Amtrak's new high-speed trains are faster, fancier and more frugal

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The new trains are being introduced as part of a wider scheme to upgrade infrastructure for the Acela Express(Credit: Alstom SA, 2016; Meconopsis by Trimaran)

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Passengers who travel on Amtrak's high-speed Acela Express service in the US will soon be able to do so more comfortably and more regularly. The rail operator has unveiled designs for next-generation, high-speed trainsets that will replace its existing rolling stock and offer greater capacity.

The new trains are being introduced as part of a wider scheme to upgrade infrastructure for the Acela Express, which runs between Washington DC and Boston via 14 other stops. Produced by transport company Alstom, they will boast a number of modern passenger conveniences like improved Wi-Fi access, personal power outlets and USB ports, the likes of which are being added to services elsewhere, too.

Amtrak says that, in addition to improved comfort for passengers, there will also be an improved boarding experience and food service, along with a third more seats than the trains being replaced. Passengers will apparently benefit from a smoother ride, in part as a result of an "anticipative tilting system."

This tilting system is completely train-borne, so it doesn't require special track installations. It pairs data on the line's parameters with information gathered by onboard sensors, allowing the system to locate the train's position on the line and prepare to tilt for upcoming bends. This allows the trains to take curves at higher speeds and with greater comfort for the passengers onboard.

When they first enter operation, the new trains are expected to have a top speed of 160 mph (257 km/h), a decent increase on the 150 mph (241 km/h) that the current models are capable of. Subsequent infrastructure improvements along the Northeast Corridor (NEC) rail line, however, should enable them to eventually travel at speeds of up to 186 mph (299 km/h).

It is believed that the trains will use at least 20 percent less energy than their predecessors as a result of a lighter design and new articulated structures joining the carriages together. In addition, the system will also capture energy during braking and feed it back into the overhead power system for reuse.

Amtrak is ordering 28 of the trainsets, which is 40 percent more than its current high-speed fleet. As a result, there will be more regular Acela Express services between Washington DC and New York City, as well as between New York City and Boston. Furthermore, Amtrak says that the trains are based on a design that has already been proven in service, and as a result it estimates an eightfold increase in reliability compared to the outgoing trains.

The first prototype of the new trains is expected to be ready in 2019, with the first train due to enter service in 2021. All of the ordered trains are expected to be in service by the end of 2022.

Source: Amtrak

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