How did the northeast corridor get a high-speed rail line before California? The Acela Express or simply, Acela, is Amtrak’s high-speed rail service between Washington, DC, and Boston, with stops in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City. The technology that enables the faster speed is called tilting. It enables the train to travel at higher speeds on the mostly curved track, by lowering lateral centrifugal forces., based on the concept of banked turns.
It will be interesting to compare it to the Shinkansen in Japan. While the Acela highest speed is 150 mph, the average speed is less than half of that. Business travelers make up the majority of passengers, having taken over half of the market share of air and train travelers between Washington, DC and Boston. And on our route between Boston and New York City, the market share is 37% of the air and train travel. Last year, Acela carried 3.2 million passengers and is one of the few Amtrak routes that turns a profit.
The Acela Express consists of two power cars, a cafe car, a first class car, and four business class cars. There are 44 seats in First Class, and 260 Business Class seats in each train set. Business Class has four seats across (two seats across on each side), and four-seat tables. First Class has three seats One seat on one side, two on the other) across, and four seat tables. Best of all, the car adjacent to First Class is designated the quiet car where passengers are asked to refrain from loud talking and mobile phone conversations. I wish this were the case on BART, and other public forms of transportation. First Class also offers a free newspaper, hot towel service, and access to ClubAcela Lounges in the station.
The train staff is only one engineer, one conductor, and as few as one assistant conductor. But best of all, the Acela has two First Class attendants, and a Cafe Car attendant. The Cafe Car has a buffet service, and on some trains, an attendant will also provide a steward service with refreshments throughout the train. First Class passengers are served meals at their seats. Wireless internet service began in 2009, initially free, with a roll out to other Amtrak trains over a five-year period. I did not have wi-fi on my trip from Chicago to the Bay Area.
Looks like First Class on the plane!
So, now the big question is a comparison of fares, time schedules, and access on either end of the trip. From Back Bay, Boston to Penn Station in New York, the one way Business Class fare is $99, with an additional $74 for First Class. The highest is $115, available at some parts of the schedule. Both ends of the trip are near public transportation, subways, trains and buses. A typical airfare from Boston to New York on United Airlines is $398. The elapsed time in the air is about 80 minutes compared to 2 hours and forty minutes on the Acela. So, there is a trade-off with greater time, but less expense for the Acela.
So, Hello New York City! Do I want to wake up in a city that never sleeps?
Side bar: All of the good restaurants in the area were packed, with at least one hour waits. Thanks to our exposure to Middle Eastern food, we walked right into an Indian place called Tantric, and enjoyed a great meal. Thanks to our friends, Z and Navid!