Destination: Freedom

The newsletter of the National Corridors Initiative

Vol. 1 No. 18 ©2000, NCI, Inc. August 14, 2000

James P. RePass, President Leo King, Editor


A weekly Monday passenger railroad update


Acela Express gets closer to service

Widespread reports last week said that the year-delayed Amtrak Acela Express will go into service next month, but informed sources said it will not happen until October.

Karen Dunn, an Amtrak spokeswoman, reported the railroad plans to launch the express service in September, marking the culmination of a $2.8 billion project aimed at putting on the tracks new trains that travel as much as 150 miles an hour, according to the Boston Globe and other publications. It was originally intended to travel at 165 mph.

French-Canadian consortium, Bombardier and Alstom, is building 20 trainsets, and is making final test runs on several segments of the 156-mile route that has been electrified between New Haven and Boston, and will be certified after passing FRA muster.

She did not have an exact startup date for the train.

The express trains are supposed to reduce the travel time from New York to Boston to about three hours, making the service competitive with air travel..

Magazine rates Adirondack

Amtrak's New York City to Montreal train, the Adirondack, has been named one of the world's ten best rail trips by National Geographic Traveler (NGT) magazine. The travel publication noted that scenery, train equipment, food service and amenities for outdoor sports enthusiasts helped put the daylight run between Manhattan and "North America's most European metropolis" on the top-ten list.

In the bi-monthly NGT 's July/August 2000 issue, a judge's panel proclaimed the Adirondack "a little jewel" whose "scenery makes the prettiest train trip in the Eastern U.S."

Amtrak said ridership figures for the train confirm the train's attraction. During June, the train's ridership jumped to nearly 9,000 passengers, a 25 percent increase over June 1999, and that figure counts only those people traveling to or from points north of Albany. The train carries riders locally between New York's Penn Station and Albany-Rensselaer as well as to other points en route to Montreal.

The train follows the shore of the Hudson River, passing the Hudson Palisades, the Catskill Mountains and the U.S. Military Academy's citadel at West Point. From Albany, the train visits Saratoga Springs, a resort with roots in the Victorian era, then winds its way northward through historic Ticonderoga and along 50 miles of Lake Champlain's western shore. The Adirondack crosses the international border between Rouses Point, N.Y. and Cantic, Quebec, calling at St. Lambert and, finally, Montreal's Central Station.

The magazine also praised the train's restored coaches, whose large windows are perfect for viewing the sights, as well as the café-lounge cars, named for famous inns of the region, which serve such specialties as cheesecake baked by the nuns of the Canadian New Skete Order. The Adirondack's baggage car has special racks for bicycles and skis.

So just why was No. 134 late last week?

Last week we told you that an Acela Regional train was three hours late arriving in Boston. At the time, we did not know why, but it turned out that Metro North catenary had come down over three tracks near Bridgeport, Conn.

Metro North's Daniel Brucker told Destination: Freedom "At approximately 7:30 a.m., catenary wires in two locations one-half mile east and one-half mile west of Milford came down across all three tracks, hence, ceasing all traffic."

Brucker said, "Between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m., at least one set of wires were temporarily repaired giving us one track open. Trains, however, had to pass through with a 'down pantograph order.'" Which meant the trains had to coast through the area without power. If they stopped, they would be stranded.

He said one Metro-North train with 200 customers aboard was held for three hours because of the downed wires. Ultimately they were transferred to an Amtrak train.

"The cause of the break, in one section, was broken insulators. The cause given for the other section was 'fatigue.' No surprise, what with the catenary system having been in place since 1913."

He added that there were scattered delays all throughout the weekend due to limited track availability.

There were no injuries.

400 free rides, so far

Amtrak makes good on a promise

Facing its first widespread service problem since adopting a new "satisfaction guarantee," Amtrak distributed more than 400 passengers coupons on August 2 good for a free trip because of delays of up to five hours on 22 trains on its Northeast Corridor that evening.

The railroad also putting extra equipment into service on July 28 to help get people home from the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, The New York Times reported.

On July 30, a Sunday, a tree fell south of Baltimore and knocked out signal system cables, zapping fuses for 40 miles. Passengers' reaction to the disruption indicated that the railroad may not face enormous penalties when widespread delays occur. While about 10,000 people were on the trains, only 446, asked for coupons good for a free repeat trip.

The railroad announced its "satisfaction guarantee" policy on July 6, and said it was sending out coupons worth $30,275, with an average value of about $68.

"I don't want to put too good a spin on it," said William Schulz, an Amtrak spokesman. "Clearly this was very difficult for us, and there are still many people who found this to be a dreadful situation." Train crews gave out free food and beverages from the cafe cars but ran out of food on many trains; one train that left Philadelphia at 7:15 p.m. did not reach Washington until nearly 1 a.m., Schulz said. The scheduled time is 1 hour and 45 minutes.

Rutledge joins reform council

Nancy Rutledge Connery is the newest member of the Amtrak Reform Council. A press release from the council describe her as an "independent researcher, lecturer and policy advisor on infrastructure, transportation, and community development."

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, informed Al Gore, the President of the Senate of the appointment On July 26th.

Connery replaced Joe Vranich who resigned in July.

Corridor lines...

More Maine trains ahead?

Maine is soliciting bids to upgrade an aging railroad line between Brunswick and Rockland as part of a $33 million plan to restore passenger train service to the midcoast region, reports the Portland Press Herald.

The deadline for companies to bid on the $25 million track upgrade contract is Sept. 20. State transportation officials hope to begin construction on the 55-mile rail line later this year and finish the work by the end of 2001. The line has been largely unused since the 1960s.

The restoration of passenger rail service between Brunswick and Rockland is part of the state's three-year plan to develop an alternative transportation system to support tourism. Eventually, the train will tie in with the anticipated return of Amtrak passenger rail service between Portland and Brunswick.

The Brunswick-to-Rockland line is expected to provide a slower excursion train that will travel at speeds up to 59 mph to a planned ferry terminal in Rockland. There, it would link with a 400-passenger ferry, similar to the high-speed "Cat" that sails between Bar Harbor and Nova Scotia, to take rail riders across Penobscot Bay.

Maine DOT engineer Russ Spinney said the project is already well along. The state has finished work on a $1 million Long Bridge restoration job in Wiscasset to make it safe for passenger rail service. Earlier this year, the state cleared brush and debris from tracks between Brunswick and Rockland. It collected more than 14,000 junk rail ties during that effort. Welded rail will replace jointed tracks.

An end note...

We try to be accurate in the stories we write, but even seasoned pros err occasionally. If you read something you know to be amiss, or if you have a question about a topic, we'd like to hear from you. Please email the crew at

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