Major Programs: Company Improved Management of New Acela Program, but Additional Delays and Cost Increases are Likely
Our objective was to reassess the company’s management and oversight of New Acela, including the trainset acquisition and other program elements necessary to launch revenue service, since we last reported on the program in 2020.
We found that, despite recent improvements to the New Acela Program’s management, the program is more than three years behind schedule and additional delays are likely. Current delays have resulted in significant cost increases, operational impacts, and delayed revenue, and further schedule slippage would exacerbate these impacts.
We identify two reasons for the current—and likely future—delays to New Acela. First, the vendor has not produced a validated computer model that demonstrates the New Acela is safe to proceed with additional trainset testing. While federal regulations require the company to submit to FRA trainset performance predictions from the computer model showing that it is valid, the vendor is responsible for developing and validating the model. This is the first step in a multi-step regulatory process for FRA to approve the trainsets to operate in passenger revenue service. Second, of the 12 serial trainsets and 22 café cars the vendor has produced, all have defects. Although some defects are expected when producing a new trainset, the vendor’s schedule for addressing them is incomplete, and without more complete information, the company cannot verify whether remediating the defects will impact the overall program schedule and the revenue service launch.
More broadly, the issues we identified on New Acela are similar to challenges that have occurred on other rolling stock acquisitions. Since Amtrak is planning a multi-billion dollar program to replace its fleet of long-distance trains while it is also engaged in the ongoing process of replacing its intercity trains, we recommend that the company 1) enhance its process to formally capture and incorporate lessons learned from New Acela and other rolling stock purchases, 2) direct the vendor to provide complete and accurate schedules to address defects, and 3) work with the vendor to identify the risk of future defects.