Trains For America

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Amtrak trying to expand Acela service

Via the Boston Globe, Amtrak CEO Alexander Kummant says that the company is looking to increase the number of cars run on its Acela trains. Unfortunately, Amtrak would need to buy new cars for the route, as the Acela can’t use the normal Amtrak stock (which aren’t exactly easily available anyway). What does this mean for passengers of this very crowded service? Well, possibly ticket surcharges to fund the purchase of new coaches from Bombardier.

“We’re out of capacity,” said Kummant. “Most people know that’s a pretty tough ticket” because seats are hard to find except at “way-off-peak” times.

The Acela’s top speed of 150 miles per hour is drawing travelers who want to avoid rising airfares and highway congestion in the Northeast. Acela ridership climbed 7.7 percent in the first 10 months of fiscal 2008, part of Amtrak’s 11 percent gain.

The trains now run with an engine at each end. While that step speeds turnarounds when the Acela finishes its route and then reverses direction, reconfiguring trains to add coaches would be “very difficult and very time consuming,” spokeswoman Karina Romero said. Amtrak also doesn’t have any spare Acela passenger cars, so extending the trains would require buying more custom-built coaches, she said.

Trains are “running full and the demand is there,” said David R. Johnson, deputy director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers consumer group. “They have been under pressure to act like a business, and this is how private business acts.”

Higher fares alone wouldn’t produce enough money to expand the Acela, for which Amtrak agreed to pay $800 million in 1996 for 20 trains and maintenance. Such a step would require more funding for Amtrak, a “political football” that has struggled for aid in President Bush’s administration, said Kummant.

So there you have it, supply and demand. It’s amazing how even very flawed high-speed trains like Acela can generate so much increased traffic.

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

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