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Amtrak finally ready to unleash fast train

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October 19, 2000 


WASHINGTON (AP) - A year behind schedule, America's first 240 kph (150 mph) trains, linking Boston and Washington, could be ready to roll next month.

Amtrak officials hope the new Acela Express service, featuring sleek, snub-nosed trains, will be a lucrative addition that helps the railway wean itself from nearly three decades of federal assistance.

The service was scheduled to debut last October. But premature wheel wear and problems with the tilting technology that helps the train negotiate curves delayed the start until this past spring.

Then, delivery was delayed until July as technicians addressed sideways movement of the wheels at high speeds. The date was pushed back again when missing and broken bolts were found.

Amtrak is under a congressional order to become financially self-sufficient by 2003 and Acela Express is integral to its survival plan. High-speed service in the Northeast Corridor is projected to earn dlrs 180 million a year; by comparison, Amtrak says it was dlrs 484 million short of self-sufficiency in 1999, a year in which it posted record revenues of dlrs 1.84 billion.

Under its contract with the consortium building the trains, Canada's Bombardier Transportation and France's Alston Ltd., Amtrak can seek up to dlrs 13,500 a day in penalties for each of the 20 eight-car train sets it ordered. Amtrak has said only that it is discussing penalties with the consortium.

Amtrak officials hope that America's first brush with bullet trains will spur public interest across the country. Legislation pending in Congress would help Amtrak raise dlrs 10 billion over 10 years to make necessary track and train improvements for high-speed service on up to 11 more train corridors.

Acela trains will travel up to 240 kph (150 mph), compared with a top speed of 200 kph (125 mph) now reached by other Amtrak trains. The high-speed trains will cut nearly an hour off the typical four-hour Boston-to-New York trip and 15 minutes off a three-hour train between New York and Washington.

A one-way coach ticket between Washington and New York will be dlrs 143, up from dlrs 122 now. Between New York and Boston it will cost dlrs 120, up from dlrs 72.

Amtrak is offering more than speed on the new trains, however. The silver-and-turqoise trains will also feature more comfortable seats, audio and video entertainment, and improved food service.


On the Net:

Amtrak's Acela site:

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