10 May

Anyone used to travelling on Amtrak trains could be forgiven for thinking that passenger rail in the USA simply cannot compete with the high-speed European Intercity Trains, let alone the fastest train in the world, Japan's Shinkansen or "Bullet Train" between Mount Fuji and Tokyo. However,  this is only partly true ...

Believe it or not, Amtrak does have a service that deserves the moniker "highs-speed rail", only not for the entire length of the course. Amtrak's Acela, known as Acela Express until its renaming in 2019, offers a speed of 150 KM/H. However, as stated, it cannot maintain this speed throughout the entire route from Boston to Washingston D.C. Indeed, only 85km of the 735km route sees the train running at this speed, essentially the distance between New York and the nation's capital. Active tilting technology allows Acela to maintain the higher speeds even in the sharply curved sections. For the rest of the route, speeds drop to an average 105KM/H because the train uses the routes also used by freight and other regional train services. This forces the service to operate at the speeds designed for these services even though it is capable of going faster.

Bizarrely, Acela was meant to be the answer to Japan's record-breaking passenger train. The first attempt at high-speed travel came in 1969 with the introduction of the so-called Metroliner" in 1969. This was the train which Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy are seen travelling on in the 1983 film "Trading Places". In November 2000, the Acela Express went into service, ferrying mostly business people from the four major cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore to Washington D.C. and back again. 

The journey from Boston to New York's Penn Station Moynihan Train Hall would only take 3.5 hours and so my initial intention was to take a coach seat. However, when I saw that a seat in business class was only marginally more expensive, I opted for this instead, just to see how this would compare to one of my journeys in coach class later during the trip. I have to say, the experience was worth the extra cost …

First off, Amtrak have a very efficient way of letting you know where to be on the platform depending on where your ticketed seat will be. Arriving at the platform, I was looking for notice boards or overhead displays on which part of the platform I had to walk to to get into the business class portion of the train. Eventually I happened the glance towards the edge of the platform when some writing caught my eye and just like that, everything became clear.

I made my way over to Car 5, the car assigned to the business class service, and within no time I would be on my way to New York.

Once there, it was only a short taxi ride to the hotel. After getting settled in, I explored the Midtown Manhatten neighbourhood. A quick stop at the local 7-Eleven for some supplies and a slice of street pizza and I was back on my way to the hotel for an early night.

I would later regret the decision to opt for the pizza, as the following two days left me with a serious bout of stomach flu and made the experience of visiting the Big Apple less pleasurable than it should have been. As a result, the report on my time there has been delayed so that I can focus on my next stops, New Orleans and Memphis, but I promise, a report on my experience in New York will be coming, if a little out of sync.

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