Learning from the Keystone Corridor

» We can expect modest jumps in ridership after investing in relatively minor rail line upgrades.

In 2006, Amtrak and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation completed work on improvements to the Keystone Corridor, which runs 104 miles from Philadelphia to Harrisburg. The $145 million project increased top speeds to 110 mph and allowed for full electric operation, making it possible to run trains reliably from New York’s Penn Station. The line now offers 14 weekday round trips between Harrisburg and Philadelphia and 1h35 trip times between the city centers on express trains (compared with two hours previously), with local routes making the journey in up to 1h55. The improvements on the Keystone demonstrate the small gains that can be garnered from making rail services more time competitive.

The upgrades to the route have allowed Amtrak to increase passenger totals significantly over the past two years. Though Keystone ridership has been on the rise since 2003, its 20% growth in 2007 and 2008 vastly outpaced that of the Amtrak system as a whole. Overall, the corridor attracted 1.2 million people in 2008, compared with 400,000 in 1998; it now represents 4% of total U.S. intercity rail ridership, compared to 2% ten years ago. It is reasonable to assume that the increase in number of users is a reflection of the improved services provided after the renovation.

Keystone Corridor Recent Ridership Trends

In addition, the uptick in ridership and the switch to electric operation have provided a number of benefits, namely an increase in revenues and a decline in per-passenger government subsidies. Fare revenue increased from about $2.4 million in 2005 to $7.2 million last year. Subsidies decreased from about 27¢ per passenger mile in 2005 to about 20¢ in 2008. This is clear evidence of the benefits of rail investment — as more people take advantage of a line, Amtrak is able to save money per passenger mile.

Keystone Corridor Recent Performance

According to the 1995 American Travel Survey, the most recent data available, travel between the Philadelphia and Harrisburg metro areas was the 17th highest of all metro pairs in the U.S. — with slightly less travel than between Boston and New York! Travel between Harrisburg and Washington and New York was relatively high was well. This should be a well-used train line. But Keystone remains a subsidized train: last year, the state of Pennsylvania provided almost as much in operations aid to the line as passengers contributed in fares. Despite the capital investment, this train line will never reach a fare/passenger volume equilibrium that will allow it to be profitable.

Keystone’s example, though relevant to other corridors, is somewhat of an exception. The investments made in 2005 and 2006 on catenary upgrades and track replacement were made in the context of an already high-quality line. The corridor between Harrisburg and Philadelphia is owned by Amtrak, and electrification along the whole line was in place by the end of the 1930s. Though the corridor was once fully four-tracked, it continues to offer at least two tracks along its entire route.

There are few rail corridors in the U.S. that offer similar conditions today. Confounding matters, most are owned by freight railroads, making improvements a difficult process. As a result, the $145 million spent by the State of Pennsylvania on the project would likely buy fewer improvements in other states.

Even so, the experience with the Keystone Line is indicative of the kind of ridership improvements we’ll get with other 110 mph “high-speed” investments being proposed for places like Illinois or the Southwest. In other words, there might be a doubling of ridership over ten years, but no huge mode shift. Unlike true high-speed rail operating at speeds upwards of 200 mph, trains traveling at 110 mph maximum can hardly compete with automobiles. Driving between Philadelphia and Harrisburg takes about two hours — from origin to destination. If the Keystone train, operating as an express, takes an hour and a half in train travel alone, there is no overall time advantage for the train: this is a major hindrance to increasing ridership. A true high-speed train, operating at an average speed of 130 mph, would cover the distance between the cities in 48 minutes and attract enough ridership to make the line operationally profitable.

Nonetheless, it is clear that even minor investments such as those completed in Pennsylvania do improve conditions for riders, make train travel more effective, and reduce subsidies per passenger.

95 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Chris G

    I have to ask the question who’s side are you on?

    Using the whole Subsidy per Passenger Mile statistic is pure BS. It is a made up stat to imply that running no train at all is the best financial position. If we the people who are trying to get more and better passenger rail keep putting inaccurate information out there, we should expect the results to be the same we’ve always had. To expect different is close enough to the definition of insanity.

    The first part of the article was positive and then it just flipped…

  • Well, Chris, how do you propose to measure the financial independence of the line? Reducing subsidies is not the be-all and end-all of transit, but it does give an indication of the patronage and overall stability of the line.

    More things we can learn from the Keystone Corridor:

    Car trips in the corridor, particularly to Harrisburg, are oversubsidized by employer reimbursements to the point where luxury bus service is not profitable.

    The competing Pennsylvania Turnpike earns enough in toll revenues to replace a bridge and cross-subsidize other highways.

    The other competition, Interstate 80, currently has no tolls and is heavily subsidized by taxpayers.

  • eldondre

    ” The investments made in 2005 and 2006 on catenary upgrades and track replacement were made in the context of an already high-quality line”
    This statement is not true. it was formerly a high quality line but it’s conditions were deplorable. Stick rail made the ride feel like a vibrating chair. while the scheduled time may have been 2 hours, the train was NEVER on time before the upgrade. Moreover, the upgrade dates to 2003 when work started. Slowly over the period the ride quality improved as did OTP. I’d credit much of the ridership since 03 to the upgrade. The line still isn’t what it shoudl be but it’s a decent line now. Additionally, the subsidy figures are misleading. I’m assuming you’re using PennDOT numbers but these numbers are contract numbers (ie they represent 51% of the total revenues attributed to the line so if it’s $7.2 million, actual attributed revenue is $14.4 million). More to the point, some of the revenue is attributed to the NEC since many trips go to NYP or some other NEC destination. In all likelihood, the total revenue of the line from Harrisburg to NYP is much, much higher than is stated here. the state subsidy basically covers “the gap” as calculated by amtrak.

  • Despite the capital investment, this train line will never reach a fare/passenger volume equilibrium that will allow it to be profitable.

    This isn’t the 19th century. Can we stop talking about profitability as some Great Purpose of transportation insfrastructure? Or at least, in the same vein we should be talking about the direct profitability of roads, sidewalks, sewers, water treatment, hospitals….

    Infrastructure investments carry benefits beyond the immediate payment for service.

  • Cameron Slick

    Since the point of operational profitability has come up, I heard that the Chicago – Twin Cities line would be operationally profitable with seven roundtrips a day making the journey in 5.5 hours, which is a small improvement over driving but a huge improvement over the Empire Builder (8-8.5 hours).

    And that would still be diesel within a freight railroad, but mostly with separate track. The Midwest High-Speed Rail study also stated in the early 2000’s that the St. Louis & Detroit corridors would be operationally profitable.

  • Woody

    Keystone upgrades in the future. This would get Philly-Pittsburgh down to about 5 hours, 8 trains a day each way.

    from the Philadelphia Inquirer
    Tue, Aug. 25, 2009

    Pa. asks U.S. for $28million for high-speed rail

    By Paul Nussbaum

    Pennsylvania … asked … for $27.45 million for preliminary engineering on four projects to upgrade tracks, signals and power between Harrisburg and Philadelphia, to add a third express track between Atglen and Paoli, and to remove three grade crossings in Lancaster County.

    PennDot said in its application that the planned improvements … could increase the top operating speed on the route to 125 m.p.h. from 110 m.p.h.

    A second application was for $750,000 to study ways to improve rail service between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, including additional tracks and electrification of the route.

    … to increase the top speed of passenger trains … to 110 m.p.h. from the current top speed of 79 m.p.h.

    With additional tracks and electrification, PennDot said, the current 51/2-hour trip time could be reduced by two hours, and eight round trips could be offered daily, up from the current one.

  • Just because the rhetoric of profit and subsidy rate are used by anti-transit activists doesn’t mean that those factors should simply be tossed aside on a scarp heap. That’s a reactionary response and precisely where we go wrong in this country with transportation (and most everything else,) sacrificing functional discussions in favor of detached ideology-driven political tug-of-war.

    Why is subsidy a relevant discussion point? Precisely because subsidy will be required for many, perhaps most, maybe even all services. Knowing which would require the least subsidy can be a great tool for determining investment priorities. If you have only a limited amount of funding, it makes sense to look at both popular *and* low subsidy routes as initial investments to build ridership.

    It can also be relevant to transit systems seeking to stabilize their systems. Here in Portland, the subsidy per rider on the MAX light rail system is far less than the subsidy on the bus system. (In fact, depending on the numbers, some claim MAX actually makes a profit at the farebox.) When the goal is to build a total transit system, the ability to shift significant portions to revenue neutral or revenue positive modes is absolutely vital.

    In short, while reducing subsidy is not the only or even the most important factor in establishing or improving transit and transportation, it is still a very useful and important one that should not be ignored simply because political opponents misuse it.

  • Yonah, your link for the subsidy numbers doesn’t have any subsidy figures.

  • Cameron, Chicago-St. Louis service is already operationally profitable (barely) in good years. In bad years, nothing is operationally profitable except the Acela, which gets to piggyback on the breaking-even-at-best Regional.

  • Andy K

    Would it be feasible/worthwile to connect Harrisburg to the NEC via in Maryland? Thus providing better connections to Baltimore and D. C.

  • It’s possible. The PRR used to run trains from Washington and Baltimore to the Main Line, joining the Broadway Limited going to Chicago. However, such a connection right now is low-priority – it’s much more important to upgrade the NEC to HSR specs, and then construct Philly-Pittsburgh HSR.

  • EngineerScotty

    Overall, MAX does “lose money” (meaning that the operational costs exceed farebox revenues), less so than the bus system. A MAX train-ful of full-fare paying passengers riding for an hour will make money–the product of train capacity (~330 passengers on average) times full fare (aboug $2 for an all-zone fare, which you will be playing if you ride for an hour), well exceeds the operational cost per hour of MAX.

    However, once you factor in passengers not paying full fare (discounts, passes), or who transfer to something else, and the fact that MAX provides service at times with low ridership, MAX is a net money-loser for Tri-Met–but less so than the busses or Streetcar. (We won’t talk about WES).

    But again–echoing the other comments above–this is an issue mainly because Tri-Met’s other revenue source–payroll taxes–is “fixed”. Actually, its not fixed–it’s gone down considerably this year due to recession–but it doesn’t depend on ridership.

  • eldondre

    Yeah, I don’t know Alon, a five hour trip to Pitt would be a sigifnicant improvement and would likely not cost $12 bn that the NEC needs (not that both shouldn’t get done) for 30 minutes. anyways, to further emphasize tmy point abou the numebrs used in the article, there were 1.2 million riders on the Keystone last year, if the revenue was only $7.2 million that would mean the average fare was $6. Given that the largest city pairs are Philly-Lancaster, Philly-Harrisburg, NYP-Lancaster, NY-Harrisburg I find that hard to believe.

  • Adam

    Don’t underestimate the value of those last few upgrades on the harrisburg-philly line. Closing those last three at-grade crossings will allow true max 110 mph speeds across the whole line. And closing those at grade crossings should also then allow max speeds to go up to 125 mpg assuming there aren’t more curves that need to be straightened out.

  • First, a general note, the operating ratio is not “operational profitability”. Its just operating cost recovery from the direct passenger revenues. When viewing the operation as a financial assets, in terms of profitability, then all costs are costs and all payments for services, whether by the passenger or by a state authority, are revenues.

    And qualifying it as “operating profitability” will just lead to somebody making unsupported claims about “profitability” as such.

    Which is prelude to the question: what is the operating ratio? The public subsidy per passenger mile is, I guess, a more useful piece of information than the public subsidy per trip, which is a nearly useless piece of data for intercity transport – but the operating ratio would be far more informative, especially plotted as the left hand axis over time against revenue growth on the right hand axis.

    And regarding the diatribe against Emerging HSR, a few points come to mind:

    (1) Harrisburg metro is half a million. No matter how big the population center at the other end, a metro area of half a million on one end will be a smaller transport market than metro areas of 1m+ on each end, as with the trunk Midwest Hub and Ohio Hub corridors.

    (2) Its not yet up to its full speed even as an Emerging HSRail corridor.

    (3) While it has strong network economies on the eastern end, the network economies on the western end are much weaker. That waits on improvement of the balance of the Keystone Corridor.

    (1), (2) and (3) combined suggest that Emerging HSR corridors serving larger total transport markets, outside the overcrowded Northeast, and with opportunities for network economies can be expected to perform better than the eastern portion of the Keystone Corridor. Of course, what “better than” entails would be easier to see with operating ratio rather than passenger-mile subsidy information.

    (4) Consciously or unconsciously denigrating Emerging HSRail for being as fast as driving simply to elevate the contrast for Express HSRail which is substantially faster than driving makes little sense.

    There is no massive mode shift threshold that is passed when a service has gone from being as fast as driving to faster than driving. The mode shifts happen when new markets open up – for example, when a trip of five hours is reduced to three hours, and comes into the frame as an option for far more people making day trips, there is a prospective mode shift. Two hours to an hour and a half to one hour is on steady slope of percentage rider-miles growth for percentage travel time saving.

  • Eldondre: on the contrary, Philly-Pittsburgh is more more expensive than the NEC, since it requires tunneling under the Appalachians. The NEC requires a few short tunnels under suburbia, but the total tunnel length is overall much shorter.

    Getting Philly-Pittsburgh to 5 hours will be a complete waste of money. Stop investing in legacy rail – learn from France and Japan, and either spend the money on full HSR, or don’t build anything.

  • KSK

    Question –

    Does your ridership data include only Philly/Harrisburg/all points between? Or, does it include the entire line ridership. If it includes the latter, then you would have to consider that NYC to Philly trips on the NEC make up some portion of the increase in ridership given that city pair has presumably had increased ridership over the past few years with the same LOS (trips per day, speed).

  • eldondre

    alon, a five hour trip would not require tunneling under the Appalachians, a 2.5 hour trip would.
    Adam-agreed, those last few pieces are important and what’s more, the east of harrisburg will likely stay mostly intact should real HSR ever be built while west of Harrisburg would require an entirely new ROW . There are a couple of curves east that should eventually be straightened. For the price it’s a worthwhile investment. I believe the 2004 study for three trains west of harrisburg at 5.5 horus was 110 million.

  • KSK: the data seems to include only passengers who travel over part or all of the Philly-Pittsburgh corridor. At least, it agrees with Amtrak’s data, which makes sure to only include passengers who use the Keystone Corridor.

    Eldondre: the issue is that at 5.5 hours, Philly-Pittsburgh will still remain a money sink. Unless you can get it down to about 2 hours, it won’t attract enough people away from cars and planes to be a worthwhile investment even before depreciation. The FRA may call 5.5-hour service Emerging HSR, but in all other countries it’s called low-speed rail and, when the rail operator’s interested in success, gets no investment beyond what’s necessary to run HSR trains on the line at lower speed (i.e. electrification, double-tracking).

  • Woody

    It’s gonna cost A LOT more before this gets done. Another billion to Harrisburg? I’m with Bruce McF here. It’s only half a million people in the metro. And I’m stumped to think why anyone not involved with the state government would want to go there. Just sayin.

    Excerpts from a muddled article in the Central Penn Business Journal:

    By Jim T. Ryan, 7/17/2009

    Gov. Ed Rendell is seeking … (ARRA) money to plan for high-speed rail transportation, including about $1.4 billion for upgrades to the Amtrak Keystone Corridor East between Harrisburg and Philadelphia, said Erin Waters, a PennDOT spokeswoman.

    The corridor could have train speeds upgraded to 125 mph following proposed removal of road crossings. It now has trains that run at 110 mph.

    Eliminating the crossings would cost about $418 million, Waters said. The two-phase project, including upgrades to power supplies, would cost about $1 billion.

    PennDOT also submitted plans … for a feasibility study to add high-speed rail to the Keystone Corridor West, which runs one train a day between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. The study would explore upgrades to the Norfolk Southern line, addition of a parallel line and new locations for the high-speed rail.

  • Fast Eddie's sticky fingers

    $418 million to grade separate 3 crossings likely include about an 80% corruption contingency. Rural grade separations are usually in the $5-20 million range each, not $173 mil. And an extra $1 billion to go from 110 to 125mph? Do the math, on this 104 mile corridor going from 110 to 125mph can at most save 6 minutes.

  • eldondre

    Alon-It’s standard speed rail and even in countries with real high speed, they have cheaper standard speed alternatives. At five hours it will attract a lot more riders than it does currently, and less than if it were 2 hours.
    AFAIK, the $1 bn dollars cited by PennDOT was a ballpark figure and included prepping the line for speeds of 150 mph AND new equipment. the Phase I request was $28 million for engineering and $750k to study alternatives to Pittsburgh, entirely within the realm of reason.

    Ridership-that does include All riders on the line but the revenue does not. If Yonah has a question abou the revenue he can feel free to email me. I corrected the Inquirer as well who verified that APTA was using the PennDOT number which itself does not agree with Amtrak numbers. For all the complaints about harrisburg, the state subsidizes about $6.66 per passenger, the feds subsidized Cape Air in Lancaster to the tune of about $110 per passenger.

  • eldondre

    6 minutes-this is incorrect because it assumes that the line is all 110 mph, which is far from the case. the last stretch to 30th st is maybe 15 mph, it’s about 30 mph until you get oustide Philly, 90 mph until parkesburg?, then 110 with some stretches significantly slower, and back to 90 mph. That said, it will take some serious money to get much below 80 minutes between harrisburg and Philly. 80 minutes averages 78 mph, if the train averaged 90 mph it would be a 70 min trip.

  • Fast Eddie's still sticky fingers

    Which is why the phrase “at most” was used.

  • eldondre

    “at most” is still false since much of the line doesn’t go that fast, so improving speeds from 30 to 80, or 15 to 45 has a much larger impact and is all part fo the plan. they are looking to reduce trip times by 20 minutes, not six minutes. This is significant as it would be Lancaster City less than an hour away from Philly.

  • Fast Eddie’s sticky fingers said on September 29, 2009 at 09:42:
    And an extra $1 billion to go from 110 to 125mph? Do the math, on this 104 mile corridor going from 110 to 125mph can at most save 6 minutes.

    Yes, precisely, do the math. If its 104miles and the fastest schedule is 1:35, that’s an average trip speed of 64mph. If the 125mph upgrade can get the trip speed up to:
    * 80mph will save 17 minutes
    * 90mph will save 25 minutes
    * 100mph will save 32 minutes

    Obviously, the “125mph upgrade” will not be restricted to upgrading 110mph sections by 15mph, 90mph sections by 12mph, 30mph sections by 4mph and 15mph sections by 2mph, as your calculation of a 13% increase in average trip speed implies.

  • Chris G

    To the Capt, well above. I am not sure how else to show it, but the operating ratio would be an improvement.

    To follow up on Bruce with post 27. Once they get to 110 along the entire run or 125, wouldnt it be a good idea to try and get new equipment in there?

    I think that new rail equipment will draw riders as much as faster travel times.

  • Woody

    I think eldondre is right about the target timetable. I recall reading somewhere, but can’t find it now (my search skills are not so great), that the aim is to get the Keystone (East) down to 75 minutes. One hour 15 minutes Philly-Harrisburg would be 20 minutes less than now.

    By the time the Keystone Corridor upgrades are finished, it will be almost like a new line. When Amtrak started on this project, it owned the tracks, so this was where it could do a demonstration project. And Pennsylvania has been a willing partner, putting in considerable resources of its own.

    Actually, the other place where Amtrak owns the ROW has also seen considerable work, between Kalamazoo and the Indiana shore. Michigan put in some resources as well, closing grade crossings and building a highway overpass or two.

    But now Michigan is broke. And the big end of the unfinished work on that route is in Chicago. Until the CREATE projects get that mess untangled, with the hope of cutting 15 or 20 minutes off the schedules of all the long-distance Amtrak trains out of the city, there’s little point in sinking much more money into the ROW to Kalamazoo and beyond to Battle Creek, Ann Arbor, and Detroit.

    So Yonah is correct that the Keystone is unlike almost any other potential HSR corridor.

    The data remains very mixed. I went to Amtrak’s latest monthly figures. For July, ridership on the Keystone service was down 3.4% from July 2008, compared to minus 9.6% for all state-supported and short distance trains. It outperformed the NEC spine Acelas and Regionals, down 8.4, and the long-distance trains down 7.7%. (The ONLY trains with a plus mark were the Lincoln service, St Louis-Chicago, +9.4%, and the Palmetto, up 0.9%. The Heartland Flyer was the worst, down 26.1%.)

    A provocative post by Yonah and great discussion. But I’d be very careful before drawing sweeping conclusions about what the Keystone shows about the value of incremental improvements to 90 mph or even 110 or 125 mph service linking small metro areas vs true HSR between major metros. I still favor both.

  • Alon Levy on September 28, 2009 at 20:26:

    when the rail operator’s interested in success, gets no investment beyond what’s necessary to run HSR trains on the line at lower speed (i.e. electrification, double-tracking).

    Which is more investment than the Emerging HSR corridors demand.

    The argument, “nobody would conceivably spend more than X to upgrade a conventional rail corridor for trains” is a quite obvious red herring with respect to plans to less than “X”.

    Any suggestion that no industrial nation outside the US makes investments that allow Intercity Express services to run above 79mph would be a flat out lie. Indeed, Spain (1950’s) and Japan (1970’s) have been investing in tilt-trains on conventional rail corridors for years.

    Now, certainly these investments have been done on an incremental fashion over time, but the investments have quite definitely been made.

  • eldondre

    the plan is detailed here
    http://planthekeystone.com/assets/downloads/Keystone_Environmental_Assessment.pdf

    As for midsized metros, were PA not caught with it’s pants down I assume they would have submitted something for Pittsburgh. OTOH, this line is part of the Pittsburgh route so it does go towards the goal of eventually linking Pitt with the east. They expect ridership to increase to 1.7 million with these upgrades (assuming no additional trains, which seems like a questionable function since 20 minute trip savings would surely free up equipment for more runs, particularly at rush hour). I’d be curious what kind of time savings tilt equipment would achieve. I’d imagine the holy grail here would be an average speed of 104 mph (60 minutes HAR to Philly). Prior to that, though, I hope they’ve lopped 2 hours off the western leg.

  • Bruce: Japan’s narrow-gauge trains still top at about 160 km/h, and usually don’t go above 130. The closest thing there to a speedup of tracks, as opposed to a speedup of trains, is the Mini-Shinkansen project, which converted two lines to standard gauge to allow through-routing of Shinkansen trains from Tokyo.

    The problem with the Emerging HSR concept is that the investments done for it are exactly the types that don’t go well with national HSR networks. It involves grade crossing eliminations, some curve straightening, and a lot of double-tracking. There’s no electrification there – the idea that someone might want to run modern tilting trains on the line at lower speed and then join the HSR line at high speed just hasn’t occurred to the FRA.

    Also: the 125 mph upgrade won’t increase average speeds the way you say it will. The only parts for which the top speed is relevant are those where trains can attain their top speed. You can eliminate curves and other bottlenecks, raising the average speed, without ever raising the top speed.

  • Woody

    eldondre — Thanks for the great link. Good to see the detailed info. Hey, if they can get a 50% increase in passengers up to 1.7 million a year in just a few years, that’s pretty good for a mid-sized market. And of course, they did not assume additional trains, as you point out, not even a second run to Pittsburgh. One of these days.

  • Fast Eddie's still sticky and stained fingers

    Exactly, all those time improvements except for 3-5 minutes can be made with a max speed of 110mph. (We would have thought that was self evident…) In fact the highway grade separations aren’t even necessary, up to 110 mph can be operated with basic crossing protection, 125 mph with experimental crossing guards (though no prototypes have completed successful testing.)

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m in favor of the grade separations and all the corridor improvements proposed. But some of the cost estimates seem to be either greatly inflated or hiding a wish list of projects. There’s also a faint whiff of potential stillborn by Utopian wish list bloat, reminiscent of how Septa’s $2 billion gamble has for years prevented Reading-Philly service. That route could have been built without all the bells and whistles for less than 1/4 of Septa’s price. But heaven forbid they compromise and have patrons suffer a transfer from diesel equip at 30th street. In the Schuylkill Valley, no loaf is better than half! Anyway, upping the max to 125 is really a minor component (for Hbg-Phil/NYC. Every bit helps for longer trips like eventually to Pitt. The 4 and 3 hour thresholds are significant.)

    BTW, any analysis should include not just the 500K population of the Harrisburg area, but also an additional 800K from the Lancaster and York metros. There are plenty who do various forms of commutes from each of those to Philly and its suburbs.

  • Alon Levy on September 29, 2009 at 15:04:

    Bruce: Japan’s narrow-gauge trains still top at about 160 km/h, and usually don’t go above 130.

    A top of about 160mph is higher than a top of 79mph. When elaborated, your position seems to be that the US should make no investments in rail corridors to bring the top speed above 79mph in the coming decade, but should instead wait until after the first Express HSR corridor has been built in a region before starting to make any investments that make any higher than 79mph rail services available in that region.

    The problem with the Emerging HSR concept is that the investments done for it are exactly the types that don’t go well with national HSR networks. It involves grade crossing eliminations, some curve straightening, and a lot of double-tracking. There’s no electrification there – the idea that someone might want to run modern tilting trains on the line at lower speed and then join the HSR line at high speed just hasn’t occurred to the FRA.

    You have either confused yourself or are playing a dishonest rhetorical game. “There’s no electrification here” is true in the sense that there is no requirement for electrification. It does not mean there is no scope for electrification.

    But its only if it electrification was ruled out that the argument makes any sense. If there are corridors that can generate operating ratios above 1.00 with 110mph diesel service, they can refund revenue bonds to finance electrification, which will in turn increase patronage due to reduced trip times and reduce operating costs, increasing future operating ratios. And of course, electrification work is among the projects that can be funded in the Federal HSR funding framework.

    I personally advocate a strong downgrade in competitive applications if infrastructure is being funded that is incompatible with future electrification as an explicit policy, but painting the current policy as obstructing electrification would be an absurd misrepresentation.

    Also: the 125 mph upgrade won’t increase average speeds the way you say it will. The only parts for which the top speed is relevant are those where trains can attain their top speed. You can eliminate curves and other bottlenecks, raising the average speed, without ever raising the top speed.

    That was in response to someone who painted a project application that includes upgrade of 110mph and 90mph segments to 125mph as consisting of nothing but an upgrade to 125mph, and ignored the travel time savings offered by the components of the project in favor of a simplistic projection of the 13% increase in maximum speed from 110mph to 125mph.

    And, obviously, where time elasticities are stable, eliminating lower speed bottlenecks increases the patronage benefit of upgrading to 125mph, since after the reduction of the bottleneck, the same time saving is a larger percentage reduction in travel time.

  • eldondre

    I’ve actually bumped into a few people who have driven to Harrisburg from the Pittsburgh area and taken the train (into Philly). I imagine the numbers of people doing that would increase if the train were 20 minutes faster. I have a suspicion that the initial numbers were kitchen sink numbers and that the final request will be much lower. If I had to guess, those numbers are probably incorrect in that article…it wouldn’t be the first time, even the post that started this is using incorrect numbers (in this case it’s revenue). Fast Eddie, you are right, Lancaster should also be included, not to mention the Chester County stops still in the Philly Metro area who may be driving to Trenton to catch the train to NY otherwise.

  • A top of about 160mph is higher than a top of 79mph

    Not 160 mph – 160 km/h. And it’s mostly 130 km/h, which is 81 mph.

    You have either confused yourself or are playing a dishonest rhetorical game. “There’s no electrification here” is true in the sense that there is no requirement for electrification. It does not mean there is no scope for electrification.

    It means scarce investment dollars are spent on a diesel-based system, which will with few exceptions have operating ratios far below 1. If the Keystone and Empire Corridors can’t raise their operating ratios to 1, neither can most other lines. This ensures that not only will those lines be incompatible with HSR for the near future, but also they will force Amtrak to spend more money on a system that will remain incompatible with HSR.

  • eldondre

    Also wanted to add that if Pennsylvania did make good on the knocking two hours off west of Harrisburg and electrifying that would make 3.5 hours+75 minutes=4h45m trip to Pittsburgh, which is slighlty faster than driving. I have no idea how much faster the route could be pushed without a new tunnel but I’m curious.

  • Chris G

    Eldondre, Don’t forget the run from Philly to Pittsburgh is also toll road. So there is an extra costs factor in that equation.

    To all…

    The key would be to electrify the line, and continually work on upgrades.

    At the same time if you wanted a new tunnel in places to make it better, go for it. But they should not stop spending for service now, because they’re building a better system for the future. That is how the future never comes.

  • Chris, the part about stopping spending for service now isn’t how HSR plans are actually put together. What happens is that when it’s no longer feasible to keep improving a line incrementally at low cost, the rail authority builds a parallel dedicated high-speed line. In both France and Japan, it was controversial as many people in the government believed it would be okay to just four-track the existing line and keep improving it.

    There’s nothing wrong with electrifying Harrisburg-Pittsburgh. Together with tilt trains, it could support medium speeds, which would allow through-running with the NEC. In the future it could also support HSR tunnels; the advantage of electrification is that if there’s only enough money in the budget for constructing the line halfway through, then trains can continue on the old line at lower speed.

  • eldondre

    That’s exactly right alon. In my mind, the HSR segment should be a non-stop Harrisburg-Pittsburgh segment with the old ROW continued to be served by “regular” trains. I don’t see an entirely new ROW east of Harrisburg though it may be worthwhile straightening some curves.

  • Chris G

    Eldondre. That is the what I was getting at. Eventually a new ROW will be needed. But service won’t stop on the existing. The local trains are often forgotten in this country and everyone says “look at the fast ones elsewhere”

    well the fast ones else where are a) expensive and b) augmented by local trains to serve everyone.

  • Woody

    Again my compliments, Yonah, for provoking so many comments (43 and counting) and informative discussion with this post. But as I go over it once again, I’m still unsure. The PA statistics you cite give revenue as $7.2 million last year..

    When I look at the Amtrak monthly report —
    http://www.amtrak.com/pdf/0907monthly.pdf — I see $2,244,000 for July 2008 alone, times 12 crudely gets me almost $27 million revenue for an artificial 12-month year. (Everything is down for 2009, of course, deep into The Great Recession.)

    Presumably Amtrak reports the revenue from the Keystone trains all the way to NYC, and counts the trips like Lancaster-Trenton and Philly-Newark, and not just those solely within the Keystone East Philly-Harrisburg Corridor.

    If the total revenue is closer to what Amtrak indicates, then the value of the incremental improvements may be higher than the lower PA-only figure suggests.

    Alon is insisting that upgrades to less than true HSR are only justified when the routes are electrified and the HSR trains can run on them before joining the HSR trackage.

    Isn’t that what is happening here? Improvements on the Keystone East are helping to feed more traffic from Harrisburg, Lancaster, and the smaller stations onto the NEC.

    In that case, when Amtrak spent $72..5 mil and PA matched that to get $145 mil in improvements to put more passengers on the Keystone-acting-as-regional trains up to NYC, it was a deal. Compared to the many billions it will cost to shave even 5 or 10 minutes from timetables on the NEC itself, another billion to cut 20 minutes from the Keystone feeder route will be a deal.

  • eldondre

    The revenue Amtrak reports is exactly that, the whole route. The revenue used here isn’t even the full revenue for the Harrisburg segment. Again, AFAIK, the $1bn figure was a ballpark figure for 150 mph operation AND new equipment not just 20 minutes using the same equipment.
    anyone know what the roundtrip tolls are pitt-philly?

  • Woody

    From the interchange called Pittsburgh to the one called Philadelphia, the PennsylvaniaTurnpike costs $21.60. (Save 4 cents if U use EZPass.)

    “The revenue used here isn’t even the full revenue for the Harrisburg segment,” says eldondre. Well, in that PA report that Yonah cites, the section, pages 126 & 127, is headed “Commuter Rail Program.” I wasn’t thinking this Harrisburg-Philly we are talking about is exactly “commuter rail.”

    Peer at a sort of footnote to the header above the schematic map on page 126: “Beginning 10/06, Keystone rail service expanded, and the Commonwealth began receiving credit for 51% of all Keystone riders, revenue, and passenger miles incurred west of Philadelphia.”

    Does that almost inscrutable bureaucratese lingo mean that the $7.2 million “Annual Passenger Revenue” figure on page 127 is half the true total , and Amtrak gets credit for the other half, or what the heck?

    As a retired journalist, I often scold younger reporters for garbling stores about rail and transit. But my sympathies go to any journalist on deadline who is trying to make sense of PA’s report on the Keystone.

  • Alon Levy | September 29, 2009 at 16:35

    ” A top of about 160mph is higher than a top of 79mph”

    Not 160 mph – 160 km/h. And it’s mostly 130 km/h, which is 81 mph.

    Sorry, typo, I meant to write a top of about 160km/h is higher than a top of 79mph.

    Of course, to reach the population density of much of Japan within a one hour radius at 79mph requires 110mph in Ohio and Indiana – Ohio has the areal population density of Germany, but not of Japan. And even Japan finds it useful to invest in passenger operations in conventional rail corridors exceeding the 79mph limit that you propose.

    It means scarce investment dollars are spent on a diesel-based system, which will with few exceptions have operating ratios far below 1.

    If they do not, then there will not be the large amount of investment in them that you fear, because expanding beyond the trunk corridors will require revenue bonding for the state matches.

    However, fortunately for the prospects of establishing Express HSR corridors, the trunk corridors in the Midwest Hub and the Ohio Hub will have operating ratios above 1.

    That is, after all, what will generate the opportunity to provide state matching funds through revenue bonds for their expansion, which will then justify the upgrade of the trunk corridors to Regional HSR, which will then justify the upgrade of the trunk corridors to electrification, which is the configuration that allows Express HSR services to run through from a trunk Express HSR corridor to connect a wide a variety of origins and destinations.

    And of course, with operating ratios above 100%, the process of setting out the begging bowl for funds to proceed with planning and environmental impact analysis and clearances can be replaced by planning of a range of corridors in parallel to have a shelf of shovel ready plans ready for funding, just like a State Highway department.

    Second, obviously the exclusionary “only pursue Express HSR” strategy means fewer investment dollars available for Express HSR than the broad coalition strategy. They are each productive investments in terms of creating more economic benefit than they consume, so the constraint on investment dollars is not a resource constraint but rather a political constraint.

    Pretending that there is a fixed supply of dollars leads to destructive fights between what should be natural allies for expanding the funds made artificially scarce instead invest their effort into undercutting each other.

    Leading in this case to the precise same kind of sweeping claim backed by little more than prejudice being made to undermine Regional HSR in imagined defense of Express HSR that detractors of Express HSR make all the time regarding the California HSR project.

    If the short Harrisburg section of the Keystone corridor can be taken from what might seems to be an operating ratio of around 40% to an operating ratio of 48% in three years, with effective network economies at Harrisburg waiting on development of an effective Harrisburg / Pittsburgh corridor, and with still more travel time reductions available, then a corridor like the Triple-C, which could comfortably reach an operating ratio over 80% as an Amtrak speed line, with superior network economies available than the Harrisburg segment of the Keystone, will easily clear 100% when Berea to Cincinnati has been upgraded to 110mph corridors.

  • eldondre

    Woody, I suppose I should remember that not everyone works in finance and their first inclination isn’t to plug the numbers in to see if they make sense. As noted earlier, the $7.2 million is a contract number NOT a real number. Amtrak’s reported number ($26 million) is all the revenue generated by riders west of Philadelphia whether it be along the Harrisburg line or as far as NY (though it does not include revenue generated on Regionals by riders connecting from the Keystone Service). $14.12 million represents the revenue generated by the line itself plus a passenger mile based allocation of revenue through to NY, and $7.2 million represents 51% of that. I am pretty close with someone who works there and they explained it to me because I noticed PA’s and Amtrak’s numbers were so different. In other words, the amount of revenue actually generated last year varies from $7.2 million to around $27.5 million (including revenue on Regionals)depending on how you want to look at it. now Pa is estimating the route woudl increase t’s riders by another 42% on the same trains if further investments are made in the line (which would finally make it a good “high speed” corridor (or standard speed in the rest of the developed world). I tend to agree with Bruce that this bodes well for other corridors though it’s worth noting that even iff Lancaster-York-Harrisburg is smaller than the 3C’s, the 3C’s doesn’t have NY or Philadelphia on the other end of it. Together those metro areas are north of 20 million people. the drive to Pittsburgh can be upwards of 6 hours with an hour of that simply getting out of Philly and it’s suburbs…not unlike the drive to NY which frequently includes a 30 minute tunnel.

  • Nathanael

    The Keystone is still a line with severe problems.

    In PRR days and before, it had nice stations. It lost most of them and most of the rest are decrepit. Very few are up to ADA standards. http://www.greatamericanstations.com/ will show you the status of each one; one is a bus shelter at the bottom of a trench with eroding stairs.

    That rather puts a damper on the attractiveness of the line. There are a lot of plans out there to make the stations more like, well, stations, and I would expect to see further increases in ridership when that happens.

  • Woody

    Nathanael, iirc, Amtrak is using stimulus funds to make (almost?) every station in the national system ADA compliant.

    More directly, the PennDOT paper that eldondre linked to reports that “currently the stations at Elizabethtown and Lancaster are being renovated…. Public meetings have been held [about] a new Middletowne Station.” Upgrades are planned for the Exton platforms. At Ardmore, the historic station burned in the 1950s and a temporary station has served ever since. The new station is described as “shovel-ready” and planned to be multi-modal with transit-oriented residential development and new parking included.

  • Bruce: yes, 160 km/h > 79 mph. But most narrow-gauge lines in Japan run at a top speed of 130, not 160. Even countries where legacy lines are standard gauge don’t bother running them too fast: in France the top speed is, I believe, 160, and in Korea they’re upgrading lines to 130 just to be able to through-run HSR trains on them. Ohio is less dense than Korea and Japan, but it’s denser than France, and had much shorter distances between large cities.

    I’m not sure why you think the Ohio Hub will have an above-1 operating ratio. International experience suggests it won’t: low-speed lines like Corail are subsidized by high-speed ones like the TGV. That’s true even in Japan, where low-speed intercity lines have poor financial performance. Those lines are run to similar specs as what the FRA is calling Regional HSR or Emerging HSR, but since they’re not actually HSR, they’re too slow to attract enough riders.

    The closest thing to an operating profit I can find is that the Ohio Hub report projects an operating surplus for 110 mph service (i.e. not what they’re building), assuming unrealistically high ridership numbers. The report assumes that with 110 mph diesel service, ridership would grow to 9 million by 2025, i.e. close to current NEC levels and higher than in California. To give you a clue how fantastic this is, the same report projects 6 million riders at 79 mph – still higher than on much more populated routes like LA-San Diego.

    The strategy you call a broad coalition is just misdirected pork. If you want a well-run rail system, rather than a repeat of the Interstate debacle, you’ll want it run where it can succeed. Additional pork should be included only insofar as it can help the bill get to 60 votes in the Senate at minimum cost. For example, 160 km/h service from Boston to Maine would incur similar operating subsidies to Keystone today, but it would be worth 2-3 swing votes in the Senate, at much less cost than serving rural areas in the Midwest (look at the location of the North Central Ohio stop, and ask yourself how many people will use it).

    Even those low pork levels may be unnecessary, as the most critical HSR link in the US, NY-DC, is one that Congresspeople and their staffers would use frequently to shuttle from where they collect money to where they vote. Getting NY-DC down to 2:00, as John Mica proposed, may be enough to put Amtrak in the black, enabling it to afford things like fast service on NY-Boston. While extra pork could gain additional votes from the areas it serves, it would also lose fiscal conservatives; already there are people who treat good investments like HSR in the Midwest and Upstate New York as pork.

  • Alon Levy on October 2, 2009 at 06:12:

    I’m not sure why you think the Ohio Hub will have an above-1 operating ratio. International experience suggests it won’t: low-speed lines like Corail are subsidized by high-speed ones like the TGV.

    Of course, the TGV itself benefited substantial from urban infrastructure that offered ordinary Express Intercity routes into the heart of big cities as well as the opportunity to run HSR services from the HSR corridor itself into the Express Intercity corridors that you are arguing should not be made available where they are most cost-effective to build.

    The closest thing to an operating profit I can find is that the Ohio Hub report projects an operating surplus for 110 mph service (i.e. not what they’re building), assuming unrealistically high ridership numbers.

    Of course 110mph is what we will be building. The service will not start at 110mph, but no reconstruction of the infrastructure we will be building is required to raise it to 110mph.

    I do understand that you can frame a trip modeling comparison that makes the ridership modeling look overstated, especially if you compare ridership rather than passenger miles and act as if Amtrak NEC services were the sole rail service along the Northeast Corridor.

    However, Amtrak is NOT the sole rail service along the Northeast Corridor. Fiscal 2008 ridership on the Acela was 3.4m, Northeastern Regional ridership was 8.3m, and commuter ridership on the NEC averaged about 750,000 per weekday, which puts ridership on the NEC well above 100m – but of course does not have anywhere near that impact on train miles. And the NEC is competing against public subsidized regional bus services as well.

    Comparing passenger miles on the NEC to the projected passenger miles in the Triple C corridor is what one would do if interested in talking seriously about intercity transport.

    And what do you present here in place of looking at transport markets, trip speeds, and available transport alternatives, in the context of modeling that has been successful elsewhere in the inland Northeast? Magical thinking: “Those lines are run to similar specs as what the FRA is calling Regional HSR or Emerging HSR, but since they’re not actually HSR, they’re too slow to attract enough riders.

    So its not how fast the trip is compared to alternatives, the size of the transport markets and the number of transport markets that the service competed in: its simply a matter of how fast the train is when it is going at its fastest. If it goes above some magical number, it will generate an operating surplus, and if it goes below that magical number, it will not.

    Out here om the real world, if Express HSR can generate an operating surplus and conventional rail can not, then there is a threshold of trip speed between the two, and the threshold will be different for different corridors with different population centers at different distances apart and a different range of subsidized alternatives available to travelers.

    While the belief in a magic threshold that applies universally no matter what the social geography along the corridor certainly simplifies the task of judging rail corridors, that’s at the expense of being false.

    In the 79mph Cleveland to Berea, 110mph Berea to Columbus to Dayton to Cincinnati schedule, Cleveland to Columbus express is 1:38, Cincinnati to Columbus express is 1:50, and Dayton to Cincinnati and Columbus is 0:55. Three 1m+ metro areas placed under 2 hours apart, with the less populous of the pairs having a 500K+ metro area under an hour away from each, and you look at ridership modeling that predicts those services will attract riders as evidence of the flaws of the model?

    It seems more likely that you are finding the ridership modeling flawed because it disagrees with your prejudices.

    Just precisely as the HSR trolls do when trying to argue that the California Express HSR could not possibly be worth the investment.

  • Bruce, the reason I doubt the ridership projections is that the existing models, based on gravity functions, give completely different results. Gravity modeling will tell us that for the same cost and travel time, Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati traffic is about ((3*2 + 2*2 + 3*2)/(13*3))^0.9 = 0.45 times the LA-SD traffic. The 3C corridor is expected to be slightly faster and considerably more expensive, and have more serious competition from cars (I-71 isn’t a parking lot 12 hours a day), so cost factors can’t make a huge difference in explaining why Ohio expects the 3C corridor to have more than twice the current traffic of LA-SD. Some lines overperform the model, like Tokyo-Tohoku, and some underperform it, like London-Paris, but there’s no reason given why Ohio should overperform by a factor of more than 4 relative to SoCal.

    The threshold speed of profitability is probably much higher than 110 mph. On the NEC, connecting larger cities, spaced further apart, with better connecting transit and more congested roads, the line was teetering on the edge of profitability in the 1990s. This suggests the break-even point is about 125-135 mph. In Ohio, it’s likely to be much higher – if there’s even such a point. In terms of ridership per route-mile, 3C is inferior to even Cleveland-Detroit, to say nothing of the lines connecting to Chicago.

    Unlike 125+ mph service, which historically hasn’t existed in the US outside the NEC, service nearing 100 mph did happen in the steam era. Average speeds on streamlined trains from Chicago to Denver and similar routes were close to what’s projected for 3C. The Interstates and the airlines wiped those lines out. I don’t think restoring train speeds to what they were in the 1930s is going to make the lines profitable. Do you?

  • The threshold speed of profitability is probably much higher than 110 mph. On the NEC, connecting larger cities, spaced further apart,

    How does being spaced further apart make for improved performance for an Emerging HSR 110mph line?

    As you noted in the discussion on the MN 110mph line study, the balance between higher speed sections and bottleneck sections means that the NEC corridor presently is equivalent to a 110mph line in operating performance now, so that before it was upgraded, it would have been cities further apart than on the Triple-C, with rail services slower than the 110mph option for the Triple-C.

    with better connecting transit and more congested roads, the line was teetering on the edge of profitability in the 1990s.

    You write as if there was no other competing transport options available to travelers in the Northeast Corridor as a result of the higher population density.

    This suggests the break-even point is about 125-135 mph

    It does indeed suggest that if you have a line with extended substantial bottleneck sections and are relying on the higher speed sections to compensate for the delays elsewhere, you need a higher maximum speed speed than if you can attain and maintain the maximum speed for more of the journey.

    But the fact is that with cities spaced farther apart, in crowded right of ways with little room for new track, and facing far more common carrier competition in the intercity transport market, the passenger revenues of the Acela route was 129% of operating costs.

    There is no reason why corridors with similar effective trip speeds and where due to much less road congestion they are the only transport option other than air that is time competitive with driving should be unable to capture 2% out of 3% total non-auto transport demand in a market like the Triple-C corridor.

    And if it performs at that level, it will have substantially better operating ratios than presently achieved in the NEC.

    I have no doubt that the conventional rail Triple-C will require subsidy, because it will be offering trips Cleveland/Columbus and Columbus/Cincinnati that are over two hours, but it will be achieving operating ratios substantially better than the Keystone corridor, and getting services up and running will accelerate the ridership growth as segments are upgraded to 110mph maximum speeds.

  • How does being spaced further apart make for improved performance for an Emerging HSR 110mph line?

    It makes it more competitive with cars and buses. This is especially true in areas with gridlocked highways, such as the Hudson River crossings.

    You write as if there was no other competing transport options available to travelers in the Northeast Corridor as a result of the higher population density.

    On the contrary: higher population density supports rail. It slows down road and air traffic. It makes it easier to serve train stations by local and regional rail. It makes the metro areas larger, which increases the total size of the travel market, making it possible to turn a profit with a smaller market share. The Tokaido Shinkansen makes windfall profits not because of its market share, but because Tokyo and Osaka are huge; getting 40% of the Tokyo-Osaka market is worth much more than getting 70% of the London-Paris market.

    the passenger revenues of the Acela route was 129% of operating costs.

    The Acela is a business class-only route, which coexists with the non-premium Regional. The two services are branded differently, but the speed difference is so small most people in the Northeast perceive them as the same service. So the relevant factor is the NEC’s total operating ratio, which is 1.15.

    There is no reason why corridors with similar effective trip speeds and where due to much less road congestion they are the only transport option other than air that is time competitive with driving should be unable to capture 2% out of 3% total non-auto transport demand in a market like the Triple-C corridor.

    As of 2005-6, Amtrak had 14% of the NY-DC transport market. Getting 2% of the much smaller Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati market wouldn’t get you to 9 million passengers a year. To put things in perspective, nationwide Amtrak has about 1% of the transport market, and 25 million passengers a year. The idea that Ohio alone can support 9 million with a 2-3% share is fantasy.

  • “How does being spaced further apart make for improved performance for an Emerging HSR 110mph line?”

    It makes it more competitive with cars and buses. This is especially true in areas with gridlocked highways, such as the Hudson River crossings.

    Competing against bus services that exist because of the population densities. Once again you have a one-sided view, including factors that lower elasticity, ignoring factors that raise elasticity.

    And what does it does with the competition between Emerging HSR 110mph lines like the Ohio Hub and, effectively, the Acela and air travel? What would happen to the Acela’s share of the NYC/Boston transport market if it was a genuine 150mph train service rather than a slower service that includes a few 150mph sprints?

    As of 2005-6, Amtrak had 14% of the NY-DC transport market. Getting 2% of the much smaller Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati market wouldn’t get you to 9 million passengers a year. The idea that Ohio alone can support 9 million with a 2-3% share is fantasy.

    Yes, its fantasy. After all, you just made it up – or rather, read one number and pretended it applied to something else because it confirmed your conclusion, decided upon in advance.

    After all, the actual figure is under 2.6m, and nobody could confuse under 2.6m for 9m.

    You appear to have generated your fantasy by adding Pittsburgh/Cleveland, Pittsburgh/Columbus, Cleveland/Toledo/Detroit, Cleveland/Buffalo/Toronto and Columbus/Chicago, together with incremental passengers onto the MWRRS. on top of Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati, and then assuming that the aggregate applied to the Triple-C corridor alone.

    Aiding the distortion is the bad habit of comparing ridership numbers directly without adjusting for average trip length. The average trip in the Ohio Hub modeling is under 140 miles. Since the average Acela trip length is around 175 miles, a ridership to ridership comparison inflates the predicted transport on the Triple C by over 25%.

  • At 2% market share, 9 million for the full Ohio Hub is fantasy, too. The total size of the markets in the hub is still lower than just New York-Washington. NY-DC is about 4 times 3C using a gravity model with cost proportional to travel time (this is favorable to 3C, which has shorter distances, since cost also includes access and egress times), and slightly less than twice the total for all four Ohio Hub corridors, which are together projected to get 6 million riders a year. Even at Amtrak’s 14% market share, in other words, there’s no way the Ohio Hub could achieve its projected ridership.

    The Northeast’s competing bus services are helped by the density – and by the large number of immigrants, who have created low-cost Chinatown buses. However, rail still has a 14% market share there, due to a) slow bus speeds, b) congestion within the major cities, c) low car ownership, and d) good transit connections to the train stations. I’m open to the argument that TEMS is clueless and the actual market share in Ohio won’t be 2% but 30%, but if that’s the case, then why should we trust anything else their study says?

  • At 2% market share, 9 million for the full Ohio Hub is fantasy, too. The total size of the markets in the hub is still lower than just New York-Washington. NY-DC is about 4 times 3C using a gravity model with cost proportional to travel time (this is favorable to 3C, which has shorter distances, since cost also includes access and egress times), and slightly less than twice the total for all four Ohio Hub corridors, which are together projected to get 6 million riders a year.

    The total intercity transport market that is used as the basis of the regression analysis in the Ohio Hub study is not a gravity model – its direct estimates of the total intercity transport market.

    Anyone who has ever done any travel matrix regression analysis – indeed, anyone who has ever done any serious cross section analysis of any sort – knows that there is always a lot of variance in the overall regression that is not explained by the model, but is due to origin-destination pair specific factors – eg., the enrolment of Cleveland based students at Ohio State, or the state government policy on state employee travel to different parts of the state.

    What you are saying is that using a privately specified back of the envelope model with absolutely no control variables, you do not get the same result as a fully (and publicly) specified regression model based on the actual trip matrix of the corridor in question, and that all discrepancies are quite obviously due to the flaws in the handling of the regression analysis in working through the COMPASS model.

    It is prima facia highly unlikely that your back of the envelope modeling is sufficiently fully informed to generate the tight confidence intervals that you believe that it has.

    Indeed, you seem to be doing gravity modeling based on c. 2008 populations to critique projected shares of 2025 transport markets, without noting the fact, because a hidden zero-population-growth assumption gives a result closer to the result that you want.

    Since you have not defined your terms with any precision, there is no reason to be confident that you are talking about 2% of the same total.

    And based on your revealed preference for “mistakes” which exaggerate the basis for the claims you make, it seems rather more likely than not that you ARE talking about 2% of a narrower market definition, because working with the wrong market definition makes it easier to confirm your initial prejudices, that the most densely populated US corridor without existing rail services must certainly be a terrible place to invest in rail infrastructure, and Rapid Rail is always a waste of money.

  • Cleveland and Detroit both have negative metro population growth. Using 2008 estimates makes ridership look higher, not lower.

    Yes, there are intangibles, like Clevelanders studying at Ohio State. There are intangibles between New York and Washington, too – Congressmen need to spend a lot of time begging for money in Manhattan, and finance executives need to spend a lot of time lobbying for favorable regulations in Washington.

    You should note that the TEMS study says nothing about where its numbers come from. SNCF is open about how it estimates the value of time and which models it’s using and when. TEMS just gives unsourced results, without any evidence that it knows what it’s doing. When the first rail project it does matches expectations, I’ll start trusting their next project; until then, they’re in the same category as the world class consultants of California who push for incompatible platform heights and a specially designed PTC signal system.

    The assumptions I was using for my calculations are as follows:
    – Cost is proportional to travel time (in reality it includes a fixed term, which is more favorable to the NEC, with its larger distancess);
    – Travel time is 2:45 from NY to DC, and equal to the scheduled time predicted by the TEMS study in Ohio (the Regional takes longer, but the most time-sensitive customers take Acela);
    – New York has a population of 22 million, DC 8.2, Cleveland 3, Columbus and Cincinnati 2 each, Buffalo 1.2, Toronto 8, Detroit 5.3, Pittsburgh 2.5;
    – Market size is proportional to (p_a)^0.9 * (p_b)^0.9 / d^2.

    This is the total size I’m taking 2% of.

  • Cleveland and Detroit both have negative metro population growth. Using 2008 estimates makes ridership look higher, not lower.

    This is a perfect example going directly from cherry picked data to the original prejudice without subjecting that conclusion to a moment of critical reflection.

    Since Ohio has positive population growth, if Cleveland has negative population growth, that implies that there are other areas that are growing by a sufficient amount to more than offset that. And if Cleveland is the largest metro area, then in gravity model that leveling out of populations as the total expands would increase the transport market by more than the rate of population growth.

    And the strongest population growth in OH between 2000 and 2008 is the Columbus MSA at the center of the Triple C, with 9.95% growth, and the second is the Cincinnati MSA at the opposite end of the triple C, with 7.24% growth.

    You should note that the TEMS study says nothing about where its numbers come from. SNCF is open about how it estimates the value of time and which models it’s using and when. TEMS just gives unsourced results, without any evidence that it knows what it’s doing.

    How can I note it when it is not true. TEMS publishes its complete zonal population, employment, and income data set, the complete functional form and methodology of its regression model, its travel survey instrument, and its broadest OD traffic matrix.

    Knowing that, “noting” that they simply declare results with no information on the information sources and modeling behind the results would be a lie.

    Yes, there are intangibles, like Clevelanders studying at Ohio State. There are intangibles between New York and Washington, too – Congressmen need to spend a lot of time begging for money in Manhattan, and finance executives need to spend a lot of time lobbying for favorable regulations in Washington.

    I take it your definition of an “intangible” is “any factor, measurable or otherwise, that results in a deviation from the transport market predicted by a simple gravity model”, since there are a wide range of measurables that you omit – assuming that 22 million residents of the multi-state “Greater New York” have the same average access/egress times to Acela stations as 3 million residents of the much smaller in area “Greater Cleveland” would have to NE Cleveland, downtown Cleveland and Hopkins airport is by no means an assumption that automatically favors the Ohio Hub in your modeling.

    That is why it is a substantial failing of your methodology that you have failed to do is to compare the total size of the present, existing transport markets to the sizes predicted by your model.

    The COMPASS model is calibrated to the existing transport matrix, with changes from the existing transport pattern driven by the regression of correlation between measurable factors and existing transport patterns. So if the current situation is fed in, the current transport pattern will result.

    By contrast, your model is an entirely uncalibrated back of the envelope estimate: “Market size is proportional to (p_a)^0.9 * (p_b)^0.9 / d^2.

    This is the total size I’m taking 2% of.

    In other words, not 2% of an actual market, but 2% of a hypothetical market. And a hypothetical market where Chicago has a population of 0m.

  • eldondre

    Alon-the intercity bus market has evolved substantially since those initial groundbreaking “chinatown buses.” From Philadelphia you have the upscale, greyhound owned Boltbus, Megabus, Greyhound, and four chinatown lines mostly to NYC where one can connect to upstate NY, BOston. There are also trips to DC and Richmond. Boltbus and Megabus have taken some of the college student base (30th St is walking distance to Penn and Drexel Universities) that Amtrak counts on in so many other corridors. Boltbus in particular is a nice ride the Amtrak is frequently over $60 more. I know professionals who have switched over to the bolt because of Amtrak’s NEC prices (and nowhere are they worse than between NY andPHilly)

  • By contrast, your model is an entirely uncalibrated back of the envelope estimate

    It uses numbers calibrated by SNCF. Forgive me for trusting companies whose ridership estimates have held more than world-class consultants who’ve never been put to the test.

    I take it your definition of an “intangible” is “any factor, measurable or otherwise, that results in a deviation from the transport market predicted by a simple gravity model”, since there are a wide range of measurables that you omit – assuming that 22 million residents of the multi-state “Greater New York” have the same average access/egress times to Acela stations as 3 million residents of the much smaller in area “Greater Cleveland” would have to NE Cleveland, downtown Cleveland and Hopkins airport is by no means an assumption that automatically favors the Ohio Hub in your modeling.

    On the contrary: New York makes it easy to get by subway or commuter rail from where you live to Penn Station, or Newark, or Stamford. Washington makes it easy to get to Union Station by Metro or commuter rail. In Cleveland, you’d have to park at the station and pay downtown parking rates, or drive all the way out to North Central Ohio, in which case you might as well drive the whole way.

    If the Ohio Hub were conceived as statewide commuter rail, I would have fewer objections to it. But it’s not; it’s intended as Ohio’s Acela, not its New Jersey Transit.

    How can I note it when it is not true. TEMS publishes its complete zonal population, employment, and income data set, the complete functional form and methodology of its regression model, its travel survey instrument, and its broadest OD traffic matrix.

    The travel survey form means that TEMS is projecting based on what people say they’ll do, rather than what they actually do. In its four-corridor study, SNCF stresses that its data comes from real-world observations rather than surveys, which are unreliable.

    The O&D matrix, which claims that Chicago-Fort Wayne is going to be the busiest city pair in the system, doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

  • Eldondre: yes, I know the intercity bus market has evolved. But the origin was the cheap Chinatown buses, which forced Greyhound to compete, first on price and then on quality.

  • It uses numbers calibrated by SNCF. Forgive me for trusting companies whose ridership estimates have held more than world-class consultants who’ve never been put to the test.

    SNCF is not attempting to estimate ridership for Rapid Rail, and neither do they claim that their modeling is attempting to estimate the market for Rapid Rail.

    The list of assumptions you are happy to make simply because it confirms the conclusion you prefer to reach continues to grow. It is quite like reading an O’Toole attack on HSR if it were to be issued in the format of serial excerpts.

    The travel survey form means that TEMS is projecting based on what people say they’ll do, rather than what they actually do.

    Unlike your model, their baseline is what people actually do. They give you the zone matrix, if you want to run their regression with fewer explanatory variables, you are free to.

    In Cleveland, you’d have to park at the station and pay downtown parking rates, or drive all the way out to North Central Ohio, in which case you might as well drive the whole way.

    Overnight parking at Cleveland Amtrak Station is paid, daytime parking is free. And even in the conventional rail starter system, the “next station” is the RTS West 150th and Puritas Avenue station. In the first, “Cleveland Hub” layer, there is also a station in Summit County at Cuyahoga Falls, and one near Mentor.

    Another false assumption made because it simplified confirming your original prejudice.

    For: “On the contrary: New York makes it easy to get by subway or commuter rail from where you live to Penn Station, or Newark, or Stamford. Washington makes it easy to get to Union Station by Metro or commuter rail.” … first, this is still a greater time of travel for the average resident of the 22m Greater New York metropolitan area or the average resident of the 8m Greater DC metropolitan area to the closest Acela station.

    If you can just arbitrarily allocate the entire metro area population to “convenient access to the closest Acela station” by virtue of the access of a smaller population that have that access, then I could use Cleveland neighborhoods with easy access to the Red Line at Puritas and Blue and Green lines downtown to allocate all of metro Cleveland to “easy access”.

    Of course, I wouldn’t do that, but you just did. So, again, another false assumption made because it simplified confirming your original prejudice.

  • SNCF is not attempting to estimate ridership for Rapid Rail, and neither do they claim that their modeling is attempting to estimate the market for Rapid Rail.

    SNCF claims its modeling is valid in general for rail.

  • On a completely different note, apparently the state of Ohio estimates that,

    the best possible train run time from Cleveland to Cincinnati would be 5:20. This does not include any time for station stops, slow orders, recovery time, and time needed to hand-off the passenger train from one railroad to another. For the purposes of continued planning and coordination with the railroads, a total train run time of 6 hours and 30 minutes has been assumed in the schedule development.

    The TEMS study, which estimates that the trip would take 3:50, is in other words making unrealistically optimistic assumptions about speed. Not very encouraging.

  • aw

    The 6:30 runtime is for the “Quick Start” corridor. Top speed will be 79 mph.

  • Ocean Railroader

    I once rode this train from Richmond VA to Lancaster PA and it was a good ride. The hard part of it was when I spent three hours at the Philli station waiting for a train to go to Lancaster. Once the train that was going to go to Lancaster came it had to spend a hour changing from eletric to Oil power to go to Pitsburg which ate up one hour. If they extened the catenary wires west of Harrsionburg it Pitsburg and add a few more trains running on it it would have knocked down three hour wait down to a half a hour. When I did get on the train to Lancaster it was packed to the gills which in away is good for the train it showed there were a lot of riders for it. But if they added more trains more people could fit on it to in that the conductors were turning people away after we got on the train. So more trains would carry more money.

    Another thing I wounder about when they extend the catenary into Pitsburg would they be able to use the same Classic catenary masts but with a up dated retro look to them such as they can have the same top set of wires on them to get eletric power from wind farms and solar farms. The classic catenary masts currently get their train power from renewble hyrdo power off the Susahanna River from a 1920’s power station. They could expand this hydro staion by devoting more generators to catenary power production for the new high speed rail lines. The part of the classic 1930’s masts and the new classic based masts could have the modern wire hooks ups on them that would allow them to raise train speeds but keep the look of the classic masts.

  • eldondre

    They’ve already added trains to Lancaster (back in 2006) though it could use a couple more (esp on weekends). The train to Pittsburgh frequently sells out on the weekend in my experiences, even at the slow speeds. all trains to Harrisburg are electric except the Pittsburgh train.

  • jim

    I do wonder why Amtrak continues running the Pennsylvanian between New York and Pittsburgh. If it ran between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh the same equipment and the same crew resources (not necessarily the actual crews) would suffice for three roundtrips a day instead of one. Since between New York and Harrisburg the Pennsylvanian is slower than the corridor trains and has to change engines at Philadelphia to boot, surely no one takes it to travel between New York and Harrisburg. Three chances a day for a two-seat trip is surely better than one chance a day for a one-seat trip.

    With some judicious equipment swapping with the Capitol Limited when it passes through Pittsburgh, Amtrak could arrange for scheduled maintenance to be performed at Ivy City without expensive dead-heading.

    What would be the downside?

  • The downside is that Amtrak would have to run trains on a schedule, for a timed transfer in Harrisburg. Even on its own tracks it can’t do that; why should it be able to do it on Norfolk Southern’s tracks?

  • Woody

    Alon has the sharpest answer.

    But there could be other factors. Maybe NS didn’t want two more daily passenger frequencies on its tracks Harrisburg-Pittsburgh. Before the Great Recession knocked traffic off the rails and roads, that was a pretty busy line. Maybe Amtrak needs to keep the one diesel train on the Keystone route because of a shortage of electric equipment.

    Actually, as Alon knows, they wouldn’t REALLY have to have timed transfers. Anyone who gets on board for an Amtrak trip of any kind should certainly expect delays.

    I think it’s a great suggestion.

    The Pennsylvanian leaves now leaves Philly at 12:42 p.m. and Harrisburg at 2:26. But by 9 a.m., already three Keystone trains from Philly have reached Harrisburg. One mid-morning departure could get into Pittsburgh well ahead of the scheduled 8 p.m. arrival of the Pennsylvanian, in time to meet business colleagues, family, or friends for dinner. A departure heading west around 5 or 6 p.m. would allow a full day of work in Harrisburg, arriving in Pittsburgh only a little past the usual bedtime.

    The scheduling of the Pennsylvanian needs a fresh look, no doubt.

  • Ocean Railroader

    This debat does show that they trains do get packed and a lot of people agree that there should be more trains on the same slow speed rails. The’ve been having talks that train usage went up to record levels not seen scince the 1950’s when gas hit $4.00 dollars a gallon. Another thing Amtrack has for it is they don’t charge people by the pound and carry on suitcases are for free. Amtrack could destory some of the short distance airliners such as flights from Richmond VA to New York if they get some of the major kinks out of their system which they have active plans of doing. But in the sort term they could at least add two to four more eletric locomtives to the fleet in Harssionburg. They could also move the train change over from eletric to oil at Harrsionburg vs Philli.

  • eldondre

    The Pennsylvanian is among the most reliable of Amtrak’s trains off corridor. I would think a twice daily Philly-Pitt would be more desirable, many connections to DC and NY can be had in Philly. Perhaps the biggest problem with this is that its all in one state so Amtrak needs state funding. Perhaps another alternative is a twice daily NY-Pittsburgh train that runs via the Pittsburgh subway skipping 30th st and stopping only in North Philly. the loco change could occur in Harrisburg. that should eliminate maybe 30 minutes from the schedule in Philly (actually more since they have such long dwell times in Philly) plus another ten or so minutes on the way to Harrisburg since it’s electric. The 15 minute layover in Harrisburg would then be used for the locomotive change. If the train runs with a cab car, it should allow Amtrak to reduce the time needed to turn the train since it would no longer need to wye. I think Amtrak could negotiate another 30 minutes in trip time reduction with NS as the train often arrives early. anything more would probably necessitate investment in tracks, signal, and interlockings.

  • Ocean Railroader

    Wasn’t at one time the mainline betweeen Pitsburg and Philly a four track main line but has been cut down to two tracks now?

  • It used to be four tracks, yes. It has been cut down to three since, I think in the Conrail days.

  • Woody

    eldondre — Over at the United Rail org hey frequently complain about the trains on the Empire corridor that operate completely without any support from the State of NY, but rather as a special deal for NY.

    Is there some rule that only NY can get the special deal? Or couldn’t Amtrak run a train in any other state without crossing a state line?

  • aw

    Amtrak has release a PRIIA mandated study on adding service to the Pennsylvanian. http://www.amtrak.com/pdf/PRIAA/PennsylvaniaServiceStudies.pdf

    @75, the report says there are two mainline tracks over most of the route between Harrisburg and Pittsburg.

  • Woody

    Now that’s a link! Thanks.

    But I think I’ll put my Comment on it in the current post on the preliminary rail plan.

  • Woody

    eldondre — Answering my own question from that study on Pennsylvanian services:

    “Additional Harrisburg- Altoona-Pittsburgh service would have to be state-supported. Section 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 requires Amtrak and states to develop and implement a uniform methodology to allocate operating and capital costs of existing and future Amtrak routes less than 750 miles in length, and that, by 2013, all states pay an equivalent share of the costs of such routes that are not covered by farebox revenues.”

  • Woody

    Bottom line of that study in the link that aw provided:

    “The addition of a second Pennsylvanian frequency yields approximately $6.7 million in annual new ticket revenues, with just over 140,000 annual riders. When a frequency to Altoona is added on top of the new Pennsylvanian, Amtrak yields an additional $1.1 million and another 36,000 riders. The Altoona service includes an Altoona Thruway Bus connection to/from State College, which would yield $56,000 and 6,000 riders, which is included in the $1.1 million figure.

    “The operating costs were also estimated for providing this additional service between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, with the total operating costs for both services estimated at $16.7 million. This results in a net impact (loss) of $8.7 million.”

    Also, there could be costs to improve the line to accommodate the new passenger trains with the NS schedule of about 40 freights a day. And $90 to $130 million for new equipment. (The report did not discuss where any such thing as “new equipment” might exist on the market or when.)

    No mention of trains running only from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, I guess due to the lack of a maintenance or crew base at either point. No mention of reviving the Broadway Limited or the Three Rivers, or any extension beyond Pittsburgh to give daylight service to Cleveland or new service to points beyond such as Toledo, Columbus-Cincinnati, or Detroit..

  • At the current state of the tracks, it’s probably easier to serve Cleveland and points west on the Water Level Route. It’s 60 miles longer than the PRR route, and is straighter and flatter, giving it more incremental upgrade potential.

    On another note: I find it really annoying that Amtrak’s supposed to live on only state subsidies for its short-distance routes, but not for its long-distance ones. It turns Amtrak from a railroad into pork service for Montana and New Mexico.

  • Ocean Railroader

    It looks like Amtrack and NS will have to restore one of the abondoned railroad tracks that make up their four track wide rail bed. That way NS and Amtrack could have a three railroad track wide bed and the thrid track could be built far cheaper on this right of way then in some other places in that the railroad bridges and culverts are laid out for four tracks while right now there are only two tracks. It looks like they are going to need to have a three track mainline from Harrsionburg to Pittsburg do to new trains entering the tracks.

  • eldondre

    I think the study was offbase. they should have looked first at what would be required to run a twice daily with the same two sets of equipment. Track restoration would be good for both passenger and freight operation. One would hope that portion of the study gets pushed forward under an intercity rail grant but first they need to look not just at adding tracks but speeding up the trip (which PA submitted for funding of an HSR study). It is frustrating that this is oen of the few projects that is recomended yet it’s ineligible for federally funded services.

  • No, track restoration is not good for freight operations. Freight railroads have to pay property taxes on their tracks; the better the tracks are, the more they have to pay. They only expand when they’re at capacity – otherwise it’s a money loser for them.

  • Woody

    Alon — You’ve pinpointed another problem that Team LaHood hasn’t revealed the answer to.

    I guess Cali’s HSR will be tax-exempt. But in Illinois they are talking about using existing ROW for the first semi-fast 110 mph route Chicago-St Louis. So those trains will run on taxable tracks, unlike the planes landing at O’Hare. Then if or when they go with the easterly route for 220 mph service, and put in new dedicated tracks in existing ROW, who will pay taxes on that?

    In fact almost all the “incremental” upgrades where freight will run on the tracks as well invite further taxation on the federally funded improvements.

    I’m sure the schools could use the funds, but I fear the new tax money will go to improving the local streets and roads.

  • No, the new tax money will probably go to providing subsidies for transplant factories…

    As far as I can tell, publicly owned railroads are tax-free. NJT and Caltrain don’t have to pay property taxes. So publicly owned infrastructure like CAHSR will not pay property taxes. The 110 mph tracks I’m not sure about; I don’t know the Illinois plans, but in Upstate New York they want to build a state-owned third track on the same ROW.

  • aw

    I don’t have a problem with railroads paying property on their right-of-way, but it is absolutely senseless to disincentivize investments in improving the infrastructure. If you have a class 1 mainline, it ought to have one valuation irrespective of how many tracks, signals, turnouts, etc. are on it. Same thing for the regional RRs and short lines. There’s nothing wrong as I see it in getting more property tax for the locals from yards, transload facilites, office buildings, depots and other uses when they’re improved.

    Of course another way that the railroads wring cash out of their free land is by selling off utility easments, that then make re-establishment of tracks problematic.

  • Ocean Railroader

    They could ofter tax breaks to railroads that put in eletrifaction of their mainlines. Amtrack might possibly buy the abondoned S Line from CSX in Viriginia and make it Amtrack owned and controled. CSX is going to benfit from the federally funded 11.5 mile thrid track widening project that the goverment is going to pay them 72 millon dollars for so maybe the railroads have a odd relashionship with the goverment taxes.

  • eldondre

    so I guess we learned that using your own money to upgrade a corridor is rewarded by not getting federal money.

    • Woody

      Don’t give up. I hope that we’ll see a broad new plan for the NorthEast Corridor to include the tributary lines, like the Keystone Corridor, and extending down to Richmond and perhaps beyond. True, not every state that has been spending got big rewards in this round. But most of them would catch up if we next put $30 billion or more into the NEC.

      As for extending service out to Pittsburgh, I don’t think we’ve begun to think that through. Alternative routes could include upgrading the Main Line, or shadowing I-80 to the north, or something closer to Andrew Carnegie’s route now the Pennsylvania Turnpike … I’m wondering if you were going to go for “true” HSR at 220 mph, would it make sense to combine the Pittsburgh-Philly route with the Pittsburgh-D.C. route to share the cost of some base tunnels, then separate a little west of Harrisburg.

      • Woody, there is really no need for a direct Pittsburgh-DC high-speed line. Trains can go through Philly, where they wouldn’t even have to change direction; alternatively, Amtrak can ask people to transfer in Philly. A line through Harrisburg would cut travel time from 3 hours through Philly to about 2:10. It would be nice to have, but it would involve 130 km of rail in hilly terrain, which is too expensive for the benefit.

  • Ocean Railroader

    I’m working on a idea of what the mainline would look like if the Penn type catenary was up graded and built to Pittsburg. It will have photo chopped photos of what the new high speed rail lines would look like with catenary.

    There is a rail line that used to have catenary on it that goes from Baltmore to Harrsionburg along the river. They need to restore the catenary wires on it to make a new bypass of Phili in case something happens to the city or rail lines leading into it.

    At Altoona and in some of the other mountain pases it would need tunnels but I wounder though that people traveling on the high speed rail line would want to see the Hourseshoe Curve though and not want to pass under it?

  • Woody

    Ocean R — To get to 220 mph HSR through PA, we’ll be looking at some magnificent tunnels, with costs to match. And above, Alon points out that incremental improvement Chicago-Cleveland-NYC will probably cheaper on the Water Level Route. One day we’ll want HSR on Philly-Pittsburgh, but that day probably is a long, long time away.

    Meanwhile PA has some plans to chop a few hours off the conventional service. That’s fine — but I’m with you. Let’s leave the Horseshoe Curve in the schedule. It could slow us down 5 or even 10 minutes, a very quick detour to see a scenic, historic, and engineering wonder not to be missed.

  • Ocean Railroader

    When I was on the Key Stone I noiced that a lot of the major delays were not really the speed of the trains but getting off of one train and getting on to another. If they could add a few more trains running eatch day and maybe restore the three track to four track mainline that would make things better with the freight companies and the local passanger lines.

  • eldondre

    Actually, Pitt is already shorter than the water level route and with tunnels, it would be even shorter. I don’t think a new high speed segment would necessitate abandoning the old route, you’d just end up with two different levels of service (acela vs regionals for example). you tart by upgrading the current ROW, then work on. When talking about reak HSR (be it 220 or 186) I think th ePitt Phily route makes more sense in that the pop centers are more centered. Philly is bigger than all of western NY stops combined and pitt is twice as large as buffalo, all by making only two stops. I’d also argue that Pitt-Cleveland is a larger market than Buff-cleveland. nonetheless, I’d be happy, for now, with a reasonably competitive conventional route

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