On Track For Faster Service

On Track For Faster Service

In a move that promises to speed fare collection on its 240 trains nationwide, Amtrak has contracted with Motorola to automate the system using equipment developed and manufactured in Israel.

Amtrak, announcing the $24 million contract, said the new system would be introduced on its new Acela Express high-speed rail service linking Boston, New York and Washington. That service had been expected to begin this year, but wheel problems have delayed it until next spring, according to a spokesman for Amtrak, John Wolf.

Amtrak’s president and chief executive officer, George Warrington, said that the project "will be the first and only one of its kind in the passenger rail industry. That is why other passenger railroads are looking to follow our lead."

Wolf said that by the end of next year, all Amtrak trains should be equipped with the equipment.

A spokesman for Motorola, Mike Doheny, said his company was making 1,800 hand-held devices to help Amtrak keep accurate and timely passenger records and revenue data.

The devices, configured with the train’s passenger manifest, read the ticket bar code, process ticket sales that use credit cards, checks or cash, and issue a receipt using a separate printer that fits on the belt. When the train arrives at a station, the information is transmitted to Amtrak’s reservation system.

Late next year, Motorola expects to equip the trains with wireless equipment that will permit the data to be transmitted while the train is in motion.

The Motorola contract calls also for the company to test two smart cards for eventual use on the railroad. The devices, the size of a credit card, have a computer chip that can store and send up to 100 times more information than magnetic-strip cards.

In one pilot project, frequent customers of Acela Express’ first-class service will be able to use the car as an electronic ticket. In the other, the card would be used to track on-board meals on Amtrak’s long-distance runs. The tests are designed to enable the cards to be refined for an eventual larger scale rollout.

Motorola Israel has its sales and engineering offices in Tel Aviv and its manufacturing plant in an industrial zone in Arad. Doheny said Motorola Israel has been manufacturing similar hand-held devices for several years, including ones for the United Parcel Service. UPS has worked with Motorola for the last eight years to develop three generations of the devices, which record package-tracking information.

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