Amtrak express is ready to roll


Thursday, October 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


The high-speed trains will be introduced next month along the Boston-to-Washington corridor


By Russell Garland / The Providence (R.I.) Journal

Amtrak yesterday said it will begin its long-awaited high-speed service between Boston and Washington on Dec. 11 with one round trip a day.

But summer will roll around before all 20 of the bullet-nose trains are on the tracks, providing the fast, frequent service that the railroad hopes will lure business travelers out of the crowded skies.

Operating at up to 150 mph, the Acela Express trains are intended to raise essential revenue for Amtrak, which must end its constant operating losses by late 2002 or face liquidation. They are also an example of the kind of service that Amtrak hopes to provide elsewhere in the nation. Amtrak calls the train the Acela Express, for "acceleration" and "excellence."

The trains were supposed to start a year ago, but have been delayed by design and mechanical problems.

The trip between Boston and New York will take longer than the three hours that Amtrak once promised.

Travel time between Boston's South Station and New York's Pennsylvania Station will be 3 hours, 27 minutes. Amtrak's fastest trains now make the trip in 3 hours, 55 minutes.

In about six months, the railroad expects to improve the high-speed trip time by 8 minutes, said Amtrak spokesman Rick Remington. Cutting it by another 10 minutes will require track improvements in New York State that will take three to four years, he said.

Remington said the trip times will be fast enough to attract riders. Another factor, he said, is "the quality of the train."

"The amenities that are offered on board we believe are going to be an attraction," he said.

Amenities include a classy cafe car, spacious bathrooms, big windows, power outlets for computers and seating areas configured for meetings. Seating is mostly business-class, with some first-class. There is no coach class, the basic service on Amtrak's regular trains.

Once all the new trains are running, they will make 10 round trips on weekdays between Boston and New York. This will be in addition to Amtrak's existing service.

One of those high-speed trains, Amtrak said yesterday, will be an express, but the rest will make several stops, including Providence. Business leaders say they expect that the advent of high-speed rail service to Rhode Island will boost the state's economy.

Each train is designed to operate as a single unit. It has six cars, carrying 304 passengers, and an electric locomotive at each end. The trains tilt while rounding bends at high speeds to keep riders comfortable.

The high-speed trains are being built by a consortium of Bombardier of Montreal and ALSTOM of Paris. Amtrak will seek damages from the manufacturers because of the delay in delivering the trains.

Amtrak yesterday accepted the first train. A second is scheduled for delivery before regular service starts on Dec. 11. As more trains arrive, Amtrak will expand its high-speed service.

All 20 trains are supposed to be delivered by summer, Remington said.

The first train will make an inaugural run, with ceremonies at stations from Washington to Boston, on Nov. 16. Amtrak will then use it to train crews and give preview runs to travel agents and Amtrak customers. The train will also provide charter service to professional sports teams.

Tickets will go on sale Nov. 29 for the daily service.

The round trip that starts Dec. 11 will originate in Washington at 5 a.m. and arrive in New York at 7:44 a.m. It will leave the city at 8:03 a.m., stop in Providence at 10:50 a.m. and roll into South Station at 11:31 a.m., after stopping at the Route 128 and Back Bay Stations.

The return trip will leave South Station at 5:12 p.m., arriving in New York at 8:40 p.m. It will get to Washington at 11:43 p.m.

The one-way, business-class fare between Boston and New York will be $120. The one-way fare from Providence to New York will be $104. A round trip will be twice that, or $240 from Boston; $208 from Providence.

For comparison, the lowest round trip airfare available from Travelocity.com yesterday for travel a week from tomorrow between either Boston or Providence and New York's LaGuardia Airport was $405.

The high-speed trains are not intended to provide commuter service from Providence to Boston, and the fare reflects that. It is $28 one way.

In January, Amtrak expects to have two more daily round trips. One will be a non-stop run between New York and Washington. The other will be a Boston-New York round trip that will leave Boston at 6:15 a.m. and New York at 6 p.m. It will stop in Stamford and New Haven, Conn., and Providence. A New London, Conn., stop will be added once the raised platform now being built is finished.

Acela Express trains will stop at Boston's Back Bay station. This was uncertain earlier, as Amtrak worried that stopping there would take too much time. High-speed trains from New York will get there 5 minutes before South Station.

Amtrak said, for the first time, that it will run a daily Boston-New York express. Previously, the railroad said all its high-speed trains would stop in Providence.

"It will be market tested," Remington said. "If it works, we'll keep it, if not, we won't."

Find out more about the Acela train and its services, at:

www.acela.com