Pennsylvania Releases State Rail Plan, Promotes Increased Investment in Intercity Systems

» A state rail plan does not mean Pennsylvanian will move forward with a specific project. A lack of ambition, or a reflection of few funds?

The U.S. government’s unwillingness to commit to prioritizing certain rail corridors and its fear of moving beyond empty rhetoric to describe the country’s future rail system are frustrating reactions to the sometimes paralyzing federal system. But intercity rail advocates should take some comfort in the fact that certain states are taking advantage of their governing responsibilities to promote projects and develop detailed long-term proposals. The investment made by states like California, Illinois, and Wisconsin in specific new lines is one indication of this take-the-first-step strategy; so are the proliferation of state-level rail plans.

Several states have assembled long-term reports that indicate how spending would be distributed over the years; Virginia’s 2025 proposal, for instance, highlights what could be accomplished with $10 billion in funding. It doesn’t identify a source for that money, but at least it takes the important step of making a case for how and where investments should be made.

Pennsylvania’s new passenger and freight rail plan, released last week, doesn’t go as far: though it suggests expanded train service along a number of corridors by 2035, it doesn’t pinpoint specific solutions nor establish a sum it considers vital for rail transportation’s future. In absence of adequate federal funding and in the context of a miserable recession, is this as far as the state should go? Or is Pennsylvania simply making a list and hoping it suffices as a plan?

The Keystone State put together similar plans in 2001, 2003, and 2007. The state has the fifth-largest rail system in the country.

The state will need more planning in the future. This study recommends a series of passenger and freight lines for future service, but suggests that each will have to undergo a feasibility study, then a service development plan, then finally be submitted for federal review and funding before improvements are implemented. Especially in the context of the failure Governor Ed Rendell’s plan to toll I-80 for transportation purposes, better rail service is held off for the long-term. No one’s talking about two-hour high-speed rail service between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, no matter the merits.

The passenger routes identified for improvements include the currently active Keystone Corridor between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh; the Capitol Corridor between Washington and Pittsburgh; the Northeast Corridor; and the Buffalo-Cleveland Corridor. It also promotes for reactivation New York-Scranton Service and a line through the Lehigh Valley.

States the plan quite plainly: “It is recognized that there are severe funding constraints that significantly impact and make achieving the passenger rail—as described by the high-speed rail, core, and extended passenger rail networks—in this report by 2035 a virtual impossibility.”

Nonetheless, the study does emphasize areas of potential investment for all lines: it would take all corridors up to good repair and eliminate at-grade crossings. For freight, it would ensure the possibility of double-stacked, extra-heavy trains, which cannot run on many of the state’s trackage.

For the Keystone Corridor, the report is a bit more specific. The state completed a $145 million renovation project in 2006 that increased top speeds along the line to 110 mph and significantly reduced travel time between Philadelphia and Harrisburg. That program has resulted in a 74% increase in ridership as well as a decrease in per-passenger subsidy, serving as a model for other states making modest investments in their existing rail lines. The 2035 study would increase top speeds along the line to 125 mph by closing all grade crossings and allow trains to make the link between Pennsylvania’s largest city and its capital in 1h15, twenty minutes faster than possible today. The state requested more than $400 million in funds for these improvements under the stimulus’ high-speed rail package but received only $26 million.

That would keep Pittsburgh seven hours from Philadelphia by rail, despite being only 300 miles away. The two metropolitan areas together house more than eight million inhabitants.

The approach promoted by this plan is well-intentioned but ultimately disappointing. While it takes the “reasonable” tact — there’s no money, so how can the state endorse any major improvement? — in doing so, it cuts off any possibility of encouraging the public or legislature to act on anything other than the status quo.

By sketching out only the vaguest of potential improvements to existing rail lines, the state is implicitly setting the bar exceedingly low. Why not start with a big vision and work down from there? What would be the negative consequences there — letting down the taxpayer? All this plan does is imply that there’s nothing exciting to be done, giving the impression that better train operations aren’t really that feasible.

But Pennsylvania does have serious potential for improved rail services. Someone just needs to point that out.

Image above: Pennsylvania Priority Passenger Rail Corridors Map, from Pennsylvania State Rail Plan

36 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • G Ratener

    Does this proposal include electrification of the tracks beyond Harrisburg?

  • Steve

    @G Ratener
    Not even that specific – it just advocates for faster travel and more frequencies in the corridor.

    I too was disappointed. It may just have been PA Dutch sensibility to not present a plan unless it is attainable, but I would still rather see something larger. I would have liked to have seen Philadelphia – Lehigh Valley – Scranton identified as a corridor (SEPTA already owns the tracks to Bethlehem too!), and a stronger statement that future cross-state lines need to directly serve Penn State. Oh well, atleast this is a first step towards something real.

    • Sad part is that SEPTA does own the tracks almost to Bethlehem. They decided to rip out the double tracking and sell it for scrap metal. Now they are letting the communities use it for a bike trail free of charge. SEPTA is inept and doesn’t have any long term plans to expand service. The state really should have stepped in to preserve some of SEPTA’s ROWs.

  • jim

    It does endorse restoring quad-tracking between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. This implies that two of the tracks would be for passenger trains and two for freight (since freight uses two right now). Which would, at least reduce delays due to freight/passenger conflict. If tilting equipment were to be run on the passenger tracks then some reduction of the Pittsburgh/Philadelphia time would occur.

  • huricano

    Given the economic challenges the state faces, one would hope that PA would take a chance and set up at least the goal to campaign for of having high-speed rail to Pittsburgh. I see this as a rout that should be a national priority given its potential to link the Mid-Atlantic with the Midwest. The university/medical economies in Pittsburgh and Cleavland would benefit from this, and it might revitalize Phili as the jumping-off point to East Coast. Of course, I assume most reading this blog have similar, and probably more developed ideas on this issue. But it is truly frustrating to see the inability of government to react to the clear promises of high-speed rail, especially in the rust belt. Its even more worrisome to think that now all important infrastructure initiatives must have federal backing.

  • Yea the plan was quite underwhelming to say the least. I went to the input meeting in Philadelphia and the plan hasn’t changed much since the original draft version they had up at that meeting. I kind of assumed they would add more detail and have more of plan. I think it pretty just says here is some great ideas. It doesn’t say what to do with them or what order to move forward in. I was kind of hoping Rendell might get some allocation from the state legislature at some point because he was pro-rail but he didn’t even get any money from the federal government. I would have thought with the success of the improved Keystone corridor there might have been some motivation to go westward but none seems to have materialized so far. If they do build two tracks west form Harrisburg for passenger rail it would probably be better to choose a new alignment rather than quad track the existing for improved speeds. There is some pretty tricky inclines out there..

  • huricano

    What I want to hear is a governor in the North East or Midwest stepping up and staying: 1) we are going to do everything in our power to build a high-speed rout to rival China and Europe (one that actually goes fast), 2) we are going to build the technology locally. Realizing that the US has lost all competitiveness in transportation is sobering, and I’d like to see a similar effort similar to the auto bailout to stimulate US train manufacturers.

  • Ocean Railroader

    The Pennsyvinia Railroad did have active plans of extending the catenary wires west to Pittsburg they are most likely hiding away some where. I also see that they need to restore the four track section from Philli to Pittsburg. They might want to also consder adding eletric trains to some of the more heavly used branch lines near Harrisburg.

    What they could do in the sort term to get ready for extending the catenary west would be to add a new Static conventer station in Harrisburg to had far more power to the existing Signal Phase 25Hz Old Pennsyvinia Catenary network and to suppy power for the extension of the wires to Altoona PA.

  • Woody

    Well, the Repubs are doing their damnedest to derail Ohio’s 3-Cs. If they can block it next year, then LaHood will have to give the $400 million to other projects.

    My hunch is that Pennsylvania’s Keystone Corridor, New York’s Empire Corridor, the Florida East Coast line, Virginia’s D.C.-Richmond work, and Washington’s Cascades route, in about that order, will be in line to get a bite of Ohio’s grant if they forfeit their windfall.

    • Nathanael

      Washington’s Cascades already got practically everything they asked for — they may be too busy implementing that to take any more money for about a year or so. The Keystone Corridor is a no-brainer for reallocating the Ohio funds should Ohio screw up, with fully engineered but unfunded plans. DC-Richmond is also a logical place to put money fast, with lots of fully engineered but unfunded plans.

      The Empire Corridor *should* be a no-brainer, but NY’s rail planning has actually been worse than Pennsylvania’s. :-( The FEC line won’t get money until the liability issues are worked out.

  • Ocean Railroader

    I remember Wisconsion is also have a Bluegill of a time with their state goverment and it’s Repubicans and it’s Democrats and their 800 Millon oddly Pennsyvinia would benfit greatly if they reject the 800 millon if they broke their 800 millon for Pennsyvinia and Virginia that would be good. I noice though Virginia and Pennsyvinia seem to have smooth Repubican and Democrate suport and would be more then glad to up grade their tracks.

  • Walter Sobchak

    This plan, or lack thereof, clearly shows the state is simply waiting for the Federal Government to set some standards for passenger rail in this country to follow.

    Is there any regulation on what size/weight rail may/should be used in passenger rail, or regulation on the electric systems used? Or will we continue to have what we have now on the Northeast Corridor between Philadelphia and Boston- three(!) different electric catenary systems. If the Feds set strict high standards for passenger rail, and then show more than token support for certain routes that fit ridership and development criteria, then states would better know what they can build and what they should plan for.

  • Sean

    Recently, a study regarding the restoration of rail service from the Lehigh Valley in PA to New York City via the NJ Transit Raritan Valley Line was completed. It said restoration of 17 miles of rail from Allentown, PA to Phillipsburg, NJ would cost $659 million and would have a daily ridership of 800 in 2030!

    IMHO, the study is ridiculous. That much money for a restoration of 17 miles of track that already exists? 800 riders in 2030? I wonder how much it would cost to build a new line? The existing line is probably over 100 year old, is windy and not straight and uses super slow diesel push pulls that can’t even make the journey through the tunnels under the Hudson to NYC; you have to transfer in Jersey to an electric train if you want to get in the city. It’s not worth restoring service to this ancient line that uses ancient technology. That goes for many other abandoned intercity rail passenger lines in PA and the US.

    Btw, the Lehigh Valley is the third largest metropolitan area in PA after Philly and Pittsburgh. It is also the fastest growing in the state; many, many people that have moved there are from NJ and NY escaping high taxes, property prices, etc. I-78 into NJ and terminating just outside NYC makes the Lehigh Valley a very attractive place to live for those working in Jersey and even NYC.

  • The plan for Keystone East is quite ambitious – it calls for an average speed of 137 km/h, higher than today’s NY-DC Acela and on a par with decent medium-speed rail. The mention of talking to other Northeastern states to come up with an NEC plan is also good, in principle; in practice, it uses vague, generic terms too much.

    It’s hard to say just how serious the plan is. It throws a few bones to good-transit ideas by talking about timed connections, but then throws it all away by talking about inadequate parking at stations. It’s short on specific ideas beside timing the connections: it says nothing about noncompliant trains, tilting, takts, or even further electrification.

  • Tom West

    It is not enoguh to descrivbe the desiored end-state – you have to detail the route to get there, allowing for the fact that you probably won’t be able to do it all at once. The prject should be roken down into phases, so you can say what will be done with each $1bn or $100m you get.

    • When talking about budgets, it’s always helpful to talk about what makes them stay reasonable or blow out of control. For example, some regulations are better than others at keeping costs down. For once I’d like a US government agency to say, “If you make us buy FRA-compliant trains then we’ll need to spend an extra $X on rolling stock, $Y on track repair, and $Z on fuel and maintenance.”

    • jim

      I’m not sure they’re describing a desired end-state. I think they’re describing some aspects which might contribute to a possibly desirable end-state. They leave alone two questions: whether all these initiatives ought to be pursued, and, if so, which are higher priority.

      The fundamental question, which goes unanswered, is what should be done with the first billion or two. Should it be spent on Keystone East and the NEC (which has the best prospect of getting respectable speeds)? Or should the priority be Western Pennsylvania: Keystone West, Washington-Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh-Cleveland and Cleveland-Erie-Buffalo (since the emphasis up to now has been on Eastern Pennsylvania and Triple-C will fund the creation of a maintenance depot in Cleveland, which could be leveraged to create Cleveland-based corridor routes)? Or should service be revived where there is no existing service: Lackawanna Cutoff and Lehigh Valley (since the other parts of the state have something)?

      I think the reason there is no answer given to this question is that there hasn’t been any debate over it. No-one has argued for any particular priority — presumably because there hasn’t been any prospect of money to argue over. Pennsylvanians, perhaps, need to start.

  • eldondre

    This plan is a joke. It would have bee more interesting had they cobbled together the existing information. the PRIIA study (available on Amtrak’s site) at least details the cost of adding an extra train to Altoona or Pittsburgh. (although a note on that report, the infrastructure costs are actually from a 2004 study on adding four trains a day to Pittsburgh). the Keystone East programs is pork laden with unnecessary station projects. Get the service in order and the stations will fall into place. I also think they should be looking at 150 mph operation on Keystone east (and what that woudl take). the only interesting report, I guess, will be the Keystone west report that was partially funded under ARRA and will examine “high speed” potential west of Harrisburg. Lastly, the “eliminate grade crossings” is somewhat useless considering ARRA funded removing the last three grade crossings on the Keystone corridor AFAIK. If you look at the Keystone page you can see they had planned real improvements, signal upgrades, substaton upgrade in Paoli, adn interlocking improvements. Of course, the interlocking plans are SEPTA driven. SEPTA doesn’t want the current interlockings redone, they want them moved. the approach to 30th st is dark, limiting speeds to 15 mph. and now that Act 44 is dead, SEPTA doesn’t have money to fund the interlocking improvements so they will continue to hamper Amtrak’s service. I was really disappointed Keystone East didn’t receive funding, 80 min to Harrisburg may not be real high speed but with drive times closer to 120 minutes, it’s nothing to sneeze at…and the trains to Pittsburgh will still need to run over the Keystone Corridor. the frustrating thing is that OH got money to build a new service that will be SLOWER than the Pennyslvanian while Keystone East alone would have carried three times as many passengers.

    • Woody

      IIRC, the Stimulus money was a measly amount to pay only for final planning and engineering to eliminate the remaining three grade crossings. I seem to remember from another PA DOT document that actually building the three new overpasses will cost over $150 million. But if they weren’t “shovel ready” I don’t have a big problem with just giving the state the funds to get ready. If LaHood doesn’t follow up with construction money, then the $26 millions he gave them for engineering will be down the toilet. Also as I recall, somebody commented that these three projects will have a huge impact by allowing more of the line to run at 110 mph speed.

      I don’t have any source, but I have a hunch that Amtrak is thinking that in some not-too-distant year, the current crop of Acela trains will be replaced by newer Acela IIs on an upgraded NEC. Then the older Acela cars will get more years of life running on its Keystone Corridor, the only other line now electrified, and on an upgraded Amtrak-owned Connecticut Valley corridor, after that New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line gets upgraded and electrified.

      (I hope when LaHood met with Connecticut officials that they told him the full plan for that route is more than adding commuter trains. It will need much doubletracking, grade crossing reductions if not elimination, and electrification — meaning they will need electric trains and where to get them affordably if not used Acelas? And then the cars running now on that New England shuttle could move to run on the 3-Cs route.)

      I hope PA gets more money for the Keystone Corridor work next time around, but damn, it’s getting to be a long line of worthy projects!

      • You could make a decent argument for scrapping the existing Acelas entirely. Modern countries should just not allow anything with an axle load of 23 tons on their tracks unless it’s for freight, much less a 20,000-miles-MDBF lemon.

        The cost of new high-speed trains, for the record, is about $2.5 million per car. Just buy a couple of Pendolino sets for Philly-Harrisburg; the cost of enough trains for Philly-Harrisburg is in the tens of millions.

      • jim

        Since everyone talks about 125 mph once the remaining at-grade crossings are eliminated, I assume that Amtrak intends to use standard NEC Regional trainsets on Keystone East: Harrisburg-New York, Harrisburg-Philadelphia and possibly Harrisburg-Washington; Keystone East becomes indistinguishable from the NEC. If they were planning to use 150 mph capable trainsets, then they’d talk of 150 mph MAS.

        Agree with Alon that the right thing to do with superseded Acela equipment is junk it.

  • DingDong

    “reasonable” tact

    You mean “tack”?

  • DT

    The plan has a series of appendices that have the meat and potatos.

    @Alon Levy: Appendix 6, page 27:
    “Rather than overbuilding infrastructure to allow for any contingency or an unknown operating plan, timetable-driven planning can help to significantly reduce costs for design, engineering, and construction. Longer-term, this planning methodology allows for maximum utilization of the railroad’s capital assets. One innovation in timetable-driven planning is the realization that a recurring timetable—for example, one that repeats every hour—may allow for much greater infrastructure productivity. This is because the predictability of the service allows for optimizing the infrastructure to perform its intended function with only the amount of capital investment required to actually operate the timetable.”

    There is your takt.

    Page 26: “Another factor is tilting passenger equipment, where the train tilts in the curve to cancel the centrifugal force. This can create “virtual” super-elevation allowing for faster speeds.”

    Example of tilting train discussion.

    Appendix 7, page 3: “Use technology before concrete. Technological improvements to signaling and rolling stock can sometimes increase speeds as much as major right-of-way projects. For example, tilting trains can increase speeds without straightening curves. All available means to increase speeds and productivity should be examined, with a focus on cost-effective technologies to improve efficiencies of the existing network.”

    I could go on. There is a lot of stuff in there that covers how to plan for rail service and optimize systems. It could be more specific, of course, and I have some ideas for why it is not.

    Where was all the carping when the draft plan was out for comment?

  • eldondre

    DT_I see what you meanthat the meat and potatoes are in the appendices. in appendix 3 it mentions signaling will be replaced in 2010, is this happening? Second, the real meat, IMO, is still the HSR study but that’s not a deficiency here per se, since you can’t summarize a study that hasn’t been completed. I would also add there’s significant padding in the Pitt run.

  • Don

    The problem with Harrisburg to Pittsburgh is that the existing RR alignment west of Huntingdon really isn’t suited for train speed improvements. Real improvements in trip time will take new, expensive, alignments. The state can get more bang for it’s buck elsewhere where the existing alignments are quite so problematic.

    • Nathanael

      Realigning the route along the road from Harrisburg to State College and the river valley/road/railroad from there would be about the same length, less curvy, and add a major population center.

  • eldondre

    Don,
    that’s not necessarily the case considering just how much of the state’s population exists on the Philadelphia-Lancaster-Harrisburg-Pittsburgh route. While it’s true that the line will enver be true high speed, it is not true that a new alignment is necessary to speed the trip up from an appalling 7h20m for an average speed of 46 mph. an average speed of 65 mph would lower the trip time to a more reasonable 5h30m. an average of 70 mph, more difficult, would be needed to get under 5 hours which would be ideal. a real HSR route would, indeed, likely be much more expensive and require an entirely new ROW more like the former south pennsylvania but would also provide an enormous change in travel patters…an average speed of 100 mph would then be necessary for a three hour travel time. In the short run, lowering trip times to Pitt by 2 hours and Harrisburg by 20 min are feasible. It woudl also make a NY-Chicago day train via Pittsburgh feasible.

    • Hokkaido’s tilting 75 mph DMUs average about 65 mph on the Sapporo-Hakodate route. If Norfolk Southern can be convinced to increase track superelevation, then tilting trains capable of 110 mph running on the less curvy PRR Mainline should be able to run at much higher speeds.

      Greenfield HSR should be able to maintain an average speed of 150-180 mph on Harrisburg-Pittsburgh, but would require significant tunneling. In fact, if Pennsylvania decides to build such a line, it may be useful to slow down passengers trains through the base tunnels and run mixed operations on the model of the Channel Tunnel or the Swiss base tunnels.

    • Don

      You could conceivably squeeze some time out of the schedule east of Huntingdon, though most of that would be east of Lewistown where the curves are mostly fairly broad. But west of Spruce Creek tunnel, there really isn’t much to be had without spending some serious change. Take a look at the track charts. http://www.multimodalways.org/archives/rrs/CR/CR%20Track%20Charts/CR%20Track%20Charts.html
      This is a route that is heavy with freight traffic. It would cost quite a bit to have NS boost the superelevation from 4″ max to 6″. Even with that and the use of tilt equipment, you’re still not going to get highway competitive speeds west of Huntigdon.

  • DT

    I made a graph of the current scheduled speed of the Pennsylvanian:

    http://www.phillyideas.com/pennsylvanian/pennsylvanian_speed_graph.jpg

    You can see where the scheduled slow parts are. For instance, suburban Philadelphia drags along.

    West of Harrisburg, the train basically averages 50 mph today. It runs pretty much on time. I think it would probably be realistic to shave at least an hour off the current schedule with some pretty basic measures such as tilting trains and certain infrastructure changes.

    There was already a rail study done for Keystone West, available here:

    ftp://ftp.dot.state.pa.us/public/bureaus/PublicTransportation/Keystonestudyvol1.pdf

    One of the major conclusions? Design stations to have universal platform access so the train can platform from any track.

    I have also mapped domestic airline travel from Pennsylvania airports. PHL to PIT is a major corridor, for sure, but that means very little. Southwest will continue to own the end to end market for a long time. The train would have to rely mostly on traffic generated from Lancaster, Harrisburg, State College, Altoona, Johnstown, etc. Thus, the market is more limited than a corridor that connects two large cities where the train could compete with flying. However, the corridor is important for political reasons — it binds together a large state — and would be valuable strategically if it were high speed rail, since it would connect the NEC with Chicago and the interior.

    When thinking about transformation of travel, however, the Lehigh Valley corridor really stands out. Essentially, it connects York/ Carlisle/ Harrisburg/ Hershey/ Lebanon/ Reading/ Allentown/ Bethlehem/ Easton/ Newark/ New York City. It could also connect to Scranton via Bangor and the NS Portland Secondary. This is an extremely high density corridor overall, with tons of origin-destination pairs possible. The train would do well in this market, because flying isn’t an option. There is already a huge amount of intercity bus service in the travelshed from Reading east to New York. Commuters, college students, and day trippers pack Bieber and Trans-Bridges coaches rolling down I-78. There is much less intercity bus service on the western end, which may indicate that Amtrak is already capturing much of the New York business via the Keystone line to Philadelphia.

    The state rail plan is mostly targeted at intercity projects, not commuter projects. Thus, Pottsville-Reading-Philadelphia and Bethlehem-Philadelphia are not as emphasized as the longer intercity corridors.

    • jim

      Thank you for the pointer to the Keystone West study. It’s very informative. It’s been overtaken by events. I doubt anyone would be satisfied by an additional two Harrisburg-Pittsburgh frequencies and it doesn’t recognize that Ohio Hub is planning Columbus-Pittsburgh and Cleveland-Pittsburgh service (which makes its discussion of Pittsburgh station inadequate). But there’s a lot of good stuff there. In particular, I didn’t realize that part of the Harrisburg-Pittsburgh line is still triple-tracked and congested at that. If one quad tracks there, the best one can hope for is that passenger and fast freight share one pair of tracks and slow freight gets relegated to the other. And I didn’t know that the train level of the Pittsburgh station was such a mess.

      It’s even worse than it appears.

  • Ocean Railroader

    I think the next round of railroad projects they should fund those that have full suport of the state vs funding something only to have a hunderds of lawyers and groups come out of the wood work to sue for the project or to say it’s a waste of tax payer money. Such as in Ohio and Wisconsion along with Calforinia.

    If Pennsyvinia would have got the full 700 millon they asked for there would have been far less lawsuits like the ones going on in Wisconsion and Ohio.

    • Nathanael

      Wisconsin *had* the full support of the state. It’s only recently that the deranged right-wing anti-train fanatics have come out of the woodwork and gotten into positions of power.

  • eldondre

    the Keystone Corridor uses about ten sets total (HAR-PHL) with about four per car (not including power) so total cost would be closer to $125 million, assuming it’s half picked up by Amtrak, $62.5 million. now, assuming some speed improvements, you might be able to eliminate a couple sets. OTOH, if they work with Amtrak to pool equipment, that means Amtrak can use cars from its own fleet to protect the service rather than hold sets on hand. I’d also point out that we’re not talking about running as many trains as running on the corridor so it’s not infeasible that a quad tracked main line with superelevation on the outside tracks could run relatively fast. the ARRA funds really shorted Penn. If Acela’s or any other high speed train were to run on the Harrisburg line, you’d need to upgrade the substation in Paoli (didn’t get funded) and add an express track over the entire length of SEPTA territory. the reason for crawling over SEPTA territory is the line is dark from zoo to the station, signaling from zoo to lancaster needs upgrading, and interlockings at overbrook (extremely complicated) and bryn mawr need replacing (they weren’t replaced because SEPTA wants them moved). Given how long it takes to get out of Philly, I’d think you could get five minutes to Paoli. It’s currently a 22 min trip to Paoli which means the train isn’t even averaging 60 mph (I believe it’s only 19 miles). bumping the speed even to 60 mph would net a savings of 3 minutes. Improving average speed to 75 mph would get you to 15.5 minutes, rounding up for a savings of 7 minutes to Paoli alone (assuming no stop at Ardmore). West of Paoli the line goes to three tracks, then two. Ardmore adds 4 minutes. I’d guess you can buy some improvement to Lancaster by adding the express track (to avoid overtake problems with SEPTA trains). Especially if you’re running express from Paoli to Lancaster. I’d also think you could bump up average speeds from Elizabethtown and Harrisburg ( I think the reason they never got to their target trip time of 90 min is that someone added Elizabethtown to express runs). While there are some curves, the train feels slow. I don’t believe this stretch of was rehabbed during the Keystone upgrade a few years back. Of course, it appears it’s already running at an average of 60 mph, so it might well take tilting equipment to bump average times up to 75 mph which might get you 3 minutes. I assume they worked this into their application where they estimated a 15 minute improvement over current run times. One would think they could improve over that using 125 mph sections and tilting equipment (let’s say 5-10 minutes, but I suppose it could be more, at what point it’s worth straightening the curve at Gap I don’t know)…and what would 150 mph sections gain? Let’s assume a current trip time of 90 min, 15 gets you to 75 minutes, another 15 gets you to 60 min from Harrisburg (certainly something you could sell, they estimated nearly 1.8 million riders on a 75 min ride, I’d guess 60 would put you well north of 2 million). I’m less familiar with west of Harrisburg but the chart begs the question, can anything be done to improve speeds between Greensburg and pitt? At an average of a measly 26 mph, you could get over 30 minutes just by doubling the average speed there. Can it be done?
    Between the two ends you have an hour already. Any improvements in between would be gravy, let’s peg improvements in between at 30 minutes. A 90 minute trip time improvement puts you under (WB is currently 7h23m). Now, if you throw in electrification (which has been cited to increase capacity for freight as well) you might get a little more. Currently there’s a premium of ~10 min for diesel service to Harrisburg. That gets you down to 5h43m. Assuming electrification to Pittsburgh, one would think you’d get at least ten minutes (likely more, since there is faster acceleration AFAIK). You also, then, have to consider eliminating a couple of stops like tyrone and one more. All told, you need an average trip time of 69 mph to get to 5 hours. Even if you get there by running fast east of, and just faster west of. The trip time is what matters. I think it’s feasible, then, to get a trip time competitive with driving (~5 hours without any significant traffic from city center to city center). Also worth remembering, the train runs through to NYP. They currently schedule a 30-35 minutes layover in Philly to change locomotives. If electrified with push pull equipment that would shave another 15-20 minutes off the 9.5 hour trip to NY and open the possibility of some trips using the Pittsburgh subway again (which I imagine would be another 20 minutes faster for a total of ~40 min to NY). I think this makes more sense than the Lehigh Valley corridor, personally, and if you can get NS interested in electrified freight movements and perhaps connect the catenary to a natural gas plant, all’s the better. A new tunnel alignment would complement this nicely running non-stop from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh.

  • eldondre

    one more thing, while I don’t think that the service would displace Southwest and US Air (I think they each have several flights a day) it’s worth noting the current line at once a day and not competitive is well patronized so it’s not a stretch that an improved line would have a fair amount of through traffic (NY and Philly to Pitt) in addition to intermediate traffic. Remember, these are large markets. I’d guess you’d be drawing a combination of some airline customers but mostly drivers and new trips.

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The Site / The Fight

by Yonah Freemark

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