Forum High-speed train travel is not feasible on Northeast Corridor
High-speed train travel is not feasible on the Northeast Corridor.
Congress recently approved a $2.45 billion loan package for Amtrak of which a good portion will be spent on 28 Generation 2 high-speed trains.
Generation 1 (Acela Express) high-speed trains only accomplished a fraction of what they were touted to do. There is no reason to expect Generation 2 to be any different.
The reasoning being that you can only travel so fast on the existing roadbed no matter the tilt technology. Generation 1 trains were equipped with the latest tilt system yet could only equal, not exceed, the running time of the 1969 Metroliners between New York and Washington, D.C.
The present roadbed, with minor deviations, dates back to the 1800s, taking a circuitous route to service large population centers and various industries. To attain a true high-speed system on the Northeast Corridor, there must be a dedicated and exclusive infrastructure built as straight as the geography will allow. The cost and environmental impact of such an undertaking would be astronomical given the real estate values in that portion of the country.
As far back as the 1950s, when the New Haven purchased the Talgo trains, and in the 1960s when United Aircraft unveiled its state of the art Turbo Liner, they eventually went the way of all of these “trains of the future” since World War II, to the scrap heap. Unitized trains such as the Acela Express (and the aforementioned “trains of the future”) have proven not to be practical.
Should a car in the consist of the Acela Express become defective the entire train must be removed from service, resulting in a massive delay to the travelers. A defective car in an Amfleet-style consist may be removed and result in a delay and continuation of the journey.
Amtrak force-fed the Acela Express to the traveling public, trumpeting its airplane-style decor, desktop seating replete with USB ports, Wi-Fi and receptacles for recharging sundry electronic devices, masking the fact that for the extra cost, they did not arrive at their destination much sooner than the Regional Service trains — and the time difference mainly was due to the Acela making fewer stops than the Regional Service trains.
Amtrak’s 30-plus-year-old AEM7 locomotives with Amfleet coaches and an experienced engineer, were they allowed, could equal Acela Express running time as did the Metroliners of 1969.
The demise of the Supersonic Transport, touted as an engineering marvel to revolutionize airplane travel, turned out to be a business bust due to high maintenance costs, environmental impact and declining ridership, giving credence to the notion that the traveling public is not in that much of a hurry.
Comparison to the European and Japanese railway systems cannot be made. Europe and Japan were bombed into rubble as a result of World War II. With nothing in the way, the Marshall Plan and SCAP — with an eye on the future — rebuilt the railway systems as straight as practicable.
The pluses of conventional train travel far outweigh the expense, upheaval and environmental impact that construction of a dedicated roadbed would have on the crowded Northeast Corridor.
The hassle and expense of airline travel coupled with an outdated Interstate system should place the 500-mile-and-under mode of travel squarely in Amtrak’s lap.
If the bulk of the $2.45 billion loan were used to upgrade the present fleet with all the bells and whistles, e.g., USB ports, Wi-Fi, desktop seats, etc., the Acela Express would soon be forgotten.
America is not in that much of a hurry. Frequent, dependable, timely train travel trumps enormous outlays of taxpayer dollars for minimal results.
Joseph McMahon of Bethany is a retired Amtrak locomotive engineer with 51 years of experience in engine service on the Northeast Corridor.