- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 15, 2002

Two of Amtrak's high-speed Acela Express trains were returned to service yesterday under an intensive inspection program, but the other 16 remained sidelined due to cracks in equipment underneath some locomotives.
All 18 of the trains, a key money-maker for Amtrak in the Boston-New York-Washington corridor, were pulled from service Tuesday after inspectors discovered cracks in brackets that attach shock absorbers to the locomotives.
Trains found to have cracked brackets could remain out of service for days, if not weeks.
Amtrak officials said they feared the assemblies known as yaw dampers could fall off a moving train, damaging its underside or another train. The function of the yaw dampers is to prevent swaying, which can increase wear and tear to rails and train wheels.
The two trains cleared for service showed no signs of problems during inspections on Tuesday. One left Boston at 6:15 a.m. and the other left New York at 8 a.m., each bound for Washington, Amtrak said.
Officials said inspectors were to check all yaw-damper brackets on both trains when they arrived in Washington. Assuming they passed, the trains would carry passengers back to Boston and New York later yesterday, and then be inspected again.
The problem is the latest in a summer-long series of financial and public-image blows to the struggling passenger railroad.
Amtrak President David Gunn said the affected trains would remain out of service for at least a few days. If a proposed temporary fix doesn't work, the trains could be sidelined for weeks.
The first problem was discovered Monday during a periodic maintenance inspection of an Acela Express train in Boston.
Of the next 10 train sets inspected, eight had similar problems, Amtrak spokesman Bill Schulz said. Each train set includes two locomotives, and each locomotive has four yaw dampers.
Inspections were continuing on the seven other Acela Express trains, which are capable of reaching a speed of 150 mph.
Mr. Gunn met Tuesday with representatives of Bombardier of North America and France's Alstom Ltd., the train's manufacturers, to design a repair plan.
"We're working with the manufacturer on a temporary fix," Mr. Gunn said. "We've got to make sure it's safe." He said he believes the repairs will be covered under the contract with the manufacturers.
The planned temporary fix involves a new part that Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration will begin testing this week.
"If the remedy is satisfactory to Amtrak and to federal rail safety officials, a return of the train sets to revenue service would be a matter of days, as opposed to weeks," the railroad said in a statement.
Bombardier spokeswoman Carol Sharpe said the company is committed to helping Amtrak find a solution that will get the trains running again.
Even before the latest discovery, Amtrak had announced that all 18 of the high-speed trains need repairs and modifications. The passenger railroad declined to accept delivery of a 19th train, citing modifications that were not made.
Already this summer the railroad suffered a cash crisis so severe that it needed $205 million from the government to avert a nationwide shutdown.
Last month an Amtrak train from Chicago to Washington derailed in Kensington, Md., injuring more than 100 people. The train engineer reported seeing a kink in the tracks that could have been caused by excessive heat, and investigators found the rails were more than 2 feet out of alignment.

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