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Acela Express (often simply Acela) is Amtrak's rail service that uses high-speed tilting trains. Acela operates along the Northeast Corridor (NEC) in the Northeast United States between Washington, D.C.marker, and Bostonmarker via Baltimoremarker, Philadelphiamarker, and New Yorkmarker.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; the highest speed they attain (only briefly) is , though they average less than half of that. Acela has become fairly popular with business travelers and by some reckoning has captured over half of the market share of air or train travelers between Washington and New York. In fiscal year 2006, a total of 2,668,174 passengers rode Acela, an 8.8% year-over-year increase. and in 2008 Acela carried 3.399 million passengers between New York and Boston.

Origins and history


On March 9, 1999, Amtrak unveiled its plan for a true high-speed rail service, the Acela Express. Twenty new trains were to be purchased and operated on the busy Northeast Corridor; before the service could be run upon the line several engineering changes were made to render the corridor suitable for the trains' operation. Besides straightening curves, it was necessary to infill electrification along the entire 470-mile-long route as the Acela is an electric train; several grade crossings were upgraded or removed in the interest of public safety.

Preparation for the train itself had begun in earnest in October 1994; at which point Amtrak had requested bids from train manufacturers to design a trainset that could negotiate the crowded Northeastern Corridor at up to . A joint project set up by Bombardier (75%) and GEC Alsthom (25%) was selected for the project in March 1996. There was a disagreement between Amtrak and the manufacturing consortium over cost overruns and maintenance bills; this issue was not settled for several years, until March 2004. However the development of the project was not interrupted, and the inaugural run of the Acela came the year following announcement, on November 17, 2000, although there had been a postponement of a few months from an earlier intended date.

The Acela service can be largely considered a success; by 2005 Amtrak's share of the transport market between New York and Boston had reached 40% from 18% pre-Acela. With the increasing popularity of the faster and more modern Acela Express, the Metroliner service was phased out; the last operated on October 27, 2006. The average speed of the Acela in operation falls far short of common definitions of high-speed rail, spending much of its time on the route at less than , this has not prevented it for making a large impact, however. Due to the level of popularity experienced, more Acela Express services were added in September 2005, and additional trains may be purchased in order to run further simultaneous services. By August 2008 on some runs of the Acela Express crowding had become noticeable onboard; there is a high level of passenger demand for the service.


The Acela name (pronounced "ah-cel-la" [ə'sɛlə]) was announced on March 9, 1999, as a part of the original announcement of the service itself. This was originally intended as a rebranding of most of Amtrak's Northeast services, forming three levels: Acela Express; Acela Regional; and Acela Commuter. The name "Acela" is meant to be evocative of acceleration and excellence.

At that time, there were three classes of trains on the Northeast Corridor (and its extension south to Newport News, Virginiamarker)—the hourly Philadelphia-New York Clocker, the express Metroliners, and the umbrella term NortheastDirect, applied to all other local trains on the corridor (in addition to unique names assigned to each departure). Empire Service trains used the Empire Corridor from New York City to Niagara Fallsmarker, and Keystone Service ran along the Keystone Corridor from Philadelphia to Harrisburgmarker. Other named trains also used the corridors, branching off or continuing beyond their stations.

The original plan included renaming the Empire, Keystone, and NortheastDirect services to Acela Regional, while the Metroliners would be replaced with the new Acela Express service. However, the Empire and Keystone services retained their original names.

The Acela Regional name was first applied to NortheastDirect trains 130–133 on January 31, 2000. Those trains, 130 and 131 running weekdays only and 132 and 133 running every day, were the first electrified trains to run on the full Northeast Corridor. As more trains were electrified, they too were rebranded. In 2003, due to confusion between the lower-speed Acela Regional trains and the Acela Express, the Acela branding was removed from the NortheastDirect service (now the Northeast Regional) and the Acela Commuter had its name changed back to the Clocker for a similar reason and ultimately discontinued on October 28, 2005.


Train design

The Acela trainset is a unique train designed specifically to satisfy very specific U.S. governmental rolling stock requirements. These requirements are significantly different from anywhere else in the world, including countries that have a highly functional high speed rail network. Most manufacturers who bid on the Acela were unable to meet these requirements, bringing up cost and complication for the manufacture of the trains, leaving only one manufacturer, and requiring that manufacturer to make significant engineering changes to their standard designs. These specifications are not a result of specific Northeast Corridor track conditions. 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 used on VIA Rail 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. Acela trains are semi-permanently coupled and are referred to as trainsets. Bombardier has since used the Acela Express's carriage design and a non-electric variant of the power car for their experimental JetTrain.

Operating speeds and limitations

With a top speed of the Acela Express is the only service in North America that exceeds the U.S. Department of Transportation's definition of high speed rail. The Acela achieves an average speed of between Washington and New York, which is comparable to the Denver Zephyr service that ran at an average speed of between Chicago and Denver in the early 1960s. The highest speed attained by Acela Express is on two sections of track in Rhode Islandmarker and Massachusettsmarker. There are also many miles of track, especially east of New Havenmarker, that have been upgraded to allow maximum speeds in excess of . South of New York, Acela Express is limited to , even though several stretches of track there are straight enough to allow speeds. The limiting factor is stated to be the overhead catenary support system which was constructed prior to 1935 and lacks the constant-tension features of the new catenary east of New Haven, although in the late 1960s the Pennsylvania Railroad did run Metroliner test trains as fast as and briefly intended to run the Metroliner service at speeds reaching . Although the Acela Express trainsets are capable of operation, FRA regulations do not permit any speeds above on tracks that are shared with freight and slower passenger trains regardless of circumstances, and for Acela Express trains to run above it would require purpose-built dedicated track in a separate right of way.

The slowest section of the electrified NEC is the portion owned by Metro-North Railroad and the Connecticut Department of Transportation between New Haven, CTmarker and New Rochelle, NYmarker. Trains here are limited to only on a stretch in New York State, and to 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 a maximum 4.2° tilt, the Acela Express trainset would pass other trains on parallel tracks only 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 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 for the trip. For the journey between Washington, D.C., and New York's Penn Station, the transit time is 2 hours 48 minutes, an average speed of . If the infrastructure supporting the Acela were upgraded to allow for an average speed of , the current 6.5 hour journey between Boston and Washington would be just under four hours and 45 minutes.

On July 9, 2007, Amtrak introduced two limited-stop trains. Train 2105 left New York Penn Station at 6:50 a.m, made only one stop, in Philadelphia, and arrived in Washington at 9:25 a.m. Northbound, train 2120 departed Washington at 3:55 p.m., stopped in Philadelphia, and arrived in New York at 6:30 p.m. This shortened the trip between the two cities to just 2 hours 35 minutes, making the trip roughly an hour faster than some of the Regional train services. These trains were an experiment on Amtrak's part to find ways to expedite travel time on the Acela despite the speed restrictions on certain parts of the line. Amtrak has since dropped these two limited-stop trains. In the Amtrak Northeast Corridor 1 train schedule effective August 4, 2008, trains 2105 and 2120 are not listed.

High speed issues

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 Stationmarker.

In order to compete with airliners, Amtrak needed to increase the speed of trains in the region. However, the former Shore Line, from New Havenmarker to Bostonmarker, is burdened by sharp turns and grade crossings, the crossings being especially of concern in regard to High-speed rail. There was little support for building an entirely new railway as had been done for Japan's Shinkansen ("Bullet Train"), Spain's AVE, France's TGV and Germany's Intercity-Express. A former "high speed rail" alignment from New Haven to Boston was still operating in part as of 1995, but was subsequently abandoned, eventually becoming Airline State Park.

Tilting enables passengers to ride more comfortably on curved sections of track faster than would otherwise be possible, by leaning into the bend. The technology has been implemented on other service lines such the British Rail Class 390 trains which run at a speed of on Britainmarker's Victorian era rail lines. Acela trainsets tilt above 60 mph on most of the system, but some segments of track in the Northeast Corridor are too close together for the carriages to safely tilt while maintaining FRA minimum space between trains on parallel tracks. Furthermore, Metro-North Railroad restricts tilting on the segment of track north of New York owned by them. While the system was originally designed for a 6.8° tilt, the cars were redesigned 4 inches wider to accommodate wider seats and aisles that reduced allowable tilt to a more modest 4.2° to fit within the clearance constraints of the existing tracks. Travelling at higher than 135 mph also requires constant-tension catenary, which is only implemented on the more modern catenary system north of New York. South of New York the trains are restricted to 135 mph. By comparison, Northeast Regional and the defunct Metroliner service reach 124 mph (after Amtrak took over from Penn Central and slowed down the service). Acela trainsets can achieve 165 mph but are restricted to 150 mph due to track conditions, other traffic, FRA regulations, and other factors.

Acela service was originally expected in late 1999, but various problems appeared. The catenary system was not able to support the speeds originally intended between Washington and New York, but the more modern system between New York and Boston allows the higher speeds. A brief political controversy drew attention to the decreased 4.2° tilt, but this was not to be the root of the speed problem, as the tracks from New York to Boston are similar to those between New York and Washington, and the tilt mechanism is not the factor that allows the high speeds. After a series of delays, the first Acela Express service began on December 11, 2000, a year behind schedule.

With the completion of electrification between New Haven and Boston, all trains on the line have become faster. Acela travels between Boston and New York in about three and a half hours (an improvement of half an hour). New York to Washington runs take two hours and forty-five minutes(still slightly longer than Penn Central's Metroliner trains in the late 1960s before Amtrak took over). These schedules, as well as the relative convenience of rail as opposed to air travel especially after September 11, 2001, and direct downtown-to-downtown service have made the Acela Express more competitive with the Northeast air shuttles.



The Acela Express 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 seats than regional service counterparts. The first class car has 43 seats and there are 260 business class seats on each trainset. 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) and four seat tables. The business class car that is next to the 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. Acela trains are also accessible to people who require mechanical assistance to maintain personal mobility.

First class cars feature meals served to passengers at their seats. Some trains have cart service selling beverages and snacks to business class passengers at their seats. Trainsets are also serviced by onboard cleaners on some segments.

Staffing and operation

Generally Amtrak train crews consist of an Engineer, a Conductor, and at least one Assistant Conductor. Acelas also have an on-board service crew consisting of two First Class Attendants and a Cafe Car Attendant. On select Acela Express trains, Amtrak additionally employs a cart attendant who travels through the cars as a roving Cafe Car, serving light snacks and beverages. At Amtrak, the On Board Service is considered separate and subordinate to the Train and Engine crews. Acela maintenance is generally taken care of at the Ivy City facility in Washington, DC, Sunnyside Yard in Queens, NY or Southampton St. Yard in Boston, MA.

Wireless internet access

Amtrak currently offers wireless internet access only via T-Mobile "hotspots" at five stations in the Northeast Corridor; these are accessible (for a fee) only while in the station. Wireless internet station service began in 2004, originally through AT&T Wireless. In March 2007, Amtrak's vice president for marketing and product management said that the Northeast Corridor would soon get wireless Internet service.

Amtrak has a variety of experience with providing internet access on its trains. In early 2002, Amtrak offered free internet access on the Acela Regional and two other lines via Compaq Pocket PCs in train cars. In late 2002, Amtrak began a year-long test of wireless internet access on another route, in Pennsylvania; that was to test providing access directly to riders' notebook computers. In mid-2006, it began a test with the Bay Area Rapid Transit system that involved Amtrak's Capitol Corridor trains. In January 2009, Amtrak provided wireless Internet service to the Presidential inaugural train.

The Amtrak Downeaster currently offers free wireless internet to all its passengers on all its trains, from Portlandmarker to Bostonmarker.

On October 29, 2009, Amtrak announced that they would begin deploying WiFi on the Acela line (free -- at least initially) and then possibly roll WiFi out to other Amtrak trains in their Five Year Plan. WiFi should be deployed by the second quarter of Fiscal 2010 (first quarter of calendar year 2010).

Outages and incidents

In snow at Ruggles Station in Boston
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 traveling from Boston to Washington, D.C., became the first Acela train involved in a collision at a grade crossing when it struck a car at Miner Lane in Waterford, Connecticutmarker, 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 when the car reportedly drifted under the crossing gate arms at a low speed and was struck by the train and dragged . 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 11 remaining 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.

The Acela Express between New York and Boston was taken offline June 16–19, 2008. Amtrak was replacing the drawbridge span of the 90-year-old Thames River Bridgemarker with a new vertical lift span to improve the reliability of the bridge, reduce the chance of operational failures, and minimize train delays. The outage was extended by two days due to complications with the removal of the bridge's counterweight.

On August 20, 2008, an Acela Express northbound train struck and fatally injured an Amtrak employee between the New Carrolltonmarker and Seabrook, Marylandmarker, MARC Penn Line stops in suburban Washington. The employee was airlifted to an area hospital before being pronounced dead; service on all trains was suspended for several hours.

Station stops

State Town/City Station Connections
Massachusettsmarker Bostonmarker South Stationmarker Amtrak: Lake Shore Limited, Northeast Regional

MBTA Commuter Rail: Fairmount Line, Framingham/Worcester Line, Franklin Line, Needham Line, Old Colony Lines, Providence/Stoughton Line

MBTA Bus Lines: 4, 6, 7, 11, 448, 449, 459

MBTA Subway Lines: Red Line, Silver Line

Intercity Buses: Greyhound Bus Lines, Peter Pan Bus Lines
Back Baymarker Amtrak: Lake Shore Limited, Northeast Regional

MBTA Commuter Rail: Framingham/Worcester Line, Franklin Line, Needham Line, Providence/Stoughton Line

MBTA Bus Lines: 10, 39, 170

MBTA Subway Lines: Orange Line
Westwoodmarker Route 128marker Amtrak: Northeast Regional

MBTA Commuter Rail: Providence/Stoughton Line
Rhode Islandmarker Providencemarker Providencemarker Amtrak: Northeast Regional

MBTA Commuter Rail: Providence/Stoughton Line
Connecticutmarker New London marker New Londonmarker Amtrak: Northeast Regional

ConnDOT: Shore Line East
New Havenmarker New Haven-Union Stationmarker Amtrak: Shuttle, Vermonter
Metro-North Railroad: New Haven Line
ConnDOT: Shore Line East
CT Transit New Haven: J, Commuter Connection Downtown and Sargent Drive, Temple Street Garage Shuttle
Intercity Buses: Greyhound Bus Lines, Peter Pan Bus Lines

Stamfordmarker Amtrak: Northeast Regional, Vermonter

Metro-North Railroad: New Haven Line

ConnDOT: Shore Line East

CT Transit Stamford: 11, 13, 14, 21, 22, 24, 31, 32, 33, 34, 41, 42, 43, 44, Commuter Connection Central, Commuter Connection-North, Commuter Connection Route 1 - East, Commuter Connection Bulls Head, I-Bus
New Yorkmarker New York Citymarker Penn Stationmarker Amtrak: Adirondack, Cardinal, Carolinian, Crescent, Empire Service, Ethan Allen Express, Keystone Service, Lake Shore Limited, Maple Leaf, Palmetto, Pennsylvanian, Northeast Regional, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter

LIRR: Main Line, Port Washington Branch, Atlantic Branch, Montauk Branch

NJ Transit: North Jersey Coast Line, Northeast Corridor Line, Gladstone Branch, Montclair-Boonton Line, Morristown Line

NYC Subway: 1, 2, 3, A, C, E

NYC Transit buses: M10, M16, M20, M34, Q32
New Jerseymarker Newarkmarker Newark Penn Stationmarker Amtrak: Cardinal, Carolinian, Crsecent, Keystone Service, Pennsylvanian, Northeast Regional, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter

NJ Transit: Newark City Subway, Newark Light Rail, North Jersey Coast Line, Northeast Corridor Line, Raritan Valley Line, 5, 21, 62, 67, 70, 71, 72, 73, 75, 76, 78, 79, 308, 978

Iselinmarker Amtrak: Keystone Service, Northeast Regional, Vermonter

NJ Transit: Northeast Corridor LineM 801, 802, 803, 804, 805
Trentonmarker Trenton Rail Stationmarker Amtrak: Cardinal, Carolinian, Crescent, Keystone Service, Pennsylvanian, Silver Star, Silver Meteor, Northeast Regional, Vermonter

NJ Transit: Northeast Corridor Line, River Linemarker, 409, 600, 604

SEPTA Regional Rail: R7
Pennsylvaniamarker Philadelphiamarker 30th Street Stationmarker Amtrak: Cardinal, Carolinian, Crescent, Keystone Service, Palmetto, Pennsylvanian, Northeast Regional, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter

NJ Transit: Atlantic City Line

SEPTA City Transit Division: Market-Frankford Line, Route 10, Route 11, Route 13, Route 34, Route 36, 9, 30, 31, 44, 62, 121, 124, 125, 316

SEPTA Regional Rail: R1, R2, R3, R5, R6, R7, R8
Delawaremarker Wilmingtonmarker Wilmington Stationmarker Amtrak: Cardinal, Carolinian, Crescent, Palmetto, Northeast Regional, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter

DART First State: 2, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 20, 21, 28, 32, 301

SEPTA Regional Rail: R2
Marylandmarker Baltimoremarker Baltimore Penn Stationmarker Amtrak: Cardinal, Carolinian, Crescent, Palmetto, Northeast Regional, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter

MARC Train: Penn Line

MTA Maryland: Light Rail, 3, 11, 61, 64
BWI Rail Stationmarker Amtrak: Northeast Regional, Vermonter

MARC Train: Penn Line

MTA Maryland: 17
District of Columbiamarker Washingtonmarker Washington Union Stationmarker Amtrak: Capitol Limited, Cardinal, Carolinian, Crescent, Palmetto, Northeast Regional, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Vermonter, Thruway Motorcoach to Charlottesvillemarker, Virginiamarker

MARC Train: Brunswick Line, Camden Line, Penn Line

Metromarker: Red Line

Metrobus: Loudoun, OmniRid

VRE: Manassas Line, Fredericksburg Line


Image:Acela First.jpg|Acela Express First Class car 3219Image:Acela pair Boston South snow.jpg|Pair of trains at South Stationmarker BostonFile:Three Acelas South Station.jpg|Three Trainsets at South Station BostonImage:Acela First Class.jpg|First class coachImage:Business class on the Alcea.jpg|Business class coachFile:Acela Express car joint.jpg|Passage between carsFile:Acela Express cafe car interior.jpg|Café car


  1. Goldberg, Bruce. "Metroliner's Amazing Rave." Trains June 2006 (53)
  2. Bob Johnston, Amtrak opens Boston electrification, Trains April 2000
  3. Ron Newman, Acela Regional starts January 31, 2000, misc.transport.rail.americas January 27, 2000

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