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November 30th, South County Independent News of Rhode Island

Acela, regional trains set for takeoff [ with permission from the newspaper ]


By Dan Orchard

Independent Staff Writer


KINGSTON - Amtrak's new high-speed train, the Acela Express, will not be stopping at the Kingston Station on Dec. 11, the day it begins its service from Washington, D.C., to Boston. In fact, it will be streaking through Kingston at the fastest speed permitted by law - 150 mph.

Acela, pronounced "Ah-cell-ah" (a combination of acceleration and excellence), is the U.S. answer to bullet trains that have zoomed through France and Japan for decades. This fall it set the speed record for American trains at 168.8 mph between Kingston and Davisville.

The goal of the service is to cut down travel times while increasing service. Hop on the Acela Express at the Back Bay station in Boston and Amtrak claims you will be looking at Penn Station in New York City in three hours and 18 minutes.

Although the Acela Express will not stop in Kingston, it will stop in Providence and New Haven, Conn., and maybe, after it is established, in New London, Conn.

The old trains from the Northeast Direst service won't be making too many more stops in Kingston either. Amtrak is replacing its Northeast Direct service with Acela Regional, a fleet of electric locomotives. Never again will passengers have to take a 20-minute pit stop in New Haven as the diesel engine is switched with an electric engine for the rest of the trip south.

The regional line also has a top speed of 125 mph - 25 mph faster than Northeast Direct trains - although it will not be able to climb to that speed until it is given approval from the Federal Railroad Administration. Overall, Amtrak boasts the new Acela Regional line will decrease the travel time from Providence to New York City by as much as 80 minutes and will offer reading lamps, electrical outlets and tray tables large enough to accommodate laptop computers at most seats.

Even without the introduction of the Acela, Jack McCabe, a member of The Friends of Kingston Station, said he has seen a noticeable increase in the number of passengers who come through Kingston in the last couple years.

"In the summer there is always the Newport crowd," said McCabe, who also works at the station as a ticket agent for Amtrak. "But we have seen people come down from as far as Tiverton. They feel safer, there's free parking and it's less congested than going to the station in the city."

Although it will be traveling along half of the Eastern Seaboard, the Acela Express will achieve its top speed on only two stretches of track in Rhode Island and one spot in Massachusetts.

According to McCabe, the Acela can reach its maximum speed safely in Rhode Island because the state has no railroad crossings. The last crossing, which was on Wolf Rock Road in Exeter north of the University of Rhode Island, was recently eliminated.

McCabe is also the volunteer in charge of Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit safety education program that is being initiated in Rhode Island to keep the public informed about the risks associated with electric locomotives and high-speed trains.

"People need to know about the dangers associated with the electrical wires and how long it takes an electric train to stop," he said. "Electric trains are quieter [than diesel trains]. You might not even know it's there if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction."

Awareness is the foundation of Operation Lifesaver, which operates in 49 states. McCabe intends to use eight trained volunteers to bring the organization's lessons to police stations, fire departments and schools around the state.

"Yes, the trains are fun and interesting and the station is cute, but we want to make sure that we support any efforts that teach people how to exist with the new technology in a safe way," McCabe said.

The Federal Railroad Administration said that in 1998, two pedestrians were killed and another was injured in Rhode Island because they were trespassing on railroad tracks. No one was injured by automobile accidents with trains.

Groups that are interested in having Operation Lifesaver give a presentation should contact McCabe by e-mail at or explore Operation Lifesaver's national Web site at

The Kingston station also will see some improvements as Amtrak upgrades it to accommodate bullet trains.

Amtrak will build a bridge over the tracks so that passengers will be able to reach the second platform safely. The overpass will stand on two towers, each nearly four stories tall and equipped with an elevator and stairs. A footbridge will clear the electrical wires and connect the towers.

According to McCabe, Amtrak is making a serious effort to design an overpass that matches the historical image of the station. Amtrak sent copies of its plan to the Friends of Kingston Station and the R.I. Historical Society for review and input, and so far there have no been no complaints.

with permission of the writer and editor