A great article appeared in Sunday's New York Times, analyzing the disaster-in-slow-motion that was the development and deployment of the "high-speed" Acela train.
It was called the American Flyer, and its goals were ambitious: to speed train travel between Northeastern cities, steal customers from air shuttles, provide the model for a nationwide fast rail system and help its deficit-prone parent, Amtrak, earn a profit. "These trains will enable Amtrak to carry its customers into the 21st century aboard 21st-century trains," said Thomas M. Downs, Amtrak's president, at a 1996 ceremony announcing a $611 million contract for the new trains.It's a long article, but well worth a read, especially if you're a railfan.
Today that train is called the Acela, and instead of being Amtrak's savior, it has become a frustrating burden. On Wednesday, the company announced plans to sideline all 20 Acelas until summer to replace cracked brakes. It was the third major disruption of the high-speed service since it came on line in 2001.
The tale of the Acela is in many ways the story of Amtrak itself, where political pressures, tight budgets, contested regulations and design changes turned a high-speed train into something slower, more expensive and less reliable than what Amtrak had promised.