Lesson 18.6: Social Studies Connection

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Whoosh! One hundred and sixty-one miles an hour… 162… 163… 164…

Amtrak's newest passenger train, the Acela Express, seems to fly down the tracks at warp speed. The landscape between New York City and Boston is a blur. Cities and towns whiz by. Cars and trucks motoring down the highway look as if they're standing still.

First in the U.S.

Train transportation in the United States changed forever in November of 2000 when Amtrak launched the Acela Express from New York to Boston. Regular passenger service between Washington, D.C., and Boston began the following month.

Japan and many European countries have had high-speed rail service for years, but the $800 million Acela Express is the first so-called bullet train in the United States.

With the help of government funds, Amtrak built the sleek, bottle-nosed Acela to lure travelers away from automobiles and airplanes.

This 304-passenger train cuts about an hour off train-travel time from New York to Boston. It does this by moving at 150 miles an hour through certain parts of New England. The Acela hit speeds up to 168 mi/h during test runs, but for most of the trip between Washington and Boston it travels at a rate of 135 miles an hour.

Computerized Travel

What makes the Acela so fast? Instead of one locomotive pulling the eight-car train, the Acela has two locomotives. One locomotive is in the front of the train, and the other is located in the back.

Also, engineers designed the train to navigate around curves without slowing down, the way most trains do. Located in the front of the Acela are tiny micro-processors (devices that do the actual computing in a computer) that warn the train when it is speeding into a curve. An onboard computer uses that information to glide the fast-moving train around corners by gently tilting it into the bend. This allows the train to speed around turns while preventing the force of the moving train from knocking passengers around.

Luxury Dining

The Acela is not only the fastest, but is also the most comfortable train in Amtrak's fleet. The restrooms are spacious. People can turn their seats around to talk to other passengers. Amtrak treats passengers traveling in first class to full-course meals.

A former presidential candidate, Michael Dukakis, who is now vice chairman of Amtrak, said the Acela “is the future, [and] we've seen it.”

Word Wise

Way of transporting, or moving from place to place: My favorite kind of transportation from home to camp is the bus.

To start something: The Parent Organization will launch a book sale next week.

To attract: I was lured home for dinner when I heard that there was chocolate cake for dessert.

A person who rides in a vehicle, such as a plane or a car: Three of the passengers on the bus were carrying groceries.

Train engine that runs on a track and pulls or pushes railroad cars: Whenever a train comes by, I hear the roar of the locomotive even before the whistle.

Roomy: The back seat of some vans is roomy enough for an adult to stretch for a nap.

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Amtrak made up the name “Acela” by putting parts of two English words together.

  • The word accelerate means gain speed, or go faster.
  • The word excellence means the condition of being superior.

Imagine that you have been hired to name a new form of transportation. Write a paragraph to describe this new transportation. Be as creative as you wish.

Next, choose 2 words that you would like to use to describe your new transportation. Combine the words to form a new name for your idea.

Data Hunt

Less than 1 percent of U.S. travelers go from city to city by train. Most drive cars or take a plane.

Model airplanes are exact copies of actual planes, only much smaller. Models are available for commercial planes—the ones we ride on—and for military, cargo, and privately owned planes.

All model planes are built to scale. The bigger the actual airplane, the smaller the scale. The table gives the sizes of the models of three commercial planes and three army air corps planes.

Model Planes

(in inches)
(in inches)
B707 American Airlines 1 in.:100 in. 18 one-half 17 one-half
A320 Northwest 1 in.:100 in. 14 three-fourths 13 one-half
B727-200 TWA (OC) 1 in.:200 in. 9 one-fourth 6 one-half
P47D Thunderbolt 1 in.:32 in. 14 15 one-half
Lockheed P-38J
1 in.:48 in. 9 one-fourth 12 one-half
Douglas C-47A
1 in.:72 in. 11 16

Find the actual lengths (to the nearest foot).

  1. What is the length of an actual A320 Northwest plane in inches? in feet?
  2. What is the length of an actual Lockheed P-38J Lightning in inches?
  3. What is the length of an actual P47D Thunderbolt in inches? in feet?

Find the actual wingspans (to the nearest foot).

  1. What is the wingspan of an actual B707 American Airlines plane in inches? in feet?
  2. What is the wingspan of an actual B727-200 TWA (OC) plane in inches? in feet?
  3. What is the wingspan of an actual Douglas C-47A Skytrain in inches? in feet?