Say hello to the future face of high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor. Well, minus its nose. The power car (under construction in the photo above) is part of an 11-car train set, the first of 28 new sets that Amtrak ordered from French manufacturer Alstom. Soon the whole set, dubbed Prototype 1, will be hitched to a diesel locomotive. Its destination? Pueblo, Colorado, some 1,600 miles from Alstom’s Hornell, New York, factory. Engineers in Pueblo will hook up Prototype 1 to sensors and cameras and put it through eight or nine months of intensive testing to be sure it’s safe for riders. All for an extra 10 mph!
Three years ago, Amtrak announced it would spend $2.4 billion to upgrade its popular Acela service, which runs between Washington, DC, and Boston. The new trains, Amtrak promised, will be able to operate as fast as 160 mph along some stretches of track, which should cut travel time, though the railroad can’t yet say by how much. Fun—and buzz-killing—fact: A similar train in France can cruise at up to 200 mph. What keeps speeds down on the DC–Boston corridor is, for one, an overabundance of curves. So designers thought long and hard about ways to deal with them. Slightly more conical wheels than those of the current Acela, developed specifically for the new cars, could work; they vary the rolling radius as the train takes fast bends, letting the outer wheels cover more distance than the inner ones for a smoother ride. So might a new “active-tilting” suspension system, which leans the cars to counteract the sway of going around a turn, keeping the K Street lobbyists and nosy journalists onboard on an even keel. The team is also ensuring that the train’s interior looks as sleek as its exterior. “Its cool factor is off the charts,” says Larry Biess, who is overseeing the mechanical work for Amtrak. Passengers can find out for themselves in 2021, when the first new train goes into service.
AARIAN MARSHALL (@AarianMarshall) covers autonomous vehicles, transportation policy, and urban planning.
This article appears in the October issue. Subscribe now.