Amtrak Contemplates a Renewed Northeast Corridor and Lays Out the Stakes

» A full regeneration of the line, speeding trains between New York and Boston in just over three hours, would cost $10.2 billion.

After releasing studies last week that described the costs and benefits or new long-distance rail services, Amtrak has produced a report evaluating opportunities for its most important line, the Northeast Corridor. Long in the coming, the study documents capital needs for the tracks connecting Washington, DC and Boston and provides some preliminary cost estimates for decreasing travel times. With most federal rail capital funds now likely to be earmarked for states pursuing new rail programs like California, Illinois, and Florida, however, Amtrak will have to justify a dedicated revenue source for rail improvements in the northeastern region.

As the report notes, “Reaching a state of good repair on the Northeast Corridor after years of deferred investment and adding needed capacity to the Corridor will be expensive. Currently, there is no obvious existing mechanism to provide the required level of investment resources.” Amtrak’s study, though direct in its assessment of the railroad’s needs, does not indicate where the money will come from for any improvements. Those decisions will have to be made by Congress.

The Amtrak Acela Express moves between New York and Washington as quickly as 2h52 and between New York and Boston in 3h34. Those travel times are difficult to improve using existing equipment and tracks, though one effort earlier this decade to speed trains between New York and DC in just 2h30 by stopping only at Philadelphia resulted in inadequate revenue as a consequence of lower than expected ridership. Either way, Amtrak has been unable to meet the original goals of the Northeast Corridor High-Speed Rail Improvement Program, which sponsored significant upgrades in tracks, stations, and catenary in the 1990s with the goal of 5h30 overall corridor travel times.

Despite the fact that trains average only about 80 mph along the corridor today, Amtrak has managed to snag 63% of combined air and rail travel between New York and Washington, compared to 37% before Acela’s implementation. But the rail company only represents about 6% of total corridor travel ridership, so it could see a lot of growth with faster services. That, however, won’t come easily.

Part of the problem is the corridor’s huge maintenance backlog, which has reached $8 billion and which will require an investment of more than $700 million a year over the next decade to reach a state of good repair. That figure will be touched in fiscal year 2010 as a result of stimulus spending, but Amtrak’s limited regular subsidies make similar annual investments difficult to envision in later years unless there is a major effort on the part of the federal government to provide new funds.

In addition, the Northeast Corridor suffers from increasing congestion due to growth in train travel and increasing population. The map below, included in Amtrak’s report, illustrates the sections of track that are most prone to delays and which will be unable to support increased Amtrak services until new tracks have been laid or curves have been realigned.

Northeast Corridor Capacity Constraints

In order to decrease trip times to 2h15 between New York and Washington and to 3h15 between Boston and New York, Amtrak estimates that it would have to invest $10.2 billion in track upgrades along the corridor. The most prominent roadblock to real service improvement is the set of tracks between New Rochelle and New Haven, which are owned by Metro-North Railroad and which currently limit trains in many sections to 60 mph. These Connecticut and New York sections are currently being renovated, with expected completion between 2015 and 2018; no significant improvements in trip times between New York and Boston can be achieved before the completion of that work.

The New York-Washington segment, which is straighter than the northern section, suffers from the weight of its antiquated electrical supply equipment. Unlike the New Haven-Boston section, which has constant-tension catenary, allowing speeds up to 150 mph, the southern line’s trains cannot accelerate above 135 mph. Newly added intermediate catenary supports, which could be installed for cheap, would shorten spans between lines, allowing increased speeds, but full constant-tension would be needed for 200 mph operation — if someone pays for it.

In addition, because of problems with the truck stability of Acela Express trainsets and because of the age of Northeast Regional equipment, Amtrak will have to buy a full set of new trains over the next decade, according to the study. The fastest of these new vehicles will be able to reach 200 mph, up from 165 mph today. These trains would be able to decrease trip times along the full length of the line by a total of around 20 minutes.

Overall, though, none of the specific investments pinpointed by the rail agency would result in a massive decrease in travel times. A new tunnel through Baltimore, for instance, would save commuters a full two minutes. Only with concentrated investments along the entire corridor will major improvements for commuters come. The map below shows the modifications that would allow for the reductions in trip time noted above.

Northeast Corridor Major Improvement Projects

Three-hour trip times between New York and Boston are unrealistic in the short-term, according to the report, because of the huge investments in track replacement that would be necessary to handle the curve problems of the Connecticut shoreline. A true high-speed operation, which could complete travel from Boston to Washington in 3h30, would only be possible with a mostly brand-new track alignment between New York and Boston.

Nonetheless, even the incremental improvements documented here are unlikely to happen unless the Congress decides to invest again in upgrading the corridor. “In Amtrak’s view,” states the report, “continued reliance on annual appropriations to fund the Northeast Corridor capital program will continue to frustrate efforts to achieve a state of good repair and meet capacity and trip time goals for the corridor.” There must be a new effort to convince the House and Senate of the importance of improvements for America’s original high-speed corridor, which is arguably more important than those proposed for other parts of the country. Only a new Northeast Corridor Improvement Project, with dedicated, long-term funding, will ensure the realization of faster services along the line.

Images above: Northeast Corridor Capacity Constraints and Potential Improvements, from Amtrak

86 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Did I read right that $10.2 billion will only shave 15 minutes off the NYC-BOS trip? Looks like the NYC-DC route has more potential gains. Replacing the catenary is a no brainer. We need to look at prioritizing high benefit-cost segments rather than just looking to upgrade every possible deficient segment. Also, having a maintenance revenue stream to keep the system in at current levels is important. We too often spend lavishly on new build capital then skimp on operations and maintenance.

  • AlexB

    $10.2 billion to shave 30 minutes off the DC-Boston trip is absurdly expensive, but maybe that includes the $8 billion in deferred maintenance that has to be done anyway. Or, are you saying they really need $18 billion to bring it up to a state of good repair and shave off that 30 minutes?

    Did the report mention how much the 3:30 DC-Boston service would cost to implement? Is that the equivalent of starting from scratch, $50 billion, California style? That’s obviously what we all want and what they will end up doing someday. If you have to spend so much on the existing line for incremental improvements, maybe that would be better spent as a down payment for a totally brand new system. Maybe they could sell off portions of the NEC to the states and use that money to contribute to this brand new line.

  • John

    @2, presently Amtrak would charge you $330 for that round trip… would you actually ever pay that much? Airtran charges $99 on that route, counting fees and taxes (read it and weep on Kayak). I like trains but I’m not a sucker, I’m not paying an extra $230 to be a bleeding heart, even if it was almost as fast (which is all it will ever be).

    Acela only covers 6% of the market because it’s so expensive, not because it’s not fast enough.

  • AlexB

    If I lived and/or worked in central DC and wanted to go to Boston for pleasure or business, and I could afford the fare, I would pay it if the train only took three and a half hours. There would be no better way to get from Union Station to South Station. It would be more comfortable, more reliable and faster.

    At my current income, I would probably take the chinatown bus, but I can definitely see how it could take ridership from airlines at that speed.

  • Kyle

    Great write-up. It just shows the difficulty of expanding and improving rail services in the Northeast corridor. A lot of money, but if the country wasn’t so anti-investment in infrastructure, we really could get the entire trip down to 3h30m at some point in the next decade, or two. Then, maybe with improvements to many other corridors, they could actually lower the ticket prices on the NE corridor to a reasonable level, therefore encouraging people to actually take it.

    I was looking at ticket prices to from South Station to Balt. Penn for Thanksgiving, absolutely absurd.

  • John

    Amtrak needs to realize that their greatest competition is not actually the airlines, but actually the increasing number of discount bus operators that run from Downtown to Downtown at a fraction of Amtrak costs.

    Here’s my idea for NE Corridor service:

    Express: Run Acela Express trains every 1/2 to hour and they will make major city stops ONLY (DC, BMore, Philly, NYC, New Haven, Boston). This should significantly reduce unnecessary stops while keeping most business travelers. Also, they should explore adding Wi-Fi to these trains to lock in the business market.

    Regional: Replace the “AmCan” trainsets with newer, multi-level trains that can hold more people. More people on trains will mean lower ticket prices, luring more people onto trains, while still running the same amount of trains on the existing infrastructure.

  • Woody

    This is an underwhelming report. We could spend $10 or $20 Billion and shave trip times by 15 minutes or half an hour, then expect to grab a full 2.5% more market share of all trips in the corridor.

    The vision sure doesn’t make my heart pound with excitement.

  • Boris

    $10 billion is a fairly small amount that is comparable to our highway spending in terms of costs/benefits (that is, a new $10 billion highway would also shave off 15 minutes for the majority of users). The problem is how to convince our politicians that better train service is a highway subsidy- not only does the rail improvement costs the same as the highway improvement, but rail also has fewer negative externalities compared to the highway, which is why it’s the preferred alternative.

  • AL

    They do not clearly detail the potentially higher capacity that can come from these improvements. Is the $10B only to shave a few minutes off? How many more trains per hour can be implemented once the investment is made? Based on possible schedules, what is the expected improvement in reliability and ability to recover from events? These are as important as overall trip time.

  • jim

    The report doesn’t tell us much we didn’t already know. The costs are a bit higher than we had hoped, the timetable for accomplishing it a bit longer, the performance improvement a bit less, but by and large it’s stuff we already knew: the catenary, the tunnel, easing curves, new rolling stock that can go faster, tilt better.

    What stuck out for me is the capacity issue. Not only does Metro-North restrict Amtrak to 2 trains per hour each direction between New Rochelle and New Haven, but MBTA restricts Amtrak to two trains per hour into/out of Boston. One of these might be negotiated — Metro-North wants to run along the Empire Connection and the Hell-Gate Line; what can they give Amtrak in return? — both, though, begins to look like a hard limit.

    It’s important to recognize that the capacity issues south of NY are workable. The Hudson tunnels congestion will be eased by ARC: my understanding is that all NJT trains into/out of Manhattan will run through the new tunnels into the new 34th St. station, leaving the existing tunnels to Amtrak. Two and three track sections south of Philadelphia can be triple and quadruple tracked (though, as Alon has pointed out in other threads, ease the curves first before adding track).

    2:15 DC-NY is not bad. I think the theoretical limit, assuming intermediate stops at Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia and Newark, allowing for decelerating into those stops, accelerating out of them and dwell time, is something like 1:50, if the tracks connecting the stations were perfectly straight. Build a Wilmington Bypass (as, again, Alon has suggested) and you’d drop at least another 10 minutes. 2 hours DC-NY begins to look attainable.

    I’d like to get a sense of what the Philadelphia-NY time would be. New York is the largest city in the country, Philly the fourth or fifth. There’s lots of potential for Philadelphia-New York travel if it’s fast enough and frequent enough: below an hour and multiple trains per hour.

    But multiple trains per hour can’t continue to Boston. Amtrak’s going to have to treat the two sections differently, not as two sections of the same line.

  • Aspen

    I’m also not sure if the $ 10 billion includes the back maintaince. On the one hand a lot of the work would be replacing/upgrading existing equipment so at the very least an upgrade would reduce total maintenance backlog. On the other hand things like building a new tunner through Baltimore will easily run into billions so a total number of up to 18 billion is possible.

    It’s important to remember that an upgrade is ‘just to shace of 15 min’. A comprehensive upgrade would greatly increase reliability and capacity, while likely reducing operating costs (15 min faster means a trainset could do an extra DC-NY run a day for example).

  • Woody

    Gut instinct: Persuading Amtrak’s Number One Customer to support a by-pass of his hometown will not be a good use of our energies. Let’s wait until we get a new Vice President before pushing to skip-stop Wilmington.

    Aside from that Jim, I’m with you. “The costs are a bit higher … the timetable … a bit longer, the performance improvement a bit less.” Altogether underwhelming and totally uninspiring.

    One major short or medium-term goal should be multiple trains per hour. Or as the British put it, the passenger should “Turn up and go.” If I get to the station just 2 minutes too late to catch the departing train and I have to wait almost an hour for the next one, I count that as a LARGE part of my trip time.

    So concentrate on raising the frequencies D.C.-NYC. If those trains can’t go on to BOS, we could send some up to Albany, if or when that trackage gets electrified.

    NYC-Philly is fast now, a little over one hour on the Acela. The damn ticket price is the issue. Tomorrow it leaves NYP at 7 a.m., arrives PHL at 8:13 a.m. — $143. That is an expense-account-only fare.

    The Carolinian leaves at 7:05 and arrives at 8:30 a.m. — for only $45, same price and same trip time as the Regional and Keystone trains next to depart. But even $45 is huge money compared to the bus services.

    Trains with Acela-type trip times and Regional prices and frequencies could pull in more customers. Shaving another 10 or 15 minutes off the schedules would pull in plenty more.

  • Avi

    Amtrak is criticized for not running itself like a business, and then when it does charge prices like a business people complain about that.

    Most of the NEC trains are full. Why should Amtrak care if some users opt for Bolt bus? There are enough people who value comfort or who are traveling for business that the trains are full already. Dropping the price won’t increase usage, it’ll just decrease the revenue for the line.

    Until Amtrak can add capacity there is no reason for it to lower prices.

  • Norman

    If the US is truly serious about HSR, why not propose something akin to the current California HSR / Shinkansen / TGV model? The Northeast Corridor is the best candidate for a true HSR (300km/h or 180mph, if not higher with the latest engineering) with its own tracks, as it has a metro population of roughly 40-50 million somewhat evenly spaced within 500 miles between Boston and DC.

    Rough population estimates:
    Boston metro: 5 million
    Providence/RI: 1 million
    NY/NJ/CT metro: 25 million
    Philly metro: 5 million
    Balt/Wash metro: 8 million

    Pros:
    -Can get schedules of around 1:30 for NY-DC or NY-Boston if the speeds are high enough, including stops in between
    -Frequencies of 1/2/3/4 an hour depending on rush hour due to separate tracks and not having to deal with regional rail authorities
    -Inclusion of stops at some of the following airports (BOS/PVD/EWR/PHL/BWI/IAD) would likely attract ~100% of the business travel between these markets and would allow for real connections between rail and air, finally beating and killing the Delta/US Airways shuttles, as well as having the secondary benefit of unclogging the flyways in the Northeast and thereby reducing delays and opening up slots at the airports
    -Implementing a real, honest-to-goodness HSR would strengthen the case for HSR elsewhere in CA, TX, FL, Midwest
    -The timing cannot get any better, with enormous sums of money being flung around (Does anyone honestly know the difference between $787 BN and $787 MM?)
    -Although the Democrats in Congress can’t seem to get anything done, control in the House and Senate is either 60% or over, and every single senator in MA/RI/CT/NY/NJ/PA/DE/MD/VA (18) is a Democrat

    Cons:
    -The biggest obstacle by far is price, price, price. Laying new tracks will be absurdly expensive, as you’ll have to use eminent domain to secure the rights of way through some of the toniest neighborhoods in the US and deal with likely lawsuits from NIMBYs and environmentalists
    -Still won’t be able to compete with bargain hunters who will likely choose the $40 RT fares on bus lines like Fung Wah, BoltBus, MegaBus, etc.
    -Still need to change the mindset of Americans more inclined to flying or driving

    Anything I’m missing here?

  • Lou

    New Jersey Transit does not intend to give any more capacity to amtrak when they finish the new 2 track tunnel. NJT plans on doubling the amount of their trains to nyc using experimental dual mode trains. There will be no benefit to amtrak.

  • The report doesn’t suggest a lot of competence on Amtrak’s part. There’s nothing in it about raising superelevation on curves, which would allow much higher speeds without expensive bypasses. The report does talk about raising cant deficiency, but in the most curved section of track, Metro-North territory, it proposes 5″ cant deficiency, even though the Acela is capable of 7″ and better-built tilt trains can do 9″. There’s nothing even about a single bypass in Connecticut that would allow the Acela to overtake slower Metro-North express trains, even though at many places there is straight ROW along US 1 or I-95. There’s nothing about property acquisition costs, just a stated preference for avoiding eminent domain, no matter what.

    But the smoking gun for Amtrak’s incompetence is this paragraph on page 16, about rolling stock:

    As discussed above, this next generation of equipment has the potential to be lighter, and thus faster, than the current generation. However, performance specifications for such equipment will need to be developed and will depend in part on emerging standards for positive train control (PTC) and crash avoidance systems.

    “Emerging standards” in this case is code for “The Europeans and Japanese may have been doing this for 40 years, but we can’t possibly adopt their standards because our consultants know better.” Europe’s ERTMS is working smoothly. If Amtrak doesn’t want to use that, it can enforce the Northeast’s existing PTC system on the freight railroads.

  • NikolasM

    When I used to ride the Acela between DC and Philly all the time, I swear half the trip was spent navigating Baltimore. Replace the tunnels (the Great Circle alignment) and fix the interlocking north of 30th st Station and I think you shave off quite a bit. I also agree about coming up with new rolling stock of double decker trains for the Regional runs on this line.

  • It’s much cheaper to run longer trains than to come up with double-deckers that fit international weight limit standards.

  • Even if a brand-new HSR alignment were built in the NEC, the existing corridor would need to be kept operational, i.e. it would still need maintenance investments. So whatever you do, you’re $8 billion in the hole to begin with.

    Speeding up DC to NYC from 2h52m to 2h15m is *very* worthwhile. That would be similar to the improvement Eurostar achieved with the construction of the HS1 line in the UK, resulting in 15-20% higher ridership.

    Speeding up NYC to Boston from 3h34m to 3h15m is markedly less spectacular, unless significant delays are currently common and would be eliminated by the upgrade.

    Still, the difference between $8 billion and $10.2 billion isn’t large relative to other infrastructure spending, so Amtrak should be encouraged to proceed with the plan, with DC to NYC as phase 1. However, I would strongly encourage Amtrak to put a full court press on FRA to define a regulatory path toward making mixed traffic possible so it can buy proven, off-the-shelf tilt train technology with acceptable maintenance intervals. Passenger trains should be lightweight and protected by appropriate signaling not excessive buff strength.

    I’d also recommend creating and maintaining an accurate track geometry database that tilt trains can use to anticipate upcoming curves and feasible speeds through them. In the NEC, the top priority shouldn’t be massively higher top speed but rather, reliably reduced line haul times. That means avoiding braking for curves, other trains etc. as much as possible.

    In terms of capacity, Amtrak needs to increase platform and train lengths and, to lower fares. Eurostar trains don’t tilt, but they do have 18 cars and 776 seats per train. Train length is 394m (1320 feet). In corridors that are already congested with local/regional traffic, think longer trains rather than more frequent ones. Focus on punctuality and pedestrian/connecting transit capacity at stations.

    Congress’ current preoccupation with top speed is counterproductive, the funding strategy should reward reduced travel times from door to door via an integrated systems planning approach. And yes, maintenance costs money and without it the whole thing will go to hell in a handbasket again before long. Yet another reason to jettison FRA buff strength rules for passenger trains in the NEC.

  • Walter Sobchak

    “There’s nothing even about a single bypass in Connecticut that would allow the Acela to overtake slower Metro-North express trains, even though at many places there is straight ROW along US 1 or I-95.”

    Both US-1 and I-95 in southwestern Connecticut are very curvy, and often simply follow the railroad, curves and all. There is also no land at all near I-95, as it is pretty dense in development or is already bordered by the railroad. Look at Stamford for an example; the railroad on one side of the highway and downtown on the other. US-1 is the main shopping strip in most towns, also, so there is no room there for a new right-of-way. East of New Haven it’s very different, but in the densest (and richest) area of Connecticut there is simply little room for any right-of-way expansion. Only drastic moves like decking the current railroad or decking I-95 would do enough to add capacity, and that’s not going to fly in Greenwich or Darien.

    There is a line from New Haven to Boston not currently used for passengers; it was even called the “Air Line” because it was basically a straight line from New Haven to Boston, through Middletown, CT, I believe, and could probably be double-tracked quite easily.

    The Inland Route through Hartford is due for a rebuilding and new commuter rail, but has problematic grade crossings that would require massive rebuilding, though Hartford, Springfield, and Worcester would be added at the expense of Providence.

    Bottom line: Amtrak and Connecticut need to get creative to figure out how to raise rail capacity. And if it means removing the New Haven Line from freight service, so be it, as redundancy for freight has/does exist north of Waterbury and Danbury.

  • Adam

    For those of you worrying about the Maryland section, MTA Maryland is going to add at least one additional track on the Maryland section of the NEC, and two in some places, and I think they intend to replace the tunnel too.

    I don’t really know so much about Zoo Interlocking to make a statement because I don’t live in Philadelphia. The curve is tight though, but because the train will be slowing to go into 30th Street anyway it’s probably not too much of a problem.

    I remember Cap’n Transit posted awhile back about redundancy, using alternate corridors; one of the best is the West Trenton Line. Trains would go down the RVL then turn south at Bound Brook and go to West Trenton, where they would join the existing West Trenton line, although getting from Olney (there is a ROW from Neshaminy to Cheltenham) to 30th Street without curves would require some new ROW (the route via Suburban Station wouldn’t work because the train would have to turn around at 30th Street).

    In New Jersey, the main issue is NJT’s incompetence. The most important part of any new tunnels under the Hudson River is to connect them to the existing NY Penn Station so trains can run through. Their other issue, though is with their dual mode locos. The money used to buy all these dual mode locos and bi-level cars could have been better use investing in more EMU operations. Fixing the catenary is more important in NJ than anywhere else because of the phase gap between the NEC and the Lackawanna lines; doing this they could upgrade NJ to 25kV 60Hz and allow much easier operation on the Lackawanna lines, which weren’t built to handle bi-levels in push-pull (they were built for EMUs and NJT should invest in finishing the electrification and switching back to EMUs). The Portal Bridge should also be a priority because it, along with the Hudson River, are major choke points on what is the busiest section of track in the entire country (from Kearney to New York). Also, what’s the state of the bridge at Newark?

    Connecticut is pretty much a mess that can’t be fixed without spending 11 figures alone until you get east of New Haven. And even then, the grade crossings need to go, whole new stations at Mystic and New London need to be built, and bridges need replacement.

    Also, if they REALLY want to improve travel times, they need to realign the platforms at every station on the NEC; express tracks should NOT be in the middle; they should be on one side of the ROW. This is because if a train breaks down or a wire comes down, the train has to switch tracks, and it’s dangerous for a local train to be on the same track as a train going 180 MPH.

  • Adirondacker12800

    In terms of capacity, Amtrak needs to increase platform and train lengths

    The 18 car platforms at the major stations aren’t long enough? Or is it 16? I forget, they are very very long already. I’m sure Amtrak would love to increase train lengths. They need more cars to do that. Better locomotives might be a help too. . . NJTransit ALP46a locomotives and bilevels should be able to as well as the current stuff.

    Both US-1 and I-95 in southwestern Connecticut are very curvy, and often simply follow the railroad, curves and all….

    Besides the NIMBYs long sections of the Turnpike are already elevated. To put an elevated railroad over those sections you’d have to tear down the highway and rebuild it to accommodate the railroad. Rt 1… they’ve been proposing to widen Boston Post Road since the 20s. It’s never been done. Part of it are now historic districts. There’s never going to be an El over Ye Olde Boston Post Roade. Cheapest alternative may be tunnels. New Haven to Manhattan in under 30 minutes, nothing that a few hundred billion couldn’t solve. If they are going for that, extend it a few more miles to Linden NJ and avoid all the traffic and bottlenecks between NY and Elizabeth.

    There is a line from New Haven to Boston not currently used for passengers; it was even called the “Air Line” because it was basically a straight line from New Haven to Boston, through Middletown, CT, I believe, and could probably be double-tracked quite easily.

    It’s not even used for freight, it’s hiking trail or undeveloped hiking trail. Some Airline railroads were arrow straight, the one in Connecticut wasn’t. It might be a bit less curvy than the Shore Line but along with being curvy it goes through the rolling hills of northern Connecticut. It might be a wonderful option for cruising through fall foliage at 40 MPH but not for high speed trains.

    http://pages.cthome.net/mbartel/ARRmaps.htm

    Conn. DEP has a nice brochure with vaguer maps too.

  • Woody

    @ 13 Avi — Were you talking to me? You so completely missed my intended meaning it’s hard to be sure.

    “… when [Amtrak] does charge prices like a business people complain about that.

    “Most of the NEC trains are full…. Dropping the price won’t increase usage, it’ll just decrease the revenue for the line.

    “Until Amtrak can add capacity there is no reason for it to lower prices.”

    But who suggested dropping prices without adding capacity? I said, “One major … goal should be multiple trains per hour. … the passenger should “Turn up and go.” … So concentrate on raising the frequencies D.C.-NYC.”

    Jim had already pointed out Amtrak’s limited capacity. To get more frequencies it needs more capacity. But I’m emphasizing adding capacity and more trains over increasing speed by another 15 minutes or so.

    Tell the truth, I don’t much care if lobbyists, lawyers, investment bankers, and other elite riders save another 20 minutes of their valuable time at taxpayer expense.

    I want millions of drivers choosing to ride trains instead of driving to reduce oil imports and foreign wars, to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases, to thin out some flights now congesting NYC airports, to postpone global heating and climate change, etc.

    So I want many departures per hour. And affordable fares when we have the capacity to offer many, many trains per hour. Even then, Amtrak should charge what the market will bear while keeping its many trains full in order to continue expanding capacity and taking more drivers off the roads.

  • I don’t understand something. Is the NEC not a designated corridor eligible for high speed rail funds? Or is it not? Why didn’t any of the states on the NEC apply for money for the NEC in the stimulus money minus the small requests for preliminary work? Are they just too complacent? Are improvements likely to be funded through a specialized source or through future pools of high speed rail money?

  • jon

    maybe we need to look at the entire NEC as a single transit line for the entire BosWash megaregion and less as amtrak’s “moneymaker”. view it more as how can we get the most out of the NEC infrastructure and most efficiently move masses of people in and around the northeast. perhaps even looking into a single operator (Amtrak) for the entire NEC and all the commuter railroads using it. politically this would be difficult with so many states but is probably the best way to run it. it ridiculous that the NEC has so many owners. keep the first class luxury express trains (acela express) but as mentioned have lots of high capacity double decker long trains with cheap fares, kind of like a long distance commuter train except making the stops of the existing Regional. maybe not fung wah cheap but perhaps $25/one way boston to nyc. and discounts for schools and large groups to attract that crowd.

    even given the sad state of the NEC now, the entire corridor isnt being used as efficiently as it could. perhaps a 500 mile long transit line might be a better way of looking at it than seeing it as future true HSR line.

  • Walter:

    None of the Shore Line, US 1, and I-95 is straight enough on its own. However, their straight sections are mostly complementary. There are exactly two spots in Connecticut where you couldn’t run trains at high speed on any of those rights of way even in principle: east of Stamford, and around Bridgeport. At a few more places, you need els. East of New Haven, I-95 is straight enough and has enough space in its ROW for a complete bypass running to the Rhode Island state line. SNCF could build this bypass for about $1.5 billion.

    Elsewhere, all you need is to ease curves, which in some areas can be done by seizing parking lots and in others requires knocking down a small number of houses. Government agencies try to avoid eminent domain at all costs nowadays, but sometimes it’s cheaper than the alternatives. The same issue is up in the air in San Mateo County, where Caltrain is refusing to ease curves even when the time savings would be several times as high as the cost of buying out the properties. Fairfield County has housing prices similar to San Mateo’s, and, except for a few unusually bad cases like around Bridgeport, similar curves.

    Adirondacker:

    You don’t need to tear down an el to build another el on top of it. Just think of els-on-top-of-els in New York, like Broadway Junction and the White Plains Line (built partly on top of Third Avenue El). Or of subway-under-el projects like the Cross-Bronx and Sixth Avenue Line.

    Yes, NIMBYism is a problem. But if the California people are managing to put an el in the rich sections of Palo Alto and Menlo Park, where people think els are for poor people, it’s likely Amtrak could put an el in Fairfield County, where people are used to having Metro-North on a Berlin Wall-style embankment right next to the local school.

    Even if that fails, US 1 is only useful from Stamford to Norwalk, and only really necessary from Stamford to Darien. On the worst estimate of how much tunnel is needed, the Stamford-Darien tunnel would need to be 9 km long. With some elevated construction near I-95 it could be shaved to 6.5, and with els on US 1 it could be done in 2.5. In expensive areas that aren’t Manhattan, tunneling costs $400 million per km. This isn’t expensive compared to a time saving of 5-10 minutes, coming both from increased track speed and the ability to overtake slower Metro-North express trains, which would allow higher speeds on legacy track.

    Jon:

    In Japan, Germany, Korea, and France, the same companies run commuter and intercity rail. There’s still a strong separation between the two groups: commuter lines are used by commuters, who usually ride twice a day, while Shinkansen lines are used by business travelers and tourists taking rarer, longer trips. Those characteristics of HSR mean no standing passengers for the most part, and no need to subsidize commuters.

    The high-capacity double-deckers you suggest are already common in France and Japan. In France, Alstom had to develop a special train that could accommodate double-decker seating while maintaining low weight. This could be done in the US too if demand exceeded the capacity of full-length single-deck trains, which have about 1,300 seats each, and at safe HSR headways can carry about 150 million passengers a year.

  • Brandi: the NEC is owned by Amtrak, for the most part. The remainder is owned by commuter rail agencies, which don’t care much for HSR running on their track. On top of that, the benefits of running the Acela at high speed are distributed among the various states in the region, so in every state opponents can and do spread fear about money leaking to the other states.

    More cynically: except in California, states are asking for money for 110 mph diesel trains – that’s what they’ve been trained to accept as HSR. The NEC already has 135 mph electric trains; it’s had service better than what Illinois and North Carolina want since the 1930s.

  • jim

    More precisely, Amtrak owns Providence to New Haven, Springfield to New Haven, New Rochelle to New York (the Hell-Gate Line), Spuyten Duyvil to New York (the Empire Connection), New York to Washington, Philadelphia to Harrisburg, about a mile of track just south of Washington and a short stretch of track around Schenectady. Providence to Boston is owned by MBTA (though Amtrak maintains it under contract to MBTA; there’s a similar arrangement with the rest of Albany-Schenectady, too). New Haven to New Rochelle is owned by Metro-North.

    The 57-mile Metro-North stretch is the worst on the NEC. It has the lowest speed limit — not just because of the curves, but also because the tracks are too close together, so trains can;t be allowed to tilt much — and Metro-North runs commuter trains along it (the New Haven Line) and it’s reluctant to reduce them so Amtrak can run more NEC trains. Although most of the line is in Connecticut, Metro-North is part of a New York State agency, which doesn’t care about New York-Boston trains.

    The NEC is not a designated HSR corridor. The FRA map goes out of its way to point that out. That hasn’t stopped some of the states from applying for ARRA HSIPR money to improve it. There’s supposed to be a joint MA-RI-CT application for Shore Line East. Congressman Mica did give a speech a week or two ago where he said that the HSIPR money ought to go to California, the Midwest and the Northeast. So the fact that it isn’t actually a designated corridor may not matter.

  • I like the idea of double decker cars. I believe there are some tunnel and bridges that restrict that however.

    Since the NEC needs high capacity…

    Acela would be a Siemens Velaro trainset, max speed 350kph (220mph)..550-800 passengers a train (8 to 10 car set)

    There isn’t a double deck train that can do 130mph+ (unless the Bombardier multi-levels are capable of that?)

    Talgo has the 22 EMU that has dual pass through walkways (niceee) but hasn’t hit the mainstream yet and has a top speed of 200kph (125mph)
    http://www.talgo.es/eng.html (lame flash site..no direct link..go to Rolling Stock – Regional – Talgo 22 EMU

  • The TGV Reseau is a high-speed double-deck train; the E4 Series Shinkansen is a double-deck train capable of 240 km/h. Those are better models for double-deck trains than Bombardier and Talgo’s medium-speed trains, because they have to operate within such constraints as a maximum axle load of 17 tons, which slower trains do not.

    Another problem is that the Acela has to tilt, which most high-speed trains do not. There are tilting high-speed train on the market, including versions of the ICE and the Shinkansen, but they’re all single-deck; double-deck trains would have issues with clearances.

  • Sorry – in the previous comment, I said the TGV Reseau was double-decked. It’s not; the TGV Duplex is.

  • eldondre

    most of the older stations have plenty of capacity for extra cars. any new trainsets shoudl have at least 12 cars and Amtrak should be looking at dual modes with catenaary as well for runs to pittsburgh and Virginia…possibly for running Springfield to Harrisburg trains to alleviate the need to run trains to NYP or Boston.

  • Dual-modes cost and weigh too much. It shouldn’t be a problem to make people transfer in New Haven; Amtrak intermittently does that. Or, better yet, shell out $200 million for electrifying New Haven-Springfield and run through-trains at lower speed.

  • Ocean Railroader

    The H beam type of catenary masts on the NEC could still help us but would need some up grades. They could do one of two things or both build bran new H beam Pennsyvinia Catenary type masts to replace the old rusted ones but install constaint tension catenary on bottom of them such as with the high speed Europe type marklin catenary brackets and wire added to the bran new catenary masts. Another method they could try would be to replace all the wires and insulators on the bottoms of teh existing catenary masts and add new Pennsyvinia H beam masts inbetween the old ones but use all modern Europe type Z catenary brackets and constant tension catenary wire.

    The biggest bottle necks I ran into on the NEC were at Washingtion when we had to switch from a oil train to a eletric train that ate about a hour and at Baltmore. They need to widen the existing rail line to four tracks wide all the way from Boston to Washingtion DC.

    At home I have a small HO scale train set that uses Marklin catenary which is modeled after the TVG and German high speed rail line cateary lines only in HO scale. But I wanted to build catenary lines based off of the Pennsyvinia Railroad’s classic H beam catenary masts so I hand built a few of them to the same scale as the real ones but then I added the Europe type Z mastt arms and the tensioned catenary wire to them. The real life tensioned catenary Z arms and wire should work really well on the Pennsyvinia Railroad’s H beams consdering they were made out of sold steel ment to last for over a hunderd years.

  • Adam

    A lot of people are forgetting an important part of the NEC: Southeast Connecticut.

    I went to Boston a few weeks back and noticed that part of the line has a lot of problems. There are quite a few curves there, some old bridges, but most importantly, a potful of grade crossings. Those MUST go. However, a bunch of them will be VERY hard to get rid of because they’re near two stations: New London and Mystic. Speaking of those stations, I’m pretty sure they (and Westerly and Kingston) have low level platforms; that must change. Also a lot of the train can’t fit into those stations which increases dwell times.

  • Ocean Railroader

    It looks like that the hardest section of the NEC from New York to Boston they might have to build some high speed rail subway tunnels in some hard to go though sections. That would be worth the money consdering if you get a train to go from 40 and 60 miles on hour to 80 to 130 miles on hour that would draw in a lot of passangers but if new tunnels are built they would have to be four tracks wide. Or they could build a double track tunnel and have the slower trains move above ground. Going underground is like going though a thrid choice in that as long as you go deep enought you can go under it.

  • Fritz

    http://grenavitar.blogspot.com/2009/10/northeast-corridor-improvements.html
    The two sentences I wrote aren’t interesting but I jpg the last two pages of the Amtrak report. They are VERY useful and interesting appendixes and maybe Yonah will add them to his image gallery here.

    Rafael, don’t worry about “Congress’ current preoccupation with top speed”. The news may report it but I’ve been going to hearings in DC over the last weeks and Joe Szabo (FRA), Roy Kienitz (DOT), Karen Rae (FRA), and Anne Stubbs (CONEG) have all said incremental improvements to trip times that make it beat other modes is their current goal. Kienitz said the best thing about decreased trip time is eventually you get to a tipping point where you can use the train for a third trip in a day rather than just two–reducing rolling stock costs. So, even if Congress talks about top speed our bureaucrats aren’t.

    Lou, I don’t know if the ARC issue with NJT not ‘allowing’ Amtrak access is that big of an issue. Firstly, Amtrak owns the North River Tunnels so any ARC/Mass Transit Tunnel will free up space for Amtrak there. NJT has to work with Amtrak, they don’t get to decide on their own. Also, ARC has a proposed $200 million earmarked in House appropriations and just a little less in the Senate. Final figures come after conference but it looks like it is getting a good deal of money.

    Bi-level cars: I thought these couldn’t fit through the North River Tunnels?

    Alon, I’m not sure your PTC comments are fair–but I don’t know enough about it. To adopt ERTMS we would have to change all signaling on the NEC to European standards, no? That would be prohibitively expensive both from an infrastructure and training perspective. I also am not sure they have the same focus on running freight with passenger rail that the U.S. and PTC here is trying to deal with.

    Adam, the issue with speed close to station is relevant to the B&P tunnel and zoo interlocking. The thing is if each can save a minute or two it is going to increase overall speed. Low hanging fruit first but eventually it’s expensive projects for a few minutes

    Brandi, NEC is not an FRA designated corridor but it can get HSR funding. There are many reasons for this most of them from the early 90s when FRA created the designation. Freight (and to a lesser extent commuter rail) on the NEC is one reason they won’t get HSR express designation. The states DID apply for money. And when FRA releases who it’s funding (they are seriously understaffed, a safety and freight organization is now going to be running our HSR build out) we will see how much they got. Yonah posted about their requests. Amtrak can’t make the requests under track 1… I think they can under track 2?

    Also, you’re going to have to remember buy American provisions are a fact of Federal spending. The unions always show up to events on the hill and the Congressmen know they’re everywhere. Thoughtful enforcement of these provisions shouldn’t cause problems. Roy Kienitz was saying for sub 125mph service buy American was quite feasible but he recounted the story of the Acela train sets not matching any standards and being really hard to replace and repair and mentioned that for service above 125mph it will be harder to buy American since we just don’t have that capacity. Too many of our train sets are converted freight ones. It will be interesting how that issue plays out–and it will be important.

    We should all be very excited and remember to TALK TO YOUR CONGRESSMEN. Not just about wanting HSR but about wanting greater FRA funding to administer HSR programs and greater Amtrak funding for a state of good repair. Tell them to support Oberstar’s transportation authorization and ask for a dedicated source of funding for rail / Amtrak / etc. Oberstar said he “didn’t see an apparent source” the other day and as nice as the gas tax probably looks to some of us it hasn’t been seeing increasing revenues but get your Congressmen thinking about it. Yearly appropriations don’t keep a program alive for the long term. Big projects like the Interstate System have all had interesting ways of being funded.

  • Adam

    What’s B&P? If it’s in Baltimore, MTA Maryland is taking care of it.

    NJT plans to use ARC to its full capacity, so it’s unlikely additional space in the North River Tunnels will be freed up.

    Also, remember the bi-levels have to go through the East River Tunnels, which they currently don’t. If they were built to the same specifications as the North River Tunnels they should fit though.

    Still though, the cost of Connecticut improvements alone looks like it would cost more than everything else combined. I would focus on New York and south first because those issues are easier to solve.

  • Ocean Railroader

    Would the oirginal 1930’s sold steel classic Pennsyvinia Catenary masts or bran new replacments with the orginal H shape to them would they be able to to hold up the new constant tensioned catenary wires? Do they have plans of building Pennsyvinia Railroad styile Pennsyvinia railroad masts to put in between the old ones to hold up the new catenary wire?

  • Southeast Connecticut is easy to bypass on I-95. The problem is between the NY/CT state line and New Haven, where I-95 is curved and has no median, requiring switching from one ROW to another back and forth.

    The ERTMS snark is mostly about non-NEC standards. For the NEC there already is a PTC system, ACSES, which Amtrak just needs to get the freight carriers to follow (which is easier than it looks – Norfolk Southern is proposing electrifying its freight mainlines, which would mean it could be shoehorned into the NEC train supervision system). But the main point here is that those standards already exist – there’s no need to pay consultants tens of millions of dollars to develop new standards.

    On the other hand, France is capable of building HSR at $22 million per km, of which the signaling is a fraction of the cost. So redoing the signals according to worldwide standards may not be so expensive compared to the ability to operate the same trains as the EU.

    Buy American only applies when there is American competition, which in this case there isn’t. The provisions would probably force Kawasaki or Alstom or Bombardier to build the rolling stock at their US plants, which they use to build Buy American-compatible subway cars for New York.

  • Adam

    Bombardier’s plant is in Thunder Bay, hardly American.

    The only things American companies make these days are big diesel locos and modern streetcars.

  • Bombardier has a plant in Barre, Vermont – at least, it had one when it made the R142 for the New York City Subway.

  • Fritz

    http://transportation.house.gov/hearings/hearingDetail.aspx?NewsID=1024

    Alon, you may be right about Buy American provisions but what matters is what Congress and the agencies that enforce them think. At the above linked hearing I went to labor on the panel talked for quite some time about how they felt America “had the capacity” and that Buy American doesn’t mean Talgo opening a plant in Wisconsin for final setup but it means every nut and bolt made from American steel assembled in the U.S. Which is unrealistic. I hope we find a good political medium. I think a strong U.S. HSR manufacturing base would be great–but I also want good quality trains. Hopefully we will be able to have both but European companies aren’t going to spend billions to setup shop here without a source of funding that they know will exist for decades to come. What we have now is yearly appropriation bills.

    Thanks for the information about ERTMS and ACSES. I need to learn about PTC systems and more about ROW. Do you know any place with good ROW maps? The NY State Rail Plan had a pretty good map for NY and the AAR has okay maps for most states but the idea of ROW transfer at certain portions from highway to train and vice-versa is interesting and has some potential (as long as it’s not misused to steal ROW from trains).

  • Woody

    Before we scroll away, may I point out a HUGE capacity problem in Connecticut easiiy overlooked.

    On the first map, the second box on the right reads:
    “CT Shore Line Issues
    Permit with CT DEP limits Amtrak to 39 trains per weekday over 5 movable bridges.”

    Yes, railroaders, maritime law requires that the bridges must open in a timely way for every ore carrier, clipper ship, whaler — those were the days! — or high-masted yacht that wants to use the navigable waterways indenting the coastline.

    So 39 trains per weekday gives Amtrak 3 tph from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Whoa! Does this mean 19 and 1/2 trains each way?

    Our friends over at United Rail org like to dream about extending some long distance trains from the Southland all the way up to Boston. Forgetaboutit.

    So 19 trains each way could give us one hourly Acela-type Express from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Another Express at 10 p.m. and 12 p.m. for late owls. One extra Express in the morning and late afternoon rush hours. That’s it. Used up the quota. And no Regional trains.

    Many more tunnels or what?

    I think Boston is scrod by this rule, and I’d spend the NEC money D.C.-Charlotte instead.

  • Adam

    ^If you want DC-Charlotte HSR, you NEED to have 200+ MPH trains from NY to DC first, otherwise time starts becoming a factor.

  • Anon256

    Woody: If you look at Appendix Table A-1 in the Amtrak report (Fritz’s link above includes a PNG version), $250 million is marked for “Conn River Bridge Replacement – High Level”, so presumably at least that bridge would no longer be a bottleneck. The Niantic Bridge is already being replaced with stimulus money, increasing clearance slightly from 11.5ft to 16ft, which will hopefully decrease the frequency of openings. The Thames Bridge was replaced recently, increasing reliability if not clearance. (The other movable bridges are west of New Haven, and the level of commuter rail traffic over them suggests that maritime traffic is not the issue there.) With these improvements and some political will, it will hopefully be possible for Amtrak to negotiate with the CT DEP to allow more frequent trains. Of course, in the long run all of this should be bypassed via I-95.

  • Congress has created authority for 11 designated high speed rail corridors, but the legislation that began that whole business actually focused on improving rail safety via grade separation. At the time, the NEC was already almost completely grade separated, so USDOT decided to technically hold corridor #11 in reserve.

    However, the NEC is very much an eligible corridor for the $1.5b allocated for HSR upgrades in HR 2095(110th) and the additional $8b in HR 1(111th). It will also be eligible for any HSR funding in the context of the next surface transportation bill.

    The thing is, Rep. Mica has decided that for prestige reasons, the Northeast should have TGV-style trains running at 200mph or more. Not just in a short stretch, but most of the way from DC to NYC. That’s not feasible within the constraints of the NEC, it would require a brand-new right of way and alignment. Amtrak would prefer to spend $10b on getting its existing NEC to “good enough” status rather than see some other organization get 5-10 times as much for a competing service while the NEC is allowed to wither on the vine. The hard part is marketing a program of incremental upgrades when lawmakers want shiny new toys.

  • Ocean Railroader

    Congress should try to set a side 2 to 6 billon dollars for the NEC though it’s own funding bill and call it the bottle neck buster bill which would replace several of the old decaying bridges and the sets of railroad tunnels in Washingtion DC and Baltmore. The could this new funding plan to remove some of the sharp cruves around Boston and build several sections of tensioned catenary around the areas were the caternary wire is proven to be in the worst shape. Giving the NEC it’s own funding bill would help keep money from being drained away from the eight billon set a side to set up new high speed rail. It looks like eight billon is only nickels comparied to the full nickel jar need to bring our rail into the future.

  • Fritz, I only have ROW maps between New Haven and New London. You can find them here:
    http://www.richegreen.com/NJSEPTAV5.pdf
    http://www.richegreen.com/MNRRTrackMapV3.pdf
    http://www.richegreen.com/NYCTrackMapV3.pdf

    Rafael, the NY-DC section of the NEC is straighter than the Shinkansen. It can achieve do 350 given upgrades to the catenary and a couple of curve easements in greenfield areas of New Jersey and Maryland.

    Woody, yes, Ye Olde Maritime Regulations have to go, too. Or just be bypassed on I-95, whichever is easier. East of New Haven that ROW is straight enough for a tilt train to do 300+ and has available space. It’s a lot easier than trying to figure out how to build HSR along I-95 in Virginia and North Carolina.

  • Woody

    @ 46 Anon256 — Thanks. I took a hard look at that page. Not sure it makes me any happier. I see the line you mention:
    “Amtrak Conn River Bridge Replacement – High Level $250 million”

    I also see
    “CDOT / MTA New Haven Line Improvements
    Replacement of the Walk and Sage Bridges $600 million.”

    And New York
    “Pelham Bay Bridge Replacement and Hell Gate Curve Mods $500 million”

    That looks like a Billion or so for new higher bridges. But the worst part of it is that more than $600 million of it may be up to Connecticut and New York State because it is not on the Amtrak-owned section of the route. MetroNorth and Connecticut haven’t got that section ready for the Acela yet. How long will it take them to get ready for the Acela’s replacement?

    I’m still thinking my priorities would be NYC-D.C. first, next go for D.C.-Richmond-Norfolk/Raleigh-Charlotte, and then get around to NYC-Boston.

    Oh, and $1.3 Billion for putting the Amtrak station inside the Main Post Office Building. Is that a stop on the Second Avenue Subway or how the hell does it get to be $1 Billion 300 million? There’s other things I could do with $1.3 Billion.

    Ocean Railroader, you got this right:
    “It looks like eight billon is only nickels compared to the full nickel jar needed to bring our rail into the future.”

  • Ocean Railroader

    Acording to VDot’s website it will cost 2 Billon to widen the Washingtion Beltway from eight lanes to 12 lanes wide with four of those lanes being hotlanes http://www.vamegaprojects.com/about-megaprojects/i95395-hot-lanes/
    The Washington DC to Fredricksburg thrid track project is only going to cost 72 millon for a 11.5 miles of thrid track mainline next to the orignal double track mainline. While the beltway widening will cost 2 billon for 14 miles of highway. Pound for pound the railroad projects are more aggressive in rasing the speed of how fast someone can go though Washingtion DC

    The NEC high speed rail extension from Washington DC to Richmond and North Carolina needs to get funding first in that you would be raising train speeds from 25 and 40 miles on hour to 90 and a 110 miles on hour vs rising the speeds on a train that all ready goes from 90 and 110 miles on hour to 130 miles on hour. They also need to extend Pennsyvinia Catenary masts with up graded tensioned catenary from Washingtion to Richmond to get rid of the bottle necks in Washtington of having to change trains.

  • Ocean Railroader, at least on straight segments like Richmond-Norfolk, there’s no reason not to build constant tension catenary in the first place. On such lines Amtrak would need a dedicate two-track line with precise track geometry and concrete ties, but it could literally just upgrade existing lines.

    And yes, the US government wastes money on roads like there’s no tomorrow. It doesn’t mean it should do stupid things like blowing $10 billion on a plan that would by 2030 improve the Acela’s average speed to 160 km/h, still below the 170 km/h that the Shinkansen achieved in 1965.

  • Anon256

    Alon or Yonah, maybe you have some insight in this. From HSR proposals like this to the Second Avenue Subway, the US (and particularly the Northeast US) seems to wind up paying far more for transportation projects than other developed countries pay for projects of similar scope and magnitude. Forgive me for asking, but what gives?

  • Ocean Railroader

    I’ve been along the rail line from Richmond VA to New Port News and it mainly runs along a highway called US Route 60 which is a very rural part of Virginia between two growing major cities. There is also another rail line that runs along US 460 from Petersburg to Norfolk the Petersburg to Norfolk line is very stright and the one that runs from Richmond to New Port News has a few small bends in it that could be cut out. The good part about this idea is that most of the places were the train could reach it’s top speed are in very rural parts of Virginia. Even extending the high speed rail line from Richmond to Washingtion half of it goes though some rural areas too were right of way would be cheaper. Puting in new catenary would be good to install it modern and up to date right from scrach vs messing with the old catenary in the NEC They could install the next generation of classic Pennsyvinia H beam catenary masts but with up graded tensioned catenary wires on them. Above all we would get more bang for our bucks if we extened the eletric catenary from Washingtion to Norfolk. A lot of the rail lines from Norfolk and Richmond and Petersburg from the 1870’s though the 1950’s had a lot of the major highway grade crossings removed. US Route 60 crosses the New Port news rail line on highway overpasses. While the Petersburg line to Norfolk had a lot of railroad overpasses built out of hand cut stone arches that look very impressively built.

  • Anon256, the problem isn’t the US in general. Light rail costs the same in most US cities as anywhere else, per km; the exceptions are cities aren’t actually building light rail, like Seattle, which built long tunnels, and Houston, which used light rail as an excuse to rebuild city streets. High-speed rail in California isn’t unusually expensive for a line involving 2.5 major mountain crossings with frequent earthquakes. Even subways don’t cost that much in the US in general: in both San Francisco and Los Angeles, subways cost less than in Tokyo.

    The problem is specific to New York and Chicago, and to some extent the rest of the Northeast. More often than not, it’s a combination of corruption and incompetence. The contractors for those cities’ projects are all local companies, which have no outside experience and are just used to building light rail at $250 million per km instead of $25 million. They’re protected by patronage and Buy American laws, and the city is reluctant to sue them when they underperform. It used to be even worse – rolling stock used to be just as bad in American transit systems, until New York got trains so defective it sued the domestic manufacturers into bankruptcy and started buying foreign trains. The problem with doing the same to the construction contractors is that they’re all local and politically powerful, whereas the rolling stock makers were based in St. Louis and were almost down to small business level by the time they were put out of their misery.

  • Ocean Railroader

    This sounds like what started the Big Dig Diaster were bad work and and bad planning made a section of the big dig tunnels cave in killing in someone. Also the big dig tunnels suffer from massive leaks.

    Most of the people who do railroad cosntruciton in Virginia have been doing it for generations so railroad construciton in extending the high speed rail tracks should go very well though Virginia and North Carolina. There is also rumors that once they get funding for the high speed rail CSX will use it’s own rail work crews and constractors to build the new railroad tracks themselves.

  • The people in Virginia have been doing low-speed rail for generations. High-speed rail has different specs: it needs precise track geometry, concrete ties, electrification, full grade separation, none of which is common on the US legacy network.

  • Jim

    Between Boston and NYC, HSR service won’t happen unless a new dedicated rail corridor is developed. The coastal route along the R.I. and CT south coasts is too windy/curvy to support speeds above the Acela tilt trains can handle.

    I think an inland route that follows the I-90 and I-84 highway corridors, with stops in Worcester and Hartford make the most sense, with an approach to NYC from the north.

    All these reports seem to concentrate on upgrading the existing line, but not developing a new rail corridor.

  • Jim, there’s no more space along any route coming to New York from the north than along the Shore Line and I-95. The Shore Line is pretty good, actually, west of New Haven. It needs a lot of easements and a few bypasses, but the cost of retrofitting is measured in the low billions, which is par for the course for an HSR line of its length.

    More importantly, such a route would have to either feed into Grand Central. This means either no Boston-DC through-service, or an expensive tunnel connecting GCT and Penn.

  • Ari

    Wrong, wrong, wrong.

    I’ll have much more to say in coming days, but this is the wrong approach. Boston to New York via the shore line is 230 miles, a much longer distance than the shortest auto route (via the Merritt is 199 miles) and follows the curvy shore, limiting speed to 110 mph over most of the route.

    Truly faster service could be built through Rhode Island and Connecticut, probably for less than $10b (a lot less) and cut the Boston to New Haven portion of the route to less than an hour. The rest, through the surburbs, would need to be sped up, but it is too costly for a new corridor.

    The long and the short of it is that the current route is not, and will never be, a high speed route, no matter how many dollars you throw at it. (Further south, the New York to Washington route is faster and straighter, but has some very expensive bottlenecks.)

  • Ari, the Shore Line has the advantage that once you hit Kingston, it gets really straight, and is built to modern standards, allowing high speeds. Between New Haven and Kingston you need a bypass, but I-95 is available.

    The Air Line, which doesn’t even have tracks anymore and isn’t particularly straight, is completely useless for this approach.

  • Anon256

    Alon: Given that this corruption and incompetence exists, and given that this is “The Transport Politic”, what can we do to try to fix it? Outrageous costs and delays have been holding back transit in the Northeast for decades, and need to be addressed before ideas like your NY regional rail plan are even conceivable. Somehow I don’t think voting for Bill Thompson is likely to help.

  • If I had a good road map for fixing this, I’d be a political consultant, not a blog commenter.

    With this caveat, I’m not sure it can be fixed without federal action. Historically, US local governments have always been corrupt and autocratic; it was federal prosecutions and (in the South) federal occupation that reduced it somewhat.

    But on the local level, good-government reformism could partly do the trick. It’s unfortunate that nowadays good-government reformists tend to be either plutocrats like Bloomberg, or too flashy like Schwarzenegger or Spitzer. Having the city take over the MTA might help by forcing politicians to take responsibility for its screwups, but it could also magnify corruption.

  • maglev2078

    Alon,

    May I direct you to the Polytechnic Institute of NYU – Maglev Research Center:

    http://www.poly.edu/maglev/

    Dr. James Powell and Dr. Gordan Danby, the fathers of modern maglev, have discovered high speed rail technology that the freight and passenger rail industries can use to move cargo and people at 300MPH speeds.

    This is environmentally safe technology that can greatly reduce America’s reliance on energy imports.

    Existing right-of-ways and rail can be used by this technology to bring true high speed rail to major population centers at a mere fraction of the estimated cost of implementing Maglev-1 (1st generation Maglev) technology.

    Full scale models of the components of this technology have already been built, and the theoretical science supporting the Maglev-2 (2nd generation Maglev) discoveries is lab proven – by the pioneers of Maglev-1.

    Millions of dollars have already been successfully invested in Maglev-2 technology. So what is the hold-up?

    A full scale proving ground facility and vehicles are needed to bridge the gap between the existing development of and commercial implementation of Maglev-2 technology here and abroad.

    It is estimated that proving Maglev-2 technology to be commercially viable will cost up to $600 million and take as long as 6 years to complete.

    The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) could provide such funding as an investment in United States global leadership in environmentally safe and energy efficient transportation technology.

    Big business will likely get Congress to invest in Maglev-1 technology now, but there is still enough time to act on Maglev-2 before we here in the United States invest hundreds of billions or even trillions of dollars in what may prove to be outdated, prohibitively expensive, wasteful, and more oil and energy dependent Maglev-1 technology.

    Thank you for your time,

    A Maglev enthusiast

  • Do you have $100 billion for a brand new ROW from Boston to Washington, complete with new crossings of the Hudson, East, Connecticut, and Delaware Rivers? I don’t. Neither does the federal government.

    With DB’s cancellation of its maglev projects, there’s exactly one railroad in the world that’s building maglev for purposes of profit rather than pizzazz. That’s JR Central, which is on the one hand making so much money from the conventional-HSR Tokaido Shinkansen that it can afford to build it, and on the other hand constrained by curves on the legacy HSR built for speed of 200 km/h so that it needs to build it. The NEC doesn’t have those curves, by and large. Connecticut has curved segments, but they can be eased. Elsewhere, the preferred ROW is straight enough that HSR can do 350 km/h. With the stops trains would have to make on the route, going up to the 500 km/h promised by maglev would not save significant time; the difference would be between doing NY-DC and NY-Boston in 1:30 and 1:15.

  • maglev2078

    Riverhead, NY has applied for TIGER funds to implement Maglev2000 technology, with their application expected to be decided by February 2010.

    http://www.dot.gov/affairs/dot1409.htm

    http://www.newsday.com/business/technology/aiming-to-promote-maglev-trains-1.1520109

    http://www.newsday.com/columnists/other-columnists/li-pair-seeks-59m-grant-for-maglev-train-firm-1.1518981

    Are the major players in the ground transportation industry (e.g. UPS) even aware of the opportunity to prod their federal government to invest in and implement Maglev-2 technology for their benefit?

    With 6 years and $600 million needed to prove the technology as commercially viable at a full-scale testing facility, this is not an immediate threat to big business, special interests, or HSR implementation in the US.

    All of these players will have plenty of time to take the lead on this tech once it is deemed as commercially viable.

    Remember, this tech is presented by the very scientists who invented Maglev-1 (EDS) that is being rolled out in asia on a large scale.

    Except this tech is safer, cheaper, easier to implement (once proven), and a better solution to transportation and energy issues than Maglev-1.

    At the very least, this American tech could be ready to tie together a national HSR system together, running across the heartland of the US, well after the major corridors have been built.

    Doesn’t this tech deserve at least the chance to be proven as a legitimate option for American industry?

    If proven to be commercially viable, it may have global implications in the transportation and energy industries, and the bottom line of those companies that are willing to invest in it today and the world populace that will benefit from it later.

    The argument that the corridors are not prepared for this tech today, does not offer a valid reason to ignore, shelve, or deny funding to this tech today and ensure that it is not ready for future generations when it may be needed most.

    $600 million is a drop in the bucket for the US government today, considering that HSR will ultimately cost trillions of dollars to implement in this country, never mind globally.

    This is a matter of investment, and this tech appears to be a great investment.

    Not a single scientific authority on this type of technology has placed their reputation on the line to discredit it as a viable alternative to Maglev-1.

    Instead, it appears that the issues preventing the money from being matched to this tech are more about the politics of transportation funding, ROW’s, issues relating to managing this proposed project, and a lack of investors convinced of or hungry for the opportunity to get in early on the undisputed future of Maglev.

    The questions are:

    – Who will be smart enough to make that investment?

    – Who will be capable enough to circumvent the red tape and lack of will to get funding to this tech?

    Will it be the United States followed by American industry OR will Maglev-2 follow the path of Maglev-1 and become an American invention that either governments or private industry elsewhere in the world profits from at America’s expense?

    For one, I am convinced that this tech simply lacking some brilliant marketing behind it.

  • Riverhead, NY is an exurb of a city that’s barely even second world when it comes to transportation technology. What it applies or doesn’t apply for is irrelevant. What is relevant is what first-world rail technology countries like Japan and France do.

  • Ocean Railroader

    Would this mean that the vast railroad system we built over 150 years have to be completly knocked down to make room for maglv? Wouldn’t it take another 150 years to build the maglv system from scrach. Also what happens if two maglv systems giudways are extended into one another’s space and they try to link them up are the maglv right now being built built with the same gauge in the maglv tracks so they can link into one another when they meet up with one another?

    I remember hearing that right now the world’s fastest metal wheeled train can go only go less then ten miles slower then a maglv train?

  • The fastest TGV has gone at 574 km/h, versus 581 for JR Central’s maglev. But the TGV needed to be specially modified to achieve that speed, whereas the maglev train didn’t; in regular service, the TGV-based technology can reliably achieve 360, whereas JR Central’s maglev can do 500.

    That’s not the point, though. The point is that if the US develops maglev, it had better been after decades of research by competent rail authorities. HSR didn’t develop from scratch, either – the idea of fast trains goes back to 1900, and the 160 km/h steam railroads of the 1930s provided a lot of the technology that JNR then used to build the Shinkansen.

  • Ocean Railroader

    Time in building these systems can be a big iuesue in the long run in that to go though all the planning and impact studies along with right of way hunting and funding building even a short maglv line would take 20 years. I noice this after reading on the internet how all these railroad projects have been in the planning stages sense the 1970’s and 1990’s. At least with HSR most of the right of ways are waiting to be used and the trains are ready to use vs having to build everything from scrach. The construction of the four to five billon dollar Washingtion Metro extension could be used as a example how how much it would cost to build a 8 to mile long section of subway or el maglv tracks though anywhere.

  • Ari

    Alon,

    The Air Line is, in places, quite useful for a future HSR corridor. France, Spain and Japan don’t necessarily follow extant highway corridors, and there’s no reason we need to. Certain straight parts of the Air Line could be used, and between them (particularly between Willimantic and Middletown) a new ROW could be built. The problem with following the coast is that it is not only longer, but even with the current fast segments, it’s still an average speed of only about 70 mph, tops. Plus, there are two major rivers (the Thames and Connecticut) and several small urban areas with nasty curves and grade crossings. France, Spain and Japan often eschew smaller cities to improve the run-through times between the major markets (with connections to the smaller cities). This is a good example to follow.

    The NEC is indeed straight and fast from Kingston to East Greenwich, for a total of 12 miles. I-95 along the coast is neither straight nor flat, and not always wide enough for a new line, which would have to be elevated in several instances, or the entire highway would have to be rebuilt. Plus, you still have to bridge the Thames and the Connecticut, and it’s still significantly longer than a straight route. In addition, building in the middle of a highway which must be kept open is not an easy thing to do. Finally, the line still goes through the center of Providence, which serves a secondary market but takes quite a bit of time.

    I played with some numbers and figured you could build a new ROW from Boston to New Haven for somewhere in the ballpark of $5b, top speeds of 180, with a trip time from New Haven to Back Bay of 55 minutes, a time savings of 1:01 versus the current Acela Express. If you could save 20 minutes more between New Haven and New York (doable with some help from MN, the current fastest train is 1:27) you could make the trip in two hours flat. Two hours kills the air shuttles. Heck, 2:20 probably kills the air shuttles if the price is right.

    The route, in short, uses the current Needham Line to Needham Junction (at slower speeds both because of curvature and to allow for existing commuter service), the freight line to ~I-495, a new ROW until the Air Line in Douglas, the Air Line, the I-395 ROW and a a mixture of the Air Line and new ROW to Willimantic, the US 6 Bypass through Willimantic (which happens to be the Air Line’s former ROW) and then a mostly-new ROW from Willimantic to Middletown. The Connecticut would be crossed in Middletown (on a new higher bridge over the Connecticut) and then followed to New Haven.

    128 miles, 55 minutes, average speed of 140 mph. Certainly attainable.

  • Ari: first, the TGV does follow extant highway corridors, almost exclusively. The Shinkansen doesn’t, but that’s because it predates the highways and was built through relatively open territory and mountains, rather than through suburban sprawl.

    Second, I-95 east of New Haven is straight and flat enough for HSR, and has space in the median and on both sides – unlike west of New Haven, when it isn’t and doesn’t. Most curves in the ROW can be eased to a radius of 4 km or higher, which would allow tilting trains like the N700 Series Shinkansen to run at 350 km/h. If you relax your standard to 300, then 3 km is enough. The Thames and Connecticut can be bridged right next to I-95.

    The main advantage of I-95 is that rail construction is cheaper next to freeways – the grade separations are already there. At normal HSR construction cost, the 115 km from New Haven to Hope Valley would cost about $2.5 billion. Beyond that, the existing line is straight enough – even north of East Greenwich, the curves can be eased with little difficulty. The cost of fixing a curve is in the tens of millions, which is much lower than the cost of building a brand new ROW.

    And third, France eschews smaller cities, but Japan doesn’t – on the contrary, it makes an effort to serve them when feasible. Besides which, Providence is not a smaller city – its metro area is larger than some that France is building dedicated TGV to, such as Nice.

  • Ocean Railroader

    I followed the NCE down from Boston on the NEC on google maps and street view and it did have a lot of twists and turns in it from New York to New Haven which some of them where very flat. I also saw something odd and cool at the same time it looked like they were putting in tensioned catenary along the old sections of eletric New Haven railroad but were building bran new classic New Haven catenary masts with tensioned catenary to replace the old worn out ones which was a good sign.

    I also followed the future NEC down from Washingtion pasted the last catenary mast and followed it down to Richmond Virginia and down along the S line into NC and the abonadoned S line is pefect for high speed rail there are many highway overpasses across many of the major roads in good shape and the state was even doing repairs on some of them and not tearing them down which means reopening it will save hunderds of millons in new highway over pass costs. Along the way down on using google streetview I took many photos of the rail line and photo chopped them into what the new high speed rail line would look like in the future with Pennsyvinia railroad masts and tensioned catenary.

    http://fc00.deviantart.net/fs50/f/2009/334/e/a/The_Catenary_to_Richmond_VA_by_OceanRailroader.jpg

    Hear is a photo of what the catenary wires could look like if they ever made it to Richmond VA and Petersburg

  • Max Wyss

    A late response to comment #18:

    > It’s much cheaper to run longer trains than to come up with
    > double-deckers that fit international weight limit standards.

    Interesting… then why is the Swiss Federal Railway using and ordering mainy double-deck rolling stock? Not only for commuter services, but also for (Swiss) intercity services (travel times corresponding about to the Northeast corridor).

    Also, the weight per seat is lower in double-deck units than in single-deckers (without verification, we talk about 25% or so).

    Also, for the same seat capacity, a double-deck train is about 40% shorter, which means that it clears slow segments (switchwork etc.) faster, and can accellerate faster. And this can translate quickly into minutes to be cut (see example below):

    Example: a 14-car single-deck car train and a 8 car double-deck car train have the same seat capacity; the single-deck car is about 0.1 miles longer; after a section with a 20 mph speed limit, the single-deck car train spends 20 seconds longer at 20 mph than the double-deck car train; 20 seconds which the double-deck car train can use to accellerate (and it will do that faster, because it is lighter.

    There is an old rule when moving things around: You gain more time by reducing the time moving slowly than speeding up the fast movements.

  • Max Wyss

    Late comments to comment #26:

    > Yes, NIMBYism is a problem. But if the California people are
    > managing to put an el in the rich sections of Palo Alto and Menlo
    > Park, where people think els are for poor people, it’s likely Amtrak
    > could put an el in Fairfield County, where people are used to having
    > Metro-North on a Berlin Wall-style embankment right next to the
    > local school.

    When comparing with France, there is one “advantage” the French legislation has. A project can be declared to be “of national interest” (which requires a decree by the assemblée nationale (the equivalent to the US congress), and then, the Nimbys have considerably reduced rights.

    > In Japan, Germany, Korea, and France, the same companies run
    > commuter and intercity rail. There’s still a strong separation between
    > the two groups: commuter lines are used by commuters, who
    > usually ride twice a day, while Shinkansen lines are used by
    > business travelers and tourists taking rarer, longer trips. Those
    > characteristics of HSR mean no standing passengers for the most
    > part, and no need to subsidize commuters.

    For Germany and France, well, EU Europe in general, things have changed a bit, where “long distance” and “commuter” are now different business units. The “long distance” unit must operate without subsidies, whereas for the “commuter/regional” business units, the regional political entity (in France, the Région, in Germany the Bundesland) order a service, and pay appropriate subsidies.

    However, for the France example, there are several hundred people who commute (almost) daily from Lyon and south to Paris on the TGV, spending 1 1/2 to 2 hours one way … but then, that is not much more time they would spend from the outer suburban towns, on the RER or attempting to commute by car. And the money spent for the tickets is compensated by the lower cost of living in the province.

    > The high-capacity double-deckers you suggest are already common
    > in France and Japan. In France, Alstom had to develop a special
    > train that could accommodate double-decker seating while
    > maintaining low weight.

    Yes, this thingie is called TGV 2N (double-deck TGV), and they managed to keep the axle load at 17 tonnes, even for the articulated design of the TGV.

    One note on that, when comparing with the US: The European requirement concerning crashworthiness are fundamentally different from the US regulations; the European regulations allow for a well-designed lightweight structure, whereas the US regulations favor very heavy (IMHO) outdated designs.

    > This could be done in the US too if demand exceeded the capacity
    > of full-length single-deck trains, which have about 1,300 seats each,
    > and at safe HSR headways can carry about 150 million passengers
    > a year.

    If I remember correctly, a double unit of TGV 2N has about the same capacity (using 2+2 seating in second class and 2+1 seating in first).

    Headways on the South-East line are now still at 5 minutes, but newer lines (such as the one to the East (Strasbourg)) allow for 3 minute headways.

  • Max Wyss

    A late comment to message #29:

    > I like the idea of double decker cars. I believe there are some tunnel
    > and bridges that restrict that however.

    One had to compare the loading gauge for these tunnels and bridges with the loading gauge used on the TGV line or in Switzerland in general. I tend to believe that it would be possible. Also, one can gain at least 15 cm vertically by using conductor rails (such as made by Furrer&Frey (http://www.furrerfrey.ch/web/furrerfrey/en/produkte/sfl.html)).

    > Acela would be a Siemens Velaro trainset, max speed 350kph
    > (220mph)..550-800 passengers a train (8 to 10 car set)

    Probably (as Siemens is sometimes called “a bank with attached railroad equipment workshop”), but there would also be the N-700 type Shinkansen trainsets, or Alstom’s TGV, or the Chinese CRN-3 type (I think).

    > There isn’t a double deck train that can do 130mph+ (unless the
    > Bombardier multi-levels are capable of that?)

    Sure, there is… the TGV 2N (double-deck TGV), certified for 320 km/h, but currently used only at 300 km/h (south of Lyon).

    Then, the conventional Swiss IC2000 double-deck cars (keep in mind, conventional loco-hauled cars, not articulated sets or EMUs) have been designed for 220 km/h, and are operated at 200 km/h on the Mattstetten-Bern line, as well as through the Lötschberg base tunnel.

    The recently ordered Stadler double-decker EMUs for the Austrian Westbahn are planned to operate at 200 km/h.

  • Ocean Railroader

    The idea of a double decker train would be good I remember hearing that there are double decker trains in Mayland running under the catenary wires. Double decker trains could help make Amtrack more money such as on the Phili to Harrsionburg line were the trains are very packed. They could also use them on the mainline from Washingtion DC to New York were they are starting to fill up. Also the same lenth train can carry double the number of paying passangers and many of the lines up there are only pennies with in making money.

  • Interesting… then why is the Swiss Federal Railway using and ordering mainy double-deck rolling stock? Not only for commuter services, but also for (Swiss) intercity services (travel times corresponding about to the Northeast corridor).

    Honestly, I don’t know. A few guesses:
    – Swiss regulations restrict train length, often for stupid reasons, like a bit overflow in computerized train control.
    – Swiss rail has a medium top speed, about 200-250 km/h, which is within the capabilities of double-deckers. The top speed advantage of single-deck trains is therefore less important.

    Also: yes, double-deck trains weigh less per seat, but they weigh more per axle, and that creates maintenance problems. Tellingly, today’s HSR companies focus on single-deck equipment: the AGV, the Velaro, Fastech, Talgos, CRH-3.

  • Max Wyss

    To Alon:

    Actually, the train lengths are limited by platforms and station setup. For “intercity” services, the limit is 400 m, for commuter services, it is 300 m (or less).

    Another reason is that the network is running at its capacity (or even above) on its businest segments, and it is not possible to add more trains.

    The maximum speed is indeed 200 km/h, and will most likely remain at that (although they are working at 250 km/h for the ETR 610 through the Lötschberg base tunnel (and in a few years through the Gotthard base tunnel).

    The higher axle load is indeed a crucial issue, and most likely the reason why there are not that many double-deck high speed trains around besides the TGV 2N and the JR East Max (whereas the latter can profit from the advantage of less stringent crashworthyness requirements because it is operating in a closed protected system, and can therefore be built lighter than “normal”.

  • JR East Max can also profit from the fact that Shinkansen trains are protected by positive train control and have derailed only once in their entire history (nobody died)… There’s no need for buff strength to protect from crashes with other trains when crashes don’t happen.

  • John

    Bi-level trains do currently run through the North River (Hudson) tunnels… NJ Transit has been running a few specially ordered cars from Bombardier for a couple of years now.

  • Drewski

    Here is a proposal. I won’t make a dollar estimate for reasons which will become clear, but I do believe that this concept could pass a stringent cost/benefit analysis.

    Start with the corridor from Philadelphia to Boston. Yonah would disagree with me on this, but I’ll start by pointing out that five of North America’s busiest airports (Philly, Newark, JFK, La Guardia, Logan)–and at least four of its busiest international gateways–are squarely within the footprint. Those airports would still be immense trip generators, but stop thinking about that for the immediate moment.

    If this corridor were in Germany, France or Spain, chances are very good that there would already planning for a new, passenger-only trunk line, to be served by EMU trainsets. Lightweight, high-speed EMU sets can handle grades as steep as expressways–let’s say 4% as a design standard. In those three countries, chances are very good that the new alignment would be adjacent to an existing expressway. That’s what Germany did when it (finally) built the ICE line between Frankfurt and Cologne. Start at Philly 30th Street, in a deep tunnel, and cross under the Delaware to the Jersey Turnpike r/w. Follow it to the south end of Newark Airport, stop in front of the terminal complex, then join the NEC r/w to Newark Penn. East of there, the line crosses in a new Hudson tunnel to an expanded NYC Penn Station. These plans aren’t new, so this is no conceptual problem. Remain at deep level, cross Manhattan and the East River, and head for Jamaica. Airtrack already connects from Jamaica to JFK, and could easily be extended to La Guardia. The new line continues east, into western Suffolk County, and stops again. Turn north and cross Long Island Sound, either on bridge or in tunnel. Hit land at Stamford, and provide for joining main line there, or continuing in new r/w. New r/w would continue in tunnel, then surface when joining r/w of Merritt Parkway. Bypass Bridgeport and remain in Merritt r/w, then enter New Haven. This would allow for connections to Hartford, Springfield and points north. East of downtown New Haven, rejoin the 95 r/w way and follow it at least as far as the Rhode Island/ CT border. Follow 95 r/w into Mass, then possibly follow in or beneath Fairmount Line r/w to South Station. A connection is planned in downtown Boston, to North Station, which will allow continuation to New England, Quebec, and the Maritimes.

    Yonah has previously suggested center-to-center focus. In this corridor, there is a great deal of international air traffic generated in almost every corner. The existing corridor’s service is pitiful, and even with sprawl and American driving habits, there are likely at least a few million travelers per year who would gladly park on Long Island and have through-ticketing to an international airport. This action allows the existing line to focus on slightly more local service, meaning a narrower speed band, which also means greater track utilization. From what I’ve described, let’s say that the Philly-Boston service lines up like this: Philly 30th St – New Brunswick/East Brunswick/ Edison – Newark Airport – Newark Penn – NYC Penn – NYC Jamaica – (somewhere in western Suffolk) – Stamford – New Haven – Providence – Boston South. I mentioned lightweight EMU sets easily capable of a 4% gradient. That means that, if starting just above sea level and required to cross a 150 foot vertical clearance, the line would need less than a mile at either end to go over, or less to go under (and I’m stating here that a crossing of Long Island Sound has its own issues, but I am prepared to discuss that too).

    How much would all this cost? It’d damn sure be more than $10.5 B. There are other business questions that matter more, though. A true HSR line in the Northeast wouldn’t just knock out the Boston-NYC shuttles. It could knock out almost all air traffic originating within at least 50 miles of the corridor. That’s not disaster for the airlines–it would open up dozens of gates for more lucrative long-distance flights, while giving each airport a far broader market. It would also remove a lot of the pressure for multibillion-dollar airport improvements, which means that airports could stay busy and generate more money with modal interchange than with expanded runways and gates. Residents would be happy at not only the reduction of noise (which could allow more 24-hour operation), but also at greatly improved property values (which means more tax revenue). For cities, greatly reduced demand for flight paths would mean removal of some building height limits, again generating more tax revenues.

    Even considering this segment–Philly to Boston–there are some stunning changes. There’s no reason that a train from, say, Portland or Manchester would need to stop anywhere en route to Baltimore, DC or Richmond. If the corridor had a design allowance for continuous 225 mph service, then an hourly or twice-hourly Philly-Boston train (ten-car bilevel EMU consist) could not only carry over 1000 passengers, but it could easily run the 320-ish mile distance in less than two hours. Longer trainsets are not impossible. A 3-car unit from Portland, another 3-car unit from Manchester, coupled with an 8-car express at Boston, could make lower-speed stops and then travel at top speed without overcrowding the line. Planes can’t be coupled like trains.

    There has been mention of discount airlines and the inability to compete with them. Discount airlines operate on the assumption that they will continue to benefit from an inequitable system of subsidies, which in the US favors road and air over rail and water. Given the current Federal budget deficit, there’s no justification to continue giving road and air such disproportionate support. There is also an established practice in Europe of airlines (Swiss, Lufthansa, Air France) either contracting for rail service, or even (Virgin) operating it themselves. This satisfies the Republican desire for private sector involvement, which has the potential to draw more political support.

    In the late 70’s, the Carter administration proposed a massive electrification program of mainline railroads, to be paid for through royalties per ton-mile. It’s a form of tolling, and there’s no reason it couldn’t work on the New NEC. Airlines purchase gate access, but every one of the airports in this corridor is publicly-owned. The taxpayer deserves the best return on gate value, not what’s most convenient for a cherry-picking airline.

    In theory, if trains were able to run 5 minutes apart, that results in 12 slots per direction per hour. A 15-minute service would still leave 8 open slots per hour. Again, in theory, there’s no reason why the new line couldn’t run a 15-minutes service, connecting with a similar but slower 15-minute service on the existing line. This would rely on transfers more than interline operation, but still offers the potential to be more cost- and time-effective than anything in the status quo. No-one (with the possible exception of discount bus operators) has anything to lose with this concept.

  • Drewski, your proposal bypasses some of the best track on the NEC. Between Philadelphia and New York, the barrier to high speed is the catenary; replace it and trains can do 200 mph most of the way.

    At the same time, you’re using curved rights of way in Connecticut, where trains can’t run very fast; the freeways only give a reliable right of way east of New Haven. If there’s money for a tunnel between Long Island and New England, put it further east, and run trains on the LIRR mainline; remember that the LIRR was first built as a New York-Boston intercity line with a ferry connection. You gain precisely nothing from the Jamaica-Stamford tunnel – for service to JFK, run some trains DC-Philly-NY-JFK, since there is going to be more demand south of New York than north of New York.

  • Ocean Railroader

    There are a few bends in the rails between Fredricksburg VA and Richmond VA and on wards to Petersburg but they could easly be cut out in that most of the line goes though very deep forests and farm fields. It might be cheaper to build the the Petersburg to Washingtion section of the NEC then to build the section from New York and New Haven. I followed the New Haven Railroad on the street view maps and it is a very twisted rail line that is at least going to need several tunnels on it to go under the cities in it’s path.

    I’m making a video about the old Pennsyvinia Catenary how it needs to be replaced and up graded south to Richmond VA. The idea would have the catenary taking on the best parts of tensioned catenary systems but still having the new catenary masts going into Richmond retaining their classic H beam Pennsyvinia Railroad shape.

  • Russell Warshay

    I think that if an initiative is taken to seriously alter the NEC’s alignment, then some though should be given to changing the NYC-Boston segment so that it runs through both Hartford and Providence.

    Bypassing Hartford strikes me as unacceptable, given the size of that metro area. Bypassing Providence would not sit well with Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation, which might be small, but still has two senators.

    On the other hand, building a new RoW won’t be cheap, and might meet some fierce local opposition.

  • Thomas

    I think that the only reasonable solution is to build separate high speed line along existing tracks with speeds of up to 200 mph and dedicated services between NEC cities. Existing tracks would be used as commuter services only and thus reduced in cost of mainenance required for upgraded speeds. HST are the only option for metropolities of future and they are build everywhere in the world now.

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