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April 21, 2005

Murder Of The Orient Express

I love trains, not just because they're smoother and quieter than, say, buses, and more convenient than planes for shortish jaunts, but because there's just something... dare I say, romantic about them.

And, of course, railyards are a perfect hunting ground for my Most Dangerous Game sessions against drugged hobos.

John Tierny at the New York Times concludes that Amtrack is dead and so, therefore, is passenger rail. The much-heralded Acela program isn't going to work.

It's a nice train and all, but the fares are just too expensive to shave forty minutes off a NY-DC trip. And now there are tecnical problems up the wazoo.

But in the 1990's, after writing a book on foreign trains, he finally gave up hope. Japan and other countries were setting rail speed records and reviving their rail systems by turning them over to private companies, but Amtrak was still going nowhere. Mr. Vranich made the conversion from spokesman to scourge, arguing in books titled "Derailed" and "End of the Line" that train service would never improve as long as Amtrak had a monopoly on it.


Aside from the latest problem with the brakes, the Acela has been plagued by cracks in its suspension system (which shut down the service in 2002) and goofs ranging from bathroom doors that don't work to cars that were built, oops, four inches too wide for the train to take curves at high speeds. It's a slowpoke by international standards even when it arrives on schedule, but it's on time on only three-quarters of its trips.

Amtrak officials no longer pretend that Acela is the future - they've vowed not to buy any more of the trains - but they insist that they still know the solution to passengers' woes: more money from Washington. Last week, though, the Bush administration adopted Mr. Vranich's idea of giving the federal money to someone other than the folks who brought us the Acela.

Well, maybe not quite dead yet. Maybe there's something about private enterprise that's magic.

Via The View Through the Windshield, apparently a blog about cars and trucks and things that go.

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posted by Ace at 01:09 PM

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