TRAIN OPERATIONS: Acela 21 Program Continues to Face Significant Risk of Delays, Warranting More Contingency Planning

January 21, 2020 |  Audit Reports

The objective for this report was to identify current risks to launching revenue service of Amtrak’s $2.1 billion Acela 21 program on schedule and reassess the company’s oversight of the program.


We found that the company has instituted some key program management practices for the Acela 21 program to correct earlier problems and avoid those it experienced in other recent, major acquisitions. Nevertheless, the program has no schedule cushion left, not only because of manufacturer delays in delivering the trainsets, but also because of other management weaknesses. Specifically, key program officials have had competing responsibilities, constraining their ability to undertake the Acela 21 program, and the program sponsor’s authority to make decisions and task key program officials is not clearly defined. This affects the program sponsor’s ability to ensure problems are addressed in a timely manner.


Additionally, we found multiple indicators that signal the potential for further delays—some outside of the company’s control—across five critical program elements. Company executives acknowledged that all five program elements would need to proceed nearly flawlessly to ensure on-time revenue launch in 2021. The company, however, has discussed, but not developed a full range of contingency plans to respond to delays.


To address the findings in our report, we recommend the company ensure key program officials have sufficient capacity so that competing responsibilities do not interfere with their ability to complete program tasks in a timely manner. We also recommended that it assess the extent to which the program sponsor had the authority to task key program officials and make decisions necessary to resolve problems and to address any gaps in this authority. Finally, we recommended that it task the program management team with developing additional contingency plans and assessing their operational and financial impacts.

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