- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 12, 2000

Amtrak's high-speed Acela Express train rolled out of Union Station yesterday at 5 a.m., carrying businessmen, journalists, train buffs and America's hope for passenger rail.
The trip along the Northeast Corridor was Acela Express' first with paying customers.
Like a movie star at a film debut, camera lights glared on the train platform as journalists cornered boarding passengers for interviews. The blue-and-silver Acela Express looked like a Kentucky Derby thoroughbred beside an old farm horse compared to trains on nearby tracks.
Among the passengers was Nathaniel Jordan, a Washington resident who had no destination in mind other than witnessing a small slice of history.
"I'm a big train buff," said Mr. Jordan, a retired mail clerk and printing-press operator. "I grew up with trains."
His father, grandfather and several uncles worked as railroad porters and dining-car waiters. After Acela Express arrived at Baltimore, Mr. Jordan planned to get off and catch the next train back to Washington the same morning.
"I'm riding this train because of the historical significance of it," he said.
Amtrak expects the $800 million it is spending on Acela Express service to return a $180-million-a-year profit when it is running at capacity. The last of the 20 train sets scheduled for delivery is expected to be operating by next summer.
Amtrak officials said ticket sales, so far, are within the range necessary for the 150 mph train to be profitable. For the first day, 402 passengers reserved seats to ride part or all of the way between Washington and Boston. The return trip in the evening had 350 reservations.
"The numbers are really meeting our expectations," said Amtrak spokesman Rick Remington.
Typical of the kind of passengers Amtrak hopes to attract was Patrick Jeffery, an energy industry lobbyist. He lives in Boston but often travels to Washington and New York on business. Yesterday, he was traveling to a morning meeting in New York City.
"This is a lot faster than the old train used to be, and I wanted to be on the first one," said Mr. Jeffery. "I have a lot of business in New York. If I can take the train and it's convenient, it's better than flying."
Unlike airplanes, which require second trips from airports to the downtown business district, Mr. Jeffery said the train would take him closer to his final destination.
"It's perfect for a morning meeting in New York, plus it arrives in the middle of Manhattan," he said as lights and shadows from small towns along the route moved quickly by the window in the pre-dawn darkness.
Among the 114 passengers who left Union Station was a group of four self-described "transportation pioneers" who likened their spoof of an adventure to "performance art." They wore jumpsuits and carried crash helmets, which prompted nervous looks from Amtrak officials.
Their spokesman, Ravi Jain, a Massachusetts College of Art graduate student, said the group arranged for a private reception with champagne when they arrived at Boston's South Station just before noon. "I want to be greeted like Lindbergh arriving in France," said Mr. Jain.
The 304-passenger, streamlined train picked up additional riders at stops such as Baltimore and Philadelphia before arriving at New York's Penn Station three minutes past its scheduled 7:44 a.m. arrival time. The Washington-New York run is supposed to be 16 minutes faster than the 3-hour trip on any previous Amtrak trains.
"This is a special day," said Amtrak President George Warrington, who boarded the train at its first stop, Baltimore-Washington International Airport. "It took us a long time to get here, and it took us a long time to get America here."
Acela Express uses the same electric propulsion system as the French TGV, manufactured by Alstom, along with Bombardier's advanced tilt technology, which eliminates jerkiness as the train's body tilts on curves. The technology was obvious yesterday as Acela Express gave a smoother ride than would normally be expected for trains traveling more than 100 mph. The new train can cruise 25 mph faster than Amtrak's Metroliner, which topped out at 125 mph.
Acela Express also provides more amenities. It has 32 conference tables in its eight cars, overhead bins, video news programming, cafe cars with restaurant-style menus and audio music channels with headphone outlets for each seat. Meals can be served to the seats of first-class passengers.
French railroad magazine editor Philippe Herisse flew in from Paris to document America's effort to copy the kind of high-speed rail service found in Europe. "It's very similar," Mr. Herisse said.
If the service is successful in the Northeast, Amtrak wants to build high-speed service throughout the country. Currently, the top speed for most passenger trains outside the Washington-to-Boston corridor is 79 mph.
Acela Express was supposed to begin operating in October 1999. Problems with the tilt technology and premature wheel wear created delays of more than one year.
Amtrak, which Congress has given $23 billion in operating subsidies since its inception in 1971, is under a federal mandate to become financially self-sufficient by 2003. High-speed rail is the cornerstone of its survival plan.
Amtrak reported being $484 million short of self-sufficiency in 1999, when it said record revenues grew to $1.84 billion.
A one-way coach ticket to New York from Washington costs $143 on Acela Express, but $122 on the Metroliner service it replaces. A one-way Acela Express coach ticket between Boston and New York costs $120, compared with $57 on conventional Amtrak trains, which will continue to operate along the Northeast Corridor.
The Boston-to-New York route is expected to get the biggest time gain. As recently as last year, the ride took five hours and included delays for switches between electric locomotives and diesels. The Acela Express train is scheduled to make the trip in 3 hours, 28 minutes. Next year, Amtrak plans to introduce a nonstop train to reduce the trip to 3 hours, 15 minutes.
The train's arrival in Boston's South Station yesterday at 11:41 a.m. was 10 minutes overdue.
When all 20 train sets are operating in 2001, Amtrak plans 19 round trips on Acela Express each weekday between Washington and New York. Ten round trips will run between New York and Boston each weekday.
For the first runs, Acela Express stops are planned at Baltimore-Washington International Airport; Baltimore; Wilmington, Del.; Philadelphia, and Trenton and Newark, N.J., before arriving at New York's Penn Station. For the New York-to-Boston route, stops are scheduled for New Haven and Providence, R.I.; and Route 128 and Back Bay stations in Boston before a final stop at Boston's South Station. As more Acela Express trains start operating in the next few months, an additional stop is planned at New Carrollton, Md.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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