Nonprofit repurposes Amtrak Acela seating into luxury bags

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People for Urban Progress (PUP), an Indianapolis-based nonprofit specializing in advancing good design and civic sustainability, partnered with Amtrak to repurpose leather seat covers from 20 Amtrak Acela Express train sets. Photo: Amtrak/PUP

People for Urban Progress (PUP), an Indianapolis-based nonprofit specializing in advancing good design and civic sustainability, partnered with Amtrak to repurpose leather seat covers from 20 Amtrak Acela Express train sets. Photo: Amtrak/PUP

People for Urban Progress (PUP), an Indianapolis-based nonprofit specializing in advancing good design and civic sustainability, partnered with Amtrak to repurpose leather seat covers from 20 updated Amtrak Acela Express train sets and save those materials from landfills by transforming them into luxury bags.

The partnership is a direct result of how both companies fully embrace sustainability as a fundamental part of their businesses, according to an Amtrak statement. This landmark project is PUP’s first national endeavor, and a new initiative for Amtrak as well.

The limited-edition launch of the Amtrak Collection includes handmade accessories from Amtrak’s flagship Acela Express. The first launch of the slate blue luxury leather bags includes totes, backpacks, and dopp kit. Approximately 2,500 bags are expected to roll out in small-batch releases during the next 10 to 12 months as the seat coverings are repurposed. All designs are developed and hand-made by the designers at PUP, who also developed the process of repurposing the seats. This includes separating the leather from the foam seat, dry cleaning the leather utilizing an environmentally friendly process and then cutting the leather and sewing it together to create each product.

“One of the main objectives of this Upcycling Project is to divert as much waste from landfills as possible,” said Senior Sustainability Manager Kara Angotti. “We have set a corporate recycling target of 20 percent by 2020 and this project will help us advance closer to achieving that goal. This is a unique opportunity to explore the extended value in our trash and to focus on ensuring we consider what happens to our materials at the end of their useful life.”

Amtrak’s Acela Express service, best known for transporting business commuters is a high-speed train operating between Washington, D.C., and Boston with stops in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, and Providence. Amtrak is refreshing the interiors of its current Acela trainsets before the next-generation Acela fleet becomes active in 2021. These seat materials from the current Acela trainsets, which are being donated, were retired after approximately 10 years of service.

PUP is known for repurposing dated infrastructure through design and fabrication projects. In 2008, they upcycled the roof of the RCA Dome, previously the home of the Indianapolis Colts. Materials from the dome were used to design wallets, handbags, office bins and more, saving 13 acres’ worth of material from the landfill. Promotional banners and materials from Gen Con, the longest-running gaming convention in the world, were fashioned into messenger bags and wallets. Baseball stadium seats were transformed into bus stops and public seating around the city of Indianapolis, still giving residents something to cheer about.

The full line of the Amtrak Collection will retail between $75 to $750 dollars. In addition to the new Amtrak collection, PUP sells a variety of bags and wallets made from arena roofing materials, event banners, reclaimed seatbelts and more, ranging in price between $12 and $172.

For more information about People for Urban Progress, visit peopleup.org. To shop the collection now, visit peopleup.org/collections/amtrak.