By Tom Costello, NBC News correspondent
About a week ago, my producer and I got a sneaking suspicion that we were about to take a train trip.
Brian Williams had just blogged about his ride next to the engineer on the front end of an Acela express train from Washington to New York. Top speed: 135 miles per hour.
Brian mentioned that he'd probably soon be asking for a story about the state of the nation's rail infrastructure and high speed trains.
Since my producer, Jay Blackman, and I do the bulk of transportation reporting for NBC News, we had a feeling he was talking about us. Sure enough, it took only a few hours before the first e-mail hit.
Yesterday, Jay and I were able to experience what Brian had experienced....and then some!
Any fan of trains would be envious: Amtrak invited us into an Acela Express locomotive, next to engineer Mike Finn - an Amtrak veteran with a thick Boston accent - as he pulled out of Boston station for the hourly run South.
Within minutes, Mike was pushing his electric Bombardier train past 80 mph, then past 100, 120, and finally 150 miles per hour....the fastest that any train travels in America.
While I've been fortunate to ride on both the French TGV and Japanese Bullet trains, I must say there was something about the Amtrak Acela at 150mph that was exhilarating. The tracks along the corridor are all relatively new, but the right-of-way was carved out for trains more than 100 years ago! Thick vegetation hangs out on both sides of the tracks... making it appear far narrower than the high speed right-of-ways in Europe. And that makes the ride in the front seat even more thrilling.
In service for just eight years, Acela has proven to be tremendously popular with the traveling public. Last year, it attracted 3.2 million passengers and brought in $405 million in revenue.
Nationally, a quarter of all Amtrak ticket revenue comes from Acela.
So why aren't there more of them?
They only run along the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington, DC.
20 electric trains, each traveling roughly 200,000 miles each year.
The rest of Amtrak's passenger trains are diesel trains. The average age is 33.
The answer is that America hasn't invested in its rail infrastructure like the rest of the world. Since World War Two, the private sector has generally been responsible for managing the nation's rail lines.
The question now, with sky rocketing fuel prices and airlines struggling to eke out a profit by grounding aircraft, is it time to re-invest in the nation's rail system?
Is there room for more Acelas?
If we build it, will they - the passengers - come?
We'll look at that tonight on NBC Nightly News with Mr. Williams.
Just don't tell him that I did 15mph better than he did while in the front seat on the Acela!