Amtrak Acela Express
Inaugural Revenue Run On Dec 11, 2000
Travelogue of Ray Burns of TrainWeb
Ray Burns of TrainWeb (Photos courtesy of Gene Poon of Rail Travel News)
My Canadian trip will have to wait until January 5, 2001, but today, Sunday,
December 10, 2000, I am going to Washington, DC for an historic appointment.
I am off for the inaugural run of the Acela Express high-speed train. The
very first scheduled high-speed run for revenue passengers in these United
States! History was in the making and I had a date with fate!
My Frontier Airlines flight #640 left Los Angeles at 7:00 AM, departing for
Baltimore-Washington International Airport, with a short stopover in Denver,
Colorado. I got up at 4:00 AM for this jig, so as to be sure that I had
enough time to cover myself just in case there might be some problems. My
flight went off without a hitch, and I couldn't help but notice the choice
words that the company was using to express how much they appreciated our
business rather than using their competitors' services. It's
nice to be appreciated, even though you are just one of many! I'm sure that
Amtrak will have a higher retention of customers if all their employees,
starting at the ticket window and going all the way to the onboard staff
and up, would treat customers as if their jobs depended on it. The truth of the
matter is -- they do! A large percentage of Amtrak employees do give that
extra effort to assist people to be in a comfortable environment, but ALL
Amtrak personnel should have that attitude in order to enable both their
company and themselves to reach new heights in customer service. Amtrak's
supervisors have to make this point over and over, driving it home to
After landing at BWI Airport, I took a shuttle bus
that stopped at an Amtrak sign in front of the airport door entrance
to the BWI Amtrak station.
I walked into the station and asked the ticket agent if I could get on an
earlier train, which left an hour prior to the time marked on my ticket. The
agent took my ticket and made me up another one. Gene Poon, my travel agent for this trip,
was wise enough to book a reservation for me on a train that left an hour
after I'd probably arrive at the station, just in case there were unexpected
problems -- which often do occur. Gene is a good friend of everyone at
TrainWeb and knows an awful lot about the rail travel in general. He writes
for "Rail Travel News"
and also operates "Sheehan's Travel Service" out of
Rohnert Park, California. It was he who managed to get me a first-class
ticket on the Acela Express. Thanks, Gene!
BWI (Baltimore Washington International Airport) Amtrak/Marc Station above and below.
The cost of a one-way coach trip on Amtrak from this station to Washington,
DC is $21. If you take the commuter rail (MARC) train from the same station
to Washington, DC, then the cost is only $8. However, the MARC commuter
trains operate only on weekdays. (Similarly, Metrolink, which operates
commuter rail service in the Los Angeles area, provides very limited
weekend service.) I guess they only want to deal with large numbers of people, not
with the lesser numbers that would use their service on the weekends. Since
today was Sunday, MARC was not an option.
On the other hand, a taxi would cost much more than Amtrak. A bus would cost
less, but it would be slower, less comfortable and less convenient. Amtrak
was the way to go! I had less than ten minutes to catch my train now, so I
took the elevator up to the pedestrian footbridge, walked across to the other
side, took the elevator down, and waited only for a few moments before my
Amtrak train pulled in.
The train into Washington, DC was comfortable and not too crowded. Once into
the station, I followed the crowd into the main center of the concourse and
looking downstairs I noticed that one of the fast-food services specialized
in Indian food. "Hmm, I like Indian food quite a bit," so I surmised that I
would go straight on to the Washington Court Hotel, which was just a few
blocks from the Amtrak train station, get settled in my room, and come back
here for dinner. But when I returned to the train station, it was 6:20 PM,
and the Indian eatery had closed up at 6:00 PM, as had the health juice booth
and a few other fast-food outlets as well. I have to give this place credit,
though, as I have never seen so many fast-food establishments in one place as
I did in this Amtrak Washington, DC train station. Bottom line -- I ended up
getting two slices of pizza and a slushy. It tasted great, but my stomach
gave me hell all night!
Click here for a virtual tour of Washington Union Station!
The hotel was lovely, the atmosphere was lovely, the bedroom and bathroom
were lovely, and the people at the desk were lovely. How could they
destroy a perfect "100" by charging me $1.00 for an 800 # phone call?? How
irritating! Nice hotel, though.
I was bone tired when I got back to the hotel. I asked for a
wake-up call at 3:00 AM. I also set my alarm for the same time. My stomach
was giving me some problems, and I couldn't sleep. I took a
shower before I went to bed so I wouldn't have that to deal with it at 3:00 in the morning. Now I
really couldn't sleep! I know that it was after 2:30 AM before I finally
picked up a few winks. My alarm went off just before 3:00 AM and I slowly
dragged my limp body through the morning ritual. It was only a few blocks'
walk to that majestic station and I did find everything around me quite
majestic. At 3:30 in the morning I could easily envision the horse-drawn
carriages of the eighteenth century clip-clopping through the neat rows of
streets that encircle this grand area. It must have been beautiful in those
days. It certainly was no less impressive to see the majestic lit-up dome of
the Capitol building as I briskly walked the few blocks through the crisp
Click here for a virtual tour of Washington Union Station!
I was glad to get into the train station, as it was pretty nippy outside.
I made a beeline for the Acela gate and, to my surprise, there were a few
people there already. Two were talking to each other, and three were sleeping
in their seats. Of course, everything was closed, but I took the available
time to look around at the shops in the building to see what they had to
offer. I eventually went out to the train platforms to take a few pictures of
the trains, with the hope that the Acela would be out there, but I didn't
see it. The first-class lounge opens after my train departs at 5:00 AM, so I sat
by Gate E that led to Track 20, from where the Acela Express would be
departing. About twenty minutes later, TrainWeb's good friends Gene Poon,
Alan Feinstein and Daniel Chazin showed up, full of life. It was good to
see good friends again! Shortly afterwards, more of the general media showed up
and tickets were checked. The gold rush was on!
Click here for photos of the passengers and staff on this inaugural revenue run!
I had a difficult time taking pictures outside with a digital camera, as it
was still dark out. The overhead lights did help, though. One thing I will
make very clear up front, and that is that the Amtrak staff held themselves
high! Everyone was pleasant and sociable. None of this "I'm doing you a
favor" attitude. I truly hope it's because they had their heart into it and
not because the media and the "big wigs" were present. If they continue this
way, their attitude can be habit-forming and contagious. A wonderful thought!
It made the trip so much more pleasant.
Like an airplane, if you are in first class, you are assigned a particular
seat. Mine happened to be facing in the direction that we were going in.
Another single seat facing me on the other side of the table that was
between us was my companion for the whole trip.
One person who boarded the train in New York refused to accept his seat
assignment, as he was not facing in the direction that the train was going
in. I offered to exchange seats with him, but he wouldn't have any of
that. He was eventually put in a forward-facing seat by himself in the last row
of seats at the end of the car. Now, don't tell me that the attendants in the
first-class section didn't take care of that customer!! Being as irate as
he was over literally nothing, it would have been a joy to throw him off of
the train, but Amtrak made a happy camper out of him, and another customer was
saved. This is the kind of customer service we need from everyone at all
times. The Acela might be starting a new trend in service! Again, don't
get me wrong. Many Amtrak employees do what is right, but there are still
others that need to change their outlook on life. On this trip, everyone was
working like a team!! I tip my hat off to them all!
John Gallagher was the engineer that took the train into Boston. I am not sure
if he took over his duties in New York City, or somewhere in between. Was there
one, or more engineers on this run? Someone let me and the readers know!
This baby purred like a kitten, and I
was fortunate that I just happened to look outside after we started to leave,
as I had no idea we were moving!
Click for more interior photos:
Set 1 /
Set 2 /
Set 3 /
Set 4 /
Set 5 /
At last, I stepped into this cutie. There's lots of room in first class. No
squeezing when you walk down the aisles. On one side of the aisle, there are
two seats side-by-side, with another two seats opposite, and a table between
them. (If you're confused, look at the pictures). Then, across the aisle
is a single seat, with another seat facing it, and a table between them as well.
So, you have only three seats from side to side in first class -- two seats
on one side of the aisle, and one seat on the other side. Business class
has the standard four seats across, with the aisle right down the middle of the
car. All of the seats are wide and quite comfortable, with an attached
adjustable pillow at every seat. Business class has footrests as well.
The curtains are very easy to slide open and to close. There
are enough 110-volt outlets for everyone and plenty of lighting -- maybe even
too much! There won't be a problem being too dark on this trainset. There is
a breakfast, lunch and dinner menu that changes according to the time of day, and
you can choose the most delicious food "pour manger" (French for "too eat"). The menu changes every
two weeks. Even though the food is exceptional, I have to admit, even good
food gets to be passe after awhile, so the change in the menu selection is great!
The media was buzzing all over the place, and George Warrington, the
President of Amtrak, and Earle "Stan" Bagley, the President of the Northeast
Corridor -- as well as all of the other VIP's that were on the train -- had
their hands full representing the company. All were to be commended for a
hard day's work. I usually give credit to the front-line soldiers, but
everyone was in the fray and swinging this day.
It was fascinating to watch the stations go by as the train was at
high speed. I wonder what was going through the minds of the people at these
stations as they saw us zip by. A few people, such as Gene Poon, brought
their scanners aboard so we can hear the engineer and other crew members and dispatchers
talking. Consequently, those who were listening to these scanners knew in
advance when the engineer was going to rev this baby up to, say, 150 MPH! You
could feel the surge! No car is going to race these darlings. Now, from my
little experience, I would suggest that it is best to be in your seat when
the train is slowing down to a stop from a high-speed run. The brakes seem to
work quite well! The Acela might not stop on a dime, but you better pay
attention if they are coming into a stop and you just happen to be walking
about. Remember, these people are out to save as much time as possible, and
they're going for the gusto!
From what I have heard, the Acela can take a crash test much -- and I do mean
much -- better than the Japanese or European high-speed trains. The
foreign trains are much lighter, so they can be more severely damaged. The Acela is a
much heavier trainset and has stronger body armor, etc. There is no reason to
anticipate a crash, but even in such an event, every effort has been made to
minimize injuries to passengers and damage to property. They are willing to
sacrifice speed for increased safety. Doesn't that say something for Amtrak
and the Acela group?
Click here for more photos of the Acela Express Cafe Car
Walking through the packed business class car and then into the well-laid-out
cafe car showed me that the designers used their skills well. The bathrooms
were a joy to behold. Now, big people don't have to suffer any more. The
color theme is a pleasing blue/gray. The overhead luggage bins were roomy,
and their doors swung up and stayed up until you swung them down to a solid
click. I understand that Bombardier of Canada, who designed and built the
Acela trainsets, has formed a partnership with Alstrom to oversee the
maintenance of these trainsets for Amtrak.
The numbers of the cars making up the trainset were:
- 2009 - Front Engine Power Unit
- 3409 - Business Class
- 3546 - Business Class
- 3305 - Cafe Car
- 3543 - Business Class
- 3541 - Business Class
- 3207 - First Class
- 2020 - Rear Engine Power Unit
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Daniel Chazin and Skip
Howard for being good enough to share their reports of their experience on the
Acela Express inaugural run. We hope to have more reports from these rail
enthusiasts in the future, so keep tuning in for more material as they
take additional Amtrak and other train trips! Perhaps a few others might share their
reports with TrainWeb and our readers as well. You will be able to find
Gene Poon's report in
Rail Travel News.
I did not get everyone's name and picture, but here are a few people that
I would like to mention. Jim Langen, Alan Feinstein, David Leuter, Gene
Poon, Skip Howard and Daniel Chazin, all avid Amtrak travelers and supporters of
rail passenger service. Tom Szachacz, Service Manager for Acela who is
based in New York, worked with his crew to make everything "just right"! Lynn
Bowersox, one of Amtrak's media relations powerhouses, was there guiding the
media to do their thing. Star Plumber was the Assistant Conductor out of
Washington, DC. Great smile, Star!
Special thanks are due Rick Remington, Director of Media Relations for the
Northeast Corridor, and his boss, Jon Tainow, Vice President of Operations.
Why? Well, if it wasn't for these two gentlemen, none of you would be looking
at the pictures of the engineer's console. Now you know who two of the good
guys are! Fred Bayles, a reporter for USA Today, sitting across from me,
was one of the many reporters covering this event. If the two cameraman whose
pictures I took ever let me know their names, I'll include them in the trip report.
Click here for photos of the people mentioned above!
Overall, the trip was pretty smooth and fast, and I enjoyed it fully. It does
save you valuable time -- you arrive at the station right in the center of
the town, and you are relaxed! People, take advantage of what is now
available to you! If you are a tourist, take the ride for the uniqueness of
it. It is nice to do something different once in a while. Tell them that
TrainWeb sent you, and if they don't know what TrainWeb is, educate them and
give them our web address. Let's get everyone educated!
The Acela Express left Washington, DC at 5:00 AM and dropped me off at
South Station in Boston a bit after 11:30 AM. I believe that everyone was a happy camper!
This is when Rick Remington allowed me to go into the front power unit to
take the special pictures for the readers at TrainWeb. Possibly, the Acela
VIP's will want us to take Virtual Reality pictures of the Acela, just as we
did for Amtrak West. That way you will REALLY get to see what it is like
inside this beauty, with you being able to decide exactly which parts of this
magnificent trainset you want to see!
Click each of the following for more photos of the Acela Express Power Unit:
Set 1 /
Click here for TrainWeb's Virtual Tours of other Amtrak trainsets (not Acela Express)
After I finished with my photos of the Acela, I went into the Boston station
and took a few photos inside the station. I then went downstairs and paid
$1.00 to board the subway, operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority,
known simply as the "T". You can go anywhere using this subway system for that one price
until you "leave" the system. Then you pay again when you come back in. In
the mid-sixties, the Boston transportation system allowed you to ride for
only ten cents, and you could, at that time, transfer from bus to subway and
back, thus permitting you to travel all over the city. For a dime, that was
I took the Red Line at South Station and went one stop to the Orange Line at
"Downtown Crossing." There, I got on the Orange Line and went one stop to
"State/Aquarium." I detrained at "State/Aquarium" and transferred to the
Blue Line, which I took three stops to the "Airport" station. Even though I was
traveling in the middle of the day, not during the rush hour, there were a
fair number of people riding the trains that I took. Subways are a blessing
for those cities that are fortunate enough to have them.
Steve Grande had kindly provided me with a color print-out map of the Boston
subway system which I referred to while riding the subway. I was surprised to
observe that many people were staring at and commenting on this print-out
that I was holding in my hand. These people were impressed by and fascinated
with my map. You, too, can obtain a copy of this excellent map by going to
It got me through an unfamiliar locality without a hitch.
When I arrived at the "Airport" station, I went upstairs to the main door,
looked for the sign where the shuttle buses were congregating, and got
on the bus when it drove up. It took us to the other areas of the airport. I
needed to go to Terminal "A" for Frontier Airlines. Evidently, the airport shuttle
bus goes to every airport terminal except Terminal "A"! This bus took me to its final
destination, and I then had to transfer to the bus in front of the one I was on to
get to Terminal "A." Once the second bus dropped me off at my destination, I
went to the Frontier counter, where their representative literally killed me
with kindness. Boy, these people really go out of their way! I hung around there
for a few hours until my plane took off at 5:35 PM, heading for Denver, CO. I
was lucky not to be in Chicago, as they were getting snowed in. We arrived in
Denver on time and we had to wait an additional two hours for our connecting
plane that was coming in from La Guardia Airport in New York.
From what I understand, the delay was not Frontier's fault. In fact, every
flight from La Guardia is usually two hours late. Why? Well, the airport has
only two runways, with no room to build any more. Moreover, it is operated by
overworked, understaffed crews. As a result, airplanes from all over have to
circle overhead in a "holding pattern" and wait for their turn to land. I
believe that this has been going on for five years, and yet no one is doing
anything about it. "Hmm." Do they make money off of each plane that lands
there? Is the FAA really accountable to the public? LaGuardia Airport -- a
little, rinky-dink place -- is responsible for 20% of the late arrivals in
the entire country!! So, don't blame any airline for being late if your plane
happens to be coming from that airport. Of course, I could be wrong, but do
you think that the bottom line is greed? Let's get some more high-speed
trains running to help relieve the congestion at that poor airport! As a
result of this annoying delay, I lost two hours of much-needed sleep that night.
Finally, my Flight #419 left Denver, and everything went fine until we
started descending for our landing at LAX. I thought my eardrums were going
to burst! There should be some way to alleviate this terrible discomfort. I
have been on other flights where small babies were screaming their little
lungs out as they went through that painful experience. I was glad there were
none on this flight! Other than that nasty ending, I really liked Frontier
Airlines. You know something, that has never happened to me on a train!
Since I had only my carry-on luggage, I went right out to call the shuttle
that would take me to the parking lot where I had left my vehicle. Once I
arrived at my car, I knew that this trip was finally complete (other than
getting home safe and sound), but I would always remember this special
adventure. I am glad that I took the trip, and I hope that my story has
enabled you to vicariously experience this enjoyable ride.
Photos of Acela Express Locomotive Inside & Outside
Acela Express Inaugural Revenue Run - Passengers & Crew
Set #1 /
Set #2 /
Set #3 /
Set #4 /
Set #6 /
Set #7 /
Set #8 /
Set #9 /
Click here for additional information and photos of the Amtrak Acela Express!
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