The future of high-speed rail on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor seems to be getting back on track. The original generation of Acela trains was set to be replaced last spring after 20 years of use. After its introduction to revenue service was delayed a year, the first Avelia Liberty trainset departed Alstom’s Hornell, NY factory for delivery to Amtrak early this week.
Spring 2022 is when Amtrak customers in the northeastern United States can expect to be riding these new high-speed trains on Amtrak’s prominent Acela service. The French train manufacturer did produce two test trainsets at their Western New York facility in February 2020 according to the Evening Tribune.
However, the test trains had technical issues caused by the tracks operated on by Acela. Larry Biess, the director of the project at Amtrak, described the specific causes to the Washington Post. Biess explained that the Northeast Corridor was effectively laid out in the 19th century. This age created difficulties not widely seen on the much more modern and straighter tracks in Europe.
The Avelia Liberty trains would lose contact with the overhead electrified catenary wires limiting the train’s speeds as Larry Biess explained. The modifications were necessary to make the trains compatible with the tracks of the Northeast Corridor. The reconfiguration with accompanying testing and development along with other delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic led to missed original debut in Spring 2021.
The wait will be worth it. The new trains are expected to operate up to a top speed of 160 miles per hour, 10 mph faster than the current generation of rolling stock. The increase might seem small, but the design of the train isn’t the limiting factor. Alstom states that the Avelia Liberty trainsets could travel at speeds over 185 miles per hour. The only thing left holding back Alstom’s Avelia Liberty trains are the ancient tracks.