Acela Express

Acela Express

Infobox Amtrak
name = Acela Express
logo_filename = Acela logo.png logo_size = 173
map_filename=Amtrak acela.png map_size=300px
map_caption="Acela Express" route map

image_caption=Acela Express Locomotive #2035 at New Haven.
numbers = 2100s-2200s
route = Boston, MA
New York, NY
Washington, D.C.
distance = 456-mile (734 km)
start = December 2000
end = present
owners = MNCW, Amtrak

"Acela Express" (often called simply Acela) is the name used by Amtrak for the high-speed tilting train service operating between Washington, D.C. and Boston via Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York along the Northeast Corridor (NEC) in the Northeast United States. The tilting design allows the train to travel at higher speeds on the sharply curved NEC without disturbing passengers, by lowering lateral centrifugal forces, based on the concept of banked turns. Acela Express trains are the only true high-speed trainsets in the United States. This has made the trains very popular, and by some reckoning, Amtrak has captured over half of the market share of travelers between Washington and New York. [ Goldberg, Bruce. "Metroliner's Amazing Rave." "Trains" June 2006 (53)] Outside of stations, Acela runs at speeds between 75 mph (120 km/h) and 150 mph (241 km/h), depending on track conditions. On the average, it is significantly slower than most other high-speed trains elsewhere in the world (e.g. High Speed 1 in the UK, Shinkansen in Japan, TGV in France, ETR 500 in Italy, ICE in Germany, CRH in China, or the AVE in Spain).


The "Acela" name was announced in 1999, and was originally intended as a rebranding of most of Amtrak's Northeast services, forming three levels - "Acela Express", "Acela Regional" and "Acela Commuter". [cite news | title=New Amtrak trains on fast track | date=1999-03-10 | work=Times Union | author=Jay Jochnowitz | accessdate=2006-11-13 | page=A1] Due to confusion between the lower-speed "Acela Regional" trains and the "Acela Express" – as the name is (intentionally) evocative of "acceleration" – the "Acela" branding was removed from what is now the "Northeast Regional" service in 2003. "Acela Commuter" was rebranded "Clocker" (a previous name) for similar reasons, also in 2003, [cite news | title=Amtrak will use name 'Acela' to describe high-speed trains only | work=Associated Press | date=2003-03-05 | accessdate=2006-11-13 | author=Laurence Arnold] and discontinued in 2005.

The need for speed

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 rail passenger 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 that prevented regular trains from achieving high speeds. There was little support for building an entirely new railway as had been done for Japan's Shinkansen (AKA: Bullet Train) and France's TGV.

In October 1994, Amtrak requested bids from train manufacturers who could design railroad cars that could negotiate the crowded system at up to 150 miles per hour (241 km/h). A joint project set up by Bombardier (75%) and Alstom (25%) was selected for the project in March 1996. The tilting design was used to compensate for the track's curvature and ensure that passengers would remain comfortable at higher speeds than a conventional train could safely achieve on the same tracks.

High-speed service was originally expected in late 1999, but various problems appeared. The trainsets were four inches (about 10 cm) too wide to fully tilt within FRA-mandated minimum tolerances, and as a result were unable to achieve the speeds originally intended between Washington and New York. The higher speeds are achieved between New York and Boston, however.cite news
last = Dao
first = James
title = Acela, Built to Be Rail's Savior, Bedevils Amtrak at Every Turn
publisher = The New York Times
date = 2005-04-24
url =
accessdate = 2008-03-04
] After a series of delays, the first Acela Express service began on December 11, 2000, a year behind schedule. [cite news | title=Fast train begins service with Washington-Boston roundtrip | author=Laurence Arnold | work=Associated Press | date=2001-12-11 | accessdate=2006-11-13]

With the completion of electrification between New Haven and Boston, all trains on the line have become faster; one can travel between Boston and New York in just over three and a half hours on Acela Express (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, have made the Acela Express more competitive with the Northeast air shuttles.

Operating speeds and limitations

High-speed rail is usually defined as traveling faster than 200 km/h, or about 124 mph. The highest speed attained by Acela Express is 150 mph (241 km/h) on two sections of track in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, which total 18 miles (29 km). There are also many miles of track, especially east of New Haven, that have been upgraded to 110 mph and 125 mph (177 km/h and 201 km/h). South of New York, Acela Express is limited to 135 mph (217 km/h) with many stretches of 125 mph (201 km/h). Although the track is straight enough to allow 150 mph (241 km/h) in several areas here, the overhead catenary support system was constructed during the Great Depression. As such, it does not have the constant-tension features of the new catenary east of New Haven, and it cannot support running speeds over 135 mph (217 km/h) (although in the late 1960s, the Pennsylvania Railroad did run Metroliner test trains as fast as convert|164|mph and briefly ran the Metroliner service at speeds reaching convert|150|mph).fact|date=August 2008

The slowest section of the electrified NEC is the portion owned by Metro-North Railroad and the Connecticut Department of Transportation between New Haven and New Rochelle. Trains here are limited to only 90 mph (145 km/h) on a four mile (6 km) stretch in New York State, and to 75 mph (121 km/h) between the New York state line and New Haven. Additionally, tilting is not allowed anywhere on Metro-North or ConnDOT (Connecticut Dept. of Transportation) property. At maximum 4.2° tilt,cite web|url=|title=All Aboard Amtrak's Acela|date=Click on "Continue", then on "Staying Steady"|publisher=Washington Post (2000)|accessdate=2008-09-30] the Acela Express trainset would pass other trains on parallel tracks only 10 inches (25 cm) away, which is too close for FRA-mandated clearances. ConnDOT has a number of projects either planned or underway that will upgrade the catenary system, replace outdated bridges, and straighten certain sections of the New Haven Line to eventually enable the Acela trains to run at their 150 mph (240 km/h) top speed.

The scheduled transit time for the 5:00 a.m. departure from Washington, D.C. (the quickest stopping pattern) to Boston's South Station on Acela Express service is roughly 6 hours 36 minutes. Allowing for the fifteen minute scheduled layover in New York City, the average speed is 72 mph (116 km/h) for the 456 mi (734 km) trip. For the 225 mi (362 km) journey between Washington, D.C. and New York's Penn Station, the transit time is 2 hours 48 minutes, an average speed of 80 mph (129 km/h).

Beginning on July 9, 2007 Amtrak introduced two limited-stop trains. Train 2105 leaves New York Penn Station at 6:50 AM, makes only one stop in Philadelphia, and arrives in Washington at 9:25 AM. Northbound, train 2120 departs Washington at 3:55 PM, stops in Philadelphia, and arrives in New York at 6:30 PM. This shortens the trip between the two cities to just 2 hours and 35 minutes, making the trip roughly an hour faster than some of the Regional train services. The new train is an experiment on Amtrak's part to find ways to expedite travel time on the Acela trains despite the speed restrictions on certain parts of the line.

Amtrak has since dropped these two limited-stop trains. In the Amtrack Northeast Corridor 1 train schedule effective August 4, 2008; trains 2105 and 2120 are not listed.cite web| publisher=Amtrak| date=2008-08-04| url=| format=PDF| title=Northeast Corridor timetable| accessdate=2008-08-08| ]

Train design

Although the design of the trains, with identical 6,000 horsepower (4,474 kW) power cars at each end which operate on a voltage of 11,000 volts AC, and either 25 or 60 Hertz (cycles per second) frequency, resemble France's TGV, the only components directly derived from the TGV are the 4 asynchronous AC traction electric motors (per power car). The tilting carriages are based upon Bombardier's earlier LRC trains rather than the TGV's articulated trailers, and the locomotives 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. 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 stations with high-level platforms — this currently restricts them to lines with high-level platforms such as the Northeast Corridor. Bombardier have since used the Acela Express's carriage design and a non-electric variant of the power car for their experimental JetTrain.

Outages and incidents

In August 2002, shortly after their introduction, "Acela Express" trainsets were briefly removed from service when the brackets that connected truck (bogie) dampers (shocks) to the powerunit carbodies ("yaw dampers") were found to be cracking. The trains were returned to service when a program of frequent inspections was instituted. The damper brackets have since been redesigned and the old brackets replaced with the newer design.

On April 15, 2005, "Acela Express" trains were again removed from service when cracks were found in the disc brakes of most of the 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.

Shortly afterwards, on September 28, 2005 an Acela travelling from Boston, Massachusetts to Washington, D.C. became the first Acela train involved in a collision at a grade crossing when it struck a car cite news| url=| author=McGeehan, Patrick, and Wald, Matthew L.| date=2005-09-30| title=High-Tech Gates Fail to Avert Car-Train Crash| work=New York Times| accessdate=2008-09-02| ] at Miner Lane in Waterford, Connecticut, one of the few remaining grade crossings on the Northeast Corridor (and one of the few on high-speed rail systems anywhere in the world). The train was approaching the crossing at approximately 70 mph (113 km/h) when the car reportedly drifted under the crossing gate arms at a low speed and was struck by the train and dragged 1,000 feet (305 m). 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 incident drew much criticism from the public about the remaining eleven grade crossings along Amtrak's busy Northeast Corridor, despite the fact the gates were later inspected and declared to have been functioning properly at the time of the incident.cite news| work=Boston Globe| date=2006-12-27| url=| accessdate=2007-05-22| title=Family sues over fatal car crash on railroad tracks| author=Associated Press| ] cite news| work=WTNH| date=2005-09-28| url=| title=Amtrak train, car collide, killing two| accessdate=2007-05-22| ] cite news| work=The Day| date=2005-09-30| url=| title=Investigators Seek Answers In Fatal Crash That Killed Two; Cause of Waterford car-train accident may never be known| accessdate=2007-05-22| ]

The Acela Express between New York and Boston was taken offline between June 16 and 19, 2008. Amtrak was replacing the drawbridge span of the 90-year-old Thames River Bridge with a new vertical lift span to improve the reliability of the bridge, reduce the chance of operational failures, and minimize train delays. [cite press release| publisher=Amtrak| url=| title=Thames River Bridge to be Closed to Rail Traffic June 14-17 for Replacement of 90-Year-Old Vertical Lift Span| date=2008-05-28| accessdate=2008-09-03| ] The outage was delayed two days by complications with the removal of the old bridge counterweight.

On August 20th, 2008, the "Acela Express" northbound train 2150 struck and fatally injured an Amtrak employee. The incident occurred at approximately 5:08 AM between the New Carrollton, MD and Seabrook, MD MARC Penn Line stops in suburban Washington, DC. Service on all trains was suspended for several hours. The employee was airlifted to an area hospital before being pronounced dead.cite news| title=Amtrak worker dies after being struck by Acela train| date=2008-08-20| url=,0,5946386.story| work=Baltimore Sun| accessdate=2008-08-20| ]

Attributes and amenities

The trainset consists of two power cars, a cafe car, a first class car, and four business class cars, semi-permanently coupled together. The Acela Express has newer, more comfortable seats than regional service counterparts. The first class car has 44 wider, more comfortable seats than the 260 business class seats. Business class cars have 4 seats across (2 seats across on each side) and four-seat tables. First class has 3 seats across (1 on one side, 2 on the other side). The car directly behind First Class is designated as a Quiet Car where mobile phone conversations and loud talking are not allowed.

Automatic sliding doors provide access between cars throughout the length of the train and reduce noise. Baggage may be stowed in overhead compartments that resemble those in airliners, as well as underneath the rider's seat. Reservations guarantee seating but seats are not assigned and are first-come, first-served. All Acela trains are accessible.

First Class on the Acela Express is the only train in the Amtrak system that features meals served to you at your seat, and hot towels. The First class car on the Acela Express also contains meeting tables and an attendant who is always on the car.


The Acela Express has the most on-board crew members on the NEC. The Acela crew consists of a conductor, assistant conductor, cafe attendant, two first class attendants and an engineer. Regional trains only have a head conductor, one or two assistants, a cafe attendant and an engineer. The Acela changes conductors at New York. This has made some New York conductors work from New York to Boston and some Boston conductors work from Boston to New York. Also it has made Washington, DC crews work from Washington to New York. Before Acela, trains always switched crews at New Haven and Philadelphia.

tation stops


* Amtrak (April 15, 2005), [ Service Alert: "Acela Express - Amtrak Cancels All Friday and Saturday Acela Express Service Due to Brake Problem"] . Retrieved April 15, 2005.
* Hauser, Kristine, New York Times (April 15, 2005), " [ Amtrak Suspends Acela Trains After Finding Brake Problems] ". Retrieved April 15, 2005.
* Boston Globe/Bloomberg News, (August 27, 2008), [ Acela Trains May Expand To Meed Demand] Retrieved September 19, 2008.

External links

Video runbys

*YouTube | id = HbnUefBih4k | title = Amtrak Acela high speed : 11-second video of Acela Express going through Kingston Station in Rhode Island at convert|135|mi/h|km/h|abbr=on.
*YouTube | id = -SXsBBltrOQ | title = Southbound Acela high speed : same station, this time in full daylight with Acela going south


* [ Amtrak - "Acela Express"]
* [ Acela Express Inaugural Run Slide Show November 16, 2000; Stan's RailPix]
* [ Acela Express Trainset Information by ]
* [ Amtrak accelerates at last]
* [ Event announcing Amtrak's Acela service in 2000]
* [] and [ Acela Express Picture Archives]

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