Acela Decelerates

Dr. Ted Schwartz
CBS/The Early Show
Just one day after entering regular passenger service, Amtrak's high-speed Acela Express train was sidelined Tuesday as mechanics fixed the metal bars that connect the train to overhead electrical lines.

After its round trip to Boston Monday, Amtrak inspectors found "minor damage" on the train's pantograph, said railway spokesman Rick Remington. He said the equipment was repaired but not in time for the train to leave Washington at 5 a.m. Tuesday for its second day of service.

A conventional Amtrak Metroliner train was sent out in its place. But that train ran into problems of its own, suffering engine failure near Bridgeport, Conn. The train resumed and was running about two hours behind schedule, Remington said.

The Acela Express train, with its distinctive tapered nose and upgraded seats and amenities, was on its way to Boston without passengers late Tuesday morning. Amtrak officials said it would resume service on the southbound return trip that leaves Boston's South Station at 5:12 p.m.

Amtrak spokeswoman Cecilia Cummings said the equipment problem "is nothing that is specific to high-speed rail. It's just one of the mechanical vulnerabilities of electric trains."

"Because it's the Acela Express," she added, "we wanted to err on the side of double, double, super caution, so we pulled it" out of service.

All Amtrak passengers who had bought tickets for the northbound Acela Express train will receive refunds, Remington said.

He said passengers stuck on the Metroliner train when it suffered engine failure north of New York will get full refunds, while others will be reimbursed the difference up to $21 between a Metroliner fare and an Acela Express fare.

The eight-car train is the first of 20 that Amtrak is receiving from Bombardier Transportation of Canada and Alstom Ltd. of France. Acela Express incorporates the electric propulsion system of the French TGV, manufactured by Alstom, with Bombardier's advanced tilt technology, which allows the train to take curves at higher speeds.

The train reaches a top speed of 135 mph between Washington and New York, and 150 mph between New York and Boston. Higher speeds will be possible when tracks are upgraded.

All 20 Acela Express trains are scheduled to be operating in the Washington-New York-Boston Northeast Corridor by next summer. If they prove popular, Amtrak hopes to offer high-speed service elsewhere. The top speed for most passenger trains outside the Northeast Corridor is 79 mph.

After several delays, Amtrak took delivery of the first eight-car train in October. The train carried VIPs from Washington to Boston in an inaugural run on Nov. 16.

It entered regular passenger service Monday, connecting Washington and New York in two hours, 47 minutes, making stops in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. From New York, it reached Boston in three hours, 38 minutes with stops in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

The train made it return trip from Boston to Washington Monday night.

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