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