Trains For America

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Op-Ed Contributor – Obama should focus high-speed rail investment on Acela. –

I am surprised that this column is so short on facts, and even inaccurate. For example, Acela has no crossings at grade nor freight train interference.

Should more be spent in the Northeast Corridor? Yes. Sadly,Amtrak does not seem to have much of a plan for anything. Very discouraging situation.

Op-Ed Contributor – Obama should focus high-speed rail investment on Acela. –


Filed under: Amtrak, United States High Speed Rail

16 Responses

  1. Ryan says:

    While I agree that the article was long on opinion and short on facts, Acela does have several grade crossings in CT. Removing them wouldn’t do much to increase overall speed since for the most part they’re located in areas that are already restricted because of curves, but they are most certainly there.

  2. Jason says:

    In addition, though Acela doesn’t directly interfere with freight, there is some freight traffic on the NEC in places. The real interference is with slower passengers trains, especially commuters.

  3. Jason says:

    But I agree that the op ed is misleading.

  4. J. H. Sullivan says:

    Not one dime should be spent on the Acela service. It is already training funds that would be better spent improving the Long Distance trains. BUt I agree that Amtrak has no plan, no vision, no interest, and in my opinion it should be abolished.

  5. Allan says:

    @ JH Sullivan, I agree. Acela has had its time in the sun and the NEC has been sucking funds from LD trains for years.

    Ya think that an NYT article might be slightly biased? Eh? Methinks that the author wants it available for him and his friends.

  6. A. Figgatt says:

    There are indeed still a series of grade crossings on the NEC in eastern CT – 11 according to the Wikipedia entry on the Northeast Corridor, starting just west of New London through Stonington. 1 or 2 of those crossing may have been closed, but there are still close to 10. But these grade crossings don’t have much effect on travel times because they are located on the rather curvy and thus slow parts of the shore line route. It is slow track, curves, old tunnels & bridges, bottlenecks of 2 or 3 tracks when they could use 3 or 4, old catenary between NYC and WAS that limits the speeds of the Acelas and the Regionals, not freight or grade crossings. Fixing these along with perhaps a new ROW in the slowest parts of eastern CT (good luck with finding funding & public support for that) that would speed up the NEC.

    I thought the distribution of the $8 billion of HSR funds was well thought out. They struck a nice balance between true HSR in CA and FL that won’t result in actual service for 5 (FL) – 10 (CA) years and major upgrades to existing and new conventional corridors that will result in improved service over the next several years. The NEC did not get much of the $8B, but NEC projects are likely to get a piece of the $2.5 billion to be awarded in FY10 while the NEC really should have a dedicated $1+ billion annual funding in future years for upgrades over the next 5 to 10 years.

  7. Kyle says:

    The NEC is the only line that sees a profit and a substantial one at that. This money is used to fund other trains, including long distance trains.

    Saying Acela and the NEC drain money from long distance trains is completely inaccurate and a blatant disregard for the facts. People should actually try and understand what they type, before they actually type it.

    If you go to and click on the “FY 2010-2014 Five Year Financial Plan” and go to page 62, you will see the figures. Yes, these are all projected figures, but they are based off of FY09 figures, which represents Cash Operating Profit or Loss per passenger. As you can clearly see, the NEC and the extension from D.C. to Newport New is the only line that operates on a profit.

    I don’t think any Amtrak line should be canceled, but it is important that people know the facts, instead of typing useless garble.

  8. Jason says:

    There is a significant difference in Amtrak accounting between capital and operating money. The northeast corridor has traditionally taken the loin’s share of capital money of the decades.

    Without that capital, the NEC would be in as bad of a operating situation as other corridors.

  9. Kyle says:

    You’re right, there is a difference between capital and operating funding. But, this capital money has been invested in the NEC, because it is the biggest revenue generator. Kind of self-fulfilling, I know. Further capital funding should definitely be spent on other corridors, but with such limited funding for Amtrak, I believe that the most funding being spent on the NEC has also been the most beneficial.

  10. Allan says:

    @Kyle … the NEC is only “profitable” thru accounting tricks that would land most CFOs in jail. A lot of the costs aren’t allocated properly … indeed, they’re put off on the LD lines which makes them look even worse.

    I tell you what. Let’s spin the NEC off. If it is so profitable then spin it off with a zero subsidy. We’ll give it the capital assets it has now.

  11. O.M.A. says:

    In the 1960’s I rode the NHRR weekly for several years, the “Yankee Clipper” left NYC at 1:00 pm & arrived in Boston at 5:00 pm. Fifty years later, after well over $1 Billion to electrify New Haven to Boston + the train cost, the Acela does it only 30 minutes faster! Amtrak has rarely been very good at “the vision thing” or at maintence or at communication or at knowing who its passengers are. It has fullfilled its mission as a “place holder” for passenger rail service on a limited basis. Probably time for a real change.

  12. Paul Writer says:

    Stopping for a drawbridge on the Acela is hardly HSR. It’s happened to me twice now. Dedicated track and no at grade crossings is.

  13. HockeyFan says:

    First, I doubt that all you commenting folks have ever taken the Acela. It’s the finest train in North America and the only one that actually makes you think that you’re in Europe. It’s ultra smooth at high speeds. The trainsets 10 years old now and it’s time for Amtrak to buy another 20 sets: a next generation Acela, which is lighter in weight and better than the current generation (just like the auto industry does).
    Second, the NEC needs to be expanded with more tracks, new bridges, better signals, etc. NJ Transit and other commuter agencies can’t keep up with demand. Investments in the NEC help not only the Acela, but other agencies and the region as a whole. Anyone who thinks they can drive from Boston to Washington in 7 hours without hitting MAJOR traffic or construction has been smoking from that bong Pat’s been talking about.
    Third, long distance Amtrak trains are great. I just got back from my 4th cross country trip. The Superliners are still great cars…30 years after they were designed. I would argue that the NEC doesn’t draw money away from long distance routes. The biggest hurdles to improving LD service are the freight railroads. Some are overtly hostile to Amtrak, refuse to allow more frequencies, and wouldn’t take federal money for improving THEIR TRACKS for free! The stimulus bill was a success in that it was a small enough pill for the freight rails to swallow. Largely, the projects went towards fixing comically bad bottlenecks (no brainer projects). The next round of grants will be interesting.

  14. J. H. Sullivan says:

    I would agree to spin off the NEC to a seperate operation. Before the Conrail debacle, AMTRAK did not operate the NEC. Ever since it became a Amtrak operation, questionable accounting has been the norm of the day to make it look good. Most of the ridership increases have been on LD trains, to the point that most routes are now capacity limited – not enough frequencies, or enough space on those that operate.

    Those of us out here in the “outback” have no use for Acela trains and likely will not need it for decades, but we do need ordinary, 79mph trains that are reliable.

  15. Woody says:

    We’re silly to pit HSR against conventional passenger trains, or one part of Amtrak against another. The fact is that the whole enterprise has been starved of investment and badly managed by the real bosses in Congress and the DOT, and definitely badly treated by both parties. So now it seems a sorry instance of “blame the victim” to say that the problems of one part of Amtrak are the fault of some other part. Every part of Amtrak will benefit when it starts to get the right kind and amount of funding to begin to grow its system, with support from sections that are HSR or near HSR.

    I know enough about accounting and business to say it’s hard to shrink or chop your way into success. Much easier to grow to success.

    What is the accounting for the NEC anyway? Amtrak reports a nice operating surplus on the Acelas but takes a modest loss on the Regionals. So chop the money-losing Regionals? We all know that would be stupid. The fixed costs of stations and trackage would remain much the same, half the NEC revenue would disappear, and, carrying all the overhead, the Acelas would plunge into loss.

    Better to invest more and grow the Acela service. It’s near capacity now, priced at what the market will bear because it can fill trains with high fares. We need more Acelas — more cars on the current trains as proposed, and/or more frequent departures if the NEC weren’t already jam packed full.

    Invest more in the NEC infrastructure? How about a few billion for new tunnels in Baltimore, to shave 5 minutes off the schedules? That would be 5 minutes off every Acela; off every Regional – including those now extending into Virginia; and off the Silver Star, the Silver Meteor, the Palmetto, the Carolinian, the Crescent, and the Cardinal too.

    Did I miss one of the long distance trains that runs over the NEC? Yeah, wait. First Amtrak is putting huge money into replacing a bridge in Jersey that will also shave a few minutes off the Keystone Corridor trains as well.

    Looking at the Amtrak budget, its detractors point to the $300 or $400 million, whatever, for the loss shown on long distance trains. But about as much goes for debt service. Now what’s that? Money owed on past equipment purchases? Debts piled up when the Bushies tried to strangle Amtrak by slashing its subsidy at the same time that the start-up of the Acela service was delayed for various reasons, or what? Eternal punishment for past sins?

    We need to support all of Amtrak — new true HSR, the several near-HSR 110-mph corridors being funded and the more to come, as well as the existing long distance routes at conventional speed.

    We need lots more of those l.d. routes, and more frequencies on the routes we have. In a year or two new trains will run Cincinnati-Dayton-Columbus-Cleveland on a daylight schedule. But they won’t meet any l.d. Amtrak trains in Cleveland without adding a new route or a new departure. The current trains stop in Cleveland after midnight.

    Detroit should be linked with Cleveland and the East Coast. We need a route between Chicago and Florida. That state wants to start service along its East Coast. The Sunset Limited is really limited by running only three times a week; it and the Cardinal need daily service. The Heartland Flyer should go beyond Oklahoma City. The Pioneer should link Denver with the Pacific Northwest. A Front Range service could link El Paso-Albuquerque-Colorado Springs-Denver. Even Alabama dreams of Atlanta-Birmingham-Montgomery-Mobile-New Orleans. And more.

    Growing the l.d. system will require most of all a major order for new and additional equipment, such as Amtrak proposed last month, only more so. It will require continued investment in the handful of HSR lines and the many 110-mph corridors, as well as investment in restored and new l.d. routes. And modest increases in the subsidies for l.d. trains as their numbers and reach expand. But I want to see continued investment in the NEC as well.

  16. JOSE says:

    “In addition, though Acela doesn’t directly interfere with freight, there is some freight traffic on the NEC in places”

    .The real interference is with slower passengers trains, especially commuters.”

    I´m spanish, for me is hard to read it, a high speed rail shouldn`t have freight traffic or slower trains if we want use the Acela trainsets features.

    “Acela does have several grade crossings in CT. Removing them wouldn’t do much to increase overall speed since for the most part they’re located in areas that are already restricted because of curves,”

    In Europe a high speed doesn’t have any grade cross. Can you imagine a train running at 350 km/h (210mph) braking for a bus?.

    On the other hand, in Spain we eliminate the grade cross for security reasons, they are very unpopular.

    I think the acela service born as a minimal investment to improve maximal speed but it`s possible to get higher speed with something money more, so I agree with Woody

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March 2010


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