Amtrak's new high-speed train performed well during its first month of service, despite flubbing its second day on the job. Since its launch Dec. 11, Acela Express has far outpaced ridership projections, the company announced yesterday.
Ticket sales during the train's first four weeks totaled more than $1.25 million - 12 percent higher than Amtrak expected - despite the glitch that sidelined the train on its second day.
More than 11,000 customers have ridden the blue-and-silver snub-nosed train, which makes one round trip a day between Washington and Boston.
Its on-time performance is 94 percent, based on a 15-minute standard used by airlines, officials said. That's about the same as the Metroliner's performance.
Amtrak is investing $2.8 billion in the high-speed service and counting on it to help meet a congressional requirement that the company become self-sufficient by 2003.
"We're happy about the on-time performance, particularly after the problems that happened the first week," said Amtrak spokesman Rick Remington. "But this is just one train, one month - it will take a couple of months for a real trend to develop."
He said more travelers than expected were using the train for longer trips, catching the Acela in New York and taking it to Boston, for example.
On the Acela, a trip between Baltimore and New York is 11 minutes faster than on the Metroliner. But north of New York, where Amtrak made track improvements, the train can travel up to 150 mph, providing a 45- minute-faster trip.
On its inaugural run, passengers said they liked the train's roomier seats, conference tables, lobster sandwiches and individual audio systems.
The train is the first of 20 ordered from Bombardier Transportation of Canada and France's Alston Ltd.
Amtrak plans to put two more trains to work late next month: a nonstop run between Washington and New York, and another between New York and Boston.
Each will depart early in the morning and return in late afternoon, aimed at day business travelers, Remington said.
Another two trains will go into service by May, when the Acela Express begins to replace existing Metroliner service.
At that point, it will be easier to measure the popularity of the train against the Metroliner, said Scott Leonard, assistant director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers.
With one train in service, Leonard says his organization has yet to get a handle on public reaction to Acela.
"I'm very impressed with the train physically," Leonard said. "But it's going to be hard to get a good picture of what the riders think until they have a full schedule in place. Then we'll have a way to compare it."
Once all the trains are in service, Amtrak expects them to net $180 million a year compared with $20 million from the Metroliner service.