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View Poll Results: Should the US build or improve it's HSR network?
Yes 249 89.57%
No 29 10.43%
Voters: 278. You may not vote on this poll

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Old April 20th, 2005, 06:57 PM   #21
Prestonian
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Quote:
Originally Posted by odegaard
Sounds like a great idea. I wouldn't mind making the same sell if I was a politician running for office. But where's the money going to come from?
If the US can't afford it then frankly who can? I'm was pro the war and everything but is a $400bn defence budget not a bit excessive. Syphon about $10bn dollars from it (or other areas perhaps?) and you could at least begin to build a decent HSR network in the NE corridor. Build new separate lines just for passengers so that some of the trains safety restrictions can be reduced allowing 'off the shelf' european trainsets to be purchased. Hell one novel idea may be to put up taxes! Perhaps tax gasoline to a similar extent as other countries and you'd soon raise enough, you may even get a double dividend in terms of protecting the environment through a reduction in fuel consumption and a good sustainable transport system. If it worked well the cost savings to businesses of reduced traffic congestion may even offset the costs (esp in a region as prosperous as the one we're talking about).

It isn't impossible and it doesn't have to be difficult, the money can be found esp in the USA which is afterall the wealthiest nation on the planet. It's about having the will to do it, its about explaining to the public how it may be beneficial (environment for starters). The US has massive potential for HSR, finding room for an HSR route shouldn't prove too difficult. They could simply go alongside the highways.

I know this post readas as very anti US which is very unlike me. I just think that as far as transport, and esp the effects of transport on the environment goes, the US has got it very wrong. I don't see that the US has any excuses, esp financial ones!

@odegaard, this mini rant wasn't aimed at you, your quote just inspired me. It seems you are pro HSR too, so get out there and run for office!
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Old April 21st, 2005, 03:26 AM   #22
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I know this post readas as very anti US which is very unlike me.
No, it isn't anti-Us. It is just a fair criticism.
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Old April 21st, 2005, 04:14 AM   #23
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As a short lived operator of the trainset, I must disagree with the majority of the opinions on this thread. The Acela was a breakthrough of technology on the NEC, and has really paved the way for new high speed trainsets. Sure, the sets failed sometimes, but what do you people expect when Amtrak recieves ill fated subsidies from the government? A billion dollars is not nearly enough to operate a railroad, pay the crews, renovate bridges, tunnels tracks, rebuild wrecked rails, railcars and locomotives, and every other responsibility the railroad must pay for. For as long as Acela has been in operation, her record has been great considering all she has to work with. And if she was given the monies needed to be a success, she could have been a phenomenon in North American railroading. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. Acela deserves to be praised.
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Old April 21st, 2005, 04:22 AM   #24
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Originally Posted by TRZ
I think you're out of the loop, Bombardier does all kinds of transportation, their jets are just the most expensive part of their business and so is the most well known. They started by inventing the snowmobile and branched out in everywhichway from there. Bombardier is one of the top in the world for trains. Visit their website to see what I mean. www.bombardier.com
Keep mind that in the case of the Spanish trainsets, it was also the Spanish train manufacturing firm TALGO (one of the first companies to expand the use of articulated trainsets) that made the "Duck."
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Old April 21st, 2005, 04:27 AM   #25
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Originally Posted by GVNY
As a short lived operator of the trainset, I must disagree with the majority of the opinions on this thread. The Acela was a breakthrough of technology on the NEC, and has really paved the way for new high speed trainsets. Sure, the sets failed sometimes, but what do you people expect when Amtrak recieves ill fated subsidies from the government? A billion dollars is not nearly enough to operate a railroad, pay the crews, renovate bridges, tunnels tracks, rebuild wrecked rails, railcars and locomotives, and every other responsibility the railroad must pay for. For as long as Acela has been in operation, her record has been great considering all she has to work with. And if she was given the monies needed to be a success, she could have been a phenomenon in North American railroading. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. Acela deserves to be praised.
I do not blame the ACELA at all. I blamed failed federal government transport policies for the faults.
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Old April 21st, 2005, 07:39 AM   #26
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I'm somewhat confused...is Acela dead? Or is it simply being repaired right now?
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Old April 21st, 2005, 10:31 AM   #27
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It will be back in service by summer.
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Old April 21st, 2005, 08:34 PM   #28
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Glad to see that Amtrak is committed to bringing back Acela. Will it ever be expanded elsewhere? SF-SD corridor or the Midwest or Florida (whose HST plan seems dead in the water)? I think those are the only other areas that could support it. Right now anyway.
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Acela Trains May Return by Summer
Service Restoration To Be Gradual as Repairs Are Made
By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 21, 2005; Page E01

Amtrak said yesterday that it expects to have its high-speed Acela Express trains running again by summer but did not offer a specific timetable for restoring full service on the high-speed premium line, which was suspended last week because of a brake problem.

Under a new schedule announced yesterday, Amtrak said it plans to add 13 Metroliner trains between Washington and New York starting Monday to help make up for the Acela's lost capacity. The Acela typically made 15 trips each weekday between the two cities and 11 trips between New York and Boston. The railroad said it is gathering train cars from across the country to bulk up its Northeast corridor fleet.

Amtrak chief executive David L. Gunn said Acela trains will return to service as they are repaired. "The trains will come back gradually," he said. "They will not come back all at once."

Amtrak shut down the Acela line last Thursday night after discovering millimeter-sized cracks in brake components during routine testing.

The cause of the cracks is still unknown. William L. Crosbie, senior vice president of operations at Amtrak, said Amtrak still does not have an explanation for what caused cracks in about 300 out of the 1,440 disk-brake rotors in the 20-train Acela fleet. He said a team of engineers and metallurgists is evaluating the defect.

Both Crosbie and David Slack, a spokesman for the train's manufacturer, Bombardier Inc., said the part will probably require a redesign.

"With 300 disks with cracks in them, there's an issue and I think everybody on the face of the planet is aware of that," Slack said. "At the end of the day, we need to find a permanent fix. Just ordering more of the same part isn't the answer."

Slack said that the now-cracked disk-brake rotors were expected to last about 1 million miles before needing replacement. He figured that the Acela parts had gotten "half a million miles, maybe 600,000" miles of use.

Each Acela train has 72 brakes, but Crosbie said there are only 70 replacement disks available.

Montreal-based Bombardier is working with its suppliers, Knorr and Wabco, to get enough replacement parts to restore Acela service, Slack said, but the company does not know how long that will take.

Unlike Amtrak's other trains -- the Metroliner and regional trains -- the Acela fleet is maintained by the consortium of companies that was contracted to build it, Montreal-based Bombardier and Alstom. Amtrak is scheduled to take over maintenance of Acela trains next year, Gunn said.

Gunn said he did not expect that Amtrak will have to pay for the fix because the trains are still under warranty from Bombardier and Alstom.

When service was initially suspended, Amtrak officials said it would be down until today. On Monday, the railroad ran one Acela train between Washington and New York, but it halted the service again when mechanics discovered at the end of the trip that the wheels on one side of the cars were more worn than those on the other side.

Crosbie said the wheel wear on that train was a routine maintenance issue, unrelated to the brake problem. But it convinced him that it was too much trouble to run Acela trains again until a comprehensive solution to the brake problem was found.

Gunn said the increased schedule of Metroliner trains "should allow us to retain the lion's share" of revenue that the Acela line brings in for the railroad.

"Don't get me wrong, I'm not happy about the loss of the trains," he said. "Ridership on the [Northeast] corridor is growing, and the Acela provides a significant amount of capacity," he said.

But Gunn also said he does not expect to lose many Amtrak customers as a result of the suspended Acela service because there had already been some migration by passengers from Acela trains to the less-expensive Metroliner trains. He noted that Metroliner trips offer "almost the same premium service" and sometimes are only 10 minutes slower than the higher-priced Acela trains.

Howard Kipen, a business traveler about to hop on a Metroliner train on his return trip to New York City yesterday afternoon, was not troubled by having to ride a different train than usual. Kipen said the only drawbacks of taking a Metroliner instead of his scheduled Acela train were that he had to call Amtrak to rebook his ticket and that it was less comfortable to work on his laptop computer in the Metroliner trains.

Still, he lamented the struggling status of the railroad, which has lost $500 million each year for the past 10 years. "I think it's sad that they're in this state," he said. "This is the only part of the country where you can travel efficiently by train -- and it's broke."
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Old April 21st, 2005, 08:39 PM   #29
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Acela leaving Manhattan.
Source:AP Photo

It was a prudent move on the part of Amtrak to suspend service until the brake issue is resolved. After all, look at what happened to the ICE train in Germany. A derailment like that in the congested Northeast Corridor would be a disaster.

Last edited by digitaljoe; April 22nd, 2005 at 05:38 AM.
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Old April 22nd, 2005, 07:28 AM   #30
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Originally Posted by samsonyuen
Glad to see that Amtrak is committed to bringing back Acela. Will it ever be expanded elsewhere? SF-SD corridor or the Midwest or Florida (whose HST plan seems dead in the water)? I think those are the only other areas that could support it. Right now anyway.
If we get something betwene SF (or Sac) and LA/SD, it may not exactly be Acella, because they're talking about 200+mph speeds. I don't know how fast acella was designed for.
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Old April 24th, 2005, 12:55 PM   #31
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April 24, 2005

Acela, Built to Be Rail's Savior, Bedevils Amtrak at Every Turn

By JAMES DAO
his article was reported by James Dao, Matthew L. Wald and Don Phillips and written by Mr. Dao.

WASHINGTON, April 23 - It was called the American Flyer, and its goals were ambitious: to speed train travel between Northeastern cities, steal customers from air shuttles, provide the model for a nationwide fast rail system and help its deficit-prone parent, Amtrak, earn a profit.

"These trains will enable Amtrak to carry its customers into the 21st century aboard 21st-century trains," said Thomas M. Downs, Amtrak's president, at a 1996 ceremony announcing a $611 million contract for the new trains.

Today that train is called the Acela, and instead of being Amtrak's savior, it has become a frustrating burden. On Wednesday, the company announced plans to sideline all 20 Acelas until summer to replace cracked brakes. It was the third major disruption of the high-speed service since it came on line in 2001.

The tale of the Acela is in many ways the story of Amtrak itself, where political pressures, tight budgets, contested regulations and design changes turned a high-speed train into something slower, more expensive and less reliable than what Amtrak had promised.

A reconstruction of Acela's history involving dozens of interviews and a review of court documents and other records shows that Amtrak was under intense pressure to deliver its new train as quickly as possible. And that rush to do something bigger and more complicated than the railroad had ever done led to a series of missteps that many experts believe contributed to the problems that have plagued the Acela to this day.

"There is an old saying in the acquisition world: you want it bad, you get it bad," said Tom Till, who led the Amtrak Reform Council, a group created by Congress to study the railroad's problems. "That's exactly what happened with Acela."

Before the first train was built, the Federal Railroad Administration required it to meet crash safety standards that senior Amtrak officials considered too strict. That forced the manufacturers, Bombardier Inc. of Canada and GEC Alstom of France, to make the trains twice as heavy as European models. Workers dubbed the trains "le cochon" - the pig.

Some experts have speculated that the added weight contributed to a series of problems, including the latest one, with Acela's wheels, brakes and shock-absorbing assemblies. Federal regulators are still investigating the cause of those problems.

During construction, Amtrak also discovered that the coaches were four inches too wide to use their full tilting mechanisms, which allowed the trains to speed around curves. As a result, trip times were slower.

Once the first trains were delivered, Amtrak - which had counted on the Acela to wean it off federal subsidies - pushed the trains into service without extensive testing.

"The company at that time, as it always is, was under intense pressure to produce results and revenue," said George Warrington, Amtrak's president from 1998 to 2002 and now executive director of New Jersey Transit.

All told, Amtrak ordered 9,000 engineering changes that increased costs, delayed production - just selecting draperies for the windows took two years - and added thousands of pounds of weight, the French-Canadian consortium said in a lawsuit filed in 2001. Amtrak argued that the manufacturers produced shoddy equipment and an outdated interior design, all behind schedule. The litigation was settled out of court in 2004.

The design problems, breakdowns, production delays and litigation have caused some rail experts to question why Amtrak selected a bid that involved an essentially new design.

One reason, current and former Amtrak officials say, was that the ideal off-the-shelf train did not exist. But another reason was money: the French-Canadian consortium offered the lowest bid and best financing deal, one heavily subsidized by the Canadian government. And cutting costs was paramount to Amtrak.

"They didn't have the cash," said Amtrak's president, David Gunn, who took office after the contract was negotiated and the trains had begun running. "There wouldn't be anything if they hadn't done it this way."

Despite its many problems, Acela remains Amtrak's most successful service. Until last week, it was generating about $300 million a year, enough to cover its operating costs. Ridership had been increasing, and surveys showed passengers liked its quiet coaches and plush amenities.

But even Mr. Gunn has said openly that the train was poorly conceived and badly built, and he has vowed never to buy another one.

"If you're buying equipment, you want evolutionary change, not revolutionary change," he said this week. "For us, this was revolutionary."

With Amtrak running annual deficits of over $1 billion, the Bush administration has called for ending federal subsidies and breaking the company up through bankruptcy. Some Amtrak supporters in Congress worry that their efforts to maintain federal support for the railroad has been weakened by the Acela's continuing problems.

"For those of us who care about Amtrak, the Acela mess couldn't come at a worse time," said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York. "It makes our job harder to fight for it."

Search for a Fast Train

A high-speed rail system had long been the dream of Amtrak officials. W. Graham Claytor Jr., Amtrak's president from 1982 to 1993, envisioned a system of sleek trains that would be tested on the corridor between Boston and Washington, adapted to the Midwest and the South, and eventually run down the spine of the California coast.

Inspired by the successes of Japan's bullet train and high-speed networks across France, Germany and Spain, Congress also became involved. In 1976, and again in 1992, it authorized billions of dollars to improve the railbeds and electrical systems along the Northeast Corridor. And it set a goal that Amtrak must provide Boston-to-New York service in under three hours.

It was more than an arbitrary benchmark. Marketing experts said that travelers would consistently choose to fly, even with the added costs and inconveniences of traveling to airports and waiting for flights, over train rides lasting longer than three hours. And bankers demanded that Amtrak reduce its train times to receive financing.

"Literally," said Joseph Vranich, the author of a book about Amtrak, "minutes matter."

To reach that goal, Amtrak repaired bridges, replaced wooden ties with concrete ones and electrified the track from New Haven to Boston. But it did not have the billions of dollars required for changes that would allow trains to travel over 150 miles an hour consistently: constructing straighter tracks and replacing aging overhead electric lines.

Instead, they focused on acquiring a new train to replace Amtrak's aging fleet of Metroliners, which were built in the 1960's.

In 1992, Amtrak began testing two European trains between Washington and New York: the Intercity Express, or ICE train, from Germany and the X2000 from Sweden. Some Amtrak officials thought the X2000 was well suited for the Northeast Corridor because of a tilting mechanism that reduced centrifugal force on passengers when the train sped around curves. The line between Boston and New York is among the most winding in the country.

But the Swedish company decided not to bid on the contract because it did not want to make the changes required by federal regulators to adapt its lightweight European train to America, said a former senior Amtrak official who asked not to be identified because he has taken another job in the transportation industry.

At the same time, the new Republican majority in Congress was pressing Amtrak to become self-sufficient. The railroad's board was looking for a high-speed train that could help achieve that goal by attracting new riders without costing too much. Bombardier-Alstom's bid seemed to promise all that.

The companies proposed adapting the fast French TGV train, which Alstom had designed, with tilt technology. They pledged to assemble the cars with American workers in Plattsburgh, N.Y., and Barre, Vt. They agreed to maintain the trains for a relatively low price. And they offered, with the assistance of the Canadian government, a generous package of loans worth more than $600 million to help Amtrak buy the trains, a virtual no-money-down deal.

"We were under the gun" to cut costs, said Tommy G. Thompson, who was chairman of the Amtrak board from 1998 through 2001. "The Acela was a vehicle by which we thought we could reach self-sufficiency."

But, he added, "We had problems with Bombardier from the get-go."

When Amtrak began seeking bids for a new train, it hoped to avoid creating "some customized product that looked like a Defense Department project," Mr. Downs, the former Amtrak chairman, said in an interview. "But it didn't work that way."

Instead, in Bombardier-Alstom, Amtrak had chosen a company that had to design an almost entirely new train. In addition, Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration, which oversees the railroad, began issuing thousands of design demands. Some were trivial, ranging from wall coverings to door chimes. But others were not.

'High-Velocity Bank Vault'

Unlike European and Japanese high-speed trains, most of which run on dedicated lines, Amtrak shares the Northeast Corridor with bulky, slow freight trains. The railroad agency has long required that passenger trains be heavier than European ones to withstand crashes.

Bombardier knew its new train would have to meet those requirements, a spokeswoman said. But Mr. Downs said he asked the rail agency to ease that standard for the new high-speed trains, to no avail.

"They decided they wanted to make this the safest train in the world," he said. "All my engineers thought the rules were nuts."

He dubbed the Acela "the high-velocity bank vault."

Railroad Administration officials contend that Amtrak did not object to the safety requirements.

The result was that the new train weighed more than double the French TGV train on which it was based. The added weight did not slow the new train down, as it ran up to 170 miles an hour in tests.

But several former Amtrak officials say the suspension system on the Acela may have been designed for a lighter train. "Heavier trains are harder to get started, and they are harder to stop," said Mr. Downs, noting the brake problems.

When asked if the problems were the result of marrying a European underbody to an American car, Robert D. Jameson, the acting federal railroad administrator, said that the cause was still under investigation.

"To the extent you take something built for another purpose and associate with the car bodies on these trailers and power cars, and they're not compatible, then potentially you have problems," Mr. Jameson said.

While the trains were being assembled, Amtrak discovered an embarrassing error, one that would provide fodder for late-night talk shows. Engineers realized that the car bodies were four inches too wide for their tilt systems to work properly.

If two Acela trains were going around a curve in opposite directions, and the tilt system on one broke, the trains could brush against each other. Limiting their tilt meant the trains would have to run at slower speeds around bends, but Amtrak said it would still meet its goals for trip times.

The consortium blamed Amtrak for making a sudden change in its safety requirements. But David J. Carol, Amtrak's vice president of high-speed rail, said at the time that "Bombardier has never been particularly candid with us about how this happened."

Consortium officials also complained about excessive meddling by Amtrak on the interior design. But a former Amtrak official, who asked that his name be withheld because he did not want to be publicly involved in the dispute, said railroad officials believed that the interior was being given short shrift, even though the train was supposed to attract sophisticated customers.

"It looked like a commuter car from the 1970's," the official said of the manufacturer's original plan.

Even Amtrak's initial $16 million marketing campaign for the new train drew criticism.

In the summer of 1999, the company announced that it had dropped "American Flyer" in favor of Acela, a fusion of "acceleration" and "excellence" devised by a New York consultant. (When he became Amtrak president, Mr. Gunn ridiculed the train's name, often opening speeches with a joke: "What is Acela? It's the room under the first floor.")

Rather than emphasizing the train's speed or convenience, the first advertisements featured dreamlike images with offbeat captions. Some riders told The Philadelphia Inquirer that one advertisement, picturing a man with an overcoat around his head and the words, "Depart from your inhibitions," made them think of a flasher.

The campaign was intended to build excitement for Acela's scheduled arrival in late 1999. But it ended well before the train's inaugural run, which was delayed for a year because testing uncovered cracked bolts and a tendency of the wheels to oscillate on the rails, a dangerous condition known as "truck hunting."

When the Acela finally made its first trip from Washington's Union Station on Dec. 12, 2000, Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater said it would "transform transportation along the Northeast Corridor" and "serve as an engine for economic growth."

The train arrived in Boston 6 hours 43 minutes later, just 12 minutes late.

Today, Acela is capable of reaching 150 m.p.h., but travels that fast only on an 18-mile stretch in Rhode Island and a 10-mile stretch in Massachusetts. It has not achieved Congress's goal of a three-hour trip from Boston to New York, typically making the run in 3 hours 20 minutes. And about a quarter of the time the trains are late, recent Amtrak statistics show.

Now, with the train out of service, frustrations are at a boiling point on the Metroliners that Amtrak has deployed to replace the Acelas. On the jam-packed "Vermonter" that pulled out of Union Station on Friday afternoon, dozens of passengers were left standing in the aisles, sprawled across luggage and pushed against walls. By the time it reached New York, the bar car was out of wine, and the train was an hour behind.

"It's been horrible, horrible, horrible," said Debbie Sugiyama, 37. "But they had no problem taking our tickets and our money."

Trouble in Washington

Amtrak officials are confident that customers will flock back to the Acela once it returns to service, whenever that may be. Less certain is the railroad's future on Capitol Hill.

Created by Congress to be a for-profit private corporation, Amtrak is also required to provide a minimum level of intercity passenger service - even if that means maintaining unprofitable lines.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas, underscored that conflicting mandate this past week. Defending Amtrak's money-losing long-distance trains, which serve her state, Ms. Hutchinson said, "My motto for passenger rails is 'national or nothing.' "

While Amtrak has some bipartisan support in Congress, it is also strongly disliked by a significant block of conservative lawmakers who view it as a poorly managed drain on the treasury and want it privatized.

Neither side can prevail, but they can fight to a stalemate. And the result is often that Amtrak receives enough to survive, but never quite enough to meet its needs for new equipment and better railways.

"The basic problem with Amtrak is that it has been on a starvation budget for 20 years," said Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York.

The standoff in Congress makes it less likely that President Bush's proposal for radically restructuring the passenger rail system will gain traction on Capitol Hill. Representative John L. Mica, Republican of Florida, who strongly supports privatizing the railroad, said he is not optimistic about change.

"At some point, Congress and people in the Northeast Corridor are going to have to wake up and look at some serious alternatives to Amtrak," he said. "But maybe it hasn't gotten quite bad enough yet."
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Old April 25th, 2005, 04:23 PM   #32
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That was a good article...where was it published?
My take on Amtrak is the carrier does a pretty good job considering the low status granted to rail passenger travel versus air and automobile modes in the U.S. In spite of operating at a loss, Amtrak is able to maintain high levels of comfort and safety while offering affordable fares. I would support any legislative action to maintain a federally subsidized and nationally intact system. I believe that breaking up the system and awarding parts of it to private vendors is motivated by the politics of greed (like everything in D.C. these days) and that a such a privatization will come at the expense of U.S. taxpayers who will see safety and service decline in order to meet profits.
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Old April 25th, 2005, 04:37 PM   #33
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Originally Posted by digitaljoe

AP Photo

That was a good article...where was it published?
My take on Amtrak is the carrier does a pretty good job considering the low status granted to rail passenger travel versus air and automobile modes in the U.S. In spite of operating at a loss, Amtrak is able to maintain high levels of comfort and safety while offering affordable fares. I would support any legislative action to maintain a federally subsidized and nationally intact system. I believe that breaking up the system and awarding parts of it to private vendors is motivated by the politics of greed (like everything in D.C. these days) and that a such a privatization will come at the expense of U.S. taxpayers who will see safety and service decline in order to meet profits.
You may see a service decline to some extent, but I don't think you will see safety decline, because the company needs its reputation to stay high in order to attract business. There's actually more risk for safety hazards when the service is run by the government because they are mandated to service all areas equally (or something along that line), which is a hinderance to good safety standards with limited funds. Private companies are not so stupid.
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Old April 25th, 2005, 05:45 PM   #34
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Quote:
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You may see a service decline to some extent, but I don't think you will see safety decline, because the company needs its reputation to stay high in order to attract business. There's actually more risk for safety hazards when the service is run by the government because they are mandated to service all areas equally (or something along that line), which is a hinderance to good safety standards with limited funds. Private companies are not so stupid.
I can see your point, regarding the inefficiency of federally mandated safety standards, yet I feel private companies are more motivated to cut corners when it comes to safety. Yes, they are not stupid, and even though they have a reputation to maintain, they can afford to fix the damage with, let’s say, a good public relations team. In the U.S., publicly owned transportation infrastructure is under much stricter guidelines than in the private sector.

Metroliner traveling the Northeast Corridor, c. 1976.
Source: unknown
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Old April 25th, 2005, 11:53 PM   #35
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digitaljoe, the article was from NY Times.
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Old April 26th, 2005, 10:24 AM   #36
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Do freight trains actually use the track Acela travels on? I thought all New York-Boston traffic gets routed north through Albany then west... I've never seen a freight train between Boston and NYC. Or NYC to Washington, for that matter.
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Old April 28th, 2005, 12:26 PM   #37
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Amtrak says Acela misjudged brakes

Published April 28, 2005
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Amtrak President David Gunn said yesterday he thinks the makers of the Acela Express trains overestimated the life expectancy of their brake rotors, forcing Amtrak to pull the entire fleet out of service for repairs.
"I believe they misjudged the life of the rotors," Mr. Gunn told the Associated Press during a break in a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Amtrak's fiscal 2006 budget. "Their life expectancy was less than they had planned, and they were caught without a supply."
Helene Gagnon, a spokeswoman for Montreal-based Bombardier, Inc., said the brakes' disc face -- or front of the disc -- showed normal wear. What caused the cracks on the spokes of the brakes was under investigation and will take weeks to determine, Miss Gagnon said.
When the train brakes are applied, the brake pads rub against the disc face, causing friction, she added.
Bombardier and Alstom SA of France make the Acela trains and have said the brakes were supposed to last 1 million miles. The current Acela fleet had about half of that mileage, Mr. Gunn said.
Mr. Gunn said the timetable for bringing back the Acela trains on a gradual basis was still this summer, adding that Bombardier and Alstom had yet to give Amtrak a delivery schedule for the brakes.
Amtrak was forced to pull all of its 20 Acela trains out of service April 15 after finding millimeter-size cracks in 300 of the high-speed rail fleet's 1,440 disc brake rotors. Each Acela train has 72 brakes.
The brake problem surfaced when a Federal Railroad Administration worker performed a routine inspection April 14 after a high-speed run to test whether Amtrak could speed up the Acela trains slightly on curves in New Jersey between Trenton and Newark.
Amtrak's chief operating officer, Bill Crosbie, said last week that the brake part is unique to the Acela and that there was no active production line casting them. Mr. Crosbie said the companies had fewer than 70 disc brakes in stock.
Miss Gagnon said the number of discs on hand when the Acela problem arose was "sufficient for normal maintenance purposes on the Acela fleet."
"We understand that this is not a normal circumstance, and we are working with our suppliers to obtain more brake discs and get the fleet back in service as quickly as possible," she said.
Amtrak has had to replace its Acela train routes with slower trains to operate its Washington-to-Boston trips.
Acela Express began operating in December 2000 and was billed as Amtrak's answer to high-speed rail. The trains run only along the Northeast Corridor, with top speeds of 150 mph. Acela trains can get from Washington to New York City in two hours and 48 minutes, while its regular fleet takes more than three hours.
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Old June 3rd, 2005, 07:45 PM   #38
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Bombardier Abandons North American High Speed Rail

Bombardier puts the brakes on N.A. high-speed train plans
Unit's president sees little appetite for it here - no projects are under discussion

BERTRAND MAROTTE
3 June 2005
The Globe and Mail

MONTREAL -- Bombardier Inc. has put on ice its once-ambitious plans for high-speed train travel in North America.

André Navarri, president of Bombardier Transportation, said in an interview yesterday that there is little appetite for high-speed rail in North America, unlike in Europe and parts of Asia.

“For the time being, there is no project which is close to being promoted,” he said. Asked about the potential for its once highly touted JetTrain technology in North America, he replied: “As there is no high-speed corridor for the time being, there is no JetTrain.”

Bombardier Transportation spokeswoman Hélène Gagnon said later that Bombardier is no longer in discussions with any government bodies anywhere in North America regarding the funding of high-speed train travel.

“There is no project of any kind in Canada or the United States that is the subject of discussions,” she said.

Bombardier Transportation is the rail unit of the global plane and train maker.

Montreal-based Bombardier had for the past several years been running a major campaign to spark interest in its high-speed train technology in the United States and Canada.

A high-profile attempt to win approval in Florida for its 240-kilometre-an-hour JetTrain failed last November after taxpayers voted it down.

And Bombardier, along with French partner Alstom SA, has been plagued by technical and other problems with their Acela Express train operated by Amtrak in the Washington-New York-Boston corridor, the only existing high-speed train in North America.

“Is there a market in North America for a very high-speed train? It's a difficult issue,” Mr. Navarri said at corporate head office.

While high-speed trains have staked out a place in the popular, well-established rail system of Europe, “it's a little more difficult to find the right [rail] corridors in North America,” he said.

“We are still prepared to discuss the [high-speed] potential in North America, but in North America we will mainly focus on the mass transit market,” said Mr. Navarri, a former senior executive at Alstom who was hired last year by Bombardier to lead a sweeping restructuring at Bombardier Transportation.

It is difficult to get all the players — especially governments — to agree on how best to develop high-speed train travel in North America, he added.

“Up to now, it has not been possible to find this agreement, with the exception of Acela.”

In Canada, Bombardier had high hopes for its JetTrain, particularly in the Quebec City-Windsor, Ont., corridor, and had been lobbying the federal government for financial assistance to upgrade the corridor at a cost of up to $3-billion.

“Quebec City-Windsor for the time being is on ice, for financial reasons,” Ms. Gagnon said.

Other city-to-city links that Bombardier had identified included Calgary-Edmonton, Chicago-St. Louis, Los Angeles-San Francisco and Orlando-Miami.

Mr. Navarri said he is not disheartened by an embarrassing series of technical glitches, delivery delays and contractual disputes related to the Acela Express.

He said he is confident that the latest snafu — the Acela was yanked out of service in April after cracks on brake components were discovered — will be amicably settled and won't degenerate into a legal brawl, as happened four years ago over costly design changes.

Meanwhile, Mr. Navarri said he expects strong growth from Eastern European countries as they join the European Union and become eligible for funding to upgrade their aging rail equipment.

Bombardier Transportation — the world's largest manufacturer of rail transportation equipment — also sees growth from the planned standardization of Europe's patchwork rail signalling system, as well as from the boosting of its services unit to about 30 per cent of revenue from 17 per cent today, he said.

Outside Europe, China represents a huge potential market for Bombardier, Mr. Navarri said.

He also said Bombardier Transportation's restructuring plan — announced last year — is on track and even ahead of schedule, with a work force reduction of about 15 per cent, to about 30,000 from more than 35,000 and the closing of seven facilities in Europe by the end of this year.

“All these plans are starting to show good results, especially in terms of profitability,” and the rail unit should reach its target of 6-per-cent profit margins in the medium term as expected.

Six per cent is not the ultimate goal, he added.

“After that, we want to go even further.”
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Old June 3rd, 2005, 09:40 PM   #39
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Too bad. Although much of the USA is too sparsely populated for high speed rail, there are a couple of corridors where it could do very well. Unfortunately that ain't happen either.

One of the reasons include the safety rules of the American railroad administration (FRA). These rules are made to survive crashes and lead to very heavy trains -> perfect for the heavy freight trains which are common in the USA, but not economical for high speed trains. In all other countries, high speed trains have very light trains, which is possible due to advanced safety systems which prevent crashes in the first place.

So, if the FRA would make a second safety ruleset, meant for high speed trains, high speed rail would become much more economical. Still of course a question if there would be enough political support for it, but such a thing would make chances higher at least.
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Old June 3rd, 2005, 09:46 PM   #40
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Bad news...
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