Take the A-train, please

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From a historical perspective, it's always interesting to look at the close-but-no-cigar victims of progress: those inventions that sounded like a good idea at the time but were quickly supplanted by ones that performed the same tasks better, faster, smarter.

The Stanley Steamer, the eight-track tape, the mimeograph machine; all seemed sound until the real deal hit town. Anybody who bought Xerox on the ground floor knows what I'm talking about.

Could Amtrak's Acela high-speed rail project be a candidate for that list of also-rans? Acela's tilt-technology trains, which are slated to be rolled out this fall, have been marketed as the last word in high-speed rail. Now up pops Maglev, an electomagnetic rail system that lets trains float above the tracks at speeds upwards of 300 mph. Maglev projects, already under way in Japan and Germany, are quietly getting off the ground, literally, in this country.

As a history buff, I'm fascinated. As a taxpayer and a traveler, I'd like to know if Amtrak is spending my money on a giant eight-track player.

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