At A New Center In Wilmington, Computer Technology Gives Engineers A Precise Approach To High-speed Rail. Amtrak Puts The Train (simulated) Into Its New Training

Posted: September 08, 1999

WILMINGTON — Amtrak dedicated its new $4.7 million training center here yesterday, showing off how the tools inside will both polish up customer service and teach locomotive engineers to give smoother rides on less fuel.

A $3 million simulator, which has the look and feel of a real locomotive, and mock-ups of passenger cars will let employees practice what they do before they serve customers on a real train, said Amtrak president George Warrington.

When the throttle is advanced inside the simulator, the sound and ride seem quite real.

"The engineer has a seat-of-the-pants feel of what's happening," said Donald F. Knapik of Philadelphia, Amtrak's general manager for high-speed rail development.

There's only one thing unrealistic about the view out the windshield - the cleanliness. There are no abandoned cars and refrigerators along the way.

Everything else on the Washington-Boston Northeast Corridor is in the computer graphics - from city skylines to crucial signals alongside the track.

On a simulated glide into Philadelphia's 30th Street Station, there are even passengers milling about the platform.

The instructor in an adjacent room can change the weather from sunshine to a heavy downpour, blinding snowstorm or dense fog, or have deer dart across the track.

"We can let them experience many things - many types of emergencies - that in the normal course of events one would never see," Knapik said.

The center staff will teach a much more precise approach to running trains on the Northeast Corridor. This will save electricity on the new 12,000-horsepower high-speed trains. And more precise timing will be required when the 150-mile-an-hour Acela Express trains blend in with slower regional and commuter trains next year, Knapik said.

"The time slots allotted to every train must be precise," he said. "A slight delay in Philadelphia, for example, could cause a major problem later in Boston or Washington."

Now there is a simulator only for the new high-speed trains, but others will soon replicate other types of locomotives that must fit into the more precise timetables.

The locomotive simulators measure performance very precisely from the standpoints of safety, passenger comfort and fuel efficiency, Knapik said.

Delaware Gov. Tom Carper, a former member of Amtrak's board, said the training center is an outgrowth of market research: "One of the things passengers told us is that they like to have people on board the trains who treat them as valued customers."

In the center's mock-up railcars, Amtrak employees will practice new ways of greeting passengers, taking tickets and serving food.

Both Delaware senators - Democrat Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Republican William V. Roth Jr. - also spoke at the center, which overlooks Interstate 95 on one side and the Northeast Corridor tracks on the other.

Biden called the development of high-speed rail corridors "the single most important transportation need in America."

He said it would take nine additional lanes on Interstate 95 to handle the traffic that now moves on Amtrak between Washington and Boston.

"That would be hundreds of thousands of tons of pollution," Biden said. "Amtrak is important not only because it helps our quality of life. It literally impacts our health."

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