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Al Engel, Amtrak's VP of high-speed rail, talks about company goals

(The following story by Phil Ellingsworth Jr. appeared on the Boyertown Times website on October 8, 2010.)

PHILADELPHIA — Congo native Al Engel has an affinity for railroading, as it is something he has been doing his entire life, from working on model trains with his father to designing locomotives with General Electric.

Engel, named Amtrak’s first vice president for high-speed rail on Sept. 23, has more than 40 years of experience in the railroading field and will be working with the nation’s passenger rail service to develop the Northeast Corridor rail service and other lines across the United States.

“I was fortunate enough to be invited in,” he said. “I couldn’t resist the opportunity to participate in the national level.”

He explained that Amtrak has a vision to improve the Northeast Corridor, setting aside $117 billion to improve the area in order to improve speeds from 150 mph to about 220 mph, which would drastically eliminate travel time.

“There’s a lot to be done,” he stated.

Engel got his start in railroading early in life, working with his father on the family’s HO scale model train set.

“My father started his career early in life as an apprentice for a railroad,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been exposed to all my life.”

Growing up in the Boyertown area, Engel attended Boyertown Area Senior High School, explaining that the science programs at the school were excellent, spurring him to attend Penn State University for electrical engineering in 1964.

“We had a great science program,” he said.

After his junior year at PSU, Engel landed a summer job at General Electric in the locomotive department, becoming even more involved with railroading.

“It kept me busy all summer and I learned a great deal about the design and production of these large machines,” explained Engel.

Admittedly, railroading is not the only thing that Engel recalls from his youth in Boyertown and the surrounding area.

Engel remembers when his father would bring home surplus building materials, which Engle would use to design and build various contraptions, such as a sedan chair and a rickshaw.

“During my early teens, I entered some of these in the Boyertown Halloween parades where I would win cash prizes,” he said.

He also recounts saving money for college by working at local businesses, such as a dairy farm in Congo, an orchard in Bally, a sales clerk and merchandise department manager, and a pipe factory in Pottstown.

Academics and extracurricular activities were also an important part of Engel’s youth.

While attending BASH, he said he enjoyed taking part in activities, such as playing the clarinet in both the marching and dance bands, and participating in the debate team.

“It was a marvelous experience,” he added.

After living in the New York metropolitan area and New Jersey suburbs for 27 years, Engel is happy to be living back in the area.

Now residing in Harleysville area, he said the people are “very friendly” and there is a lot to do, as he is an active member of the Sounderton-Telford Rotary Club.

“We live in the country where we can observe active farms and yet are not far from great cultural activities and the second largest mall in the country,” he stated.

Monday, October 11, 2010

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