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Philadelphia rail expert named to head Amtrak’s high-speed unit

(The following story by Paul Nussbaum appeared on the Philadelphia Inquirer website on September 23, 2010.)

PHILADELPHIA — As Amtrak seeks to create and expand high-speed passenger train operations in the United States, the company on Thursday named Philadelphia rail expert Albrecht "Al" Engel to head its new high-speed rail department.

Amtrak's increased focus on fast trains comes as the Obama administration is pushing for a national network of true high-speed rail lines, with trains that operate at 155 m.p.h. or faster.

The administration this year gave $8 billion in stimulus funds to jump-start high-speed rail projects on 13 corridors in 31 states. It has promised $5 billion more over the next five years. Congressional advocates of high-speed rails are seeking $50 million over the next six years.

Foreign rail companies from France, Germany, Japan, China, Spain, and Canada see the United States as a potentially lucrative market for their high-speed trains because the United States has no high-speed manufacturers and Amtrak is the only long-distance passenger rail operator.

Amtrak, whose fastest Acela Express trains currently reach 150 m.p.h. for brief stretches on the Northeast Corridor, expects to release soon of a study outlining its own vision for true high-speed travel on the Washington-to-Boston corridor.

"Al has considerable expertise, is a dedicated proponent for public transportation, and shares our conviction that Amtrak plays a vital, leading, and necessary role in expanding and operating high-speed rail service across the country," Amtrak president Joseph Boardman said in a statement today.

Engel is vice president and high-speed rail director in the Philadelphia office of AECOM, a global engineering and consulting firm, and he previously was chief executive officer of Systra Consulting Inc., a transit-consulting firm affiliated with SNCF, the French national railway.

A professional engineer, Engel graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1968.

Friday, September 24, 2010

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