Alex Goldmark is a senior producer in the newsroom for New Tech City and Transportation Nation.
Amtrak is testing a new top speed this week. The national rail network will be running empty test trains at 165 m.p.h at several locations along the Northeast corridor. The current top speed is 150 m.p.h. on stretches between New York and Boston, and 130 m.p.h south of New York. Those are the fastest rail speeds in the U.S.
These tests are part of a long slow process to transform the Northeast Corridor into true high-speed rail service. See the vision for that here.
The tests, beginning tonight and stretching through the week, are designed to pave the way for passenger service of 160 m.p.h. on about 100 miles of route between Boston and Washington D.C.. Each stretch being tested is between 20 and 30 miles long. Federal regulations require tests of 5 m.p.h. above maximum operating speeds.
European and Asian high-speed trains routinely top 200 m.p.h.
Existing Acela equipment will be used for the tests. Though Acela service tops out at 150 m.p.h. for about 34 miles in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, average operating speeds are lower: 81.8 m.p.h. between NY and Washington, D.C. and 75.4 m.p.h between NY and Boston.
Acela trains top 125 m.p.h for 45 percent of the Boston to D.C. trip, but reach what Amtrak calls the "very high speed" of 150 m.p.h for just 5 percent of the NY-DC trip. Track congestion, route curvature, station stops, and infrastructure factors inhibit higher speeds on other portions. Federal regulations, like the one requiring this week's test of a new top speed, also limit speed.
Here's the full announcement from Amtrak with test locations:
AMTRAK TO OPERATE TEST TRAINS AT 165 MPH
Four test areas cover more than 100 miles of the Northeast Corridor
WASHINGTON- Beginning tonight and continuing into next week, Amtrak plans to operate high-speed test trains at 165 mph in four areas covering more than 100 miles of the Northeast Corridor. The tests in Maryland / Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Massachusetts are locations that may at some future time experience regular 160 mph service.
The tests will utilize high-speed Acela Express equipment and will measure the interaction between the train and the track, rider quality and other safety factors. The test runs must be performed at 5 mph above the expected maximum operating speed of 160 mph.
The test areas between approximately Perryville, Md. - Wilmington, Del. (21.3 miles) and Trenton - New Brunswick, N.J. (22.9 miles) currently have a maximum speed limit of 135 mph. The test areas between approximately Westerly - Cranston, R.I. (29.2 miles) and South Attleboro - Readville, Mass. (27.8 miles) currently have a maximum speed limit of 150 mph. The same areas were used for similar high-speed tests before the introduction of Acela service.
The initial test run is in New Jersey where Amtrak is presently advancing design, engineering and other pre-construction activities for a $450 million project funded by the federal high-speed rail program. The project includes upgrading track, electrical power, signal systems and overhead catenary wires to improve reliability for Amtrak and commuter rail service, and is necessary to permit regular train operations at the faster speeds. Some construction activity is anticipated in 2013, but the project will ramp up dramatically thereafter to be completed in 2017.
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