U.S. Announces $8.5 Billion in Requests for High-Speed Funds; $2.3 Billion Available

» New applications require state commitment of at least 20% of costs for the first time.

For those searching for evidence that interest in high-speed rail extends beyond the borders of the District of Columbia, look no further than the announcement yesterday by the United States Department of Transportation that it has received 77 applications worth $8.5 billion for the agency’s next allocation of construction grants. States have oversubscribed to a program that only has $2.3 billion in Congressionally approved funds to distribute this year — and have done so after committing to paying at least 20% of project costs.

In January, the DOT released $8 billion in funds to a select group of projects; at that time, states submitted more than $100 billion in proposals. But there was no obligation then for states to contribute to those programs, thus this most recent announcement demonstrates a solidification of state support for high-speed rail.

The federal government is expected to announce the winners of the award dollars on September 30th.

This time around, ten states have submitted applications worth $7.8 billion for long-term, large-scale corridor development and eighteen states have asked for $700 million in construction-ready, relatively small-scale projects. Depending on their specific demands, states have submitted their requests in single or multiple applications. But all states will be required to demonstrate local support for one-fifth of project costs in order to receive federal grants. As calls for Congress to limit spending in the future seem to be increasing, there is a strong likelihood that the DOT will make such contributions mandatory when considering allocations from now on.

The free ride for federal stimulus grants has come to an end. And that’s a good thing, because only states that are investing their own funds should benefit from national dollars. In the past, the U.S. DOT has awarded states only a portion of the funds that they initially request because of a desire to distribute nationwide and a general limitation of overall funds.

States that have applied (the data on the chart above is incomplete, pending more information) generally represent the usual suspects. Florida and California, pursuing the nation’s only two true high-speed rail programs, each have requested more than one billion dollars. For Florida, a full grant award would mean enough money to complete the Tampa-Orlando high-speed project. Though the federal government is unlikely to provide the entire amount requested this fiscal year, the Obama Administration has made clear that it considers the Florida project one of the most important, since it will be the first fully new corridor and represent a milestone for fast train systems in North America. So the Sunshine State will undoubtedly get some money later this fall and the rest of the funds next year.

But California has made a much larger local contribution than its eastern peer, its voters having approved a $10 billion contribution to the San Francisco-Los Angeles corridor in 2008. The state’s $1.58 billion request is relatively minor considering the program’s more than $40 billion total cost and the fact that the federal government has only approved $2.34 billion thus far. But the state is clearly limiting its ambitions; California has asked for $582 million for corridor improvements along existing intercity rail corridors and $1 billion for one of four new high-speed corridors.

California’s move may also be motivated by an interest in pushing away from the state’s responsibility the decision about which section of the full San Francisco to L.A. line to begin with. Four projects “of independent utility” are feasible for a cost of about $1 billion, including the electrification of the existing Caltrain line between San Francisco and San Jose; the construction of new track between Los Angeles and Anaheim; the construction of new track between Bakersfield and Fresno; and the construction of new track between Merced and Fresno. Each of these projects will be necessary for the full program, but if that is put off for years or even decades, these projects will be operable alone.

Yet the High-Speed Rail Authority likely wants to avoid picking one to prioritize since that would make it appear interested in one part of the state more than another; that’s why the federal government is asked to decide, a smart political move. From that perspective, Washington has a hard choice: If it picks one of the former two sections, in the Bay Area or Los Angeles metropolitan areas, it would be doing more for people today on commuter routes; on the other hand, if it picks one of the latter two sections, in the Central Valley, it is more likely to aid more in the completion of the full high-speed program.

New Jersey has asked for $885 million, mostly for the Portal Bridge project that will increase capacity along the Northeast Corridor.

Illinois and Iowa have applied jointly for a $248 million grant to connect Iowa City, the Quad Cities, and Chicago with a new intercity rail route. This project would eventually allow two daily round trips between the destinations with maximum speeds of 79 mph.

Other states have submitted minor applications for less noteworthy projects. New York has a number of small projects on its priority list that would, among other things, replace signals between New York City and Albany; construct new stations in Schenectady and Niagara Falls; and improve track in the Syracuse area. North Carolina has asked the federal government to provide $290 million to improve the main line between Raleigh and Charlotte with new bridges and track improvements for better stations in several cities. Connecticut wants $220 million to match the $260 million it has already pledged to improve services along the corridor between New Haven, Hartford, and Springfield. Michigan has a series of projects worth $385 million (of which the federal government would pay $308 million) to speed operations between Chicago and Dearborn. And Massachusetts has requested $32.5 million to expand its South Station from 13 to 20 tracks.

Other projects have been submitted for funding as well but I do not have information on them at this time.

With the exception of Florida and California, each of these applications represents steady but not radical improvements in the nation’s existing passenger rail system. All of them are reasonable investments, especially since states have committed to paying some of the costs, but funding limitations at the U.S. DOT will continue to be an obstacle in the way of real advancements towards true high-speed rail.

Map updated 28 August

124 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Patrick M

    If Georgia gets any money for the Atlanta-Chattanooga maglev, I’ll vomit.

    • According to the GDOT, there’s no lock on maglev for the Atlanta-Chattanooga corridor. The previous study was part of a Federal maglev study, so of course it focused on maglev, but the Draft Environmental Impact Statement includes both rail and maglev in the Alternative Analysis.

  • Ocean Railroader

    I hope the other states get money more then Florida and Calforinia in that every time I read about Calforinia’s rail projects it’s plans to be put into action are looking more like the Bar Room scene from Star Wars. Also Florida’s looks like it’s running to a stop and Calforinia got 2 billion while Flroida already got 1 billion so they should let the other people get more funding.

    • One of the big reasons that California’s project gets bad press is that it could be the most dangerous project of the lot to the oil lobby. A San Francisco to Los Angeles Express HSR route is a lot more important to try to disrupt than a 110mph Chicago to St. Louis corridor.

      • Wad

        Bruce, here in the Golden State, we don’t have to be worried about the Big Oil conspiracy. In fact, Chevron, the biggest Big Oil we have based in California, is part of a Bay Area business coalition supporting HSR.

        The HSR bonds passed with a narrow 52-48 margin. It’s the 52 percenters’ 2 percent to lose. That leaves no room for error.

        Right-wing movements are the primary beneficiaries of the destruction of high-speed rail.

        Right-wingers organize around the piñata principle. They find a subject or a candidate their electoral base will blindly and passionately beat with a stick.

        High-speed rail is a good piñata because it costs billions of dollars, it’s gubmint, there is at least a decade where there isn’t anything to show for it, and it plays to their insecurities about individualism.

        Oh, and right-wing movements are more successful than not.

        HSR supporters must spend time beating back the barbarians at the gates.

        HSR will have won if it survives to the day it is operational. At that point, there’s no turning back.

        • Danny

          Most of these oppositions to CAHSR are very well founded. The Authority is a bunch of bureaucratic misfits who have never ran anything even close to a business in their entire life, and hiring a competent CEO won’t really change anything.

          They haven’t even figured out basic business processes, and are burning cash faster than any startup I have ever seen, and I work in venture capital.

          In some cases, their plans call for rights-of-way that haven’t even been mentioned to the rights of way owners, let alone negotiated for or accurately priced.

          Not to mention, there is plenty of evidence that their assumptions for ridership may be too high and their assumptions for costs may be way too low, which means this could turn into a perpetual money sucker, which is exactly the type of thing CA should be staying away from.

          • Wad

            The opposition to CAHSR can be grounded in facts, but it doesn’t mean opposition was formed by facts. Plus, opponents can look at the facts to support their position, not base their position after weighing all of the facts.

            Don’t overestimate the intelligence of any side. Supporters of HSR have plenty of people who support it because “HSR is teh kewl” or they are just following their ideological herd.

            It cuts both ways.

            Yet what you are saying is boilerplate for antigovernment, antispending, or think tank messages for a variety of public initiatives. The talking points are very familiar. It’s used in all transit campaigns, and with a few variations, used to stop projects or shut down or privatize existing government functions.

            You do lend a perspective that can be quite valuable, being in venture capital. Generally, high-speed rail and major infrastructure projects do not seek VC funding, and go to the bond markets instead because of the larger funding requirements, the longer timeframe of repayment and the uncertainty of targets and values for equities.

            So what’s the concern of cash burn? CAHSR is a public department. It’s obligation is not to be ready for an IPO or to meet shareholders’ and analysts’ expectations. Right now it’s still in the planning phases. The focus right now is to plan for where the tracks will go.

            As for the evidence that assumptions of low ridership/high costs (gee, where have I heard that before?), it’s all hand-wringing. The evidence is what puts HSR in unfavorable light.

            There’s no evidence of anything right now. Right now, both sides are throwing darts in the dark. Everything is speculative. What matters is how close the final cost and ridership estimate is to the estimate.

            Neither side can say with any degree of certainty what the costs will be because the package of what will be needed to be built hasn’t been released yet. It’s difficult because a project like this is unique (first in the U.S. and it poses site-specific engineering challenges).

            Ridership estimates are even more speculative. These will be dictated by station siting, available service and prices. The only real control CAHSR will have is the stations and service frequency. Market pressures introduce too much chaos into a pricing schedule. They can be set too high or too low, or set for the wrong times.

            These are the risks, and they are recognizable. They are also manageable.

            Opponents don’t dread a project failing. They are afraid of a project succeeding.

          • glen

            And where do you live ..somewhere say between the City and Say SanJose??

          • Danny

            I live in Idaho, but I’m from Stockton.

        • Then tell Chevron to tell the API to tell the right wing propaganda mills that they help fund to lay off HSR. And get their pals at Exxon to do the same.

      • Danny

        Conspiracy theories generally don’t play out too well. Big oil knows that the biggest threat to its existence is oil prices. HSR makes such a TINY dent in oil profits that it isn’t even worth opposing.

        • And yet oil-funded propaganda mills like Cato, Heritage, and Reason devote regular attention to it.

          There is no need for a conspiracy theory ~ just ordinary income for service. Cato, for instance, was co-founded by one of the Koch Brothers.

          • Danny

            Did you ever consider the fact that they oppose it because it costs a lot of money and, outside of a few corridors, doesn’t have much a chance of paying itself back?

            In order for the propaganda machine theory to work, you would have to prove causation…that the funding causes research, rather than research causing funding. Do you have any proof that their findings are biased by their funding? Or is correlation and a hunch good enough for you?

          • Danny, there are three major pieces of evidence. One is the inconsistency: Reason claims both that global warming isn’t happening and that cars emit less CO2 than public transit. Two is the timing: in the 1990s, when it got money from big tobacco, it downplayed the smoking-cancer link, switching to cars only after getting more money from big oil. And three is the selectivity: Reason, Cato, etc. downplay subsidies to cars; highways are the only form of government spending for which they choose the most favorable financial performance figures available rather than the least favorable.

          • Danny, the article you’re quoting is by Jonathan Rauch, who’s quite liberal and who’s not even a transportation writer; he’s primarily a gay rights activist. The people who Reason refers to on transportation and urban policy, such as Robert Poole and even former editor Virginia Postrel, are quite pro-highway. In fact, 2 years ago, when the issue of infrastructure exploded in the public debate, Reason’s response was not to criticize big government spending, but to propose PPPs building new toll roads.

        • OceanRailroader

          I did see the movie who killed the eletric car and it is their reasoning to try to kill anything that has to do with getting people out of oil powered cars and trains.

          The nature about the Califroinia project is I’m hearing a lot more yapping about things that don’t even make any sense or have anything to do with high speed rail projects. Such as them highering a CEO when they don’t even have a singel railroad tie or catenary mast in their name. Amtrak has the NEC in their name and that rail line has nearing a 100 years old of eletric power by 2015 when the first eletric train ran in it.

          Also when I look at how fast the Pennsyvinia Railroad was able to build their massive eletric train system in only six to seven years. It makes me mad that Calforinia can’t at least built a 20 mile test section of eletric train power. Or have a 20 mile section of high speed rail tracks built to test high speed rail. They could have the old Amtrak trains run down the existing tracks and then go on the 20 mile test high speed rail track for the last few miles into the stations at least.

          • Adirondacker12800

            But then they would have to buy new trains for the Northeast Corridor.

          • allen

            “I did see the movie who killed the eletric car and it is their reasoning to try to kill anything that has to do with getting people out of oil powered cars and trains” – OceanRailroader

      • allen

        @BruceFC, the reasons California’s plan gets bad press is quite simple –> Ya can’t polish a turd. The plan’s downright amateur. It has nothing to do Area 51 nor the alignment of Junivus. There are plenty of supports of high speed rail that have said this.

        • OceanRailroader

          It’s how their going about it that I don’t like in that they haven’t really shown and real drawings of where the rail lines will go. If they did something like say where going to up grade the existing Amtrak routes that go 30 to 79 miles on hour and say we are going to raise their speeds to say 70 to a 120 miles on hour by adding eletric catenary and removing some of the curves in the rail lines then I would jump on board but what there doing is going over board by promsising the sky with 220 mile on hour Japanese type trains on super high rail. And then saying it’s going to take 30 years to build this thing.

  • Nathanael

    I’ll tell you who should get this money.

    (1) Michigan, for the ROW purchase. They need to buy the freehold of the Kalamazoo-Dearborn trackage. This is urgent due to impending freight carrier downgrading. This will then become track with minimal freight traffic which can be upgraded. There will be a tiny section of CN ownership near one station, and otherwise it will be passenger-operator-controlled from Porter, IN to Dearborn, MI.

    (2) New York, for *some* of its projects. It’s doing the bottleneck removal which Washington State has spent the last ten years doing. Crucial stuff.

    (3) North Carolina. They have their act together and they’re just hitting the “exponentially increasing returns” phase of rail investment; these proposals would allow for additional trains per day, running on a highly reliable schedule. Its projects are even shovel-ready.

    These would total less than a billion and leave room for large allocations to other states’ projects as well.

    • OceanRailroader

      I agree with some of the projects you listed here. I looked at the Michgan Rail Project and it sounds like pound for pound it’s very good to raise train speeds from the existing 79 miles on hour to a 110 miles on hour. That is a 31 mile jump in speed over a very long railroad line so over all that would add greatly to it.

    • jim

      I agree with Nathanael about Michigan. This is time-critical and FRA needs to recognize that. I agree that NC has its act together. But I don’t know how the $300M they’re requesting this go-round fits with the $500M they got last go-round. It may be that there are dependencies between the tasks funded last time and the tasks for which funding is requested this time, so waiting to fund them won’t actually affect service availability dates (this is clearly the case with Florida’s Tampa-Orlando project, where the original funding will cover all the dirt-moving, nothing else can be done until the dirt is all moved, and the dirt-moving will take until into 2012). But I’m not sure that NY has its act together. Karen Rae having to come in to resolve an awkward situation which seems to have stemmed from the NY Governor’s Office not talking to the NY Railroads Office must surely have created some skepticism in FRA about NY’s ability to execute.

      But GA doesn’t even have an act to get together. I’d be very concerned if the GA/TN request were funded. GA hasn’t spent a penny of state funds on anything rail related. There’s a wonderful commuter rail plan gathering dust on a shelf. There’s lots of talk about an Atlanta MMPT, but no action.

      The CT proposal looks good. The IA/IL proposal is a good first step, but FRA needs to convince itself that there’s a commitment to extend it to Des Moines and eventually Omaha. I worry a bit about the Florida FEC proposal. Two trains a day seems awfully minimal. NC has shown what a third frequency can do for ridership. Ohio’s 3-C is starting out with three frequencies. Why only two on the FEC? (Also, the state match is entirely “in kind”, which raises suspicions.)

      We haven’t seen all the proposals. Even counting all the mutually exclusive California proposals, I can only get to $6.8B, so there’s at least another billion dollars applied for we don’t know about. Those unknown proposals might well be meritorious.

      • Nathanael

        NC’s are sequenced, yes, these projects couldn’t be done before the previous group.

        Being in NY, I actually ran through the proposals there and, as I say, *some* of them are really good; the Syracuse bridge and station track, the Niagara Falls station relocation, the Albany station completion, the Albany-Schenectady additional track. (Also some of the Albany-NYC projects). All of these were developed and fully planned long before today (by several different organizations, originally), but despite the separate planning, they *do* make up the top priorities for increasing the success of Empire Service. The total is less than a few hundred million, so it’s good value for money.

  • Vermont has applied for $74 million (60 federal, 14 state bonds) to upgrade from Rutland to Burlington, permitting the Ethan Allen to be extended to the state’s largest city. This would increase ridership on this train (feeding into the NY-Albany corridor) by 50% according to Amtrak and therefor *lower* the costs to run the train by $237,000 per year.

    • Danny

      This sounds like a horrible waste of money. That is a lower return on investment than a 20yo paying into social security.

      • Kyle

        How is this comment even remotely relevant?

        • Danny

          When the ROI of a project is less than 1%, then money can be more effectively used by investing it in projects with ROIs higher than 1%. Spending $74 million to save $237,000 yearly would take 312 years for that investment to pay off.

          • You don’t think the service improvements are worth something?

          • Danny

            Almost every “public good” aspect of the railroad business can be expressed in terms that would be familiar to any business, and consequentially, business metrics summarize quite well how much those improvements are worth.

            So yes, service improvements are great, but if they don’t bring significant new ridership ($) or significantly lower costs (also $), then what good does a service improvement make? If I ran 20tph between Juneau AK and Mobile AL, would those service improvements really provide anything toward the greater public good, given that its ridership is 100 per year?

            If a service improvement contributes to the public good, then you will see the difference in the numbers: Higher ridership and revenues, lower costs, etc.

          • Kyle

            It’s an investment in a public good. It improves service, and increases ridership.

            Once again, “expressed in terms that would be familiar to any business, and consequentially, business metrics summarize quite well how much those improvements are worth.” Why does this matter? Business metrics used to measure how much improvements are worth is pointless for public infrastructure. It’s not a privately run business, so once again, there isn’t a point.

            It will improve service, increase service to the largest population centers in the area, and increase ridership. Analyzing public infrastructure with a private business profit/investment strategy id misguided, and doesn’t represent the public good.

          • John W

            What it does do, however, is provide one way of comparing two competing projects for scarce funds to see which does a better job of contributing to the public good.

          • Kyle

            That is true, but you could also just look at ridership estimates, and the population areas it serves. Look at each project and determine what is required first, based on those projects. Then, try to maximize ridership, minimize trip length, while minimizing overall project cost, with ridership and trip length being the most important.

            The ROI basis for analysis is similar to what the Bush administration did with cost-effectiveness for public transit, which was essentially a way to kill good projects.

          • Danny

            Actually, it was a way to make sure that the most good was done with the limited funds available.

            Take two possible service improvements, both costing the same, and both increasing ridership. Improvement A has twice as many new riders as Improvement B. Can you guess which one has the better ROI? Can you guess which one provides a greater public good? Can you?

            Now what about three possible service improvements, all with the same amount of new riders. One costs $50 million, and the other two cost $25 million. Sure, we could spend $100 million and get improved ridership all the way around…but if we only have $50 million, then the two projects with the higher ROI provide for a higher public good, and the more expensive one should be ignored.

            As of this point, the best way to spend the $8 billion would be to spend it all on the NE Corridor.

            The NE corridor is operating at capacity, and an analysis of current pricing shows that even small increases in capacity could yield gigantic returns. Running all trains the same speed increases capacity greatly, and some coupled TGV-Duplexes, or Shinkansen N700s could more than double the capacity of the line. And since the demand already exists, is already extremely high, there is very little ridership-forecast risk involved.

            Furthermore a small amount of investment in catenaries could result in large amounts of speed improvement, because in more than 40% of the length of the corridor, the centenaries are the bottleneck to speed increases…and since speed increases are effectively capacity increases, this means higher ridership.

            All of these improvements are high ROI improvements because 1) People are already showing that they are willing to ride this line, which lowers the risks of improvements. 2) People are already showing that they are willing to pay high prices for service in this corridor, which almost guarantees high ROI for any capacity increase. 3) Capacity improvements can increase ridership per dollar spent in ways that no other proposed project can.

          • Kyle

            If the scenario you stated is true, then all three deserve funding. If there is a limited pool of money, then one or two should be funded. There are other ways to determine which one should receive funding. Which line provides better connections to the overall network, which line serves larger population centers, and so on… I provided ridership, as one example of many reasons to determine what lines should be funded.

            A return on investment doesn’t necessarily matter, because both lines are deserving of investment, and one line would have to take priority at first based on many different criteria. They are all deserving and are all important, and the idea is to fund all of them over time. Priority will be given based on certain criteria, but it is a public good so there isn’t a need for a ROI. Once again, the idea of ROI shouldn’t play into public infrastructure, if it did, we wouldn’t have public infrastructure.

            People should really stop pushing private business ideology on public infrastructure projects.

          • Danny

            I’m not saying that they have to be profitable when I say that ROI is the best decision maker for weeding out infrastructure projects. ROI tells you which projects have the most impact for the least amount of money.

            It isn’t business ideology. This has been used for years, and the countries with the best infrastructure systems are the ones who adhere to this idea the most. In fact, we owe the entire existence of modern steel wheel high speed rail technology to ROI decisions made by government agencies. Japan hit capacity with their rail lines, so they had the option: do we spend more money building roads, propping up airlines, or should we rather spend it on increasing the capacity of our rail systems? Their decision to go with increasing speed (capacity) of rail lines was one done entirely on ROI alone. Compared to propping up airlines and building roads, increasing the capacity of rail had the largest ridership increases with the lowest amount of money being spent…which is almost exactly what ROI is.

            The French TGV system was developed under the same circumstances. TGV was developed because it was the highest ROI way to increase movement between cities.

            Getting rid of using these types of metrics for deciding which projects to pursue is an explicit endorsement of spending more to get less. You are starting to sound like a Republican.

          • Kyle

            “Getting rid of using these types of metrics for deciding which projects to pursue is an explicit endorsement of spending more to get less. You are starting to sound like a Republican.”

            If this is the conclusion you have come to and this is how you try and argue your point, responding to you is a waste of time.

          • Danny

            Insisting on being wrong is always a waste of time.

          • Kyle

            Yes, it is. Troll. End of story.

          • Please refrain from personal criticism on this site — I will begin to erase comments if this kind of back-and-forth continues.

          • Woody

            Danny, You make a good case for investing billions in the NEC. I’m sure that almost everyone here would agree with you on the importance and value of the main line of the Northeast Corridor.

            I don’t agree that the NEC should crowd out all investment elsewhere in the country, however sweet its ROI might be, because politically, that proposal would be dead on arrival. With 50 states, 100 Senators, 435 Members of the House. the way he world works is you have to spread the gravy around.

            I give props to Obama/Biden/LaHood for the politically astute move on making these H(er)SR grants open to all states, and in the first round giving a little something to most of the states that applied, to keep them interested going forward. That policy has been more successful than I’d expected, getting many state DoTs and politicians to look at rail solutions more seriously than ever before in their employment lifetimes.

            You err in seeming to suggest that only the NEC has proven demand for greater capacity. The U.S. has great pent-up demand for more passenger rail, and I can’t think of evidence to the contrary — that sad-sack commuter train into Nashville maybe?

            This very year we are seeing a spectacular success from extending an NEC Regional train from D.C. through Charlottesville to Lynchburg; demand has so exceeded forecasts that the new train is paying its own way without need for the budgeted subsidy. Again this year, North Carolina added a third, mid-day train to its two existing a.m./p.m. runs. With a 50% increase in frequency/capacity, passenger totals reportedly more than doubled.

            Not so long ago, the State of Illinois paid for two new runs in each direction St Louis-Chicago, where there had been three daily trains. With a 67% increase in capacity (from 3 to 5), the total passenger count almost doubled the first year (from 3 to 6, in effect) and it has continued to grow every year since. And over the past decade or more, Cali’s Capital Corridor steadily added frequencies and got ever higher passenger totals as a result. I’m sure each of these projects showed a very attractive R.O.I.

            (BTW You observe that greater speed can serve as greater capacity. I’ll point out that greater frequency amounts to greater speed for many customers –much shorter total trip times when you include no longer waiting some long hours for the next scheduled train.)

            In view of the powerful evidence of pent-up demand across the country, I’m optimistic that it will be fairly easy for Ray LaHood to find numerous projects with an attractive R.O.I.

          • Danny

            Woody,

            I didn’t mean to imply that there weren’t any other projects worth investing in. In fact, I think there are quite a few investment worthy projects across the nation. In addition to your list, I would also include the Pacific Surfliner (at least between San Diego and Los Angeles) as well as CalTrain, a few MBTA commuter train routes, the Metra UNP-North line, and the San Bernadino, Riverside, and 91 Lines of Metrolink.

            What I was trying to say is that dollar per dollar, there won’t be a single project in the country that could increase ridership on the same scale as the NE Corridor.

          • Danny, Woody, the grant process is such that the projects that have the best chances of getting money are those that can be chopped into little pieces. Unfortunately, doing so on the NY-DC section of the NEC is hard, because this section has just two major infrastructure expenses (the catenary upgrade and the new West Baltimore tunnel), which can’t really be done in stages. Half a tunnel is useless, and the catenary project would best be done in one go. The rest is peanuts – four-tracking a station here, fixing a curve there.

            But none of this has anything to do with the Vermont request. Even if we ignore the NEC, past experience with Amtrak is that the highest-ROI projects are those that add frequency to existing strong corridors. Gun to head, I’d guess the highest potential is on the Pennsylvanian, or on Chicago-Detroit.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Gun to head, I’d guess the highest potential is on the Pennsylvanian, or on Chicago-Detroit.

            Really cheap thing to do is buy more cars so they can run longer trains. Albany-NYC comes to mind. Locomotives that can run as fast as the track is capable of would be nice too.

          • Forget locomotives. There’s no benefit to running a low-acceleration 110 mph locomotive over a high-acceleration 100 mph DMU; besides the fact that the DMU can be rated at a higher cant deficiency, it can also recover from slow zones better. Unless the line is so straight that there are no slow zones, there’s no benefit to picking speed over acceleration.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Albany to Hudson is good for 125. They don’t right now because the locomotives can’t go that fast. Lots of stuff north of Poughkeepsie good for 110. They don’t because the locomotives don’t go that fast. The Hudson line is getting new signals. Probably lots of stuff south of Poughkeepsie good for 110 once the new signals are in. Who knows there may be lots of stuff good for 125 once the new signals are in.

            What’s cheaper, in the short term, a spiffy new 125 MPH locomotive hauling Amfleets at 125 or a spiffy new train? One that has to be able to run on LIRR third rail or Amtrak catenary? And that can run at 125 between Hudson and Albany.

          • If you’re willing to accept a spiffy new 100 mph train with top-rate acceleration and higher cant deficiency, then the answer is that the short-term costs are about the same. Even low-speed dual-mode diesels cost an ungodly amount of money – NJT is blowing $4.3 million apiece on them. For a one-of-a-kind 125 mph locomotive, expect a higher cost. Now compare that to some of the established 100 mph DMUs.

            The problem with Empire is not top speed. It’s that Amtrak pads timetables excessively because it can’t keep to schedule, that the acceleration is crap, and every little thing is a slow zone. Remember, the diesel loco-hauled 100 mph trains between Tel Aviv and Haifa average 75 mph. Amtrak should be able to do better with its higher top speed.

          • Danny

            How much do established 100mph DMUs cost?

          • I’m not sure how much the diesel version of the FLIRT costs, but Stadler recently sold the electric version to Norway for about $2.7 million per unit. However, the price is severely overstated, as both Norway, where the train was sold, and Switzerland, where the train was made, have overvalued currency. If the trains were manufactured in the US, whose currency is not as overvalued, they’d cost about $1.7 million per unit.

            It’s still somewhat more expensive initially than the new locomotive. However, the use of multiple units allows much faster turnaround times; the FRA forbids push-pull at 125 mph, which means the locomotive option would require long shunting moves. For trains running just New York-Albany, the longer turnaround times should raise rolling stock requirements by something like 20-30%. On top of it, lightweight DMUs would be useful for decades, whereas all compliant locomotives will be obsolete within this decade.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Acceleration matters in urban and suburban service. It’s matters less in intercity service. The Turboliners were able to make it between Albany and NY in 2:10 on track that is slower than today’s, That wasn’t all because of it’s faster acceleration. It ran at higher speeds than today’s trains. What would the schedule look like for a DMU with quick acceleration and a top speed of 100 and locomotive hauled train with slower acceleration and a top speed of 125 between Albany and Hudson? I’d be willing to hazard a guess that over a 35 mile run the train that tops out at 125 will have a shorter schedule. I’d hazard a guess that a superexpress between Albany and New York – there’s enough demand for one in the morning and late afternoon both ways – would be much faster with slow acceleration and higher top speeds.

            How much do the dual mode FLIRTS cost? Do they even make dual mode FLIRTs? Which models of FLIRTS can serve low level platforms and the 48 inch platforms at Penn Station and all the other places in the Northeast that have 48 inch platforms? How long will it take Stadler to develop this jackalope of a train and at what cost?

            I suspect that modifying a P32AC-DM to run at 125 in diesel mode would happen faster, be less risky and provide improved service quicker than some fantasy train that doesn’t exist. When the fantasy train does go into service they can still use the newer P32AC-DMs someplace else. The older ones too.

            Wanna get more cars to Illinois for increased frequencies by 2013-14? Buy Amtrak a fleet of ALP46a and multilevels for regional service on the NEC. It’s not some whiz bang solution but it happens in the next few years. The Amfleets can rattle themselves apart at 79 MPH on the joined rail in Missouri and Illinois for 7 or 8 years while Stadler, Alstom Bombardier etc. come up with something to replace them. I have a sneaking suspicion that there’s going to demand for NEC compatible multilevels in 2017 or so, Amtrak can either keep using them or sell them off to NJTranist and the MTA.

          • Acceleration matters on all routes except some dedicated high-speed tracks, which are slow-zone free and have few stations.

            Going at 125 rather than 100 on a 35-mile stretch saves 4.2 minutes. The worse slow zone recovery and the lower allowable cant deficiency more than make up for it.

            And yes, they’ll still use the older trains – but only because they’re unwilling to ask for full replacement. It has nothing to do with what can or should be done.

          • Nathanael

            Danny, the so-called ROI you’re relying doesn’t include the value of increased ridership. If you figure that in, the ROI is a lot more than 1%. End of story.

  • I believe one of the Florida proposals is for the Florida East Coast railroad between Jacksonville and Miami. This is a route that makes too much sense – it’s cheap and easy, has railroad support and has both regional value and will make an improvement in the Amtrak network.

    Massachusetts has proposed spending money to increase capacity at South Station, which represents a turn away from planning for a North-South rail link between North Station and South Station.

    • Kyle

      South Station is at capacity, and these additional tracks and platforms are required to add more intercity trains and an additional commuter rail line in the works.

      Although the North-South Rail Link is a great investment, the fallout from the Big Dig is still felt around the area, and an investment of this size is going to be extremely hard to realize. Plus, the relocation of the postal facility is a once in a century opportunity to expand South Station access, and is much more important at this time than pushing for the North-South Rail Link. Also, NS Rail Link is in the billions, which is much, much higher than the South Station expansion project.

      • South Station is at capacity

        No, it isn’t. Two tracks easily turn 12-15 tph of commuter rail and 3-5 tph of intercity rail. The problem is that US train turnaround times are so long that everyone just assumes more capacity is needed.

        • Kyle

          Well, that is the argument that is being made, and the point is that South Station needs to be expanded. There isn’t enough track capacity to add much additional service.

          If the problem is that US train turnaround times are too long, then more capacity is needed. We’re not dealing with European train turnaround times, so that is irrelevant. We are dealing with US train turnaround times, and based on that, more capacity is needed.

          • Danny

            It costs almost nothing to change turnaround times. It costs a ton of money to increase the capacity of a station.

          • Kyle

            No matter how much you change turn around times, South Station capacity will need to be increased at some point in time, that period being debatable. Also, the postal annex is moving out and South Station now has the ability to expand. This is a rare opportunity to purchase that land and use it for station expansion. If it isn’t done right now, it won’t be able to happen later because another development will buy the land, and the ability to expand South Station will be gone for a very long time.

          • Danny

            A purchase option would work quite nicely if that is the case.

          • Kyle

            “A purchase option would work quite nicely if that is the case.”

            No, actually it wouldn’t. Yes, push back the purchase date far into the future, so that the cost to the public purse can continue to rise overtime. Great idea!

          • Danny

            A purchase option ensures that the cost doesn’t rise over time. That is exactly what call options are…a guarantee of a specific price at whatever time within a defined future period. An option would allow them to defer construction of capacity until it is absolutely needed, allowing current money to be used for more important things.

          • Kyle

            There is no need to defer when it can be purchased now. The feds want to sell the land, and don’t want to hang on to it for an extended period of time. The state needs to purchase it, or it will be sold to a private developer and the state won’t be able to purchase the property. A private developer is not going to sign a purchase option with the state.

            The private developer deal that was being worked out between the feds and MA, already fell through. The state needs to purchase this land.

          • Danny

            Wasting your time again ;)

          • Kyle

            Thanks for the thoughtful rebuttal.

          • Danny

            It doesn’t need a thoughtful rebuttal. Every time you are wrong, you change your reasoning for needing something. What is it…the fact that our turnaround times are long or the fact that we need to buy it now even though a purchase option is entirely feasible? What would it be next?

            Face it…you want what you want, and the reasons for wanting it will change as much as necessary to get it.

          • Kyle

            I didn’t bring up the turnaround times, another poster did, and then you argued that they would be cheaper than expansion. Then you stated that a purchase option would be a better alternative, so I responded on why I though it wouldn’t.

            This whole process is called a back and forth. Someone posts something, and then you respond to it.

            I disagree that a purchase option is feasible. I stated the reasons I didn’t think it was feasible, based on the simple argument you made that, “A purchase option would work quite nicely if that is the case.” You didn’t state why a purchase option is feasible. It is hard to argue against a generic statement, without any specifics.

            Specifics of the South Station deal are. The U.S. postal annex wants to move to a new location, but doesn’t want to pay for it. MA wants to expand the number of platforms at South Station. I believe this expansion is required, other posters have disagreed and said turnaround time adjustments could be made to increase capacity. There was a private developer deal, which would have allowed the state to use a small portion of the postal annex area for station expansion, but the developer pulled out of the deal, and the state didn’t feel that they would receive enough space for future expansion. Now the postal annex still wants to move and the state still wants to expand South Station. Therefore, I believe the best way forward would be for the state to purchase the land, and if they wanted to, could lease air rights to a private developer at a later point. Although I don’t know if this is likely, considering a similar project has been in the works for a decade or more over the current air rights at South Station, and nothing has happened. If it did work, it could help cover some of the costs.

            I don’t think a purchase option would work because, if it was between the feds and the state, the cost to the state for the yearly lease of the property would increase the overall price of acquiring the property over time. The state still needs to pay for relocation of the postal annex as well as the purchase price and paying for a lease on top of this would mean a drastic increase in costs to the public purse. The sale is supposed to fund a large portion or all of the relocation and construction costs for the new postal facility, and that is why the feds will not hang on to the facility over time.

            The feds tried to sell the property to a private developer, and that fell through. Given the string of private development failures in Boston at the moment, it is unlikely that a new developer will come in with an offer that is beneficial to the state and the feds. Also, I doubt a developer would sign a purchase option with the state over a long period of time, where the purchase price doesn’t change. The private developer would want a lease with the state, if they purchased all of the land, and this would drive up the costs over time to the state. If they purchased just a portion of the land, as was the case with the previous agreement, the state did not feel that they would have enough room for expansion of South Station.

            That is why I think a purchase option wouldn’t work. Please explain why a purchase option would work.

            This is why I think the opportunity is ripe for the state to purchase the land now.

          • Kyle, there’s no such thing as “US turnaround times.” The US actually has very short turnaround times, on subways. New York City Transit can turn trains around in 5 minutes easily. The issue is that commuter rail operators just don’t imagine that this is possible for commuter rail, and often like stabling trains on prime urban real estate for hours between the two rush hours.

          • Kyle

            Alon,
            I used the term “US train turnaround times”, because you used it at: 18 August 2010 at 22:47

            “the problem is that US train turnaround times are so long that everyone just assumes more capacity is needed.”

          • Yes, I know I used it. The long turnaround times are standard on US commuter rail, and when possible, commuter agencies leave trains idle for multiple hours. However, there’s a precedent for doing a better job even within the US.

          • Nathanael

            I’ll agree that the land should be purchased, however — it’ll be useful for *some* transit purpose for sure later on.

        • Nathanael

          Kyle, the correct way to increase South Station capacity is to make it a run-through station with the North-South Rail Link; two through platforms (one north one south) would relieve a lot of congestion at both North and South stations.

          That is of course *very* expensive. Adding additional terminal tracks is not the long-term solution, though, so probably not a good use of lots and lots of money….

      • Danny

        Its pretty simple really. Developers aren’t opposed to options…especially near transportation improvements. When Calgary planned for the C-Train in the late 70′s, they purchased options on land to reserve it for expansion.

        Developers who held land in the desired rights of way were happy to sell options to Calgary…because the possibility of a future station raised the value of their non-optioned
        portions of property.

        Developers could easily develop the land around the optioned section, and they can plan ahead knowing that if the option is not exercised or sold back, they can expand their development into the reserved portion of land. And this is something that could be worked out with the post office or with the new developers…because options, like easements, transfer with the title.

        • Kyle

          Although this makes sense and it has worked (as you stated), that doesn’t mean it will work for the specific project of South Station expansion. New transit line construction is very different from expansion of a station that already exists.

          The last developer pulled out, there are no other developers at the moment (as far as I know), and there is a serious problem around Boston with private development projects right now. Many of them are stuck in neutral, mainly due to a lack of financing.

          The post office went the private developer route, and it fell through. They could try again, but who knows when another developer will come in to the picture?

  • Jed

    How about some love for a Great Circle Passenger Tunnel alignment in Baltimore?

    • NikolasM

      Yeah, the tunnels in Baltimore would be a huge improvement and should have been funded and constructed ages ago.

      • OceanRailroader

        I really wish the Pennsyvinia could have knocked those beasts out in the 1930′s when they where in their prime. I looked at them on google street view and I don’t see why they can’t replace one of them with a open trench or work on a cut and cover type of tunnel in that one of the pairs of tunnels runs under two sets of streets that have a large 30 foot wide grassy strips which are right above the tunnels.

        • Adirondacker12800

          Can’t go very fast that way, They are planning a passenger only tunnel that goes is broad arc from Penn Station to the far west side of Baltimore bypassing the curves in Baltimore. The trains will be traveling well over hundred when they merge into the straight part of the old line.

  • RVA_Exile

    Virginia has applied for an underwhelming $57 million. Apparently the 20% state match has scared people off – this despite the fact that VA has just allotted $93 million in state money with no federal funding to extend Amtrak service to Norfolk by 2013. One wonders if the $93 million could have been leveraged for a federal match 4x as big, but that is just a thought…

    The $57 million would fund:
    - A bridge over the Appomattox in Petersburg
    - “Engineering and environmental work” between Richmond and DC

    http://hamptonroads.com/2010/07/train-plans-stall-without-money

    • OceanRailroader

      I think Virginia could have done far more then this tiny 57 million. They could have asked for say another 50 million on top of that to at least build another 10 mile thriple track section between say Ashland Vrginia and Fairfax County to have another large train passing area. Or they could have asked for 80 million about building a section another 15 mile section of double and triple track to by the train traffic jams between Petersburg and Richmond. Those are the areas that get really bad when you ride Amtrak in Richmond VA to Washingtion.

    • jim

      $57M plus the 20% match is $71M which is most of $93M. The Appomattox bridge was the big item in creating the Norfolk train (the rest of the money was in lengthening the Ivor middle track and restoring one of the other stretches of middle track, IIRC).

      It’s certainly possible that part of the feedback from FRA on the original VA proposal was, “you have to do something about Ashland.” The Washington-Richmond main line runs along the middle of the main street of Ashland. The speed limit is 35 mph. Cars running next to the tracks in practice ignore the speed limit, but the trains have to comply.

      So I can envisage a minimal Virgina strategy to get the Feds to pay two-thirds of the capital cost of setting up the Norfolk train while the state figures out what to do about Ashland. Given that there’s a rumour going around that the Surface Transportation Reauthorization will include $50B with a required state match of 10% for HSR, there’s some sense in keeping one’s powder dry.

      Still, the referenced article is from 28th July, a week and a half before the applications were due. It may not represent the last word on what Virginia actually applied for.

    • RVA_Exile

      VA has posted it’s official application: $56.9 million, which includes the 20% local match (some of which comes from CSX)

      http://www.drpt.virginia.gov/news/details.aspx?id=513

      http://www.drpt.virginia.gov/news/files/VA%20-%20SEHSR%20-%20RIC-WAS%20Segment%20-%20Application%20Form.pdf

      http://www.drpt.virginia.gov/news/files/VA%20-%20Appomattox%20Bridge%20-%20Application%20Form_080210.pdf

      - $1.5 million for Appomattox Bridge preliminary engineering
      - $55.4 million for Richmond-DC Tier II EIS

      Jim, I’m not sure I understand your point above. The DRPT applications are completely separate from the $93 million needed to bring passenger rail to Norfolk, and you can see that they are both for studies and not actual construction (haven’t all of these issues been studied to death by now??)

      My point is that since Virginia obviously has money and will to spend on rail, it could have leveraged the $93 million as a 20% match for an additional $370 million in federal money (assuming VA gets 100% of its application). This would have paid at least half the improvements needed to bring full rail service to Richmond’s Main Street Station or improvements elsewhere in the state (additional triple-tracking as OceanRailroader mentioned, making sure the Norfolk starter service stops at Bowers Hill in Suffolk). As it is, VA is paying 100% of the cost to bring trains to Norfolk without any federal match or additional benefit for this money.

      Ashland is far from the only problem on the RFP legacy alignment from Richmond to DC. The rail line also makes two 90 degree turns in Caroline County. The current rail alignment is fine for improved, high-quality commuter rail/Amtrak but a new alignment will be needed for a true HSR East Coast trunk line.

      • jim

        I was guessing.

        What seems to be the case is that FRA is not willing to release funds to VA for Washington-Richmond without a tier 2 EIS. So there wasn’t a construction match available at least for anything north of Centralia. And without that, there’s no capacity to get more than one train from Norfolk into the NEC.

        Hasn’t this been studied to death? Yes. It sure has. But it can be studied some more. The VA application says the EIS will consider two alternatives: build/no build. Which is as minimal an EIS as you can do. FRA wants an EIS; we’ll give ‘em an EIS.

    • Nathanael

      Oy. Virginia still doesn’t have its priorities straight.

      Where’s the south-side connection to Richmond Main Street Station? Or the Acca Yard Bypass? Rerouting all Richmond service to Main Street Station is the best thing they can do for long-term rail viability in Virginia, period, yet it always seems to take second place after *something*.

      • Woody

        A billion or so to get stuff rolling through Main Street Station, no? And no short term payoffs if you do it in installments, nothing much until you get ALL the pieces in place. No wonder Va always finds “something” more affordable.

        My hunch is that they’ll want to package the south side connection to Main Street, and every cost possibly related to it, into a big HSR request for the 110-mph route through Petersburg to Raleigh and beyond, then hope to get grants of a billion or so over several years. But for now, that isn’t on LaHood’s priority list. It isn’t even top of the N.C. priority list. Maybe after N.C. gets up to speed Raleigh-Greensboro-Charlotte … and that doesn’t look all so far away after all.

        • Nathanael

          Actually, it’s not even clear how much it will cost, they’ve never got the design studies to a sufficient level of detail. :-P

          • Nathanael

            Actually, it can also be staged, a little. At the moment there are trains which terminate at Richmond Staples Mill; increasing the northside capacity with the Acca Yard Bypass (or the alternative eastside route which was finally rejected recently) would immediately allow them to extend to Richmond Main Street.

            After that, yes, there’s no benefit until the entire access from the south side of Richmond, including the major river bridges, is built; but once it is, the two Florida trains and the existing North Carolina train can serve downtown Richmond immediately.

            It seems almost certain that Staples Mill Rd is suppressing ridership.

        • jim

          A billion or so to get stuff rolling through Main Street Station, no?

          No.

          The Long Bridge to North ACCA is about $1.1B. North ACCA to Centralia is a bit over $600M. Centralia to Norfolk is on the order of $500M.

          If you just do the North ACCA to Centralia bit (a bit over $600M), then you can reroute the long distance trains through Main St. for no real gain in performance, terminate/originate the three regionals at Main St vice Staples Mill (also for no real gain in performance) and shorten the two Newport News trains by about half an hour. It’s not a really compelling cost-benefit case.

        • Ocean Railroader

          I saw the Route of the 11.5 mile triple tracking project and I saw on google street view that there was another triple track project that was five miles long that had been completed only less then ten miles away from it with a long shallow creek bay bridge between the two sections of it. I would have instead of spending Vrginia’s resources on 55 million in studies. I would have narrowed it down to working out plans and adding a new thrid track between the new 11.5 triple track section and the old five mile long triple track with plans to build a new double track bridge next to the old one to make room for a new triple track but leave room for a new forth track on the new double track bridge next to the old double track one.

      • Ocean Railroader

        I hope they keep the Staples Mill Train Station and the Ashland Train station in that the Main Street station in down town Richmond would be in a very bad area to park. The frist thing about Main Street that makes people not to want to leave there is that the City of Richmond loves to tow cars by the dozens it is what they live for. Also the area the Main Street Station looks not that welcoming and it is very expessive to park by it. It is not a place I would want to get on a Amtrak train at 4.00AM in the morning or get dropped off at night. Staples Mill station at least allows you to have someone drop you off.

        • The Staple Mills station is actually further away from downtown than the majority of the new TGV stations.

          • jim

            I don’t think anyone defends the location of Staples Mill. Broad St. was closed permanently; Main St. suffered some sort of catastrophe (fire? flood?); so Amtrak built an Amshack at a place that was convenient for it — easy to layover trains overnight, easy to turn trains. But Staples Mill is inconveniently far from downtown and not centrally located within Henrico County. DRPT wants to close Staples Mill and build a new suburban station further north, once Main St. is once again the main Richmond station.

          • Ocean Railroader

            Jim
            When you take the Amtrak from Staples Mill Station it is only about a less then 15 ride to Ashland on the Amtrak Line so if they moved it more north I think it wouldn’t really mater. A lot of people do not want to go to downtown Richmond do to Richmond’s towing mentilaty where they will get fleets of ten tow trucks and drive up and down the streets all day arounding up cars. The closer you get to downtown the more agressive they are when it comes to parking. Also I think what kills some of the Amtrak times is that they dump you in downtown Richmond in the middle of the night or dead early in the morning when the sun is not up. Richmond is safe during the day but it’s best to be off the streets by sunset.

            The Broad Street Station is now a Science center with a Imax dome. But at least have the tracks still link up to the Mainline. I could see it wouldn’t be two out of the question to run Amtrak trains from it might make things more entertaining for people waiting for train. In that there is a side room they could turn into a ticket sales room and they have elevators at least three to four of the loading tracks still clear of anything built in their way.

  • eldondre

    did PA not apply for anything?
    Boston south-thenorth south link is important but the feds should foist it on MA since it’s important to the interstate network. capacity would be improved by a through station as well as the expansion of push pull intercity service.
    as for Bush era metrics, they were actually pretty good but money was in short supply. instead of expanding the pot of money available to good project, Obama relaxed the standards so less transformative projects could get funded. I also don’t agree it should all go to the NEC (though the NEC shoudl get some). San Jose-SF is a good project with a positive ROI (they think it will lower costs, increase ridership and equipment utilization). VA is also a good project, and MI the timing is right.

  • OceanRailroader

    PA Orginaly had a plan to ask for 700 million to restore 21 miles of thrid main line track on the old double track Harrisburg Mainline. The mainline used to be four tracks wide in the 1950′s so this would have been a big step in restoring the former gorly of the Pennsyvinia Railroad. The 700 million was also going to be used to repair and up grade several new stations and old stations. Along with catenary line repairs and up grades.

    I think PA should look at adding several new Static Conveters that change three phase 60Hz grid power over to Singel phase 25Hz Pennsyvinia Railroad power to meet the future demands of the new trains they want to add to the main line and in case the Perryville Branch line is brought under catenary again. Along with the possible ideas of building new commuter lines into Harrisburg along with the catenary going out west towards Pittsburg and Altoona.

    • Adirondacker12800

      Within the next few years everything on the NEC and it’s branches will be able to run on 25Hz or 60Hz. If they re-electrify anything it will be at 60 Hz.

      • Danny

        Why not 25kV 50hz? That is the electrification standard we would need if we wanted to buy any of the high quality HSR trainsets off the shelf.

        • Adirondacker12800

          Because then you need very expensive frequency converters. Much cheaper to just have the power electronics on the train deal with 60Hz current. It’s a relatively minor alteration to the specs for the train.

          • OceanRailroader

            The Safe Harbor Dam has several generators that make nothing but 25Hz. If someone such as Vrigina Power built several 25Hz generatiors at their North Anna Neclear Plant 1600 megawatt Expasion project such as if they devoted 100 megawatts to it they could feed 25Hz at a far lower cost then the power companies up north who charge far higher rates. Also if Vrigina power did this at their power plant which is only 35 miles away the Richmond Washingtion high speed rail line they could save Amtrak millions in Frequency Converters by making the power freash at 25Hz instead of Amtrak buying the power and then pumping it though a Frequency Converter.

          • Adirondacker12800

            The PRR settled on 25Hz because at 25Hz you can use motors designed for DC operation and the lights don’t flicker objectionably. Modern trains use 3 phase motors, whatever comes in on the third rail or pantograph gets converted to 3 phase AC. Minor variation in the power electronics to use 60Hz instead of 50Hz. Nuch more complicated and expensive to set it up to use 25Hz or 60Hz.

            25Hz is no longer used anyplace else in the world. Everything would have to be custom designed and built. With a 60Hz system when part needs to be replaced they just order one from a catalog. Lamokin was probably the last time they replace 25Hz equipment. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if it’s retired before the end of it’s service cycle.

        • It’s pretty easy to change trains from 25 kV 50 Hz to 25 kV 60 Hz. The Shinkansen does this at one point: one line changes in the middle. It’s no big deal.

          However, changing from 25 kV to 11 kV is more difficult. Still doable, but more annoying.

          • Max Wyss

            Actually, if the frequency is the same, switching between 11 kV and 25 kV is no big deal. The main transformer will have to be set up accordingly, so that the additional winding is available. This, however does mean that it gets a bit heavier. Otherwise, with modern traction, design the intermediate (DC or pseudo DC) circuit to work at voltages between 1200 V and 3000 V. And that is something Bombardier, Siemens and Alstom know how to do (in their 4 system locomotives, they feed 1.5 kV and 3 kV directly into the intermediate circuit).

            Frequency changes are a bit more tricky, but nowadays, there are not that many problems anymore with 16.7 Hz and 50 Hz on the same unit.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Frequency and voltage changes are possible today but they do cost money. Someday they’ll get around to converting the 25Hz stuff to 60Hz stuff. They won’t need the expensive frequency converters at the substations anymore and the trains will be cheaper to build and maintain because they will only have to cope with one frequency and one voltage. Maybe two voltages, 25kV on most of the lines and 12.5kV in and around New York.

      • OceanRailroader

        We need to keep some of our new HSR train sets made in the USA and not overseas if it is to make jobs in the USA. The 25Hz was set up by the Pennsyvinia Railroad in that the lower the Hz the more power it packs for running train motors then 60Hz grid power.

        As part of some of the modern up dates on the NEC in the year 2000 a 160 megawatt 60 million dollar new Static Conveter was added in Phili for the Harrisburg Line and for some of the NEC. Also as of now they plan to start work on a 26 million dollar project to repair a Satic Conveter that has been running from the 1920′s none stop. The’ve spent around a 100 million for bran new Static Conveters now but I would like to see them install some tensioned high speed catenary on it.

        • Max Wyss

          Well, if the trains are developed and built in the US, the US will have to pay its price… it is as simple as that.

          Actually, “industrial” grid frequency locomotive motors were not or only very difficult to build in the 1920s. In fact, the first reliable 50 Hz installations appeared only after World War II.

          • OceanRailroaderer

            The 25Hz system is a wounder in itself in that it has been running from 1915 when the frist section opened outside of Phili to 2010 none stop. It has been running at least 40 years before mainly of the main Europe rail power projects opened up in the 1950′s and 1960′s. And it has out lived at least three generations of people now very few power systems can say that they did that in that most of them get replaced all the time in that they have acuess to a large pot of money from the power companies and the high speed rail groups in there native European Counties and Japan. Instead the 25Hz system has been given years and years of abuse in that it never really got any major funding from the 1950′s on ward to 2000 when finally it was given a new Static Conveter station.
            This 25Hz Anomilycould even be around in the year 2051 if we let it in that the Stumus funding as already given it 26 million to repair it’s 1920′s static converters which have ran none stop for 70 years so it could be around another 50 years with these new parts. We should at least extend the 25Hz system down into Vrginia where it could get bran new 25Hz only generators at the new Lake Anna Recator power station which is only 40 miles from the high speed rail main line to Richmond VA.

          • Adirondacker12800

            25Hz equipment isn’t manufactured any more. It is different than 50Hz or 60Hz equipment. Everything that has a coil in it, generators, transformers, motors, has to be custom designed and hand built. Custom designed and hand built equipment is much more expensive. Anything they extend or build new in North America is going to be 60Hz.

          • Max Wyss

            The 25 Hz system (in the US) started about at the same time as the 16.7 Hz systems in Europe (for example Lötschbergbahn (1913) or Rhätische Bahn.

            There is inherently no problem on keeping the systems for a long time. Modern rolling stock can handle more or less any frequency and voltage. If I am not too mistaken, for example, the basic AC version of the Bombardier TRAXX locomotive comes as 15 kV, 16.7 Hz / 25 kV, 50 Hz system by default, and you might have to pay extra to have a single voltage/frequency machine. So, that can be considered to be under control.

            When it comes to lineside equipment, such as substations etc. the “no longer manufactured” argument is not as strong, as they are custom made anyways.

            Catenary etc. does not care about frequency anyways (well, the higher the voltage and frequency, the bigger the insulators must be, but you can use 25 kV, 50 Hz rated insulators with 15 kV, 16.7 Hz

          • It would still require tweaking the rolling stock. Besides, lower voltage means lower performance. For example, the AGV can’t hit top speed unless it’s at 25 kV; at 15 kV, it’s limited to 330 km/h.

            Another problem is that unlike European trains, Japanese equipment does not have to deal with voltage changes; converting a Fastech 360 or N700 to 11 kV may be more difficult than converting a Zefiro, Velaro, or AGV. On the NEC, the need for very good acceleration (=less time lost to each slow zone) and high cant deficiency makes the Japanese trains superior to the European ones other than the Talgo 350.

          • Adirondacker12800

            When it comes to lineside equipment, such as substations etc. the “no longer manufactured” argument is not as strong, as they are custom made anyways.

            Custom made as in not made until ordered. The people designing it and the people building it work with 60Hz specs all the time. It’s going cost more to get them to do things for 25Hz. Far fewer standard parts to make and use.

            the basic AC version of the Bombardier TRAXX locomotive comes as 15 kV, 16.7 Hz / 25 kV, 50 Hz system by default, and you might have to pay extra to have a single voltage/frequency machine.

            16hz and 50Hz current isn’t available in North America. Anything running in North America will be using 25Hz or 60Hz. Take out the dual frequency requirement and the train can be opitmized for 60Hz. Probably cheaper to build, cheaper to run because it will run more efficiently and cheaper to maintain. More reliable too since there’s going to be less parts.

            Amtrak is busy spending 63 million dollars refurbishing the Lamokin converter station. If the trains ran on 60Hz they wouldn’t need a converter station.

          • Max Wyss

            To Alon: The reason why the AGV has less power under 15 kV than 25 kV has actually nothing to do with the voltage, but with the frequency. The transformer is a) optimized for 50 Hz, and b) more efficient under the higher frequency anyways. If we had a 50 Hz installation at 15 kV, the vehicle would still have better power rating at 50 Hz.

            Also, there are practical reasons which make the slower top speed at 15 kV, 16.7 Hz absolutely acceptable. Very High speed lines under 15 kV exist only in Germany, and there, the maximum design speed is 330 km/h (Frankfurt Airport – Köln), and that won’t be different on other lines either (consider how long it takes to build a high speed line in Germany… even if a line would be planned right now, for higher speeds, the AGV would have reached its economical life span when the line gets operational… Therefore, no need at all.

            I don’t see why multi-voltage systems should be so much more complicated. So, the argumentation about the Japanese developments are rather weak.

            Acceleration is essentially a question of the number of driven axles (it is more complex, yes, but it kind of boils down to that). As the actual possible power rating essentially depends on the heating up of the armatures, more motors can provide more short-term power, and that’s why the distributed drive systems can accelerate faster.

          • Max Wyss

            To Adirondacker12800: The main difference between 25 Hz and 60 Hz equipment would be in the engineering phase. If there are differences in the building phase, it is more caused by regulation and lack of flexibilty of the involved. As said, the components for which the frequency is relevant are mainly custom made anyways.

            I know quite well, that the US does not have 50 Hz and 16.7 Hz electrification. This is actually not relevant, because it is no longer a big deal to work with different frequencies, be it 16.7 Hz and 50 Hz, be it 25 Hz and 60 Hz.

            Of course, a single frequency/voltage locomotive is slightly simpler, but, as the Bombardier TRAXX shows, the difference to multi-system units is getting smaller and smaller. In fact, what can make multi-system TRAXXes more expensive is the various signalling/train protection systems which have to be built in in Europe for cross-border traffic. ERTMS is going to simplify this, but that will take its time to be the pan-european standard.

            We shall not forget that in modern units, a lot of frequency and voltage dependencies are nowadays handled via software.

          • Max, it’s only the initial acceleration rate that depends primarily on the number of driven axles. At medium and high speed, as the speed-acceleration curves shown for the AGV demonstrate, the main factors are the continuous power-to-weight ratio and, at very high speed, air resistance.

            On a curvy line such as the NEC, it’s important to not just maintain speed on curves, but also to lose as little time as possible from a slow zone. Any NEC upgrade would encounter unfixable curves limiting trains to speeds in the 200 km/h region, which means that being able to accelerate back to top speed quickly is crucial.

  • OceanRailroaderer

    But the 25Hz sure lasts long

    • OceanRailroaderer

      They had this intersting program on how they do it and they showed how they made motors and generators where they would take the copper wires and spin them into the motors and transfromers and it was intersting in that most of the large things where hand built. It intersting in how they showed the amount of Hz you wanted they would leave it on the spinning machine that would make the motors. They showed them working on motors the size of a can to motors as big as train motors. It was a intersting show about where they came from.

  • eldondre

    I’d be curious if 25 really lasts much longer than 60, if true, could justify the custom built price tag. low upfront costs has bee the bane of modern transit in America. anyway, I know what PA submitted for in the first round, I’m just curious if they submitted anything in the second round. I didn’t see them in the list. In my mid, they should concentrate on Paoli to Philly where they’ll get the most bang for the buck. Overbook to 30th st is mostly 15-30 mph that could run 80-90. Bryn Mawr interlocking feels dangerous as it is. I wouldn’t mind seeing Paoli get its center island platforms for easy transfers to SEPTA trains either. they can worry about the third main in the next round.

  • OceanRailroader

    The 25Hz system sure has proven itself in lasting a very in time. I remember reading in a book called Conrail Part 1 that the catenary was taken out for the freight lines in the 1983 so between that and now most of the catenary we are looking at is what remains of when the system was in it’s prime. I also did check on some of the projects around the 30th station and the Paoli and those projects are something that badly needs to be done right away. Amtrak has said that the catenary poles and some of the wires in that area is pushing it’s way pasted 90 plus years old and the wires in that area will turn a century old when 2015-2017 come up. I could see that replacing the catenary masts and wires in that area are needed to save the system as a whole.

    • Woody

      IIRC most of that stuff close in to Philly was to be paid for by SEPTA using new tolls on I-80. Great idea, but the Feds read the law to say, No way. That killed the plan for PA to do heavy lifting on the next round of Keystone Corridor upgrades. A couple of stations are being fixed up, but otherwise for now the Keystone Corridor is on hold.

  • Woody

    Update: Washington State—
    $80 million: for upgrades to the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor, including track siding upgrades and improvements to stations along the corridor. “We are dedicated to improving and expanding our state supported Amtrak Cascades passenger rail service and are thankful for federal support,” said Paula Hammond Secretary of Transportation. “These additional grant funds will allow us to further advance our high-speed rail plans and build on the $590 million in Recovery Act funds that were awarded to us in January”.

    That report, a little thin on specifics, comes from the NARP News site.

    I guess these little projects are shovel-ready, but I can’t get excited about spending many millions on station improvements. Unless they’re talking Seattle, Portland, Tacoma, and Olympia, all the other stations are chopped liver. That first $590 million was going to improve on-time performance a lot, speed up trips a very little 6 minutes or so, and allow another frequency. I’m really impatient for something to cut trip times in this corridor if they’re really gonna get serious increases in the passenger count.

    • aw

      Here’s a link to the news release from WSDOT about these applications.

      Most of these projects are for the Seattle – Vancouver portion of the corridor. These have been long planned, but short of money.

      I tend to agree that the HSR grants should concentrate on the rail infrastructure instead of stations. In the case of the two station projects included here, there is already a lot of local and federal money committed to these projects. The King Street Station renovation is well underway, and the permanent Tukwila Station construction is just getting started by the regional transit agency.

  • eldondre

    Woody-thanks, that’s what I suspected but they’ve been waiting on SEPTA since the mid 90′s to put it in perspective. Skating on thin ice. PennDOT needed to move forward with at least some of the improvements, maybe strike a deal with Amtrak. PennDOT funds interlockings, Amtrak the catenary since this is how Safe Harbor feeds the system as far north as Newark.
    As for cascades, it’s my understanding much of the work was necessary to lay the groundwork for faster trip times (the article I read didn’t go into specifics but maybe the sidings, etc provide the capacity but the line needs signaling upgrades? Perhaps even more capacity is needed to deal with overtake issues)

  • OceanRailroader

    I’ve been on the Amtrak line though the SEPTA zone and it is a very horrible looking section of railroad track. I remember seeing one of the large 80 foot catenary masts bottom sections bent like a prizel still holding up the wires and I saw a lot of rusted though bridges. I don’t think this is what the original railroad builders thought about the idea of their works lasting forever.

  • Nicholas O'Kane

    “The federal government is expected to announce the winners of the award dollars on September 30th.”

    Has the anouncement been made yet, and if so can someone post the details?

  • And as per usual, Texas comes out on the short stick (In part by Republican incumbent Governor comments on Obama administration), Texas Requested $ 40 Million for Texas Rail Plan, only got $ 4 million for a study on Fort Worth, Tx. to Oklahoma City, Ok., with possible extensions to San Antonio, Tx. on the South & Kansas City or Norman, Ks on the North.
    Never mind Houston which is the 4th largest population area in the U.S., Houston today only gets token 3 days a week visit’s of the Sunset Limited to Los Angeles or to New Orleans (Typically this train is SOLD OUT, yet some in Wshington, D.C. would like to see the train disappear..

    To spite dismal dispatching by host railroads, ridership remains high & could easily eclipse that of the DAILY Empire Builder or California Zephyr if only it were DAILY and returned to Orlando, Florida (It’s Eastern terminus since 1993, cut short after Hurricane Katrina). The first through train AFTER Hurricane IKE a few years ago was SOLD OUT at Houston, Tx., even though the return after IKE was not widely publicised.

    Houston/Galveston area population will easily exceed 5 Million population after 2010 census figures are released, yet only gets token service by Amtrak, which could easily disappear in a few years if enough Republicans get elected next week.

    U.S. passenger train service is worse than most 3rd. world nations which receive a bounty in U.S. foreign aide, yet the 3rd world nations are among those with the most advanced an largest passenger rail networks.

    France, Germany, Spain, England & Belgium annually spend close to the U.S, equivalent of $ 20+ Billion annually for their “High Speed Rail Networks”, today one can boards an ICE train in Germany and take it to France & not too distant future to England at 165 mph or faster. Same goes for Eurostar between France and the U.K.

    BUT the good old U.S.A. continues to plod along on crowded & cramped airliners which pollute the air daily & require almost as much fuel to get off the ground, as it takes Amtrak to transport the same number of passengers 1,000+ miles..

    Doesn’t make sense..

    In Europe, China & Russia, high speed passenger rail is considered a “Social Necessity”

    Howard Bingham, Director, Texas Association of Rail Passengers

Leave a Reply

 

 

 

Comment preview below as you type. You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


9 − one =

For help if you have trouble posting or your comment is marked as spam, please email:
info (at) thetransportpolitic.com | Comment Rules

The Site / The Fight

by Yonah Freemark

yfreemark (at) thetransportpolitic (dot) com

  • Le progrès ne vaut que s'il est partagé par tous.

Email newsletter

Network

rss feed
comments feed
twitter feed
email update