Amtrak's fastest railroad cars are being built inside this New York factory

Amtrak’s fastest railroad cars are being built inside this New York factory

Acela’s new trains represent an important step towards national aspirations for faster and more reliable train service

In the fall of 2023, there will be a new express train between Washington, D.C., and Boston. Watch how new trains go from aluminum car casings to people-ready. (Video: Lee Powell/Washington Post)

HORNEL, NY – In a sprawling complex surrounded by hills, hundreds of yellow-jacket workers are building the country’s fastest trains – modeled on European rail cars that were largely absent on American tracks.

Filled with buzz of activity Alstom’s factory is in this small town in western New York, where concrete floors shimmer and potholes echo in high ceilings. In each direction, Amtrak’s most advanced rail cars are sitting in various stages of construction.

Acela’s new trains will pass through the country’s busiest railway stations starting next year, which is of great importance A step toward America’s aspirations for a modern, faster, and more reliable intercity rail service. The trains will overhaul passenger service in the busy Northeast Corridor, with the goal of improving safety, reliability, passenger comfort and capacity.

Its delivery will provide a pandemic-age boost to Amtrak, adding momentum to a massive expansion backed by unprecedented political and financial support from Washington. With aerodynamic white and blue exteriors, touchless doors, USB ports and improved café cars, it’s an upgrade from the 22-year-old vehicles that will replace them.

Laura Mason, executive vice president of Amtrak Capital Delivery, said: “This is a world-class technology that is proven to be serviceable.

The battle that will determine the future of American passenger trains

They will be the fastest trains on the US rail network. While it is designed to reach speeds of up to 186 mph, it will likely outperform at 160 mph. It stretches from the Capital Pass to Boston, surpassing the old Aselas that travel at up to 150 miles per hour – currently the fastest passenger train in the country.

However, their speed will be limited by the intricacies of the 457-mile route, an old, winding road that carries a mixture of freight, passenger and intercity trains. Most Amtrak trains travel between 110 mph to 145 mph in the aisle, depending on the track and proximity to stations.

Three years after the start of manufacturing, Train 15 was the latest train to reach the end of the production line Late this summer inside the 137-year-old shop. Alstom, a French train manufacturer, has expanded the complex into a massive operation, providing so far four sets of trains that will carry passengers in the fall of 2023.

New American technology, limited time saving

Modeled on France’s TGV high-speed trains, the new Acela groups are the first to be built under a Federal Rail Administration rule that sets new safety standards for high-speed trains, with design specifications that allow them to share tracks with slower trains. Rail officials say the trains are also subject to stricter testing requirements.

The first of two sets of 28 high-speed Avelia Liberty trains were expected to enter Acela service in spring 2021, but that schedule has been affected by production delays and Supply chain issues. Early tests also led to the discovery of track compatibility issues, which led to modifications to the train’s design.

Amtrak’s fastest, highest-tech Acela trains are delayed again

New train features should help shorten journey times, if only by a few minutes, in part because there is a rail network in the northeastern United States. 180 years in some places.

Top speeds of 160 mph will only be reached along 34 miles in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, with another 16 miles in New Jersey. continuous path The improvements between the capital and New York will allow the new trains to travel at a faster 10 mph in sectors with a speed limit of 125 mph. Signal upgrades in different locations can finally Speeds increased from 45 mph to 80 mph.

Other upgrades will allow the trains to tilt as they pass through curves at speed, reducing the need to slow down. Neighboring buses will share one wheel assembly, reducing Recoil and improved stability and safety.

“Even if our top speed doesn’t change through certain sections of the track, what we do is go faster through those curves in a more comfortable way, which will eventually allow us to reduce our flight time,” Mason said.

Officials said that future capital projects such as rehabilitation of tunnels and bridges will allow for higher speeds in the future, bringing Amtrak closer to the goal of reducing the capital’s flight to New York from just under three hours to just over two hours. But When new trains enter service, travelers first You can expect to save just over five minutes on a trip from Union Station in Washington to New York’s Moynihan train hall, with similar savings from New York to Boston.

Amtrak’s investment in Acela’s fleet – which preceded a massive infusion of federal rail infrastructure funding last year – aims to grow its most profitable Line. Before the pandemic, service ridership grew 4.3 percent in fiscal 2019 compared to the previous year, higher than growth rates on other Northeast Corridor lines and on state-funded roads nationwide.

Amtrak is the best travel option in the Northeast. With an ally in the White House, she wants trains in the rest of America.

Alstom officials said some of the train’s features will debut in the US before Europe, including touchless doors and spacious toilets with 60-inch turning radius, which exceed accessibility requirements.

Alstom is the largest producer of rolling stock in Europe, and has expanded its operations in Asia and North America in the meantime Expansion to manufacture automated people transportation systems at major airports. The company, which has more than 74,000 employees, is also Testing autonomous train technology and recently constructing a hydrogen-powered railway in Germany.

On this side of the Atlantic, Alstom uses Materials from 250 suppliers in 27 states, according to the “Buy American” rule in its $1.8 billion contract with Amtrak. Power systems such as transformers, pantographs, gears, and batteries are shipped from Virginia, South Carolina, and New Jersey, respectively. Axles and wheels are made in Kentucky, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. Electric vehicle shells are made in Michigan.

“Many of our suppliers have established new facilities in the United States, and really built a foothold in the United States to support all of this activity,” said Noah Hewlett, project manager at Alstom.

The company obtained a waiver to import passenger car shells made at the Italian Alstom plant and were brought to Hornell – population 8000 – Via Baltimore Harbor. Project officials say the type of projectile used in the project was not produced in the United States.

Aluminum casings are lighter than traditional steel or stainless steel, which reduces train weights and reduces maintenance needs, according to Amtrak. The trains are also 20% more energy efficient.

Equipment life begins

at recent days On the business day, Trainset 15 was at the end of the production line at Plant 1, the new railway equipment manufacturing and testing center.

Assembly at Station Zero begins with the vehicle’s body casings. Crews start on electric vehicles that will tow passenger cars and install a collision management system that resembles bumpers. The driver’s desk is assembled a few steps away, with cables, sockets, and gear shifts popping up before installation. The electric car is designed with a single-pane windshield, which eliminates the presence of the fender in the center while increasing visibility for the engineer.

The crew is also working on the café car. It is built to include refrigerated shelves for fast food, seating space, and electricity Charging ports and digital displays.

“We have a large amount of equipment to be installed … heating systems, cooling systems, commercial refrigeration, coffee makers, and a bit of passenger interaction systems that are very delicate in nature to them,” Hewlett said.

Crews move along the production line, work on passenger cars, and add windows — larger than those on old Acela trains to allow more light — before moving to the station where the restrooms, air conditioning system and roof are installed. Then the work crews are ready to install the walls and carpets.

The work requires hundreds of parts, with piles of equipment lined up along the massive shop floor — from wall panels to bathroom doors, cables and nails. Every stage of production undergoes an inspection that includes independent reviews by members of Alstom and Amtrak quality control.

It took about 10 months to deliver the train during the early stages of production. With increased production and more The trains have been tested, and the process is faster.

Once the train passes inspection, Hewlett said, “the life of the equipment begins.” “We have gone through our respective quality processes, and they have been validated by functional tests. The equipment is working fine and now we continue to work.”

FRA is deeply involved in this phase of testing, training and computer simulations prior to approval of passenger transport operations.

The birthplace of the American high-speed rail

The railroad has been part of the Hornell fabric since the arrival of the Erie Railroad in the mid-1800s, connecting New York City with western New York and establishing repair shops in the city. Industry remains the city’s largest employer, employing more than 700 workers In the Alstom complex.

“We are literally the place in the USA that produces high-speed rail,” said Mayor John J. Buckley, a Hornell native whose office is decorated with pictures of an old train depot in the heart of the city. “If your city is looking to expand into high-speed rail or renovate an existing one [rail] Automobiles, Hornell is the epicenter of that.”

Over the years, this maple-fringed town surrounded by farmland — stocked with corn and potatoes, and a large dairy farm outside its borders — has had other manufacturers. A silk mill, distillery, and Coca-Cola bottling company came and went, leaving the railways a mainstay. Most families have deep ties to the industry.

Alstom says it has built more than 1,000 carriages and repaired more than 4,300 at Hornell. The company is a major supplier of traction engines and hardware needed to operate trains in New York City Transit. She overhauled the New York subway trains and the Washington metro system.

The Amtrak contract in 2016 was a game-changer for the city and the company. It revived the industry after Alstom – which delivered subway cars to New York in 2010 – was about to be Forced to close operations at Hornell. The company just kept 25 workers to maintain the facility.

“The industry has seen peaks and valleys,” said Buckley, whose grandfather worked in the Erie Railroad stores.

Now, Alstom is at its peak Acela production and has secured another 10 years of business with a $775 million contract to build passenger trains for the Chicago area. Hornell website, which is 885,000 square feet – larger than 15 football fields – is growing as the company builds a fourth plant in the city It will become Shell’s manufacturing facility for Alstom.

“They’ve added infrastructure in the city over the years, positioning themselves for future contracts and future growth,” Buckley said. “Obviously, this has a huge economic impact here in the city of Hornell.”

Back at the factory at the end of the production line, fully assembled trains are tested in “operational” mode to simulate an in-service train. The trains then leave Hornell for Philadelphia, where Amtrak conducts more testing.

As of this month, the second The Acela’s railcar, the PS02, traveled 35,000 miles during testing along the Northeast Passage. As more trains come out of production, testing and training will intensify, said Michelle Tortolani, who oversees the Acela program at Amtrak.

“Once we have FRA approval, this test extends to the speeds it will travel – all the way to its maximum operating speed of 160,” she said. “The training will really start to increase in spades.”

Sparky Hewlett, 29, grew up near the Hornell Factory and runs a small restaurant where he makes milkshakes, burgers, and sausages. He said the lunch movement has doubled in recent years The financial position of Alstom has also brightened.

Near the corner is a new Acela train outside the old train depot, now a museum filled with artifacts from the Erie Railroad.

“This keeps our town alive,” Hewlett said.

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