USA: In May, the national passenger operator showed the press one of three trains currently undergoing operational testing in the country. The rolling stock is being assembled at Alstom’s US plant in Hornell under a contract signed in August 2016 to supply 28 of these trains for the Acela service. It is claimed that 95% of all components for production come from almost 250 US suppliers from 27 states.
Next autumn a fleet of 28 11-car Avelia Liberty trains (also designated Acela II) is going to replace the 20 previous-generation 8-car trains produced between 1998 and 2001 by the Alstom/Bombardier Transportation consortium for the Acela service, which runs the 734 km line between Boston, New York and Washington (the Northeast corridor or NEC). The higher number of trains on the line, as well as their increased capacity compared to the current fleet (386 passengers, +25%), should allow Amtrak to cope with the growing passenger flow and increase carrying capacity by 40%. Additionally, the operating speed will be increased. Avelia Liberty will be able to operate at a speed of 257 km/h against the current 240 km/h of the Acela I. It is worth noting that the maximum speed of the Acela II is 300 km/h, but the existing infrastructure limits it.
Alstom Avelia Liberty train interior. Source: railwaygazette.com
Cafe car of the new Alstom Avelia Liberty train. Source: railwaygazette.com
The new rolling stock is much lighter than existing trains, the axle load has been reduced from 23 t to 17 t, which has led to a reduction in the total train power from 4.5 MW to 3.5 MW. Each train consists of two head motor cars and nine intermediate cars, including a first-class car and a cafe car. Bodies of motor cars are made of carbon steel, hauled cars are made of aluminum. The trains comply with US Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Tier III crash safety standards and are equipped with a collision protection system.
It should be noted that the commissioning of new trains has been repeatedly postponed. Amtrak was originally supposed to launch the first two Avelia Liberty in the spring of 2021. However, Alstom had to make a number of changes to the design of the train and extend the tests for a year due to problems that arose during testing of the rolling stock. On the line between Washington and Boston, on uneven sections of the track, the contact between the pantograph and the contact wire repeatedly broke, preventing the train from building up the necessary speed. Amtrak attributed the difficulties to outdated infrastructure (the main part of the line was designed in the 19th century) with uneven tracks. In April this year, it became known that the commissioning of the Avelia Liberty was delayed by other 18 months and was scheduled for autumn 2023, namely 2.5 years behind the original schedule. Among the reasons, the need to extend the trials of the train was mentioned again, as well as restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alstom Avelia Liberty performance test in Rhode Island, April 2021. Source: Fan Railer, youtube.com
The existing infrastructure at the moment does not allow Acela II to achieve a maximum speed of 300 km/h, among other things. Amtrak is trying to turn things around, with $55 mln USD worth of track upgrades and turnout replacements announced for this summer only, which should allow Acela II trains to reach the previously-specified 257 km/h. In general, the United States plans to record state investments in the development of rail transport at the level of $66 bln USD, a third of which should be received by Amtrak, including for the projects of the transportation speed increase.
Alstom also expects new contracts as part of a prospective order for Amtrak, which, taking into account the takeover of Bombardier, has a significant presence in the market. Thus, the manufacturer has 8 sites in the US for the rolling stock and components production (Hornell, Plattsburgh, Pittsburgh, West Mifflin, Canon, New Castle, Naperville and Vallejo), as well as several service and engineering centers. The company claims that it has delivered more than 12,000 new or modernized rolling stock units to the country and equipped more than 50% of the infrastructure with signaling systems.