THIS MONTH should see the launch of a 2h 28min timing by an Acela Express trainset between New York and Washington DC. Just 2min faster than the introductory schedule of April 2 1969 for the original Metroliner EMUs, the non-stop timing builds on the launch in December of a single return working between the two cities. It also marks the start of a service build-up that will eventually see 19 weekday round trips between the two cities, with 10 between New York and Boston. Early reports suggest that the new train was well received in its first four weeks of service.

If Acela services develop as planned, there is no doubt that enthusiasm for high speed trains will grow outside the Northeast Corridor. But the high speed lobby suffered a setback on December 15 when a spending package that would have provided $10bn of federal funds for 11 high speed corridors was defeated by Congress as lawmakers rushed to end the 2000 legislative session. The news was mitigated by statements from Democrat and Republican party leaders who pledged to re-examine the proposal during 2001.

California and Florida have been fertile ground for a series of high speed line projects in the last three decades. Not one has yet progressed to the point of construction, but consultants are now at work again. On December 18 the California High Speed Rail Authority approved plans that will allow three teams of consultants to begin environmental and engineering studies taking three years for a 1126 km high speed network to be built by 2016.

Routes to be studied run from the San Francisco Bay Area to Merced in the San Joaquin Valley, from Sacramento to Bakersfield, and from Bakersfield to Los Angeles. Among issues exercising the consultants are route alignments, station locations, environmental impact and integration with local transport and land use plans. Also on December 18, CHSRA selected engineering consultant HNTB to lead a study on the Los Angeles - San Diego inland route and authorised a final study on an alternative route through Orange County; the choice of consultant for this route was to be made on January 24.

In Florida a detailed proposal for another high speed railway was presented to Governor Jeb Bush in early January. Unlike the north-south line approved by voters in November (RG 12.00 p798), this one would run east-west to link Florida’s two coasts. The initial scheme, first publicised in late 1999, called for a line from St Petersburg to Port Canaveral, but the project is now in at least two phases, with the first running from Orlando International Airport to Tampa Union Station. Cost would be $1·2bn, part of which would be financed by the private sector. Trains running at up to 240 km/h would carry three million people a year. Needless to say, the project would be a major factor in Florida’s bid to host the 2012 Olympics.

  • The state of Washington plans to purchase a fleet of 50 refrigerated wagons that, coupled to Amtrak trains, could haul fresh produce to the eastern USA. Specifications were drawn up in December and a request for proposals is expected shortly.