Amtrak trims weekday schedule

In an effort to curb delays and boost reliability for business travelers, Amtrak will eliminate four of its 11 weekday New Haven stops on its Acela Express service between Boston and Washington, officials said Tuesday.

With its speedy trains arriving late 30 percent of the time on the congested Northeastern corridor, Amtrak will scale back service to several under-performing weekday stops, including New Haven, beginning Oct. 27. While all 11 daily round-trip Acela trains will continue to operate along the corridor, four will bypass New Haven’s Union Station when traveling between Boston and New York. Weekend Acela service on the entire route will be halved to 10 trips to give crews more time for train maintenance.

Amtrak officials said the New Haven stops will be eliminated because many Acela trains in the Northeast have had problems with on-time performance. New Haven leaders disagreed about the impact of the move — some said the cutback could hurt the city, which relies on the service, while others said the reduction in service would not be a significant problem.

Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said Amtrak will be cutting back on off-peak stops in New Haven. He said this should not adversely affect the 35,000 daily business travelers and commuters who travel the corridor on the Acela.

“We eliminated some station stops to improve the ability of those trains to hit the [time] slot that they are scheduled to hit as they thread their way through this very busy Northeast corridor,” Black said. “There’s a great deal of congestion out there — a lot of train activity. These trains have to be very precise when they enter various segments of the corridor.”

With only 70 percent of Acela trains arriving on-time, Black said Amtrak is missing its on-time target of 90 percent, sometimes frustrating business travelers.

“The Acela has been very popular with business travelers, but we feel it needs to do better in terms of its on-time performance — its reliability needs a boost,” he said. “On-time performance is important to our customers, particularly time-sensitive business travelers who tend to be the users of Acela Express.”

But Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce President Tony Rescigno said Amtrak’s move is a mistake. He said he plans to work with other area chambers of commerce to lobby Amtrak and the federal government to increase service to New Haven.

“I think it’s a real problem for us,” Rescigno said. “It’s never good when you reduce service for some place that actually needs it.”

Michael Morand, Yale’s associate vice president for New Haven and state affairs, said the Amtrak changes reflect a nation-wide funding problem rather than a New Haven-specific one. He said he did not think the cuts would be a “substantial blow” to the city’s economic development.

By improving its on-time performance, Amtrak could see a $1.3 million revenue boost due to enhanced customer satisfaction, Black said. He denied that the cuts in service at some stops are related to heated competition from Delta Airlines and U.S. Airways shuttle service between Boston, New York and Washington, D.C.

“It’s not motivated by airline competition although we do compete successfully with airlines,” Black said. “In fact, we jumped in our New York-Boston market share from 18 percent to 36 percent when we brought on our Acela Express.”

The popular, high-speed Acela service was introduced on the Northeast corridor four years ago, but got off to a slow start. Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the fear of air travel and increased airport security measures led to a roughly 10 percent increase in ridership on Acela.

In addition to New Haven, Acela trains will sometimes bypass Metropark, N.J. and Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Stops in New Carrollton, Md., will be eliminated on all Acela and most Metroliner routes.

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