Sunday, 17 April 2005


Both Stephen Karlson and Reihan Salam are less-than-impressed with Amtrak’s latest fiasco: the discovery that the Acela high-speed train’s brakes aren’t up to snuff. Quoth Salam:

Rather than purchase a proven Swedish high-speed train, the X2000 tilt-train, designed to accommodate older, not-quite-straight tracks like those found in the northeastern corridor (and unlike the very straight railtrack used by the TGV and other high-speed lines overseas), Amtrak decided to build an entirely new model at vastly greater expense that—get this—experienced serious mechanical failures from the very start. For the sake of building a much slower fitfully tilting version of the TGV, a non-tilting train, they built a train that, remarkably and at the most inconvenient moments, failed to tilt. Had they gone with the X2000, they would’ve had an excellent high-speed train in 1998. This is stupidity on a colossal scale.

It’s rather clear that the choice of the Bombardier design had more to do with the byzantine financial structure of the deal than technical merit. Not surprisingly, this decision has come back to bite Amtrak in the ass.

As this Boston Globe piece points out, this latest round of bad news did not come at a good time for Amtrak, with many in Congress already highly skeptical of passenger rail and President Bush pushing for rail service to be devolved to the states.