Amtrak Tests Faster Trains In Northeast Corridor

Amtrak's Acela Express trains are breaking the speed limit along some stretches in the Northeast corridor. The company it testing how its trains and tracks perform at speeds up to 165 mph. Tests are happening along four isolated stretches of track in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Massachusett

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Speed limits will be broken along the east coast this week. The culprit is Amtrak. Right now, the company's Acela express trains stay under 135 miles an hour between Philadelphia and New York. But this week, Amtrak is testing speeds of up to 165 miles an hour. It could be a sign that true high-speed rail service is coming to the U.S. - though it's not coming all that fast. NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: If you want to see these silver trains speeding down the tracks much faster than normal, you'll have to show up at night. That's when the tests are happening. And if you do go, you'll probably run into diehard train enthusiasts, like Matt Beacon of Yardley, Pennsylvania.

MATT BEACON: I would like to have brought my kids too. I occasionally take them rail fanning(ph). But it was kind of later at night and it's a school night, so they couldn't go.

BRADY: At a train station near Trenton, New Jersey, Beacon set up a video camera and microphone and recording the test train as it sped by.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAIN MOVING)

BEACON: Four-point-one seconds - it was over real fast. But it was exciting. I enjoyed it. The speed, the sound - it just doesn't get any better than that.

BRADY: Beacon is only one of several train buffs who have posted videos on YouTube so far. The political controversies over high-speed rail in the U.S. are not what these enthusiasts want to focus on now. They seem more excited about the engineering involved in these tests and the prospect that high-speed trains, like those in Europe and Asia, are finally coming here. It's not happening quickly though. In New Jersey, where a $450 million high-speed rail project is underway, it'll take five years of construction work before speeds are increased to 160 miles per hour. Cliff Cole is a spokesman for Amtrak.

CLIFF COLE: I think what we try to do is temper the enthusiasm on our end, only because, again, this is just the first step in a long process.

BRADY: Still, there are some stretches now where the Acela Express service travels at 150 miles per hour in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. And it's clear, looking at Amtrak's long-range plans, faster trains and quicker trips are a priority.

COLE: Our ultimate goal and our vision plan is to get the top speed up to 220 miles per hour one day. So, you know, that would dramatically reduce trip time. So, getting our speeds up from 150 to 160 is a big deal for us because we have not reached that area of speed before.

BRADY: Amtrak will continue testing this week and next. The tests are conducted at five miles per hour above the expected maximum. That's why they'll be reaching speeds of 165. The tests are happening along four isolated stretches of track in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Crews are measuring how the train and tracks perform at the higher speeds, how safety is affected and what the experience is like for the passenger. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia.

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