Trains For America

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John Kerry says: Fix Acela speeds

It’s something of an open secret that Amtrak’s Acela high-speed service, though faster than a regular NEC train, can’t hold a candle to a true high-speed line. The reason? It runs on the same tracks that have always been there, which are old, curvy, and riddled with bridges and tunnels that were never designed to withstand Acela’s theoretical 150 mph top speed.

John Kerry has told the Boston Globe that he wants to fix all that:

“Are you kidding? That train can go 150 miles an hour, (but) it goes that for, what, a couple of miles?” Kerry scoffed. “I want America to have a first-rate high-speed rail system. A high-speed rail that really lives up to the name and gets people there in the time that we ought to be aiming for.”

Kerry plans to file in two weeks a $1 billion bill that will target out-of-date bridges, tunnels and tracks that prevent the train from hitting its 150-mile-per-hour maximum and getting commuters to their destinations faster.

A billion dollars is nothing to sneeze at, but we have to consider that Kerry is going up for reelection soon. Is that enough money to make a difference? Or is he just trying to wow rail-riding constituents with his outrage over America’s one so-called high-speed train?

While Amtrak took in more than $1.4 billion in federal funds last year [TFA note: is this really necessary?], the curvature of the railroad tracks continues to be the main reason for the Acela’s low speed in the northeast, said Amtrak spokeswoman Karina Romero.

Straightening the tracks along the heavily developed eastern rail would trigger many eminent domain takings, however.

“The price would probably be exorbitant,” Romero said about the number of land takings.

Modernizing bridges and other infrastructure may increase the speed by 10 to 15 miles an hour, said Romero, but probably still would not bring the line to top speed, despite Kerry’s remarks.

A 10-15 mph increase isn’t great, but it’s certainly an improvement. What do you NEC people think? Is it worth it? Is Kerry just being a politician? I glanced at the Boston Globe comments, which is basically a large pool of vitriol against Kerry peppered with an occasional “but the Acela does need to go faster…” here and there. If even making the route workable for Acela is such a challenge, will true HSR ever be acheivable along the corridor? HR 6003 will open up the door to private offers for a high-speed line along the route… that’s not looking very feasible at the moment.

Filed under: Amtrak, United States High Speed Rail, , , , , ,

4 Responses

  1. Scott says:

    Fix a easily fixable line between 2 locations in the midwest somehwere. Partner with a host railroad to upgrade the line to HSR speeds and demonstrate that HSR is possible here. Lets stop dumping money into Acela if its trying to fix a problem that can’t be fixed. (right of way on the coasts are /expensive/)

  2. skiddie says:

    “…but we have to consider that Kerry is going up for reelection soon. Is that enough money to make a difference? Or is he just trying to wow rail-riding constituents with his outrage over America’s one so-called high-speed train?”

    I really don’t think it matters why he’s proposing it; most of what Congress accomplishes is proposed in part because of upcoming elections.

    Whether that’s good or not for our overall democracy is one question. The fact that this bill is an entirely Good Thing is another.

  3. […] speed, please see this post.) In a conversation with the Boston Globe (story now archived, snippets here), that paper reported the following: Kerry plans to file in two weeks a $1 billion bill that will […]

  4. jmc says:

    10-15 mph gains are not bad. If you can shave 20 minutes off the trip it makes a big difference. Look for example at the Rome-Milan service: FS offers a noN-stop service that cuts travel time from 4:30 to 4:05 (the TAV will reduce it to 3 hours); this service costs 10% more and is always fully booked.

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