Inside Amtrak’s next-generation Acela Train

Amtrak plans to replace its popular Acela trains in 2021 with new ones that will hold more people, travel faster and have improved safety features. The new trains would shave 15-20 minutes off the popular New York City-D.C. route, which currently takes about three hours, and will travel up to 160 mph.

While high-speed rail has struggled to take hold in the U.S., for Amtrak, it’s these fast trains that are pushing it toward profitability. CBS News’ Kris Van Cleave got a first look at the new Acelas that are being assembled in the U.S. at a sprawling factory in western New York.

The future of America’s high-speed rail is starting to take shape in the same spot where trains have been serviced, built and rehabbed since the 1850s. Stanley Hall is the third generation Stanley Hall to work there.

“And it’s not just my father and grandfather and my brother comes in here and works,” he said. “I had several cousins that worked here … when I was first hired, my uncle helped me a lot get in here.”

They start as a shell before some of the 800 who work in the Hornell, New York plant build them into the trains that will replace Amtrak’s aging first-generation, high-speed effort.

Former Delta Airlines CEO, Richard Anderson, now runs Amtrak. He said the new Acela is “incredibly important” to the future of the company. 

“It really lays out a clear vision for what short haul, inter-city passenger rail transportation can do for this country. And this country is going to need it in more and more corridors because millennials don’t want to drive and you cannot add enough lane miles for 100 million more people,” Anderson said.   

The updated Acela trains will hold about 380 people – that’s 25 percent more passengers than the old ones and are designed to tilt as they take turns allowing them to go faster. Amtrak’s most lucrative corridor linking Boston, New York and D.C. will see a cut in travel time by at least 15 minutes. 

“We’ve got to position Amtrak to have a modern product that a millennial wants to get on with high speed Wi-Fi, craft beers and reliable schedules that beat buses, cars and airplanes,” Anderson. 

The new model meets new, stronger crash-worthiness standards and is designed not to jackknife –guarding against the kind of derailment that killed eight people when Amtrak 188 took a turn too fast near Philadelphia in 2015.

On the inside there will be faster Wi-Fi, USB charging in each seat, reading lights and winged headrests – so no one can fall asleep on your shoulder. And, Anderson promises, unlike the airlines, Amtrak will not shrink your seat.

Amtrak is 48 years old. The railroad predicts it is on track to break even for the first time by 2021 when the new Acela will start racing along the Northeast corridor. Stanley Hall plans to be one of the first passengers.

“It’s just going to be you know just pride. Because I know somewhere on that train that there will be a plaque that says that this was manufactured in Hornell, New York,” Hall said. 

Currently Amtrak has 20 Acela train sets, they’ve ordered 28 of the new ones so they’ll be able to add more service and start those non-stops. There’s also the potential the Acela model could work in other parts.


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