Train Passes Test At 162 Mph

July 25, 1993|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Staff Writer

NORTHEAST OF TRENTON, NEW JERSEY — NORTHEAST OF TRENTON, N.J. -- Outside the sleek, white train suburbia was flashing by. Inside, "Pretty Woman," with Julia Roberts luxuriating in the bath, was aglow on the video screen.

And on a digital speedometer hung high on the wall of one car, a car Marylanders will be able to ride later this year, red numbers were racing higher and higher.

L "135 miles an hour," an announcer said. "140 miles an hour."

And now no one was watching Julia Roberts. The passengers in the cool, blue-and-sea-green car were standing to watch the numbers climbing on the speedometer.

"155 miles an hour," the announcer said. "156. 158." The German speedometer read 263 kilometers. "We are presently traveling at 160 miles per hour."

And then: "162 miles an hour."

The passengers -- a VIP list that included Amtrak officials, government observers and corporate chiefs -- applauded.

The ICE train had effortlessly done a day's work: its first high-speed passenger run in the United States.

Amtrak is testing the ICE (InterCityExpress), used in Germany since 1991, as this country plans to upgrade service in the Boston-to-Washington corridor.

Earlier this year, Amtrak ran a four-month test of another contender for the $450-million contract, the Swedish X-2000. Known for its ability to tilt, the X-2000 can take curves 40 percent faster than other trains by leaning into turns.

The ICE train doesn't tilt -- though its designers say that tilt technology can be built in. Its fame comes from its speed: up to 252 mph in German tests, with regular passenger service at 175 mph.

Siemens Transportation Systems and AEG, two international transportation companies with American subsidiaries, are cooperating on the ICE project. They leased the train used in yesterday's trial -- six cars and two locomotives, one at each end -- from GermanRail.

If Siemens and AEG win the Amtrak project, the cars will largely be American built and assembled.

This week, the ICE train will begin a two-month national tour. And from Oct. 5 through Dec. 17, the ICE will begin two months of regular Metroliner service between New York and Washington.

Amtrak President W. Graham Claytor Jr., on board yesterday, said Amtrak wants to reduce the rail trip from Boston to New York, which now takes more than four hours, to less than three. And it wants to make the New York-to-Washington run in "as little over two hours as we can." That trip now takes nearly three hours.

Metroliner trains now can travel at 125 mph between New York and Washington, with regular trains capable of 110 mph.

After Amtrak draws up the specifications it wants in its new trains, it will invite bidders, with delivery of 26 new trains expected to be finished in 1997.

Yesterday, the ICE train left Washington at 7:20 a.m., picking up guests along the way as it headed for the best 20 miles of track available for the high-speed test: a straight stretch northeast of Trenton.

On board, the passengers got a chance to see how Europeans travel: The dining car has a bistro section, with faux granite table tops, and a dining area, with brass fixtures, pastel walls and slats of pale-wood shading the roof windows.

In the first-class and regular coaches, some passengers can watch the small video screens fitted into the backs of the seats just ahead of them. "Pretty Woman" and "Fried Green Tomatoes" were yesterday's choices. Siemens and AEG representatives plan to run news videos on daily Metroliner trips and to offer National Public Radio broadcasts on earphones.

Six-seat passenger compartments can be reserved. Conference rooms are available for business meetings. There are faxes and phone booths. Computers recessed in walls let passengers ask how far to a particular stop or how fast the train is going.

"We're into the 21st Century," said James F. Mullervy, regional manager, AEG Westinghouse Transportation System, Inc.

Ropes of cable ran underfoot for the length of the train yesterday as technicians from Germany and the United States monitored the train's performance: wheel vibrations, contact forces, weight pressures.

Come October, when the ICE is in regular service to New York, Amtrak officials will be more concerned with customer reaction, said Robert E. Gall, vice president of passenger marketing and sales. Amtrak will survey passengers to see what they think of the food, the seat arrangement, the bathrooms and other parts of the train.

X-2000 passengers were surveyed during that train's trials earlier this year. Amtrak will use passenger reactions to both trains as it prepares its specifications.

Back in Baltimore at noon after yesterday's speed run, the white ICE train with its red stripe pulled up one track away from a less glamorous silver-and-blue Amtrak train headed north.

"Is this the train to Philadelphia?" a woman asked Head Conductor Lloyd Clark as she approached the ICE.

"Oh," Mr. Clark said wistfully, "don't you wish?"

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