Amtrak Unveils Ambitious Northeast Corridor Plan, But It Would Take 30 Years to be Realized

» Unfunded, $117.5 billion proposal would speed trains from Boston to Washington in just 3h23. Amtrak wants a full new corridor along the entire line, including a new inland route through Connecticut.

After months of sitting on the sidelines as states and regional agencies promoted major new high-speed rail investments, Amtrak has finally announced what it hopes to achieve over the next thirty years: A brand-new, 426-mile, two-track corridor running from Boston to Washington, bringing true high-speed rail to the Northeast Corridor for the first time.

The report, released today at a press conference in Philadelphia, suggests investing $4.7 billion annually over the next 25 years on the creation of a route that would allow trains to speed between New York and Washington in 96 minutes and between New York and Boston in just 84 minutes. The line would run along a corridor that could stretch in new tunnels under the city centers of Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, and along new rail rights-of-way through Connecticut. New stations would be built in every city the project would serve. This Next-Generation High-Speed Rail, as Amtrak is calling it, would produce overall average speeds of about 140 mph by 2040 (top speeds of 220 mph), compared to 75 mph today. It would undoubtedly significantly expand the mobility of residents of the Northeastern United States.

Amtrak claims that once in operation the line could produce an annual profit of almost $1 billion a year (in 2010 dollars), increasing overall intercity rail ridership along the corridor from about 12 million today to 38 million by 2050. Total construction costs would be $117.5 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars, or $42 billion in 2010 dollars, about the same as the California High-Speed Rail project.

But it is worth being skeptical of the political chances for the project’s implementation. The timing of the plan’s release could not be much worse. With anti-rail and austerity-focused Republicans likely to retake control of the U.S. House of Representatives in this fall’s elections and little serious talk of increasing funds for fast train projects in the immediate term at the national level, a vast increase in capital financing for Amtrak is hard to imagine.

Amtrak has rarely publicly advocated for such a major investment. Last year, the publicly owned agency’s vision for the Northeast Corridor suggested $10 billion in upgrades producing a 5h30 total trip time between Boston and Washington. Today’s announcement is of a completely different magnitude, but it falls in line with the agency’s recent push to operate true high-speed lines in places like Florida.

The proposal is even larger than that suggested by a University of Pennsylvania planning group earlier this year, which I dismissed as mostly unrealistic, thanks to its grandiose proposal for a new tunnel under the Long Island Sound and a new corridor through Center City Philadelphia. Yet Amtrak’s management clearly thinks there is a possibility of major investment here, which is why this new program would not only build that new tunnel under Philadelphia, but also connect New York’s Penn and Grand Central Stations and involve the construction of an entirely new greenfield route through much of the region.

The fact that the Congress has thus far only committed $10.5 billion total to high-speed rail projects across the country does not seem to have fazed anyone in Amtrak management, though it may have resulted in the decision to propose spreading out spending over a 25-year period, rather than, for instance, building it all in ten years. Under the plan, the sections from Baltimore to Wilmington and from Philadelphia to New Rochelle would be completed by 2030, with the rest done by 2040.

Amtrak will need a massive and long-term commitment from the federal government to make this project possible. It will have to find a way to build a coalition between Republicans and Democrats on the matter, since each party will inevitably be in power at some point over the next thirty years. It will have to make a strong case for why investing in the system fulfills national objectives. In the report, it is clear that the agency hopes to portray the Northeast’s strong contribution to the overall U.S. GDP as one of the primary reasons to invest in infrastructure there.

There are therefore long odds for this scheme, but that does not mean it is without merit. In order to implement truly high-speed rail in the Northeast, there is basically no choice but to commit to the construction of an entirely new corridor, since the existing tracks are already mostly at capacity surrounding the major metropolitan areas. Upgrading them could cost as much or more as building from the ground up.

And Amtrak understands the value of building the new line in terms of interconnections with the existing network. Under the service plan suggested in the report (shown below), trains from the southern part of the new corridor could run through along the existing Coastal Corridor in Connecticut and Rhode Island; similarly, trains coming from Harrisburg along the existing Keystone Corridor could interline with the new route at Trenton.

Amtrak will have to assemble major political force behind this project to see it through. This will not be a simple project, either from a funding or construction standpoint. But for the nation’s densest and most economically productive region, it may be the best way forward.

Images above: Amtrak’s proposed routing for its new high-speed rail service, from Amtrak

371 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Deacon

    Another proposal that wont produce a damn thing. This is the USA, waiting for any sort of government action will leave you dead with a bunch pretty pictures and if onlys. The horseshit politics in this country wont allow for it to happen.

  • Pigs Will Fly

    The chances of this happening are close to zero. The don’t see any hope at all, unless Amtrak figures a way to bring in private funding sources, fast-tracks this project on a “by the end of the decade,” Apollo-program time frame.

    Even then, Amtrak would need a serious commitment of federal $$ before anything else, which simply isn’t going to happen in this political environment. The democrats would have to retain control of the House in November, and then the white house would have to make high-speed rail priority # 1 for jobs creation. Similarly for Amtrak, they would have to throw every ounce of energy they have into building this thing and getting it up and running.

  • Deacon

    Yonah, would it be possible for a private entity to buy amtrak? If so what would the asking price be?

    • It would be possible if the federal government decided it wanted to sell the agency. But would anyone want to buy an agency that is unprofitable?

      In terms of asking price, what do you think? How much do you think the Northeast Corridor is worth?

      • Don

        How about selling it for a negative price? The deal would be “how much to I have to pay you right now to run the network in it’s current form – at a minimum – in perpetuity?” The owner would then be free to pursue service increments that yielded incremental revenue greater than incremental cost (like the Lynchburg train) or subsidized service where they could find a sponsor (ACES train sponsored by Casinos for example)

  • Nexis4Jersey

    I think Amtrak will get Private $$$ to fund this and a few other Northeastern lines. This is the Northeast , politics tend to favor HSR as long as it has benefits and is feasible. I think this will get built eventually , in phases…..

  • Rockfish

    Well, one thing’s for sure – if this were ever to happen the real estate values in northwestern CT would quadruple! Danbury would be a 30 minute ride from NYC – that’s closer than Greenwich is now.
    I bet there’s at least $100B of value to be added by building this – any way to leverage that?
    Still, in the end, I’m with the cynics. Never gonna happen

  • francis

    Private entities already own part of Amtrak – when it was formed in the 70’s, the existing railroads got stock in the company in exchange for trains and other equipment.

    Still, if it costs 117 billion but only makes 1 billion a year of profit, that kind of return on investment is not going to attract any takers.

  • Dave

    1). Why would it take so long to build? No wonder the Chinese are doing so well nowadays. They could build this in five years. We built the whole interstate highway system in less than 30 years.

    2). Why would it cost so much?

    3). Why routed through Woonsocket rather than Providence?

    4). Agreed, another “proposal” that will never work because a handful of NIMBYs or anti-investment, anti-rail crackpots would never sanction it. That’s transport in America for you!

    • poncho

      Agree, if this is would require new right of way have it hit Providence, then you can really reduce Amtrak service on the CT shoreline. The Providence-Boston route is pretty good track and routing too. The only reason to skip Providence would be to utilize the Albany-Springfield-Worcester-Boston rail line’s right of way.

      • Peter Brassard

        Amtrak likely chose a Woonsocket stop instead of Providence because of a Providence and Worcester Railroad right-of-way that extends slightly southwest from Woonsocket to the village of Harrisville near the Connecticut line. Hartford and Providence are less than 70 miles apart, yet both have suffered from the lack of highway or rail connection for over 50 years. There’s an abandoned Providence to Hartford right-of way that could be used to re-establish a connection. If the current proposal were implemented, it would be great improvement for Hartford and significant lose for Providence along with no new connection between the two cities.

        • In what sense would the NEC Master Plan Upgrade represent a net loss to Providence? An Express HSR corridor is not for local service: the map above puts it on upgraded direct service to Boston and all points on the NEC between Providence and NYC on the Regional HSR Shoreline Express, and a superior trip to NYC, Philadelphia and DC via transfer from local service at rt-128.

        • poncho

          cant imagine the state of RI would support this proposal if it missed providence. a stop in woonsocket barely hits any of the state of rhode island.

          • So RI will oppose this plan because Providence gets its upgrade upfront, in 2020, rather than having to wait until 2030 or 2040?

          • It depends on how you define “upgrade.”

          • Typically, better reliability and/or transit speed and/or frequency than at present.

            The number of people who define upgrade in terms of some abstract benchmark is relatively small and mostly located in internet forums.

          • Sure, there’s no need for benchmarks. Let’s cut 10 minutes from the Acela’s runtime now, and then forget about the NEC forever and build bullet trains in Ohio. The Northeasterners will get their upgrades first, so why complain?

          • Your response suffers from the fallacy of false dichotomy …

            … but setting that aside, if there is a transfer station in the next stop north, they inherit the bulk of the transit time gains to NYC, Philly and DC for whatever the final shape of the Express HSR corridor, and given the distance between Providence and Boston, reliability and frequency are more critical upgrades than transit speed for that intercity transport.

            As far as Providence and Hartford, one would not normally select an HSR alignment based on whether it connected together cities that are 70 miles apart: that is more a transport task for local rail.

          • The number one slow zone on the NEC is between New York and New Haven. Providence gains very little from a plan that forces it to use the existing line with current operating practices.

          • Wonderfully vague: for Providence/Boston, its evident that increasing ontime operating performance is more critical for quality of service than cutting transit time at the same 85% ontime running, so what about the Master Plan will fail to raise ontime operating performance and what should they do instead?

            None of this is saying that the alignment they picked is ideal. I might prefer a matrix, with a 110mph corridor from New Rochelle to Springfield via Hartford, then on to Boston, linking with the Air Line alignment for the 220mph run. That would put Providence on the 220mph but put Hartford on the transfer.

          • Adirondacker12800

            The Air-Line in Connecticut is twisty and hilly. There’s a reason it’s a hiking trail. Probably more than one.

          • @Bruce: the problem with OTP on many American commuter lines, including the Providence Line, is about railroad culture more than anything. The track is of high quality. The trains aren’t, but both the commuter and intercity trains can and will be replaced. Changing railroad culture is institutionally difficult, but financially easy. The problem is that Amtrak is not trying to reform its culture; it prefers asking for billions of dollars to compensate.

          • @Adirondacker: Its so annoying when reality on the ground contradicts such a pretty line on the map. Though on the one hand I do not see how its included as a potential alignment if it cannot be untwisted sufficiently for 220mph service, on the other hand hilly is sometimes less trouble for Express HSR than for slower and heavier traffic. Next you are going to say that the New York / Massachusetts northern alignment option has similar flaws.

            @Alon: And on the flipside, efforts to innovate operating cultures face a far greater risk of catastrophic failure.

            And institutions shape the framework that people use to understand the problems they face and their potential solutions: how far can Amtrak go in terms of changing their operational culture on their own when working in a context of bringing each of their regions services through multiple local rail service operating cultures?

          • Adirondacker12800

            The pretty line on the map for the hiking trail that was the Connecticut Air-Line is twisty. It’s twisty because it goes through the hilly parts of Connecticut. The Shore Line is twisty because rivers flow out of the hilly parts of Connecticut and flow into Long Island sound…. in moderately wide estuaries. When, in 1880, you are building a railroad that will be reach the astounding speed of 50 MPH, curves don’t matter as much as long expensive bridges over wide estuaries. .. so the Shore Line is twisty as it weaves back and forth between towns on the shore and narrow places on the rivers. Silly people, since 1880 they’ve gone and built a lot stuff near the fast tracks to Boston and New York. Straightening the Shore Line would be very very expensive. I suspect intercity trains will run along it for a very long time. They just won’t be Express HSR, they’ll be Regional HSR, Emerging HSR or even just fast SLE commuter service – change at New Haven or New London for intercity trains.

            The cheap alignment that won’t be much of a problem is the median of I-95 east of New Haven. It hits population centers but isn’t particularly populated itself. It’s moderately flat, It’s not particularly curved. Back of the envelope guesstimation is that it would save 20 minutes on a Boston to NY express. A lot cheaper than digging tunnels and filling in wide embankments across the hills of Connecticut.

          • Bruce: hilly is trouble for HSR as soon as a 3.5% ruling grade is not enough to construct things tunnel-free. With I-95, it’s possible to climb the hills with just viaducts; with the I-84 alignment, it’s not.

            You’re right that reforming company culture is hard. The SEPTA managers tried, and couldn’t. But failure is not catastrophic: all that happens is that the company stays the same, ejects the managers, and keeps losing money. SEPTA Regional Rail’s ridership is still up.

            But there are examples of success, and those can be huge. For instance, Southwest thinks it will succeed in absorbing AirTran’s different culture. In most other cases, a company would start a new division protected from internal culture; often this new division could be in a different industry. Nokia’s move from operating sawmills to making cellphones is a major example. Other examples include airlines starting low-cost divisions, which is popular in Asia, and British Rail’s design of the Advanced Passenger Train, for which it used engineers who were working in isolation from the rest of the company.

        • Adirondacker12800

          Define local rail. The longest local line that I can think of in the US is the one to Port Jervis. That’s more an artifact of people formerly using intercity trains to get to New York and the MTA picking up the slack. 95 miles from Hoboken. New Haven is probably the next farthest from it’s terminal city 72 miles. The trains express between Stamford and Grand Central making the trip much faster. There’s a whole lot of nothing between Providence and Hartford, there isn’t going to local rail anytime soon.

          • Is the argument that the HSR corridor must run between Hartford and Providence because the transport demand between the two cities is too small to justify a conventional rail connection between the two?

            Because I don’t see the transport demand you are aiming for here. From Hartford, which is more important, Boston-bound, NYC-bound, or Providence bound? And from Providence, which is more important, Boston-bound, NYC-bound, or Hartford bound?

          • Bruce, the way I’m reading the argument, the point is that there needs to be a rail connection between the two cities, and dedicating it to commuter traffic would be pointless because there isn’t much between the two cities. So the line might as well be designed primarily or exclusively for intercity trains.

          • But if they are said to be only 70 miles apart … why is it mandatory that they be connected by 220mph trains?

            And I didn’t say anything about a commuter line … obviously when gasoline passes $5/gallon and starts heading toward $10/gallon in 2008 dollars, the entrenched habit of thought that equates regional rail to commuter rail will be pushed aside, and the quicker we get out of a 1970’s mindset on that, the better prepared we will be for those conditions.

          • Peter Brassard

            Newark is roughly 70 miles from Philadelphia, Wilmington 60 miles from Baltimore, and Baltimore 35 miles from Washington and no one is questioning why those cities should be linked together on a new NEC line, so why Providence? Since there are limited suburbs between Providence and Hartford to justify the construction a commuter rail line, why would the federal government build a special 70-mile long regional rail line between the two cities, if its building an expensive new NEC line that avoids one of them?

            In spite of Hartford’s and Providence’s close proximity they are difficult to get to each other because all that links them are two not so great secondary highways that are leftovers from the U.S. route system from the mid-1920s. People hate driving it and often drive around a 100 miles by way of New London or Worcester to avoid the route to get to either city.

            In spite of their close proximity Providence and Hartford are likely to be the two most physically disconnected cities in the northeast. The two cities have relatively equivalent metro areas of 1.1 million for Hartford and 1.6 million for Providence. What’s the problem with connecting both of them when and if a new NEC line is built?

          • Bruce, drop the peak oil canard. The oil prices you think will be the end of automobility are completely normal in most of Europe, but have not turned lemons into lemonade. Good public transit in Europe works well; bad public transit doesn’t, and keeps people car-dependent.

            Peter, here’s an argument for not connecting them: it saves many billions of dollars over connecting them. Check the terrain in Google Maps, and ask yourself how many kilometers of tunnel you can build before you bust any reasonable budget.

          • Peter Brassard

            Alon, perhaps you’re right about linking Providence and Hartford. But, maybe Don’s (6 October 2010 10:46) comment is the most compelling that makes the most sense in this discussion. Instead of building a new NEC line, he suggests. . .

            “that suburban/urban transport projects will rank much higher on the list than most HSR project because of their greater ability to provide capacity and reduce energy/CO[2]” and “Amtrak service on the NEC between NY and DC doesn’t carry even a single freeway lane of traffic during peak periods – or save much energy. A heavy rail transit line is worth a whole freeway of capacity.”

            Besides the four “hub” cities, most of NEC cities are underserved by rail transit or even decent bus service. Other than minor upgrades to the existing NEC line, it might be a better use of limited resources to spend on urban/suburban rail transit rather than a new NEC HSR line.

          • @Peter: What resources are scarce when we are talking about one energy saving means of reducing local transport demand on congested roads and one energy saving means of reducing intercity transport demand on congested roads and airports?

            So, what limited resources? Labor? We have massive unemployment. Production capacity? We have capacity utilization well below long term averages. It can’t be energy resources, because those would both be energy saving projects.

            So the “choice” between local and intercity transport is a false choice, especially given the ongoing subsidies provided to higher cost road capacity.

            And looking at how much road capacity is saved now, when there is potential demand for passenger rail that the NEC cannot tap because of rolling stock and corridor bottlenecks, as if it were an unbiased measure of the road capacity that could be saved by an effective investment, is a massive status quo bias.

  • Danny

    Once again, Amtrak proves it is incapable of rational operation.

    The NE Corridor is at capacity. Instead of worrying about increasing speed, they should be increasing capacity by running high capacity HSR trainsets.

    • “The NE Corridor is at capacity”, therefore it is evidence of incapacity for rational operation to propose to build more capacity.

      ???

    • Adirondacker12800

      The Northeast Corridor is at capacity between Harrison New Jersey and Sunnyside Queens. That will go away in 2017 or so not to reappear again until the 2030s if ever.

      • If the Master Plan is going to ease immediate capacity bottlenecks by 2017 and capacity is projected to be hit over far more of the corridor by 2030 even in the conservative projections that Amtrak makes, which ignores the effect of Peak Oil, then that would suggest that the Transport Authorization circa 2016/2018 would need to include provision for addressing that capacity constraint, since it takes a decade or more to build an all-new corridor.

        That suggests that it would be useful to get a preliminary outline of the shape of that kind of system rolled out in advanced of the preceding Transport Authorization.

        Which is now and this.

      • The specific stretches that are bottlenecks in their 2030 “NEC Master Plan Only” base case projection are a northern metro DC stretch in Maryland, around Baltimore, from far northern MD through Delaware, Trenton to the next station north in NJ, around Newark, NYC through New Rochelle, and north of Providence through to Boston. And there is substantial overlap between the two 2030 segments and several of those bottlenecks.

        • Adirondacker12800

          Sigh. How many trains an hour can travel in each direction on a four track railroad? Except in the immediate vicinity of Manhattan it’s going to be a long time before they reach capacity. There may be some problems between Stamford and New Rochelle. Maybe north of Elizabeth NJ. Maybe in and around Philadelphia. The rest of the corridor won’t have a enough demand unless cars are banned or it all is as densely populated as Brooklyn.

          • Even Philadelphia is a stretch. The R7 Trenton Line runs 4 tph peak right now. The R8 Chestnut Hill West Line runs 2 tph peak, and has so little ridership that its traffic could go up by an order of magnitude and still fit within about 4 tph. Those 6 tph get to hog half of a fully four-tracked line. At the other end, the R2 Wilmington/Newark Line runs 3 tph at the peak, and gets to hog one half of a line that’s mostly four-tracked, with a three-track outer segment most of which would be avoided with the Wilmington bypass.

            It’s so little traffic Amtrak might get away with not fixing any of the at-grade interlockings.

          • Don

            Line capacity depends a great deal on terminal design/capacity. Perhaps more than block signal spacing. You can easily run 10 freight trains an hour on typical double track (2, 2 mile block separation at 60 mph = 4 min headway) , but getting them into a terminal at that rate is tough. Two miles at 30 mph on approach and then 1 mile (train length) at 15 mph allows 8 min headway at best.

          • First, we’re talking about passenger trains, not freight trains. When all trains move at the same low or medium speed, existing signaling permits 24 tph. Beef it up with moving blocks and it goes up to 30.

            Second, Philadelphia 30th Street is a through-station, not a terminal.

          • Adirondacker12800

            I should have been more specific. Philadelphia within a stop or two of 30th Street. Are there going to be problems in Levittown or Chester? Nah, not unless cars are banned.

          • Even within a stop of 30th, it’s a non-issue. North of 30th, intercity trains have dedicated approach tracks, and commuter traffic is so scant that commuter trains have little if any reason to ever use the express tracks. South of 30th, trains would go on the Airport Line, sharing tracks with commuter trains traveling at similar speed and making the same stops before diverging.

            By the way, I just ran the numbers on Jersey. It turns out that with better signaling, allowing 30 tph per track pair, and with four tracks all the way into Penn Station plus the existing six-track passing segments, the NEC/NJC commuter line would have higher capacity than the Chuo Line. The NEC and NJC lines have about 70,000 suburban boardings per day; the Chuo Line’s upstream two-track segment has about 700,000.

          • Nathanael

            Alon, I question whether you have included the daytime freight movements onto and off of the NEC. I realize there’s no problem in North Jersey, but in the Philly area I would expect the freight movements to be a real issue.

          • I haven’t, but freight could be done in the off-hours. It doesn’t even have to be at night – off-peak SEPTA runs something like 2 tph north of 30th Street. And remember, the corridor is fully four-tracked there – high-speed trains and freight trains need never share tracks.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Amtrak has been strongly discouraging freight for a very long time. Deindustrialization of the Northeast has been doing a pretty good job of it too. Rumor on the foamer boards is that 50 freights a day move on the NEC. None of them run the length of it.

    • Woody

      Amtrak has been working to extend platforms and run longer Acelas. I’m not crazy about extended platforms and longer trains. Doesn’t that mean passengers from the back of the longer train will walk farther to get to or from street level facilities? I’m not crazy about buying more Acela coaches. We need new FSA regs and much lighter, new generation rail cars, not more dinosaurs.

      People whose opinion I respect keep saying that the NEC is not at capacity. Well, if we had a few hundred new generation coaches, could we run Acelas and Regionals every half hour instead of every hour? I don’t think so. Could Amtrak run another long distance train, perhaps one to take the Florida East Coast route to Miami, a second run of the Carolinian, a daylight “Charlotte Crescent” NY-NC to serve North Carolina and western Virginia cities in day time not dark, or even a second run of the Pennsylvanian to Pittsburgh or Cleveland or Detroit? I don’t think so.

      Obviously this plan doubles Amtrak’s capacity by adding two new HSR tracks in the Northeast Corridor. I like the boldness.

      • Woody, longer trains are not a problem. People have to walk longer only if the station has just one exit, which the biggest stations don’t. Penn has staircases to the concourse placed throughout the platforms – at least, the Amtrak and LIRR platforms do – and street exits at both ends.

        There are two main reasons not to run longer trains. One is platform length; this isn’t an issue, as the existing platforms can handle 12 cars, and can or could be lengthened to 16. The other is frequency; this is an issue on most corridors, but not on the NEC, which is expected to get enough ridership to fill full-length trains at reasonable frequency.

        • Woody

          Alon, I know Penn has multiple stairs, elevators, and exits. I should have said I was thinking mostly of D.C.’s Union Station. If there’s a way to get out the back, please let me know. I once tried to transfer from the back of the train to the “nearby” Greyhound station — a couple of blocks as the crow flies, a damn long detour through Union Station if you’re hauling a bag or two.

      • Adirondacker12800

        The platforms at major stations on the NEC, between NY and DC anyway, are 18 cars long. The far reaches of them may need major rehabs but they’re 18 cars long.

        • Ocean Railroader

          Longer trains could be a very good cost cutting idea for Amtrak in that if they added two to three cars on to eatch train that is filled to the gills that could add far more profits into the trains and at one of the most lowest cost.

          • Unfortunately, the most profitable route, the Acela, requires custom-made tilting carriages as well as locomotives, so it’s not easy to add cars. Running trains together in pairs is not feasible due to a shortage of Acela trains.

      • Max Wyss

        With 16 cars you have trains about 400 meters long, which is quite long, but not uncommon (2 ICE3, Eurostar, etc.).

        However, there is also the option for bi-level, and this should be possible, even in the NEC, if necessary with a few local adaptations. These vehicles do not need to be monsters like the Superliners, but could do with the loading gauge similar to the ones applied in Switzerland or France.

        • Which gets back to the antiquated FRA regulations ~ the trains need to meet the regulations, which makes them bigger. Then the Acela needs to tilt to meet its current schedule (even if it cannot tilt in Connecticut north of ~ New Haven? ~ because the tracks are too close together).

          But getting more Acela cars and lengthening the trains only goes so far: to increase the speed of the Acela in the NEC is to reduce the capacity of the NEC, since the greater the differential in speed, the more passing is required.

          The “Master Plan” does quite a lot of good, but according to the planning study, it only takes Amtrak to 2020. And since Western countries cannot build all new, all grade separated HSR alignments in eight years from go to whoa, that means that while pursuing the Master Plan, it is also necessary to get started on planning the kind of expansion of capacity that only an all-new corridor can provide.

          If Planning An All-New Corridor, then the only sane approach is to plan an all-new Express HSR corridor, and allow the upgraded NEC after the Master Plan to be used as a combination Regional HSR and local rail corridor.

          • Danny

            Does anybody have estimates as to how much time the tilting saves the acela?

          • You could compare the timetables of the Acela with the timetables of the NEC Regionals: they can’t tilt.

            The more improvements are made to the corridor, the more time is saved. Since the slowest speed segments loom the largest in total transit time, the fewer bottlenecks, the more important top speed becomes.

            Decreasing the spans of the constant tension catenary between NYC and DC will allow modest speed increases, and more importantly can be done incrementally and then makes it simpler to do the conversion to variable-tension catenary incrementally, and the variable tension will allow the maximum speed segments to be 150mph rather than 135mph.

          • The Acela can’t tilt between New York and New Haven; it’s also limited to 75 mph between the NY/CT line and New Haven, in order to make Metro-North’s dispatchers’ life easier.

            But north of New Haven, where tilting is used the most, the Regional has a waiver allowing it to run at 5″ of cant deficiency. The Acela gets 7″. With 5″ of cant, the speed difference between 5″ and 7″ cant deficiency is 10%.

            Between New Haven and New London, a curvy segment on which the Acela and Regional have the same top speed, the fastest Regional takes 0:49 and the Acela 0:43. It’s a little more than 10%, but it’s still the sort of performance you’d expect of railroads in 1963.

            Lengthening trains in no way reduces capacity. It increases it; both the Shinkansen and the TGV used train lengthening to squeeze more capacity out of their most congested lines. In addition, some of the areas where Amtrak swears there’s a capacity issues could be fixed by modernizing the commuter trains and instituting timed overtakes.

          • But getting more Acela cars and lengthening the trains only goes so far: to increase the speed of the Acela in the NEC is to reduce the capacity of the NEC, since the greater the differential in speed, the more passing is required.

            … is the section that you are reading as if it says, “lengthening the Acela trains will reduce capacity”, and even rereading it several times, I don’t get how you get that interpretation out of the above words.

          • Adirondacker12800

            to increase the speed of the Acela in the NEC is to reduce the capacity of the NEC, since the greater the differential in speed, the more passing is required.

            Why does there have to be a differential in speed? The congested parts of the NEC, with minor exceptions like Newark to NYC, are four tracked ( or more in a few places ) The fast trains have the fast tracks all to themselves. The slow trains use the other tracks.

          • Nathanael

            There’s a speed differential because there are:
            (1) freight
            (2) local “commuter”
            (3) express “commuter”
            (4) “regional” Amtrak
            (5) express Amtrak

            All on the same tracks. You can get a lot into four tracks, but that is pushing it and results in some of the expresses being slowed.

            On top of that I think some of the Amtrak stops don’t have platforms on the center tracks.

          • @Adirondacker ~ what Nathanial said. You’ve got the Regional HSR and regional conventional rail on the same express track. At irregular intervals determined by urban geography, slots on the express track must be available for express commuters to overtake local commuters, or freight to overtake local commuters, or express commuters to overtake freight.

            Now increase the potential speed of the faster, and to tap the speed, it overtakes the regionals more frequently, and at each passing movement, its the commuter and freight traffic that has to leave a slot open on the slow track to accommodate.

            If the regionals are all replaced with Acelas, now they all overtake the commuter expresses faster. Speed up the commuter expresses and they overtake the commuter locals and freight traffic faster.

            You can’t increase the speed differential between the fastest and slowest traffic while increasing the frequency of service of the fastest without cutting into train movement capacity somewhere. If there is ample train movement capacity to spare, that may not be a concern, but the projection in question is the corridor hitting capacity bottlenecks in 2030. And that is with unrealistically stable gasoline and diesel prices.

          • Adirondacker12800

            The freight trains on the NEC are nearly non existent. They don’t travel the NEC during peak hours. Freights don’t use the congested parts and haven’t, expect in extraordinary circumstances, in a century.

            The express commuter trains use the express tracks. They then pass the local commuter trains that are on the local tracks. They switch between the the tracks, infrequently, if at all. On the hour the super express leaves, at :05 the Amtrak regional leaves, at :10 the commuter express leaves. At worst it switches to the local track mid way so the following super express, which left at :15 passes it as they both near the commuter train’s terminal station…. Current commuter trains, ones running right now to suburbs between NY and DC, are fast enough to keep up with the regionals, they can effectively share tracks…

          • @Adirondacker, cf. page 5 of the main report, the projected 2035 Volume to Capacity ratios of 75% to 100% and over 100% are far more extensive than the 2002 Volume to Capacity ratios. Fine if you want to critique how they arrived at that, but I don’t see you doing that, but rather saying that because a particular segment is not congested in 2010 then we can plan an making use of that spare capacity.

            And increasing the speed differential reduces trainset capacity, so the Volume/Capacity ratios go higher faster if we pursue a policy of expand speed differentials until its not workable and only then start planning on a dedicated HSR corridor which will take over ten years to construct.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Philadelphia is never going to be New York. Neither is Balitmore, DC or Boston. Four track railroads begin to suffer from congestion problems when mixing expresses and locals when it gets over 30 or 35 trains an hour. There’s never going to be that many trains headed to downtown outside of New York and Chicago. Especially considering that mutliple lines serve the major cities in the Norhteast. There might be some serious upgrading needed to be done in Trenton NJ and Morrisville PA, Stamford and New Haven CT probably Wilmington DE but four tracks is going to be enough for a very very long time… unless cars are banned.

          • Then go into their congestion modeling and find where you dispute the assumptions of their projection. Its probably the population densities, since obviously under current development trends, even making grossly over-optimistically low projections of energy prices, the tendency is for Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia and DC to more closely resemble NYC in twenty years time than they do today.

          • Apologies, its page 6. The main projected congested zones for 2030 are north DC/southern MD, Baltimore, Northern MD/Delaware, Philadelphia urban, Trenton, Newark, NYC/New Rochelle, and Providence / Boston.

          • Providence-Boston and the New Rochelle area are congestion zones iff Amtrak doesn’t learn how to time overtakes. At traffic up to 6 intercity tph, less than what I think could happen but more than what Amtrak thinks, the same is true for Baltimore-Washington.

            In Philadelphia, there’s no real track sharing zone – the line is four-tracked all the way to the north and there isn’t one third the traffic that would be required to force commuter trains to use the express track. To the south, the line is three-tracked, but commuter traffic is sparse, and the continuous track-share segment would be short if the Airport Line bypass were used.

          • Are you basing those on existing 2010 traffic or projected 2030 services?

          • Projected.

            More precisely: I haven’t seen any claim of the type “The Providence Line will get X inbound weekday riders in 2030, requiring Y tph,” so I went ahead and checked what projection would be reasonable. From the data on page 81 of the Blue Book, the Providence and Stoughton Lines have a little more than 20,000 weekday riders between them. To rise to the level that Caltrain projects for itself, ridership would need to quintuple; even that could fit on 6 peak tph using a service plan similar to Clem Tillier’s.

            The ridership projection I’ve seen for Baltimore-Washington could fit in a limited number of tph as well, but the level of HSR traffic could require four-tracking by itself.

          • Those congested segments are taken from the Master Plan. Which steps in the projection of the congested segments do you take issue with?

          • I don’t know which steps I have a problem with, as no explicit methodology is described. Amtrak doesn’t even bother to tell us what future ridership is projected for those commuter segments requiring more infrastructure.

            However, based on the scant information provided, I can guess that Amtrak assumed zero timetable coordination, and no timing of transfers or overtakes. The smoking gun is the claim that Amtrak is limited to 2 slots per hour on the Providence Line. In reality, timed overtakes and passing sidings at stations would increase this to 6 tph.

          • That seems like you are assuming not only far better than 95% ontime performance by Amtrak but also by each and every local rail system sharing the corridor. Kind of like the recipe for grizzly bear soup: “first, catch and kill one large grizzly bear”.

          • 95% OTP is no big deal in Germany, Switzerland, Japan, or Spain. It shouldn’t be a big deal in Massachusetts and Maryland, and it’s not even necessary in New Jersey and Connecticut.

            High OTP isn’t magic. The biggest risk to schedule adherence is dwell time. This can be mitigated with a predictable clockface schedule, wide doors, all-door level boarding, and doors located closer to the center of the car rather than over the bogies. The presence of timed overtakes by itself reduces the risk, because the train would be dwelling for 3 minutes while an intercity train would pass it. The worst case scenario would require passing sidings at every station, in case a commuter train fell behind schedule too much.

  • Joe

    That amtrak would chose to release this speculative wish list at a time when a real, funded project (the ARC tunnel) is fighting for its life, is incredibly frustrating, and shows either extreme ignorance or intentional obfuscation on their part. The idea that Amtrak MAY build a hudson river tunnel at some point in the future has been latched onto by every opponent of ARC, including the governor, as an excuse to kill a project 20 years in the making (and completely funded) and use that money to shore up the state’s transportation trust fund (rather than do the fiscally responsible thing and raise revenue to pay for spending). This announcement will lend more credence to those arguments, and will hasten the demise of ARC, while doing nothing to address CURRENT capacity constraints across the hudson. Way to go Amtrak.

    • jim

      No-one outside New Jersey can be blamed for the behaviour of its Governor.

    • Woody

      As I see it, Jersey decided to go full speed ahead on a version of ARC that did NOTHING for Amtrak, and not much for anybody except Jersey Transit and manufacturers of escalators and elevators.

      So Amtrak replies, “Likewise.” It offers a plan to connect Penn Station to Grand Central and beyond, but it does NOTHING for Jersey Transit. Well, fair enough.

      Now if Christie aborts the current version of ARC, perhaps Jersey will find a way to work with Amtrak, NYC, the LIRR, MetroNorth, and others on a new tunnel plan that works well for all.

  • poncho

    maybe (probably) it wont go anywhere, but i think we needed to see a rough proposal at what true HSR on the NEC would somewhat look like. but i’m not holding my breathe on this one, or really any HSR proposal in the US. hell according to this PBS Nova video from almost 30 years ago it looked like HSR was almost a sure thing between LA-SD.

    • Precisely: simply waiting on the sidelines as a spectator will lead to no progress at all and, therefore, nothing to watch. The only path ahead that leads to progress is direct engagement.

  • Paulus Magnus

    So, let me get this straight:
    Amtrak is going to spend billions of dollars constructing new stations solely for these trains thus driving up cost and decreasing utility at the same time, spend three times as much money for a system half the length of CAHSR, and it will actually be slower as well (2:40 LA to SF, 3:23 BOS to WAS). Moreover, despite a much denser area and higher population that is more accustomed to rail travel, it will have less ridership than CAHSR and less revenue and profit despite a shorter line and thus lower costs. No wonder there’s such a bad impression of passenger rail in America.

    • Yes, you got that precisely right. No rail organization can change the fact that the Northeast is so heavily built up and densely populated, and therefore will cost more to construct an Express HSR corridor than in California.

      How that provides a foundation for complaining about Amtrak is a puzzle, unless your argument is that it is Amtrak’s fault that the Northeast Corridor is dominated by the kind of heavily built up social geography that pushes up the cost of Express HSR.

  • Avi

    Paulus, given the built up nature of the NEC and the amount of tunneling and land acquisition required I’m not surprised it will cost so much more. And it terms ridership, the problem may be overly optimistic forecasts for CAHSR.

    • Not at all. The “problem” is not a problem at all, its that the upgraded NEC will also attract increased ridership, so that the mix of passengers on the NEC will be more tilted toward longer distance passengers, and if you divide more average miles per passenger by the passenger-miles of transport provided by the service, the result is fewer “riders”.

      IOW, simply counting 100 mile to 500 mile trips in terms of “ridership” like its a subway would be silly. Much of the ridership of the CAHSR from regional cities to the larger cities on the system would be among the 18m NEC riders in the proposal here, to bring the NEC up to a state of good repair with a package of upgrades that combine to provide substantially better performance and moderate upgrades in capacity by 2020, then alongside that pursue an all-new corridor for Express HSR services that roll out their first segments by 2030 and are completed by 2040.

  • jim

    I wouldn’t take this proposal too seriously. It has even less detail than the Penn Studio study. Think of it as Al Engel’s opening bid. It can’t be accidental that it’s released five days after he’s appointed. It’s the starting point for negotiations: with Oberstar and Mica, with LaHood and Szabo, with Schumer, with Hoyer, with the appropriators. The final, funded plan (if there is one) will look quite different.

    • As the plan is designed, if the Master Plan is funded over the next six years, higher levels of annual funding starting in 2016 could launch this plan without substantial delay in the final project completion date.

      And since this plan is designed from the outset to assume completion of the Master Plan, funding of the Master Plan could be billed as the first step toward provision of true Express HSR for the Northeast Corridor.

  • Why not incremental improvements? europe just did not go from a underfunded, low use system to a true HSR system? they did it in steps. why not spend funds on bringing the current system to a state of good repair and needed capacity to show consumers that train travel is viable and reliable. Then tackle high speed rail. Do it like the UK.

    • Maximizing the utility of the existing system before tackling major new construction makes perfect sense, but America just doesn’t do incremental upgrades. For whatever reason, Americans aren’t excited about anything but “home runs” – which they are no longer willing to pay for.

      • Danny

        This really is the only way to do it here.

        “Lets abandon this extremely high demand rail corridor because we can’t be bothered to spend a few billion in capacity and incremental speed improvements that would provide nearly instantaneous return on investment. This way we can spend a few hundred billion creating a completely new corridor that will allow us to go really fast with a >100 year ROI!”

        It is merely a result of the politicization of rail. When you politicize it, you get investment determined by the strength of special interest groups rather than the viability of the investment.

        • So you are proposing that instead of this proposal, to provide for an Express HSR system on this alignment and a Regional HSR system on the existing Northeast Corridor, Amtrak should instead abandon the existing Northeast Corridor?

          That version of either/or thinking is every bit as foolish and shortsighted as the idea to do the two in sequence, delaying planning for an Express HSR system until after a Regional HSR has been completed.

          • Danny

            You can do both on the same tracks. They don’t need a new corridor at all.

          • No, you cannot do both on the same set of tracks for long distances, not without limiting the total transport capacity of the tracks, and you cannot do true Express HSR on these sets of tracks.

            The plan targets twice the ridership on the regional services as well as growing the ridership on the HSR from the 3m of the Regional HSR Acela to 20m for the proposed true Express HSR.

            Upgrades to the speed that is practicable for the existing NEC alignment is not only possible but built into the plan described here, because it is designed from the ground up assuming completion of the Master Plan.

            But upgrades to true Express HSR transit speed running on the same track would entail a substantial reduction in capacity of the non-HSR services on the NEC, where this plan is designed to accommodate an doubling of regional Amtrak ridership on the NEC.

          • Danny

            I can’t believe you still don’t get it.

            First step: Increase capacity of trainsets.

            Second step: Run all trains at the same speed.

            Third step: Build bypasses at non-express stops.

            Fourth step (if increasing speed really is a concern): Replace the low speed catenaries, eliminate grade crossings, straighten key curves, run trains with better acceleration.

            The only reason why the NE Corridor is currently at capacity is because morons operate it. You don’t need a new corridor to increase capacity. You don’t need a new corridor to run Express trains. You don’t need a new corridor so you can increase speeds. You just need people who know how to prioritize their investments for the greatest return.

          • Don

            Danny – Morons operate the NEC? You know them personally?

            Have you looked at a track chart of the NEC? Or even the aerial imagery on Google Maps? The corridor has some nice tangent sections, but it’s current alignment doesn’t have much promise of more speed.

            Or an NJT public train schedule? You are going to run the NJT Trenton trains at the same avg speed as Amtrak Regional trains? How? Max speed doesn’t effect capacity much but avg. speed does.

            Ever notice NJT is buying bilevel coaches for Penn Station service?

            Grade crossing elimination? Seriously? All both of them east of NH are going to get you what? There aren’t any west of NH.

            You’re suggestions are all nibbling around the margins. They are either already being done or just as pricey as doing new.

          • Danny, that’s not Express HSR. You can do what you describe, but doing what you describe is not going to come anywhere close to transit speeds of 140mph.

            You describe much of the NEC Master Plan. Of course, there are diminishing returns to all of these proposals, so I take it that you are proposing to wring every last passenger mile of capacity out of the NEC before starting to think about adding corridor.

            But in general terms, what you are saying, is that something along the lines of the NEC Master Plan is basically all that is needed until some date in the future ~ and that is the same thing this report says.

            So the difference is that where the report projects ahead and sees a capacity constraint, and proceeds to start looking at what would be required to address that capacity constraint, you are proposing that we ought to wait until we hit capacity constraints before we start planning to deal with them. Despite knowing that this means being burdened by those capacity constraints for over a decade.

          • @Bruce: Danny is not describing the Master Plan. I presume what he’s describing is a version of the Master Plan that does not four-track corridors that could stay for the rest of eternity at two tracks with four-track passing loops.

            @Don: I can’t speak for Danny, but I have in fact looked at a track chart of most of the NEC, as well as at aerial images on Google Maps. Squeezing extra speed takes surprisingly little additional infrastructure; in many places Amtrak chooses to institute 125 mph speed restrictions on tangent track, on curves both the cant and cant deficiency values are substandard, and many curves can be eased almost for free.

          • @Danny:

            “Run all trains at the same speed” is another way of saying “don’t run Express HSR at all”. We are not making progress if we kick existing local passenger rail services off the corridor, and “run all trains at the same speed” implies its either a conventional rail corridor or an Express HSR corridor, it can’t be both.

            IOW, you still don’t get it.

          • Bruce, the corridors in question are fully four-tracked, with six-track segments closer to New York. Running all trains at the same speed means requiring the express commuter trains to make a few more stops, or alternatively thread between high-speed trains when overtaking local trains. It’s not as big a deal as either you or NJT would think.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Amtrak does the dispatching on the NEC, so it’s Amtrak that has difficulty with scheduling. Some of the hoariness comes from major stations like Metropark only having side platforms. ( the foamers have very clever plans to build two island platforms at Metropark, haven’t found any for Rahway.. )

          • Metro-North does the dispatching on the New Haven Line, if I remember correctly. That’s where the biggest speed limit problems are.

          • @Alon, how do you get the commuter expresses up to Express HSR speeds if they are making “a few extra stops”? It sounds very much like you are throwing away the benefit of having Expresses in order to solve a capacity maximization exercise … but the overall goal is to increase rail’s mode share, and you are losing sight of that when solving the capacity maximization.

          • Adirondacker12800

            They will get up to the same speed with electricity the same way the HSR trains do. It’s only going to be a problem between New Rochelle and Stamford and Newark and Rahway or maybe New Brunswick. The trains on the express tracks between those points won’t be stopping. They will switch to the local tracks and make their extra stops. Trains on the local tracks can go so slow that they are stopped as the express blasts through on the express tracks.

          • The speed difference between HSR and commuter rail there is relatively small on the shared segments, because the curves restrict train speed. After all the I-95 bypasses I propose, the longest shared segment would be 12 km long, between New Rochelle and Rye.

            It works out to a difference of about 2 minutes. This can accommodate about 6 high-speed tph and 12 commuter tph on the same track; while there are more than 12 commuter tph running nonstop on this segment, fewer than 12 need to use the express track to overtake slower trains.

            Between Newark and New Brunswick, the speed difference is much larger. But conversely, there are fewer commuter trains; those could be restricted to the local tracks, using the express tracks only to overtake slower trains.

    • Do it like the UK.

      Doing it like the UK requires severe masochism.

      • Don

        I think we are up to the challenge of severe masochism. Exhibit A: These 180+ posts…

      • Nathanael

        I’d rather go with the UK’s severe masochism than the US’s… self-execution, I suppose? To extend the analogy beyond reasonable levels, the UK appears to have safewords. :-)

  • 100 year return on investment seems kind of steep, but if you can include the economic benefit to the whole region, the cost-benefit may be positive. Maybe their proposal is so outrageous so that once it’s watered down by all sorts of compromises, it’ll still be useful.

    The real question is whether incremental development of this project is possible, so that capacity and speed can slowly increase now.

  • Benjamin

    Yes, I’m also skeptical about this plan’s chances. Not only is $117B a lot more money than has been proposed for any one government project in recent years (save for a mission to Mars), but this would effectively starve every other intercity rail project in the country of funding.

    Still, I wonder if selected elements might be built in phases. Can someone who’s read the whole thing comment?

    Also, I have to wonder if the price tag is to put the proposed $10B in NEC upgrades in perspective. So lawmakers might say, “Geez, we don’t want to spend that much. Give them the ten billion and call it done.”

    • aw

      They have a phasing plan. Some bits would be done by 2030, others by 2040. See p. 21 of the report. The early bits would be Baltimore-Wilmington and Philadelphia-New Rochelle.

    • mulad

      Yeah, considering that SNCF figured the Midwest could get four (and a half) 220-mph lines for $68.5 billion last year, I’d be concerned about this starving other projects too.

      • The Great Lakes and Midwest are much more like the population distribution and density that the SNCF are used to working with.

        But if you count votes in the Senate, the Great Lakes and Midwest have fewer to offer, since we continue to insist sending a certain proportion of the same people who gutted our economy to represent us in the Senate.

        Since the question is not a fixed pot of money to be divided up, but political logrolling to get everyone’s projects funded, there’s a lot to like in getting Amtrak’s Master Plan funded in the next transport bill in return for enough emerging HSR funding to get every politically feasibly Great Lakes and Midwestern Emerging HSR corridor built.

        Get both of those, and the 2016/17 transport authorization will be against the background of improvements already in place in both the NEC and intra-regional jealously of the Great Lakes and Midwestern Have Nots of what the Haves are experiencing.

  • Amtrak’s HSR report is fine as far as vague hand-waving goes. But in a highly-developed region like the BosWash corridor, the details could be deadly, not to mention budget-busting. Until Amtrak produces something that gets into details of tunneling and row acquisition, it will be hard for me to take proposals for a new alignment seriously.

    Also: fazed, not phased. /grammar police

  • eldondre

    Amtrak wants to look like it’s doing something more innovative than the hohum master plan. it’s not worth putting any detail out if it’s going to die on the vine, this is more like bait.

  • Andrew D. Smith

    This would be a great project, if the costs were anywhere near reasonable. But they aren’t. They’re absurdly high, high by a factor of ten.

    You transit advocates have only one serious chance of actually getting significant transit improvements beyond a few stupid light rails that will never carry more than .1 percent of whatever metro area they “serve”: Focus all the time you now spend impotently demanding new money into figuring out how to create a transit system that provides cost-reduction incentives to every single person in both public and private sector.

    Move the decimal point in the project cost column one place to the left and all this becomes not only feasible but compelling and helpful. As things stand, however, the cost of this stuff wildly outweighs the benefits, so much so that it has zero chance of happening.

    Yes, a focus on costs would compel transit advocates to turn on folks they have always seen as their allies, the people who work in and for the public sector — but those folks are not your friends. They are your biggest enemies. By continually pushing prices up, it is they — far more than any Republican — who has made it basically impossible to expand or improve any public service in this country since the 1960s.

    It is not a coincidence that public sector employees got the right to unionize in that decade, a decade that saw the end of a century of continual improvement to public services and the beginning of a 50-year period of public service decline.

    Either transit lovers figure out how to reduce costs, and convince legislators to enact the necessary reforms, or you will never see any of the projects you really want built — projects that would really improve life in this country if they were built at reasonable cost.

    • Tom West

      Andrew D. Smith: You transit advocates have only one serious chance of actually getting significant transit improvements beyond a few stupid light rails that will never carry more than .1 percent of whatever metro area they “serve”:
      Actually, there are many transit system with mode shares far in excess of that. My local half-hearted bus-only transit system (in an affluent area) manages 6-7% mode share. Your inaccurate insults only undermine whatever point you are trying to make.

      Focus all the time you now spend impotently demanding new money into figuring out how to create a transit system that provides cost-reduction incentives to every single person in both public and private sector.
      If I understand you correctly, you want transit to be cheaper for both indivudals and the state than cars are. Fine – that’s easy. Buses and trains are intirinsically mroe effficient ways of moving people than private cars, so the total cost will be lower.
      Example: when I movee to my current area, I looked at the cost of transit versus owning a car. Merely having a car sitting on the driveway (i.e. car loan / insurance / registration) worked out about 3.5 times more expensive than a monthly transit pass – and that’s not including fuel / types / maintainece / depreciation. Granted my transit pass is subsidised, but even they set a fare that would lead to 100% cost recovery, it will still cost less than owning a car.

      Also, your point that a unionised public sector leads to higher construction costs is simply wrong, because major transit construction costs are put out to tender and then built by *private* companies. But, please, don’t let simple facts get in the way of your political views.

      Personally, I think the fact that politicans are unwilling to promote higher taxes to finance projects that would benefit the public is the main reason for the lack of transit investment. (This despite the number of succssful ballot measures raising taxes to pay for transit projects in teh last 10-20 years). Also, in the US, states look too much to the federal government to pay.

    • Since the costs are in line with the costs to subsidize an equivalent amount of interurban passenger-mile transport capacity on the Interstate Highway system, I take it that you feel that the costs of the Interstate Highway system were overblown tenfold, and we should stop funding that system as an overexpensive white elephant.

      • Andrew D. Smith

        Yes, road construction costs are also overblown by a factor of roughly ten, when compared to costs in better functioning countries (and adjusting for currency, cost-of-living-etc.), which is why we’re in exactly the same situation with road construction and maintenance as we are in public transit: we can’t afford it.

        From the 1950s to the early 1970s, we built the entire highway system. Now, despite being richer and more technically sophisticated, we can hardly afford to keep the roads paved.

        Population keeps expanding and its transport needs keep expanding along with it. A richer and more sophisticated society should be able to meet those needs by expending far less money (as a percentage of total societal earnings) than earlier societies. But the process has gotten so far out of whack that we cannot. And we will suffer for it. Speedy transport is incredibly important and we’re losing it.

        • We definitely won’t be finding any way to expand intercity road capacity in the northeast by looking for roads that are in the decreasing cost zone for road widening ~ we’ve already done those projects. Its increasing cost road capacity expansions that are still available to be done.

  • There are too many cynics in the comments. $117.5 billion sounds like a lot, but it’s nothing for a government priority. Keep in mind Congress is currently debating extending the Bush tax cuts at a cost of $3.7 trillion over 10 years. In other words…four months without the Bush tax cuts would pay for this.

    • Pigs Will Fly

      I fully agree with you that in the grand scheme of things, including federal expenditures on our military misadventures, this sum is paltry. However, we are not living in a country that has rational spending priorities.

      Given the current political climate, and that it takes a Herculean effort to get a mere few billions passed to extend unemployment insurance or that Obama’s meager $50 billion infrastructure spending proposal was dead on arrival in Congress, this proposal is certainly DOA purely as a matter of ideology for republicans and blue dogs.

  • Glad to see Amtrak acknowledging the need and aware that what they call high-speed rail now (the sluggish Acela Express) is not high-speed by any standard.

    Still…30 years?!?

    • The Acela is certainly not true Express HSR, but with more reality-grounded crash safety standards, a modernized Acela could certainly provide Regional HSR service along the whole NEC.

  • Andrew

    Couldn’t this be built in phases though, with through running on existing tracks until the full project is built? This would break the cost into manageable chunks and lead to better chances of this actually being built. Also the upgrades to the existing Northeast Corridor need to be done now, they are relatively inexpensive and would still be useful for regional service even once high speed rail is fully built.

    • Of course, doing it is phases is what the plan suggested. One of the benefits of working through the plan is that when (not if) it is knocked back in the immediate term, the plan can still be referred to when pursuing incremental improvements in the NEC.

      Amtrak was caught in the application for the $8b in ARRA HSR funds by the lack of a plan like this, and since we are going to have even more severe gas price shocks in the future and they will lead to clamoring to “do something”, they need to have a plan like this on the shelf in advance of that clamor.

  • Walter

    It’s an intriguing study, but I’d like a much closer look at the details, especially in New York and Connecticut. Is the line going to use the Harlem Line in Westchester County, or would a new line be built in the I-684 ROW (the White Plains Airport station seems to indicate the latter).

    Then to get from Danbury to Waterbury I suppose the old Beacon Line ROW, currently owned by Metro-North from Danbury to Beacon, NY, could be used, though it is very windy. I-84 probably could not be used, because of severe grade problems and I doubt they would want to build a dozen tunnels to cut through all the hills.

    From Waterbury to Hartford there is currently a rail line, but it is going to be used for the New Britain-Hartford Busway. From Hartford I suppose I-84 could be used, but then it should just go to Worcester and to Boston from there.

    There are a lot of positives for the entire region in such high-speed service, and the areas from Westchester through Danbury to Hartford would see huge benefits. Depressed cities like Bristol and Waterbury could see a new lease on life in being so close to New York and Boston.

    This new line would also bring needed redundancy to the rail system should a hurricane batter southeastern CT or Rhode Island. But for the cost, why not just build a new line with tunnels, els, and surface tracks around I-95 and the current line, where existing stations, infrastructure, and ROW could be used rather than all new stations. Will this new line see Regional-type service also, and would the existing Shore Line retain Acela-type or improved high-speed service? What becomes of the supposed upgrades to the New Haven-Springfield Line?

    This is obviously a blue-sky plan, and one we’ll never see. We can probably expect to see that Hartford-Boston connection, so long as the New York-New Haven and New Haven-Springfield lines see some sort of expansion and enhancement but that new New York-Danbury-Hartford line is probably a pipe dream. The plans for the southern half of the region do seem spot on, though, and should have happened thirty years ago.

    • Neither analyzed alignment, from DC to NY or NY to Boston, is a final alignment choice. The DC to NY alignment largely parallels the existing NEC with some diversions in some cities to allow a more rapid transit than is feasible along the NEC corridor, the analyzed NYC / Boston alignment parallels the existing NEC from NYC to New Rochelle and from Boston to south of route 128, with a combination of rail, highway and overland alignments in between.

      This is on top of, rather than instead of, the proposed Master Plan for the NEC, and the target is to go from 3m riders annually on the Acela and 9m on Regional services to 20m annually on the Express HSR and 18m on the Regional services.

      • It may not be the final alignment choice, but it’s a very weird alignment choice. For one, Amtrak’s own EIR for a new Baltimore tunnel rejects the Charles Street option on cost grounds, preferring to tunnel just from the existing station west.

  • Nikko P

    Just so I completely understand, this proposal by Amtrak does advocate a completely new ROW, correct?

    • Yes, it is. After all, in the rationale, they say: “Even given proposed Master Plan improvements, Amtrak and other rail service providers using the NEC will not have the capacity to meet the projected demand, with very limited ability to attract a larger share of intercity travelers.

  • The computer I’m on refuses to read the proposal. So I’ll just say a handful of things:

    – How is this more expensive than tunneling under the Long Island Sound?

    – The I-84 corridor is one alternative to the Shore Line, yes. Better than several kilometers of underwater tunneling. Not necessarily better than the Merritt or an upgraded Shore Line/I-95.

    – Kudos on the Penn/Grand Central connection.

    – Who needs new tunnels in Philadelphia, anyway? There’s no capacity problem there, speed is inherently limited due to noise, and no trains would be skipping the city.

    • Regarding the NY/Boston aligment, they say: “In the New York City-to-Boston segment, the study team examined a variety of potential alignments (see figure at bottom of page), including a “Shore Alignment” paralleling the existing NEC; a “Long Island Alignment” heading east of out New York and traversing Long Island Sound; and “Highway” alignments paralleling all or portions of major interstate highways, including I-84, I-90 and I-91, through Connecticut and Massachusetts. It is important to note that virtually all of the alignments considered pose a variety of construction and environmental challenges. It was beyond the scope of this study to analyze all potential alignments in significant detail. However, a representative alignment was chosen for analytical and costing purposes.

    • jim

      “How is this more expensive than tunneling under the Long Island Sound?”

      The Penn Studio study came out at $100B; this comes out at $117B. But the Penn Studio study used a lot more of the existing RoW in the southern segment. This plan parallels the existing RoW from Washington to Baltimore, but doesn’t actually use it. From south of Baltimore to north of Wilmington, it assumes a greenfield RoW, avoiding the existing bridges and the existing Wilmington station. That puts its cost up. The 11.8 mile cross-Manhattan tunnel is probably fairly high cost, too.

      There is no cost breakdown by segment in the paper.

      • It does use the existing ROW: that’s the Amtrak regionals (blue line) on the above map. This plan has them taking twice the ridership as today, which would seem to imply the heirs of the Acelas and their slots on the NEC being retasked as Amtrak regionals.

        Certainly the average miles/passenger will be lower on the regionals, so the ratio of passenger miles on the NEC will be lower than the 9:10 ratio of NEC:NGEN corridor ridership this plan projects out to, but its still a doubling of regional ridership, which is all NEC.

  • PhD Computer Science

    I agree with the incrementalist approach proposed by some of the people above. Take for example the Keystone corridor from Philadelphia to Harrisburg. For $150m ($1m/mile) they managed to get it up to 110mph. Maybe if they have the tilting trains with some minimal improvements they can get up to 120-130mph, which isnt too bad. With $110b with the same cost of $1m/mile there can theoretically be 100000 miles of improvement, or at least a sizeable fraction of the entire US network. Imagine if most trains anywhere in the country would go 110mph. The sad reality of the past decade is that we could have this high speed corridor built 30 times over if it weren’t for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

    • The incrementalist approach is built into this plan, since it is designed presuming completion of the NEC Master Plan by 2020. However, the incrementalist approach can only accomplish so much, and the most reasonable way to expand capacity when an all new rail corridor is required in any event is to build that all new rail corridor as an Express HSR system, and allow the NEC to work as a local rail and Regional HSR system.

  • Please disregard my moronic comment above. Not that what I said is false, but given the circumstances, it’s stupid. Please pretend that what I actually said is “Amtrak is deliberately making an over-expensive proposal that will never see the light of day, so that people stop complaining that the Acela is so slow.”

    • Danny

      On second thought, this might be the correct analysis.

    • But the Master Plan speeds up the Acela. Perhaps not be as much as you would wish, but by more than enough to saturate capacity of the NEC over the next two decades, under the fantasy of no severe oil price shocks ~ fewer when we take the certainty of additional severe oil price shocks into account.

      • The Master Plan would keep the Acela as the world’s slowest high-speed train, running at an average speed that the Shinkansen achieved in 1965 instead of the average speed that it achieved in 1964.

        • It reads as if you are trying to use the observation that it is achieving first generation bullet train transit speeds on an alignment that was never designed as a bullet train alignment as if the compliment was actually a put-down, which is puzzling.

          • The alignment between New York and Washington is perfect for first-generation bullet train speeds. With minor improvements, no curve away from station approaches would have a speed restriction lower than 205 km/h. So it is in effect a bullet train alignment, if 1965 speeds are all you want.

          • So just kick all the local passenger rail in the way off the tracks and forgot about Boston/NYC, and problem solved?

          • No need to kick anything out. The corridor is four-tracked and the speed difference between express commuter rail and HSR on nonstop segments is small enough that they could share tracks easily.

          • Above, you reached that conclusion by assuming that the HSR are not running at Express HSR speeds on the sections in question. That seems to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

          • You seem to think trains only operate at three speeds – commuter, regional, and express. It’s not true. Speed is a continuous variable. On some of the shared segments, intercity trains would have to go more slowly because of the curves. On some, they wouldn’t, requiring small investments in passing tracks. Even with those slow zones, NY-Boston in 1:30 is feasible, by running trains fast on straight segments.

          • Yes, its a continuum of speed, and the lower the separation between stations, the lower the effective transit speed even with the same maximum speed. Unless you are thinking of management-intensive solutions like siding platforms off the Express corridor for an Express local to be overtaken by an Intercity without getting tangled into the locals line traffic, I’m not getting how your picture of the use of the NEC fits with the massive increase in local services that will be dumped on the line when gas breaks $5~$8/gallon.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Bruce, it’s a four track railroad in the densely populated parts. The local trains stay on their tracks while the express trains, of whatever flavor, speed on by on the express tracks. No station sidings required. You time it so the superexpress is arriving in Philadelphia, where there are ten tracks on the lower level as the regional is pulling out. The regional uses the commuter agency’s local track while the superexpress passes it on the express tracks then moves to the express tracks at speed… There’s never going to be a need for more than 4 tracks south of Rahway. …where by the way there already are 6 tracks so the trains going to Avenel and points south can diverge and merge…

  • After reviewing the report again, I should point out that the actual construction costs would be around $42 billion dollars in 2010 money, or $117.5 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars. This puts it roughly on-par with the costs of the California High-Speed Rail project.

    • The California project’s cost is $43 billion in YOE dollars, not in 2010 dollars. In today’s dollars, it’s closer to $30 billion; when the HSR authority was made to update the cost estimate from year of approval to YOE, a lot of HSR opponents complained that it was a cost escalation.

  • Michael Schaeffer

    I think the Penn Design plan is better than this, and is more practical.

  • Ocean Railroader

    This project sounds so pricey that it sounds out of the question people would listen more if the super rail project was say cut down to 20 or 30 billion dollars and say ten to 12 years long. A 100 billon sounds out of the question and Amtrak needs to get back out this paralie demsion they are in right now. I feel they have dozens of things they could do for say 20 or 30 billion that could easly cut say 45 minutes to a hour and a half.

    Such as the existing Amtrak Row is four tracks wide with double track bottle necks controling it. Instead what they should do is go to the bottle necks and set up a detailed plan to go break them open with four track sections. Such as the Sushanna Bridge and the Baltmore tunnels. They could also say go along the rail line and hunt for the curves in it that say make trains go down to 40 and 70 miles on hour and think of building say build sections of two to six mile streight aways that would allow trains to extend the 150 mile on hour sections. Or they could start on the existing rail line at the first 150 mile and extend that by building a ten mile 150 mile on hour extension to the existing 150 mile on hour section and see how much that costs to get a better cost pur mile bases as a test section.

    Also in New Jersey there is a abondoned eletric catenary line that breaks of the NEC say 40 miles south of New York City and runs along the NEC as a double track abondoned eletric catenary line that rejoins the NEC 40 to 60 miles south of where it breaks off. What they could do here is turn this into railroad traffic spill way or open up more rail stations away from the NEC to take local traffic off of it. Then they could start extending this side back up main line south on a new right of way say another 30 miles south of where it right now dumps back into the NEC and then rejoin the NEC farther south. So that New Jersey would have a four track old NEC and a double track New NEC bypass. This would allow a 80 mile section of New Jersey having six main line railroad tracks running though it opening up acess to also a new pool of rail users too.

    • Wad

      Seems like Amtrak has understood the art of the modern negotiation ploy.

      It involves three figures: one is the bound, one is the negotiated amount and the third is the wish list amount.

      The bound is the absolute minimum required for a project to proceed. If the amount is lower than the minimum, the project is not feasible and negotiations collapse.

      The wish list amount is a figure deliberately set so high that bargaining down from the figure has no real cost.

      The negotiated amount is the settlement figure that Amtrak really wants and can reasonably expect to get.

      The key is to keep the bound and negotiated price a secret from the counterparty.

      • Wad, this isn’t negotiation. Amtrak isn’t saying, “We need $117 billion to cut travel time to 1:30 per segment, but at $50 billion we’d cut it to 1:45, and at $30 billion we’d cut it to 2:00.” It’s portraying it as all or nothing. Nowhere does it propose multiple alternatives, some cheaper and slower and some more expensive and faster. Its phasing is the opposite of what it would be if the goal were to reduce travel time for minimum money.

        What Amtrak is doing is a different negotiation ploy: make the alternative look so absurdly expensive that your way of doing things doesn’t look too bad.

        • Adirondacker12800

          Nowhere does it propose multiple alternatives, some cheaper and slower and some more expensive and faster.

          Apparently they were examined. There’s a map designating alternatives. To do what you propose would take hundreds of millions of dollars and a decade or so.

          • jim

            No. The problem with NYC-Boston is there aren’t a bunch of cheaper, slower alignments. There are a bunch of different expensive fast alignments.

          • There’s a map, and that’s it. We don’t even get the cost comparison of the Pacheco vs. Altamont EIR. Nor is there any indication of where trains could hook into the legacy system so that they can run partly at high speed and partly at low speed; north of New York, where this would be the most useful, it’s presented as all or nothing instead.

          • Adirondacker12800

            How much would it cost and how many decades would it take to throughly explore every reasonable option and do cost comparisons on each?

            It never even occurred to me that there wouldn’t be connections with other systems. It’s the Northeast where all the operators have been peacefully inter-operating trains that use electricity and level boarding ( at the major stations anyway ) for a century. In other words it ain’t California where apparently every operator is going to pick mutually incompatible standards. … it’s going to be trains that are 10’6″ inches wide that use 48″ platforms. They’ll use 25kV 60Hz current very probably with the capability to use 12.5kV through Manhattan. They’ll all have the same signaling system, either a variant of ACSES or ERTMS. Amtrak will use a train on Monday for the Regional stopping every where Harrisburg and Springfield. Tuesday the train will be the coach class express between NY and DC. On Thanksgiving weekend they’ll lease NJTransit or SEPTA commuter equipment ( just like they do now ) and disappoint whole trainloads of passengers who were expecting single levels…

          • There’s no connection to an electrified system on Amtrak’s plan between New Rochelle and Route 128. (Why Route 128, anyway? If you must go to Hartford, I-84 is a much simpler corridor.)

            Analyzing alternatives is easy. It’s done in one study, it takes barely more time than analyzing just one alternatives, and it tends to make the project work better because people see that e.g. an alignment through Baltimore that was rejected for cost reasons may not be the best choice for the route. Let’s just say that the reason CAHSR dragged its feet for 10 years is not that they had to decide between Altamont and Pacheco.

          • Alon Levy wrote, “an alignment through Baltimore that was rejected for cost reasons may not be the best choice for the route.” Here’s an update for you.

            This biased study was written in 2005 in anti-Amtrak/HSR era when any decent HSR project was considered too expensive. For the central (downtown) Baltimore option, the report only pays lip service to a subpar route that never should have been an alternative. If one follows that obsolete report recommending about $1 billion to only rehab the same 30 mph “slowest” slow zone in the Northeast Corridor, that would really be stupid. That Penn Station track alignment can only be optimized for freight and commuter trains, and then to the detriment of Amtrak.

            Its far better to convince the USDOT and Congress that an additional $2 billion towards a combo Amtrak/MTA Redline Light Rail tunnel to be constructed under Lombard Street with an intermodal transportation center at either Howard Street Station or Charles Street Station. Baltimore MTA, city & state politicians and the public support this tunnel route in 2010. Similar to one sensible element of the Penn Study design, the Amtrak route could enter far straighter from the east, merge underground with the Redline tunnel. A deep bore tunnel placing the Redline or Amtrak atop each other would enable station configuration similar to two track levels accommodating BART and Muni trains under Market Street in San Francisco. Amtrak would exit straighter from the station, with its tunnel diverging from the Redline at MLK Blvd, then continuing as a tunnel until passing Monroe Street to the west and rejoining existing Amtrak ROW. With such a compelling route and modern station in the heart of downtown Baltimore adjacent to/near offices, U. of Maryland med center, Inner Harbor attractions and the largest transit infrastructure, this choice is by far the best HSR and Rapid Transit solution in the region.

          • Thomas, the actual difference in runtime between the preferred option and the then-rejected-now-resurrected option is, maybe, 2 minutes. The original central option intended nonstop trains to run at about 160 km/h, in which case they might as well stop. $2 billion for 2 minutes is the sort of expenditure that you’d go on if you wanted to completely discredit rail. It’d be the single least cost-effective time improvement on the entire corridor, without even the capacity improvement to compensate.

            The original report said nothing about rehabbing a 30 mph slow zone. It recommended bypassing the slow zone with a new tunnel costing about $600 million. The new speed limit would be set by the fact that trains have to stop at the station and by curves away from the study area.

          • Along replied to my reply:
            “Thomas, the actual difference in runtime between the preferred option and the then-rejected-now-resurrected option is, maybe, 2 minutes. The original central option intended nonstop trains to run at about 160 km/h, in which case they might as well stop. $2 billion for 2 minutes is the sort of expenditure that you’d go on if you wanted to completely discredit rail. It’d be the single least cost-effective time improvement on the entire corridor, without even the capacity improvement to compensate.”

            First, I’m a former Baltimore citizen whose knows these streets like the back of my hand and several people in Baltimore government today, so I can vouch that the Baltimore element of Penn Study (Design p33) would get stronger local support due to its TOD opportunities around Charles Center, the heart of downtown. Today locals and the governor (former mayor of Baltimore) would love its potential to compliment the Purpleline (existing), Redline (coming sooner), and enhanced Yellowline (coming) transit routes through downtown. One caveat compared to the Penn Study — the Redline route is placed along Lombard Street 1 block south of Baltimore Street AND 1 block closer to the Inner Harbor. It would only be a few blocks from to Camden Yards MARC train station, City Hall and Baltimore’s striking Harbor East skyscrapers.

            Second, if one views the Penn Study Baltimore element only as a one dimensional speed benefit, it would be more like a 5 minute savings compared to today because it eliminates 6 sharp curves, whereas the proposed northern circle curve route eliminates only 1 sharp curve.

            Third, comparing new stations in downtown Baltimore and Philadelphia is apples and oranges. Baltimore’s Penn Station is 17 blocks from Charles Center (at Lombard Street), which makes it distant from Baltimore’s downtown with very little TOD opportunity and Baltimore’s Penn Station draws less than 1/4th the passengers of Philly’s 30th Street Station, even though metro Baltimore has 40% of the population. Philly’s 30th Street Station is only 5-6 blocks from western Center City skyscrapers, it anchors most of SEPTA’s transit infrastructure and is a hub to Amtrak Keystone line. Philly’s skyscraper growth west of City Hall is closing the gap over the next 10 years. I acknowledge that BWI airport has an Amtrak station while PHL airport does not. But all things considered, it makes NO sense for Next Gen Acela HSR to bypass Philly’s 30th Street Station, whereas Baltimore has different dynamics that would make a Next Gen Acela HSR station near the Inner Harbor a big patronage winner and shave 5 minutes from DC-NYC trip time.

            Fourth, Baltimore already runs its Purpleline heavy rail subway under the Jones Falls River with an station next to the historic Shot Tower. So geologists know the terrain and nearby historic structures– fewer construction surprises for the Next Gen Acela HSR line and Redline light rail subway portion.

            Fifth, $2 billion in good infrastructure jobs for a well-conceived alignment wins a lot of above-board public support in Baltimore.

            Alon wrote:
            “The original report said nothing about rehabbing a 30 mph slow zone. It recommended bypassing the slow zone with a new tunnel costing about $600 million. The new speed limit would be set by the fact that trains have to stop at the station and by curves away from the study area.”

            The big circle curve tunnel route ONLY eliminates one curve yet leaves 6 heavy curves spread over several miles. As a result, most of Baltimore’s notorious slow zone would remain in tact. Hence, the proposed big circle curve tunnel route only enhances increase train capacity & route longevity as speeds suitable for freight trains. An obvious read is that the big circle curve tunnel route was a “lowest cost proposal” rather than a “best total cost/benefit proposal” because no one in 2005 anticipated an HSR-friendly president, nor had HSR and TOD for America’s downtown cores gained much momentum.

          • First, not all curves are created equal. The Great Circle eliminates the two worst curves; the rest limit trains to a much higher speed than 30 mph, and are perfectly fine for station approaches. Once you’ve eliminated the bottleneck of B & P, it becomes more cost-effective to focus on the interlockings at station throats.

            Second, the purpose of HSR is not to build shiny buildings in downtown Baltimore. It’s to transport people. Despite what certain boosters think, HSR does not provably bring development benefits to its region: in both Japan and Korea, the evidence on regional development (as opposed to intensive development around stations) is decidedly mixed. Even in France, the one city that truly benefited from TGV-oriented development, Lille, is the one that had spent a lot of money on other urban development projects, instead of just waiting for the TGV to save it.

            Third, there are differences between Philadelphia and Baltimore other than station placement. For one, Philadelphia’s metro area is three times larger. For two, Philadelphia is located at a better rail distance: it’s farther from Washington, and it doesn’t have as convenient air shuttles to New York.

          • Alon, I agree with your third point. We can agree to disagree on your first part. But I avidly disagree with your second point.

            Having MTA, city and state support to tunnel under Lombard Street for the Redline ANYWAY is a game-changer. It gives Amtrak/USDOT a rare opportunity to fund the marginal cost of a more sophisticated station to accommodate both Redline Light Rail and HSR with a one block walkway link to the existing Purpleline heavy rail station. Of course there would be more marginal cost east of President Street tunneling to Amtrak ROW and west of MLK Blvd tunneling to Amtrak ROW. In case you didn’t know, Baltimore is a city that celebrates enhancing Downtown/Inner Harbor. There will be people who ride from Baltimore toDC and Philly from that station just for that convenience. Fact, population surrounding the inner harder is growing. This station would easily double, maybe the upgraded Penn Station route.

          • Okay, let’s discuss the second point. I would not have a problem with Amtrak paying the cost difference, if it were not too large. However, this would be unlikely, because the usual method for tunneling today, the TBM, is such that four-track tunnels cost almost exactly twice as much as two-track tunnels. If the tunnels are also used by MARC, then the station cavern would need four or even six mainline tracks, raising costs further.

            Tying the alignment to the subway raises other issues, namely, what to do if the subway falls behind schedule. If it’s a small delay then it’s no big deal, but it would have to be completed soon after trains start running, or else there would be unbearable capacity problems.

        • There’s no plan to run MARC trains through the Redline Light Rail tunnel.

          Taking your comment about 4-track TBM costs at face value, there would be little cost savings in 4-track tunneling. The cost justification for doing it:

          * double current Baltimore Penn Station patronage, via convenient connections to Redline, Purpleline, and walking distance to Camden Yards MARC station by 2020; by 2025 add the new Yellowline route connection as well
          * reduce corridor delay/trip time for NEC Express trains
          * cost savings via piggy-back (Amtrak upper level, Redline lower level) subway station design
          * TOD near the Charles Center station (only a cherry on top)

          I have confidence that an experienced project management team could complete the job at budget and on-time because there is already experience tunneling one block parallel to the Lombard Street route downtown and under Jones Fall River, a route that has overwhelming political support.

          I have a hunch that Amtrak called the MTA before locking in Charles Center as a proposed station.

          • It’s not clear at all that the new station could attract twice the patronage of Penn, keeping all else equal. It’s especially not clear that it could attract higher patronage keeping costs the same. A $2 billion investment in connecting transit to Penn would go a long way: it could build another subway line connecting to Penn, or expand MARC service in other directions than Baltimore-Washington.

            The time difference between Penn and Charles is very small, on the order of 1-2 minutes. A few more minutes could be saved if trains skip the station, which they shouldn’t (and which would raise costs even further).

            What I’m saying about the 4-track TBM bit is that there aren’t real cost savings in the piggyback. Four tracks cost nearly twice as much as two tracks today.

            I have no idea if Amtrak called the MTA before choosing the station. I doubt it; other parts of the plan seem uncoordinated with the local rail operators. SEPTA is happy with 30th Street, Metro-North would want in on any plans for a Penn-Grand Central connection, and MBTA thinks there’s a capacity problem at and on the approach to South Station and would want Amtrak to take a different route.

          • Alon, a modern, well-designed HSR/Light Rail intermodal transportation hub in Charles Center only 1 block from Baltimore Inner Harbor is a lot more attractive to inbound travelers. That location, better connected to the most used transit lines than Penn Station, will cause more Metro Baltimoreans to think of train travel as well. Given Metro Baltimore’s pop growth forecast by 2030, a Charles Center Station could easily draw 75-100% more passengers than Penn Station draws today, depending on whether it includes an attractive retail component.

          • I don’t disagree with you about the Charles Street option’s attracting more inbound travelers. What I’m skeptical about is two things: first, whether it would be offset by the lack of a convenient connection to MARC (and I’m perfectly willing to listen to the argument that BWI is a better transfer point); and second, whether the net effect would justify the initial cost.

  • Nicholas O'Kane

    Any unprofitable lines elesehwere in the country that can be closed to help finance this?

    Its actually not that difficult to schieve. Slightly higher gas tax could easily fund it. The tough part is getting good ideas past congress, particularly the senate filibuster

    • No, shutting down lines will far more likely just reduce Amtrak funding by an equivalent amount.

      While in the abstract we subsidize Amtrak less intensively than we subsidize intercity travel on the Interstate Highway system and the subsidies can be argued to be just “partial leveling of the playing field”, in practice the subsidy for Amtrak transcontinental services is what various regions are willing and able to buy in return for support for Amtrak, and wherever the corridor services are more than just a skeleton, its because of state subsidy payments for the increased frequency.

    • Nathanael

      Sure, there are several unprofitable superhighways I can think of which could be shut down to finance this — also several unprofitable wars.

      Oh, no, there are no train lines such that shutting them down would save any meaningful amount of money, if that’s what you meant.

  • I’ve just read the report, and it’s beyond horrible. Even the press release shows that Amtrak just plain doesn’t care about costs: the station rendition shows a six-track elevated station, 90 meters wide. To put things in perspective, Shin-Yokohama gets by with four tracks and 37 meters, even though it’s an express station on the Tokaido Shinkansen; Amtrak’s own plan calls for traffic to be about one third that of Tokaido.

    The report doesn’t really add much to what Yonah reported – it’s mostly boilerplate stuff about megaregions and economic performance. It’s like an amateur version of SNCF’s plans for California, Texas, the Midwest, and Florida. The alignment analysis that Bruce quotes receives lip service; Amtrak clearly bothered to run a simulation on one alignment, but not on any other.

    As is usual for reports at this level, the Amtrak report avoids the question of which rolling stock to use. As the NEC is space-constrained, using tilting trains with good acceleration (=less time lost per slow zone) allows saving substantial cost on curve easing and tunneling. The differences can be large: on a line with running speed 200 mph, a 6,000-foot curve would slow a Velaro by 31 seconds, a Zefiro by 25, a N700-I with two degrees of tilt by 15, and a Talgo 350 by 10. Thus, letting Siemens and Bombardier dictate construction standards without even trying to solicit counter-bids from Talgo and JR Central is theft of public money for private gain.

    • @Alon Levy
      You seem to have a pretty good overview of these matters, I’d be interesting in reading a thorough analysis/counter-poposal ;-)

      • Anon256

        He made this map about a year ago, which would achieve almost the same speed as this Amtrak proposal for an order of magnitude less cost.

        • Since I’m writing a very long counter-proposal, let me errata this map:

          – Darien doesn’t need a tunnel. Eminent domain would be cheaper, if residents are overcompensated enough that they don’t sue.
          – The Bridgeport tunnel is longer than the map indicates; there’s no way to do an el over Connecticut Avenue, even if we ignore noise issues.
          – The Elizabeth and Metuchen curves are a bigger problem than I thought. The Maryland curves are a smaller problem.
          – The segment in Westport transitioning from I-95 to the west to the Shore Line to the east requires some eminent domain, of about 10 houses.

          Errata aside, the basic principle – start from the existing line, bypass where necessary – is sound.

          • Adirondacker12800

            The Elizabeth and Metuchen curves are a bigger problem than I thought. The Maryland curves are a smaller problem.

            … have the tunnel from New Rochelle come up in Linden. Leave the Elizabeth curve to NJTransit. The 80 and 90 mile an hour curves in Metuchen, from Google satelite views, seem to be in commercial/industrial areas. Easier to eminent domain.

          • What tunnel from New Rochelle?

          • Adirondacker12800

            The one that goes from New Rochelle to Grand Central and then onto Penn Station. Projections are that NJTransit will saturate the tunnels again in 2040 or so. Personally I think it might happen as early as 2030, if experience of MidTown Direct and the River Line is repeated. Or maybe never, there’s only so many cubicles that can be squeezed into Manhattan.

          • There’s no need for a tunnel to New Rochelle, though.

          • Adirondacker12800

            How do you get from New Rochelle to Grand Central and then to Penn Station?…. No you can’t take the trains through the concourses and then through the Flushing line and tunnel to Penn Station…

          • Oh, that… I don’t think Amtrak trains should be using Grand Central. Alt G is good for commuter rail, but for intercity rail it’s not too useful. I looked at the alignment and there seem to be more unfixable curves on the Grand Central route than on the current Hell Gate Line, on top of the heavier commuter traffic. Maybe it could be activated if Penn gets clogged and needs a relief station, but even then, my first choice would be to send trains that don’t go to Boston to Jamaica, maybe with an intermediate stop at Sunnyside Junction.

          • Adirondacker12800

            There’s lovely unused ROW all neatly in a trench through most of Jersey City pointed right at the Fulton Transit Center and the LIRR terminal in Brooklyn. The MTA, if I remember correctly is busily building new platforms for Brooklyn-Jamaica service. Have a regional or two an hour go that way. Service from Wall Street, Brooklyn and Jamaica would be very popular and would divert lots of traffic from Penn Station. Gives LIRR commutes a better option for Wall Street ( they’d have to change in Jamaica but that’s better than a subway ride between Wall Street and Midtown ) relieves PATH with one seat rides from points in New Jersey..

          • Alon, I look forward to your counter proposal. I hope it contains these elements for comparison to the current $14B 2030 NEC Master Plan for the Boston-DC Corridor (I impute a 15 minute NYC Penn-Mouynihan Station layover in trip times)

            (1) A 2030 option targeting 5 hour Express trip time
            (2) A 2030 option targeting 4 hour 30 minute Express trip time
            (3) Why a Super Express (BOS-NYC-PHL-DC only) train does or does not make sense
            (4) A solid explanation why smart human practices and positive train control can efficiently manage three different train speeds on the same track over hundreds of miles, without compromising train speeds above 160 mph.

            Regarding point 3, I don’t get the cost/benefit of Acela Super Express. The rational purpose seems to be get business travelers quickly from DC to NYC and Boston to NYC. Business people who need to travel faster directly between Boston and DC will fly. So why skip by a 3 million metro area (with Charles Center Station) by 2030 that has lots of banks & Downtown/Inner Harbor yuppies to shave 5 minutes between DC-NYC? Why skip Hartford, a 1.3 million metro area by 2030 and major financial center, to save 5 minutes between NYC and Boston financial centers?

            I have not seen a good explanation on point 4. It seems to me that Acela should continue running only Express (limited stops) and Regional service. Leave the milk-run stops like New Carrolton, MetroPark and Route 128 to commuter trains on separate tracks.

            Lastly, from a marketing-to-the-public perspective, I hope your options indicate at least 185 mph top speed. If so, Amtrak can effectively market “triple the speed of highway driving” and “fast as many Japanese high speed trains.”

          • Well, I’ve only written the technical parts so far, i.e. which trains could be useful for the route and which curves need modification. But in general, it contains:

            1. Layovers in the 1-2 minute range. New York’s current 15-minute layover is an artifact of crew scheduling that comes from the fact that the Boston-DC travel time is 7 hours. Below about 5 hours, it’s no longer necessary.

            2. A target top speed of about 224 mph, possibly reducible to 200 if there are noise problems.

            3. A total travel time of 3:00 Boston-DC on express trains at full buildout, assuming zero hitches. Noise emission problems and NIMBYism could raise it to 3:30.

            4. Express trains stop once per state, excluding Delaware. Some intermediate stops, such as New Haven and Baltimore, have so many bad curves on the approaches that skipping them saves too little time.

            5. Timed overtakes on shared HSR/commuter tracks in Massachusetts, and, early on, Maryland. I haven’t fully worked out the issues in New Jersey and Connecticut yet, but the same thing is doable there, too.

            6. Routing through Providence, not Hartford, to allow piggybacking on existing track in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. It’s only about 2 minutes slower.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Layovers in the 1-2 minute range. New York’s current 15-minute layover is an artifact of crew scheduling that comes from the fact that the Boston-DC travel time is 7 hours. Below about 5 hours, it’s no longer necessary.

            I cannot find an authoritative source, foamers claim that certain rush hour NJTransit trains do the crew change at Penn Station in four minutes. The special trains from New Haven to Trenton – for service to the Meadowlands for Connecticut points – have ten minute dwells. It’s going to be very difficult to get a stop in New York to be very fast. Most of the passengers will be getting off to be replaced by passengers getting on. That’s going to be problem until they start ripping out tracks and platforms to improve pedestrian flow.

          • Doesn’t really matter how many passengers are getting on and off. See for example the extremely short dwells at Shin-Osaka, and the short dwells at Tokyo once cleaning is done.

            The Shinkansen does several things to reduce dwell time, all of which are very cheap to implement. One is announcing station platforms ahead of time, and marking where passengers should stand based on their seat assignment. Another is having the train doors located one quarter and three quarters of the way from the end, rather than over the bogies. Presumably, the high seat pitch also makes it easier for people with middle and window seats to climb over the people in the aisle seats.

            A small part of the problem would also go away on its own with faster speeds: we can expect NY-Boston and especially NY-DC traffic to increase by a smaller proportion than Boston-DC and Boston-Philly traffic, which means that fewer passengers would get on and off at NYP per train door.

            Improving pedestrian flow is important, but, as with many other things, its main usefulness is for commuters.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Putting 2000 people on the platforms at Penn Station would be dangerous. They are going to have to go with the same scenario they use now, empty the platform and then announce the train. That is going to take time. If in 2020 they decide to make the platforms wider and put in a lot more escalators that might change.

          • It wouldn’t be 2,000: a full-length HSR train in 2+2 configuration could get about 1,000 seats, of which about 750 would be filled, and of those some would be through-passengers. So there would be maybe 1,000 people, spread evenly across 400 meters of platform. Even the existing tightrope-wide platforms could handle that.

            Where the platform widening would do more good is with commuter rail, where you could realistically expect 2,000 people to get on and off trains only 200 meters long.

          • Adirondacker12800

            ..never been on a ten car SRO Regional have you…

          • No, but I’ve been on a nearly-SRO Regional. I needed to walk the entire train to find a seat. That was during one of those times Amtrak’s booking system was down, so I managed to go to Philadelphia for free.

          • Alon, my comments inserted:
            1. Layovers in the 1-2 minute range. New York’s current 15-minute layover is an artifact of crew scheduling that comes from the fact that the Boston-DC travel time is 7 hours. Below about 5 hours, it’s no longer necessary.

            If NYC layover is reduced to 5-6 minutes, that would be significant.

            3. A total travel time of 3:00 Boston-DC on express trains at full buildout, assuming zero hitches. Noise emission problems and NIMBYism could raise it to 3:30.

            There’s always some NIMBYism and noise issues, so I would plan for 3:30.

            4. Express trains stop once per state, excluding Delaware. Some intermediate stops, such as New Haven and Baltimore, have so many bad curves on the approaches that skipping them saves too little time.

            Where would Express trains stop in New Jersey?

            6. Routing through Providence, not Hartford, to allow piggybacking on existing track in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. It’s only about 2 minutes slower.

            At only 2 minutes longer I agree on routing through Providence for substantial NEC cost savings. But don’t you think the cost savings should enable New Haven-Hartford-Springfield upgraded to 4 track, 160+ mph as well?

          • 3. This is completely true. To clarify, I’m assuming minimal noise-based speed reductions (the exceptions are through Philadelphia, New York, and Newark). The idea is to aggressively use noise mitigations, such as those developed for the Shinkansen. If it’s unacceptable, that’s when the 250 km/h slow orders come into play.

            4. Newark. There’s an unfixable curve right north of Newark Penn anyway; stopping costs about 1.5-2 minutes, and unlike Wilmington, there’s no easy bypass.

            6. In the future, sure. But there’s no need for full speed, and I doubt four tracks will ever be needed. Electrification, double track, concrete sleepers, and high superelevation should enable through-service at reasonable speed.

          • Alon, do you assume 200 mph tilt trains will be ready by 2015 or 2020? And would you use them in your plan?

            If the cost of your plan is $14B Amtrak’s SGR + only $10B for Alon upgrade enhancement, shouldn’t a goal be to complete this by 2025? Faster completion lowers costs and both Presidents and Senators like to see infrastructure investments complete in their lifetime. A $25-30B number coupled with $4B already invested in the Northeast Corridor, would compare favorably per mile with California HSR.

          • Adirondacker12800

            To clarify, I’m assuming minimal noise-based speed reductions (the exceptions are through Philadelphia, New York, and Newark).

            Can you clarify your clarification? The trains aren’t going to be going very fast through New York, Newark or Philadelphia, there’s too many curves. They will be slowing down to stop or slowing down to go past the platforms in Newark and North Philadelphia. Until the Elizabeth curve is fixed it’s not worth much to get up to high speeds between Newark and Elizabeth. Philadelphia is curvy, are Queens and he Bronx.

          • Thomas: I’m not using full tilt trains. The tilt angle I’m assuming is that of the existing Fastech 360 and the Talgo 350, both of which are capable of about 175 mm of cant deficiency. The Fastech 360 tilts two degrees; I’m not sure about the Talgo 350. The Acela achieves the same cant deficiency with a higher tilt angle, 4.2 degrees, but its heavy weight and FRA regulations forbid higher cant deficiency.

            I initially planned on 250 mm of cant deficiency, which were proven possible at very high speed here, but no such train exists yet.

            The cost I’m planning on is $8 billion for infrastructure, some more for trains depending on the expected demand, and some more for already underway projects like the Portal Bridge fix. The $8 billion incorporates parts of the SOGR projects, for example raising the bridges in Connecticut, which could be done for much less than Amtrak thinks. The one big thing I’m excluding is bridge replacement in Maryland.

            Adirondacker: some segments of Northeast Philadelphia could support very high speeds. For noise reasons, my plan cuts trains to 200 km/h in city limits. In a few segments of the Bronx and between New York and Newark, higher speeds could conceivably happen, but there’s no point because of a) noise and b) curves soon after.

            The Elizabeth curve can’t really be fixed. It can be eased to a radius of about 1,500 meters, which is 220 km/h at full cant and cant deficiency. It would still be the second worst curve south of New York, after the Wilmington bypass, which is 1,200.

          • Alon replied, “The tilt angle I’m assuming is that of the existing Fastech 360 … capable of about 175 mm of cant deficiency … The Fastech 360 tilts two degrees … The Acela achieves the same cant deficiency with a higher tilt angle, 4.2 degrees, but its heavy weight and FRA regulations forbid higher cant deficiency.”

            A big Thumbs Up for your recommended modestly-tilting REAL 224 mph trainset mixed with a reasonable track cant deficiency (an informative link BTW). Now if only we can get an HSR agency spun off from the FRA to draft HSR-friendly regulations.

            Along wrote “The cost I’m planning on is $8 billion for infrastructure, some more for trains depending on the expected demand, and some more for already underway projects like the Portal Bridge fix. The $8 billion incorporates parts of the SOGR projects, for example raising the bridges in Connecticut, which could be done for much less than Amtrak thinks. The one big thing I’m excluding is bridge replacement in Maryland.”

            I the prelim so far, but still recommend the Baltimore Central route. That element may be a battle not worth fighting against in Amtrak’s new plan; particularly since they know MTA, local and state officials will avidly support it. Besides, the worse that can happen is more freight and commuter trains capacity for through B&P tunnels AND less HSR delay through Baltimore.

            To have greater influence with the USHSR and USDOT and to account for the unknown expenses, I suggest covering your bet with a $25B total. If your plan is politically viable, you’ll still be seen as a tax-saving hero ($25B < $98B < $117B). Targeting 2026 completion (15 years) will also sway more in Congress and the President to support it. At a minimum, it would force Amtrak to sharpen their pencils.

          • Adirondacker12800

            some segments of Northeast Philadelphia could support very high speeds.

            And probably can. The noisy smelly railroad has been there forever, there’s not a lot of people living close to it. Buy ‘em out. Noise events around commercial activities can be louder.

            In a few segments of the Bronx and between New York and Newark…

            Newark is in Essex county. Everything between NY and Penn Station Newark is in Hudson County, Harrison, Kearny and Seacacus.

            Sigh.. I remember it well, for a brief shining moment, after Amtrak put in concrete ties and while the speed limit across Portal Bridge was still 90, Jersey Arrows would toy with 110 between Portal and Dock ( Between Portal Bridge and the bridge at Penn Station Newark ) Between the time the doors closed and the time the doors opened the train was consistently below 13 minutes and fairly frequently was 12. Sigh.
            No one lives near the tracks between NY and Newark. There’s not even much commercial activity near the tracks.

            The Elizabeth curve can’t really be fixed.

            Tear down big chunks of downtown Elizabeth and many things are possible. That’s not going to happen. Rumor has it that’s the reason why he curve is there. The 19th Century NIMBYs wouldn’t let the PRR straighten it.

            There are other alternatives, especially if traffic gets high enough. Short tunnel between South Elizabeth and north of the merge with the Raritan Valley line. Longer tunnel from Kearny to South Elizabeth or Linden – the super expresses wouldn’t stop in Newark. That wouldn’t be much of a problem because there would still be other trains coming into Newark, Newark Airport and Elizabeth every few minutes. Or have the tunnel from New Rochelle come up in Linden or Iselin.

            …but then if traffic is high enough to consider 6 tracks it’s also high enough to consider alternatives to using the NEC for everything. The ROW is still there for the CNJ west to Bound Brook and south to Perth Amboy. Lots of abandoned or unused ROW in Jersey City that could be used.

          • @Adirondacker: ugh. Or you could tear down two buildings (one parking garage, and one commercial building) and straighten the curve to 1,500, which slows down trains by 30 seconds total. The two very high-speed tilting trains also happen to be incredibly high-powered, which means they recover from slow zones quickly.

            A Newark bypass tunnel would be on the very long-range plan, together with a third tunnel pair from Penn Station to Jersey. It would take decades for the capacity of four tracks to be exhausted, especially if the tracks get moving block signaling in the middle.

            @ThomasD: to be honest, I envision my plan as a replacement to the Amtrak plan. So far it’s just conceptual – it consists of a map on Google Earth with annotated slow zones, a couple of circles demonstrating that my curve radii calculations are correct, and an 8-page writeup explaining the route and train choice.

            Obviously, if it gets any political hearing, which I frankly doubt if only because I have zero clout, it’ll be modified. Potentially it could get more expensive if it works in conjunction with new transit plans, of which Baltimore’s could be one. And obviously even if the unmodified plan becomes official, the budget will be more than $8 billion, because of contingency. But the final figure should depend on exactly how many takings are needed, what urban revamping projects are included, and how complex the viaducts and hill crossings are. I’d be mildly annoyed but not shocked if the price tag went up to $15 billion. $25 billion I’d seriously question, though.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Or you could tear down two buildings (one parking garage, and one commercial building) and straighten the curve to 1,500, which slows down trains by 30 seconds total.

            Yes, it’s never going to tangent track. Elizabeth is a bit too important to tearing it down. From the looks of the satellite images and the view from Morris Ave bus it looks like they have been discouraging development near the curve. That could be flood plain planning or general economic ennui.

            third tunnel pair from Penn Station to Jersey.

            My turn to say ugh. There are other places in Manhattan people want to go. Should be relatively easy to connect all the rail lines in northern New Jersey to a tunnel running to the Fulton Transit Center. It wouldn’t be particularly fast for some lines but probably faster than connecting to PATH. Connect that to Flatbush Ave and Amtrak can get to Jamaica that way. It would probably make Hoboken obsolete.

          • I’m not talking about tearing Elizabeth down – just one Garage Mahal building next to the NJT station, which could be relocated, and one small building that was built recently and is visible on Google Earth but not Google Maps.

            And you know I think the third tunnel pair should connect to Fulton and Flatbush. But that tunnel pair would get heavy commuter traffic, and would not support very high speeds. When you need to thread a tunnel underneath the Lower Manhattan skyscrapers, you have to push curve radius down to the limit, at which point speed is limited by squeal and not just centrifugal force. At least initially, it would be best to keep just one intercity station in New York and then add more if it genuinely needs relievers.

          • @ThomasD 4 October 17:29:

            Note that the $117b is YOE, so the late scheduled completion automatically increases the number. In real terms, its more like $40b~$50b, so $25b in real terms would be 50%~63% of the Amtrak plan.

            With the amount of tunneling the Amtrak plan includes, a plan that funds ways to avoid tunneling shedding 37%~50% of the cost is not at all implausible.

            And of course, up front, any YOE number for a faster completion date would make the project look better, while as the completion date slips, the numbers will inevitably rise, raising charges that the original plan had been lowballed.

          • Bruce, the Amtrak plan is much more than $40-50b in real terms. The figure of $42 billion is not the real equivalent of $117 billion YOE; it’s the net present value, using the USDOT’s grossly inflated 7% discount rate. A more realistic discount rate, for example 4%, would give a much higher cost. And for climate change mitigation, the correct discount rate is zero, i.e. a real dollar today and a real dollar in 20 years have the same value.

          • Woody

            Alon, I’m still stumped by this formulation. We know what it costs to build today — tunnels, bridges, tracks, rolling stock, etc. Nobody knows what stuff will cost in 20 or 30 years. Don’t they make a best guess by taking today’s costs and applying an assumed rate of inflation in the heavy construction industry, say, an average of 4% or 7% a year? That gets a figure for the costs of labor, steel and cement and other materials, tunnel boring machines, etc, in the future year of expenditure.

            To me, the ‘discount’ you talk about must mean the assumed rate of inflation run backwards to get to the known value of contracts being paid for work being done this year.

            But I know nothing of how the DOT does its calculations and projections. Perhaps you can explain it better.

          • What you’re describing is projected inflation, which you can assume to be 2%. Discount rate is something different: it represents the fact that even at zero inflation, you’d rather have a dollar today than a dollar tomorrow.

            The discount rate reflects two things: first, time preference – we’re poorer than we’ll be in 20 years, so money is more important to us now. And second, money today could be invested to produce positive real yield over the next 20 years, making it worth more in 20 years.

            Usually, the discount rate is taken to be future expected interest rates. The usual figure is 4%, which means that people are indifferent as to whether they want a dollar today or four cents every year from now on. For very long-term outlook, you’d use a lower figure, not a higher one – hence, environmentalists call for zero discount rate when it comes to fighting global warming.

            In this context, a higher discount rate would make both future costs and benefits look lower. Usually it’s used against long-term infrastructure projects, but here Amtrak is twisting things to make its plan look better: by saying that money today could get 7% interest, it’s saying that the future cost of $117 billion is not as big a deal as it actually is.

          • @Alon
            I really like how powerful tools like google maps, paired with powerful knowledge about trains can actually create pretty decent proposals. Btw, bing maps with their bird’s view can be useful for exploring areas, some of their aerial maps are also more accurate than google’s.

          • Alon, where do you thing YOE numbers come from, reading them from the future with a crystal ball? They are created with a planning inflation rate. You have to use the same inflation rate both ways: using a high inflation rate to create the YOE numbers and then a lower inflation rate for the very same span of years to arrive at a present value would be an egregious abuse.

          • Bruce, the YOE numbers come from looking at projected inflation, yes. But the present value is not based on inflation but on the discount rate, which is a different thing; it doesn’t measure a reduction in the real value of the currency, but time preference.

            Amtrak is not saying that if all construction for the project is done today, it will cost $42 billion. What it’s saying is that $42 billion, invested today at 7% interest, will pay for the project’s eventual construction cost.

  • political_incorrectness

    Any dedicated HSL in the NEC will need to be broken up into sections so people will not by crying huge megaproject boondoggle dead ahead. I think the ridership numbers are too low for this corridor. Air trip diversion will be closer to 80%, car travellers usually stay with their cars unless it would be cheaper and faster to take rail. Conventional rail trains would lose ridership to the high-speed train and I think the induced demand is high. This is all based off my study of Spain’s LAV from Madrid-Seville where the HS train absorbed a small portion of the car market, a majority of the air market, most of the conventional train market and a good chunk of the bus market. 10% of the demand was induced. However, the NEC is a connection between 6 major cities which could perhaps add much more ridership.

    • The report shows regional HSR and conventional rail services losing ridership to the Express HSR services.

      But rail services increase their mode share with increased reliability, and the Master Hub upgrades would allow increased reliability, while the Master Hub upgrades combined with shifting the metro intercity demand onto the Express HSR would boost the speed of the regional Amtrak services and allow for an increased frequency of those services.

      Counting passengers by ridership rather than passenger-miles, of course, overstates the porportion of the increased mode-share captured by regional Amtrak services, since the average miles per passenger are certain to be higher for the Express HSR services on the new corridor than for the Regional HSR services on the NEC.

  • Marko Alvari

    Can ask all you worked up Americans something thats been on my mind for a long time? Why is it that in the world’s richest country, your government can’t seem to find the money to fund any serious transit project, let alone improve the pathetic infrastructure that you have? Why is it that you still allow PRIVATE corporations to own (squat on, really) critical infrastructure like rail lines? I’m from Finland and here, as in most of the EU, our infrastructure is all owned and operated by the state, our services are cheap, our rails and stations are kept in great shape and our network connects nearly every city center. We are a small country of just over 5 million people and we have never had a problem with funding a dense rail system (which a private corporation would never build or maintain). Why is it that we can do this in Finland and the great USA can not? Honestly I think its really pathetic that you people think a measly 680km of track is going to take your government 30 years to build if at all, when we’ve built tens of thousands of kilometers across the EU over the past 30 years.

    Greetings from Loimaa, a small town of 16,989 people, served by 18 trains each day, non of which travel slower than 160 km/h.

    • poncho

      we are all aware that its pathetic that the US cant get a decent rail system (canada is not much better). its hard to get 300+ million diverse people whose decendants come from all corners of the earth to agree in a country 3000 miles by 1000 miles big. but thats not the problem because polling shows a majority of americans want better rail service and in many parts of the country are willing to vote to tax themselves for it. the problem is our political system has been hijacked by greedy short-sighted anti-american corporations, crooked politicans only concerned about re-election and blindly opposing our president and special interests that always get what they want, not what the people want. and of course our political system underrepresents cities and overrepresents rural areas.

    • Don

      Actually, us Americans wonder why Europe has such a pathetic, expensive freight rail system? The North American railroad network has no peer in the world when it comes to effectiveness and efficiency.

      Private ownership has a great deal to do with it. Canadian National went from a poor service provider and perennial money loser to one of the best in less than a decade after the Canadian gov’t sold it.

      But, the main reason is the US chose to develop it’s land around highway construction project resulting in suburban sprawl that is generally ill suited to other forms of transport – but is well suited to auto travel. And, the relative size of the country and distance between population centers coupled with the availability of air field, planes and pilots from WWII launched air travel in the US. Couple this with declining fuel prices over 50 years and that’s why things are the way they are.

      It would be hard to say that this development is any better or worse than how Europe developed after WWII. It has it’s benefits and it’s costs. But, most American families live in suburban homes, have at least one car per licensed driver, drive everywhere they need to go – and like it that way.

      • Rob The Man

        Exactly. The suburban system works fine for the U.S. I wish that European and Euro-wannabes would stop trying to get us to move to a train-oriented, urbanized system. Americans like suburbia (clean, safe, open space), our cars, trucks, and highways (we set our schedules, not a transportation company–we like things our way, and when we want them), we like air travel and flying and we don’t think much of trains. They’re just too inefficient. Try getting from NYC to LA on a train. You can do it by plane in 1/10 the time and 1/2 the cost!

        Instead of HSR, we should be thinking about how to provide real transportation options to people in the event of a sharp increase in oil prices–i.e., electric cars, hydrogen cars, hydrogen powered planes, etc. Trying to reorient ourselves around rail (a 19th century technology) is a mistake.

        • Kyle

          “Instead of HSR, we should be thinking about how to provide real transportation options to people in the event of a sharp increase in oil prices–i.e., electric cars, hydrogen cars, hydrogen powered planes, etc. Trying to reorient ourselves around rail (a 19th century technology) is a mistake.”

          Most ridiculous post I have ever seen!

          • Don

            Not fair saying something is ridiculous w/o stating a reason. I’d say that doing that is ridiculous, by definition!

            I’ll assume you think it’s ridiculous because the age of the technology does not always correlate to it’s relevance? e.g. the light bulb.

            So, in your opinion, how would HSR be relevant to the US transportation network? How does it help with national goals of reduced carbon output and reduced reliance in imported oil? How does it compare with investments in alternatives such as more efficient vehicles and highways? Are things like the Volt and Leaf game changers or curiosities?

          • Kyle

            Nearly everyone on here knows or explains why HSR is a good investment. Then someone comes along and says:
            “Trying to reorient ourselves around rail (a 19th century technology) is a mistake.” and focuses strictly on auto transit as the end all be all of transportation in their post.

            The reasons this statement is ridiculous is stated throughout this blog and this post. How are 220mph trains a 19th century technology? A person who posts something that ridiculous is not interested in rational conversations. Therefore, responding to such a comment with facts and rationale would be a waste of time. Therefore… the most ridiculous post I have ever seen.

          • Don, here’s a reason: to talk about NY-LA train travel in a thread about Boston-NY-DC is to either completely misunderstand the point or to intentionally troll.

            The Northeast isn’t Kansas. It has comparable densities to Western Europe, large urban cores with good connecting transit, and space constraints that favor transportation with high capacity per unit of ROW width. What happens elsewhere is not relevant, any more than Russia’s vast size somehow means that trains can’t succeed in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

        • Yeah, our massive subsidies for sprawl suburban development were really working fine when the unsustainable support for sprawl development in the form of granting mortgages to people who couldn’t pay them came crashing down in 2008.

          We have a system that we won’t be able to afford to use as the world starts sliding down the In the face of Peak Oil, and any suburb that lacks a train station or trolleybus corridor is going to be at risk of becoming a slum.

        • Woody

          Rob, the only people who would try to get from NYC to LA by train would have a serious problem with flying, like John Madden or Aretha Franklin. That said, I remember seeing a poll that over half of all Americans have never been in a plane, and most of those have no such intention. They aren’t all claustrophobic, but they sure ain’t gonna fly.

          Of course FlyOverLand, with so many small towns with no air service at all, has a heavy population of elderly folks who cannot or will not drive for health reasons, declining vision –night vision especially, bad hearing, a fear of getting confused from time to time, whatever. Then there are young people all over the country who are old enough to leave the nest to visit Grandma, but not old enough to drive. Some people can’t or shouldn’t drive because they have had their licenses suspended (not enough IMHO).

          No doubt you have also noticed a considerable number of obese citizens. These tax-payers may have disabilities of their own, but most of the time they don’t fly because of the profound embarrassment and sometimes physical pain from trying to squeeze their XXL bodies into size S airplane seats.

          So exactly how are these citizens supposed to get around? I’m sure your grandmother has no problem. When she wants to visit your Aunt Tillie a hundred miles down the tracks, she calls up and you drop everything to give her a ride. And back. But not every granny is as lucky as yours, and without some alternative they are stuck.

          For the benefit of these tax-payers, I support using one or two of our TWO THOUSAND billion tax dollars to subsidize conventional passenger trains, even though I have not ridden Amtrak in at least 5 years. Hey, I even support using another two or three of our TWO THOUSAND billion federal tax dollars to expand and improve regular Amtrak.

          And I have not begun to discuss the reasons to support HSR between fairly close major cities. That is an entirely different market and a different business case.

          • Don

            Woody- There is nothing about train travel that excludes airline style seating. In fact HSR might demand it. The Japanese already have 3-2 seating on their HSR trains. The French have bilevel well cars on some of theirs.

            As for a mode of last resort…why not a bus? It would be a lot cheaper to do.

          • Woody, the seat class issue is a bit tricky. It’d be difficult for the Acela to do 2+3: the reason is that the Shinkansen achieves 2+3 with trains that are 10 cm wider than the American loading gauge, and the Acela might need a slightly narrower carbody to be able to tilt safely on the New Haven Line.

          • Sorry, I meant to address the above comment to Don, not Woody.

          • Woody

            I haven’t been to Tokyo in almost 20 years, but I declare without fear of contradiction that Americans have much fatter asses than the Japanese. And the Europeans.

            I can’t imagine 3+2 seating in this country on any premium-priced HSR (redundant?) trains. OTOH I can easily imagine 2+1 seating coming to a bus near you, if not to a train.

          • The questions of pricing and seat density are really the same. Acela fares would be dramatically different at 2+3 and 25 rows of seats per car (same as many Northeastern commuter trains) versus 2+2 and 20 rows of seats (same pitch as the Shinkansen).

            2+1 seating on an American train is first class.

        • poncho

          there is not a one size fits all for americans. “we” all do not like that way of living. theres a sh*tload of people driving now who hate their cars, its just the only way to get around. if we had decent alternatives they would be popular because everywhere in the US where there are decent alternatives to driving they are well patronized.

        • Wad

          Kyle, one of the helpful things I have said in regards to rail-related comments is that there’s a Godwin’s Law that we can start enforcing.

          Anytime a person invokes the phrases “19th century technology” or “choo-choo”, the discussion has reached a level of stupidity so abject that there’s no point of carrying it further. The person using those phrases automatically lost whatever point they were trying to make.

        • You are cluelessly approaching Peak Oil, Global Warming and U.S. Population growth with a smile on your face.

        • Rob, I live in the suburbs and like the freedom of cars and occasionally like long drives. But in my recent research about HSR justifications, I encountered three compelling conclusions that created a moment of epoch for me:

          1. As of 2010, the world is in Peak Oil; that can only get worse with more global demand from China and India.
          2. CO2 exhaust from American autos is one of the world’s biggest contributors to global warming and its aftereffects.
          3. Population Growth ensures that we can never solve our transportation problems with more freeway lanes and more short flights.

          I then opened my mind to what I can do and what I should advocate in forums and to politicians to make a difference. I don’t want my kids to grow up kissing the hand of every nation who sells us oil or risk being drafted to fight another clandestine oil war like Iraq. I don’t want them worrying about category 6 hurricanes, more droughts in unexpected places, more ocean species & bumblebees negatively affecting the food-chain and shorelines 1-2 feet higher because glaciers are already melting faster than at any point since the ice age.

          Most of all, I don’t want my kids to blame me for not doing my part to prevent it when we had the chance.

          • Don

            1. Sure. Life will never be like 1963 again. But, you can always make liquid fuel for transportation by reforming natural gas…if the price is right.

            2. Yup. Best way to reduce CO2 is to not make the trip. We travel a lot and make long commutes because it is cheap to do it. Providing more capacity in any from induces more trips – if price is constant.

            Amtrak is only a little bit better than autos on CO2 right now. Ability to improve the advantage is minimal as CAFE is going to 35 mpg in a few years and likely to >50 sometime after that.

            3. Population growth argues that we do intra-city transport first. It’s where the bulk of the auto trip miles are occurring and where the investment can effect lifestyle changes. Do intercity last. HSR is more sexy than trolley cars and 3+2 vinyl seat commuter trains, but much less effective.

          • Diesel loco-hauled Amtrak is a little bit better than autos. Modern, lightweight high-speed trains are several times better. The TGV’s emissions are on the order of 50 grams per passenger-km, which is equivalent to 110 passenger-miles per gallon. The Shinkansen’s emissions are even lower, because of its lower train weight and higher capacity.

          • Don

            Alon-

            Chances of lightweight equipment in US on “heritage” routes? Nearly zero. As long as you have to share routes with existing commuter service for first and last mile, you are pretty much stuck. Note that Amtrak’s new equipment specs are pretty much 1950s technology car construction (and weight)

            Amtrak Electric hauled trains are worse than diesel-electric because higher speeds = more train resistance per train mile and DE locos are just as efficient at power production as gas or coal plants but have much fewer losses from generation to the rail.

          • As long as you have to share routes with existing commuter service for first and last mile, you are pretty much stuck.

            There’s no reason to increase weight just because other trains weigh more than necessary. Amtrak’s 1950s-era specs don’t come from real technical necessity, but from institutional inertia.

            Believe it or not, but Caltrain is about to run lightweight trains on a heritage route, sharing tracks with a little freight traffic. It can happen when people want it to happen.

            DE locos are just as efficient at power production as gas or coal plants but have much fewer losses from generation to the rail.

            At short train length, which is all most off-NEC corridors need, those DE locos have 3 times or more the fuel consumption as modern lightweight DMUs. Caltrain’s analysis in the 1990s showed that its loco-hauled trains consumed 2.62 gallons per train-mile, versus 1 for 3-car DMUs providing similar capacity. And DMUs have gotten much better since: today, the diesel version of the FLIRT can get 4-6 vehicle-mpg, depending on grade, speed, and the number of stops.

          • Nathanael

            It is very worth noting that Caltrain has demonstrated that lightweight vehicles with proper crumple zones are *safer* than the FRA dreadnoughts even in an “FRA style” collision, and much more safe in more typical collisions. The FRA rules have to change, and the sooner the better.

            Even Canada doesn’t have the “must weigh too much” rules.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Caltrain has a bunch of computer simulations that were converted to a slick Powerpoint presentation. The FRA on the on the other hand has taken real trains with crumble zones in them and crashed them together. Consensus is that they were LIRR cars.

      • That’s an apples to oranges comparison on freight: the Europeans use ships and canals for much of the low value heavy freight that we move by rail.

        Look at rail freight share by value in the US, and its nowhere near as impressive as rail freight share by ton-mile.

        • Don

          That’s right. It’s apples and oranges, but bulk is only about 1/4 of US rail freight and more than 1/4 of it is containers and trailers. The remainder is stuff like auto parts, finished steel, vehicles, lumber and paper – most of which would move by truck elsewhere in the world.

          And, look at the trend in rail frt value in the US. The growing market share for the US railroads is domestic truckload traffic – not bulk commodities.

          Passenger rail in US vs Europe is similarly apples and oranges. Population density, cost of fuel, etc. have shaped Europe differently than the US – more urbanized, less sprawl, etc. The transportation solutions that caused and/or fit those situations would not likely be the same.

          I think investing in NEC improvements is a good idea as is passenger rail and transit in general. I just reject out of hand that we are “stupid” because we haven’t done it yet. I would expect Europeans to similarly reject the notion that they are “stupid” just because they don’t have a private domestic double stack network.

          • We are already at the fuel cost that “shaped” Europe’s population distribution in the 80’s and 90’s. The system of cross-subsidizing suburban development at the expense of urban development via the Federal Highway Trust Fund is coming unglued as the Highway Trust Fund is no longer able to keep up with its maintenance obligations.

            And, of course, it is absurd to suggest that rail transport is incompatible with rail and light rail systems and that rail can only work in densely populated urban areas: our original suburbs were streetcar and train station suburbs.

            Rather, densely populated urban areas are places were forcing dependence on cars alone is not possible, because cars alone cannot feasibly handle the density of people per square mile required of a central urban transport system.

            But that does not mean that when gas goes back over $4/gallon, sprawl suburban development will look any better than it did the last time it was over $4/gallon. Given that we will be faced with declining real national income as oil prices spike, we can’t afford to just abandon the suburbs … so it is fortunate that the car addiction of our suburbs is because it was one possible outcome and we rigged the game to pick that outcome, rather than it being the only possible way to organize transport for suburban areas.

          • Don, repeating the assertion that it would move by truck elsewhere in the world doesn’t make it true. In Europe, the trucking share of ton-km is somewhat higher than in the US, but what’s much higher is the share of sea freight.

            The reason Europe doesn’t have double-stacked containers is that its legacy 19th century rail network doesn’t have high enough clearances. The reason US cities other than New York don’t even match the transit mode share of Calgary is agency turf battles and insane construction costs. San Diego’s Sprinter, which used an existing rail line, cost more to reactivate per-km than it costs to construct greenfield HSR in Europe. That’s not legacy; that’s stupidity.

          • Don

            Bruce – So where do we spend our limited resources? On HSR or on urban/suburban transit? Which give bigger bang for the buck? Which will prepare us better for a world with higher oil prices?

          • So where do we spend our limited resources? On HSR or on urban/suburban transit? Which give bigger bang for the buck?

            HSR and urban transit are not substitutes, except in Lobbyist Land, where money is allocated based on negotiations between the asphalt and rail lobbyists. In reality, HSR is a substitute for intercity freeways, and urban transit is a substitute for local road projects.

            In the case of the NEC, trying to posit this equivalence is especially cruel. Amtrak may poo-pooh HSR as a $100 billion project, but it’s actually doable for about $10 billion, at which point it’s basically a business investment in a company the government owns.

          • @Don, the resource that is limited is energy, which dictates that we do both of the things that you mention.

            When people say limited resources, they often mean money and not resources, but as far as actual resources, we have plenty of talented people out of work and plenty of usable equipment lying idle. Obviously any project will also use material resources, but when its a project that results in a substantial increase in material efficiency, then both are a net win in terms of resources.

            Money is the tickets that are handed out to ride the rides in this big ol’ amusement park we call an economy: if there are spare seats, spare hands, and energy is not a limit, it would be insane to deny people a chance to ride because we had not printed enough tickets.

          • Don

            There is not an unlimited supply of capital, public or private. You design all the projects, rank’em by by benefit/cost, then spend the available capital on the best ones first.

            I’m suggesting that suburban/urban transport projects will rank much higher on the list than most HSR project because of their greater ability to provide capacity and reduce energy/CO2.

            Amtrak service on the NEC between NY and DC doesn’t carry even a single freeway lane of traffic during peak periods – or save much energy. A heavy rail transit line is worth a whole freeway of capacity – in an area where freeway construction is outrageously expensive and can really change the energy/CO2 game in the long run.

            So, it seems to me allocation of available capital should not go to HSR first. I DO think some of the seed money going to conventional corridor service is reasonable because it keeps intercity rail in the game in places it makes sense, even if the benefit/cost ratio isn’t the best.

          • @Don: future Amtrak service, on a par with what’s available in Japan, France and Korea, could attain the same mode share as HSR in Japan, France, and Korea.

            The reasons the NEC is not really in competition with local trains are that it serves a different form of travel, and has a different case.

            The NEC is a potentially profitable line – it’s already profitable before depreciation. In fact, if costs can be contained, true HSR there will have a very high ROI, certainly with two digits and potentially with a tens digit higher than 1. Don’t think about it as an environmental measure; think about it as a business investment in a company the government owns.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Don’t think about it as an environmental measure; think about it as a business investment in a company the government owns.

            Awwhgawd. Once it starts turning a profit either the red staters will suck it all out with projects to connect Bumfuck with Jaahbibb via HSR or demand it be sold off to private investors who will give us Ryanair with smellier seats or some PPP that does both.

          • If the line is profitable, it must be privatized because the government shouldn’t be making money. If the line is unprofitable, it must be privatized because clearly government is inefficient. Heads they win, tails we lose.

            That said, I think the impetus for privatization is stronger when subsidies are required and when government service is perceived as inadequate. Ideologues don’t care, but a lot of the technocrats in the middle, such as Michael Bloomberg, do care.

          • @Don, ah, so you are confusing money and resources. Calling money spent on building energy-conserving projects “capital” is a shell game to pretend that it can be scarce. What is scarce are the actual resources, and given that the US consumes ~25% of the world’s oil production while providing ~10%, and ~17% of the world’s oil production goes into the US transport sector, oil-independent transport economizes on our scarcest resource, the ability and willingness of the rest of the world to sell us crude oil at a price that does not throw our economy into the toilet.

            The actual capital ~ the productive equipment and supplier networks to produce the required products ~ are not in fixed supply: much of the capacity is existing and idle, and the capacity that is needed can be developed. And the labor resource is obviously available: we have been operating with slack labor markets for most of the past thirty years.

            We cannot play the game of penny pinching oil-independent transport while Europe and Japan and China leave us in the dust, unless we do in fact wish to continue the slide from a high income to a medium income country in the global economy.

          • The limiting factor to building new infrastructure in the US isn’t money, but political capital, which you buy with a perception of modern, reliable service, and affordable pricetags. In the Northeast, Amtrak already has the perception among the business class, but the cost would make people groan.

            But ROIs aren’t just about convincing centrist Senators to vote yea. They’re also about choosing the best use of the money that is available. Beyond a certain cost, the money sunk into a project would be better spent on tax cuts or unemployment benefits.

      • Nathanael

        Don, Europe’s freight rail system suffers from two flaws (and one former flaw):

        (1) buffer-and-chain couplers. Are they INSANE? These were replaced by Janney couplers in the year *1900* in the US! They have to be coupled and uncoupled by HAND, by a WORKMAN. The EU is trying to change this.

        (2) small clearances (loading gauges). So they can’t do doublestack containers at all. And England can barely do singlestack.

        (3) The former one: closed borders. If you have to stop at every European national border for customs checks and transshipment, the benefits of rail transport start to drop substantially. Also, the distances within individual European countries are not really long enough to make container or “rolling highway” traffic the slam-dunk sucess it is in the US. Now this is changing: when you’re going all the way across Europe with no border checks, container and “rolling highway” starts to work really well. And what do you know, it’s increasing (though still limited by factors #1 and #2).

    • Nathanael

      Because the US government is totally broken.

      This is due to several causes. First the structural:
      The US Senate, the completely insane filibuster, state-level bicameralism, single-member districts, rampant gerrymandering, weekday elections without holidays (!), unlimited paid political advertising.

      Second the cultural: ever since slavery, there’s a large faction of the country obsessed with making sure the “other guys” (Native Americans, blacks, women) don’t get anything; they’re willing to damage their own public services in order to prevent the “others” from getting any services.

      They control the Republican Party outright and there are lots of them in the Democratic Party.

      Combine these with terrible education and a biased, out-of-control mass media owned by a few rich Republicans and you get a broken government.

      That’s the short summary.

      • Don

        Nathanael- You probably would be happier living somewhere else. You have a rather interesting view of how things work. I know some people that have equally interesting, but completely opposite views from yours. But, most people I know have views that are pretty far from both extremes. China might be good for you. They are spending tons of capital on centrally planned transportation projects.

        You might try reading the biographies of John Adams, Andrew Jackson and Abe Lincoln so you can see where we were compared to where we are now, politically.

        • Don, your comment is just a slightly more intellectualized version of the Real American insult. It’s still patronizing as hell; people on the other side draw inspiration from central figures in US history every much as you do. If you really think that reading Lincoln and Jackson is going to make one anti-rail, I have a nice bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. You might get to put tolls on it, too, if you lobby the state government hard enough.

          • Don

            I guess I missed making my point. It was that politics was much, much more rancorous in the first 1/2 of the 19th century than it is now and gov’t seemed to do incredibly dumb things – but we survived.

            There is a tendency to think that others who don’t look at the world our way are literally stupid. It is an easy trap to fall into – just look at the anti-Bush crowd from a few years ago or the anti-Obama crowd now. Neither can believe the other can be that stupid! But neither bother me much. It’s just the same as it’s always been – just presented closer to real time on TV – for our entertainment.

            Nathanael appears to be upset that others do not share his view that the gov’t will take frt RR property by eminent domain and build higher speed passenger service. Apparently, the justification is so obvious that only a moron wouldn’t think it reasonable. It can’t be good to be that upset all the time. I was suggesting that he happier in place with less loud divergence of thought.

            For my part, I find that the advocates for passenger rail transportation too often fall into the role of apologist – particularly when it comes to Amtrak. I want nothing more than to see Amtrak succeed, but I think sometimes their biggest enemy is themselves. There are lots of places the improved intercity passenger rail can likely pass a benefit/cost test. Is this Amtrak plan one of them? Are there “good” and “bad” pieces? Probably. But, to say it won’t happen because Republicans on the whole “hate” trains or are “stupid” is most certainly not helpful.

            It is interesting to me that Mica(R) from Florida, who is a HUGE Amtrak critic came out with a positive statement about building a true HSR NEC.

          • The ideas that we view as moronic are very depoliticized. It’s not about seizing freight ROW by eminent domain; it’s about FRA regulations making it impossible to run lightweight trains. Privately most of us here lean to the left (not all – Danny doesn’t), but there’s a big difference between saying Amtrak is incompetent for building a $10 billion project for $100 billion, and saying Amtrak is incompetent for not being liberal enough.

            Regardless, what you say about the 19th century is only semi-true, and semi-relevant. The charge about the US is not that it’s always terrible; it’s that it undersupplies public goods and oversupplies private goods, and that public goods in the US cost too much. Health care costs too much, transportation costs too much, higher education costs too much. In the 19th century, those problems existed, but they were even worse elsewhere. The difference is that most of Europe started getting over this roughly beginning in the 1950s, whereas the US has socially stagnated.

          • Don

            Or, Europe is on the “road to ruin” and the US is positioned properly…depending on your point of view. Me, I’m pretty much moderate. I see both sides. But, given a choice, I’d like to see public investment have some good free market forces pushing smart, frugal choices. It’s just too easy to spend other peoples money and get lazy about innovation. Amtrak and the USPS are exhibits one and two.

          • The USPS is surprisingly well-run, Don. It gets higher customer satisfaction than FedEx, and (if only through creative accounting) operates without federal subsidies.

            I don’t think the US is on the road to ruin, nor did I say it is. I said that it’s lagging on social indicators coming from public goods, which include health, education, basic research, and infrastructure. The US does well on private-good indicators: for example, Europe doesn’t have as much high-tech.

          • Nathanael

            “I guess I missed making my point. It was that politics was much, much more rancorous in the first 1/2 of the 19th century than it is now and gov’t seemed to do incredibly dumb things – but we survived.”

            Uh. We survived, yeah, but I wouldn’t want to have lived during that period. Seriously, do you have any understanding of what it was like? For God’s sake, the US had *slavery*.

          • Nathanael

            You are right, of course, that I’d be happier in a better-run country. We’ll see, I may get an opportunity to move to one someday.

        • Nathanael

          Don: “You might try reading the biographies of John Adams, Andrew Jackson and Abe Lincoln so you can see where we were compared to where we are now, politically.”

          Thank you, been there, done that. I’m sorry, but I’m now quite sure I have a better sense of history than you do, after your laughable lecture.

          The US might get out of this one, but the governmental structural issues are *bad*. The structural problems with the government, combined with the existence of a very intransigent group, meant that unlike (for instance) the peaceful abolition of slavery in the UK, the US had a Civil War.

          The structural problems were temporarily alleviated after it… things came to a head again in the Great Depression, but FDR managed to find the peaceful path that time. Despite the Business Plot.

          And it’s the same structural problems *again* which are screwing up the US. Well, I’ve been in favor of the abolition of the Senate for decades. I recognize this would have meant that people with policies I disagree with would have run the government for some years; but at least the government wouldn’t be gridlocked when it was needed.

          And to be clear about what I support in re rail, since you’re not, I am entirely in favor of freight railroads running lots of freight service along private business lines, and even in private ownership where there is no public need for the route. North Carolina is a perfectly good model for public-private cooperation in the railroad case. Unfortunately, there is a faction who would agitate to sell off the North Carolina Railroad out of sheer ideological obsession (or perhaps desire to loot).

          • Nathanael

            You also might be surprised to know that I’m a big fan of free market competition. I’ve just studied enough economic and economic history to be able to tell when free markets become manipulated markets. Which market participants *always* have an incentive to do.

            This has gone off the rails (heh, heh) in the US. Railroads actually are still pretty decent, but to go off topic, if you get into the banking industry…. well, having followed it fairly carefully, the problems in Europe are *nothing* compared to the problems in the US, where the land title of half the country is going to be clouded thanks to MERS. Interestingly, London encouraged companies to set up HQs there to perform suspicious transactions on *US* properties… but didn’t allow the same sort of stuff to be done to *UK* properties….

  • @Nicholas: Closed? No way! Instead, sell them off to someone else.

    “It’s like an amateur version of SNCF’s plans for California, Texas, the Midwest, and Florida. The alignment analysis that Bruce quotes receives lip service; Amtrak clearly bothered to run a simulation on one alignment, but not on any other.”
    @Alon: I guess that is what happens when superior companies like SNCF and JR Central propose plans that are more realistic and cost less. Amtrak gets a whiff of real competition and management runs like a decapitated chicken and pulls reactive stunts like this and wanting in on both Express routes on each coast.

    Furthermore, it’s bad when a bunch of college students come up with a plan that costs less and is a bit more logical.

    “Conventional rail trains would lose ridership to the high-speed train”
    @poltical_incorrectness: I don’t suppose that today’s Acela becomes tomorrow’s Regional, could it? IOW, newer vehicles use a separate ROW, become true express routes, and relegate Acelas to regional status because Amtrak would retire Amfleets and use the Acela fleet to stop at minor stations along the NEC.

    • The alignment analysis that Bruce quotes receives lip service; Amtrak clearly bothered to run a simulation on one alignment, but not on any other.

      What purpose would have been served by running the simulation on more than one alignment? It would have been a waste of money for this kind of plan, and then people could have quite rightly complained that Amtrak was wasting money doing indicative costings for multiple alignments when no real world is served by doing so.

    • Is Penn $100b current or YOE?

  • Don

    It’s good to see Amtrak put this plan together. No plan = no chance of any action. This certainly isn’t an all or nothing plan. It’s the first shot fired in a negotiation.

    Does the plan have any chance of being done exactly like it’s laid out. Of course not! But, it has a chance of at least starting a serious conversation about some investment in the NEC above and beyond what’s needed for a “good state of repair”.

    The tricky part will be getting the states along the route to align their interests in order to come up with some of the money for improvements since the benefits by state aren’t proportional to the investment cost by state. Might be time to fire up CONEG again.

    • Don, for once you state a point that makes sense. Amtrak just fired the 2nd volley (1st was the 2030 NEC Master Plan) for upcoming negotiations with Congress and the USDOT.

  • Carwil

    While it’s easy, and even compelling, to game the chances of this getting through DC, and give ourselves another reason to hate national politics, what are the alternatives? Is an inter-state version of the California High Speed Rail Authority possible? Can the cities and metro areas involved sign some kind of advocacy agreement now, and a tax/bond/general fund allocation agreement in 5 years? Which train-producing governments might want to lend $10billion to their primary customers for a decade?

    And by the way, why aren’t people involved running the same kind of numerical comparisons being talked about in California: how many cars will this plan get off the I-95 corridor? What impact would the service have on the competitiveness of the main cities’ business districts? How much airport capacity will be alleviated by this upgrade, and how much would that capacity cost to build in the next 40 years? $40 billion sounds like some stratospheric number until you throw in comparisons like that.

    • Tom West

      Good point Carwil… the cost of doing nothign is not zero. Failiure to buidl HSR will result in airport and higwhay upgardes that will actually cost *more* in the long run. HSR is actually the cheapest way of providing the additional capacity the US is predicted to need.

    • That was a part of the run-up to the big bond issue fight … and this type of plan is well upstream of that kind of fight.

      Indeed, in order to do that kind of analysis, its necessary to have this kind of plan available first.

    • Woody

      Went to sleep before I finished reading the document. But I did notice before and after market share for NYC-Boston. They predict that after the trip time drops to 84 minutes on the new HSR line, air’s share of total trips will be 0. That should free up a lot of slots at LaGuardia and Logan.

    • The effect of trip diversion on air traffic is tiny. The combined size of the NY-Boston and NY-DC air markets is 5 million; total traffic at the city’s airspace is about 100 million. The effect of displacing air trips would be small compared to the effect of making PHL a plausible relief airport.

      • 5 million planes? Or 5 million passengers?

        Are you assuming that all planes on all routes are on average the same number of seats per plane?

        • I’m not assuming this, no. You’re right that the air shuttles use smaller planes. But the effect isn’t large enough to make 5% of the market a very large percentage of traffic. You can compare NY-Boston and NY-Chicago flights on Expedia to confirm that on average the shuttles have about two thirds as many seats as the longer flights.

          The optimal way to reduce air traffic in New York is to forget about this 5% of traffic and instead pressure airlines to run larger planes. New York-Chicago should have widebodies, not 737s, MD80s, and 319s.

      • Anon256

        Barring massively subsidised HSR fares, I don’t see how PHL could ever be a plausible relief airport. Even the Regional currently costs $50 each way to Philadelphia currently. NYC is already one of the cheapest markets to fly from in the US; I don’t see how PHL could compete even if it were much less crowded and more reliable.

        With you on the widebodies though. Why doesn’t this happen now? Don’t the incentives already exist?

        • Adirondacker12800

          Don’t the incentives already exist?

          No they don’t. Any time any airport suggests charging higher prices for landing or takeoff slots in high demand periods or otherwise making it more expensive to fly small planes, the proposals get refused.

  • Jason

    Amtrak, are you kidding me?
    You are planning to build 734km HSR in 30 years and cost $117.5B???
    For the over 900km Wuhan–Guangzhou High-Speed Railway, it took only 4.5 years and the cost is only $17B.
    Can you image what transportation will be like after 30 years? I think the so called HSR will be outdated even before it starts service.

    • Don

      What do you expect from an outfit that keeps complaining about being equipment capacity constrained and the comes out with a fleet replacement strategy that first calls for the purchase of…

      Coaches? No.
      Sleepers? No.
      Baggage cars? Yes. Really.

      (I’ll bet they’re cheaper in China, too.)

      • Buckeyeman

        Don, Amtrak IS ordering sleepers.They’re also ordering diners, stright baggage cars and baggage dorms. There’s also an option for 7o more cars but i’ve forgotten the breakdown on the types of cars there would be. I doubt that this option will ever be exersized though.

        • Don

          …but baggage and baggage dorms first. Both non-revenue. Should order revenue cars (and maybe diners) first and convert Amfleet cars to combines/baggage/dorms if needed.

          • Woody

            I’ve read that most of the cars to be replaced are heritage equipment, that is, dating from before Amtrak starting buying its old equipment. The old stuff has problems, and actually slos down the long distance trains on the NEC, making problems for other faster trains as well.

          • Ted King

            Re : Baggage Dorms
            I’ve read elsewhere that those cars would make berths available for paying customers by shifting crew members from a revenue car. So there’s good reason for such a purchase.

            Also, I wonder what kind of improvements have been made in the new baggage cars ? Is there a chance of some sort of pod system that would speed up the loading + unloading ? And what kind of maintenance savings will Amtrak realize from the new cars ?

          • Nathanael

            The single level baggage-dorms are effectively revenue space, since currently the sleeper attendants are occupying revenue sleeper space and they’ll stop doing so.

            The baggage cars are not just Heritage Fleet, they’re *old*. Some of them are converted from other sorts of cars back in the 50s. Many are structurally questionable. And they are setting the speed limit on a bunch of the trains. As well as not being standardized regarding parts (a general “Heritage Fleet” problem).

          • Don

            You guys don’t know much about car construction or vehicle dynamics. The 85′ converted coaches that are the baggage cars for the east coast trains are allowed 110 on the NEC. If they must be retired, the why not buy new coaches and convert Amfleet to baggage service. That way, the passengers get the nice shiny new cars, not the baggage.

            Freeing up two sleeper compartments is not the same as adding a third or fourth sleeper….

          • Nathanael

            Structural reasons, Don. Who is it who doesn’t know much about car construction?

            Converting cars to baggage cars means *cutting great big holes in the sides*. This is seriously problematic, as well as being not that much cheaper (now that labor and designs are the main cost) than buying real baggage cars. I can see why Amtrak doesn’t want to do THAT again.

            The NEC speed limit is 125, so being allowed 110… well.

          • Nathanael

            Note that the problematicness of cutting the great big holes in the sides depends on original construction. It’s much more problematic for monocoque designs, not so much for old designs.

          • Don

            Amfleet is not monocoque. It is good old, center sill design and cutting a “big hole” is not a huge deal.

            Did you read thru the specs for the new cars? They are just slightly updated versions of 1950’s equipment.

            Amfleet is already good for 125, so why not buy new coaches and convert Amfleet to baggage/combines?

          • Nathanael

            Are you sure the Amfleets with holes cut in them will still be good for 125? The existing baggage car conversions had their speed limits lowered due to the holes.

            Are you sure it’s cheaper to convert than to buy new? It isn’t always.

            What’s the metal-fatigue status of the Amfleets?

    • That price you cite is rigged low by the heavily discounted exchange rate. For the amount of tunneling they propose here, this seems in line with international costs of all grade separated HSR corridors overseas.

      And we are also a democracy: the Chinese government is in a position to ruin the lives of thousands if there is a sufficiently large cluster of government and private interests behind a project. Just because that is not counted as part of the financial cost of a project does not mean its cost-free.

      If they had the equivalent of the California Central Valley to run through, it could certainly be done cheaper. If they are willing to allow the DC/Boston time to be 4hrs, then it could also be done cheaper.

    • China built the Guangzhou-Wuhan HSR line for about $20 million per km. France built the LGV Est for about $16 million per km. If this isn’t a severe indictment of China’s way of doing things, then I don’t know what is.

      • Max Wyss

        Unfortunately, the SNCF numbers are either dated or wrong. According to “La Vie du Rail”, the second phase of the LGV Est Européenne is budgeted at 2 billion Euro, for 106 km; corresponding to roughly 20 million Euro, being 28 million USD… This line is relatively easy terrain, one single tunnel (4 km long), but quite a bit of soil to be moved around. Time schedule: beginning of civil engineering right now; opening March 2016.

        • The first segment cost €4 billion for 300 km, which in PPP is about $16 million per km.

          • Max Wyss

            OK, so we were looking at different things… That does make sense, considering the 10 years between the projects, and the relative simplicity of the first phase.

          • True. But then again, the second phase isn’t that expensive, either. In PPP terms (€1 = $1.25), it’s about $24 million per km. Account for its opening 6 years later than the Chinese line and it’s barely more expensive, even though it’s in a country where wages are about 6 times higher and people go on strike whenever they get off on the wrong foot.

          • Max Wyss

            Agreed, the second phase is relatively cheap, because it crosses to a great extend very little populated land.

            Of those 6 years, about half is used for the civil engineering work, about 2 for installing the actual railroad, and about 1 for commissioning and testing.

  • Buckeyeman

    One comment on the existing NEC. What I’d like to see is for the existing line to have every last possible improvement carried out. Whether this new line ever gets built or not, there’s still a crying need to get this line improved to the absolute utmost, along with the Keystone corridor as well, not to mention the Empire Corridor.

    • Starting down that path is the purpose of the NEC Master Plan that you see referenced throughout this plan.

      But it would be gross incompetence to fail to plan for a new corridor when the far more detailed planning for the NEC Master Plan suggests hitting capacity before 2030. An all-new corridor takes a decade or more to complete in a Western economy, so “a decade or more” from 2030 is getting serious about a new corridor before 2020.

      Since there will be another transport authorization before 2020, after the transport authorization to be completed likely next year, this is obviously the time to introduce the concept of the new corridor into the process.

      • jim

        And on something this ambitious, a Program EIR is likely to take several years all by itself. Then add the time for segment EISs and it’s difficult to get construction started this decade.

        • Yes, somewhere up above, I suggested that if the project is done in sequence with the first half of the NEC Master Plan rather than in parallel, the end date might stay the same, but the completion of the first phase would likely slip. Figure a decade minimum after segment EIS’s are completed, and maybe four years to finish alignment selections, program EIR and project EIS’s, and a spot in a 2019 transport authorization (assuming a couple of years of politicking) would imply maybe 2033 for the completion of section 1.

  • Wow haven’t been on here in a few days. Just got a chance to look at all this discussion. Lots of interesting things to read through. Good to finally see Amtrak taking more of a leading role. While the plan is fairly vague, it does seem like a good starting spot.

    Anyways I’m going to do a shameless plug now. I’m trying to start a northeast corridor high speed rail site if anyone would like to help. I want to make it a place for advocacy and discussion. Hopefully a way to create an impetus to getting the actual project done. I don’t really understand anything technical concerning trains. I’m just passionate about getting it to be a reality. I started the site but there isn’t really anything on it yet as it took a while to get the design done. Still trying to learn wordpress. Anyways if anyone would be interested in contributing some writing or if anyone has any suggestions. The site is http://www.nehsr.org and you can email nehsra at gmail.com. I do not by any means mean to take away from any discussion going on here.

  • Nathanael

    Make no small plans, as Burnham said.

    It’s a good plan, though I wonder if it’s been proofed against sea level rise.

    • Woody

      The inland Analyzed Alignment Boston-NYC looks to be on solid ground. The current Shore Alignment could get very waterlogged when the ice caps slide into the sea.

      • The Shore Line is on solid ground, too: in Connecticut, it’s largely at an altitude of about 10-15 meters above sea level, considerably higher than any projection of ice cap melt. Most exceptions are bridges that Amtrak is planning to raise anyway, or segments that are so curvy they’d have to be bypassed with alignments elevated over roadways. Any sea level rise large enough to threaten the NEC would be so catastrophic to the region and the world that the NEC would be the least of anyone’s worries.

        • I wasn’t even thinking about that section of the Shore Line; east of New Haven, it’s both cheaper and technically easier to cut off the line on I-95, which is at 15-30 meters. The cutoff actually has the opposite problem – it’s hillier than you’d prefer, which in two places requires a lot of viaducts and/or blasting, though no tunnels.

        • Nathanael

          Remember, it’s not the new sea level which is the issue, it’s the new level of the 100-year flood plain.

          • Connecticut isn’t the Yellow River Basin. It doesn’t get the same flooding, probably because it doesn’t actually have floodplains. Precipitation is stable; hurricanes hit Long Island instead; the terrain is too hilly for serious flooding.

          • Adirondacker12800

            The tide is still going to be very high along the Sound. The tracks are on the Sound in many places.

            There’s floodplain all over Connecticut. From the Wikipedia article on Hurricane Diane: Many areas in Connecticut were flooded once more, including Putnam, Winsted and Waterbury, as well as East Granby, where a former housing subdivision sitting where Grandbrook Park is today was completely swept away by the floodwaters.

            …flooded once more because Hurricane Connie had moved through just a few days before. 1955 was one of the worst hurricane seasons for the Northeast.. Connie had the highest rainfalls ever recorded in NYC.

          • West of New Haven, the tracks are almost always raised several meters above the Sound. There are exceptions, but these are mostly bridges that are slated to be raised anyway.

            The problem with trying to waterproof that part of the line is that no matter what you do, the segment in New York is not waterproof. Any disaster large enough to flood 10-meter-high tracks in Stamford is large enough to flood Manhattan and Queens.

          • We aren’t talking about a disaster, we are talking about higher sea levels. While we might build a dyke for Manhattan and Queens, we are not going to be building a dyke for all of the Northeast.

          • Bruce, the worst-case scenario involves sea level rising by about 5 meters. The Shore Line is safe; it’s places like Bangladesh and Nigeria that would have trouble with it.

            Given the huge cost differential between tunneling through Danbury and using the Shore Line, the environmentally just thing to do is build HSR for the lowest possible cost, and spend the difference on other projects that would reduce car use.

          • Adirondacker12800

            When the sea rises a few meters the beach recedes. Move the storm tide high water mark up a few meters and you are north of the tracks. That’s not going to be good for service reliability.

          • For the most part, only on segments that need to be bypassed anyway. Look this up on Google Earth, which conveniently states the altitude of whichever point you hover above.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Elevations on maps are elevation above mean sea level. The water gets higher during high tide. It gets much higher than that during storms. Waves wash over the NEC now, it’s going to happen much more frequently if sea levels rise.

          • Look at the 5-meter flood map. A few parts of the Shore Line are vulnerable, but those are mostly places where high bridges are currently on the plan, like Cos Cob and Southport.

          • To clarify, I meant Westport, not Southport. Southport’s issue is different: the HSR line would need to cut to I-95 and bypass Fairfield in order to cut off an otherwise unfixable curve.

          • Nathanael

            Interesting discussion, thanks. :-) Sounds like all the new-build is planned to be elevated high enough.

  • Woody

    Yonah, More red meat for the hungry dogs please.

    This post about HSR on the NEC got 169 Comments and counting. Congratulations. Is that a record for any ttp post so far?
    ————–

    Upcoming
    2010 September
    ▶ FTA Releases TIGER Round II Grants

    Isn’t this TIGER train running a bit behind schedule?

  • I wonder what would be the cost if the tunnels are skipped and slower transits through the cities are accepted?

  • Sun

    A private busway would only cost 20% of what they quoted. Laying asphalt would complete the project a lot faster than steel girders. In Los Angeles, we took old railway no longer used (North Hollywood to Woodland Hills) and made them into private busways. They are not bullet trains, but they do move a lot of people inexpensively compared to rail. Rail per mile is very expensive compared to double long buses when it comes to creation and maintenance.

    • This private busway in LA is a major embarrassment for BRT proponents, actually. The line has less ridership than many local bus lines elsewhere in the country, but has already hit capacity; its per-passenger cost is actually higher than that of some LRT lines, such as the Blue Line.

      The 20% figure you’re using for intercity busways is pulled out of thin air, sorry. Rail has huge advantages in the Northeast, beyond being potentially more than twice as fast: it can feed into existing infrastructure easily. There’s already a usable railroad running through Manhattan, but a busway would have to be constructed from scratch. Good luck coming under $2 billion per km for those tunnels.

    • How do you get the NYC/Boston in under 1:40 and NYC/DC in under 1:30 by bus?

      And of course, asphalt wears more rapidly than steel, so you have to be careful in any capital cost comparison to adjust for the different lifetimes of the different investments.

    • Adirondacker12800

      A common cost figure for a new lane of Interstate grade highway is 25 million. 20 billion to add a lane in each direction on I-95 between Boston and DC. And it wouldn’t be all that much faster than driving. I doubt they could do it for 20 billion because building a new lane through the urban parts would be very very expensive.

    • Nathanael

      A busway would have to be wider than a railway and would have less capacity. Busways are stupid.

      Now, repurposing existing lanes of roads as bus lanes is different — that’s not stupid. But only because *the only cost is paint*.

      • Adirondacker12800

        If you want a dedicated bus lane from Cherry Hill to New Brunswick you might be able to do it with paint. If you want a dedicated bus lane from Washington DC to Boston you have to build lots of bridges or tunnels and add a lane in places it would be very very very expensive to add a lane. And carry far less people, slower, than rail could.

  • HS48721

    SNCF is going to run into some serious political problems bidding on these projects. Congress is starting to ask questions regarding their Holocaust ties and related state assembly initiatives in California and Florida California and Florida.

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/38658906/Mikulski-Cardin-SNCF-Letter

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/38718735/Bill-Nelson-SNCF-Letter

    • aw

      I’d say they will be minor political problems. The Californian legislative initiative has already been vetoed by the governator.

    • JP

      SNCF, like all aspects of France during WWII, suffers from a split-personality image that is not entirely deserved. It has admitted its role in the Holocaust and on its own initiative (it commissioned a report that was released in 2000 about its wartime activities). While the Holocaust statistics were recorded, numerous acts of resistance went unrecorded, and for good reason. Who would want to document their resistance to the German occupiers?

      To me, SNCF’s only crime was to have been founded in 1938. This is unlike Deutshe Reichsbahn, the German railroad company from 1920 to 1949, was reformed into Deutsche Bundesbahn in 1949 (and became Deutsche Bahn in 1994). Does that make DB a better contender than SNCF for High Speed rail in America?

  • A. Nonny Mouse

    What an insane routing to Boston. The route would bypass the densest areas for what–a couple minutes savings? Why go to Woonsocket instead of sticking to the places where demand and the potential for smart growth are the highest: the coast to New Haven, the I-91 corridor through Hartford and Bradley airport (much busier than White Plains) to Springfield, and the I-90 corridor from there through Worcester to Boston.

    The inland routing through CT would impact relatively well-preserved areas (read: environmentally intact) while serving a far smaller population than the route above; when drawing routes Amtrak ought not to consider speed as the only factor. Population and the environment should also merit consideration.

  • Fred

    So at 2.5 million passengers a year, that’s $2000 per ticket just to cover the economic cost of capital for the construction…. to say nothing of operating costs. Great idea.

  • Alon wrote: first, whether it would be offset by the lack of a convenient connection to MARC (and I’m perfectly willing to listen to the argument that BWI is a better transfer point);

    Though Marc commuter line would lose 368,000 annual Amtrak patrons at Penn Station, it will get far more patrons than the 32,000 weekday patrons it currently splits with the other Marc commuter line terminating at Camden Yards (2 blocks from Charles Center Station). First, the Yellowline’s southern extension would connect at the BWI-Amtrak-Marc station. Second, by ~2030 that Marc line connects with the Redline at both the West Baltimore Station & the East Baltimore Station, Purpleline at Madison Square Station, and with Yellowline’s new route up Charles Street at Penn Station. Third, MTA plans a massive frequency upgrade to the Marc line stopping at Penn Station with extension up to the Susquehanna River. I would not be surprised if that Marc line stopping at Penn Station alone hits 60-70,000 weekday commuters by 2030. With that much activity, the Big Circle Route would be expanding capacity more for Marc than Amtrak trains.

    Alon wrote: second, whether the net effect would justify the initial cost.
    I’m not concerned about Charles Center Station becoming a success, but the amount state, local and private sources contribute to the Charles Center Station is an open question beyond my capability to address at this moment.

    • If only MARC trains use the route, then the Great Circle Route has no capacity benefit, only a speed benefit. Even with the low approach speeds, 8 tph are currently achieved, and higher figures are possible. 8 tph is enough frequency for commuter lines with ridership in the low six figures, let alone 70,000.

      The Camden Yards connection I’m honestly skeptical about. If it requires walking two blocks, then the transfer penalty is too big. In addition, the route is owned by CSX, which makes it difficult to time transfers, even if a tunnel extension could put commuter rail close to the HSR station. While it would be nice to connect to both the Penn Line at BWI and the Camden Line, the Penn Line should get priority as it has much higher ridership.

  • I just realized this would be more expensive per-km than the Chuo Shinkansen, JR Central’s proposed maglev line. The Chuo Shinkansen would be 60% in tunnel, crossing through the Japanese Alps and under the entire cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka; this leads to a cost estimate of $190 million per km. It takes special talent to top that, but Amtrak can always be trusted to rise to the occasion.

    • I don’t know enough details about the additional tunneling costs (above the Redline tunneling costs), but I can’t imagine tunneling through Baltimore costing more per km than tunneling through Japanese Alps.

      If credible estimates proved that Baltimore’s additional HSR tunneling costs were the same or more expensive than Japan, I may be willing to concede this point. But I’d first like to know if the extra tunneling costs $1.5B or less. I believe the long term benefits to the NEC route, boosts to Baltimore train & transit patronage, and possible TOD are worth it. Heck, if Boston can justify over $10B for 20th century-oriented Big Dig, then Baltimore can justify $1.5B for a 21st century sustainable transportation project.

      One more point. Since your NEC upgrade proposal would cost $15-$20B (factoring in noise mitigation & NIMBYism) , why not add 185 mph track upgrades to Hartford-New Haven and Philly-Harrisburg. That upgrade would permit the 220 mph tilt trains you propose to service a Hartford-New Haven-NYC-Newark-Philly-Harrisburg line without slowing down the NEC line while and generating momentum towards a Pittsburgh extension with track upgrades to 110 mph to Springfield. Given Amtrak owns the routes, both Hartford-New Haven and Philly-Harrisburg segment upgrades seem doable for $3-$4B by 2020

      • Tunneling through Baltimore almost certainly costs more than tunneling through the Japanese Alps. The single most expensive kind of tunnel there is is one through urban areas. Subways under central cities typically cost $200-250 million per km. Baltimore might be able to get away with a slightly lower figure because it has less underground infrastructure to deal with than cities like Paris and Berlin, but it won’t be much less.

        I think New Haven-Springfield and Philly-Harrisburg are natural extensions, but they should come only after the mainline NEC is upgraded, because of their lower city populations. Initially, speeds should be reduced by running tilting trains to Harrisburg at modern cant deficiency levels, which are higher than the FRA permits, and by electrifying the New Haven-Springfield corridor. But even then, upgrades would be more expensive per-km than on the NEC; for one, New Haven-Springfield would need concrete sleepers and double-tracking.

  • So Baltimore comes in at $1.75M per mile, that would put costs at$1.3B or less. Sounds doable to me.

    Although I understand your reticence to also promote the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield and Philadelphia-Harrisburg upgrades, not to mention NYC-Albany upgrades in your proposal, I see significant HSR salesmanship advantages. Here’s why:

    1. It supports Amtrak’s request to SOGR/upgrade the Northeast Region, not just the Northeast Corridor — should by you a friend or two at Amtrak.

    2. When your proposal shows that Amtrak way over-estimates costs to upgrade, it will cause more than one to imagine how many more route miles can be upgraded for less dollars.

    3. By also addressing extensions to Harrisburg, Hartford and Albany you help wipe out more of the worst polluting regional flights, runway-time snatchers and can legitimately advertise reducing NATIONAL flight delay (if only by 4-5%). Senators in Georgia, Arizona, Texas, Colorado and Florida should care about reducing flight delay to their busy airports even if they are ho-hum abut HSR. I thought of this because Harrisburg Intl Airport was recently bragging about new direct flights to LGA. If they had 160-185mph HSR service to NYC, travelers would care less about that direct flight.

    4. As for concrete sleepers and 2-tracking the New Haven-Hartford route segment … Why do we have only 34-miles of sub-par tracks between a 1.2M person metro area tied to the 800K person metro that happens to be a hub on America’s only operational HSR line? Since your proposal is going to add HSR train capacity between Phily-NYC-New Haven and a modest speed boost, it should have been done yesterday. Ditto for NYC-Albany and Philly-Harrisburg.

    • $175 million per mile, or $110 million per km, is very ambitious. I know of one case where similar (in fact much lower) cost was achieved, and that’s in Madrid, the world capital of low-cost train construction. Normally, the costs can be expected to be higher; $200 million/km is normal for European projects.

      Albany is not the same as Harrisburg and Hartford. The problem with it is that the existing tracks are twisty and impossible to upgrade because of the hilly terrain; the Empire Corridor would really need those tunnels that are superfluous on the NEC. Even Harrisburg and Hartford are not very high priorities – again, look at their populations. The NEC could easily make a profit, almost certainly enough to pay back a $10-15 billion construction cost. With Harrisburg and Hartford it’s not so sure. Plus, the NEC is the line that members of Congress take back and forth between NY, where they raise money, and DC, where they spend it. It’s dirty but it can get more support that other lines wouldn’t, despite contrary regional or ideological interests.

      • Alon, there has to be 10-15 year payback merit to upgrading 34 miles of track between New Haven and Hartford. We both know there there are many flights within the Northeast to Hartford that could be avoided and more vehicles taken off the Hartford freeways that eventually clog NYC freeways/tollways — for only for 34 miles of (correct me if I’m wrong) non-tunnel and non-aerial upgrades. Hartford has a larger population than New Orleans, Greenville, Birmingham, Eugene, Buffalo and Tulsa. Its already designated a HSR corridor by the USDOT, so why would $1-1.5B well spent for the same level of upgrade as the NEC ruffle feathers?

        As for NYC-Albany HSR, the US Conference of Mayors include that route in their proposal for 220 mph service with some benefit-cost analysis and political vetting already done. See http://www.usmayors.org/highspeedrail/documents/committee-presentation.pdf
        Hence, adding a NYC-Albany extension to your proposal would not be a surprise. But your approaches may enlighten some on how to do it less expensively.

        Lastly, there’s the Philly-Harrisburg route. One problem we Americans (excluding TheTransportPolitic folks) have when it comes to HSR, is failure to think big or long term. When America accepts that we need an Interstate HSR Network for reasons far more compelling than expanding freeways and airports (see http://soulofamerica.com/interact/soulofamerica-travel-blog/interstate-acela-network), then we (at least most folks in TheTransportPolitic) should lobby for an HSR route connecting Midwest HSR and Northeast HSR. The most logical & patronage promising route is Philly-Harrisburg-Pittsburgh-Cleveland-Toledo (with a spur to Detroit)-Ft. Wayne-Chicago. Once America buys that vision, investing billions tunneling for a straighter HSR route to Pittsburgh is no more daunting than the tunneling done for the current 4-lane I-76 tollway. In 2010, the world hit Peak Oil. By 2020 we will approach $10/gallon petro, more cars will clog freeways/tollways and fuel-inefficient short flights will cost much more. Then everyone will suddenly want that HSR route, but no one will be ready for the 12-15 years it will take to build.

        No one complains abut America spending an inflation-adjusted $1.8 Trillion on Super-Highways. So why retread old cost reasons to stall on what should be the kickstart of a 200 mph Philly-Chicago HSR route. That’s why we first need the power of a larger vision to support/guide Secretary Ray Lahood, President Obama and influence Congress (even Republicans) to change spending priorities after the upcoming election. Otherwise, the Cato Institute with their misguided “build more freeways” approach will keep getting sidebars on CNN.com HSR articles without a direct rebuttal, like today.

        Alon, I believe your expertise and Yonah’s forum presents the opportunity to help shape the power of larger HSR vision, starting with the Northeast. Seize it!

        • The issue with New Haven-Hartford is that the incremental benefit of upgrading it to full speed, as opposed to just electrifying and double-tracking, isn’t that large. The difference in travel time between New Haven and Hartford would be large, but on the primary market, New York-Hartford, it would be pretty small. It would be something like 55 minutes for full-fat HSR, and 1:10 for upgraded tracks.

          I’d rather get the NEC right before more HSR funds are spent. A successful NEC would generate political capital for much higher levels of funding, making it easier to commit to more expensive or lower-ridership routes. By analogy, the expressways in the Northeast and Chicago areas helped pave the way to the Interstate network.

          To be honest, I’m skeptical about your link about New York-Albany. For one, it’s an industry PR job. I appreciate Siemens for putting its logo on its PR – GM and ExxonMobil prefer to hide behind libertarian thinktanks – but it’s still not the best source for information. It’s not that it couldn’t be done; it could, potentially profitably. But it would be difficult. First, it would involve more NIMBY issues because of the need to carve new ROW. Second, Albany is too small by itself; the proper anchor at the other end is the string of cities between Syracuse and Buffalo, plus Toronto, in a parallel universe where Homeland Security and the TSA are reformable. While Albany-Buffalo-Toronto is technically easy, and could be done at-grade for $20 million/km, that’s still several hundred km of new HSR track.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Keep in the back of your mind “Turboliners made it between Albany and Grand Central in 2:10″ The current service does it in 2:30 to Penn Station. Should be relatively cheap and easy to get that down to 2:00.

          • Given the National Republicans push back on Obama’s underfunded infrastructure plan, I’m willing to concede that in this political environment, HSR upgrading Philly-Harrisburg-Pittsburgh route and NYC-Albany-Rochester-Syracuse-Buffalo route are pipe dreams.

            Furthermore, But since Amtrak can claim patronage jumped and was profitable in the NEC in 2010, they can justify more Northeast Regional improvement projects. The cost to HSR upgrade Amtrak-owned 34-mile New Haven-Hartford route should be small enough to roll into the NEC upgrade. What are the politics like to upgrading Washington to Richmond (1.2M metro pop.) for electric, curve straitening, more overpasses HSR, while re-branding it as a NEC extension?

          • @Adirondacker: with high superelevation, electrification, and good rolling stock, less then 2:00 should be achievable. The main problem is that north of Poughkeepsie the line is owned by CSX, and there’s nontrivial freight traffic. This means that actually constructing two extra dedicated passenger tracks involves bashing other companies’ heads. CSX is not UP, but it’s still pretty hostile to any passenger rail making use of post-1946 concepts.

            @Thomas: the politics of Virginia service is similar to that of other NEC extensions – it’s a good second stage, but because it’s not actually part of the NEC, politicians are less likely to vote for it. Unfortunately, the CSX-owned part from Washington to Petersburg has little upgrade potential on existing track, so the only solution that’s not too slow is a continuous high-speed line to Richmond; doing it in stages is hard. It’d cost about $3-4 billion – not hugely expensive, but still serving a much lower population than the NEC.

          • Don

            Adirondacker12800
            12 October 2010 at 18:54
            Keep in the back of your mind “Turboliners made it between Albany and Grand Central in 2:10″ The current service does it in 2:30 to Penn Station. Should be relatively cheap and easy to get that down to 2:00.

            Oh, my! Not cheap or easy! That route’s alignment is about as wrung out for speed as can be right now. All the class 5 and 6 track is already at 6″ superelevation,, the max allowed. There are just too many curves. There’s not much more “there” there.

            Also, I think the best time on the once-upon-a-time non-stop Turboliner was 2:17. Most service was 2:30. The change from GCT to NYP little effect on the running time. Early Amtrak 79 mph max yielded 2:50 times including engine change at Harmon.

            You guys need to look a track chart!

          • Don

            Alon- CSX freight traffic on the Hudson line IS trivial. One round trip a day – all at night. Train is from Selkirk (Albany) to Oak Point (Bronx). Gets on Hudson Line at Stuyvesant, about 10 miles south of Albany-Renss and off at Mott Haven (or thereabouts)It’s even less than when the first round of improvements went in in the middle 70s. Tarrytown was still making Chevy’s then. Virtually no on line traffic. New York State ran that off with taxes decades ago.

          • Don

            …and the line is double track all the way from Albany-Rensselaer to Harmon then four tracks to the bridge at Spuyten Duyvil. Biggest problem on the line, other than it’s alignment, is interference with MetroNorth trains south of Poughkeepsie.

          • The total FRA-allowed speed on curves is governed by 6″ cant and 3″ cant deficiency. A modern medium-speed non-tilting train can do a cant deficiency of 7″; so can a tilting high-speed train. Maximum cant on modern track is about 8″. So there’s a 29% speed boost on curves right there. Then there would be extra speed coming from electrification (which is cheap, at about $3 million per mile) and using trains with good acceleration.

            The problem with freight is not traffic interference. It’s that CSX demands ridiculous rules for shared alignment, for example large track separation with a concrete crash barrier. 8″ cant is not possible on shared track, because heavy freight trains would demolish the track, or even derail if cant excess is too high.

  • Correction to “So Baltimore comes in at $1.75M per mile, that would put costs at$1.3B or less. Sounds doable to me.

    I meant to say “So Baltimore comes in at $175M per mile, that would put costs at$1.3B or less. Sounds doable to me.”

  • Jim, earlier in this thread, I mentioned that Baltimore has politically vetted building an underground Charles Center Station for its Metro Redline. My point was to have Amtrak NEC piggyback that station construction and some of the tunneling costs with over goals of adding HSR capacity shortening trip time by a few minutes in the entire NEC. Adding 3-5 minutes trip time savings matters.

    • jim

      Stations are money pits. Politicians have edifice complexes and once their name is on a building, they want that building to look glorious. I would worry that instead of HSR piggybacking on the Red Line, the Red Line would piggyback on HSR.

  • Don

    The route is already shared – the deal goes back to Conrail days, so not quite the same rules as would apply west of CP-169. The route is already at the max FRA track class the alignment allows with lots and lots of 6″ superelevation. Practically speaking, it would not be an easy thing to get a waiver for 8″ superelevation. Same for getting anything beyond FRA class 6…

    Tilting trainsets would help a good bit and electrification would help some. Tilt could allow speeding up some class 5 sections to class 6. Not sure about tilt w.r.t. existing track centers, although much of the CSX portion of the route was originally 4 tracks wide, so there is room to increase. MetroNorth might be the rub, given their attitude on the NH side.

    Current schedules are 1:00 for 68 miles on CSX portion with 3 stops, 1:23 for 73 miles on MN with 3 stops. In the 79 mph days, the route schedule was 2:50. Finding another 20 minutes to squeeze out would be hard. Finding 10 more on top of that even more so. The track chart for the route can be found on line at multimodalways.

    • Typically the track centers in the US are overgenerous. The Shinkansen has 14.1′ meter track centers. AREMA requires more – I believe 16′ for high-speed rail. I’m not sure what the centers are on the Empire Line; I’ll check later. Even if they’re too narrow, as you said, it used to be a four-track line, so expanding would be easy.

      It is hopeless to have a modern passenger rail system under FRA regulations. The cant is just part of it; the cant deficiency rules are the biggest offender. The single most cost-effective way to improve passenger rail in the US is to remove the FRA’s ability to regulate it, and institute a law that says anything that’s legal on Japanese tracks is legal on US tracks. To do otherwise is akin to doing freight rail with Europe’s cross-border work rules.

      • Don

        I’m not sure removing the FRA regs wouldn’t backfire. They provide a nice, workable defense in case of lawsuits. Remove them and you open the railroads up to a completely unknown definition of “reasonable”. At least the FRA regs are a known set of unreasonableness.

        But, if passenger rail is going to keep up with improving auto fuel efficiency over the coming decades, the US equipment needs to go on a diet, for sure. The current FRA safety standards are a huge barrier. Something has to be done, even if the US follows the TGV/ICE model of new ROW between cities and shared track in the urban areas – or want to build new ROW in bits and pieces on a route. We still would have exposure to mixed frt/pass.

        • There already are known versions of reasonable: those are the decades-long traditions of regulation in Japan or the EU.

          The FRA crash safety rules are a huge problem, but they’re not the only one. The 3″ cant deficiency maximum, which is there for comfort rather than safety, has to go. So do rules prohibiting unmodified Japanese and European trains from sharing track with freight as they regularly do abroad.

  • Jon M

    I think the US should take a look the way Great Britain went from BritRail service to private companies operating over rights of way owned by Network Rail. Network Rail as I understand it owns and maintains the stations, tracks and signals (much like the airline industry here)and bids out for the operators like Virgin Trains, etc. who are “for profit” companies. The trains are privately operated while the network is public.

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