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Wednesday, Mar. 10, 1999
Amtrak debuts high-speed train for Northeast
150-mph `Acela' to cut time from trips between New York and Boston, Washington
By GLEN JOHNSON
NEW YORK -- Amtrak unveiled a new high-speed train Tuesday that is designed to whisk passengers at 150 mph between Washington, New York and Boston and revitalize the railroad by competing with airlines on such trips.
Named "Acela" (uh-SELL-ah) to hint at both acceleration and excellence, the new trains will travel between Boston and New York in three hours -- an improvement of 90 minutes over the current trip -- and from New York to Washington in as little as two hours and a half, a savings of a half-hour.
Service is to begin in November or December, and Amtrak officials hope it will be a model for similar trains in the Great Lakes, the Gulf Coast, California and the Pacific Northwest.
"We know we have a product here that will absolutely knock the socks off the competition," Amtrak President George Warrington said at an opening attended by more than 1,000 employees. "USAir, Delta, General Motors, Ford, you name it, only Amtrak's Acela will provide a very special journey for customers who will travel downtown to downtown."
In addition to pledging speed, Amtrak promised an unparalleled service. Acela's snub-nosed, silver-and-turquoise trains will have business-class seats with audio and power jacks, special check-in areas and concierge service, plus dining cars with meeting tables, upgraded food and beer on tap.
The schedule has not been set, but Amtrak officials said it probably would maintain most current stops, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Haven, Conn., and Providence, R.I. The railroad will also retain its slower Northeast Direct service.
A one-way trip will cost about $130 to $140 each way between New York and Boston or Washington, an increase from the current Metroliner express fare of $114 but still less than the $199 walk-up fare charged by US Airways and Delta Air Lines. They are the two primary airlines offering shuttle service between Washington, New York and Boston.
Delta spokeswoman Kay Horner said: "There's a lot of traffic in the corridor and Delta offers a different product."
Amtrak projects that Acela will boost its market share in the busy Northeast Corridor from 12 percent to 15 percent annually, or about 14.3 million passengers total. It also expects Acela to generate $180 million in new profits its first full year of service.
A cash influx is important because Amtrak has not turned a profit since being founded in 1971. The General Accounting Office reported that the railroad lost an average of $47 per passenger in fiscal 1997, renewing criticism in Congress.
In 1997, the House and Senate passed legislation requiring that Amtrak become self-sufficient by 2002. They provided a $2.2 billion cash infusion in 1997 and have been approving steadily declining subsidies since then.
"For years our critics have sat on the sidelines waiting for the high-speed rail program to fade. We will continue to disappoint them," Warrington said. "In fact, we are using the lessons learned on high-speed rail to improve all our services across this country. Acela will be a catalyst for America's 21st century rail renaissance."
Amtrak will achieve the time gains through a $2 billion program that has included electrifying the entire 470-mile stretch between Washington and Boston, straightening curves and spending $710 million on 20 new train sets that incorporate so-called tilt technology.
Such trains glide around corners by gently tilting into the bend. That doesn't promote speed as much as it prevents centrifugal force from throwing passengers into a car's walls.
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