A first look at Amtrak's spiffy new Acela trains
Though the rollout of Amtrak's next-generation high-speed Acela trains has suffered from lengthy delays, progress is finally being made.
The new trains were initially set to debut in the Northeast Corridor in early 2021, but have since been delayed until fall 2023 due to pandemic-induced challenges and the need for more testing. In addition to being 10 mph faster and more efficient than current cars, they'll feature a slew of improvements to the passenger experience, ranging from new seats to faster Wi-Fi, contactless restrooms and more convenient food service.
Up until now, we've only seen mock-ups and stock photos of the new trains. However, TPG was invited for a special first look at the actual train during a visit to Philadelphia's 30th Street Station — read on for our first impressions.
For more TPG news and deals delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
All-new seat design
Perhaps the most noticeable change with the new trains is the new seats. There are gray recycled leather seats in both business and first class. First-class seats are distinguished by red headrests, and business-class seats with blue headrests.
As is currently the case, first class is arranged in a spacious 1-2 configuration, while business class has a 2-2 configuration. There continues to be a mix of forward-facing seats, along with sets of single and paired seats that face each other with tables in between. In total, there will be seating for 378 passengers, up from 304 on the current model, as Amtrak added a car to the train set.
What's even more exciting is that the seat dimensions are practically identical to the old seats. Seats continue to be about 21 inches wide in business class and 23 inches wide in first class, and offer about 42 inches of pitch. That said, the legroom might seem slightly better due to the curvature of the seats. Fortunately, the padding didn't really get thinner, though the seats did feel a bit more firm.
Related: How the next-generation Acela trains are coming together in upstate New York
Passengers will have greater privacy thanks to winged headrests. Plus, all first-class passengers will get individual armrests.
However, sleeping on these trains may ultimately be less comfortable. Similar to Amtrak's new “Venture” fleet, the new seats don't actually recline. Instead, the bottom section simply slides forward a couple of inches. Presently, the seats offer a pretty deep recline so this will be a noticeable change. On the bright side, this means that your personal space won't be invaded when the person in front of you reclines. Also, as before, all seats have flip-down footrests.
Most seats have tray tables that fold down from the seatback in front, as well as fold-down cup holders. Meanwhile, the conference tables got individual flip-up extensions, making it easier to get in and out of the seats — on the current trains you’d have to extend the flaps for the entire length of the table.
As expected, the new trains will feature much more modern amenities than the nearly 22-year-old trains currently in service. When you enter the train, you'll be greeted by crisp digital screens that display the train's speed, location and conductor announcements.
Then, there are smaller displays above each seat that are linked to Amtrak's advance seat reservation system and will make it clear which seats are open.
Related: Your ultimate guide to Amtrak Guest Rewards
Each seat offers an adjustable reading light built into the headrest.
Between seats are power outlets and USB-A ports, though those USB ports might become dated by the time these trains roll out in 2023, with the rise of USB-C. No more awkwardly reaching over your neighbor to plug your devices in! Amtrak also promises significantly faster and more reliable Wi-Fi.
The new cars also feature larger windows with pull-down shades, as opposed to dust-collecting curtains. Additionally, there are inward-facing cameras for enhanced safety.
A reimagined cafe
In addition to new seats, the next-generation Acela trains feature completely overhauled cafe cars. Most notably, the seating has been replaced by bar-like counters and there are now refrigerated boxes for grab-and-go items. Hot food and alcoholic beverages will continue to be available through the attendant.
As a part of these changes, Amtrak expects to be able to offer a larger food and beverage selection, including more fresh options. The full selection will be displayed on sleek digital menus.
Perhaps Amtrak was ahead of its time, but the new interiors include many touchless features that have become even more important in the age of coronavirus. Think automatic doors and bathrooms with touchless sinks, soap dispensers and flushing. Amtrak is even considering adding a self-service checkout station to the cafe.
Airplane-style overhead bins with lids have been replaced by open luggage racks. Additional contactless storage is available at the ends of the cars.
Related: I had a free day in Denver and decided to take the ski train
Accessibility is a major focus of the new trains.
For starters, Amtrak made it easier for passengers to find the correct car by distinguishing first class with red doors and business class with white doors. Boarding the trains is also easier thanks to retractable bridge plates. Similarly, level walkways make getting between cars seamless.
Aisles are wide enough to accommodate wheelchair users and the headrests have handles on the sides to aid customers walking through the train. Meanwhile, the new displays help the visually impaired.
All cars will offer an accessible space for people with disabilities, including the cafe car. The bathrooms are also spacious and fully Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant, with enough room for a 60-inch turning diameter. Additionally, bathrooms now offer changing tables.
Amtrak's Acela fleet is undergoing a major and, frankly, much needed revitalization.
The new interiors are bright, modern and airy. Although recline is basically nonexistent with the new seats, it's nice to see that Amtrak didn't reduce legroom or make seats tighter as it did on some other new trains. After all, recline is less important on these daytime, business-heavy trains.
In addition to offering nearly 25% more seats per train set, Amtrak is increasing capacity by growing its Acela fleet from 20 train sets to 28 so there will be more frequent service.
The only problem? You'll have to wait until at least the fall of 2023 for the chance to ride on this train.