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Amtrak speeds up with ‘Acela’

Amtrak unveiled a new high-speed train yesterday that is designed to whisk passengers at 150 mph between Washington, D.C., New York and Boston and revitalize the railroad by competing with airlines.
Named “Acela” to hint at both acceleration and excellence, the new trains will travel between Boston and New York in three hours – 90 minutes faster than the current trip – and from New York to Washington in as little as 2 and a half hours, a half-hour faster.

Service is to begin in November or December, and Amtrak officials hope it will be a model for similar trains in the Great Lakes, the Gulf Coast, California and the Pacific Northwest.

In the Pacific Northwest, Amtrak is employing European-style Talgo tilt trains to incrase speeds between Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver B.C.

The $10 million Northwest trains, called the Amtrak Cascades, are designed for speeds upto 125 mph, but will poke along at a more modest clip – up to a legal limit of 79 mph – until track, rail crossing and signal improvements have been made. The work could stretch out over 20 years.

Talgo’s pendular technolgoy enables trains to tilt into curves so passengers are not subjected to outward centrifugal forces when rounding bends. This allows trains to maintain a more constant speed, allowing them to reduce travel time between Seattle and Portland by 25 minutes, to 3 and a half hours.

High-speech in the northwest are aimed at relieving congestion on Interstate 5, but the Acela trains are meant to compete for air travelers.

“We know we have a product here that will absolutely knock the socks off the competition,” Amtrak President George Warrington said at a gala Acela opening.

In addition to pledging speed, Amtrak promised unparalleled service. Acela’s snub-nosed, silver-and-turquoise trains will have business-class seats with audio and power jacks, special check-in areas and concierge service, plus dining cars with meeting tables, upgraded food and beer on tap.

The schedule has not been set, but Amtrak officials said it probably would maintain most current stops, including Balitmore, Philadelphia, New Haven, Conn., and Providence, R.I. The railroad also will retain its slower Notheast Direct service.

A trip will cost about $130 to $140 each way between New York and Boston or Washington, an increase from the current Metroliner express fare of $114, but still less than the $199 walk-up fare charged by US Airways and Delta Air Lines. They are the two primary airlines offering shuttle service between Washington, New York and Boston.

Amtrak projects that Acela will boost its market share in teh busy Northeast corridor from 12 percent to 15 percent annually, or about 14.3 million passengers.