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Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

crossposted from Voices on the Square

One of the transit bloggers that I enjoy reading is Alon Levy who blogs his observations on a variety of transit topics at Pedestrian Observations. Following the important California HSR funding vote in the California State Senate and the excitement leading up to it, I thought I'd like to take a look at the proposed Express HSR system for the states of the Northeast Corridor.

Of the $53b cost of the proposed San Francisco to Los Angeles Express HSR corridor seems hefty ~ and it seems even heftier when it shows the Year of Expenditure headline value of $68b ~ then the proposed Northeast Corridor states Express HSR will seem massive.

However, Alon claims:

Northeast Corridor HSR, 90% Cheaper
In contrast with this extravaganza, it is possible to achieve comparable travel times for about one tenth the cost. The important thing is to build the projects with the most benefit measured in travel time reduced or reliability gained per unit of cost, and also share tracks heavily with commuter rail, using timed overtakes to reduce the required amount of multi-tracking.
This sounds like an intriguing possibility ... but is it realistic? Or is it wishful thinking? Follow me below the fold, and then let's discuss it.

The Amtrak Plan

Talking Points Memo: Amtrak Unveils $151B Plan For Northeast High Speed Rail By 2040

Amtrak, the government-owned national rail corporation, on Monday released an ambitious $151 billion plan to develop a high-speed rail line along the currently existing Northeast Corridor rail network by 2040.

The proposed high-speed rail line would travel at top speeds of 220 miles-per-hour in some sections and be able to deliver passengers from Washington, D.C. to Boston in a little over 3 hours.

Travel times between other major Northeastern cities would be shortened even more markedly, with travel times between New York and Boston or New York and Washington, D.C. down to 94 minutes, and a little over a half-hour between New York and Philadelphia.

As both Alon and Talking Points Memo note, this $151b plan is a consolidation of two plans from 2010: the Master Plan which focused on improving existing infrastructure, and the High Speed Rail proposal which the Sunday Train covered back on 4 Oct 2010 in 1:36 NYC/Boston, 1:23 NYC/DC, $117b, 30yrs.

So there is not much new to say about this "new" $151b proposal. Indeed, that is one reason why Alon could come up with his "90% off" proposal so quickly.

Why does the Amtrak Express HSR project cost so much?

So its two programs (each consisting of a number of distinct projects) that have been bundled together. The HSR side costs on the order of "only" $120b. So, what accounts for that price tag?

Surely part of this is the seeming inflated price that we pay for rail infrastructure in the United States compared to much of the world ... but that cannot possibly be the major part of it. Alon pinpoints a major part of the construction budget:

... Per kilometer of route length, this means the project has now crossed the $200 million/km mark, a higher cost than 60%-underground Chuo Shinkansen maglev. The primary cause of the high cost of Amtrak’s project is the heavy amount of deep-cavern urban tunneling: nearly a tenth of the cost is the Gateway Tunnel, a rebranded bundling of ARC into the project, and a similar amount is a similar project in Philadelphia.
Now, if Alon is promising Express HSR for "90% off", or in the range of $15b, then he is looking at an Express HSR corridor for less than the cost of those two tunneling projects alone.

Alon proposes some general principles to guide the project:

  • 1. Rolling stock is cheaper than infrastructure.
  • 2. Speed up commuter trains instead of bypassing them.
  • 3. The regulations should be based on service needs.
  • 4. On shared segments that aren’t bypassed, build infrastructure that allows higher speeds
  • 5. Make sure station throats allow full speed
  • 6. Fix curves in higher speed zones.
  • 7. Worry about track capacity when all other capacity factors have been optimized.

And what is the plan? Thing is, Alon had already presented the plan when the question of whether the California HSR system would go ahead was still undecided.

Washington to Boston in 4hrs

This list of projects is taken from Plan B for HSR.

Alon lists four projects which could be pursued in the near term future.

NT1. Constant tension catenary. Much of the NEC has variable tension catenary. In the summer time, when the wires expand, the tension is lower, and the wires sag more, while in the winter time, when the wires contract, the tension is higher, and the wires do not sag as much. Constant tension catenary includes mechanisms that maintain constant tension. The cost of about $2b to $3b for the whole NEC, and would raise the speed limit from 135mph imposed by the catenary to the speeds imposed by the track curves themselves. The faster the top speed of the trains and the more curve easing projects are completed, the greater the benefit.

NT2. New Haven Bridge Line Replacement. Two bridges, the Devon bridge and the Cos Cob bridge, require replacement, one bridge, the Saga bridge in Newport, requires rehabilitation. Given that the Connecticut River bridge replacement cost $500m to cross a wider river, figure $1.5b or less.

NT3. B&P tunnel replacement immediate west of Baltimore. These tunnels were designed with excessively sharp curves, and

NT4. Pelham Bay Bridge Replacement. This is a bridge like the Cos Cob bridge with sharp turns in the bridge approaches that impose speed limits on trains using the bridge. This is $500m in the Amtrak Master Plan, and this project alone would convert a speed limited section to a 125mph section for a few miles around the bridge.

Building on this are seven medium term projects. Since these were outside of the time frame if California had played games with its HSR funding and lost it, Alon does not have indicative costings for these. However, some of these are included in a set of projects in the Amtrak Master Plan at a cost of $4b.

MT1. New rolling stock.

The Acelas are heavy, low-capacity, low-performance, and high-maintenance. New trains can’t be FRA-compliant, and in practice some time (measured in years, not decades) can pass before the best rolling stock is legal on US track. But Amtrak and all involved in HSR on existing track should be at the forefront of asking for an overhaul. High-acceleration trains, capable of about the same cant deficiency as the Acela (for example the E5 Series Shinkansen and the high-speed Talgos), can achieve much faster trip times than possible today, with trivial changes to right-of-way geometry. Of course the tracks would have to be maintained to higher standards, but that’s much cheaper than moving a viaduct or carving a new right-of-way through a residential suburb.
This is the key to much of the extra cost of the Amtrak $120b Express HSR plan. The Amtrak plan treats existing FRA regulations as sacrosanct, as equivalent to laws of natures. But FRA safety regulations do not obtain any greater safety for high speed passenger rail operations than the Europeans and the Japanese are able to obtain with regulations that permit much more capable passenger trains.

If we would rather spend $10b-$20b than $120b-$150b to bring the travel time between DC and Boston down to four hours or less, we need a regulatory regime for a primarily passenger rail corridor that fits the realities of the 21st century, rather than a regulatory regime focused on the needs of mid-20th century freight hauling.

MT2. Elizabeth S-Curve Modification. This is in northern New Jersey. The current speed limit is 55mph, imposed by the transition between the two curves in the S-curve. If rebuilt, with the track provided with aggressive banking and using modern rolling stock, the speed limit could be raised to 135mph, pushing the northern end of the high speed section in New Jersey closer to Newark. This requires taking a newly built $48m building and part of a parking garage. This is included in the pool of improvements that Amtrak lists at $4b.

MT3. Metuchen S-Curve Modification. This is an S-curve which is, I'm guessing, further south in New Jersey. The Metuchen S-curve does not impose as severe a speed limit as the Elizabeth S-curve. However, it is in the middle of what is otherwise full Express HSR speed zone, so the impact that it would have on 220mph capable rolling stock would be substantially greater. This is included in the pool of improvements that Amtrak lists at $4b.

How fast the curve can be made to go depends on how much neighboring properties are taken by the project. The takings involve some residential properties on one part of the S-curve, and a strip mall and industrial site on the other part. Alon believes that with relatively modest takings, the curve could be built for 150mph, with more aggressive takings from the strip mall and industrial site, the curve could be built for 180mph, and taking the whole strip mall and industrial site would allow for a full speed 220mph curve.

MT4. Port Chester-Greenwich Bypass.

Most of the slowness of the segment between the NY/CT state line and Stamford comes from Cos Cob, but part of it comes from a sharp curve in Port Chester that can’t be modified without too many takings. As an alternative, trains should leave the existing line just south of Rye, travel along I-95 and its gentler curves, bypass Port Chester and Greenwich, and rejoin in the vicinity of the newly-raised Cos Cob Bridge. Curve radius without significant residential takings would be about 1,300 meters through the I-95 S-curve in Rye and Port Chester, and 2,000 meters elsewhere.
Fixing the Port Chester curve and the Cob Cos bridge, the NEC between the Connecticut Border and Stamford, Connecticut could be upgraded into what I have been calling a "Rapid Rail" corridor for local commuter trains. The current permitted top speed is 75mph in MetroNorth rail territory in Connecticut. With these two projects and with improved banking of the tracks, the track geometry would allow 105mph from New Rochelle CT to Harrison CT, 125mph from Harrison CT to Stamford, and 100mph through Stamford.

And if the local commuter rail runs faster, that is a benefit to the HSR on the corridor as well, since the faster the commuter rail can run, the fewer times a given HSR train must pass a commuter rail train.

MT5. New Rochelle Interlocking Grade-Separation. This is the flat junction with a speed limit of 30mph. It also creates capacity constraints during rush hour, when heavier use by the local commuter rail implies only limited slots are available for the intercity trains running through. The project would run a rail overpass for the intercity trains over the top of the interlocking, allowing them to run with speed limits imposed by slow speed switches and allowing them to be scheduled without concern for bottlenecks caused by peak demand commuter rail services.

MT6. Eastern CT I-95 Bypass. This is the big bang part of the project. Upgrading the transit for a fast train on the NEC New York through Western Connecticut to an hour. The NEC from Kingston, Rhode Island through to Boston is already the fastest section on the NEC. The I-95 Bypass bridges the gap between the two:

This project would start right at New Haven Union Station, cross the Quinnipiac River at a new bridge near US 1 and the new I-95 bridge, follow I-95 to the state line, and then cut across barely-populated territory to the Shore Line at Kingston, where it straightens.

Cost: this is 121 km of tunnel-free route, and based on similar costs in Europe, it should be $2.5 billion. Carefully tracing through the unit costs implied by the Penn Design group, following California HSR costs, produces a figure of $2 billion. But this assumes much lower costs for the bridges over the rivers than Amtrak has produced so far; Amtrak costs are likely much higher, though not by orders of magnitude.

Benefit: New Haven-Providence in about 40 minutes, New Haven-Boston in about an hour. Current travel time can be improved using better rolling stock, but there’s a point of diminishing returns, and reliability with present-day movable bridges, especially over the Connecticut River, is low, requiring extra schedule padding.

MT7. Commuter Rail-HSR Compatibility. This involves four track overtakes for the High Speed Rail so that it can overtake local and regional rail service without interference. It also involves upgraded passenger trains for the Maryland local train system, MARC, and the Greater Boston train system, the MBTA.

So, does it all add up?

Does this all add up? Well, the its reasonable that this would upgrade DC to NYC to about 2 hours and Boston to NYC to about 2 hours.

As to whether it would be a 90% discount off of $151b ~ that, I don't know, as a price costing requires more detailed engineering. But it certainly ought to cost well under $20b. And it can be done in incremental segment ~ indeed, even the East Connecticut I-95 bypass can be done in incremental segments ~ with travel time benefits for each incremental segment.

What it does require is tackling institutional obstacles with institutional reforms, rather than with concrete and tunneling.

This is not precisely the same performance characteristics as the Amtrak Vision, which proposes Boston to Washington DC in 3hrs. However, it proposes Boston to Washington DC in 3hrs in 2040. Alon's plan could give Boston to Washington DC in 4hrs in 2025.

Neither is it precisely the same capacity as the Amtrak Vision. However, as Alon points out, a system that is running eight car long passenger trains can't be considered to be at capacity, even if there is no opportunity to run any more trains on that system. First extend the trains to 16 passenger cars, and then talk about having reached the limit of capacity.

Which is where the upgrade gets self-sustaining: if Amtrak was filling up 16 passenger cars up to four times an hour in peak demand periods, then the operating surpluses would be in a position to finance further upgrades. So building the four hours DC to Boston system would itself be how you finance the construction of the upgrades required for a three hours DC to Boston system.

So, for full disclosure, put it at 80% of the Amtrak HSR system, over 60% sooner at under 20% of the price.

And at the same time, since it deals with the "obstacles" of local rail systems sharing the NEC corridor in large part by speeding those local rail systems up, rather than by tunneling underneath them, its an approach with substantial side benefits to the urban areas along the corridor even for those who will not be taking the HSR.


Well, as y'all know, the Sunday Train does not conclude when the opening act essay draws to a close, it just opens the floor for discussion. As always, any issue in sustainable transport is fair game for discussion, whether or not it was touched in in this week's essays ...

... but the question that Alon's proposal raises is, how does a progressive populist movement organize to push through the kind of regulatory changes requires to allow us to get sustainable transport between DC, NYC and Boston this fast, this soon, for this much lower cost than a system designed around the current regulatory system? Is it even possible to organize around such a technical issue as that, no matter how appealing the end result might be?

Midnight Oil ~ Short Memory

Originally posted to Sunday Train on Sun Jul 15, 2012 at 05:15 PM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Hawks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Two hours NYC / Boston would flip the lyrics ... (30+ / 0-)

    "Give me a ticket on the fast train / Don't have time to take an aeroplane / Lonely Days are Gone / I'm a going Home / My Baby Just Wrote Me a Letter"

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    by BruceMcF on Sun Jul 15, 2012 at 04:30:27 PM PDT

    •  Except shuttle planes from NY to Boston can... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      get one there in 90 minutes.

      I am all for HS rail - but this country does not seem to know what that really is.  HS rail is not simply something that "is a little faster" than what we have now.

      Look at France, Germany, Japan - even China.

      "The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously." -- Hubert H. Humphrey

      by Candide08 on Mon Jul 16, 2012 at 05:33:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  90 minutes? (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RunawayRose, psyched, BYw

        Yeah, and then you have to get out to LAG from Manhattan or Brooklyn, and you have to get into Boston from Logan, and you have to sit like a sardine for 90 minutes, and you have to allow 2 hours for getting through security as they feel your junk, and you have to hope that weather or other causes haven't produced delays up and down the northeast air corridor. All in all, I would take a comfortable 4 hour train ride over 90 minutes + in Hell any way.

        Something has gone very wrong with America, not just its economy, but its ability to function as a democratic nation. And it’s hard to see when or how that wrongness will get fixed. Paul Krugman and Robin Wells

        by Reston history guy on Mon Jul 16, 2012 at 05:59:34 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  There also is Islip airport on L.I. (0+ / 0-)

          I have "commuted" to Boston door-to-door in less time than taking the LIRR to NY City.  Not everything originates from Manhattan.

          Things have slowed down a lot now, with all the security concerns.

          "The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously." -- Hubert H. Humphrey

          by Candide08 on Mon Jul 16, 2012 at 12:45:53 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Manhattan is not going to be the sole ... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            ... station along the Express HSR system ~ whether the expensive Amtrak system or 80% to 90% more cost and material efficient system proposed by Alon Levy.

            The 120mins and 90mins times are not express non-stop times. They are times with express HSR stations along the way factored in.

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            by BruceMcF on Mon Jul 16, 2012 at 01:44:55 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  Not really. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RunawayRose, BYw

        There's several reasons why train rides of 2hrs or less over these distances dominate air travel, including comfort, and the convenience of a greater portion of the trip sitting down able to work or relax.

        And that is from countries that do not have the added inconvenience and time cost to travelers of security kabuki theater.

        The Amtrak between Washington DC and NYC already carries more passengers than flights ~ speeding up the trip and increasing capacity will only increase the lead. And removing the Connecticut speed limit will lead to the same between Boston and NYC.

        At four hours, Boston to DC won't dominate air travel along that corridor, but it attract on the order of a third of the combined air/train trips.

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        by BruceMcF on Mon Jul 16, 2012 at 09:58:41 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I agree with your points - but what I was saying.. (0+ / 0-)

          is that Acela is not, IMO, high speed rail.  The US has a beyond poor record with rail in general.  

          Acela tops out at about  150 MPH - and even that is only in a few places.   France and other countries hit about 200 MPH for commercial rail and over 300mph for testing next generation HS rail.  As I said I am all for HS rail and would prefer that this country stop the half-assed approaches.

          Imagine if there was TRUE high speed rail, at least 200 (or even 250 mph) between DC and NY City?  Don't you think rail would be even more dominant?  

          Now imagine the same HS rail extending to Boston.

          "The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously." -- Hubert H. Humphrey

          by Candide08 on Mon Jul 16, 2012 at 12:43:35 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  So what you were saying is ... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            ... that you agree with me when I described upgrading the the western Connecticut section to 100mph, 105mph and 125mph sections as "Rapid Rail"?

            Around the world, 150mph is referred to as HSR. Its not cutting edge speeds, but speeds are only important with respect to the transit times they allow over the trips being served. And if the Acela could maintain 150mph over half the route, and 100mph or better over all of the route outside of the central cities, and if it had better acceleration and deceleration, it would be substantially more competitive than it is now.

            The Acela has a formal top speed of 150mph, but due to variable tension cantenary, it is largely limited to 135mph south of NYC, and due to curve geometry has substantial speed limited sections along the way, and due to bridge limits and track geometry in CT, it limited to an even lower speed in most of CT. In terms of transit speed, the current Acela operating along the NEC is equivalent to a well-designed 110mph corridor over an efficient alignment, at best, which in most of the world is just a normal Express interurban.

            But it doesn't matter whether you call that west CT section High Speed Rail or not ~ that is just an argument over what labels to apply to things. What matters with respect to the point that you raised in the comment above is that in transport markets, a train trip of 120mins will dominate an airplane trip of 90mins, taking well over 70% of the combined transport market. So if we can get a train trip of 120mins NYC to Boston, half or more of those shuttle flights will stop flying.

            What Alon does is use aggressive superelevation, curve easements, tunnel and station throat upgrades, switch upgrades and, in one section of the NEC where an all-new alignment is cheaper than curve easements and bridge rehabilitation/replacement on the existing corridor, an Express HSR bypass to provide for substantial stretches of 200mph+ HSR. Because of the remaining Rapid Rail sections, its about a half hour longer than the $100b+ all new Express HSR alignment proposed in the Amtrak Vision, but given a possible 2025 completion date and the substantial increase in ridership progressively over the decade ahead as projects complete. And the revenue from that ridership can be part of the process of upgrading or bypassing those Rapid Rail sections to Express HSR speed limits.

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            by BruceMcF on Mon Jul 16, 2012 at 01:30:30 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  On the final question ... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            ... yes, it would be marginally more dominant. A 120mins train trip will take over 70% to 80% of the market from a 90mins air trip, while a 90min train trip will take over 80% to 90% of the market. The upgrade in Boston to DC from four hours to three hours would be a bigger increase in market share, but its also a smaller total market than either DC/NYC or Boston/NYC.

            So, altogether, over two thirds of the increase in market share achievable by 90mins NYC/DC and 90mins NYC/Boston is gained when you hit 120mins NYC/DC and 120mins NYC/Boston, which is a far cry from a "half-assed" approach. For 10%-20% of the Amtrak Vision cost. And with substantial operating surpluses that can self-finance substantial further upgrade in transit time beginning to show up in 2020.

            Also, bear in mind that while the mature European and Japanese systems are 180mph and the new systems are 220mph systems, its not as if they have stopped building new 180mph corridors in Europe. How fast you need to go on a corridor depends on the transport markets that you are serving.

            Alon's approach seems an approach more likely to achieve a 3hrs Boston/DC system than the kind of high stakes all-or-nothing approach that California is forced into by its geography ~ except even higher stakes on the NEC, at over twice the cost of the California Express HSR system, and with the complications of getting eight states to all sing the same tune.

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            by BruceMcF on Mon Jul 16, 2012 at 01:41:36 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  I in love with that song. RIP Alex (7+ / 0-)

    Thanks for the diary.

    Obama wants your guns = Romney wants your Medicare Stop choosing your guns over your health You're shooting yourself

    by blueoregon on Sun Jul 15, 2012 at 06:20:27 PM PDT

  •  NEC, a subject close to my heart (6+ / 0-)

    As I live in suburban DC, this project is one I am hoping becomes reality asap. A great diary, as always, Bruce. You might want to do a small edit in the 4th paragraph of the "So, does it all add up" section. You used 'NYC' there twice when I believe you meant 'DC'. A trivial thing, but some readers seem to be baffled by tiny typos.
        You mentioned the Baltimore tunnel. Now my understanding is that the single-track tunnel through Baltimore, built in the dawn of railways, is a huge obstacle to increasing NEC speeds. You have written, I think, about CSX wanting to drastically widen and heighten the tunnel to allow double-stacked containers to be shipped from the newly deepened Baltimore harbor. But in the Wash Post there was an article about the difficulty involved...apparently the old tunnel is smack between a subway tunnel and some other critical piece of infrastructure. Is the plan to simply by-pass the old tunnel and build a new one? And if so, will it carry freight or be passenger only?
         Also, who in the administration would you suggest writing to pressure the FRA to revise its outdated rules? Thanks!

    Something has gone very wrong with America, not just its economy, but its ability to function as a democratic nation. And it’s hard to see when or how that wrongness will get fixed. Paul Krugman and Robin Wells

    by Reston history guy on Sun Jul 15, 2012 at 06:28:13 PM PDT

    •  Baltimore has 3 railroad tunnels. (5+ / 0-)
      You mentioned the Baltimore tunnel. Now my understanding is that the single-track tunnel through Baltimore, built in the dawn of railways, is a huge obstacle to increasing NEC speeds. You have written, I think, about CSX wanting to drastically widen and heighten the tunnel to allow double-stacked containers to be shipped from the newly deepened Baltimore harbor.
      The tunnel you're referring to is the Howard Street Tunnel. That hasn't handled passenger trains since the 1950s. The two tunnels that serve Baltimore's Penn Station are the Union to the west, which has 2 tracks and the PW&B to the east, which has (or had) 3.

      I think that when the city rebuilt Howard Street in the 1980s, someone should have found the money to dig to the top of the Howard St. Tunnel to widen it and give it a higher ceiling, but that money wasn't found.

      I can't comment on the Penn Station pair, except that they need to be rebuilt somehow.

      Just how stupid does Mitt Romney think we are? -Paul Krugman

      by Judge Moonbox on Sun Jul 15, 2012 at 06:45:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Not tiny typos (0+ / 0-)

      I was trying to figure out what the "h" was going on -- to make sense of the times.

      Thank you for clearing it up.

      Coming Soon -- to an Internet connection near you:

      by FischFry on Sun Jul 15, 2012 at 08:01:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I could have been cheeky and ... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      koNko, RunawayRose, BYw

      ... edited the numbers to 90 minutes and two hours ... but I fixed it so that it matches more closely to what I was thinking when my fingers so rudely decided to type something else.

      As far as who to write to ~ short of a movement that is able to push pressure on Congressmen to put pressure on the FRA, I'd say go to the top ~ write Secretary Roy LaHood. I don't know that we can have any impact on him, but it can't hurt.

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      by BruceMcF on Sun Jul 15, 2012 at 08:31:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Increase the passenger capacity with slower (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BruceMcF, RunawayRose

    times vs reduce the time more with the same passengers. Capacity and time. passengers / time ? More delivered per unit of time.

    An honest heart being the first blessing, a knowing head is the second..Jefferson's Letter to Peter Carr

    by JugOPunch on Sun Jul 15, 2012 at 07:36:38 PM PDT

    •  Increase capacity substantially sooner ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      koNko, RunawayRose

      ... and even more later, or wait until later for the extra capacity.

      The thing about comparing capacity with Alon's approach and the Amtrak Vision is we could complete Alon's approach in a dozen years, and 2025 to 2040 is plenty of time to add more capacity ~ and additional resources, as actual ridership speaks louder than ridership projections.

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      by BruceMcF on Sun Jul 15, 2012 at 08:13:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Questions about rolling stock and speed (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    thomask, BruceMcF, koNko, RunawayRose

    Right now, we are seeing frequent speed restrictions -- at least in the DC area, in the summer on, I believe, both commuter rail and Amtrak.

    If the point would be to run HSR on the same lines as commuter lines, is that realistic, or even a good idea, in the new normal climate with temps frequently approaching or even exceeding 100 degrees fahrenheit?

    On the other hand, if upgrading would mean that commuter trains and HSR could maintain top speeds even in those temperatures, then that might be the best investment we could make.

    Frankly, I wonder about trying to run commuter trains on the same lines and still maintain schedules -- it doesn't work well for MARC -- but I'll defer to the experts.

    Coming Soon -- to an Internet connection near you:

    by FischFry on Sun Jul 15, 2012 at 08:08:59 PM PDT

    •  The Amtrak is ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      koNko, RunawayRose

      ... likely to be that variable tension cantenary. The hotter it gets, the more it sags, because the wires expand.

      The discussion is not running HSR on what are currently commuter rule lines, but upgrading the current NEC that currently runs a mix of "Rapid Rail" HSR and commuter rail so that it runs faster HSR ... and also faster commuter rail.

      And as far as MARC, that is one of the two commuter rail systems that Alon Levy singles out to get more capable electric EMU equipment to run for its services on the NEC.

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      by BruceMcF on Sun Jul 15, 2012 at 08:36:28 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  ??????? I still got questions..... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I think you might be answering something different. Are summer speed restrictions due to sagging power lines? I thought they're due to steel rails that are basically softening or cracking because of the hot temperatures and the stress/heat of trains running at higher speeds on the weakened rail. WHile the discussion on the wires was illuminating, I was asking about the actual rails being used.

        Also, I think you're suggesting that the upgrade proposal will improve service for both commuter rail and HSR -- but we are talking about continuing to share tracks between Amtrak NEC and carious local commuter rail systems. A major realignment in Connecticut, some curves rebuilt for higher speeds, and some new bridges along the way -- but otherwise unchanged in regards to the current shared system, yes?

        Coming Soon -- to an Internet connection near you:

        by FischFry on Mon Jul 16, 2012 at 05:47:53 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  A major realignment in CT ... (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RunawayRose, FischFry, BYw

          ... some curves rebuilt for higher speeds ~ which means higher speeds for both the HSR and for the commuter rail lines ~ some new bridges, changing the superelevation and additional passing tracks and improved equipment for commuter services sharing the corridor.

          This is raising the speed limit and acceleration for commuter rail as well.

          As far as track and speed restrictions due to track deformation in summer heat, if the track is built and maintained to Express HSR standards, there won't be any summer speed restrictions from that direction either on the shares NEC corridor.

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          by BruceMcF on Mon Jul 16, 2012 at 09:41:50 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  HSR and Commuter Rail can co-exist (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, BYw

    Japan and Most of Continental Europe proves that.

    What doesn't mix is freight and HSR because the latter depends on very well aligned and maintained tracks.

    China is building several dedicated HSR lines between mega-cities but there is already serious discussion about mixing (true) HSR and moderately fast but more local limited express lines to get more capacity and value out of the rails to serve secondary cities along the way, and I think this will eventually happen.

    LA to SF should have high ridership when it's done but for the cost of a few passing lanes the utilization can be much higher.

    What about my Daughter's future?

    by koNko on Mon Jul 16, 2012 at 05:22:33 AM PDT

    •  Yes, the notion of ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ... shared HSR and 38ton axle load freight sharing track is not included here.

      A normal four track shared configuration is Express HSR on the express track, local all-stations passenger trains on the local track, and local express passenger trains on the local track making express passes on the express track. A SFFS configuration allows for some sharing of the local track by freight during off-peak periods without the freight running on the express track. For the NEC, with about 5% of its trains being freight, that seems quite workable.

      For an idea on greater utilization of the California corridor, see Sunday Train: Leveraging HSR for a Fresno Regional Rail Corridor

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Jul 16, 2012 at 09:51:34 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Freight and HSR mix in Germany (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BruceMcF, BYw

      After a quick dig I found that there is actually quite a lot of freight on German HSR lines. Mannheim-Stuttgart had nine during day (06-22) and 60 duing night (22-06) in 2009, and Hannover-Würzburg had none during day and 62 during night. It's not 100% clear, but it appears to be per direction. Ebensfeld-Erfurt, which is under construction, is planned for 80 per day per direction. The only high-speed line in Germany where I know for sure that there's no freight is Köln-Frankfurt due to too steep slopes (up to 4%). During night the high-speed lines may even be reserved for freight, relegating overnight passenger trains to the older and slower lines.

      Keep in mind that European freight trains typically are much shorter, lighter and faster than their American counterparts.

      •  Yes, 22.5 tons axle loads ... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        ... instead of 33ton, 36ton, 38ton or 40ton is a quite substantial difference. 38tons and 40tons in particular is right up to the physical capacity of steel rail to carry a load, so if you had Class 6 (125mph) or better track, you would basically have to inspect it after each heavy freight train went over.

        The solution to that is to not have the heavy freight trains ever run on the Class 6 track. Indeed, I've suggested in the past a PTC & 22.5tons Rapid Freight standard which would impose fewer regulatory constraints on passenger trains that were sharing track.

        Also, European HSR has higher crash resistence standards than Japanese HSR ~ Japanese HSR trains would not qualify for operation on European HSR lines under the UIC standards that they use.

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        by BruceMcF on Mon Jul 16, 2012 at 11:30:37 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Depends on weight rating of the freight lines (0+ / 0-)

        To my knowledge, the freight sharing tracks with ICE lines is limited to an axle weight rating that does not damage tracks.

        Another important point, that you mention, is scheduling around peak hours. In Germany, off-peak hours, major ICE lines still run on hourly schedules but with relatively short distances (100km or less) between stops so this provides quite a bit of flexibility.

        In contrast, the relatively long station to station distances (and very long freight trains) in California are likely to be less flexible unless passing tracks are included, and it seems to me that freight trains in the US are not segregated by load (although I might be mistaken).

        I visit Germany 2-3 times a year and typically travel by ICE between Frankfurt am Main and Berlin, Stuttgart and Munich. At least in that North-South industrial corridor, the freight trains sharing ICE tracks are lighter containerized freight cars while the heavy industry uses other lines. Frankfurt actually has a HUGE central station and is one of the major passenger and freight terminals of Europe. Only Japan and China have stations of similar scale as far as I know.

        Actually, I ride German designed trains almost daily: Shanghai has several lines originally built by a Siemens-ADtranz consortium and Bombardier bought ADtranz, taking a major share of the rolling stock business including the 4 lines I ride most often (M1, M2, M7, M9).

        Are you living in Europe?

        What about my Daughter's future?

        by koNko on Wed Jul 18, 2012 at 03:44:45 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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