Tag Archives: Amtrak

NARP: “Investment: the logic behind Amtrak’s Acela RFP”

In revenue service, a shroud covers the front coupler so they don’t look so ugly.

Article: National Association of Railroad Passengers – Investment: the logic behind Amtrak’s Acela RFP.

As a general rule, passenger trains in North America don’t make money.  That’s been true for a lot longer than people realize – it goes back to the 1930s and even the 1920s.  All those streamliners before and after WW2?  Railroads trying to get travelers back from the automobile.  By the time the Post Office Department (as the USPS was called then) pulled most of the railroad mail contracts in 1967, it’s was pretty much all over, with all but three railroads relieved of their common carrier passengers obligations by Amtrak a few years later.

But I digress.  The Northeast Corridor has lots of trains, the fastest of which are Amtrak’s Acela which spends most of its time running at 120-135 mph with gusts to 150 up in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.  With hourly service most of the day between Washington, DC, New York, and Boston, it’s very popular.  So popular that it’s now covering its “above the rail” cost.  “Above the rail” means labor and other operating costs but not the capital costs of replacing the trains (usually)  or, most importantly the cost of the 456-mile-long right of way.  This is kind of new for Amtrak and it’s not clear that they are equipped to handle it.


Infrastructure decay: Metro-North WALK Bridge

MTA Video Release: Metro-North Walk Bridge – 6/9/2014 – YouTube.

Unlike most highway infrastructure, which was built after 1950, most (surviving) railroad infrastructure was built before 1950.  Many exceptions in both directions, but generally that’s the case.

Which is a good thing because the facilities built prior to that date were generally overbuilt.  This particular bridge was built in ’96.


It’s lasted over a century and still carries hundreds of Metro-North and Amtrak trains every day between New York’s Penn Station, New Haven, and Boston’s South Station.

Unfortunately, despite the overbuilding, this bridge is past its “best by” date and needs to be replaced.  This week it’s been jamming when it moves, disrupting rail traffic on the entire  Northeast Corridor.  Near the end of the video, you can see a maintenance crew manually unbolting the movable part of the bridge prior to opening.  The new structure, like the other movable bridges replaced on this line in the last 10 years, will probably not require a crew to open bridge.

By the way, WALK is the name Penn Central (successor to the original owner, the New York, New Haven, and Hartford RR) gave to the “interlocking” that controls the bridge and it’s approaches so that trains don’t run into the river.  It’s located in Norwalk, Conn, and crosses the river of the same name.