American Railroads

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Location: Middleburg (Jacksonville), Florida, United States

Published in Trains magazine, Railfan & Railroad, Passenger Train Journal

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Amtrak now fixes its own Acelas

Amtrak is now making all repairs on its Acela Express trainsets.

The railroad took full responsibility for maintenance today, formally ending its day-to-day relationship with a Canadian carbuilder that built the railroad’s fastest trains.

The transfer of management and oversight from Montreal-based Bombardier Inc. and French engineering group within the past couple of months is seven years earlier than originally planned, Amtrak said.

Reuters writer John Crawley reported from Washington Amtrak and Bombardier would not comment on the cost of the contract, which had included strict reliability terms for the high-speed trains. The manufacturers will still provide advice and parts, if needed, Amtrak and Bombardier said.

Transfer of maintenance stemmed from an agreement between Amtrak and the consortium in 2004 that settled a legal fight involving Acela’s production and delivery snags and early service setbacks. Acela began service in 2000.

Problems ranged from integrating high-speed rail technology with an aging U.S. rail infrastructure at the start of the decade to bathroom doors that would not close properly.

The worst problem occurred in April 2005 when Amtrak idled its 20 Acelas over parts of five months because of potentially disastrous brake rotor cracks.

Amtrak said it has settled a dispute with the Bombardier-Alstom group and other supplier and maintenance companies over the brake problem.

Financial terms of that resolution, reached in August, are confidential, but Amtrak said the agreement clarifies brake system maintenance and inspection.

Most recently, Amtrak cut power to outlets for laptops, cell phone chargers and other electronic equipment used by passengers because of short circuits. The problem has been fixed, Amtrak said.

The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said last year a smooth maintenance transition was crucial for avoiding further financial turmoil at Amtrak.

Acela, despite its tumultuous history, is popular with passengers, especially business travelers. It accounted for about half of Amtrak ticket revenues on its flagship Northeast Corridor between Boston and New York and a quarter of all ticket sales or $298 million between last October 1 and August 31, the railroad said. Acela carried 2.4 million passengers during the period, which is Amtrak’s fiscal year.

Under the new arrangement, Amtrak must order parts, run the maintenance schedule and supervise the work, which has always been performed by Amtrak employees. Acela maintenance facilities are based in Boston, New York and Washington.

Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black, in Washington, said the railroad hopes to conduct Acela maintenance more efficiently and that the change did not increase costs.

David Slack, a spokesman for Bombardier, said the consortium will have an advisory role.

“The main point is that Amtrak, at some point, decided for strategic or business reasons to bring this in house. You do what your customer wants and we’re working along those lines.”

“The main point is that Amtrak, at some point, decided for strategic or business reasons to bring this in house. You do what your customer wants and we’re working along those lines.”

Acelas are inspected and serviced daily and undergo periodic overhauls of critical systems.

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