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Friday, December 14, 2012    

Amtrak eyes high-speed trains in Northeast Corridor

Amtrak is advancing a plan to acquire next-generation high-speed trainsets and ending a plan to purchase 40 additional high-speed cars for the existing Acela Express fleet to better meet growing Northeast Corridor (NEC) ridership, President and Chief Executive Joseph Boardman announced yesterday.

In early 2013, Amtrak will issue a request for information to formally start the process to replace the existing 20 Acela Express trainsets and add trainsets to expand capacity and provide more frequent high-speed service on the corridor, Boardman said during testimony yesterday before a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing.

"Moving directly to new high-speed trainsets is the best option to create more seating capacity, permit higher speeds and maximize customer comfort all while improving equipment reliability and reducing operating costs," Boardman said in a statement issued after the hearing.

Amtrak's previous plan to add 40 new rail cars with newer technology to replace the older Acela trainsets was a stop-gap measure, posed technical challenges and was determined not to be cost efficient or sufficient to manage new ridership growth projections for the NEC, he said.

During the past two years, Amtrak has advanced major proposals designed to address NEC's growth and development needs, Boardman said.

The proposals are detailed in the "Amtrak Vision for the Northeast Corridor 2012 Update Report," and include a plan to upgrade the NEC to a state of good repair, add capacity to allow limited service growth and make targeted trip-time improvements for all existing intercity, commuter and freight services.  The plan includes the Gateway program to build track, tunnel and station capacity into the heart of Manhattan.

The next step is the next-generation high-speed rail program to provide the NEC with 220-mph service. With possible operating profits of more than $1 billion annually and annual ridership of 40 million upon full build-out, Amtrak officials anticipate that private capital — likely in the form of a public-private partnership — could become part of the project, Boardman said.

International high-speed rail experience shows that "only after the public sector has allocated enough funding and committed itself to to a project of this magnitude that the private sector is willing to enter the dal and deliver value for the money," he said.

"Once these services are generating revenue streams, these projects can and will attract private funding that can help repay initial capital costs," Boardman added.

In fiscal-year 2012, Amtrak transported a record 31.2 million riders on its Northeast Corridor services. Today, Amtrak carries three riders for every one airline passenger between New York City and Washington, D.C., and carries more passengers between New York City and Boston than all the airlines combined, Boardman said.


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