Kiddo1 Discovers Amtrak’s Miracle Train

Since he’s been taking the train between here and New York so frequently, Kiddo1 has developed an abiding interest in all things train: from model trains to railway timetables.

“Do you know Amtrak has a Miracle Train?”

He’s not talking about the free Writers’ Residencies on Amtrak (which I would gladly take! Any route, any destination, thank you, but given how I’m on a line that regularly sells out, I doubt I’d get offered one) but rather a train that actually executes a miracle in order to be on time.

Here we go: the Northeast Regional and the Northeast Acela Express operate on the same set of tracks, except (of course) the Regional hits all the local stops and the Acela reaches a billion miles per hour and bypasses the less-used stations. Naturally the Acela takes less time than the Regional to make the trip.

Northeast Regional 176 leaves New Haven, CT at 5:11 PM and arrives in Providence, RI at 7:19PM.

Acela Express 2166 leaves New Haven, CT at 5:29PM and arrives in Providence, RI at 6:46PM. So it leaves about 20 minutes after and arrives about half an hour before the Regional.

Except there’s only one set of tracks between those two locations.

“It’s a miracle,” Kiddo1 says by way of explanation for how one train is able to jump right over the other.

You don’t mess with Kiddo1 when there are schedules and numbers involved. He found the same thing going on with Northeast Regional 94 and Acela Express 2170: the Regional leaves New Haven at 7:32PM and arrives at9:16PM, while the Acela leaves at 7:34PM (two minutes after) and arrives at 8:45PM (half an hour before.) Again, only one set of tracks. Kiddo1 grins. “See? Miracolo.”

He seems happy enough just leaving it as “And a miracle occurs,” but I’m curious, and I was wondering if anyone had an explanation. His guess is that since this only happens during Peak hours, they assume the southbound trains are going to be on-time and therefore send the Acela northbound on the southbound tracks. But I was wondering if anyone here (maybe an Amtrak employee?) knows what’s actually going on.


  1. Margaret Jowitt

    There’ll be a passing loop somewhere in the wilderness If there is a wilderness), usually a station but doesn’t have to be.

    1. philangelus

      Ah, that makes sense. How would he spot it en route?

  2. Pat

    “There isn’t a train I wouldn’t take, no matter where it’s going.”

    Except the one between Indianapolis and Chicago, which runs once a day in each direction and has been over *three hours* late every time we have taken it. If you’d care to blow some of that miracle dust over here I just might decide Amtrak has some justification for its existence after all . . . maybe.

    1. philangelus

      Fortunately our route doesn’t seem to share its track with freight trains and therefore doesn’t get multihour delays. During the summer, K1’s train was often about fifteen minutes early.

  3. Catherine Henderson

    Not an Amtrak employee, but this is my educated guess, having worked in companies relying heavily on rail service:
    In one or more of the locations where the regional train stops, there could be a short siding – a side track running parallel to the main track. The regional train will pull onto the siding to load & unload passengers while the express train shoots by. It’s a diversion of only a few yards, so may not be shown on any rail maps you look at.

    1. Pat

      They find out where the engine’s been hiding
      And it drags you to sweet Corofin
      Says the guard: “Back her down on the siding
      There’s a goods from Kilrush coming in.”
      Perhaps it comes in two hours
      Perhaps it breaks down on the way
      “If it does,” says the guard, “by the powers
      We’re here for the rest of the day!”

  4. Bopper

    Look at the map of the train line
    Zoom in at about Guilford Trainstation and you can see an extra track presumably for passing (there are probably more)

  5. Ken Rolph

    Jane, how could you have missed seeing all those runaway train movies? There is always a siding. Have a look at Unstoppable for an example.