Sleek new iron horse leans into those Pennsylvania curves ** at over 100 mph Ride proves elegant and comfortable

December 11, 1992|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- On a century-old rail line, Amtrak yesterda unveiled a modern twist to taking curves.

The X-2000 High Speed Tilting Train gave its first public demonstration, transporting passengers on a rugged and winding 68-mile route between Philadelphia and Lancaster.

It raced through turns at speeds topping 100 mph -- one-third greater than normal -- in the kind of damp, wintry weather that even mail carriers dread.

The result was a train trip more elegant and comfortable than has probably ever been experienced on this continent, a peek at the kind of first-class rail travel Europeans have known for years.

And it was a confirmation that significantly faster travel is possible on existing rail lines if an auto-and-plane-loving public is willing to be flexible and the train is, too -- literally.

The X-2000 is swifter than conventional trains primarily because it leans into curves.

A system of sensors and microprocessors anticipates the turns ahead and banks each car hydraulically to compensate for them.

Its axles can turn independently, and the tilting effect spares passengers the feeling of centrifugal force that comes from taking turns fast.

"We're about as excited about this project as a kid at Christmas with a new toy train," said Robert E. Gall, Amtrak's vice president of passenger marketing and sales.

"The technology is truly marvelous."

The electric train is made by a Swiss-Swedish industrial giant, Asea Brown Boveri.

Representatives of the American manufacturing subsidiary, ABB Traction Inc. of Elmira Heights, N.Y., helped Amtrak officials host the three-hour demonstration.

The ride bore little resemblance to the clank and lurch of conventional rail travel.

On the outside, the gray and blue locomotive and five cars of the X-2000 look sleeker than a regular Amtrak train. But it is inside that the differences really show.

The train, which is under a nine-month lease to Amtrak, normally makes its living hauling first-class business travelers on Swedish State Railways to and from Stockholm. The generous appointments might be said to put a Metroliner to shame.

Seating is three across, instead of the standard four, with a wide aisle and generous leg room.

The decor is plush but simple, with wooden trim and a light and airy touch.

Amenities include headphones with three channels of music, fold-out desks and work spaces with electrical outlets for lap-top computers, and telephones in each car.

A fax machine is scheduled to be installed.

There is a "bistro" car to serve snacks and beverages. But Amtrak officials expect that attendants will dispense meals directly to customers when the train is introduced to the public in February on a Metroliner schedule between Washington and New York.

If some of these luxuries sound a bit like air travel, that's intentional. Amtrak officials are hoping the X2000 can lure customers off shuttles and into trains, particularly in the congested Northeast Cor- ridor.

The demonstration of the X2000 is part of a $1.3 million federal program to upgrade rail passenger service between Washington and Boston. By late next year, Amtrak plans to order more than two dozen high-speed train sets for use in the corridor by 1997.

Amtrak officials said they expect the train to help shave an hour off the four-hour trip between New York and Boston.

The less-curvy trip between Washington and New York might be shortened by 20 minutes.

Part of the lure of the X2000 is that it has so far seemed an ideal way to increase speeds along the most crowded rail corridor in the Western Hemisphere without the potentially multibillion-dollar cost of new rails or right of way.

The train's top speed is significantly slower than that of the much-touted Japanese Bullet trains. But high-speed trains like the Bullet require straighter rails that are dedicated to passenger service.

On its demonstration run yesterday, the tilting train took a series of turns in the middle of Amish country at 101 mph, compared with the normal 75 miles per hour, without discernible effect.

"This is not a dreamy project like the billion-dollar high speed rail or maglev trains that float on a cushion of air," said Dr. Vukan R. Vuchic, a professor of transportation engineering at University of Pennsylvania who went along for the ride. "This is something realistic."

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