The rollout of Amtrak’s next-generation Acela trains has been frustratingly slow.
The high-speed fleet’s highly-anticipated debut, originally scheduled for Spring 2021, has been delayed again, this time to 2024, due to complications passing federal safety benchmarks, Amtrak said.
“We want our customers to experience these new trainsets as soon as possible, but Amtrak cannot operate them for passenger service until Alstom has completed testing and meet all safety requirements,” an Amtrak spokesperson told Insider.
The trains’ manufacturer, Alstom, says the culprit isn’t the trains themselves, but rather the tracks they’re supposed to run on.
“The modeling of the wheel to track interface is particularly complex due to age, condition, and specific characteristics of Amtrak infrastructure on the Northeast corridor, and especially the existing tracks,” an Alstom spokesperson told Insider.
The new Acela cars are the first trainsets subject to the Federal Railroad Administration’s Tier III regulations, a set of safety standards for high-speed trains implemented in 2019, Alstom said. In order to meet the FRA’s new requirements, the train manufacturer has been “conducting extensive investigations to ensure that the trains will operate safely in all conditions” and working with the FRA and Amtrak to pass safety benchmarks through modeling, simulation, and testing activities, they added.
Amtrak’s three-year delay in beginning service with the new Acela trains underscores the central challenge facing the United States as it attempts to adopt higher-speed rail systems that have operated throughout Europe and Asia for years: Making sure next-generation transportation can safely operate on dated infrastructure systems.
The Amtrak tracks between Boston and Washington, a high-traffic section known as the Northeast corridor, are notoriously rundown — with some tracks dating back 150 years. The route’s chokepoints have been a key talking point for railroad officials and politicians working to improve service in the densely populated region.