A new fleet of Acela trains capable of hitting speeds up to 160 miles per hour—well over the current maximum speed of 135 mph—will bring more frequent service to Amtrak's northeast corridor between Washington and Boston starting in 2021, thanks to a new $2.45 billion federal loan.
Vice President Joe Biden announced the funding Friday, which has been financed by the Department of Transportation's Build America Bureau and marks the largest loan in the federal DOT's history. Amtrak plans to pay back the loan with increased revenue from the more frequent train service, according to the NY Times.
"There's no better way to say 'we're open for business' than closing the largest loan in DOT history," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a statement Friday. "America needs to go big on infrastructure, and we're not just talking the talk."
Amtrak will purchase a total of 28 new Acela trainsets, the first of which are scheduled to hit the rails in about five years. Once all of the new trains are operational, Acelas will depart on the half hour between Washington and New York, and on the hour between New York and Boston. Inside the cars, expect faster WiFi, more USB ports and outlets, and better food service (though Amtrak didn't immediately respond to our inquiry about what the latter might entail). The new cars will also be lighter and more aerodynamic overall, reducing energy consumption by an estimated 20%.
The northeast corridor, which runs 457 miles, served 3.5 million passengers in 2014, up from 2.4 million in 2002. Acela passenger capacity along the corridor is expected to increase about 40% with the new cars, according to a release from the White House. The 20 current trainsets, which have been in operation for fifteen years, will be phased out.
Part of the funding will also go towards "necessary track upgrades" between stations in New Carrolton and Baltimore in Maryland, and platform and station renovations at the corridor's four busiest stations: Penn Station, Washington Union Station, Baltimore Penn Station, and New Carrolton Station.
The new trains are technically capable of exceeding 160 mph—up to 186 mph, according to Alstom, the hired engineers—but will be constrained by Amtrak's track network; faster travel times would require an overhaul of the entire track system.
According to Alstom, the new train design, called Avelia Liberty, is equipped to handle sharp curves smoothly, at high speeds. The trains themselves will be built at Alstom's Hornell, New York headquarters.