Amtrak’s New Acela Programme to Face Additional Delays

The Amtrak Office of Inspector General (OIG) has released a report indicating that the operator’s New Acela programme will likely face future delays and cost increases due to problems with the design and quality of the rolling stock.

In August 2016, Amtrak contracted Alstom to supply 28 new high-speed Acela trainsets to replace its current fleet. These vehicles were initially set to be delivered in 2021.

Amtrak's New Acela train
Amtrak’s New Acela train

To date, Alstom has produced 12 of 28 serial trainsets and 22 of 28 café cars. However, these units are unable to enter passenger service because the trainset design has not yet met federal safety requirements.

In addition, the produced trainsets are reported to have defects that Alstom is required to fix or modify before revenue service. This includes safety-related issues such as water drainage between cars causing critical components to corrode.

What’s more, functional issues such as train windows shattering spontaneously and the trainsets’ hydraulic tilting systems leaking have been noted. Finally, Amtrak has also reported aesthetic issues such as misaligned ceiling panels in the café cars and delamination of their floors.

The New Acela train interior
The New Acela train interior

As this programme is already more than three years behind schedule, the OIG warns that additional delays will now exuberate significant cost increases, operational impacts and delayed revenue.

Specifically, the report identifies that the most likely cause of additional delays will be the continued inability to produce a validated computer model of the trainset. This is the first step in the FRA’s multi-step regulatory process to demonstrate that the trainset is safe to proceed with testing.

It is Alstom’s responsibility to develop and validate this model, but the manufacturer states that the poor track conditions on the Northeast Corridor are hindering its progress.

As Alstom has built more than half of the New Acela trainset units prior to completing this requirement, it also faces the additional risk of unanticipated design changes arising during model validation.

The OIG report states that many of these issues are similar to challenges that have occurred in Amtrak’s previous rolling stock acquisitions.

As the operator is planning a multi-billion dollar programme to replace its fleet, the OIG has recommended that Amtrak enhance its procurement process to incorporate the lessons learned.

It also indicates that Amtrak should direct Alstom to provide a complete and accurate schedule to address the defects in the New Acela programme and should work with the manufacturer to identify future risks.

The full report can be found on the OIG website.

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