Amtrak suspends Acela train service

Students from the Northeast may need to rethink their travel plans after finals, as Amtrak pulled all 20 of its high-speed Acela trains from service last week.

After inspectors found cracks in nearly all of the trains’ break rotor spokes, Amtrak announced that the 165-mile-per-hour express train’s service would be suspended indefinitely, citing safety as its top priority. Although Amtrak plans to bring in substitute trains from other parts of the country, railroad officials said they anticipate larger crowds and slower rides without the Acela.

Amtrak has been offering customers who already reserved Acela tickets a trade-in for another service, refunding either the price difference or the entire ticket for canceled trips.

To fill the canceled spots between Washington and New York, Amtrak is bringing in Metroliner trains, which ran the route before the Acela and have fewer cars per train. For now, only Regional trains, which make more stops and do not offer reserved seats, will operate between New York and Boston.

These replacements also lack Acela’s amenities, which include conference tables in passenger cars and expanded menus. Both of these changes will affect New Haveners who travel through Union Station.

In response to the removed trains, Metro-North Railroad has added commuter train routes from Union Station to Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Metro-North/Shoreline East Rail Commuter Council Vice Chairman Jim Cameron said he doubts the suspension of Acela will affect the timeliness of train service to Union Station, but customers will be losing the quality and comfort of the line.

“The Acela trains are really nice and comfortable inside, and they make fewer stops,” Cameron said. “But they cater mostly to businesspeople that are willing to pay steeper prices, so I don’t know how many students will be affected.”

In reaction to the Acela problems, President George Bush ’68 is urging Congress to eliminate Amtrak’s operating subsidy and privatize the rail service. Regardless of whether the service ends up being operated through a private or public entity, Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell has included an unprecedented investment of $667 million in the state’s train system.

“The bottom line is that Rell will continue to monitor the progress of the debate between the president and Congress, but right now she feels that our mass-transit system is on life support,” Rell’s spokesman Adam Liegeot ’94 said. “We’ve neglected the problem for way too long, and it’s time to step up to the plate, and the governor has done this with her investment.”

Acela normally makes up about one-fifth of Amtrak’s service along the Northeast corridor, carrying an average of 9,000 riders on weekdays. Cameron said he expects Amtrak to lose hundreds of millions of dollars because passengers will either purchase tickets for cheaper trains or will use alternate transportation, such as the air shuttle between New York and Boston.

Cara Kiernan ’07, who always takes the five-hour Acela train from New Haven to Washington, D.C., said she is indifferent between flying from Hartford or taking the Metroliner because they are about equally priced.

“I am really disappointed that the Acela has been canceled, and now both of my options are less convenient,” Kiernan said. “Flying means having to deal with transportation to the airport, but the old trains are less comfortable and take much longer, and they hardly ever run on time.”

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