Amtrak is taking delivery of the first set of the new Acela trains. Looking at it, I had a horrible sense of deja vu. Here’s Amtrak’s website with the new train.
Other than the fact that the designers have produced something rather spectacularly ugly, the big problem is that the designers failed to learn anything from other similar trains and their failures on the same line that the Acela runs on now. The designers created articulated trainsets. Apparently they did not know the long, long history of the short lived failures that the Northeast Corridor has been making of articulated trainsets for almost a hundred years. Let’s go back to 1935, and the beginning, the New Haven’s Comet trainset.
The train was sleek, the train was modern fast, lightweight and provided new transportation options.
That was until people to ride it. The fixed consist meant that the train could be over crowded or replaced by a steam train all too often and the ride tended to be noisy and uncomfortable at best. The plowed on in various runs out of Boston, but only one set was purchased. The Comet was retired in 1952.
The New Haven wouldn’t make the same mistake again, would they? Unfortunately, yes, they did. Patrick Mac Ginnis, apparently either a crook or gullible, obtained control of the New Haven almost as soon as the Comet and blinded by a shiny toy from Spain called the Talgo, made the same mistake, again, bigger. Enter the Daniel Webster and John Quincy Adams.
The trains were sleek, the train was modern fast, lightweight and provided new transportation options. That is if they ever ran. The pair of trains were the biggest turkeys in the New Haven’s history with the nasty habit of catching fire during media events and not working well at the best of the time. McGinnis was soon gone from the New Haven and the two train sets sat in storage until suckers in the form of the Pickens Raliroad and the Spanish National railways bought them and they were gone from the corridor. Of course the New Haven couldn’t afford such expensive mistakes and went bust. It would take a remarkably short time for the next mistake to come around, federally funded, this time. Enter the Turbotrain.
Obviously a helicopter company’s long experience in rail travel was going to make a difference. The Turbotrain was sleek, fast, lightweight and provided new transportation options. That was until Penn Central and Amtrak realized that they had a Comet with gas turbine engines. The Trubotrain soldiered on for twelve years and was retired, with much sighs of relief.
The original Acelas managed to avoid articulation, and the trainsets did have tilting, they avoided the issues and the tilting was never used. The Acela trainsets have been providing reliable and routine service for over twenty years now. Unfortunately the powers that be in Amtrak apparently didn’t know the old saw about those not knowing the past, being doomed to repeat it.
Since testing is going to occur in the safe climate of Pueblo Colorado, we can hope that the bugs and issues will be discovered before the turkey is inflicted on the riding public. History says that they will not be.