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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis April 8, 2011
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Amtrak’s Engel Stresses Importance of High-Speed Rail in U.S.
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor

“The rest of the world has been investing in high-speed rail, with more than 8,000 miles of high-speed rail globally,” said Albrecht (Al) Engel, vice president, high-speed rail, for Amtrak. “In a global economy, multinational companies will invest where they have the best mobility.”

Engel emphasized the importance of a high-speed rail network in the U.S. and his vision of how to accomplish that goal when he spoke April 5 at a Transportation Tuesday program in the APTA offices in Washington, DC. He acknowledged President Obama’s support for high-speed rail—saying: “It’s wonderful to have a president who speaks for this.”

“I think Amtrak is the best path to high-speed rail,” Engel said. He noted that its Acela service already moves at high speed—150 miles per hour—in the Northeast Corridor between New York City and Boston, although it is far slower than lines in Europe and Asia that may top 200 mph.

He cited statistics showing the efficient and affordable service provided by Amtrak: the system has seen record ridership for the past six years; it recovers more than 76 percent of its costs from the farebox; 69 percent of travelers in the New York-Washington market travel by either rail or air; and the Northeast Corridor supports 722,000 rides each day on both Amtrak and commuter rail.

One structural challenge facing true high-speed rail in the corridor, however, is that the newest part of the rail line is 75 years old and many rail bridges have operated for more than a century. Outdated infrastructure is a primary cause of bottlenecks, he explained.

“We’re building for our grandchildren,” Engel said, “but at the same time we don’t want you to wait 30 years for a high-speed rail network. We want to make stairstep increases that you can see.”

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