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Rail News: High-Speed Rail

Boardman dishes on Amtrak's high-speed vision


On March 22, Amtrak announced it will create a high-speed rail department focused on pursuing high-speed rail opportunities in select corridors throughout the country, as well as planning major improvements to the Northeast Corridor.

The national intercity passenger railroad is in the midst of searching for a vice president to lead that department. Yesterday, I had a chance to sit down with Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boardman, who talked about how he believes Amtrak can play a role in high-speed rail development in the United States. A few of his comments follow.

• “We are already in the game of high-speed rail. We have a train that goes 240 kilometers per hour. Why do I use kilometers? Well, because the American public hears about trains in Europe going 300 mph, but most of the numbers out of Europe are kilometers per hour, so when you compare kilometers to miles it looks like we’re going a lot slower, but we’re really not.”

• “Those who want to detract from Amtrak can always find a statistic to detract. They want to talk about average speeds. Do they talk about average speeds on the interstate? I don’t think so. But the average speed on the interstate might be 40, 45, 48 mph. Well, we can improve our average speed, we just can’t stop. Folks in Europe usually have only one stop. There’s a lot of misinformation that goes on about how the grass might be greener on the other side of the fence.”

• “The people in this company … know how to run a railroad. They know how to run high-speed rail, operate regional rail, connect it together and that’s one of the strengths of Amtrak. You only have to look at those that try to come in and compete with us now, whether it be Keolis, Veolia, Connex — where do they go for the people to operate? They go to Amtrak. Where do they go to find a program to train their operators? They go to Amtrak. Where do they go for their safety program or their rules? They go to Amtrak. This sea change has created new competitors that are out there looking at this market, but maybe not really understanding the market as well as they think they might.”

• “We want to run all the high-speed rail trains in the country. I think Amtrak understands how to do it and we can be competitive. We know how to put a schedule together, we know how to make connections, we know how to make it safe.”

• “We have two visions for the individual that [leads the high-speed rail department]. One is the greenfield high-speed rails. The only two of those that come to mind are California and Florida. We will work to become the operator for both of those operations. We also want to work to improve our own services, so this person will be in charge of figuring out how we go faster and how we reduce travel times on the Northeast Corridor.”

• “Then we need to look at emerging high-speed rail corridors. We think 110 mph is pretty fast when you’re trying to make several stops. In this country, we need to do it on an incremental basis. We think President Obama and the Administration have it exactly right — we need to build a culture of rail ridership before we can really make this work.”

Angela Cotey

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 4/1/2010