Amtrak: Acela's Continued Problems Underscore the Importance of Meeting Broader Challenges in Managing Large-Scale Projects Page: 3 of 19
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Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:
I appreciate the opportunity to testify on the National Railroad Passenger
Corporation's (Amtrak) Acela program and the overall management of the
corporation. Intercity passenger rail is at a critical crossroads regarding its
future in the United States. Amtrak has struggled since its inception to
earn sufficient revenues and depends heavily on federal subsidies to
remain solvent. The April 2005 action to remove the Acela trainsets-the
combination of locomotives and passenger cars-from service has only
exacerbated problems by putting increased stress on Amtrak's ability to
maintain ridership and revenue levels and could make Amtrak's financial
condition even more precarious. Amtrak's Acela program accounted for
not quite one-fourth of the ridership and about 44 percent of revenue on
the Northeast Corridor-Amtrak's busiest rail route-in fiscal year 2004.
My statement today addresses numerous issues of interest to the Congress
as it delves into Amtrak's handling of this most recent incident involving
Acela, and more generally, the future of intercity passenger rail in this
country. I will cover four areas: (1) background on the problems Amtrak
experienced during the development of the Acela program, (2) a summary
of issues related to the lawsuits between Amtrak and the consortium of
train manufacturers (the Consortium), Bombardier and Alstom, and the
subsequent settlement, (3) key challenges associated with implementing
the settlement, and (4) possible broader challenges at Amtrak in managing
other large-scale projects. The information I will present is primarily based
on reports that we have issued over the last several years.'
Significant issues and controversy have impacted the Acela program since
its inception. Among the issues that have impacted the Acela program are
the following: (1) potential difficulties due to new technology, (2) impacts
from new safety standards to accommodate high-speed rail, (3)
manufacturing and production delays, and (4) abbreviated testing of the
trains prior to placement in revenue service. The Acela trainsets are not an
"off-the-shelf" piece of equipment but rather a combination of both new
and existing technology. According to the Federal Railroad Administration
(FRA), this was the first time this particular combination of new and
existing technology had been designed as one unit. As such, the equipment
required considerable time to develop and test, and the probability of
expected and unexpected problems was high. Furthermore, the trainset
1See the enclosure for a list of related GAO products.
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United States. Government Accountability Office. Amtrak: Acela's Continued Problems Underscore the Importance of Meeting Broader Challenges in Managing Large-Scale Projects, text, May 11, 2005; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc293524/m1/3/: accessed January 22, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.