Archive for Thursday, October 19, 2000

Long-delayed Amtrak train debuts

High-speed service set for D.C.-Boston

October 19, 2000


— Amtrak's much-delayed high-speed train will begin regular service with a Washington-Boston round trip Dec. 11, and one to two new runs will be added each month after that, Amtrak officials announced Wednesday.

The first run, a special VIP inaugural train, will take place Nov. 16, after which the first of 20 new 304-passenger, 150-mph tilt trains will make occasional surprise appearances as a substitute for current trains until it begins its normal schedule. Ticket sales for the regularly scheduled runs will begin Nov. 29.

The first of the Canadian/ French-designed trains rolled Wednesday through a curtain of smoke on Track 19 at Union Station as part of an official ceremony. Multiple speakers then used the ceremony to urge Congress to pass a measure that would allow Amtrak to issue $10 billion in bonds to make high-speed rail improvements throughout the country. The measure may be included in a final tax bill before Congress goes home for the year. Amtrak President George Warrington called the bill "absolutely essential to Amtrak's future."

The new train, which Amtrak calls the "Acela Express," had a difficult birth. It was supposed to be running more than a year ago, but suffered several setbacks, most of which involved glitches in the locomotive wheel sets called "trucks."

Despite excellent acceleration and braking, the train will not achieve its promised three-hour schedule between New York and Boston. And it will shave only 15 minutes off the New York-Washington Metroliner run, partly because it will be held to 130 mph south of New York until aging infrastructure is improved some day.

New York-Washington schedules will be 2 hours 44 minutes, compared with 2 hours 59 minutes now for the Metroliner.

Boston-New York running times will show the most improvement with a 3-hour, 23-minute run, which Warrington said will be squeezed down to about 3 hours 5 minutes in three to four years as track improvements are completed. This compares with schedules of up to five hours today, with the current best times being four hours for two "Acela Regional" trains that use electric locomotives and refurbished standard cars.

The improvement comes because tilt technology allows faster speeds around the many curves along the Connecticut coast of the Long Island Sound, and because of the train's unusually good acceleration.

In a test last week, Amtrak officials said the train went from zero to 130 mph in three miles.

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