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Modern Transportation for the Virginias

Acela Express’s Poor Track Record

From VARP’s On Track newsletter, fall 2003.

Amtrak’s Acela Express has been plagued with problems since the beginning, according to a series published in September 2003 in the Hartford Courant.

“Amtrak’s high-speed train service is far less than what had been promised, time and again, in the face of contrary evidence,” said the Courant. “Court documents, government studies, audits, congressional testimony and interviews reveal that the high-speed rail project was dogged by problems, delays and bloated costs from the start. But Amtrak executives consistently exaggerated what Acela would accomplish and masked the extent of the delays and mounting costs.”

To be profitable in the Northeast Corridor market, Amtrak figured that its new high-speed service would have to make the New York–Washington trip in two and a half hours and the New York–Boston run in under three hours. “Right now, the train runs from Washington to New York in about 2 hours and 45 minutes—about 15 minutes faster than the older, less expensive Metroliners,” stated the Courant.

“Between New York and Boston, the trip runs about 3½ hours.

“… Acela travels at 150 mph for about 18 miles of the 450-mile Northeast corridor trip.”

The paper also noted that in the past year, the on-time performance for Acela Express has been only 70% and that the train is not close to generating the kind of revenues Amtrak had predicted.

Work on both the train itself and the trackwork and electrification, especially in New England, to support it met with delays, cost overruns, and lawsuits. Amtrak made hundreds of modifications to the contracts, and, to meet federal collision standards, the train ended up overweight.

Mechanical problems mean that only 13 of the trains (out of 20) are running on a typical day, with some receiving maintenance and others held as backups.

On Oct. 6, Metro magazine, citing an Associated Press story, said that with the Oct. 27 timetable change, Amtrak was cutting 10 weekend Acela Express trips to give maintenance crews more time to work on the trains.

The Courant concluded that the train that was supposed to rescue Amtrak has fallen far short of its promise.