Riding the rails is a throwback to the days when the railroad was the fastest way to get from here to there. It’s still one of the most convenient ways to get from Boston to New York City.
As the Acela Regional, destination Penn Station, slows to a halt at the Route 128 stop just outside Boston, a car labeled Quiet Car passes in front of me. I head for it. It turns out to be a heavenly halcyon surprise.
As the train pulls out of the station, a conductor gets on the intercom to spell out the rules of the road. First, no cell phone conversations. Yayyyy. And use headphones for your DVD player or music device. If the volume can be heard by others nearby, turn it down…or leave.
And no talking. Really. People just sit and read, or work silently on laptops or text away on their phones. If we weren’t rattling along at high rates of speed, you could have heard a piece of Kleenex fall on the floor. A conductor asked two chatty riders to take a conversation into the next car or desist. I loved it. So did everyone else. This is as close as a fifty-ton piece of railroad car can come to a spa.
A stroll back through the cars between the Quiet Car and the Café Car is a jarring reminder of how much auditory clutter we’re immersed in everywhere else in our lives.
Back in the arms of the Quiet Car, the low rumble of the train was a lullaby. I felt like I’d returned to the womb. I could feel myself relaxing, then rejoicing at the enforced serenity. Aside from the conductor reminding travelers to watch their step as they alight from the train’s next stop, the silence was golden. This is the next big thing in mass transit.
As I was having lunch in the Café Car, a conductor came on the air to say that the train would slow to a halt for a few minutes to allow another train to pass on the adjacent track. I joined the conductor, a trim fellow in his navy blue uniform and short-billed conductor cap, his silver ticket puncher dangling from his pocket, to view the rail bed a few feet away. By the time the train resumed its march, I’d learned a bunch of facts about the Acela train and you, my lucky readers, are the beneficiaries.
The old creosote soaked ties were ripped up, replaced by concrete ties in the 1970s.
The ties are crescent shaped, thicker at the ends where the rails exert the most force on them and thinner in the center where the force is less. This also saved money on the cost of concrete.
The ACELA can run 3% faster on concrete vs. wood ties since the concrete is more rigid.
The Acela Express is faster than the Acela Regional because it makes fewer stops and has two engines, one in front and one at the rear, to propel it.
The two engine Express can accelerate faster than Regional with one engine. Its top speed is 150 mph; the Regional top speed is 125 mph.
The Acela Express cars are coupled together more rigidly so they can tilt and travel at faster speeds around corners. The Acela Regional has old style freight car couplings that can be uncoupled in twenty minutes if there’s a problem with a car. If the Acela Express car has a problem, the whole train has to be taken off line to repair it because the interlinking couplings are so sophisticated in design.
The First Class car is usually the first behind the engine, followed by Business Class then the Quiet Car, then the other standard coach cars and the Café Car.
There is no extra charge for the Quiet Car. Don’t tell Amtrak but it’s a premium deal.
Photo by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.