In video footage, CBS transportation reporter Kris Van Cleave on special assignment covering a topic that I think gets too little attention in the grand scheme of things, high-speed railroading and high-speed trains, spoke with authorities in their particular areas of expertise on some of the finer points regarding Amtrak’s new Acela trains which the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (as Amtrak is formally known) projects to have running up and down the company’s Northeast Corridor or NEC tracks in 2021. The viewer/listener, meanwhile, is treated to the sight and sound of one of manufacturer Alstom’s latest Acela examples undergoing one year of comprehensive testing on electrified trackage belonging to the Transportation Technology Center (TTC) located 25 miles from Pueblo, Colorado.
The test train on at least a portion of one of its trial runs, operating at a top speed of 165 miles per hour, in watching that, besides it being sensational, well, to be honest, bordered on the hypnotical! We see the accented-in-red, blue and white train lean into a curve, whirring on past with seemingly the greatest of ease and with hardly a sound. A sound, which, by the way, is not the least bit unpleasant.
The viewer is introduced to Amtrak Vice President Caroline Decker, TTC Vice President of Operations Dave Mauger and Director, Acela Project at Alstom Didier Cuadrado who, in speaking about the train and the program, provided their perspectives.
The entire approximately three-and-a-half-minute-long production was presented on CBS This Morning on Friday, Oct. 9th, only days ago. The Cleave report, as far as I’m concerned, came off without a hitch. And the CBS news correspondent’s reporting did definite justice.
However, it was the vocal exchange that followed the special-assignment presentation among CBS This Morning’s three co-anchors – Gayle King, Tony Dokoupil and Anthony Mason – that really caught my attention and the basis for my writing on this and Mason’s concluding remark that the tracks on which the new Acela trains will operate are, in Mason’s own in this case “word” in question, “terrible.” And, this immediately after he heaped praise for the train.
And, my immediate reaction: That last word as it were was both unfair and inaccurate.
On the NEC, Acela trains on some stretches currently operate at a top speed of 150 miles per hour. The trains average a speed of 70 to 79 miles per hour typically. As reported on in the Cleave segment, the new Acela’s, once they’re in service, will be operated at a maximum speed of 160 mph.
Even at the average speed, that can’t be achieved without the track structure being in tip-top condition. And, on the NEC that means track that meets or exceeds certain specifications.
As it relates there are a half-dozen different track classifications: Classes 1 through 6, the last being track of the highest quality regarding railroad trackage in the U.S., Amtrak’s NEC having that very designation. This is in stark contrast to the shape that the bulk of America’s rail infrastructure was in just four decades earlier when, in 1980, this industry, steeped in history and tradition, in the U.S. almost went extinct.
Now, if we’re for setting the record straight, talk about terrible, the complete undoing of this nation’s railroad industry, had this happened, this would definitely qualify. This and the millions upon millions of humans who have died before their time the world over, over the years, decades and centuries even, due to the effects of polluted air. Now, that’s terrible!
So, tell me: Does the track in the displayed article-incorporated-photo below look terrible to you? I didn’t think so.
For more about the new Acela trains and the state of U.S. high-speed rail development, see: “About ready to roll: American high-speed rail” here.
Image above: Chao-Hwa Chen
– Alan Kandel