The Acela Express is the fastest train in the United States, whisking passengers between Boston and Washington D.C. dozens of times daily.
How fast does the Acela go? The Acela goes 150 mph (220 kp/h). This speed is reached in the northern portion of the route in Rhode Island. In the remainder of the route, the top speed is 125 mph (201 kp/h).
Because the Acela lacks a dedicated high speed track such as its various French, German, and Japanese counterparts, the Acela is oftentimes hindered by slower trains, and lack of suitable infrastructure for high speed running. However, the Acela shaves an hour off the time between Boston and Washington D.C. by an hour, as compared to a conventional Amtrak service.
The Acela has proved to be an icon of speed in the United States, as its sleek, aerodynamic appearance emits the notion of speed. The Acela is currently the fastest train in North America, with a top speed of 150 mph. The Acela is convenient for business travelers, as it offers a convenient alternative to air travel, offering downtown to downtown services.
The Acela, operating between Boston and Washington D.C. has been Amtrak’s premier passenger train since its introduction in 2000, and continues to compete with other modes of transport. The Acela is so convenient, various airlines have cancelled flights between Washington D.C. and New York due to losing business to the train.
Brief History of Acela Express
Entering service on December 11, 2000, the Acela Express has been Amtrak’s premier train for decades. Based on the legendary TGV architecture, the 20 train sets were built in cooperation with Alstom and Bombardier for high-speed running of 150 mph.
Interest in high-speed rail in the United States took hold in the mid-sixties, as a response to the successful commencement of the Japanese Shinkansen. This interest resulted in the Budd Metroliner train sets, which were introduced by the PRR on the Northeast Corridor in 1968.
After decades of successful Metroliner service, Amtrak began testing various train sets, such as the Swedish X2000, and the German ICE train, in order to receive a benchmark on what elements must be incorporated into the ideal train set.
Alstom and Bombardier were tendered in 1996, with the sets nearing completion in 1999, Amtrak unveiled the Acela, as the name for the service. The first revenue Acela train operated on December 11, 2000, and increased the northeast corridor’s share of train commuters by 38%.
Various modification were carried out on the Northeast Corridor in order to accept the Acela sets. These modifications included the North End Electrification Project, which electrified the portion of the line between New Haven, Connecticut, and Boston. Furthermore, updates on track and other infrastructure were carried out such as the implementation of stressed concrete ties and improved catenary infrastructure.
The train sets were ordered with two power cars on either end, and six tilting passenger cars in between, creating a 1-6-1 formation. Although the power cars were based on the TGV, the tilting passenger cars were based on the Canadian LRC coaches. Each power car is capable of producing 6,200 horsepower, with 49,500 lbs of tractive effort. The power cars draw their electricity from an overhead 25 Hz catenary system, producing an AC current of 11,000 volts.
The Acela’s is capable of such high speeds on the century old Northeast Corridor due to its tilting mechanism, which allows the train to tilt into curves, and reduce the centrifugal forces on the passengers inside. Furthermore, the Acela has several components based on France’s pioneering TGV train sets, such as the traction system, where four AC traction motors are present on each power car, meaning one traction motor per axle. Additionally, the Acela and the TGV share components such as rectifiers, inverters, regenerative braking, and the “H” frame.
The Boston to New York section is where the Acela reaches its top speed of 150 mph on a 34 mile stretch between Mansfield, Massachusetts, and Richmond, Rhode Island. The journey between Boston and New York takes three hours, thirty minutes minimum.
Because of the North End Electrification Project’s utilization of the newer constant tension catenary, allowing the lines to handle such speeds. However, on the remainder of the route, antiquating catenary infrastructure is often commonplace.
Ironically, even though the Acela reaches its maximum speed on this stretch of track, due to tight curves and congestion, the train averages a speed of just 66 mph. During the preparation for Acela services, various infrastructural upgrades were carried out on the Shoreline East route, allowing the trains to achieve 135 mph as a top speed.
The slowest portion of the entire Northeast Corridor is the portion between New Haven and New Rochelle, which is owned by the Metro North Railroad. Acela and Regional trains barely achieve 90 mph through this section due to heavy traffic from commuter trains. In addition to the slow commuter trains, grade crossings and tight curves have hindered higher speeds on this section, making it one of the slowest sections on the entire corridor.
On this portion of the route, the Acela serves Boston South Station, Boston Back Bay, and Route 128 in Massachusetts, while the trains serves only Providence in Rhode Island. In Conneticut, the train serves New London, New Haven, and Stamford, before finally arriving at New York’s bustling Penn Station.
An “emblem of motion and power — pulse of the continent.”
Walt Whitman “To a Locomotive in Winter”
The New York – Philadelphia stretch, the busiest portion of the line, the Acela achieves speeds of up to 135 mph (217 kp/h), and takes a total of one hour fifteen minutes to travel between the two metropolises.
On this portion of the line, the train services Newark, Iselin, and Trenton in New Jersey; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Between Philadelphia and Washington D.C., the Acela achieves similar speeds as the corridor between New York and Philadelphia, topping out at 135 mph (217 kp/h) in a few stretches of track.
On the Philadelphia-Washington D.C. portion of the route, the train serves, Wilmington in Delaware, Baltimore, and BWI Rail Station in Maryland, and finally, Union Station in Washington D.C.
Acela’s Future Plans
The future looks bright for the Acela service, as recently, a non-stop service between New York and Washington has been implemented, promising a travel time of 2 hours 35 minutes each way. In 2021, Amtrak plans to roll out updated Acela sets produced by Alstom, which are similar to the Newer versions of Pendolino trains slated to be implemented on the French TGV, and which are currently in use in Italy.
Coined the “Avelia Liberty”, these new train sets will revolutionize travel on the Northeast Corridor, increasing speeds to 160 mph in various portions of the route. Higher speeds are to be achieved through its active tilting technology, which allows the train to tilt around the tight curves along the corridor.
Upon delivery, the 28 train sets are planned to increase capacity on the Northeast Corridor, made possible by additional cars and availability of train sets, as the existing fleet has only 20 train sets. Increased non-stop services between destinations such as New York and Washington D.C. every half hour will be implemented with the additional train sets, included increased speeds.
The new trains are able to travel at speeds of up to 220 mph, however, this is not feasible with the current route without significant modifications. However, speeds of up to 186 mph (300 kp/h) may be feasible with various infrastructure updates throughout the route, including track and signaling upgrades. According to Reuters, Amtrak plans to introduce a 37 minute trip between Philadelphia and New York, and between New York – Boston, or Washington D.C. in just 94 minutes with speeds of up to 220 mph, by the year 2040.
How long does the Acela take from NYC to DC? From New York to Washington D.C., the Acela take 2 hours, 45 minutes, a distance of 226 miles.