New trains AND a renewed corridor

Amtrak is setting aside tens of millions for track improvements as part of $2.4 billion in spending on new Northeast Corridor trains
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Vice President Joe Biden gestures in Wilmington, Del., during an unveiling ceremony Friday for a new series of Alstom-made high speed passenger equipment. From left are Amtrak board Chairman Anthony Coscia; Amtrak President Joe Boardman; Biden; U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del.; and Albert DiClemente, an Amtrak board member. A model of the proposed trains in an unknown scale appears before the dignitaries.
R.G. Edmonson
WILMINGTON, Del. — If Joe Boardman is right, Aug. 26, 2016, marks the start of a new chapter in the story of high speed railroading in the United States.

“The future of rail travel starts today,” Boardman, Amtrak's president said. “We are going to have a platform that can deliver international-standard high-speed performance along the Northeast Corridor.”

Amtrak chose its historic Wilmington station as the place to introduce the next generation of Acela high-speed trains on Aug. 25. The unveiling took place in a room on the platform level, where the rumble of Northeast Corridor trains passing outside provided the background sounds.

Invited guests included federal officials, representatives of Alstom, that will manufacture the trainsets, and Amtrak employees. A senior Amtrak official said they were the engineers, lawyers, accountants and others who worked hard to bring the project to fruition. This was their reward, he said.

Amtrak's top executives, Chairman Anthony R. Coscia, and Boardman, who is set to retire Sept. 1., spoke broadly of the scope of the new Acela program which will be financed by a $2.45 billion loan, the largest ever made by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Along with the trainsets, Amtrak will invest $170 million for improvements at Washington Union Station and New York Penn Station, $90 million for track upgrades to allow the new trains to run at 186 mph, and $80 million for safety improvements.

“We're making the most significant investment in passenger rail that's ever been made in this country,” Coscia said. “We will bring together a train system that will be a clear example for the entire country, to build a national network that will create the kind of mobility that Americans are looking for.”

Amtrak estimates that the new trains will start coming on line in 2021. The 28 sets will carry larger passenger loads and cover a schedule of every 30 minutes from Washington and New York during peak periods.

Coscia said that when Boardman became Amtrak's chief executive, “The question was whether or not Amtrak could survive another year. No one is having those conversations any more. We're here to stay.”

Coscia said that none of this would have been possible without the support of — his words — Amtrak's No. 1 customer, Vice President Joe Biden. Biden became famous for the daily commutes he made between Wilmington and Washington during his 35 years in Congress. By Biden's reckoning, he made some 8,400 round trips comprising 2.8 million miles.

Coscia said Amtrak's chief financial officer was worried that if Biden figured out how many Amtrak Rewards points he'd accrued, the railroad would have to pony up another $2 billion.
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A close-up image of a model of the new trainsets Alstom will building for Amtrak and the Northeast Corridor. The articulated trainsets will be part of the Avelia Liberty series.
R.G. Edmonson
There's a reason the Wilmington station bears Biden's name. In addition to his patronage, Biden is Amtrak's cheerleader-in-chief.

Biden started his keynote address with the observation that Wilmington was a railroad town.

“Two things built this city, shipbuilding and railroads. The people owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the guys in the Wilmington shops. They did an enormous amount of work to make sure the trains ran on time.

“This is family.” Biden said. “The reason why in the tough times, when Amtrak was bereft of having the funds to keep things going, it was the extra miles that the employees have gone.”

Biden then turned to speak about the new project.

“The [Coscia] said that this was a loan, it was not a gift. It should be a gift! Why in this country are we so boneheaded to not understand the essential value of a rail system that's modern throughout the whole country? Why do we argue about it?" the vice-president said. "What does not make sense?”

Biden said Amtrak was also an essential part of national security. When the Northeast Corridor closed for one day after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, it cost the economy $150 million. “After 9/11 you'd need seven more lanes on I-95 to accommodate the traffic if Amtrak shut down.”

Future technology may find more efficient ways to move people, “In the meantime you can't make this country work without rail,” Biden said. “That's why this $2.45 billion is so important.”

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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