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Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

As The Transport Politic reported earlier this week: Amtrak Unveils Ambitious Northeast Corridor Plan, But It Would Take 30 Years to be Realized

After months of sitting on the sidelines as states and regional agencies promoted major new high-speed rail investments, Amtrak has finally announced what it hopes to achieve over the next thirty years: A brand-new, 426-mile, two-track corridor running from Boston to Washington, bringing true [Express] high-speed rail to the Northeast Corridor for the first time.

Some questions and answers, over the fold.

Why HSR for the Northeast?

The argument that the report (pdf) presents for doing this at all can be summarized in three pictures. The one to the right is "Emerging Megaregions" view of US social geography in the century ahead. Connecting together these megaregions is conceived of as a major task that will be facing intercity transport in the coming half century.

The report projects growth trends. Now, as shaky as any projection is, the alternative to doing them is to just wait until stuff happens and then start planning to fix it, and the risk there is what can be done as an emergency response is far inferior to what can be done if we plan ahead. And these projections lead to capacity projections for both Highway and Rail systems. And those two pictures (highway above, rail below) summarize the balance the of rationale:

On highways local trips crowd out intercity trips. So people will want an alternative. Nowhere is it more likely than the Northeast that much of this demand will spillover into demand for rail transport, but the existing Northeast Corridor is projected to have six main congested segments: north DC, Baltimore, North MD / Delaware, urban Philadelphia, Trenton, Newark/NYC/New Rochelle, and Providence/Boston.

When you need new rail capacity, and the existing corridor is approaching its capacity, a new corridor is one solution to that problem. Given the cost of roadbuilding in the Northeast, where most easy road capacity expansion projects have already been done, $117b is likely to be substantially cheaper than trying to provide the same transport capacity by road, even assuming a fantasy world of ongoing cheap oil.

After all, that was the impetus for the first two bullet train systems, in Japan and France: existing mainline passenger rail corridors reaching capacity. When faced with that problem, build an all new Express HSR corridor, pull existing longer distance intercity passengers into the new corridor, and that frees up capacity on the existing corridor.

Why does it take 30 years?

This also explains the "takes 30 years". It could be done in substantially less time, but the planning study looked to provide for two segments to be completed by 2030:

  • Baltimore through Wilmington, in red, and
  • North of Philadelphia through New Rochelle in yellow.

These initial segments are anchored on the existing NEC, so that on completion, they can be used immediately by Acela trains to accelerate Acela services will reducing congestion in these sections. Then the balance of the corridor is finished by 2040.

Indeed, the study assumed completion of the NEC Master Plan over the next ten years, which would lead to a baseline growth in ridership on the NEC from 11.8m in 2010 to 16m in 2020. It is in 2030 that the Master Plan projects to hit new capacity constraints at a ridership of 21.3m, and then grow at a slower rate from then on, reaching 25.3m by 2050. With the HSR corridor included, the baseline projection is 25m by 2030 and 37.5m by 2050.

So within the scope of the planning study, one can say that it is projected to take 30 years because that is when the full system is projected to be required to meet the transport needs of the Northeastern Mega-region. If a quicker completion date were required, it could be accommodated, but this can be seen as a three phase plan:

  • 2020 (or earlier): Complete Amtrak NEC Master Plan  
  • 2030: Complete two priority segments of the "Next Gen" HSR corridor
  • Complete the balance of the "Next Gen" HSR Corridor

On other other hand, in a Western Democracy, completing an all new alignment takes time. We might expect to complete a project of this magnitude fifteen to twenty years after we commit to starting, but it still does require substantial planning ahead. So if we were to adopt a "full speed ahead" approach, we might complete work on the NEC Master Plan over the next six years, by 2016, and then roll out a DC/Boston HSR corridor by 2025.

Of course, under the current political climate, we are not going to be doing any such thing.

Why introduce this plan under this political climate?

The way I put it in the comment thread at The Transport Politic is:

If the Master Plan is going to ease immediate capacity bottlenecks by 2017 and capacity is projected to be hit over far more of the corridor by 2030 even in the conservative projections that Amtrak makes, which ignores the effect of Peak Oil, then that would suggest that the Transport Authorization circa 2016/2018 would need to include provision for addressing that capacity constraint, since it takes a decade or more to build an all-new corridor.

That suggests that it would be useful to get a preliminary outline of the shape of that kind of system rolled out in advanced of the preceding Transport Authorization.

Which is now and this.

As shown above, for the section of the corridor that runs the furthest from the NEC, the NEC is an integral part of the transport system, and the Express HSR corridor provides an additional piece for that system.

And of course, I don't expect to get this in the next transport authorization. But I expect that by the time the next transport authorization has expired, if there is a proposal out there, and we have had some experience in various parts of the country with both Regional and Express HSR systems, then we could well see an effort go ahead.

And under that kind of time horizon, if there are is a brand of political propaganda being pushed at the present by an Australian smut merchant and a Saudi Oil Prince, well, so what? With two or more severe oil price shocks highly likely between now and then, the durability of the Texas Tea Party (oil, that is) political strategy is not something to take for granted: we got to keep on planning for the future even if a radical right wing 20% of our population wants to toss this old Republic on the garbage heap of history in service to oil industry interests.

What Can We Do To Help?

There are a number of things we can do to help pursue this. First, completion of any Emerging, Regional, or Express HSR corridor and the launching of services will undermine negative propaganda (being bankrolled in part by oil interests). Second, support for funding of the Amtrak Master Plan for the NEC is a critical element for making this plan possible, since if local rail and shorter-range intercity rail can be made into rivals to Express HSR, it undermines both. Third, go visit the newly established Northeast HSR blog and give it the activity and links that such a site needs to thrive. And, of course, join Transportation for America, to network with people pushing for progressive transportation solutions coast to coast.

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Midnight Oil ~ Truganini

Originally posted to BruceMcF on Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 04:57 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The Blue/Oarange lines were filled to capacity (5+ / 0-)

    yesterday. It took a couple of hours for our bus to have everyone back on board. take gave me time to help the UAW from Lansing to round up wondering members and point them to the alternative lot their bus was parked in. Great time. Great people. Thank You Akron NAACP for the great ride and companionship.

    "They pour syrup on shit and tell us it's hotcakes." Meteor Blades

    by JugOPunch on Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 05:21:25 PM PDT

  •  I will add. The DC metro figured something out. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bronte17, chimpy, BruceMcF, Judge Moonbox

    When I exited the sardine can at RFK Stadium. Everyone did to. We went towards the stadium side. Twenty ? Thirty minutes?

    The next train arrived. Doors kept closed. Trust me no room.

    The speaker announcement was those capable of walking please exit the closest east/west set of stairs/escalators.

    I don't know how long that train sat. Mine sat at prior stations for five minute at a time. Then, boom. Platform sardine can.

    "They pour syrup on shit and tell us it's hotcakes." Meteor Blades

    by JugOPunch on Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 05:46:09 PM PDT

  •  I can't tell you how much I appreciate (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Woody, BruceMcF, Judge Moonbox

    your soldering on with this issue.  Thanks for the update.


    We are the principled ones, remember? We don't get to use the black hats' tricks even when it would benefit us. Political Compass: -6.88, -6.41

    by bmcphail on Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 06:24:25 PM PDT

    •  Already 30 years late. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Woody, BruceMcF

      I remember the reports generated by the 3R and 4R acts back in the 1970s. (The first was to establish the planning process, and the second to carry out the recommendations--primarily the creation of Conrail.)

      They called for vast improvements to the line between New Haven and Boston to be completed in 1985.

      But then, Ronald Reagan happened. He and his simplistic understanding of a defunct Economic theory took a dim view of anything that reduced consumption, and rail transit took the brunt of his cutbacks.

      Greg McKendry, Linda Kraeger, Dr. George Tiller, Steven Johns. Victims of Wingnut violence

      by Judge Moonbox on Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 06:53:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, if the equivalent of the NEC Master Plan ... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Judge Moonbox, Calamity Jean

        ... was already in place, we would be having the kind of patronage that would make the case for an Express HSR far more obvious ...

        ... which was, after all, part of the point of sabotaging Amtrak in the first place.

        End 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works from ALC Publishing on your Holiday list.

        by BruceMcF on Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 06:56:46 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thoughts of denying patronage reminds me. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          BruceMcF, Calamity Jean

          Yes, if the equivalent of the NEC Master Plan ...
          ... was already in place, we would be having the kind of patronage that would make the case for an Express HSR far more obvious ...

          It's true that the more successful rails become--both intercity and metropolitan--the harder it'll be to claim that they won't work.

          But that won't stop the Oil Oligopoly.

          I remember in the early 80s, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about BART, claiming that nobody rode it. A few weeks later, there was a wildcat strike and commuters saw 4 hour delays as 100,000 nobodies tried to find other ways to get to work.

          Greg McKendry, Linda Kraeger, Dr. George Tiller, Steven Johns. Victims of Wingnut violence

          by Judge Moonbox on Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 07:02:22 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Well, it would be nice (5+ / 0-)

    I read the plan the other day, I wanted to cry.

    Okay, seriously, I'd pay another dollar a gallon for gasoline to see this get done here in northeast and in other parts of the country.

    But look at this on the NY Times web page- the top story no less-

    More States Allowing Guns in Bars and Restaurants

    Look at the insanity that this country is dealing with.  You think any of these neanderthals want to hear about any sort of infrastructure improvement?  $117 billion for a train?  

    Beyond that, we have Gov. Christie in New Jersey that might rip his state's funding for the new trans-Hudson tunnel.  The one tunnel that's there was built a century ago.  A hundred fucking years, and there is only one train tunnel across the Hudson into the largest city in the country.  

    Sure, Amtrak has an awesome idea and it should have been done at least a generation ago; but until the  plague of stupidity and ignorance that has overcome so many parts of this nation is defeated, grand plans like this are going to be stuck in the station.


    One Nation Working Together

    A March on Washington For US!

    by oxfdblue on Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 06:34:12 PM PDT

  •  Condensed opinion (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BruceMcF, Judge Moonbox, oxfdblue

    It's a bold plan and a good start. The Party of No will want to kill it, the way they want to kill Amtrak.

    I was ready to worry that Congress would say, "We can only afford part of this, so let's do D.C.-NYC now and then do NYC-Boston in the sweet bye and bye."

    But when I saw how the NYC-Boston upgrades cut the trip time and raises the passenger count so dramatically that the case for doing something big on that section is also compelling.

    So this is a start on the conversation, and we do need to get started on something sooner than later.

    •  Boston-NYC has vast room for impeovement (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Woody, BruceMcF

      It is so freakin' slow when you get into CT. Well, actually past Providence, but that switchover around New Haven is a killer.  At least, the few times I've taken Acela.  One trip from Portland, ME to DC took 12 hours (it's about 600 miles), and that was on the "fast" train.

      New tracks are definitely required, and the trick will be to find a route through some very congested cities and towns.  But, what a wonderful project!  We waited nearly 20 years to get Amtrak up to Portland; it's still way too slow, but great to have it.  HSR is a dream that's well-suited to the Northeast corridor.

  •  just lovin' it Bruce. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Woody, BruceMcF

    your series ... so glad i found it & sorry I missed it for so long.... bless that widget

    What did you do when you knew? boatsie

    by boatsie on Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 06:46:12 PM PDT

  •  Interesting and informative, you cannot ask (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Woody, BruceMcF, Judge Moonbox

    for more from a diary. It sounds like a very worthwhile proposal. It should help the environment, provide convenience for business and pleasure travelers, be a long term source of jobs and help many of the industries involved in rail travel. Thanks

  •  Three cents a gallon (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Woody, BruceMcF, Judge Moonbox

    That's what it would cost.

    According to the Dept of Energy, we use about 378 million gallons of gas a day (in 2008).  That's almost 138 billion gallons a year.  In 30 years, that's over 4.1 trillion gallons.  Tack three cents onto each one of those gallons, you raise about $124bn.


    One Nation Working Together

    A March on Washington For US!

    by oxfdblue on Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 06:51:45 PM PDT

    •  3 cents per gallon would not do it ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Woody, Judge Moonbox

      ... over 2040, since crude oil will cost so much that we won't be able to afford to buy as much as we do now ...

      ... but two cents over the next six years would sure as heck get the NEC Master Plan finished up, and lay out plenty of Regional HSR corridors.

      And over the long term, money represents the tickets to this amusement park we call an economy. The idea that we have hands available to work, equipment ready to be put to work, and are talking about projects that will save energy compared to the alternatives, and should not proceed because we have not printed enough tickets ... is absurd.

      End 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works from ALC Publishing on your Holiday list.

      by BruceMcF on Sun Oct 03, 2010 at 07:00:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  30 yrs should be 30 months. (0+ / 0-)

        Dems shoulda got crackin' on rail as soon as Obama moved into the White House. Woulda been a highly visible job-creating, energy-saving, planet-cooling sales pitch for November 2010. A little late now.

        "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

        by HeyMikey on Tue Oct 05, 2010 at 09:54:26 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The Steel Interstate electrification of ... (0+ / 0-)

          ... app. 36,000 miles of rail should be done on that basis (which sorts out to 6yrs~8yrs because of the need to have a steady launch of new work teams) ... the Emerging HSR could and should be done on that basis.

          OTOH, Express HSR intrinsically takes time, because it does need new, all-grade separated alignments, and is also substantially more expensive per mile than Emerging HSR, so the "30 months" that would make the most sense would be a broadly distributed program of building Emerging HSR corridors.

          End 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works from ALC Publishing on your Holiday list.

          by BruceMcF on Tue Oct 05, 2010 at 05:57:01 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  This project is more politics than engineering. (0+ / 0-)

            Imagine Obama on Independence Day 2010, riding the first bullet train from Pittsburgh to Columbus, Indianapolis, and St. Louis, with a detour up the spur line for lunch in Detroit. What would the unemployment rate be like in those swing states now? What would the Dems' electoral prospects be there? What would our prospects be of passing more stimulus spending, an unemployment benefits extension, a meaningful GHG reduction program--including implementing more HSR throughout the country?

            Success breeds success. Good politics breeds good policy. Building a HSR express line SOMEWHERE by now would've taken a huge amount of effort and money. And would've been worth every bit.

            Love your rail diaries, obviously!

            "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

            by HeyMikey on Wed Oct 06, 2010 at 05:23:57 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  question (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I didn't read your whole diary, I'm limited for time right now.
    So in your paln are you making sure the tracks are being put down on Ground that is at least 50" above the current sea level???

    I believe that should be something that needs to be concidered

    I'm just an ant in the army of the Amateur Left

    by eeff on Mon Oct 04, 2010 at 01:24:54 PM PDT

    •  As far as the new alignment in the northern ... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      eeff, Woody, HeyMikey

      ... it is. The shoreline alignment of the current NEC is iffy in some places if 5' is added to current high tide, but where the preliminary study departs from the existing NEC, that is well inland.

      This is an issue that merits considering when making the actual alignment selection. This is more a proof-of-concept study.

      End 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works from ALC Publishing on your Holiday list.

      by BruceMcF on Mon Oct 04, 2010 at 02:32:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Woody, HeyMikey

        for answering
        Your work on this is always good reading, I don't comment much But I do look at your diaries.

        I'm just an ant in the army of the Amateur Left

        by eeff on Mon Oct 04, 2010 at 03:06:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Just check in at the tip jar so I know that ... (0+ / 0-)

          ... people are here. It's fine to sit quietly in the back if you prefer and listen in on the conversation.

          End 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works from ALC Publishing on your Holiday list.

          by BruceMcF on Tue Oct 05, 2010 at 05:59:11 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

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