Friday, March 20, 2009

Robert A. Nelson, “Father of the Metroliner,” dies

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Robert A. Nelson, 89, a teacher and transportation authority who pushed for high speed rail in the Northeast Corridor and was known as "the father of the Metroliner," has died following complicationsresulting from Alzheimer's disease.

Nelson pursued rail as a high speed option for the Northeast Corridor during the 1960s, despite a recommendation from  an MIT study advocating Boston-to-Washington service using jet-propelled trains in vacuum tubes. In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson created the Office of High Speed Ground Transportation, which Dr. Nelson headed for four years.

Nelson pushed the Pennsylvania Railroad, owner of the NEC at that time, to cooperate in a demonstration project using lightweight passenger cars manufactured by the Budd Co. Metroliner trains made their debut on the NEC in 1968, and the tube-shaped stainless steel coach outlines were replicated for successor Amtrak’s first railcar order, Amfleet I cars, most of which still are in service today. Amtrak’s current high-speed Acela service eventually supplanted Metroliner service.

After leaving government service in 1969, Nelson worked as a transportation consultant and volunteered his expertise on Northern Virginia transportation issues.