Amtrak launches high-speed service with a bullet train

Published in the Courier News on November 17, 2000
By LAURENCE ARNOLD The Associated Press

America's first bullet train pulled out of Union Station on time Thursday morning carrying VIPs and the long-term hopes for Amtrak and high-speed rail service in the United States.

"Every generation is marked by breakthroughs that profoundly affect our society," said Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, chairman of Amtrak. "The launch of Acela Express is one of those truly defining moments."

Thompson shattered a bottle of California champagne on the train's distinctive tapered nose in a christening ceremony right before the departure, showering those nearby with bubbly.

A slightly wet Michael Dukakis, former governor of Massachusetts and now vice chairman of Amtrak, had no complaint. "It's good champagne," he said.

Packed end to end with special guests including federal officials, business leaders and 15 students from a technology high school in Philadelphia, the train was expected to break Amtrak speed records during its trip.

The snub-nosed Acela Express, powered by two locomotives and including five passenger cars and a cafe car, was to reach 135 mph during a two-hour, 28-minute trip to New York and 150 mph during a three-hour, 15-minute run to Boston.

When regular passenger service in the Northeast begins Dec. 11, America finally will have a rail line comparable to the high-speed train service common in Europe and Japan. Amtrak officials and rail enthusiasts hope favorable publicity will increase the demand for similar high-speed lines elsewhere in the country.

"Today's inaugural run symbolizes the beginning of a new era of American transportation, not only in the Northeast but eventually across the entire country," Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater said.

Acela Express will cut about a half-hour off the current Metroliner service between Washington and New York and about 45 minutes off the New York-to-Boston trip.

A one-way coach ticket between Washington and New York will be $143, up from $122 on Metroliner. Travel between New York and Boston will cost $120, compared to $57 on conventional Amtrak trains, which will continue to run in the Northeast Corridor.

Speed is not the only attraction of Acela Express. Passengers remarked about the spacious restrooms, oversized windows and brightly colored blue-and-purple seats. Audio service is available at each seat. The cafe car includes bar stools and serves beer on tap.

The salmon, prosciutto and caviar hors d'oeuvres enjoyed by the VIP guests were a one-shot deal, however.

Amtrak and high-speed rail advocates have much riding on Acela Express. If it's a success, it will boost Amtrak's revenues and could lead to other high-speed trains elsewhere in the country.

If it fails, however, Acela Express could be the swan song for Amtrak, the federally subsidized railway that is under orders from Congress to become financially self-sufficient by 2003. Amtrak is relying on the service to earn $180 million a year.

Amtrak President George Warrington said he is convinced Americans will choose the comfort and amenities of trains like Acela Express, so long as the trains travel fast enough to link major cities in two to three hours.

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