Amtrak lands $450 million to boost Acela to 160 mph

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded Amtrak with $450 million to upgrade rail infrastructure between New York and Washington.

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Monday awarded Amtrak with $450 million in funding to upgrade its rail infrastructure to support more frequent, reliable and faster high-speed rail service between New York and Washington.

The funds are intended to upgrade electrical power, signal systems, track and overhead catenary wires between Morrisville, Penn., and New Brunswick, N.J. -- one of the busiest segments of the Northeast Corridor and the location of the densest concentration of Acela Express high-speed rail action, according to the operator.

The funds will also be used to reconfigure track switches at the western entrance to New York Penn Station to mitigate congestion issues.

The immediate benefits: a boost in top speed from 135 m.p.h. to 160 m.p.h. along a 24-mile section of track, for which Philadelphia-to-New York commuters (like yours truly) stand to benefit the most.

Benefits also include support for six more Acela Express high-speed round trips between New York and Washington by 2018 and another nine by 2022.

In effect, the upgrades will enable Amtrak to double its high-speed service in a decade.

Amtrak says these projects are the first step of its Gateway Project, which will construct new tunnels to access an expanded New York Penn Station -- as well as lay the foundation for the future launch of next-generation high-speed service with a top speed of 220 m.p.h.

The funds were among $2 billion earmarked by the U.S. DOT for high-speed intercity rail projects. Other recipients:

  • Another $345 million for Northeast Corridor improvements, including preparation for the replacement of an aging bridge in Maryland and a bypass for a congested area in Queens, New York.
  • $404.1 million to expand high-speed rail service in the Midwest, including newly constructed segments of 110-mph track between Detroit and Chicago (time savings: 30 minutes) and upgrades to the corridor between Chicago and St. Louis.
  • $336.2 million for new locomotives and rail cars for California and the Midwest.
  • $300 million for groundwork for the nation’s first 220-mph high-speed rail system in California. Projects include a 20-mile extension of the current 110-mile segment in the Central Valley, the backbone of the Los Angeles to San Francisco corridor.

The anticipated completion date for the Amtrak upgrades is September 2017.

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