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Why Acela in the NEC?

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Galls

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I remember how big of a deal bringing High Speed Rail to my beloved city was, But yesterday when I was booking a trip to either Phily or Boston I noticed that Acela had no notable time improvement over regional trains. Of course the perceived image of Acela has helped the NEC become an alternative to shuttles, but isn't it a complete waste to operate those trains here?

I also understand it is the only thoroughly electrified portion of the national grid, in which case wasn't it a waste of money to buy them?
 

Penn Central

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The Acelas were bought for political reasons more than anything. Getting funding for new equipment is difficult, it is much easier if it is supported by high-speed hype. Amtrak nedds to retire all of the 40+ year old Amfleet I's that run daily on the Regionals, and the Acelas are the first step in doing so. As for speed, the presently decaying infastucture on the NEC cannot support anything much faster than what the Regionals do now, now matter what fancy trainsets are brought in.
 
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Galls

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Acela had no notable time improvement over regional trains.
A half hour is not notable? Some of the businessmen who take the Acela might beg to differ.
I am such and while clearly not a universal sampling, to me 30 minutes is not such a large difference when it is a days worth of travel anyway.
 

AlanB

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Of course the perceived image of Acela has helped the NEC become an alternative to shuttles, but isn't it a complete waste to operate those trains here?
The NEC has always been an alternative to the airline shuttles, even before Acela. For years Amtrak owned a little more than 50% of the market between NY and DC, typically averaging around 52% to 53%. That means that the other 47% to 48% was divided between the airlines and the bus companies. That position was slipping a bit prior to Acela's introduction, dropped further when Acela was sidelined, but it has now come back and once again Amtrak owns more than 50% of the travel market between NY & DC. Between Philly and NY, Amtrak owns an even larger percentage.

Acela has helped to start cutting into the market between NY & Boston, but at this point Amtrak still has a way to go. I'm not sure if they even own 20% of the market yet.

On the other hand, the improvements brought about by Acela, have helped to improve travel for anyone riding on any train between NY & Boston, with the advent of electrification east of New Haven. Now both Regional trains and Acela benefit from that project to electrify east of New Haven.

I also understand it is the only thoroughly electrified portion of the national grid, in which case wasn't it a waste of money to buy them?
Part of the point of Acela, was to prove that we could actually have high speed trains here in the US and that people would actually ride them and therefore get increased funding to expand high-speed service beyone the corridor. Unfortunately due in part to some poor planning and implimentation, in part due to those opposed to Amtrak, critics have seized upon some of the failures of Acela as the battle cry to prevent expansion of high-speed service and for that matter all Amtrak service.

But it was hardly a waste of money. The current regional trains are now over 30 years old, these cars will soon need to be replaced with new equipment. Whether that equipment is more Acela trains or something else is probably only just starting to be debated. But in the meantime Acela is easing some of the burden on the Amfleet equipment, and perhaps more importantly it is bringing people back to ride the train and helping to increase ridership. And as I mentioned above, the entire project for Acela improved overall service for anyone riding between Boston and DC.
 

BobWeaver

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Also keep in mind that business travelers may have to make multiple city stops over the course of one of their traveling days, so a 20 minute savings between WAS and PHL, 30 between WAS and NYP, and 75 between WAS and BOS can be highly advantageous to the business traveler's maximum utilization of his/her time.
 

battalion51

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As the age old saying goes, time is money. There are a fair number of business travelers that will have meetings in two or three cities in a given day, and those minutes Acela shaves means more time they can be productive, or with family. The ammenities Acela brings to the table are also invaluable to many business travelers. Having things like electrical outlets at every seat, almost continuous Cell Phone service, and for First Class passengers complimentary food service is huge. The fact that these trains run on the hour or half hour (for the most part) and go downtown to downtown is huge. Nothing like an hour cab ride from LaGuardia to downtown Manahattan in rush hour...
 
M

meatpuff

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As the age old saying goes, time is money. There are a fair number of business travelers that will have meetings in two or three cities in a given day, and those minutes Acela shaves means more time they can be productive, or with family. The ammenities Acela brings to the table are also invaluable to many business travelers. Having things like electrical outlets at every seat, almost continuous Cell Phone service, and for First Class passengers complimentary food service is huge. The fact that these trains run on the hour or half hour (for the most part) and go downtown to downtown is huge. Nothing like an hour cab ride from LaGuardia to downtown Manahattan in rush hour...
One other thing is that the Acelas are MUCH nicer inside. Appearances matter, especially if you're charging a premium price for a premium product over available alternatives (i.e. bus). Particularly if you're trying to sell to the business traveler; price doesn't matter much to him oftentimes. Even the lowest class on Acela is nicer than first class on an airliner, and you've got them on convenience, so Acela is working, even with high ticket prices. And of course they kept the Metroliners around to grab the lower end of the market. Amtrak's biggest goals are to put butts in seats and grow revenues, not improve railroad operations for its own sake, so they're pleased for now until they get the capital to actually raise speeds.
 

VentureForth

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So have Acela trainsets increased in number? When did the last new trainset enter service? Interesting thing about the original Shinkansen is that all trainsets (local or super express) used the same rolling stock. Nowadays, that's similar, but there are better chances of getting a nicer trainset on a super express than on the locals. Now, the locals on the Shinkansen (Japanese Bullet Train) are still express compared to the regular local service, but it's all on a dedicated ROW and it's all uniform equipment, signalling, and service.

They just really need to update the trainsets to all Acela type cars, rebuild the infrastructure to 100% state of repair from DC to Boston.

One of the problems (perceived perhaps) is the sharing of the ROW with the Amtrak sleepers and freight. Since these are diesels, I contend that they probably get in the way some. Some of the NEC is tri- or quad-tracked. Keep two powered, and two unpowered.

See? I solved all of Amtraks' problems in 10 minutes.
 

PRR 60

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There are 20 Acela trainsets with 16 required to cover the weekday schedule. That leaves four for maintenance or as available backup. My understanding is that Amtrak is targeting having 17 sets in service weekdays. That could possibly mean the addition of two more limited-stop express trains (northbound morning and southbound evening). The later is my guess, not based on any hard facts.

The problem with NEC capacity is the sheer number of trains operated by Amtrak and the commuter agencies. Almost all trains on the NEC are electric powered including the NEC portion of the overnight trains. Freight is relegated to off hours or is operated at Amtrak's convenience. Neither Amtrak's long distance services nor freight are really major capacity issues on the NEC.
 

battalion51

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So have Acela trainsets increased in number? When did the last new trainset enter service? Interesting thing about the original Shinkansen is that all trainsets (local or super express) used the same rolling stock. Nowadays, that's similar, but there are better chances of getting a nicer trainset on a super express than on the locals. Now, the locals on the Shinkansen (Japanese Bullet Train) are still express compared to the regular local service, but it's all on a dedicated ROW and it's all uniform equipment, signalling, and service.
They just really need to update the trainsets to all Acela type cars, rebuild the infrastructure to 100% state of repair from DC to Boston.

One of the problems (perceived perhaps) is the sharing of the ROW with the Amtrak sleepers and freight. Since these are diesels, I contend that they probably get in the way some. Some of the NEC is tri- or quad-tracked. Keep two powered, and two unpowered.

See? I solved all of Amtraks' problems in 10 minutes.
Well if you can convince Congress to throw a fraction as much money at Amtrak as they do at Iraq, we wouldn't have these problems. Amtrak's problem isn't the drive, or the recognition of problems, it's the lack of money to do anything about these problems. The Intercity trains while they do run slower, don't really create that many issues for Dispatchers. IC trains run at 110 MPH, Regionals at 125 MPH, and Acelas at 135-150 (135 on the South End). So there is a little speed differential, but not enough that the tracks need to be segregated. It's much smarter to keep the blocking open and run things on what track you need to, not tie your hands. IC trains also generally run with the same electrics that Regionals run with. Freight is also generally running at night, so they are out of the way.
 

George Harris

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No matter what they do with trainsets, no matter what they do with track quality, and no matter what they do with electrification, true high speed is not coming to the northeast until they have a new alignment with large radius curves and wider track centers. They have at this point squeezed just about all they can out of the existing 18 whenever alignment and 12 point something track centers. It is not running 150 mph on the south end that will get you shorter run times, at least by more than a couple of minutes, it will be turning Zoo Interlocking from 30 mph to 90 mph (not really possible) getting a new straight line through Baltimore instead of a series of 30 to 50 mph segments complete with too-small tunnels, etc.

It may make great press to say we are now able to run 150 mph or faster, but the real time saving will be when they can say we no longer have any speed restricted sections under 90 mph (or pick some other fairly good number.)
 

JimInVa

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Acela had no notable time improvement over regional trains.
A half hour is not notable? Some of the businessmen who take the Acela might beg to differ.
Me too, and it makes a huge difference to me. I go between DC and NY two or sometimes three times a week. I've compared the door-to-door time with the shuttle service into and out of LaGuardia, and while the flight time is, obviously, much faster, in total travel time Acela usually wins. And that half hour difference between the regional and Acela: that's the difference between me catching the last commuter train home or making my wife drive 48 miles (24 each way) to pick me up at the end of the subway line in northern VA. ;)
 

Joel N. Weber II

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If Acela trainsets were to be used for all the Regional trains, there are some unresolved questions with how the semi-permanently-coupled trainsets which have electric locomotives are going to travel all the way to Newport News. Either Amtrak would have to decide they can deal with attaching diesels to an Acela trainset in Washington DC, or the tracks to Newport News would need to be electrified, or they'd need to have passengers change trains in DC. Or maybe some of the new future trainsets could have dual mode locomotives.

And if the North-South Rail Link gets built in Boston, it might make sense to merge the Regional with the Downeaster, at which point the same issue with tracks that are not electrified comes up.

Additionally, switching to Acela trainsets might put an end to Amtrak's ability to haul privately owned cars on the NEC.

I believe I came across a news article somewhere claiming that Amtrak could easily fill more seats on the Boston to New York segment of the Acela Express if they had more Acela coaches for the existing trains; that might be a good place for Amtrak to start if it wants to buy more Acela equipment.

And while in some ways it would be nice to have more Acela Express trainsets so that there could be more Boston to New York trips each day, I believe the Wikipedia article claims the Shore Line East makes a limited number of trips to New London because the Coast Guard doesn't want the bridge over the Connecticut River closed too often. I imagine that bridge would also be an issue limiting the number of Acela Express trips that can happen each day. I do wonder if building a new, higher bridge there would allow the bridge to only be opened for taller boats and if that might allow for more frequent train service.
 

AlanB

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I believe I came across a news article somewhere claiming that Amtrak could easily fill more seats on the Boston to New York segment of the Acela Express if they had more Acela coaches for the existing trains; that might be a good place for Amtrak to start if it wants to buy more Acela equipment.
Amtrak could probably fill more seats between NY & DC if they had them also. As for Boston, right now the easy answer would be to just run more Acela trainsets to Boston. Right now there are less trains to/from Boston simply because the demmand isn't really there for more service. Amtrak would need to cut off at least another half an hour in runtime, before they can truly start to compete with the air shuttles.

And while in some ways it would be nice to have more Acela Express trainsets so that there could be more Boston to New York trips each day, I believe the Wikipedia article claims the Shore Line East makes a limited number of trips to New London because the Coast Guard doesn't want the bridge over the Connecticut River closed too often. I imagine that bridge would also be an issue limiting the number of Acela Express trips that can happen each day. I do wonder if building a new, higher bridge there would allow the bridge to only be opened for taller boats and if that might allow for more frequent train service.
Shore Line East indeed cannot run many trains to New London because of the bridge constraints. And while it is the Coast Guard that is ordering that the bridge not be closed more than X times per day, it is mainly due to complaints from the rich people who want to sail their yachts back and forth from the many bays. It's not in the interests of commerce or national security that the bridges can't remain closed for longer periods. It's so those with money can inconvience the traveling public. :angry:
 

George Harris

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And while in some ways it would be nice to have more Acela Express trainsets so that there could be more Boston to New York trips each day, I believe the Wikipedia article claims the Shore Line East makes a limited number of trips to New London because the Coast Guard doesn't want the bridge over the Connecticut River closed too often. I imagine that bridge would also be an issue limiting the number of Acela Express trips that can happen each day. I do wonder if building a new, higher bridge there would allow the bridge to only be opened for taller boats and if that might allow for more frequent train service.
It is the Thames (not the one in England) at New London. The Connecticut River is further west. But it is true that it is the pleasure boaters, not the military or serious transportation needs that has lead to the restrictions on closed time for the drawbridges. In fact, I am not sure that the Thames bridge was the one most at issue. If anybody has a few billion dollars lying around, about half to buy off the NIMBY's then we could have a faster alignment with high level bridges. To be truly useful, this work would have to include Conn DOT's track west of New Haven.
 

battalion51

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I personally think that had they used the Air Line a lot of these issues would be non-existent. The Air Line (while with steeper grades than the Shore Line) is a much more direct route to Boston, and the Acelas would be much more competitive. We also wouldn't have the garbage of these bridge restrictions in place.

But since we are stuck with the situation we're in, if MassDOT and CDOT ever get the money together to upgrade the CSX Boston Sub and Springfield Line some Regionals could be shifted to that line and open up those slots on the Shore Line for more Acelas to run, if the scheduling works out right for the trainsets.
 

sechs

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Given the chance to do Acela again, I think that they'd do it differently. This is to say that it is more likely that something will replace these trainsets than that new Acela rolling stock will be purchased.
 

battalion51

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I'd agree with that. I think they would probably go for something more like the Talgos, where the power can be detached, and it seems like they manipulate their trainsets a little bit more than the Acelas.
 

Joel N. Weber II

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And while in some ways it would be nice to have more Acela Express trainsets so that there could be more Boston to New York trips each day, I believe the Wikipedia article claims the Shore Line East makes a limited number of trips to New London because the Coast Guard doesn't want the bridge over the Connecticut River closed too often. I imagine that bridge would also be an issue limiting the number of Acela Express trips that can happen each day. I do wonder if building a new, higher bridge there would allow the bridge to only be opened for taller boats and if that might allow for more frequent train service.
It is the Thames (not the one in England) at New London.
New London's station is on the west side of the Thames, and I don't believe Shore Line East would need to cross the Thames river, unless it does so to reach a wye. However, I don't know how the signaling is set up, and whether it's possible to pull into the station with the bridge open.
 

AlanB

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And while in some ways it would be nice to have more Acela Express trainsets so that there could be more Boston to New York trips each day, I believe the Wikipedia article claims the Shore Line East makes a limited number of trips to New London because the Coast Guard doesn't want the bridge over the Connecticut River closed too often. I imagine that bridge would also be an issue limiting the number of Acela Express trips that can happen each day. I do wonder if building a new, higher bridge there would allow the bridge to only be opened for taller boats and if that might allow for more frequent train service.
It is the Thames (not the one in England) at New London.
New London's station is on the west side of the Thames, and I don't believe Shore Line East would need to cross the Thames river, unless it does so to reach a wye. However, I don't know how the signaling is set up, and whether it's possible to pull into the station with the bridge open.
That is correct, Shore Line East doesn't need to cross the Thames to reach the New London Station. And IIRC they have cab cars, so no need to wye the trains.

The limiting bridge in this case is indeed the one across the Connecticut River, which is why most Shore Line East trains end at Old Saybrook the last stop before crossing the CT river. In fact prior to the current Acela schedule, Shore Line East used to operate one more train to New London than it currently does. Amtrak stole that slot for another Acela Express run.
 

Joel N. Weber II

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I personally think that had they used the Air Line a lot of these issues would be non-existent. The Air Line (while with steeper grades than the Shore Line) is a much more direct route to Boston, and the Acelas would be much more competitive. We also wouldn't have the garbage of these bridge restrictions in place.
But since we are stuck with the situation we're in, if MassDOT and CDOT ever get the money together to upgrade the CSX Boston Sub and Springfield Line some Regionals could be shifted to that line and open up those slots on the Shore Line for more Acelas to run, if the scheduling works out right for the trainsets.
There has certainly been talk of Massachusetts buying the Framingham to Worcester tracks from CSX, and maybe upgrading that to double track. I'm not sure if the plan is for CSX to continue to own the Worcester to Springfield segment, and running express trains on CSX tracks is probably an oxymoron, but I imagine that once Massachusetts figures out how to buy tracks from CSX once, buying more later wouldn't be especially difficult if money can be found.

And I assume that the whole New Haven to Springfield to Boston route would need electrification for Amtrak to run trains on it well.

Other than that, are there any issues preventing the Acela and Regional trains from running on that route?

Does the Springfield station have high level platforms?
 

Dutchrailnut

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Other than that, are there any issues preventing the Acela and Regional trains from running on that route? ??

No high level platforms at 90% of stations, no Electrification, single track, to many freights, not properly signalled.
 

stonesfan

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From my limited experience of the NE corridor, the Acela is a reasonable improvement over what it replaced. Obviously the timesaving would be far superior if the section between Boston and NY went in a straight line for more than 10ft at a time! And of course the catenery on the southern sections seems to hamper high speed potential too. It really does look like it was put up in the Victorian age. However, overall, its opened a few eyes, and with some serious investment in the infrastructure, could yet prove to be a winner. If all that was sorted out, I believe it would save another hour between DC and Boston?

The Acela is a far better train than the tilting 320 seat 'pendolinos' that we have had foisted upon on us. The have replaced 400 seat 110mph loco hauled trains which were comfortable and ran most of the route at 100/110mph. The Pendo's have an increased top speed of 125mph, but are uncomfortable, claustraphobic and suffer from failures too often. Saving the odd 5 minutes here and there is no compensation for a comfy seat or even getting a seat in the first place.
 
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