After years of delays, Amtrak moves toward faster trains in the Northeast

After years of delays, Amtrak moves toward faster trains in the Northeast

After years of delays and disputes over safety and design, Amtrak is poised to bring new high-speed trains to the busy Northeast Corridor.

Amtrak officials said Friday evening that the new trains, which had failed a lengthy series of computer modeling tests, had passed on the 14th test and had been cleared by the Federal Railroad Administration to begin testing on the tracks connecting Washington, DC, to Boston.

The faster, more spacious trains – combinations of locomotives and passenger cars – cost about $1.6 billion and are to replace those in the Acela fleet, which was due to be retired at the end of its life cycle in 2016.

The sleek new red, white and blue Avelia Liberty trains must travel at a maximum speed of about 160 miles per hour due to a limit imposed by the Northeast Corridor’s aging tracks, 10 miles faster than Acela trains current, and should tilt for faster and smoother driving in curves. They can accommodate up to 386 passengers, an increase of 25 percent.

The track testing will be “the next step in the safety certification process that will lead to the launch of paid service,” Amtrak said in a statement.

Cliff Cole, a spokesman for Alstom, the French manufacturer of the new trains, hailed the move to track testing as progress for passengers “who will soon discover a whole new travel experience on Europe’s busiest rail corridor.” America “.

But the project, three years behind schedule, has suffered major setbacks, and Amtrak has not said when the trains will be ready to welcome passengers. Last fall, passenger rail targeted October 2024 for putting the new trains into service, according to an inspector general report. Alstom, which builds the trains in Hornell, New York, has delivered only 10 of the 28 that were supposed to be ready in 2021. For now, those 10 sit idle at a Pennsylvania station, visible by Amtrak passengers entering and exiting the Philadelphia station. 30th Street Station.

Meanwhile, Amtrak has spent more than $48 million on maintenance to keep the outdated Acela trains in service.

There were high hopes in 2016, when then-Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Anthony R. Coscia, Amtrak’s president at the time, stood outside a station in Wilmington, in Del., and announced a $2.45 billion federal loan for Amtrak. to bring high-speed rail travel to the Northeast. That year, Amtrak chose Alstom, which had built the original Acela fleet in 2000, to manufacture the new trains.

Under the terms of the contract, Alstom had to create a computer model to predict the performance of the trains before it even began building them – a crucial stipulation since the Federal Railroad Administration, which enforces rail safety regulations, must approve a model that demonstrates that a train is safe before it can be tested on the tracks of the northeast corridor.

The corridor’s curves, bridges and tunnels presented a particular challenge for Alstom. It is estimated that the region’s tracks will need more than $100 billion in repairs and upgrades for new trains to reach maximum speeds along the entire corridor.

In 2019, the company was struggling. According to Amtrak officials and Alstom representatives, the train manufacturer told Amtrak that computer modeling showed the new trains could not operate safely on the Northeast Corridor tracks. Nonetheless, Alstom said the company was able to resolve the issues and wanted to move forward.

Amtrak gave Alstom the green light to build the trains despite computer modeling problems because, according to Amtrak officials, they felt they had no other choice. More recently, Amtrak officials acknowledged that they had not built safeguards into the contract with Alstom to protect themselves in case the company had difficulty developing working trains.

“I think there’s now an after-the-fact debate about whether or not this should be a contractual mechanism,” said Laura Mason, Amtrak’s executive vice president for capital delivery.

In January 2020, an Amtrak inspector general’s report warned of continued delays and safety issues with trains, as did another inspector general’s report in September 2023. In an unredacted version of In this more recent report obtained by the New York Times, inspectors found that the trains were still failing modeling tests and those that had been built so far had defects. Although the defects could be corrected, the report said, some trains required “structural and design modifications,” while others required “sealing, drainage or corrosion corrections.”

Jim Mathews, chief executive of the Rail Passenger Association, an advocacy group, said that as Amtrak and Alstom test the trains on the tracks, they will pay particular attention to tilting technology and way it helps trains take turns. at high speeds.

“I would expect a fairly smooth testing regime from now on as most of the issues have been identified,” Mr Mathews said. “We’ll see how they perform now that they’re on the northeast corridor.”

Avatar photo

David B.Otero

Related Posts

Read also x