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Rail News: Amtrak

Amtrak eyes high-speed trains in Northeast Corridor, launches Norfolk service


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.

Meanwhile, Amtrak Virginia earlier this week launched an expanded Northeast Regional service to Norfolk, Va., providing a same-seat trip from Norfolk to Richmond, Va., Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia and other northern cities.

"By providing the citizens of Virginia an alternative way to get to and from Southside Hampton Roads, it takes cars off the highways, helping to ease congestion on already highly traveled roads," said Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, Amtrak, Norfolk Southern Railway, CSX Transportation and the city of Norfolk worked together to launch the service 10 months earlier than originally projected.

The Norfolk train marks the third service expansion under the Amtrak Virginia partnership, which began state-supported service to and from Lynchburg in October 2009, and to and from Richmond in July 2010.

Amtrak also announced plans to add Wolverine Service trains between Michigan and Chicago during weekend travel in December due to strong demand. Amtrak will offer an additional eastbound and additional westbound Wolverine Service train between Chicago and Ann Arbor, Mich., on Dec. 21-23 and on Dec. 28-30.

The regular and extra Wolverine trains will operate at top speeds of 110 mph through parts of Indiana and western Michigan, Amtrak officials said.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 12/14/2012