WASHINGTON -- Amtrak's high-speed Acela train is expected to enter revenue service in the rail line's Northeast Corridor sometime this December, according to George Warrington, Amtrak's president and chief operating officer.

Warrington, speaking during a telephone press conference, said one of 20 planned Acela train sets and two locomotives are undergoing extensive testing at a proving ground in Pueblo, Colo.

Another locomotive, Warrington said, is being tested in and around Philadelphia, along the Northeast Corridor route, at low speeds and mostly at night. "We are testing every aspect of every system," Warrington said. "It is extremely comprehensive, and it goes on day in and day out. It is the way you ensure that when you put a train service into the marketplace, it performs well."

Amtrak also is upgrading the Northeast Corridor to accommodate the trains, which run on electricity, tilt around curves and travel at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour.

Warrington said annual passenger trips number about 11 million on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, between Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston. "We expect that when the [Acela] service is fully introduced through the year 2000, the 11 million annual trips will increase to about 14.8 million annual trips," Warrington said. "Our market share will increase. We will knock the socks off the competition, particularly Delta and US Airways," Amtrak's main challenger for travelers in the Northeast, he said.

Amtrak is confident about the projected growth because ridership in the corridor is soaring, Warrington said. According to Amtrak's figures, the line carried some 1.07 million riders in April, up 3.2% over the period in 1998 -- its best performance for a single month since 1991.

Beyond the Northeast Corridor, Warrington said, Amtrak finished "its ninth straight quarter of ridership increases, and, for the year to date, revenue is up 8.2%."

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