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Amtrak halts Acela service due to brake woes

Amtrak canceled service Friday on its Acela Express due to braking problems on the high-speed trains that carry passengers between Washington, New York and Boston.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Amtrak canceled service Friday on its Acela Express because of brake problems with the high-speed trains that carry passengers between Washington, New York and Boston. It forced an estimated 10,000 passengers to find seats on other trains.

Cracks were found on the disc brakes on most coaches during routine inspections, Amtrak said in a statement, adding that no brake failures or other safety problems had occurred.

The problem was limited to Acela Express trains and service will remain canceled until the problem is fixed, said Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black.

Acela’s average weekday ridership is about 9,000, but on Fridays it usually moves about 10,000 passengers along the Northeast corridor.

Most other Amtrak service was scheduled to operate normally, but the company has added four more regional trains, which are slower than the Acela, to the schedule to try to handle the displaced passengers.

Amtrak said its Metroliner service was operating Friday, with the exception of train No. 102, which departs Washington for New York at 10 a.m. EDT. That also was canceled.

“It’s going to be a challenge for us because we have limited additional equipment,” said Black. He said it was too early to say how long it would take to inspect and possibly repair or replace the 1,440 brake discs on the Acela trains.

The cancellations will put the most strain on service between New York to Boston, where Acela accounts for a greater percentage of passenger trains.

The service cancellation couldn’t come at a worse time for Amtrak, with the White House seeking to radically reshape what Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta had called “a dying railroad company.”

Just a day earlier, the White House sent Congress a plan to reshape Amtrak as a private operator focused on running trains, not maintaining tracks or stations.

President Bush proposed in his 2006 budget eliminating Amtrak’s operating subsidy. If the railroad ceased operating, the administration has offered to set aside $360 million to run trains along the Northeast Corridor. The current budget gives Amtrak some $1.2 billion in operating subsidies and capital investment.

Opponents of the plan, chief among them Northeast lawmakers, say the move would effectively kill Amtrak and end passenger rail service in many parts of the country.

When Acela service was launched Dec. 11, 2000, the trains were billed as the faster, brighter future of Amtrak. Running only in the Northeast corridor, the trains can reach speeds of 150 mph and feature amenities such as conference tables in passenger cars, pub-style cafe cars with expanded menus and three audio music channels with headphone outlets at each seat.

Acela Express service also was halted in August 2002 after inspectors discovered cracks on a bracket holding a shock-absorbing assembly to one Acela Express locomotive. Additional cracks were later found around the assemblies of other locomotives.

Amtrak normally runs 15 Acela weekday roundtrips between New York and Washington and 11 between New York and Boston. Acela accounts for about 20 percent of its Boston-New York-Washington weekday service.