Jan 18, 2024 - News

Amtrak to begin testing high-speed trains on the Northeast Corridor

Amtrak's new model of high-speed trains.

Amtrak's new model of high-speed trains. Photo: Courtesy of Amtrak

The Federal Railroad Administration last week cleared testing of high-speed trains on the Northeast Corridor, a crucial step for Amtrak in advancing the long-delayed project.

Why it matters: The trains are faster and can carry more passengers than the current aging Acela fleet, which was supposed to be decommissioned in 2016, per the New York Times.

Driving the news: Amtrak announced testing will commence on tracks running from Washington to Boston after the new trains were approved by the FRA on the 14th attempt following repeated failed computer modeling tests, per the Times.

Flashback: In 2016, the federal government announced it was giving Amtrak a $2.45 billion loan for the project.

  • Two years later, French manufacturing company Alstom informed Amtrak that train modeling showed the trains weren't safe on the Northeast Corridor tracks, which need more than $100 billion in repairs and upgrades for the trains to reach maximum speed, per the NYT.
  • Amtrak still gave the company approval to build the trains despite the modeling issues, feeling they had little recourse since the contract was in place.
  • The Times cited inspector general reports in 2020 and 2023 that warned of continued failed modeling tests and defects in trains, though the reports also said that the defects could be fixed.

What they're saying: Amtrak tells Axios that track testing is "the next step in the safety certification process that leads toward launching revenue service."

By the numbers: The high-speed trains cost Amtrak about $1.6 billion total.

  • Amtrak has spent more than $48 million to maintain and keep running the Acela trains, which were also built by Alstom, per the NYT.

The intrigue: The new trains can reach a maximum speed of 160 miles per hour and are designed to tilt around curves for a better ride.

  • They can carry 386 passengers each, or 25% more than the Acela fleet.

What's next: Amtrak initially hoped the new fleet would be operational by this year but still hasn't said when it expects the trains will be deployed.

Read the full story: "After Years of Delays, Amtrak Moves Toward Faster Trains in the Northeast"

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