For the first time since Amtrak took over most intercity rail passenger services at the start of this decade, Washingtonians next week will be able to travel to Richmond in the morning, conduct an afternoon of business, and head back to Union Station in the evening.

The national rail passenger corporation announced yesterday that starting on Sunday, the schedule for its daily Hilltopper will be altered substantially to make possible the new Washington-Richmond morning connection.

Previously, all trains out of Washington heading for Richmond departed in the afternoons or at night.

Under its new schedule, the Washington-Catlettsburg, Ky., Hilltopper will depart Washington at 8:55 a.m. and arrive in Richmond at 11 a.m. The train will depart Richmond at 7:25 p.m. and arrive here at 9:30 p.m.

Altogether, five trains will continue daily service between the two cities with stops at Alexandria, Quantico and Fredericksburg. All of the trains operate north of Washington to New York and two will continue to Boston.

Amtrak president Paul H. Reistrup also announced that, by April, a sixth daily will operate between Washington and Richmond, as the New York-Florida Champion resumes its runs.

Starting on Sunday, the Hilltopper also will operate as a through train between the Virginias and Boston and train times in West Virginia will be in the morning eastbound and evenings westbound, instead of the middle of the night.

Amtrak also announced yesterday that more than two dozen trains will be placed on speedier schedules next Sunday, the result of completed track improvement projects and new contracts with railroads that operate the passenger trains.

It was the second announcement of speeding up timetables as part of what Amtrak called a campaign to become more competitive with automobiles. As recently as last October, Amtrak had reduced travel times on 26 trains.

Travel time reductions announced yesterday range from an hour on long-distance trains to 10-minutes on others. The Boston-Chicago Lake Shore Limited, for example, will operate one and a half hours faster under the new timetables and many trains will have better connections at the Chicago rail hub.

Another Amtrak report yesterday revealed that nationwide trains operated on time 72 per cent of their runs in October, up from 69 per cent the previous month. But Metroliners were on time only 27 per cent of the time, compared with 26 per cent, reflecting Northeast corridor track repair work.