DESPITE the generous loading gauge normally available in North America, the New York - Boston schedule for Amtrak’s 240 km/h Acela Express will be 15min longer than the 3h planned for last December’s start of service. Amtrak’s latest estimate for the launch is ’the beginning of August’. Last month endurance testing was in hand from Washington to Boston.

It has now emerged that tilt has to be disabled between New York and New Haven because catenary masts installed in 1912 are too close to the track, and track centres around New Haven are tight. No other portion of the Corridor has similar problems, although the degree of tilt to be used was still being analysed last month. Grady Cothen, FRA Deputy Associate Administrator responsible for safety standards, confirmed that ’our original target was for more than 6í.’

The trains will also be limited to 120 km/h - half their top speed - on Metro-North tracks through southern Connecticut because of sharp curves and the ancient 11 kV catenary, which is not tensioned to compensate for temperature variations. A $340m replacement programme has begun, eventually permitting 145 km/h, but it will take eight years to complete.

Meanwhile, federal agents raided the offices of contractors responsible for the 25 kV electrification north of New Haven on May 17, reportedly seeking evidence that Balfour Beatty Construction Inc and Massachusetts Electric Construction Co had inflated invoices. The 1995 estimate was $321m, but the companies have already received $487m with the final total put at $600m. Amtrak’s Inspector General, Fred Weiderhold, said the action was being taken to protect federal funds. A statement issued by the two firms said ’BBC-MEC believes that the changes and modifications to the contract are appropriate and in accordance with the terms and conditions of the contract.’