The rollout of Amtrak’s new, faster Acela continues, despite word from the company that 2,400 more employees face possible layoffs because of the pandemic. That's in addition to furloughs affecting about 2,000 employees that started last week.
Next year, America's fastest train will start rolling down the tracks between Boston, New York, and Washington DC at up to 160 miles an hour. CBS News’ Kris Van Cleave got a first look at the new Acela as it underwent speed testing at a sprawling, 30,000-acre facility outside Pueblo, Colorado.
“It's going to be a game changer,” says Amtrak Vice President Caroline Decker. Asked why the U.S. can’t have trains that are as fast-moving as in other countries, Decker says, “In Europe and in Asia, you have a lot of infrastructure, a lot of right-of-ways that were built specifically for these designated high-speed corridors. The Northeast Corridor, which in many areas is more than 100 years old, was never designed for high-speed trains.”
The new trains will be 10 miles an hour faster than the current 20-year-old high-speed fleet. Amtrak hopes to shave about 15 minutes off a trip between DC and Boston, while carrying 25% more passengers and using 20% less energy.
Built by Alstom in Hornell, New York, the new Acela is part of a $2.4 billion modernization effort that is continuing despite the pandemic and Amtrak's decision to furlough or layoff more than 2,000 employees.
Despite the pandemic and plummeting demand, the project is still moving forward. “We have to look to the future. We owe it to the generations of Americans that are here 10 years, 20 years from now,” Decker says.
Even as the new Acela is racing down test tracks at up to 165 mph, the coronavirus is forcing some redesigns on the inside of the train. “We are improving some of the design looking at air conditioning, airflow. Its air flows, it’s touchless, it’s installing sanitizing stations, it's all those things,” says Alstom Acela project director Didier Cuadrado.
The train meets stronger crash-worthiness standards while promising a smoother ride. On the inside it boasts improved Wi-Fi, and a host of contactless features including a self-service café car and a touchless restroom.