Posts Tagged ‘Acela’

The Quiet Car

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

by Mary Ellen Eagan

Those of you who like the Acela Quiet Car will appreciate this piece posted in the New York Times Sunday Review section this weekend.  I’ve had similar experiences – in fact, during my last trip on the Acela, and I was compelled to post on facebook (quietly typing) that a fight was about to break out on the Quiet Car.

Is it just the last refuge that those of us seeking quiet are holding on to so desperately?  Is it because we feel empowered because of the signs?  And most importantly, how do we get a “quiet car” on airplanes??

Quiet car sign

Quiet car sign

National Train Day

Monday, May 16th, 2011

by Dave Towers

There are a number of holidays that occur in early May including May Day, a traditional spring festival celebrated on May 1, and Cinco de Mayo, celebrating Mexican heritage and pride on May 5.  In addition, a colleague recently informed me that the day prior to Cinco de Mayo is celebrated as National Star Wars Day:  May the 4th be with you!  However, for railfans and those who work on projects in the rail industry, the most notable holiday during this period is National Train Day.

National Train Day is a holiday started by Amtrak in 2008 as a means to spread information to the general public about the advantages of rail travel and the history of trains in the United States.  Since then, it has been held each year on the Saturday closest to May 10th, the anniversary of the pounding of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit in Utah (not Promontory Point as often misstated) which marked the completion of what is generally considered the first transcontinental railroad.

Although the joining of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads was a grand achievement, the claim of being “first” needs to be qualified, as one could not yet ride rails without interruption between the Atlantic and Pacific on May 10, 1869.  There was a 1,500-foot gap across the Missouri River between Omaha, Nebraska and Council Bluffs, Iowa, and another gap between Sacramento and Oakland, California.  While the California gap on the Central Pacific was closed a few months later, the Union Pacific did not complete its permanent bridge across the Missouri River at Omaha until March 22, 1872.  In the meantime, transcontinental rail service on the Kansas Pacific Railway via its bridge at Kansas City was achieved when the final spike was driven at Comanche Crossing, Colorado on August 15, 1870, marking the completion of the first uninterrupted transcontinental railroad between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

First Transcontinental Railroad

In any case, National Train Day was celebrated this year (in conjunction with Amtrak’s 40th Anniversary) on Saturday May 7, with train equipment displays and events at several of the major stations across the Amtrak system.  As a representative of the Rail Group at HMMH, I decided to attend the local festivities at South Station in Boston.  The attractions included a jazz trio concert, a display of an Amtrak Acela train, tours of South Station and various informational tables with souvenir items.

South Station, Boston

The Acela is the first and only “high-speed” train in the U.S. and has been operating on the Northeast Corridor between Boston, MA and Washington, DC since December of 2000.  The train travels at speeds of up to 150 mph (240 km/h) for brief intervals, but its average speed is much less due to the many curves in the track; not exactly high speed by European and Asian standards.  One popular feature of the Acela introduced by Amtrak is the “Quiet Car” which provides a quiet refuge for train travelers that is especially appreciated by those of us in the noise control field.  This concept has spread to several U.S. commuter rail systems, including those in Philadelphia, New Jersey and Boston, where it has been very well received.

Acela Train


Acela's Quiet Car

I capped off my visit with a guided tour of Boston South Station.  Although the tour was limited to public station areas (not a behind-the scenes tour), the guide did provide some interesting information.  The station was constructed in 1897 as a “union station,” consolidating several existing railroad lines, and became the busiest station in the country by 1910.  As this area of Boston was originally under water, the station is supported by 36,000 piles, one of which is exposed and visible in the passageway between the railroad terminal and the MBTA Red Line subway.  By the 1970s the condition of the station had deteriorated significantly, but the station was modernized and restored to its former grandeur in the 1980s as part of the Northeast Corridor Improvement Project.  Although the original mechanical train board (sold on Ebay) has been replaced by an electronic one, the clacking sound that occurred during train information updates has been retained.

Boston's South Station


This Building Erected by The Boston Terminal Company

Exposed Piles in Passageway

All in all, participation in National Train Day was a meaningful way to spend a Saturday afternoon.  Unfortunately, given the current economic and political conditions, the future of high-speed and other forms of rail transit is somewhat clouded.  However, considering the many benefits of passenger rail transportation to the public and to our environment, it can only be hoped that these types of events will help to keep the dream alive.

Trains and Planes

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

by Lance Meister

A recent article got me thinking about traveling by train and by plane and how we see and use each mode of travel.  Planes are the get you there quick, long distance mode of travel.  Fast and glamorous.  Trains are the slow, leisurely, short distance mode of travel.  Utilitarian and functional.  At least, that’s the way many people see them.  Now, I am admittedly a bit of a train fan, but it’s clear that high speed rail (HSR) is changing those perceptions of travel around the world, even in the US. 

The article from China is a dramatic example of this phenomenon of trains competing equally with planes on time.  In Spain the traffic between Madrid and Barcelona (once the busiest air corridor in the world) has gone from 90% of the passengers on planes to over 50% of the passengers now on trains.  In the US, the Acela service on the Northeast Corridor between Boston and New York and New York and Washington has 37% and 50% of the market share, respectively.  That’s in the US!  My own anecdotal experience is that when I am going to Manhattan for work, I take the train every time.  It just makes sense. 

When traveling from Boston to New York, the train does take 3:15 minutes and the plane only 45 minutes, but that’s not the entire story.  You have to be at the airport at least an hour early.  There’s security, boarding, taxing, etc. to be taken into account.  In addition, you arrive in New York at either JFK or LaGuardia, and have to get into the city from there, which can add significant time.  The total travel time is equivalent, and at times, the HSR even has an edge.  Imagine if the Acela could go 150 mph on the entire corridor!

Some people see this as a competition, but in reality, the two modes of travel have different purposes.  For city pairs within a few hundred miles, true HSR makes sense and can be significantly shorter than air travel.  For longer distances, such as Boston to Chicago, or Boston to Los Angeles, the plane makes sense every time. 

An example of this is in Spain. The airlines not only didn’t fight the train over price and service between Madrid and Barcelona, but actually welcomed the trains.  The introduction of service allowed them to free up a significant number of landing slots for much more profitable international flights and use the trains to get people to the airports for the flights.  It was the proverbial “win-win” situation for all. 

We have to realize that we can only pave so many roads, or create so many new runways, much less airports.  HSR can be a great option at shorter distances, and can be an excellent form of travel.  Each mode has its advantages and disadvantages, and its own primary purpose.  In many countries, this is already a reality.  There’s a lot of hope that HSR in the US will come into its own and be a real travel mode, not just in the Northeast Corridor.

Japanese High Speed Trains

Monday, January 4th, 2010

by Lance Meister

I just got back from a trip to Japan, Thailand and Cambodia with one of my good friends.  Of all the things we saw and did on the trip, one of the highlights for me was riding the Shinkansen (Japanese high speed train) from Tokyo to Kyoto.

Bullet Train

Bullet Train

We were already planning to go to Tokyo for a few days, but I have a friend living in Kyoto, and we decided that going to see her would be a great idea, and an excellent excuse to ride the Shinkansen (at least for me).

Bullet Train

Bullet Train

There’s been a lot of talk about high speed rail in the US, and we even have a version of it in the Acela, but I was blown away by the Japanese system.  I’ve ridden high speed trains in Europe, but this was something else entirely.

The highest speed trains on the Tokyo to Kyoto line are the Nozomi Shinkansen, the N700 series.  These only stop at a few stations, and are the fastest trains from Tokyo to Kyoto.  The trip is 476 km (296 miles) and takes only 2:15!  The trains regularly exceed 300 km/hr (186 mph) and average 210km/hr (130 mph), including all stops! 

Bullet Train

Bullet Train

To put that into context, the distance between Boston and Philadelphia is roughly the same as the distance between Tokyo and Kyoto.  Based on the Acela timetable, that trip takes 4:52!  The Acela exceeds 150 mph (240 km/hr) on two short sections of track and averages 60 mph (98 km/hr), including all stops!  And that’s our fastest train.  But there is hope that we will have real HSR in this country soon.

While the speed of the Shinkansen was really amazing, that’s not what impressed me the most.  What impressed me was the schedule.  In the US, and even to an extent in Europe, you decide on the train you are going to take, you buy a ticket and then you make sure you get on that train.  For the ride from Tokyo to Kyoto, you just buy a ticket and go to the platform.  The Nozomi Shinkansen trains were running every 10 minutes or so!  It was like a subway, and not a high speed rail system.  It was unbelievable how many trains there were running on the line.  And yes, you could set your watch to them.

In Japan, there is a lot of effort at controlling noise from HSR trains.  The Japanese take great care in designing the shape of the trains, including the nose, shown in the pictures above, and also in designing the pantograph structure to minimize noise.  At high speeds, aerodynamic noise is a significant portion of the noise from the train.  The Japanese work very hard at controlling the noise at the source as the primary mitigation measure.

Bullet Train

Bullet Train

They also utilize noise barriers to reduce the noise generated by the trains, primarily from the wheel/rail interface.

Noise Barriers

Noise Barriers

Finally, I’ll leave you with a great travel tip that was given to me.  If you take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto, be sure to sit on the right side of the train so you can get a view of Mt. Fuji.  I’m told that you can only see it about 1 in 10 times due to clouds and fog, but I had a great view of the mountain on the way down.  Here’s hoping that this is the decade of HSR in the US!

Mt. Fuji

Mt. Fuji