- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2002

Amtrak pulled all of its high-speed Acela Express trains and 15 other electric locomotives from service yesterday as more cracks were found in the suspension systems.
The railroad gave no date for when it expects the 18 Acela Express or the other trains to return to service along the Northeast Corridor.
"We don't even have a projection at this time," spokeswoman Karina Van Veen said.
The Acela Express trains, which travel at 150 mph, and the electric locomotives were manufactured by a consortium of Canada's Bombardier of North America and France's Alstom Ltd.
"Right now, Bombardier and Alstom are working on a temporary remedy," Miss Van Veen said. "We don't have anything that is acceptable to us."
Until the latest discovery, five Acela Express trains were scheduled to operate yesterday on routes stopping in Washington, New York and Boston. The other 13 trains were pulled from service Tuesday after maintenance workers discovered the cracks.
A pre-dawn inspection yesterday turned up cracks in brackets of three more trains. The brackets are part of a shock-absorber system to reduce side-to-side movement.
Amtrak said weakened brackets could fall off a moving train, damaging its undercarriage or derailing another train.
The shutdown of Acela Express reduces Amtrak's Northeast Corridor service by about one-fourth.
Later yesterday, similar cracks were found in the suspension systems of an HHP-8 electric locomotive manufactured by the Bombardier-Alstom consortium. The locomotive was one of 15 ordered under a single contract, prompting the railroad to pull all 15 from service.
"We would expect, yes, there would be inconveniences," said Cliff Black, Amtrak's director of special projects. "Some trains were canceled. There are some crowding conditions on unreserved trains."
The five Acela Express trains that were supposed to operate yesterday were scheduled for 10 departures. Metroliners will continue to operate 15 daily departures, and regional trains will have more than 100 departures along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor.
Mr. Black refused to speculate on a date for a return to full service.
"I can't give you that," Mr. Black said. "It really is dependent on what happens with the consortium and whether the [Federal Railroad Administration] approves their fix. There are a lot of unknowns."
The train manufacturers also could not give a date for restoration of full service.
"Too early to tell," said Carol Sharpe, a Bombardier spokeswoman. "We don't know what the root cause is."
The train cancellations will add to the financial woes of Amtrak, which narrowly averted a shutdown last month by an emergency infusion of $205 million in federal funds.
"We haven't been able to quantify it yet, but we certainly can anticipate there will be a dip in our revenues," Mr. Black said.
Amtrak operates 15 of the high-speed trains on typical weekdays, carrying about 10,000 passengers. A one-way fare from Washington to New York costs $157.
Bombardier officials said they sent 40 replacement brackets to Amtrak this week. The new brackets are supposed to be sturdier than the originals.
The Federal Railroad Administration must certify the safety of any repairs before the trains can carry passengers.
Since the first deliveries nearly three years ago, Amtrak and the consortium have blamed each other for a variety of problems, including inadequate braking systems, overpowered engines and bathroom doors that stick.
Amtrak says the problems result from poor manufacturing. The consortium says they result from design changes ordered by Amtrak.
The consortium has filed a lawsuit against Amtrak in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia claiming $200 million in cost overruns from the Acela Express design changes. Amtrak last month refused to accept the 19th high-speed train set in its $700 million order for 20 train sets, saying it was not manufactured according to specifications. A train set includes the locomotives and rail cars.
Federal Railroad Administration officials said discovery of the cracks this week resulted from a vigorous inspection regimen they ordered three years ago when inspectors recognized the potential for a different kind of structural failure in the suspension system.
Railroad administration inspectors were concerned that maintenance personnel might accidentally overtighten the bolts, thereby cracking the bolts or the brackets.
To ensure against the cracks, the railroad administration ordered inspections of the brackets every 92 days. The cracks discovered this week were found near the weld of the brackets to the locomotive frame, away from the bolts. The first cracks were found during a regular inspection Monday in Boston when a yaw bracket dislodged from its assembly. The yaw damper brackets are held in place by bolts.
Amtrak mechanics found the cracks yesterday during a more detailed inspection that included removing the outer shell from the frame of the locomotives.
"We set forth a requirement that they follow a maintenance program," said Federal Railroad Administration spokesman Rob Gould. "They followed the regimen and noticed the problem. The proper checks and balances were put in place."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide