Clean Transport Acela business class cabin (Amtrak)

Published on August 6th, 2014 | by Sandy Dechert


Amtrak Expands Fast East Coast Acela Fleet

August 6th, 2014 by  

Acela, Amtrak's premier Northeast Corridor train (Amtrak)

Amtrak’s 13-year-old Acela trains have made a huge difference to commuting and other travel along the busy Northeast corridor between Boston and Washington, DC. Now a 6.5-hour trip, it used to take a full business day, or longer. The high-speed, tilting, inter-city train, currently the country’s fastest, can achieve up to 150 mph (240 km/h). (Note: a faster, 200-mph Houston-Dallas bullet train is being planned by a private company called Texas Central Railway.)

Quite slow by European, Japanese, or Chinese standards, Acela must share tracks with freight and slower passenger trains and suffers from older infrastructure, resulting in a low average speed (70 mph).Working on the Acela Express (

Nonetheless, this baby roars with free WiFi and roomy comfort compared to cars, buses, and planes, counting on-ground air travel time. In fact, some airlines have actually canceled routes because of the little engine that could—and does.

Northeast corridor travel accounted for about 50% of Amtrak’s total revenue last year, and the Acelas supplied half of it. Amtrak carries more passengers than any other public transit mode between New York and Washington (75%), with stops at Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Newark in between, and over half of those (54%) between New York and Boston (including Hartford and Providence).

With use of public transportation in the US at a 57-year high and rail seats sold out (especially during peak hours) well over five times more often in the first half of this year than in all of 2013, Amtrak’s management feels the time is right to expand its service. The company now plans to add up to 28 new train units in order to schedule more trips per day and carry more passengers on each run.

Acela Express Interior Layout (Amtrak)This move will generate significantly more revenue for the railroad. It’s unclear exactly how Amtrak can provide 40% more seating than existing trains, however. Narrowing seat width and footroom might take away advantages the train has over the plane. But the company has a few other alternatives, including reducing other amenities or merging the two-class system.Acela business class cabin (Amtrak)

Initially, the new trains will supplement existing equipment, but eventually they will replace all of the original Acelas.

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About the Author

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year's COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."

  • Alan_Muller

    This piece just adds to the confusion about what Amtrak is and is not doing. I think the present “high speed” Acela service is actually slower than the Metroliners of the 1960s. Maybe part of the reason is that the Metroliners were MU trains, not locomotive hauled like Acela. A return to MU likely makes sense.

  • Trainguy

    Your picture at South Station Boston is a phony. The locomotive says Acela (thanks to PhotoShop) but is a conventional North East Corridor train pulling Amfleet coaches

    • Bob_Wallace

      Why would anyone bother Photoshopping a fake train picture?

      I know next to nothing (OK just a sliver more than nothing) about choo-choos. But looking around the web it looks like the HHP-8 (that’s what this engine is?) did some Amtrak service.

      Perhaps you mean it isn’t a picture of one of the current higher speed engines in use? (I have trouble calling 135 miles HSR.)

      • Amtrak tried rebranding the entire Northeast Corridor service under the Acela name. The high-speed service was (and is) called Acela Express while the other service was called Acela Regional.

        It was confusing and Amtrak began calling the non high-speed trains as Regional and then Northeast Regional.

    • Jake

      No that is a correct picture. There are Acela regionals. Amtrak also orders those locomotives known as HHP-8 (high horsepower 8,000) the idea was to use Acela as a brand name for all the east coast trains. The Acela regional was a semi fast train faster than the regional but slower that the Acela. The coaches are standard regional coaches but with Acela styled interior and exteriors. The trains would go 135mph rather than 125 or 150mph. These trains were short lived but soon placed back into service to replace early problems with the acela trainsets. The coaches are normal regionals coaches and the loco are soon to be retired due to unreliability and the acela logos are not photoshopped but were removed in 2002.

  • Lynne Whelden

    I called Amtrak a few days ago to ask a simple question. Thirty seven minutes later I was still on the phone as the service rep droned on and on about his divorce, his penchant for shoes, car seat massagers, etc.. (I think he was eating all the while too.)
    Any wonder Amtrak manages to loss money year after year?

  • Common Tater

    What is your source for the fact that the fleet is now “expanding”? It feels like your post is missing its lead paragraph, in which the point of the story (Amtrak has ordered new Acela train sets? Amtrak is ordering new Acela train sets?) is briefly summarized and a source is given for the current news. Everything you link to is old; your link to an Amtrak PDF is broken, but I went and found it online and it’s just a timetable from 2011.

    Essentially, this “story” could’ve been written over a year ago, and without any new source or current news the title seems misleading. For your information, though, there are two ways that Amtrak will increase capacity by 40%:

    1) The trains will be stretched. The current Acela train sets (6 passenger cars, plus two engines, for a total of 8 car-lengths) are shorter than the Regional trains, and Amtrak considered buying an additional two cars for the current train sets and inserting them to make the trains longer and add capacity. At this point, given how old the current Acelas are, it makes more sense to just buy new train sets and to buy longer ones while they’re at it.

    2) They will use integrated propulsion units, meaning that there will be electric motors under each car of the train, like you see in subway cars or some commuter trains. This will eliminate the need for dedicated propulsion units on each end, which means that passenger space can be provided in those cars as well.

    They can’t provide space in the entire length of the end cars (the train engineer and logic hardware need to be isolated from the passengers) but by turning 50% of each engine’s space into passenger space, that gives you a total of 1 extra car worth. If the train’s length is also stretched by 1.5 cars, then that gives you 2.5 extra cars worth of space, or 40% more.

    (You may be asking how to add half a car to a train. You don’t, really, but if you make each car a little longer, you can make a 9-car train set that’s as long as 9.5 of the current Acela cars. You can also make each car a little shorter and build a 10-car train that’s as long as 9.5 of the current Acela cars. That’s part of the beauty of custom train sets.)

    • Matt

      Or just do 10 cars and get a bit more than 40%. Is it 40% more per train.Or 40% more total, which counts more per train plus more trains.

      • Common Tater

        You could do 10 cars and get more than 40%. I was trying to show how you could reach the 40% figure, sorry if that wasn’t clear. I’d be happy if they went with 10 car trains and increased passenger space by over 40%.

        At some point you’d hit a limit where the train is too long for the station platforms. But since they were planning to drop two more cars into the existing Acela train sets, one can assume that 10 car-lengths would be fine.

    • Jake

      Actually Amtrak has confirmed the new Acelas will EMUS which basically means instead of two big engines at each end smaller motors will be placed under most cars the train is still the same lengths just a better use of space and no the seats will not be smaller amtrak has confirmed that and after this different style of train power the journey from NYC to BOS will be 10min shorter due to quicker acceleration.

  • JamesWimberley

    Will they shift to the lighter alloy trainsets to be authorised by the regulator from 2015? Insisting on battleship construction for safety is one of the issues that has slowed rail in the US.

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