Letter to the Editor: Partnership proposal can increase safety for Amtrak passengers


Editor’s note: The following was sent to Anthony Coscia, chair of the National Railroad Passenger Corp. on March 21.

On Jan. 4, 2023, AmeriStarRail’s senior adviser, Paul Reistrup (former president of Amtrak), sent a letter to Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose, expressing safety concerns for continuing to operate the aging Amfleet cars at speeds up to 125 mph on the Northeast Corridor since “no rail passenger service in North American railroad history has operated passenger train cars so old, so fast.” AmeriStarRail’s privately funded solution, if implemented, will begin to replace the Amfleet cars this year and replace all of these cars before they turn 50 years old in 2025.

As described in Mr. Reistrup’s letter, which was provided to you and other Amtrak board members, AmeriStarRail is proposing to replace the Amfleet cars with an additional order of the Alstom Avelia Liberty trainsets, currently being built in Hornell, New York, to offer “triple-class service” for coach, business and first-class passengers on every Northeast Corridor train. This is the fastest way to replace the Amfleet cars with trainsets that are equipped with safety features that do not exist on the Amfleet cars.

Although Amfleet cars, built in the 1970s, meet current Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) safety standards, they do not have the structural materials, safety features, technology and crash energy management systems found in the current Acela fleet or the next generation Alstom-built Acela fleet. This is why AmeriStarRail believes that the safest course of action is to remove Amfleet cars from high-speed Northeast Corridor service as soon as possible and replace them with newer, safer trainsets.

The FRA, National Transportation Safety Board and AmeriStarRail are ready to meet with Amtrak officials to have a proactive meeting to discuss the safety advantages of replacing all of the Amfleet cars on the Northeast Corridor before they turn 50 years old vs. Amtrak’s uncertain replacement date sometime after the year 2030. Unfortunately, for more than two months, Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner and his executive team have ignored the opportunity to participate in this meeting that is vital for improving passenger safety.

It is unacceptable and unsafe for Amtrak to ignore an opportunity to meet and evaluate the unprecedented safety risks of operating half-century-old passenger cars at 125 mph when safer alternatives are readily available, without additional government grants. AmeriStarRail’s solution offers equitable safety for the 70% of Northeast Corridor passengers who ride the aging Amfleet cars because they can’t afford to ride the newer Acela trainsets equipped with the latest safety technology.

Given the importance of providing all passengers with the highest levels of safety on the Northeast Corridor, we at AmeriStarRail request the prompt intervention of Amtrak board members to ensure Amtrak executives arrange for an Amtrak official, with Amfleet expertise, participate in the conference/video call with the Federal Railway Administration, National Transportation Safety Board and AmeriStarRail. Discussion of the safety advantages of implementing our proposal to replace Amfleet cars on the Northeast Corridor with safer trainsets, before they become 50 years old, is imperative for improving the safety of Amtrak passengers and should be given the highest priority.

Paul H. Reistrup

Former president, Amtrak

Senior adviser, AmeriStarRail

Scott R. Spencer

Chief operating officer, AmeriStarRail

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