Acela Express high-speed train makes its debut in Washington

After a year of delays, Washington-to-Boston service to begin Dec. 11

October 19, 2000|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Amtrak's long-awaited Acela Express, North America's first high-speed rail service, will make its inaugural run Nov. 16 with an invitation-only trip from Washington to Boston, the company announced yesterday. Revenue service will begin Dec. 11.

The first eight-car train arrived dramatically through artificial fog at Washington's Union Station yesterday afternoon. "If no one's figured it out, this is a very big deal," quipped Amtrak President and CEO George Warrington, after alighting from the train with a bevy of VIPs.

He took the opportunity to urge Congress to commit money for more high-speed corridors across the country as an answer to highway gridlock and congested airports. But after a year of delays, just getting one Acela train rolling appeared to be reason enough to celebrate yesterday.

The needle-nose, silver-and-blue train promises to cut a trip between Baltimore and Boston by two hours, gliding at speeds up to 150 mph. A trip from Baltimore to New York will be just 11 minutes faster than on conventional trains.

Acela offers roomier cars, more comfortable seats, spacious lavatories, a "bistro" car, and (in first class) table service with linen and china.

A one-way, business-class ticket from Baltimore to New York will cost $136, compared with $114 on the Metroliner. The New York to Boston fare is $120, compared with $57.

Acela will begin service with one round trip daily between Washington and Boston, adding one to two trains per month, until it receives all 20 trains on order. Metroliner trains will be replaced as Acela cars go into service. Tickets go on sale Nov. 29.

Warrington yesterday said he expects a boost in ridership that will net the company $180 million more per year. Amtrak is investing $2.8 billion in Acela, and hopes for congressional approval of $10 billion to develop 11 other high-speed corridors around the country. Acela's success is critical if Amtrak is to meet a congressional mandate to survive without federal operating assistance by 2003.

Travelers between Baltimore and New York may notice little difference in the train's speed because the quality of rails and wires between those points limit Acela to 135 mph -- 10 mph faster than the maximum Metroliner speed.

The big difference will come between New York and Boston, where the company has invested heavily in track improvements allow Acela to reach full speed.

However rosy Amtrak's expectations, the ride has been anything but smooth. Bombardier Transportation, of Canada, and France's Alston Ltd., which manufactured the trains, confronted a string of mechanical and engineering problems that forced repeated delays.

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