NEW YORK -- Amtrak has introduced pay telephone service on its Metroliner trains between New York and Washington, the passenger rail corporation said Monday.
The service, which uses cellular telephone technology, is a joint venture between Amtrak and Railfone Inc., a subsidiary of Oak Brook, Ill.-based Airfone Inc.
The service allows calls charged to major credit cards to be made from telephones in 46 dining, club and coach cars. There will be three telephones on each of the 22 Metroliner trains that make the daily three-hour trip.
Elyse G. Wander, Amtrak vice president for corporate planning and development, said she could not specify estimated revenues but claimed the phone service is expected to recoup about $1.5 million in capital costsding luding equipment and labor, during the first year of operation.
'It's a break-even proposition for the first year,' Wander said. Subsequent profits will be equally divided between Amtrak and Railfone, she said.
A call on the system costs $5 for the first three minutes and $1 a minute thereafter, regardless of whether it is local or long-distance, Amtrak said. Passengers can place calls anywhere in the United Statesding luding Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico.
The cellular telephone network is complete over about 90 percent of the 226-mile route, but service will be interrupted when trains enter non-service zones. Calls placed through the service are transmitted by low-frequency radio to ground stations, whence they are switched to local phone systems.
Wander said Amtrak envisions expansion of the system throughout the Northeast and to the rest of the country as cellular technology becomes available through local telephone companies.
Telephone service using microwave technology was available on Metroliners from 1968 until 1979, said John Jacobsen, Amtrak director of public affairs.
The service used microwave frequencies allotted by the Federal Communications Commission, Jacobsen said. The calls, which cost about $3 for the first three minutes, were billed to the user's home telephone number.
The service was phased out as Amtrak replaced the railroad carriages that were equipped with the telephones and as the microwave frequencies became unavailable.