 87 feet 5 inches (26.64 m) (Passenger Car)
Width: 10 feet 5 inches (3.18 m) (Power car), 10 feet 4.5 inches (3.16 m) (Passenger Car)
Doors: Single Leaf Sliding Plug Doors
Intermediate Passenger Cars: 4
End Passenger Cars: 2
Wheel diameter: 40 inches (1,000 mm) (Power Car)
Wheel diameter: 36 inches (910 mm) (Passenger Car)
Maximum speed: 165 mph (266 km/h) (150 mph or 240 km/h max operating speed)
Weight: 1,246,000 lb (565 t) (Trainset)
204,000 lb (93 t) (Power Car)
142,000 lb (64 t) (End Cars; Business and First)
139,000 lb (63 t) (Intermediate Business Cars)
137,000 lb (62 t) (Bistro Car)
Axle load: 51,000 lb (23 t) (Power Car)
35,500 lb (16.1 t) (End Cars; Business and First)
34,750 lb (15.76 t) (Intermediate Business Cars)
34,250 lb (15.54 t) (Bistro Car)
Traction system: Alstom GTO Inverters and 3-Phase Asynchronous AC Traction Motors
Power output: 1,150 kW (1,540 hp) (Per Motor)
4,600 kW (6,200 hp) (Per Power Car)
Tractive effort: Starting: 225 kN (51,000 lbf) (Per power car)
Power supply: 2850 V DC (PWM Rectified) Voltage Regulated from mains re-inverted to three-phase, frequency and voltage controlled AC waveform.
Electric system(s): Catenary 25 kV 60 Hz AC, 12 kV 60 Hz AC, 12 kV 25 Hz AC
Current collection method: Pantograph, 2 per power car
UIC classification: Bo'Bo'-2'2'-2'2'-2'2'-2'2'-2'2'-2'2'-Bo'Bo'
Braking system(s): Dynamic and Regenerative (Power Cars)
Electro-Pneumatic Disk and Tread(Trainset)
Safety system(s) :Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System
Track gauge: 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge
Service type: Inter-city, high speed tilting train
Locale: Northeastern United States
First service: December 11, 2000
Current operator: Amtrak
Ridership: 3,343,143 (FY2013)
Route: Start Boston, MA. Stops: 14. End Washington, DC.
Distance traveled: 456 mi
Average journey time : 7 hours
Service frequency: 20 per day
Train numbers: 2100–2297
Classes: Business and first class
Disabled access: Fully accessible
Seating arrangements: Reclining leather seats
(4 across in business class, 3 across in first class)
Catering facilities: On-board café, and at-seat meals in first class
Baggage facilities: Overhead bins and luggage racks available, no checked luggage.
A northbound Amtrak Acela Express passing through Old Saybrook, Connecticut in 2011.
By Shreder 9100 at en.wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19261912
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