Amtrak Planning Major Push to Operate True High-Speed Lines

» U.S. national rail company hopes to prevent the invasion of foreign operators and will focus on improvements for the Northeast Corridor.

Suddenly forced to reckon with the prospect of serious competition from foreign companies, Amtrak has announced an internal reorganization that prioritizes the development and implementation of high-speed rail service in the United States. In addition, the publicly-owned train operator has announced for the first time that it will perform serious feasibility studies about implementing 220 mph service between Washington and Boston.

The creation of Amtrak’s new High-Speed Rail Department is designed to publicize the company’s experience in existing U.S. rail corridors and extend its reach to new high-speed routes being funded through the federal government’s grant program whose first recipients were rewarded earlier this year. Amtrak announced in January its interest in pursuing operations along the Florida line between Tampa and Orlando, expected to be the first true high-speed route built in North America when it opens in 2014.

French rail company SNCF and Japanese operator JR Central have both expressed their respective interest in running the same service.

Amtrak’s enthusiasm in running services at high speeds reflects the fact that fast train operations make a lot of money — as long as capital costs aren’t included in the equation. With most new American rail lines expected to be funded through grants rather than bonds, and with limited involvement thus far with the private sector, it appears that operations will not be expected to cover back-payments on construction loans, leaving profit potential for companies like Amtrak. There has been limited success in using operating revenues to subsidize capital cost repayments despite several efforts in both Europe and Asia. There is a structural and perhaps immutable conflict between the short-term profit-making interests of rail operators and the long-term benefits offered by infrastructure investments.

The long-distance lines that Amtrak is compelled to operate through acts of Congress all lose money on an annual basis.

The national company’s new High-Speed Rail department is also charged with re-envisioning the Northeast Corridor, with a focus on substantially reducing trip times between Boston and Washington and increasing train frequencies dramatically. It will also begin analyzing how to increase train speeds to 220 mph along the route, with the goal of bringing rail service in America’s densest metropolitan conglomeration up to world standards.

This new effort represents a serious upgrade in Amtrak’s thinking about the potential for the 457-mile Northeast Corridor. As recently as October 2009, the company laid out a $10 billion plan that would do little more than decrease travel times between Washington and Boston to 5h30, down from about 6h30 today. Chinese trains travel the 601 miles between Wuhan and Guangzhou in just three hours.

Amtrak has a significant credibility gap to make up before states will be willing to let it operate their new high-speed rail services. Decades of slow, poorly performing operations across the country have given the public company somewhat of a bad name, especially when compared to those of many of its foreign competitors, which have been running fast trains for decades.

Image above: Amtrak Acela Trainset, from Flickr user Gilliamhome’s Olympus E3 and Evolt 500 Page (cc)

82 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Mad Park

    Two rthoughts:
    1) The FL service will not be true intercity HSR, but rather a higher speed commuter railway as it will be stopping at a number of stations along the way. Average speed? 87 MPH.
    2) How has Amtrak resolved major issues with the FRA about the latter’s supposed “safety” standards which do and will seriously inhibit plans for true HSR in the US?

  • andrew

    I’m also interested to see how the FRA safety standards will affect things. The engineers who designed the Acela often referred to it as a High Speed Tank, due to its incredible weight.

    • My understanding on the overbuilt weight of the Acela was that it has to be so built b/c freight trains run on the same lines, and it’s a safety feature; something less needed in Europe, for example, where freight rail is often a seperate network.

      • Andy K

        European HSR is not separated from freight.

      • European HSR is separated from freight. European standard-speed rail isn’t, but still doesn’t have to contend with FRA-style regulations.

        The overbuilt weight of the Acela is entirely a regulator competence issue. In most circumstances, a lightweight train would perform better in a crash with a heavy freight train than an FRA-compliant train. Caltrain has done simulations about it. The various crash safety standards use numbers the FRA pulled out of thin air in the 1940s as a way to harass the railroads into adopting positive train control. They don’t actually promote safety.

      • dist

        Well, HST in Europe often runs on the classic network. So, technically, they run on the same routes as freight trains and they do so at speed equivalent or superior of that found on US soil with no problem whatsoever.

        FRA regulations are simply out of date and need to be updated. Prevention is the way to go, not overbuilt.

      • dejv

        @Alon: Germany runs mixed traffic on their earlier neubaustrecken.

      • Dejv: I thought that Germany was like France, running freight on high-speed lines only at night. Am I wrong?

      • Jason

        European high speed trains do operate on rights of way shared with freight trains. Usually however, these trains are not operating (much) faster than the more traditional passenger trains (but probably with fewer stops).

        So it is incorrect to say that European HSR is always separated from freight. It is also incorrect to say that European HSR goes faster than 150 mph (roughly – probably usually more like 125 or even 100 mph) on tracks shared with freight.

        Much of the German ICE network operates over mixed traffic lines, over the years, bottlenecks and slower sections have been replaced with new high speed lines.

        In France, new high speed lines (LGV) have been built from Paris outward, TGV trains continue past the ends of these high speed lines on the older network, in mixed-traffic situations.

        Even the Chunnel is a mixed traffic line, and before the completion of HS1, Eurostar trains operated all the way into London on mixed lines.

        The major problem is that the (FRA) regulations on the books is not so much that they prohibit mixed traffic lines from operating very fast, or require very heavy trains. It is that they require a train operating at any speed in mixed traffic to be heavy and strong. Trains that meet this criteria are poor candidates for operating at high speeds on dedicated infrastructure.

        For instance, if California wants to bring trains into San Francisco on a mixed traffic line with speeds under 125 mph, the current regulations require a train that is either incapable or prohibitively expensive to operate at 220 mph on dedicated infrastructure between San Jose and LA. Simultaneously, it is unnecessary and inefficient to provide a dedicated HS line on the peninsula.

        I wouldn’t get too hung up on the current regulations. The ship takes so time to turn around, but it is turning around, now that there is a reason to.

        You also have to remember that North American freight rail is a different beast than that of Europe and Japan. The US, Canada, and Mexico are blessed to have the superior freight system, even it if makes providing fast passenger trains more difficult.

      • Max Wyss

        To Alon Levy:

        There are/were very few exceptions, where freight operations occur on the dedicated high-speed line:

        There is a very fast express freight train using the Paris Sud Est line, running at 200 km/h, with dedicated locomotives and rolling stock. This train operates as last train of the day, after the passenger trains passed, but it does meet TGVs on the line at full speed.

        There was a very fast freight train operation on the German high speed line between Fulda and Hannover, also operating at 200 km/h with dedicated rolling stock. As this train was (if I remember correctly) LCL freight, it got abandoned when the Deutsche Bahn reorganized their LCL business.

        And the third one I know of is a little bit of a cheat: the LaPoste TGV operating between Paris and Avignon, Orange or Miramas. But this is essentially a regular TGV set, and it has the same operation profile as a passenger TGV set.

      • Thanks for the corrections, guys.

  • Norman

    Finally – this is what Amtrak should have gotten right in the first place to showcase what true HSR is like in the market most suited for it. Not only is the passenger volume there, but it also take away volume from the shuttle flights that fly between LGA-BOS/DCA, EWR-BOS/DCA, JFK-BOS/DCA, and BOS-DCA, reducing congestion there. Then the merits of HSR could stand or fall based on a real example – not the 88mph avg speed that Acela ekes out.

  • Walter Sobchak

    I can’t really see how Amtrak can increase speeds on the Northeast Corridor much more than today’s speed. The entire corridor is very busy with both commuter rail and Amtrak’s Regional service (would speeds be increased on those trains too?). Speeds can be increased between New Haven and Providence, but only by almost completely rebuilding the track and removing the stop in New London, maybe knocking a half hour or hour from the time, while from Stamford to Penn Station the rails are so crowded I don’t see much higher speeds than maybe 100 mph unless the Feds force CT and NY to prioritize Amtrak over Metro-North.

    I’m very intrigued because the prospect of having Washington 2.5 hours away from southern Connecticut could revolutionize travel in the region, as a day trip to Washington would no longer mean a long car ride down the Jersey Turnpike. I guess I just want to see how they’ll do it.

    • I agree. Perhaps follow the Japanese example along some parts and build a New Main Line? Piggy Back on I-95 so folks on the train can wave to those stuck in traffic?

    • Stamford to Penn isn’t that crowded. The line has 20 tph of commuter rail, which can fit on two tracks with passing sidings. The line has four tracks. It would need some sort of bypass of the legacy line around Port Chester an Greenwich anyway, which would provide further passing sections for HSR and express commuter rail.

      Between New Haven and the CT/RI state line there’s really no point in using a curvy, drawbridge-ridden line through suburbia. Just bypass it on I-95, which is straight enough in this section. The only section where a complete rebuild is really necessary is New Rochelle-New Haven, and that’s because there’s no single ROW that works.

  • Arthur

    “Decades of slow, poorly performing operations across the country have given the public company somewhat of a bad name, especially when compared to those of many of its foreign competitors, which have been running fast trains for decades.”

    the bad name should be more aptly contributed to the tunnel-vision politicians who never allowed Amtrak to get the funding that it needed and deserved.

  • jim

    NYP-WAS is essentially straight (and it’s not that hard to make it even straighter; what needs to be done is fairly well-known: see Alon’s previous postings), fully grade separated and needs only additional trackage, mostly in Maryland, to permit dedicating a pair of tracks to high speed trains. These are the three things that are required for high speed operation: straight, grade-separated, dedicated tracks. NYP-WAS is 225 miles. Paris-Lyon, the original LGV, is (roughly) 265 miles. SNCF ran TGV trains along Paris-Lyon and then, at slower speeds, along legacy track to reach a variety of destinations. If Amtrak fully double tracked and (compatibly) electrified the feeder lines to NYP-WAS, it could emulate the French. Harrisburg-Philadelphia and New York-Boston are already fully double tracked and electrified, so there’s a start. New York-Albany (or Schenectady), New Haven-Springfield, Washington-Richmond (which would need triple tracking, I think), Washington-Charlottesville (or Lynchburg), hell, even New York-Montauk, could be added at no great expense (low single digit billions for the lot).

    • Woody

      Really, the NEC is NYC-D.C. Sorry, but NYC-BOS is a glorified feeder line that will cost tons of money to get up to speed, as Alon’s maps, and the discussion below, make painfully clear.

      So NYC-D.C. is the top priority. Get it up to as near to 220 mph as soon as possible. Worry about the damn curves in Connecticut somewhere down the line.

      I could see connecting Boston’s North Station and South Station before trying to straighten out the Connecticut shoreline. That would make the Downeaster a feeder line for sure, and open the proposed line BOS-Nashua-Manchester Airport-Concord NH.

      Meanwhile, put another half billion into the Keystone Corridor to Harrisburg, and two or three billion to electrify the route through to Pittsburgh. Spend a few billion on the Empire Corridor all the way to Buffalo, far past Albany.

      But the big expansion in feeder lines is to the south. Not just electrify D.C.-Richmond, as you suggest, but D.C.-Richmond-Newport News/Norfolk, yes, both routes to the Tidewater region. And D.C.-Richmond-Raleigh-Greensboro-Charlotte is urgent work. The first round of HSR grants skipped over Old Virginny, but treated North Carolina nicely. VA should get much money for the next round, and meanwhile NC is getting the R-O-W in place to make electrification the logical next step.

      Love your notion to upgrade D.C.-Charlottesville as well. It now carries the Crescent, a Regional (and likely more where that came from), as well as the Cardinal three days a week. The Cardinal isn’t going to die; it will be made a daily train. Longer term the Midwest initiative has marked down Chicago-Indianapolis-Cincinnati for 110 mph service. Maybe Harry Byrd will live to see fast trains crossing West Virginia!

      But that line D.C.-Charlottesville-Lynchburg, hey, don’t stop there. Next station is Danbury, then at Greensboro plug into that by-then electrified North Carolina route going to Charlotte. And Atlanta is just 250 miles ahead.

      This expansive view of the NEC, electrifying half the East Coast as feeder lines, will get more support in Congress than spending billions to shave minutes off the New England line, and it will serve the needs of more people too.

      • jim

        Calmate, Woody. Keep it simple. Keep its cost down. Keep it achievable reasonably quickly.

        Think in terms of what can be accomplished by 2017. 2017 is when ARC is scheduled to open, which would allow Amtrak to reclaim some of the capacity in the North Tunnels. 2017 is also when the first segment of California HSR is currently scheduled to be operational :). Think in terms of a $20B price tag. $20B is roughly what CHSRA is looking for from the Feds. $20B by 2017 is roughly $3B/yr, which is obtainable.

        Electrification of feeder lines is to enable run-through of HST, so as to create more destinations. WAS-NYP has station stops in only five MSAs. Those MSAs contain 35 million people (the total population of all the MSAs that California HSR will eventually serve is only 32 million), but there’s only five of them. NYP-BOS adds another five, for nearly another 9 million people. Keystone East adds another three MSAs for another million and a half people. New Haven-Springfield another two for another two million people and NYP-ALB another two for nearly another two million people. WAS-RVR adds only Richmond for just over a million people and WAS-CVS just Charlottesville for less than a quarter of a million people. The southern feeders aren’t as efficient as the northern feeders.

        Cost is an issue. Double-tracking and electrifying New Haven-Springfield is roughly half a billion. Double tracking the Empire Connection and hanging catenary through Albany, maybe another half-billion. The justification for WAS-CVS is that double-tracking it, electrifying, modifying the curve geometry and resignaling would run around half a billion. By contrast, triple-tracking WAS-RVR (quad-tracking in a couple of strategic locations), electrifying, fixing geometry and resignaling will run around a billion and a half. Again the northern feeders are cheap, the southern, not so much.

        It’s worse when we consider extending the feeders. To get to Hampton Roads, it’d require building the ACCA bypass, rebuilding the train side of Richmond Main St. Station, a new bridge over the James, a lot of double track on the Peninsula side, third and fourth track on the southside. Plus electrification etc. Maybe three billion dollars. To add a single MSA with less than two million people.

        Similar calculations for Pittsburgh and west of Albany.

        Then there’s the run-through time. 220 mph will bring the NYP-WAS time down to about 1:50 (from the present 2:52). Run-through shouldn’t much more than double this or the gain from the high speed segment becomes too diluted. Richmond, Charlottesville, Albany are all within two hours of the Washington-New York axis. Lynchburg, Norfolk, Pittsburgh aren’t. Currently New York-Pittsburgh takes nine and a half hours. Electrifying Harrisburg-Pittsburgh and running a high speed train through might get it down to seven, seven and a half hours. BFD.

        You’re right, though, that opening to Charlottesville is the first step in getting to Atlanta. But we aren’t going to get there just by electrifying the existing lines. We’ll need new 220 mph capable tracks. Washington-Richmond isn’t the right route. The RF&P sub simply is too curvy to sustain speeds much above 90 mph. Plus it runs in the wrong direction. Washington-Greensboro is 100 miles longer via Richmond and Raleigh than via the old Southern Railway mainline. But that’s well past 2017.

      • Woody

        Jim — Thanks for the cost estimates. Very helpful in thinking about this. Actually, I have a hunch that all your bids are low, looking at what other projects underway and proposals under consideration are running. But your estimates give a good way to compare these routes against each other.

        But, hey, I was trying to keep the costs down. That’s why I’m ready to spend what it takes on NYC-D.C. with its five MSAs and 35 million people. I just don’t want to spend that much on NYC-BOS. The maths don’t work so well for those five puny MSAs and their 9 million people.

        What I want people to get away from is saying, “Spend half on D.C.-NYC and the other half on NYC-BOS.” (btw I didn’t check your numbers, but it looks like you gave all of the NYC MSA to the southern half and none to the northern half. But doublecounting the NYC metro gets the BOS feeder line to 18 million, still not half the population of the D.C. half.

        Hell no, not worth spending half the NEC funds ironing out wrinkles in the Connecticut shoreline. And growth rates are almost stagnant for all the NEC metros except D.C., while growth is robust in NoVa and Tidewater, the Triangle and Charlotte. So that points me south.

        Perhaps betraying my roots in FlyoverLand, I always look at growing the existing Amtrak system. Making it faster, better, more frequent, and adding new service. I’m glad to see many opportunities for HSR and the Amtrak system to complement each other.

        Meanwhile there are shortcoming in the Amtrak route map that it would be disgraceful to allow to continue, but easy to repair with a little growth. The lack of any Amtrak service to Columbus, OH, was one of the worst omissions. The recent partial funding the 3-Cs trains will take care of that one.

        But those 3-C trains will in turn highlight the absurdity that Cleveland has no daylight connections to Chicago or the East Coast. And no rail connection to Detroit, still a huge MSA whatever the sorry status of the city itself. I actually see improved service on the Empire Corridor, more trains right away and faster ones soonish, as essential to getting faster trains into Cleveland during the daytime.

        Maybe I’m too skeptical to have focused on ARC’s date to open 2017. I’m so old that I voted for a bond issue to pay for the Second Avenue Subway and with my own eyes saw it under construction, over 35 years ago. But I agree that whenever ARC opens, it will have an impact on Amtrak and the Acela service.

        Personally, I’d want extra capacity to go to doubling the frequency of the Acela or Acela2. The fast trains now leave Penn Station every hour on the hour. If I get to the station 5 minutes after the hour, I’ll waste more time hanging around waiting for the next train they will save me by spending $10 or $20 billion upgrading to something close to 220 mph service. So give me Acelas on the half hour. And I’ll want Keystone departures at least every hour, so Philly gets almost a ‘turn up and go’ schedule of three very fast trains every hour. Regionals using the current Acela equipment can run at least hourly, slowed down mostly because the Regionals will make the local stops.

        And all those long distance trains that now pull out of Penn Station? I want to double the frequency of every existing long distance train, even those that are now state-subsidized like the Pennsylvanian. Have the new section leave 10 to 14 hours after the first train, so every city on the route would get daylight service and post-midnight stops as well. So twice the Empire Service trains to Niagara Falls, the Vermonter, Ethan Allan also to Vermont, the Adirondacker to Montreal, the Maple Leaf to Toronto, and the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago; some of these come heading north from D.C., while others begin in NYC.

        In the other direction it’s Virginia’s trains to Newport News, Richmond, and Charlottesville-Lynchburg; the Cardinal and Crescent down through Charlottesville, one heading west to Cincinnati-Chicago, the other to Charlotte-Atlanta-New Orleans; the Silver Star and Silver Meteor to Miami; and the Palmetto that now stops too short at Savannah. (An aside: Jacksonville MSA was about 625,000 when Amtrak was founded, but it’s about 1.3 million today. Meanwhile the Sunset Limited has been dropped and the Palmetto only reaches Savannah, a few hours away. Alon, You’re right. Sometimes, we do blame Amtrak.)

        So I want to double the number of these trains too. And I see that soon the tunnel under the Hudson will be filled up again. Union Station in D.C. will get filled up too. Already they say the l.d. trains sometimes slow down the Acelas. If Acela2 is going a lot faster, and I want twice as many of them per hour, we’ll need to spend a lot of money on the NEC tracks to D.C. to handle these l.d. trains too. In fact, we’d want the long distance trains to use electric locomotives out of Penn Station and switch to diesel down the way. Doing all the switching in D.C. might be a hassle, so maybe easier to run the electric trains down to Richmond or Charlottesville — or even Charlotte in some cases — and make the changeover there?

        Now I’m not talking about what needs to be in place by 2017. More like, If the ARC tunnel opens up capacity, how can we maximize that impact? In that case, and with that longer timeframe, and an interest in speeding up Amtrak’s l.d. trains where we can, then many of our opportunities will lie to the south.

      • The costs of getting the non-NEC lines up to speed may not be any lower than the costs of upgrading NYP-BOS to high speed. The curve radii may be bigger in Virginia than in Connecticut, but the property values aren’t much lower, the sides of the ROW are just as developed, and using I-95 as an alternative is considerably harder. (The one exception is Richmond-Hampton Roads, which is dead straight.)

        Another problem is that none of these lines is built to modern standards. High-speed rail means not just high curve radii and grade separations, but also concrete sleepers, precise track geometry, and a deep ballast. Run a high-speed train on tracks with lax standards, and the wheel-rail squeal could damage the train and make it unable to run fast on high-speed track, or shorten maintenance intervals; this is one of the issues created by the proposed Transbay Terminal’s tight curves. The express tracks in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and most of Connecticut, are already built for fast service – they just need wider curves. In Virginia, you’d have to spend some amount of money just on track repairs.

        Getting Virginia up to decent speed on legacy track would just delay HSR construction on the same route. Such capital spending would depreciate very fast, on the order of 10-20 years instead of 50-100. If the cost of building full-fat HSR mirrored French costs, it would be $15 million per km, or $10 billion for DC-Charlotte. If it mirrored what SNCF thinks it’ll cost in the US, it would be $30 million per km, or $20 billion.

        The cost of stringing catenary on a line is not high. The Acela project’s electrification ended up costing $650 million, and covered the 360 km of New York-Boston, including New York-New Haven reelectrification. This included severe cost overruns. At the same cost per km, New York-Albany would be $400 million; track upgrade may not be necessary for 110 mph feeder service. It’s just Virginia where the track is a problem.

        As for ridership, you should be thinking in terms of city pairs. The most important city pairs on the NEC are NY-DC, NY-Boston, and NY-Philly, in this order. The NY-Philly distance is too short; on the much longer Tokyo-Nagoya section, which is comparable to NY-DC, the Shinkansen has only about a 30% market share, as most people drive. Boston-Philly and Boston-DC are at ideal distance for HSR, and have approximately zero current Amtrak ridership, but the travel markets are somewhat smaller to begin with.

        Getting rail to work elsewhere is partly a matter of being able to cross-subsidize, partly a matter of getting the FRA to stop sabotaging passenger rail, and partly a matter of not thinking like a steam railroad. Drop an ICE-TD on the better-maintained tracks and run it the way DB would run it, and see what happens then.

      • jim

        “The NY-Philly distance is too short”

        NYP-PHL is 95 miles. London-Birmingham is 113. NYP-PHL should be doable in under 45 minutes. London-Birmingham is estimated at 49 minutes. Philadelphia has roughly twice the population of Birmingham. The New York MSA has roughly twice the population of London’d “Large Urban Zone”. Surely we should expect more potential HSR ridership between New York and Philadelphia than between London and Birmingham.

        Network Rail’s Strategic Business Case assumed four tph just between London and Birmingham (and presumably riders to fill ‘em). The new HS2 report envisages 3 tph at all times, rising to 4 at peak, between London and Birmingham (which is all of HS2 that will exist at first).

        Amtrak should consider the parallel.

      • Network Rail’s plans are messed up in many ways, starting with their assumption that London-Birmingham-Manchester is going to require more trains per hour than Tokyo-Nagoya-Osaka. Either the branching is so inefficient it forces higher tph counts for the same traffic, or Network Rail is pulling numbers out of thin air.

        NY-Philly is 144 km on the NEC, which is much lower than the optimal distance for HSR, at about 500 km. For a significant chunk of the microdestination pairs, e.g. any where the Greater New York end is west of the Hudson, driving would be substantially cheaper and not much slower.

      • Adirondacker12800

        …you’ve never parked in Philadelphia have you? Or been stuck in traffic on the Turnpike or Route 1….

      • My admittedly limited experience is that I-95 is a fast cruise; the problem is getting out of Manhattan. Here’s a tip: do not try to go through the Holland Tunnel at 4 in the afternoon, unless you have 2 hours to burn. But if your point of departure is anywhere in Jersey that’s not right next to Newark Penn, the difference isn’t too big.

      • Woody

        Alon — Are you forgetting that the majority of households in NYC, myself included, do not own a car? A very fast train to Philly is an attractive proposition for half of NYC.

        Well, the Acela price is damn ugly, not attractive at all, gimme a Bolt Bus. But my hope is that very fast trains of Acela II would allow much faster and cheaper Regionals to get me to Philly in less than an hour at a reasonable rate.

      • For people living in NYC, the Acela would probably command a high mode share versus the car. But my concern is about competitiveness for people who do not live in the city, but in the rest of the metro area. I can see a future Acela charge reasonable fares in coach, instead of only running business and first class. But even that would not be enough to get people in Bergen County to stop driving to Philadelphia.

        Don’t forget that Tokyo has the same car ownership as New York, and its suburbs’ car ownership isn’t much higher. The Shinkansen still has only a 30% mode share on Tokyo-Nagoya; the majority of travelers on that market drive. (Bear in mind, 30% would be huge for the Acela, which currently gets either 6% or 14% on NY-DC, depending on which report you read.)

  • Brett

    Well the problem in Metro-North territory is not the tracks or capacity. It’s that MNRR owns the tracks and limits the speed limit to 90mph, to make dispatching easier, they claim. The only way Amtrak is getting around that is either the FRA forcing them to raise the speed limits, a new federal law, or by somehow convincing MNRR to sell. Since none of those 3 are happening, Amtrak will have to build a new alignment, which will be prohibitively expensive.

    • Nathanael

      If Amtrak suddenly came into a lot of money and Metro-North didn’t, MNRR would sell. Remember that Metro-North is *starving* for money as part of the MTA right now.

      Of course it’s all complicated by the fact that Metro-North doesn’t actually own any of the system, it *leases* it (on a very long-term basis) from a property holding company, with the right to purchase in the distant future. Amtrak, if it really came into a lot of money, could always buy the underlying freehold….

  • dist

    Maybe the answer should be for Amtrack to envision some sort of joint-venture(s) with JR Central, SNCF or the DB.

  • Dan Berez

    I remember a while back Alon posted a link to a google map he made of some of the investments that would have to be made in order to increase speeds on the NEC. I would love to see Yonah make a map based on Alon’s ideas. Maybe a special feature like NY regional rail? pretty please.

    • Bear in mind, my map was done while viewing the line at fairly low resolution. As a result, it overbuilds some parts and underbuilds others.

      For examples: the Darien bypass could be done a few hundred meters further north at grade, with eminent domain costing a fraction of what a tunnel would cost. But the transition curves to the Bridgeport tunnels, at Commerce and Stratford, would have to be in tunnel as well because of curve radius issues.

  • Would it be better to either:
    A) Create a whole new alignment from DC to Boston on mainly using I-95 ROW for true high speed rail service, it could even be on an aerial or something?
    B) Just create a new alignment from New York to Providence and just add 2 new tracks where necessary to the rest of the Northeast Corridor with some minor changes as have been mentioned before such as straightening some curves and adding some new bridges and tunnels.
    I mean what would the costs be relative to one another? Next where can we get the money?

    • If we’re going to play with pretend money, I’d argue that the real goal should be an HSL along the I-84/I-90 corridor via Hartford and Worcester with classical railway line connections to Springfield, MA.

      just add 2 new tracks

      In theory, I’d argue that in the commuter corridor between New York and Philadelphia, Amtrak should consider the set up used on the Koeln-Duren ABS where the slow lines are consigned to one side of the track, while the faster services are on the other, potentially in a slow slow slow | fast fast set up.

      • Walter Sobchak

        I agree that New Haven-Hartford-Worcester may be better than using the Shore Line or an I-95 route, but even this has its problems, as the New Haven-Hartford Line is largely at grade through the centers of towns and would require some real expensive and intrusive work through the state, and expanding it to three or four tracks is nearly impossible (not to mention CSX’s Cedar Hill Yard in New Haven needs to use this line) .

        Has anyone ever looked at the old Air Line between New Haven and Boston that runs through Middletown, CT? I think it’s rarely used for freight now, and double tracking the line may be possible, but I’m not that familiar with its state. This could be a route bypassing the I-91 corridor up to Hartford, then a new route could take the line by UConn’s main campus on the way to Worcester and Boston, or just across the state to Providence and up to Boston. Some redundancy for the high speed line is probably needed anyway, in case of hurricane damage to the Shore Line that would be mitigated by being inland (also hitting the Hartford area’s 1.2 million people should be a priority over New London’s quarter of a million).

      • Since I presumed magical money, I’m also presuming some type of tunnel under Northern Westchester, use of the MNRR Harlem ROW, and a connector to the Amtrak ROW.

        The real problem is that we need to bypass the MNRR owned portion of the New Haven, and using I-95 is out of the question given the narrow ROW, NIMBYs, and tunneling may be questionable (or expensive) given water table issues along the shore.

      • Better than a tunnel under Westchester would be to use the Old Putnam right-of-way; it goes from MNR’s Highbridge Yard all the way up to Brewster, where you can connect to either the I-84 right-of-way or a lightly used freight line.

        I’m sure there are some challenges to adapting the Old Put to high-speed rail, not least that it runs through some wealthy backyards whose NIMBYism would put Palo Alto to shame. But there’s no competition from existing commuter service!

      • JamesL

        The Airline route through Middletown is way too curvy in eastern Connecticut for high speed service.

      • There’s no need for a tunnel through Westchester – just increase cant deficiencies, and accept lower speeds until you hit New Rochelle.

        The Metro-North restrictions are not based in reality, and the FRA and Amtrak are more than capable of exercising power to eliminate them. This should free the New Haven Line to increase top speeds and cant deficiencies, and allow Amtrak to bypass curves one by one instead of carve a greenfield right of way through 90 kilometers of favored-quarter suburbs.

        And even if for some reason the entire New Haven Line was unavailable, the Merritt Parkway would be a far stronger candidate for replacement ROW than I-84.

      • Walter Sobchak

        The Merritt is way too curvy to support any type of rail ROW, and good luck getting anything built in northern Greenwich, northern Stamford, or New Canaan, and I-84 is much too hilly (and rural). The New Haven Line is the only realistic option anyway, but it’s good to hypothesize.

    • Nathanael

      OK, if we’re playing with fantasy money:

      Quad-track the LIRR main line and re-electrify with overhead catenary. Then build the Long Island Sound Tunnel to New London. How’s THAT for a cutoff bypassing Metro-North?

  • JackRussell

    I don’t blame Amtrak – their job was to somehow keep trains running on a shoestring budget, and in order to get the few $$ they got, they had to cater to various politicians who wanted train stations in out of the way places.

    • Well, I do blame Amtrak, whose incremental improvement plan includes a lot of chaff like Moynihan Station and avoids the necessary increases in cant deficiency. It’s those problems that turned what should have been a $2.5 billion incremental proposal into an $11 billion project.

      • Woody

        I’m not happy about plans to spend a billion on Moynihan Station (or even half a billion if I recall incorrectly). I’d prefer to put half a billion or a billion to work on the Empire Corridor in Upstate NY, try to get an hour or two out of that schedule, increase frequency from 4 trains a day each way, extend a train to serve Cleveland in the daylight.

        But I don’t get the sense that Moynihan Station is a burning desire of Amtrak planners, execs, or board members. I blame the real management of Amtrak, that is, Senators and House members. Congresscritters want it. Some are looking to honor the late Sen. Moynihan, some are hoping to repair history by creating a decent replacement for the desecrated Penn Station, and others prefer *buildings* to other rail investments.

        Well, we haven’t seen a major and successful upgrade to rail on the East Coast lately to serve as a model for what could be done with the billion planned for the Moynihan Station. The Acela was only partly successful, the Keystone Corridor is a work-in-progress, electrifying the section from New Haven to Boston is 15-year-old news. So it’s hard to point to an upgraded route and say to Sen Schumer and his colleagues, “Better to do something like THIS with the Empire Corridor.”

        Maybe one of the Stimulus-funded upgrades, maybe St Louis-Chicago or Raleigh-Charlotte, will get New York’s delegation off its edifice complex and into supporting upgrades to actual operating train routes instead.

      • Brett

        Moynihan Station is NOT an Amtrak project. This is being pushed by local politicos and congress. Amtrak for years resisted being any part of it because they would have to pay for part of it. Now NYC has agreed to pay for all of it, so Amtrak is going to move into it. But as long as Amtrak had to pay for the station, they wanted nothing to do with it. Its more a pride thing for the local politicians.

      • First, Moynihan isn’t the only chaff in Amtrak’s plans – it’s just the biggest. More problems include plans to four-track instead of bypass curvy track sections in Maryland, and spend hundreds of millions on upgrading the Hell Gate Bridge.

        Second, nobody forced Amtrak to bundle $1.3 billion for Moynihan with the rest of the NEC upgrade plan.

        And third, the big elephant in the room is total equivalent cant. Right now, the maximum allowed in Connecticut is 175 mm: 100 mm cant, 75 mm cant deficiency. At that cant, even 200 km/h requires a curve radius of 2.7 km. Amtrak’s making no plans to increase the cant or cant deficiency levels significantly: in Connecticut it wants cant deficiency up to 127 mm, which only cuts the 200 km/h curve radius to 2 km. Meanwhile, Talgos are capable of running at 319 mm cant deficiency, and tracks are routinely capable of supporting them with 150 mm cant, cutting down the 200 km/h curve radius to 1 km.

      • dejv

        Meanwhile, Talgos are capable of running at 319 mm cant deficiency

        Really? That would be higher than Alstom’s Pendolinos that can do 270-300 mm. Talgo America states 7.2 in for their VII and VIII series, equivalent to 180 mm. So total cant is then 330 mm, minimum radius for 200 km/h is 1430.3 m and minimum speed (assuming maximum cant excess 70 mm) is 100 km/h, so one must be careful to avoid such curves at station approaches.

      • No, not really – it turns out I misremembered and the 318 mm cant deficiency trains are Pendolinos. Sorry.

  • Walter Sobchak

    For the New Haven-Providence section, would almost an entirely new line through the woods of SE Connecticut, with a stop near the casinos, be a possibility? I’m sure eminent domain would be a huge issue, but the area east of New Haven is pretty sparsely populated away from the coast and speed benefits of an air line from NH to Pro could mean the train makes the 90 miles in a half hour or less.

  • OceanRailroader

    They need to start breaking the bottle necks at the major tunnels and bridges maybe they could widen the three track sections to four and five tracks and give a pair of tracks for local trains only. If they start wideining the mainline from three to five tracks they could install a up dated version of the Pennsyvinia Catenary masts to go over the new wider tracks.

  • Peter Brassard

    One possibility for attaining 220 m.p.h. speeds along the Northeast Corridor rail line might be informed by taking a cue from Japan’s Shinkansen. In Japan’s densest urban corridors the Shinkansen’s tracks are elevated over the conventional tracks that regional and freight trains use. The separation allows for high speeds and curve corrections,as well as very wide platforms at stations. In rural areas the Shinkansen tracks are usually located on the ground. Since much of the Northeast Corridor is urbanized and already packed with regional, commuter, and freight trains, an approach such as this could achieve the goals high speed and even safety with the grade separation. Also disruption to existing train service could be minimized during the construction period.

    • Jason

      I agree.

      The challenge is that in many places on the NEC, you have both over and underpasses in close proximity.

      Another, more incremental approach is to increase speeds of other intercity and commuter trains so that the Acela can get virtually exclusive use of a pair of tracks. Right now, on the 4 track sections of the railroad, Amtrak trains share a pair, and the commuter trains share another pair (S|F|F|S). Eliminating on-corridor regional trains (125 mph) and replacing them with additional Acelas, and having long distance and commuter trains share the slow tracks at ~110 mph would significantly increase capacity. Right now, the “fast” tracks have 135 mph acelas, 125 mph regionals, and 110 mph LD trains, while the “slow” tracks have commuter trains that operate anywhere from 80 mph to 110 mph. It is a dispatching nightmare.

      • jim

        Amtrak would still need to run Regionals: the commuter trains don’t sufficiently overlap: how would someone get from Trenton to Newark DE without changing trains twice? But there shouldn’t be a problem mixing Regionals, LD and commuters on the “slow” tracks, particularly if the tracks are arranged SSFF, so that Regionals can overtake commuters. Then the “fast” tracks can be dedicated to (hopefully 220 mph) Acela II.

        A problem, though, with assigning the tracks SSFF is that existing non-Acela stations have their platforms facing the outside tracks, so all the stations would need reconfiguring (and the “slow” tracks through the stations moved to permit the reconfiguration).

      • Jason

        I was thinking that “regionals” would be trains that operate at the same speed as Acela, but make more stops.

        And I could go on and on about the need for corridor-wide express commuter service.

      • SSFF doesn’t help anything in operation: it makes it impossible to have overtakes or cross-platform transfers, both of which are necessary to improve local-express service. Wrong-way overtakes on the slow tracks limit capacity too much to be useful on a busy railroad.

        It’s kind of a moot issue anyway, because the only place where commuter traffic is a genuine capacity problem is the New Haven Line, which needs bypasses anyway. On the heaviest-trafficked section in New Jersey, north of Rahway, the NEC is mostly six-tracked, allowing express commuter trains to bypass locals without mucking the Acela tracks.

  • Tom Beebe

    Brassard;s comments give a clue to a national system. If we don’t “spread the wealth around” so much that nothing is left for infrastructure improvements in the next few decades, perhaps we could start an Interstate Railroad System, similar in scope to the Interstate Highway system. The most important physical component of this system would place passenger traffic on an elevated magnetic levitation right-of-way structure which also supports conductors for the conventionally electrified freight system beneath it. The most important political-economic component would be privately owned trains, both passenger and freight, on a publicly-owned railway system, with passenger-mile or ton-mile charges to pay down the bonds that build this system and to maintain it and its traffic control. Where existing rights-or-way can be used, the present owners would be compensated by this new system through funds to be tax-exempt if used to purchase rolling stock, further assuring a viable privately-owned industry on a publicly-owned infra-structure. Sorta sounds ike the Interstate highway system we now have. By the way, this from a far-right Libertarian who wants to see all industry segmented between that which is inherently monopolistic (like power transmission and distribution) and that into which the discipline of competition can be effective, (like power production), with the former regulated and the latter much freer to stimulate efficiencies through free enterprise. OK, pie-in-the-sky? Let’s hear the comments of you who are better informed.

    • 電車男

      > Tom Beebe

      That sounds like a good plan, except for the insistence on elevated maglevs for the passenger component. Although a few (probably elevated in places) new dedicated high-speed lines should be built as well, most of the country would be better served by modern regional rail, something like the conventional trains operated by Japan’s JR Group. We could build a very comprehensive railway system by rebuilding former rail corridors, which exist all over the country. This system would share tracks with freight trains where necessary, although freight bypasses and other separations would be possible as well. The rolling stock would run on conventional rails–modern trains (high speed, commuter, local, etc.) would be more than enough to meet America’s needs. Electrification would be a priority, but DMUs could be used where catenary has yet to be built. Using existing, reliable technology would also be much cheaper than trying to build a massive maglev system. By using former rail corridors and improving existing freight corridors, construction costs would also be reduced, since no new grades would need to be built.

    • Nathanael

      “By the way, this from a far-right Libertarian who wants to see all industry segmented between that which is inherently monopolistic (like power transmission and distribution) and that into which the discipline of competition can be effective, (like power production), with the former regulated and the latter much freer to stimulate efficiencies through free enterprise.”

      Sounds good to this far-left libertarian ;-) except that the inherently monopolistic ones should be government agencies outright. :-)

  • Mason Hicks

    Are there any DMUs available now that meet the current FRA Crash Survivability standards as discussed in depth above? I know Colorado RailCar’s did, but I don’t have a clear picture of who can produce that design since they went under.

  • Outside of the Northeast, Amtrak should be more focused on improving emerging corridors like the Cascades and the Southeast. Furthermore, with the national carrier threatening to pull the plug on Sunrail, I seriously doubt that Florida officials would be enthusiastic about Amtrak running high-speed service, especially when its current LD route structure is sparse and convoluted between MIA and TPA.

    Perhaps, the best thing that could happen to Amtrak is for them to stay away from the new HSR corridors in CA and FL and learn from their potential competitors.

  • Spokker

    “Furthermore, with the national carrier threatening to pull the plug on Sunrail, I seriously doubt that Florida officials would be enthusiastic about Amtrak running high-speed service”

    Florida is no saint. Their HSR plan is the pits, anyway.

  • orulz

    How about this for a proposal to bypass the Shore Line: Run a new high speed line along Long Island.

    The LIRR main line is already much straighter than the Shore Line, so they wouldn’t even have to modify the curves all that much. They would have to do something along the lines of what CAHSR is doing for the Caltrain line on the peninsula: fully grade-separate it, add another pair of tracks, and hang catenary. LI is famous for its Nimbys, but then so is the SF Peninsula… if CA can do it, so can NY. Only a very few curves are significant enough to need heavy engineering: a mile-long tunnel under Hicksville, and perhaps another one under Farmingdale. The rest of the curves could probably be straightened enough to allow a steady 150mph, with only a few property takes.

    So, figure $10-15 billion for reconstructing 80 miles of the LIRR, roughly from Jamaica to Greenport.

    The other big project would be crossing Long Island Sound. This would have to be a tunnel. I would invision the tunnel starting just west of Greenport, extending under downtown New London, and ending in the I-95 median just east of there. That tunnel would be 25 miles long, 15 miles of which would be underwater. This is highly comparable in scope to either the Chunnel or the Seikan tunnel. Figure a cost of $10-15 billion.

    A pretty penny to be sure, but it also avoids the utter political impossibility of cutting a brand new right-of-way through suburban Connecticut.

    Of course there would have to be some stations on LI. I suggest Jamaica and Ronkonkoma. Jamaica for obvious reasons: the LIRR, subway, and JFK AirTrain connections. Ronkonkoma mostly because it’s a pretty central location with a huge park & ride. It also offers the somewhat dubious benefit of another airport connection (via shuttle bus) with ISP.

    I doubt folks further out on LI would be interested in a station. I’d hazard a guess that they’re probably not to keen on making it easy and quick for other people to get there.

    Given that it would be impossible to build a new route through Providence (and not even necessary since trains would stop there anyway) the only remaining curvy segment would be the 30 miles between New London and Shannock. Some combination of the I-95 median and a greenfield ROW might do there.

    • First, 130 kilometers of at-grade high-speed rail cost at most $5 billion; $2.5 billion is more in line with European HSR costs.

      But the underwater tunnel would be so expensive there’s really no point. If the goal is to get NY-Boston runtimes down at minimum cost, then even plowing a straight railroad through suburbs in northern Stamford and Greenwich should be cheaper than building a new underwater tunnel.

      • orulz

        Yes – that’s for 130km of at grade HSR, presumably going mostly through countryside where there’s little in the way of NIMBY mitigation to worry about.

        Upgrading the LIRR to support HSR would firstly not be an entirely at-grade affair. Much of it would probably wind up in a trench, or elevated on a structure or berm. Not to mention the aesthetic and noise mitigation that must be done in a suburban area that isn’t needed in the middle of the french countryside.

        I recognize that a new underwater tunnel would be ridiculously expensive. Even though a brand new right of way through suburban Connecticut probably would be cheaper, it would also be politically impossible. This is not a land where projects are judged objectively based on their costs and benefits. Folks like Robert Moses took that concept way overboard and now we’re living in a world where things snapped back way too far in the opposite direction.

        If rich, connected people living in CT can call up their senators and get them to pull funding for such a project, then it is impossible.

        The perceived impacts of improving an existing railroad for HSR are less than that of the percieved impacts of making a brand new right-of-way, though far from inconsequential. Part of the appeal of CAHSR on the peninsula is that it will electrify and grade separate a line that is currently not. The grade separation certainly applies to the LIRR which has numerous grade crossings. Electification sort of applies as well; there is currently none east of Ronkonkoma, and catenary would allow commuter trains to run through to NJ.

      • But Long Islanders wouldn’t support the project any more than Connecticut residents… the Main Line triple tracking encountered so much opposition the MTA pulled the plug on it.

        Connecticut doesn’t need that much new ROW – for most of the way you could use I-95, the existing line with minor easements, or US 1. The only places where new ROW is necessary are eastern Stamford-Darien and Bridgeport, and both can be tunneled at much lower cost than an undersea tunnel. It’s just that doing things at grade is cheaper, even in Darien.

        And at any rate, eminent domain only happens if the owners refuse to sell. SNCF defuses the issue by overcompensating landowners, ensuring they sell voluntarily.

      • Adirondacker12800

        Alon, they have been trying to widen Ye Olde Boston Post Roade for ninety years. The NIMBYs have stopped it. You aren’t going to build an El over it either.

      • It depends on which section… First of all, the only section that’s at all useful is in Darien and Norwalk. Second, on that section, where it runs through downtown Darien I-95 is a suitable alternative. It’s only really that important further north, where it’s flanked by gigantic parking lots feeding the local Wal-Mart; there I-95 bends in a 900-meter radius curve, which cannot be eased much without slicing through suburban Norwalk. US 1 provides a suitable ROW on which Amtrak could build a 4 km curve at zero eminent domain.

      • Nathanael

        Please cite to the MTA’s “pulling the plug” on the Main Line triple tracking. As far as I can tell that plan is still fully in place, and they just moved the funds for it to something else due to the budget crunch.

        But they’re still triple-tracking every time they rebuild a station, overpass, undergrade bridge, et cetera.

      • Oh, the plan is still around. It was just the first thing to be cut when the budget projections turned sour. If I’m not mistaken they postponed it as early as 2008.

  • OceanRailroader

    I made a youtube video of what the Washingtion DC to Petersuburg VA high speed rail line could look like with new up graded catenary and high speed train on it.

  • Peter Brassard

    Robert Moses proposed extending a highway from Long Island to Rhode Island in the 1950s by leapfrogging the small islands that separate Long Island and Block Island Sounds with bridges. The money couldn’t be found then and it would be less likely to find funding for a rail tunnel to New London today. That kind of heroic infrastructure gesture might work in Europe or Japan, but it won’t work here. Americans are more comfortable supporting infrastructure, like highway or railroads, when projects are perceived to be more egalitarian or democratic. Other regions would feel ignored and marginalized by such an expensive single project for the northeast.

    The government’s current policy of establishing high-speed rail corridors is too timid and fragmented to capture the imagination of the entire country. The big idea is absent. Why would the roughly 1/3 of the states support a system that wouldn’t serve them or if it did it wouldn’t be for 20 to 30 years? How would cities in one high-speed rail region be connected to a neighboring city in another region? In the current plan the only integrated regions are the Northeast, Southeast, and a portion of the Gulf area. The other five proposed regions would be disconnected islands. The proposal is not a system, but a patchwork.

    Tom Beebe’s notion of an “Interstate Railroad System” could capture Americans imagination. An elevated high-speed rail network that could link all cities and most states would be an idea the country could rally behind. The idea of a publicly owned infrastructure managed by government, but used by competing private rail networks would be a similar the Interstate Highway System or airport system. Allowing for competing rail services by private companies could bridge the traditional divide between conservative and liberal interests. Beebe made good points suggesting the implementation of user fees to pay down bonds and tax-exemptions to support service providers towards equipment purchases. A private-public rail partnership might be the best way to successfully construct an American high-speed rail system.

    • First, why would an interstate railroad system have to be elevated? At-grade construction is several times cheaper, and is sufficient everywhere except in a few urban sections. Even on the Northeast Corridor, few sections outside the various I-95/US 1 bypasses in Fairfield County need to be elevated.

      Second, the various proposals do have a nationwide network. Sometimes they’re even overzealous in proposing HSR on corridors where the only service that’s cost effective is modern diesel or electric service, running lightweight tilting trains on existing track topping at 130-180 km/h. People in Tuscaloosa would be perfectly capable of riding a regional train to Atlanta and then connecting to New York or Chicago. Connected networks don’t have to give every node the highest class of service. Even Interstate planners recognize that, which is why remote rural areas get 4-lane roads and urban areas get 20-lane roads.

      • Peter Brassard

        An entire system wouldn’t have to be elevated, though if you want 130-220 mph service in many places, especially urban areas, elevating tracks would be the only way to achieve those kinds of speeds. As for the Northeast Corridor most of it would likely need to be elevated.

        In Connecticut west of New Haven due to track curves and extreme congestion with commuter and regional trains the Acela never approaches its top speed range. In Massachusetts the commonwealth owns the Northeast Corridor tracks and restricts the total number of trains that Amtrak can operate through the state as to not conflict with MBTA commuter service. Rhode Island is re-introducing commuter rail service. The Rhode Island corridor previously had the ability to accommodate four tracks, now only a maximum of three tracks is possible, since Amtrak shifted new tracks off-center when they electrified the stretch east of New Haven roughly a decade ago. The New Jersey corridor is similar to Connecticut with heavy commuter rail, regional, and freight traffic. Freight trains would have to be forbidden on any high-speed corridor to prevent track deterioration. I’ve yet to see a 20-lane Interstate highway, unless Los Angeles or New Jersey has one that I’m not aware of. To avoid the freight train problem, four tracks would be required as a minimum everywhere for a high-speed rail system. As for proposing bi-passes, acquiring land in any built up area would cost as much an elevating tracks. Not to mention the enormous opposition that would build up by property owners with any proposal to take land.

        It might not be necessary for every high-speed rail line to reach every village or hamlet, but any metropolitan area above 200,000 people should be included as stops in any high-speed system. The Interstate Highway System though it doesn’t go everywhere is ubiquitous within the American landscape. It is interconnected and reaches large and small populations alike. If a high-speed rail system is not fully integrated and connected to all regions, it won’t work as well and rail service would continue to have difficulty competing with the airlines. The current federal proposal for high-speed rail would only provide a fraction in comparison to the size and complexity of the Interstate Highway System. The plan lacks a coherent big picture vision, one of the purposes of this website to raise these issues and hopefully bring them to the attention of policy and decision makers so that they might be informed when they act.

      • The way you describe HSR is exactly the opposite of how HSR works in most countries. Japan and France are not in any hurry to build 300 km/h lines to every hamlet; they’re building high-speed rail on the main lines, and connecting smaller metro areas by low-speed rail.

        The heavy commuter traffic is mostly a red herring. New Jersey is full of six-track sections, and Connecticut needs enough bypasses that it would take flagrant schedule abuse to cause bottlenecks. Everywhere else on the NEC, commuter traffic is negligible, and long-distance commute traffic would shift to a faster Acela anyway.

  • OceanRailroader

    The Pennsyvinia Railroad used to have a four track main line from Phili to Pittsburg but that was cut down to two tracks wide in the 1960′s. If they want to add high speed rail to Pittsburg they could restore two of the abaondoned railroad tracks and have the passanger trains work in their own set of tracks with out having to build new ones.

  • Rick Patoski

    the story implies that no funds from the private sector can be raised to pay for capital costs.. but this is not true. To see how private sector funds are being used successfully to fund transit expansion and operations TODAY look at the MTR Corp, Ltd “Rail plus Property” business model being used in a common sense symbiotic manner where the profits from real estate development at, over and intergraded with transit stations generates income that not only is now paying for the expansion of the rail system in the Hong Kong region but is being used to lower fares. Also, as a publically traded stock company, it used the proceeds from a IPO (not funds from the public sector) to start the real estate development portion of its business plan ( it’s now involved in 18.3 mil sq ft of retail space and 75,000 residential units)and pays dividends to it stockholders, the largest of which is the government of Hong Kong rather than the government paying for rail expansion and operating subsidies. It also is now operating the commuter rail system in London, Melbourne, and Stockholm and I am guessing it will soon start applying their “Rail Plus Property” business model in these cities as well.

    The big problem in the US that prevents local rail operators from replicating this business model is that I do not know of any local or regional transit authorities that are permitted to acquire any real estate that is not for transit purposes and therefore cannot fully recapture the income benefits to other properties from their transit improvement and service. But I do not know of why the MTR corporation cannot enter into a contract to operate a major commuter rail system (i.e. like Metro North, LIRR, MBTA, SEPTA etc..and follow their rail plus property business model. MTR is very good at what it does with 93% on time performance for its trains and the first to offer 3G wi-fi on all railway premises. One can only hope that they get involved in the US soon because neither the federal and local governments nor the private sector in the US seem to get it.. even when the model for generating and using private sector funds to fund rail transit expansions and operations is out there for all to see !

    • John W

      The MTR won’t ever be using this business model in London. They won a 7-year franchise (as part of a partnership) to operate the London Overground, which, while part of the national rail network, is controlled by Transport for London, and in many ways bears more similarity to the Underground than to commuter rail. Its function is primarily as an orbital line, and frequencies are pretty constant throughout the day. Its operations comprise only a fraction of the rail services in London.

      I’d imagine the MTR’s operates on similar contracts in the other cities you mentioned.

    • FG

      I wonder how they’d do it in Stockholm, since there is already dense development around most stations and there is no expansion planned. I’m wondering how they would make that work in dense areas which aren’t expanding their networks or have anti-growth/low-zoning in place (I’m thinking LIRR where many LI towns try to keep density low), would they even enter those markets?

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