We boarded Amtrak’s new Acela for a taste. Here’s what might impress you.
In the United States, the high-speed train has a bad reputation compared to the ultra-aerodynamic trains that cross Europe and Asia at triple-digit speeds. Maybe it’s because there’s only one real high-speed train in the country – Amtrak’s Acela.
Believe it or not, the current Acelas fleet is approaching its 22nd anniversary, and Amtrak’s new fleet of Acela trains is looking to raise the bar with a chic interior that delivers the levels of comfort promised in the mockups we have. visited in 2019.
We took a look at one of the new Acelas at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia and here’s what we saw.
First, there is space, lots of space and that’s not all first class.
The answer to the question everyone wants to know is when can you ride them. That rollout date is fall 2023, when the trains are scheduled to complete Federal Railroad Administration testing on the Northeast Corridor (NEC), said Michelle Tortolani, assistant vice president of Amtrak’s new Acela program.
Once on the railroad, Amtrak will deploy 28 11-car trainsets, consisting of two 4,758 horsepower power cars and nine passenger cars. That’s more trains than the 20-train sets currently running. They are longer, with nine passenger cars, accommodating 380 people and two motor cars.
More carriages and longer trains mean a 70% increase in capacity for 380 passengers per train, Tortolani said.
Built by Alstom, the new Acelas trace their ancestry to Pendolino trains used in Europe which are designed to tilt around curves, allowing them to travel at high speeds without major track modifications.
Amtrak’s new Acelas are Level III high-speed railroad trains and were tested at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Railroad Testing Facility in Pueblo, Colorado. They have been certified up to 186 mph. The design is based on 20 years of high-speed experience, said Noah Heulitt, of Alstom’s Acela program.
They won’t hit that speed on the NEC, but will tack an additional 10mph over the current Acelas’ 150mph speeds.
Where the new Acelas have the pace of the current generation is in a promised smooth ride, thanks to articulated axles between the passenger cars that provide a better ride, Tortolani said.
“It’s the first articulated bullet train (in the United States),” Heulitt said. “Shared wheel assemblies mean there is less residual movement (between the cars).
Two wagons sharing a single wheel set will provide better comfort and ride quality, as well as an added safety factor, as the wagons cannot put a knife in the event of an incident, he said.
Here’s also why they’re worth the wait: spacious interiors.
Similar to Acela’s current fleet, two classes of travel are offered, First Class and Business Class. Amtrak made it easier for passengers to find the right car on new trains; first class cars have red doors and headrests, business class cars have blue doors and headrests.
Once inside, passengers will find larger windows with retractable blinds in all new cars. The winged headrests mean passengers can also take a nap without worrying about sliding into their neighbors’ laps, Torolani said.
Spacious is probably an understatement for first-class carriages, which have “generous” legroom, considerably more than current trains, she said. Even the legroom in business class is beyond what one would expect on a first class flight, as well as the installation of folding footrests in both classes.
Expected amenities such as USB ports and electrical outlets are located between the seats, and several four-person seating areas have tables with swing-out sections that make it easier to get in and out of the seats. Solo travelers also have an individual seat with a table available in first class.
For passengers with reduced mobility, special seats are available at the ends of the cars. Each car entrance has a lip that pivots to eliminate the gap between the car and the platform, making it easier for passengers in wheelchairs or those with large wheeled suitcases to board the train.
Amtrak has been planning replacements for the existing Acela fleet since 2014, Heulitt said.
They employed focus groups with passengers and disability advocates on the interior layouts. Gone are the airplane-style luggage bins with lids in favor of open racks that buy a little more space. Other luggage shelves and storage areas are available in the ends of the cars.
Similar to current Acela trains, the new generation features a wheelchair-accessible cafe car. The cafe has refrigerated shelves for on-the-go snacks and a kitchen for hot meals. The menu has not been decided, Torolani said.
Finally, the toilets seem spacious enough for ballroom dancing. This is by design, to allow wheelchair passengers to turn 60 degrees, Torolani said. Parents will appreciate a large changing table for infants.
The 698-foot oars are built at Alstom’s Hornell plant in New York and are made of lighter aluminum, which translates into energy savings compared to current stainless-steel oars. Even the seats have a durable look, made from recycled leather, Torolani said.
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Larry Higgs can be reached at [email protected].