Amtrak is asking the feds to let its trains go faster.
The passenger rail system has petitioned the Federal Railroad Administration to allow it to increase the speed of its Acela trains from 150 mph to 160 mph in three zones along its Northeast corridor — Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Jersey.
The Acela trains, which run between Washington and Boston, serve as Amtrak's express service in the Northeast corridor. In fiscal 2014, Acela had a ridership of more than 3.5 million.
Train control testing for the higher speed would be performed early next year and the agency feels otherwise confident that Acela is ready to operate at the higher speed, Theresa Impastato, Amtrak's deputy chief safety officer, said at a railroad administration hearing Wednesday.
"With that exception, Amtrak believes the technical foundation has been laid for Acela operations for speeds up to 160 miles per hour in the three speed zones," Impastato said. Acela trains are designed to reach a maximum speed of 165 mph, according to Amtrak officials.
Amtrak believes it could be ready to operate the faster trains in Massachusetts and Rhode Island by next year, Impastato said.
Federal Railroad Administration officials and a panel of experts raised questions about Amtrak's petition, citing safety concerns over the designated higher speed zones. Those included whether the higher-speed trains would miss passenger platforms and making sure trespassers don't get into the higher speed zones.
The higher speed zones do not include any passenger platforms, Impastato said. She also highlighted the formation of Amtrak's Intrusion Prevention Workforce and said the agency is working with local transportation agencies in addition to adding more fences to discourage people from trying to cross or walk the tracks.
Amtrak officials also highlighted recent overhauls to its Acela fleet, namely fine-tuned suspension systems, in anticipation of the higher speeds.