Brake defects leave Amtrak scrambling

SUNDAY, APRIL 17, 2005

WASHINGTON – Amtrak cobbled together enough cars and equipment Saturday to run regular trains on the four Acela Express trips scheduled between Washington and Boston.

Brake problems forced the beleaguered passenger railroad on Friday to suspend high-speed service in the Northeast at least through Wednesday and probably for more than two months.

On Sunday, the railroad planned to run three out of its 10 Acela trips with substitute trains, Amtrak spokeswoman Tracy Connell said.

Amtrak normally runs 15 Acela weekday roundtrips between New York and Washington and 11 between New York and Boston. Connell said Amtrak will decide on Sunday how to handle the Acela trips scheduled for Monday.

The Acela trains are built by Bombardier Inc., based in Montreal, and the brakes are under warranty. Bombardier has started to replace some parts and has brought in extra people who are working 24 hours a day in Washington, Boston and New York to replace the faulty brakes, Helene Gagnon, a company spokeswoman in Quebec, said Saturday.

Millimeter-sized cracks were found in 300 of the Acela fleet’s 1,440 disc brake rotors. The problem surfaced when a Federal Railroad Administration worker did a routine inspection Thursday night after a high-speed run to test whether Amtrak could speed up the Acela trains slightly in New Jersey on curves between Trenton and Newark. Amtrak’s 20 Acela trains each have 72 brakes.

Acela accounts for about one-fifth of Amtrak’s service along the Northeast corridor, carrying an average of between 9,000 and 10,000 riders on weekdays.

Gagnon said that Bombardier was still trying to determine what caused the brakes to crack. No decision has been made yet who will pay for the repairs.

“Our priority is to replace the parts and we are working with our suppliers and Amtrak,” Gagnon said. “Any financial discussion will take place later.”

Gagnon added that it was too early to say how long it will take to replace the damaged brakes and the company was waiting to hear from its suppliers to see how many spare brake parts it had. Bombardier should have a better idea by early this week of the exact number of spares in stock, Gagnon said.

Acela Express began operating in December 2000 and was billed as Amtrak’s answer to high-speed rail. The trains run only along the Northeast corridor, with top speeds of 150 mph. Acela trains can get from Washington to New York City in two hours and 48 minutes, while its regular fleet takes more than three hours.


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