Trains For America

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Wifi being trialed on Acela as well

In a bit of an update to our story last week, Amtrak seems to be trying out wifi Internet access on certain Acela trains as well, according to ABC News. They didn’t have many details aside from that the service seemed to be reasonably fast and stable and that Amtrak, of course, stressed that any wifi encountered on Acela is just in a trial run phase.

Here’s a link to the video.

More wifi on Amtrak seems like a no-brainer to me.

Filed under: Amtrak, , ,

Acela fares being cut due to lower business ridership

While Amtrak ridership, generally speaking, has continued to look fairly healthy despite the poor economy and lower fuel prices, the same cannot be said of the its Acela high-speed service on the Northeast Corridor. The recession has led to a decrease in business travel, prompting the company to reduce Acela fares in order to bring in more leisure travelers. From Bloomberg:

Amtrak will offer one-way nonrefundable Acela business-class tickets for as low as $99 between New York and Washington, down from $133 or more, and as low as $79 between Boston and New York, from $93 or higher. The prices are available for travel from March 3 through June 26 and tickets must be purchased 14 days in advance.

Acela ridership dropped about 14 percent in January from the same month a year ago, and about 10 percent for the four months ending in January from the same period last year, spokesman Cliff Cole said in a telephone interview from New York.

If anything, this highlights the huge variation in the services Amtrak runs. Standard routes, and in particular those considered long-distance, have continued to see high levels of ridership. One wonders if many travelers aren’t fleeing air carriers and high-speed services like Acela for a cheaper, if longer, journey on a train. It will be interesting to see what the Amtrak numbers look like when people do have money to spend on air fares again, especially if gas stays cheap (doubtful). Hopefully by that point Acela won’t have to be the only fast train competing with air travel for much longer.

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

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, , , , , ,

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