Breaking Down the Department of Transportation’s Proposed 2012 Budget

» Department recommends funding for new transit projects in several American cities, but its primary priority in the short term is in getting existing infrastructure up to a state of good repair. Amtrak announces it plans to increase capacity on Acela trains.

Almost a year ago, Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff took a controversial stand when he argued that the public sector was not doing enough to ensure the good repair of the nation’s oldest inner-city rail systems. He pointed out that cities from New York to Chicago needed to spend tens of billions of dollars to upgrade their transportation networks — rather than spend most of their funds on expansion.

The Department of Transportation has, at least to some extent, heeded his advice and made such funding a significant part of what the White House hopes will be a greatly expanded transportation budget for Fiscal Year 2012. Of the $22.2 billion President Obama requested for the FTA specifically, some $10.7 billion would be granted for the state of good repair initiative. For cities wondering how to rebuild their aging infrastructure, this could be good news.

New capital projects, however, were not left behind. The budget would contribute more than one billion more to the New Starts transit expansion program than in 2010. The DOT’s proposed budget identifies a number of rail and bus projects around the country that it hopes to fund over the next year (see below).

And the Federal Railroad Administration would receive a major boost to implement the national rail plan. Amtrak, which introduced its own budget, hopes to latch on to renewed interest in intercity rail; the national rail company asked for $2.22 billion in funds, some of which would be used to expand capacity on the existing Acela Express. Amtrak has also indicated that it has begun planning the first phase of its 220 mph replacement for the Northeast Corridor that it revealed last fall (see end of article).

Funding for most programs would increase temporarily under this plan, falling back to more typical levels by FY 2013. The Administration is hoping to use this year’s transportation budget as a sort of second stimulus, and the $50 billion in new funding would include some measures that replicate what was seen in the first stimulus. The National Infrastructure Investments program, for instance, would fund unique transportation programs with $2 billion worth of grants, much like the TIGER program did.

President’s Proposed Transportation Spending 2012-2017 (in billion $)
FY 2010201220132014201520162017
FHA41.470.447.450.253.156.159.2
FTA12.122.215.016.619.421.824.3
» Formula Grants9.87.76.36.97.68.49.2
» State of Good Repair10.73.84.34.95.56.2
» Expansion2.03.52.93.13.53.83.9
FRA4.48.07.48.59.19.69.9
» Network Development2.54.05.06.07.27.57.9
» System Preservation1.34.02.52.51.92.02.0
I-Bank0555555
DOT Surface Programs77.0107.176.582.288.894.9101.0

The Department of Transportation’s funding expansion is across the board, and it benefits highways (up 70% between 2010 and 2012) almost as much as transit (up 83%). So the White House is not exactly taking a stand against roads here. Moreover, like the rest of the budget revealed yesterday, the Administration’s input is only half of the equation: The House and Senate must pass any spending bill and there is a lot of skepticism on the Republican side of Capitol Hill about any sort of increase in public investment.

Nevertheless, the reforms announced by the Department of Transportation indicate how the Administration wants the Congress to move forward on a funding reauthorization bill, and the measures proposed make sense. The Highway Trust Fund would transform into the Transportation Trust Fund, providing new, specified accounts for highways, transit, high-speed rail, and an infrastructure bank (currently there are only highway and transit accounts). Transit agencies would be allowed to use some of their federal funding for operations, something that is not allowed under current federal guidelines. And the various grant-providing programs currently offered by Washington would be simplified. These would all be meaningful, useful improvements over the existing situation.

The Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts Program

Though the FTA typically reveals which transit expansion projects it is planning to fund in its annual New Starts Report, this year recommendations were included in the Department of Transportation’s budget request. Because of the size of that proposal, and the current lack of consensus in Congress about how — or whether — to spend so much on transportation, it is possible that the agency will not be able to follow through on all of its recommendations.

Nevertheless, as demonstrated in the table below, the agency has seven projects with Full Funding Grant Agreements ensuring federal funding; nine projects ready for construction and likely to receive Washington’s dollars; ten recommended projects that are further behind in planning; and four projects that may or may not advance this year.

Department of Transportation Proposed New Starts Spending 2012 (in million $)
CityProject ModeNew Starts StatusProposed Funding in FY 2012
New YorkLIRR East Side AccessCommuter railFull funding215
New York2nd Ave Phase 1Metro railFull funding197
DallasGreen/Orange LinesLight railFull funding86
Salt LakeMid JordanLight railFull funding79
Salt LakeFrontRunner SouthCommuter railFull funding52
WashingtonDulles Metro Phase 1Metro railFull funding96
SeattleUniversity LinkLight railFull funding110
SacramentoSouth Phase 2Light railPending50
San FranciscoCentral SubwayLight railPending200
DenverEast CorridorCommuter railPending300
HartfordHartford-New BritainBuswayPending45
OrlandoSunrail Phase 1Commuter railPending50
HonoluluTransitMetro railPending250
MinneapolisCentral CorridorLight railPending200
HoustonNorth CorridorLight railPending100
HoustonSoutheast CorridorLight railPending100
San JoseSilicon Valley BART Phase 1Metro railRecommended130
PortlandPortland-MilwaukieLight railRecommended200
Salt LakeDraperLight railRecommended114
PhoenixCentral MesaLight railRecommended38
FresnoBlackstone/Keys CanyonBRTRecommended18
OaklandEast BayBRTRecommended25
San FranciscoVan NessBRTRecommended30
JacksonvilleNorth CorridorBRTRecommended6
Grand RapidsSilver LineBRTRecommended13
El PasoMesa CorridorBRTRecommended14
SeattleRapidRide EBRTRecommended22
SeattleRapidRide FBRTRecommended16
Los AngelesRegional ConnectorLight railAmbiguous
Los AngelesWestside SubwayMetro railAmbiguous
CharlotteNortheast CorridorLight railAmbiguous
PortlandColumbia River CrossingLight railAmbiguous

Of the projects still pending federal approval, four — one in both Orlando and Sacramento, and two in Houston — have been at the top of the federal list for aid since at least 2009. But each has struggled in preparation for construction: Orlando fought with a freight railroad and now is in conflict with the state government; Sacramento struggled with underfunding of the existing transit system; and Houston signed an unfortunate contract with a rail car manufacturer in direct violation of the “Buy America” provision required under the law.

Other projects have long been in consideration, such as Honolulu’s first rail link, Minneapolis’ Central Corridor, and San Francisco’s Central Subway. Each is very likely to move forward this year with the federal government.

Amtrak

The national railway company released its own budget plan in coordination with the Obama Administration’s. The agency may be behind the times, however: Though it now operates outside of the direct influence of the Federal Railroad Administration, the White House indicated last week that Amtrak funding would now be considered when the Department of Transportation is evaluating how to distribute intercity rail appropriations. This could mean competitive bidding for the rights to operate trains on the corridors which the federal government pays to upgrade.

Nonetheless, Amtrak’s $2.22 billion request for subsidies is the most ambitious the agency has been in a decade. The company wants funds to expand the length of its Acela Express trains between Boston and Washington; it hopes to buy 40 cars and add two to each of the 20 trainsets by 2014, increasing the number of available seats by 130 per trip. Amtrak already has 70 electric locomotives and 130 single-deck passenger cars for regular service under construction, financed by the stimulus.

The agency argues that the all-time ridership records it set this year — 28.7 million trips — mean that it merits more public funding.

Intriguingly, Amtrak also revealed that it was considering the first segment of the true high-speed rail line it plans for the Northeast Corridor. Along with $50 million in planning funds it hopes to receive to begin studying the Northeast Gateway Project (a new tunnel between New Jersey and Manhattan), Amtrak says it is now considering how it will begin implementing what it says would be the minimum operating segment of its high-speed project, a $7 billion new pair of tracks between Newark and Philadelphia that would reduce travel times from New York to Philadelphia from 1h05 to 50 minutes.

Image above: Seattle Rapid Ride BRT bus, which would see expansion under proposed New Starts policy, from Flickr user Atomic Taco (cc)

110 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Buckeyeman

    Good luck in getting anything passed in the House. The right wing appears to be pursuing a Scorched Earth policy when it comes to most kinds of spending.I’m as sorry as any human being can ever possibly be to say this but I sincerely believe that the administration’s transit and rail requests are DOA in the House.On the other hand, the dreamer in me would like to see the money proposed for this new NEC line pumped into the present line get speeds there as well as in
    the Keystone Corridor up to 150 mph.

    • jim

      The politics are, at best, obscure. I don’t think it’s useful to think of this as a budget. There probably won’t be a budget resolution this year (there wasn’t last year), perhaps not one this Congress. The lack of a budget resolution won’t matter very much because there won’t be any appropriation bills passed either; we’ll stagger on short-term continuing resolution after short-term continuing resolution; no-one wanting to shut the government down, but no-one wanting the compromises that would produce a long-term appropriation. In those circumstances, the best thing for transportation would be a reauthorization bill and a paragraph in the continuing resolutions that says continue spending money on transportation as authorized. So the question becomes what can Mica and Boxer produce that the House leadership can let through; the Administration has produced what Bruce McF has described as an ambit claim describing the outer edge.

    • Ocean Railroader

      Up grading the Key Stone shouldn’t be that bad in that most of the old rail bed runs streighter then most of the highways that follow it. They most likely have a worn out catenary proberm that can be fixed wtih new tensioned catenary and H beams.

  • Steven

    “Amtrak says it is now considering how it will begin implementing what it says would be the minimum operating segment of its high-speed project, a $7 billion new pair of tracks between Newark and Philadelphia that would reduce travel times from New York to Philadelphia from 1h05 to 50 minutes.”

    Does anybody have a link for this? Did Amtrak propose a Philadelphia Center City Station in it’s Vision plan, or was that was only Penn Studio? How detailed/shovel-ready are Amtak’s plans for Next-Gen in NJ/PA?

    • orulz

      Amtrak did propose a six-track underground station at Market East in Philadelphia, though it is not clear what route the trains would take to get there. There would also be a similar underground station at Charles Center in Baltimore.

      I think we can safely assume that the $7 billion would not be used to construct new tunnels under Philadelphia, and that trains would use existing tracks to serve 30th street.

      • jim

        It’s certainly possible that Amtrak has changed its mind about a new Philadelphia station. It’s now talking about replacing all three existing tunnels in Baltimore for $1.25B (in cooperation with Maryland), which suggests it’s given up on the Charles Center station, too.

        • Jim, do you have a link? What I’ve seen is the opposite, i.e. Amtrak asked for money for replacing the B&P Tunnel in the Master Plan, but then went with Charles Center for Next-Gen HSR.

          • orulz

            The answer is Amtrak plans to do BOTH; they can’t let the B&P tunnel sit as-is, even if they are going to build a new tunnel through downtown for the dedicated 220mph HSR trains.

            Of the projects, a replacement for the B&P tunnel is more pressing. This is mentioned in the Amtrak budget request linked above and released yesterday.

            The fact that they mention three civil-war era tunnels, makes me think that this project will involve replacements for B&P, Union, AND Howard Street. No doubt all of these need to be addressed, but will they be able to do all that for $1.25 billion?

            On a tangentially related note, if they replace the Howard Street tunnel, I hope it gets refurbished and reused – but not for MARC as is currently planned, but instead as a better route for the light rail through town. Those trains really CRAWL down Howard!

            • AlanF

              The B&P tunnel is in 3 parts, if I am not mistaken. That may be what they mean, quoting from their budget request: “The first, the West Baltimore Tunnel Realignment Project, will involve a 12 year, $1.25 billion effort to replace the three Civil War-era tunnels in Baltimore, which continue to present significant operational challenges.” The B&P tunnel – or tunnels – is in West Baltimore, the Union Tunnels would be East Baltimore.

              Maryland was awarded $60 million in the HSIPR stimulus grants for completion of PE and NEPA work for replacing the B&P Tunnel(s). Replacing the B&P Tunnel is near the top of the Amtrak NEC priority list and would be used by MARC and reportedly CSX to provide a route through Baltimore for double stacked freight trains. Replacing it is a more immediate need to be done project than the Next Generation NEC with the entirely new route under Baltimore.

              • Adirondacker12800

                I haven’t seen anything other than the study that was used to get funding for a fuller study. The new tunnel would be passenger trains only. Other parts of the project would improve freight movement.

              • Ocean Railroader

                I’ve been though those tunnels on Amtrak and have seen them on google streetview and they should go after that low hanging fruit then trying some new high speed rail gimick for the time being in that pound for pound it would be cost effective for now.

              • AlanF

                Adirondacker12800, quoting from the NEC Master plan: “South of the station, the two‐track Baltimore and Potomac (B&P) Tunnels are beyond their useful life and cannot adequately serve the mix of trains currently operating in the tunnel. A new commuter and intercity rail tunnel will replace the B&P Tunnels. Freight traffic will benefit from a new freight tunnel connection through Baltimore with connections north and south.”

                The plan may be to build a 3rd tunnel or track for freight operations. I expect little of this is finalized. That is what the $60 million PE and NEPA study is to do.

              • Adirondacker12800

                Almost none of the freight wants to go to Penn Station. One of the proposals in the preliminary study was a tunnel on the other side of the harbor for freight.

              • PeakVT

                The two tunnels under consideration are the Great Circle Freight Tunnel and Great Circle Passenger Tunnel, which would be stacked for part of their alignments. Potentially, something else could be done with freight, but the two GC tunnels seem be the best alternatives. See this map.

            • Assuming the 3 B&P tunnels get refurbished, federal money should come from Transit & the freight side of FRA budget, since MARC and Freight trains who would benefit the most in the long run.

              Amtrak should focus HSR money on the proposed Charles Center tunnel and station, Wilmington Bypass, DC-Baltimore-Philly-Newark track & catenary upgrades, two bridge replacement and the Gateway Project. Those projects should let existing trains hit 160-165 mph and shave 50 minutes from DC-NYC time. A possible scenario to make it work … If Amtrak said we have $1-2B of private money + $2B of state money and now we need $12B Federal money, Mica would sign off in heartbeat.

          • jim

            It’s the first full paragraph on p.5 of the transmittal letter covering the 2012 Legislative Grant Request. The letter is attached to the Feb 14th News Release about the 40 new Acela cars, which is available on the Amtrak site.

            Here’s the para:

            The time has come for us to contemplate the next round of investment, and to this end, Amtrak is
            advancing a pair of plans that envision major investments in the corridor to address key infrastructure, capacity, and security issues. The first, the West Baltimore Tunnel Realignment Project, will involve a 12 year, $1.25 billion effort to replace the three Civil War-era tunnels in Baltimore, which continue to present significant operational challenges. Track capacity is limited and speeds are restricted to 30 mph, making them a problematic chokepoint; the ability to perform major work without disrupting traffic is nonexistent. Construction of a new tunnel on a better alignment will allow for rehabilitation of the existing structures, and significant permanent improvements to the resilience, flexibility, and security of the rail system through Baltimore. To undertake this project, Amtrak is working with the Maryland Department of Transportation regarding funding this activity through their High Speed Rail (HSR) grant.

            The second is the Gateway tunnel.

    • Ocean Railroader

      They could reconstruct the existing catenary to tension catenary and cut out a few twists and turns on the existing rail bed between Phili and New York.

      • Adirondacker12800

        Constant tension catenary between DC and NY would buy them 15 minutes and better reliability. … with the new Silverliners in metro Philadelphia the conversion to 60Hz could be done along with the new catenary.

        • Ocean Railroader

          The 25Hz system is fine in that it did have trains at one time running at over 170 miles on hour. The only thing limiting train speeds is not the Hz but the wires and brakets themselves on the catenary masts.

          • Adirondacker12800

            It’s fine but it’s globally unique which raises it’s costs – all the electrical parts more complex than wire and insulators are custom designed and built.

            • Ocean Railroader

              No the 25Hz system uses the same catenary wires and brackets that make contract with the trains on it so it an’t like they need some type of crazy braket or something to hold up the catenary wires. The 25Hz sysetem is even rated as green power in that it has it’s own personal genertors that produce 25Hz power at some hydro dams making it good for the evnorment.

              • Adirondacker12800

                The simple parts, like wires and insulators, are the same. The expensive parts like transformers and generators are unique to the NEC – no one else anywhere uses 25Hz. So those parts are custom designed and built just for the NEC. The cost for that doesn’t get spread around other customers.

              • Ocean Railroader

                The cool thing about the NEC transformers and generators on the NEC is that a lot of them have been running none stop for over 80 years and in some cases around Phili they have been running for over a 100 years and where there at least 40 to 50 years before Europe’s and Japan’s railroads ever saw a mile of wire. What I would like to do to the NEC 25Hz catenary system is extend it south to Richmond VA and then built a 80 eletric feeder line down the US Route 29 Amtrak route to Charottsville to act as a feeder line to feed power in from a set of new 25Hz generators at the North Anna Nuclear plant which is about to go under a 1500 megawatt new reactor and generator complex. This grand 25Hz extension would allow far cheaper power from Vriginia to flow north into the NEC up into Maryland. The old NEC satic converters and generators could then send their 25Hz power suppies west to Harisburg and beyound.

              • aw

                What’s the point of building new infrastructure to 25 Hz? The rest of the continent hass settled on 60 Hz; if that’s used, the system could easily tie into the national power grid. Send the old stuff to a railroad museum.

              • Adirondacker12800

                any 25Hz equipment is carefully hand crafted by skilled workers in extraordinarily small volumes. It’s very very expensive to do that. It’s much cheaper to use 60Hz. Amtrak’s long range plan is to replace the 25Hz system with a 60Hz system.

              • 11 kV 25 Hz can’t even provide full juice to some trains. The AGV is limited to less than its top speed and acceleration if it runs on less than 25 kV. At 15 kV, it accelerates 15% more slowly than at 25 kV and is limited to 330 km/h.

              • Max Wyss

                To Alon: Is it the voltage, or is it the frequency?

                It could be both, as there is a limit of the current transferrable via the pantographs, and that is somewhere between 600 and 800 A.

                But there is also the non-optimization for 16.7 Hz of the main transformer (which is optimized for 50 Hz).

                So, if higher performance under 16.7 Hz is asked for, it would be possible, but then operation under 50 Hz would be a bit less than optimal.

              • It seems to be the voltage. The AGV’s speed-acceleration curves are given for different voltages (link to technical sheet).

              • Adirondacker12800

                It’s more complex than this but

                volts x amps = watts

                So at lower voltages you can’t get as much power ( watts ) as you can at higher voltages. It why the few electrified ore railroads in the world run at 50kV.

                They picked 25Hz because in 1910 you could run DC motors on 25Hz and not have serious problems. At 25Hz the lights don’t flicker … much…

              • Max Wyss

                Alon, this is a pretty interesting v/t diagram. Actually, the curves should be hyperboles, but there are some not so hyperbolic sections visible, which makes me believe that they have been adjusted by software.

                To me, it looks as if the 16.7 Hz (15 kV) output has been set to what is now current (and won’t be surpassed in the next few years anyway) on the HSR using that voltage (that means, essentially in Germany, where Frankfurt – Köln is rated at 330 km/h).

                That means that there is no commercial need to be faster than 330 km/h under 15 kV/16.7 Hz.

                The situation under 25 kV/50 Hz is different, as there are talks about reaching 360 km/h.

                You also see the commercially reasonable limits in DC mode; the fastest line under 1500 V I am aware of is 200 km/h (roughly, between Paris and Bordeaux), and the 250 km/h limit is reached on the Italian “Direttissima” High Speed Line.

                So, the AGV performs as needed, but not much beyond… which makes sense, and its high-voltage equipment is optimized for 25 kV, where the highest output is needed.

              • Ocean Railroader

                The existing 30 to 40 mile long Metra eltric line is at 1500 volts DC and it runs along the same path as the head waters of the IL high speed rail line in Chicago. There is a depate about to start in Chicago about should they add eletric catenary at 1500 volts DC for the other Metra Lines or should they go for 25,000 volts AC on all new eletric projects in Chicago. What I would wounder about with this is if there was a train that could go 170 miles on hour to 200 miles on 1500 DC that may or may not be a help in that they could start at the end of the existing Metra eletric system and start pushing it south towards St Louis?

                It sounds good that there are trains that could run at 330km on hour on the German 16Hz system the reason so the 25Hz shouldn’t be a promberm. I think they should save the 25Hz in that they are now spending tens of millions of dollars to upgrade a lot of the old 25Hz stuff and Amtrak is even going to start work on a 20 mile catenary project from Phili to Paoili to extend the 138Kv Hz transmission lines along the old 1910’s catenary line and up grade everything from the catenary masts to the wires.

                The reason why the 25Hz system needs a extension down to Vriginia is that in Germany the 16Hz system has genertors at some of the nuclear plants that generate it’s own power and Amtrak only has one place like that at a hydro station. So if North Anna Neclear planet is going double in size in the next 20 years and it is right in the center of two railroad main lines in the state it would make good sense to have it feed power into a new south 25Hz southern extension and it could also send cheaper power into Mayland too.

              • Adirondacker12800

                should they go for 25,000 volts AC on all new eletric projects in Chicago.

                25kV/60Hz. They can piggyback their orders on other transit agency’s orders. At trackside there’s a lot less equipment to buy and it’s stuff that comes out of vendor’s catalogs – much cheaper than specially made 1500 volt DC stuff.

                The reason why the 25Hz system needs a extension down to Vriginia is that in Germany the 16Hz system has genertors at some of the nuclear plants that generate it’s own power and Amtrak only has one place like that at a hydro station.

                That locks them into custom designed and built 25Hz equipment. If they use 60Hz they can use standard equipment and use any source. Excess power from Hydro Quebec in the dog days of summer for instance.

              • Ocean Railroader

                If they go with 25Hz they can have the people that make it in the US who know how to built at 25Hz while with 60Hz they can import it from China or Germany and anywhere that is not the US so the 25Hz system makes more US jobs.

                Right now it looks like any new catenary project will most likely have to go south towards Vrginia in that I noice there really isn’t any talk of going west or noth. But I would like to see some type of idea that would have a row Pennsyvinia type H beams eletric catenary system follow the Ethen ALlen Express train though Vermont and go up to Monteral and then have a hydro tranmission Line run over the tops of the H beams and the catenary cricuits and catenary brackets hitch a ride to the bottom levels of it that way the transmission line would off set a lot of the costs of buying the steel and installing the catenary towers while the catenary powers the trains.

    • AlanF

      “How detailed/shovel-ready are Amtrak’s plans for Next-Gen in NJ/PA?” My guess is not detailed at all. There has been nothing published beyond the very high level hand waving in their NEC HSR proposal. Amtrak probably has some preliminary maps. The real question is where would the ROW go for the new HSR tracks between Newark and Philly?

      The budget request says: “As we begin design and preliminary engineering for the Gateway project elements we will also be planning to continue two new high speed tracks south of Newark to toward Philadelphia’s 30th street Station.” I read this as the new HSR tracks would connect to the current NEC well north of Philly. Whether they would be in NJ only or cross the river with a new bridge and run along a new much straighter ROW on the PA side of the Delaware River, no idea. Will be interesting to see what Amtrak is planning.

      As for the new 7.5 mile long tunnel all the way under Philly to a underground new Market East station, that part of the Amtrak plan along with the 11.8 mile long tunnel under NYC are, to me, the most questionable parts of the plan. Better to save a ton of money by running the new HSR route on the surface south of and to 30th Street Station and then a much shorter tunnel from 30th street under the the Schuylkill River and North Philly, coming up to connect to the NEC route in North Philly.

  • Brian

    If the House wants to keep donor-state dollars flowing to rural highway needs, albeit their maintenance more than expansion, they best play nice with the Senate.

  • Dauntless

    Excellent report as always! Please note a small correction: Neither Amtrak’ acquisition of seventy (70) electric locomotives nor its acquisition of one-hundred-thirty (130) railcars was funded out of ARRA/Stimulus funds.

    • Woody

      Right. I’m not sure it is fully funded. The down payment came from Amtrak’s revenues exceeding the budgeted figures. Maybe if they keep their forecasts low every year, they can make annual payments that way. :-)

  • Don

    Surprising the 40 Acela cars can’t be built with private financing, given Acela’s ability to generate cash from operations.

    • Ocean Railroader

      Adding 40 new rail cars to Amtrak’s highest profit train is a very good idea but I think they should try for ordering say 50 to 70 cars to try to take in as much new money as possible to raise the amount Amtrak takes in to operate itself so that the Republicans can make less of a case to go after it.

      • Woody

        Now we’re back to the capacity problem. They are adding 40 cars total to 20 trains, so 2 new cars added to each 6-coach train will now make them 8-coach trains, engine front and back as before.

        But it is still the same 20 trains. They can’t use more cars to push more Acelas per hour down the tracks, the Hudson tunnels are too congested. Tracks carrying Acelas, Regionals, Long Distance trains, and Keystones each hour (along with a zillion commuter trains) can’t squeeze in another Acela today. (Maybe Alon could, but the way they do things, Amtrak simply cannot).

        • Adirondacker12800

          The normal schedule at peak is 23 trains an hour, nothing to sneeze at. I’ve never had the time or the patience to check, during December that gets bumped up to 26 in certain 60 minute periods. 26 an hour is respectable, You aren’t going to squeeze very many more in even with the latest whiz bang signals. You begin to run into safe stopping distance constraints.

          The platforms at major stations at the NEC frequently served 14 car trains up until the 70s. The cheapest thing to do is run longer trains. It can be done in a few years ( Platform rehab could happen faster than building new cars to make it possible )

          • The latest whiz bang mainline signals allow 32, at 200 km/h. CAHSR is thinking of installing them – though, of course, none of the railroads it plans to share tracks with is interested.

          • Woody

            Sorry, I wasn’t clear. Not talking so much about trains per hour. I meant, after adding extra cars, they will still be running the same 20 Acela trainsets.

            So I don’t see Amtrak adding many more Acela departures to the schedules until $50 to $100 billion has been spent on upgrades, and the equipment is Next Gen Acelas. By that point Acelas should be running at half-hourly intervals, at least DC-NYC. That would not by itself require twice as many trains; if you slashed the trip times you could use the equipment for more frequencies.

            But you could need more equipment as more feeder lines began to carry Acelas of one generation or another. Not every northbound train would head to Boston; some might go to Albany, others to Springfield, others to Portland. Southbound, the faster Keystone Corridor will need clockface hourly runs to Harrisburg, along with new electrified service to Dover and Salisbury, and an electrified route to Atlantic City. That is before extending the NEC to Richmond, with branches to Norfolk as well as Newport News, and a line to or through Lynchburg, as well as to Raleigh and beyond, of course.

            So Next Gen Acela could be a pretty big equipment order. The current gen Acelas may be running a long time before all the new equipment would be delivered.

    • AlanF

      If Amtrak can get a decent amount of capital funding in FY2012, they may go ahead and put an order in for the 40 Acela business class coach cars. The Acela service took in $440 million in ticket revenue in FY2010. There are 20 Acela trainsets, each with 4 business class cars (260 total capacity), 1 first class with 44 seats, and 1 cafe car, for a total of 100 passenger cars. So each business class car is pulled in somewhere around $4 to $4.4 million in ticket revenue in FY10. That is enough revenue to make it worthwhile to buy the coach cars, even if Amtrak has to borrow the money. Acela ticket revenue is up 14% for the first 3 months of FY11, so the return on expanding the Acela trainsets is getting even better.

      However, in order to extend the Acela trainsets, the maintenance sheds and facilities in DC, Philadelphia and Boston for the Acelas all have to be lengthened for the longer trainsets. This could cost some bucks. Getting the money to upgrade the maintenance facilities may be the sticky part.

  • Brandi

    It’s a welcome sight to finally see Amtrak moving forward with planning true High Speed Rail on the NEC. At least we see the beginnings of a tiered approach. Seems like Philadelphia to New York would be a good place to start as it is the shortest distance between two major cities. Also some worthy projects from the FTA seem to be moving forward.

  • Dauntless

    With respec to Don’s comment, it is conceivable that the Acela car acquisition can be privately financed, if Amtrak wants to go that route. But all Transits, Public Transports look first to grant money… for understandable reasons. And I imagine that Amtrak is not an exception.

  • 15 minutes at $7 billion… oh well.

    • jim

      You see below what happens when you make a careless statement. GordAnthony runs with it.

      It’s not $7B for 15 minutes. It’s not as if one train was ever going to run that route. The Gateway proposal talks of eight trains per hour, so 15 minutes saved per train is 2 trip-hours per hour. One runs trains for something like 15 hours a day, so the savings are 30 trip-hours per day, call it 10,000 trip-hours per year. The structure is likely to last for a century, so over its life it saves a million trip-hours. An HSR train can hold up to 500 passengers, but lets say the average load is 350 (to make the math easy), so the structure saves 350,000,000 passenger-hours. For $7,000,000,000. $20 per passenger-hour saved. Not bad.

      • Well, it is 15 minutes as perceived by the passenger… it’s just that I think the normal way to calculate depreciation is to start with the projected number of passengers, not the projected number of trains.

        Anyway, my point isn’t that it’s absolutely horrible to spend this amount of money. If it’s necessary, it should be done. The point is that it’s not necessary, and there are much more cost-effective ways to spend money initially. The NEC Master Plan, which contains a lot of chaff and extravaganza, would reduce NY-DC trip times by half an hour for less money. Amtrak’s own proposals put constant-tension catenary, the most critical speed enhancer coming from infrastructure (as opposed to rolling stock or signaling), at $1 billion.

    • BLambert

      “Spend 7 billion dollars to save 15 minutes on the NEC.”

      No, it’s $7 billion dollars to add the capacity of 2 new rail lines between 2 major cities on the east coast, the most user-visible effect of which is a 15 minute reduction in trip times. You could also begin to calculate the increased capacity to move freight along the same route, or the secondary economic effects of purchasing $7 billion in goods and services and see what either of those ends up being.

      The constant Chicken Little routine from those who fail at basic macroeconomics is rather tiring.

    • G-Man (type E)

      Rasmussen has a historically conservative bias by a couple of points and also has been noted to have shaky methodology. 538.org (now on NYT) had a really good series of posts about that prior to last years election.
      Anyway, a 5 point spread with a 3 point margin of error is hardly a death-knell for HSR. Digging in you find 23% watching HSR “very closely” and 38% “somewhat closely.” That means 61% of respondents are paying attention to a transportation issue. OMG – when was the last time that happened?
      The rasmussen write up tries to play this against the ever amorphous “cutting government spending” which everyone is for – like if you asked them do they want chocolate cake. But they don’t mention that people are against all the things you have to cut when you actually cut government spending. The issue of HSR is fresh in the minds of a few state electorates (OH, WI, FL…), but as we get into this year, some people will wake up from the BS those gubenatorial candidates sold them and realize that money did NOT get shifted to roads, Jobs DID get lost to other states / projects and, the economic competitiveness of regions that reject rail IS going to suffer.
      Obama is overplaying this to try and get a compromise funding amount that fills in for some pullback in the economy that will happen when the unemployment extension and payroll tax cuts expire at the end of 2011. He also really wants infrastructure improvements. He is hitting 2 key groups he needs for reelection with this: 1) men. construction work, big machines, big ideas…. Democrats need to make up the gap with male voters and he thinks this is the issue. 2) Chamber of Commerce – typically very supoortive of transportation investment at all levels, even transit, and a potentially big spender in next years election. The chamber understands what the competition in the rest of the world is doing and can impress upon Republicans the need to step up our game in infrastructure.

    • Bob

      I too am against an HSR program which “costs $53 billion” but only “connects several major US cities”

      Since it significantly misconstrues what is proposed its a crappy survey question.

  • Anon256

    Aren’t the NY-Philly tracks already almost dead straight? Is thus just a grossly inflated figure for replacing the caternary and putting in a few passing tracks?

    Alon, weren’t you going to put together a proposal for a sane NEC upgrade?

    • I was. Then I needed to apply for jobs.

      I still have the map and the writeup. But the writeup is still way too technical, and doesn’t mention a few issues I want to discuss, e.g. signaling hacks to increase capacity without $13 billion tunnels.

      And I still owe Jim a more than half-assed response to his own writeup, which he sent me in October or November.

      • jim

        Job applications take precedence. And, we must hope, interviews will take precedence, too.

        • Yeah, they did. (Fortunately, I did get a one-year position, in Providence. Expect much more grumbling about Amtrak beginning in August or so.)

          • jim

            Luckier than I was. In my day, the Old Boys system wasn’t quite dead. Bers couldn’t make a phone call and get me a job, but he could make a phone call and get me an interview. But I hated them and they hated me. My job talk went over like a lump of lead. So I left academia.

            • Brown’s starting a new institute with a different focus each semester, and the second semester of 2012 happens to focus on exactly what I do. So I got a one-year position there. What happens later, I don’t know yet.

              • jim

                I looked at their site. The moduli spaces stuff looks fascinating. Almost enough to drag me back (but not quite).

    • Ocean Railroader

      The tracks between the two sections are dead stright expect for a few small bends in the tracks the catenary wires from this section where built around 1928 to 1931 and they do need to add tensioned catenary features to this section which will really raise speeds up.

      I’m working on a youtube video idea to show a cheaper pound for pound project that would be more coast effective then spending 50 and 130 billion dollars on a totally new right of way instead my idea would be called the Great Bottle Neck Buster and would go after removing five of the top worest bottle necks and features on the NEC my idea the bottle neck buster would cost between $25 and $35 and could get done over say 10 to 15 years depending on which bottle necks on the NEC we go after first such as the easest ones first or the hardest ones first and the easy ones last.

    • AlanF

      The NEC between NYC and Philly is only dead straight from Trenton to Monmouth Junction and several other shorter segments with turns between. It is curvy around Metuchen and Metropark; there is also the problematic S-curve at Elizabeth. South of Trenton, the NEC runs along the PA side of the Delaware and roughly parallel to I-95 in mix of shorter straight segments and curves.

      The slow part is the 7-8 (?) mile leg through North Philly with 60 to 80 mph max speeds. This stretch should be able to be sped up.

      • Adirondacker12800

        Why? Very few trains if any at all are going to express through Philadelphia.

        • AlanF

          Express through Philly?? No, the slow section I’m talking about is north of Zoo interlocking & the Schuylkill river through the North Philadelphia station to Shore interlocking where the NEC turns northeast near I-95. There is one major turn in it between 2 close to straight sections, but the speeds are limited to 60 to 70 mph over a ~ 6 mile long stretch. Coming south on the Regional or Acela, you slow from 120-125 to 100 mph and then this slow stretch of 70 and 60 mph speeds.

          Don’t know why this segment is not faster. May be lack of funding to improve it or because the track is shared with SEPTA operations. This section and the slow crawl through Zoo interlocking are mentioned in the NEC Master plan for future improvements. There are a lot of these slow points and bottlenecks on the NEC that need to fixed – if money can be found.

      • PeakVT

        In addition to the ones you mention, the curves through Torresdale in PA have a 100mph limit. That could be straightened some, but to really get it right would require moving I95. The Elizabeth s-curve is the second worst curve from Philly to NYC, with a limit of 55. It’s also by far the worst in a high speed section, with the limit to the north being 110, and 125 to the south.

        • Adirondacker12800

          Bypass it. There’s enough projected traffic between NY and Rahway – there’s three to six suburban lines merging in, depending on how you want to count – to keep four tracks busy. That and the half hourly Amtrak regional serving Newark Airport.

          • PeakVT

            An entirely new alignment for the Acela/HSR system-to-be-named-later would probably be done for the whole Northern NJ area, but the curve limits nearly every train that goes through Elizabeth. It still should be fixed. And the Republicans seem quite intent on not letting America have any nice things, so it’s quite likely the best trains will be having to squeeze through Elizabeth for decades.

        • Ocean Railroader

          It sounds like if we go after several of the big players of slow down spots we could really get the NEC moving. Going after the slow down spots would be more logical then trying to built the whole thing on a new path though some really pricey relstate in New Jersey also envormental reviews should go by easer when it comes to removing the sharp curves in the syetem. They could set up a plan to remove any part in the NEC that forces trains to slow down below 70 miles on hour. I don’t view a 100 mile on hour speed limit curve a proberm for now consdering the funding right now and the way the Repulicans are acting. But going after any curuve lower then 70 miles on hour would be a good idea for the time being.

          • PeakVT

            There’s an upper limit to what can be done with the existing NEC. My guess is that 2:15 for NY-DC is the lowest time that could be achieved. That’s why I’m firmly in the camp of doing both – maxing out the NEC is in the short run (next decade) and building a new ROW in the next 20-30 years. Elsewhere, though, I think new ROWs should be started as soon as possible, because upgrading existing mixed-use track won’t yield more than 110mph.

            • The route may be mixed-use, but the tracks for the most part aren’t. The line’s four-tracked nearly everywhere, and the few parts that are shared could be done with timed overtakes, if you’re willing to make compromises about capacity. Other parts, e.g. North Jersey, would have some express commuter trains, making no stops, without a large speed difference. It requires some scheduling jujitsu to do it optimally, but most of it is less onerous than the timed overtake regime on the Tokaido Shinkansen. It won’t get you the best possible speed, but it will get you very close for an order of magnitude less money.

              • PeakVT

                Mixed was in reference to other lines, like Albany-Buffalo, where freight and passenger would be on single and/or double track segments. Top speed on the NEC is already higher than 110mph.

              • Ah, never mind then. When the existing line is not already passenger-primary like the NEC or Keystone, there’s zero benefit to shared tracks. (None of the lines in question is in a space-constrained area, where adding two tracks to the side would be a problem.)

              • Adirondacker12800

                The old NYC ROW between Albany and Buffalo is four tracks wide. Only has two on it at the moment but 4 could be laid once the money for it arrives.

              • a) CSX is being as intransigent as UP about track separation.

                b) For HSR, significant chunks of the ROW would need to be bypassed, on I-90 or another straighter alignment. Mainly, between Syracuse and Rochester the existing ROW is unusable at high speeds.

              • Adirondacker12800

                The Thruway is just as curvy and curvier in places as the old NYC ROW. No authoritative source for this but with the exception of a few curves it’s good for 125. Electrification and tilt trains you are looking at it becoming the fastest way between Buffalo and NYC.

              • Look at it on Google Earth. Between Syracuse and Rochester, the Thruway mostly is straight, and the Water Level Route mostly isn’t.

                Not that it matters too much – the biggest hurdle for NY-Buffalo HSR is in Westchester County.

      • The track has some curves between Newark and Frankford Junction, but with the exceptions of Elizabeth and Metuchen, they’re fairly gentle, or could be eased without much difficulty. After minor easing work, the worst curve between Metuchen and Philadelphia would be in Croydon, with a radius of 2,700 meters. In that area there are four tracks and little commuter traffic, so all slower traffic could be relegated to the local tracks and HSR track superelevation could be very high. An off-the-shelf E5 Series Shinkansen would be able to take that curve at 295 km/h.

  • Anthony

    Spend 7 billion dollars to save 15 minutes on the NEC.

    Brilliant – who comes up with this ?

    It’s no wonder were broke as a country, this will never fly.

    For 7 billion you could almost buy all new passenger cars for AMTRAK.

    • G-Man (type E)

      15 minutes of time saved

      multiplied by the average wage rate of travelers in NEC

      multiplied by the number of people who will use the improvement for its’ 50-100 year lifespan or longer

      equals way more than $7 billion.

      Ever hear of cost-benefit analysis? There is the cost side of the equation, which you seem to be very much concerned with, and the benefit, which for some reason is completely beyond your grasp.

      • Anthony

        You seem not to grasp this country is headed towards a fiscal train wreck.

        Cost benefit analysis – this doesn’t pass, not even close.

        • G-Man (type E)

          Oh, yes, the ever just around the corner imminent doom of the terrible horrible fearsome gruesome dreaded predicted coming fast, or slow, about to break everything we love and ruin the world by blackening the landscape … fiscal train wreck…. ahhh!!!!!!!. I’m sooooooo scared… whatever shall we do? Quick, cut the power lines and set the house on fire. That’ll stop it from burning down! Oh no, johnny, you can’t have your pell grant to get a teaching degree, richie rich needs to park a new yatch at daddy’s seventh house. Gimme a break.

          Obama has given $10b to HSR. Bush gave $15b to airlines after 9-11 without batting an eye and without asking for a penny of it to be returned to taxpayers.

          Overall taxes paid this year will be at the lowest level since 1950. Half the country didn’t even pay federal income tax last year. The budget problem is not caused by spending, it is caused by continuously starving the government of revenue for 3 decades, and failing to invest in the basic foundational elements of a modern economy – Education, Health Care and Infrastructure.

          Here’s a plan: 1) tax millionaires at 50%. 2) Eliminate payroll tax cap. 3) raise gas tax and allow tolling on some lanes of urban interstates. 4) 1% import tariff on the value of all goods brought into the US – no special breaks, just a flat fee.

          Fiscal train wreck averted. and then some.

          Ask any of our generals how you create security and they will tell you that you need to establish basic government services. You need to protect the vulnerable and you have to deliver common goods like roads, sewers, electricity, courts, etc. That is what government has done for thousands of years, for good reason, because it is the basis of society. And in America, promoting the “general welfare” is not an option. It is a constitutional DUTY of our government. If you don’t like that, move.

          The improvement to the NEC, while only a fraction of what is needed, DOES pass cost benefit analysis, even if you’re incapable of doing the math.
          Because this stretch of rail is used by almost all travel on the NEC, the benefit is multiplied by every trip from Philly to NYC, Baltimore to Boston, DC to New Haven, etc. etc. etc.

          • I almost agree with you on this entirely. The tax points are very good, im tired of paying all the taxes while the rich just freeload. I think we could use some accountability of whats being spent in the government. If we cut some spending on useless spending bills and reinvested into our infrastructure (water lines, road ways, light rail) that would create more jobs. Which in return would create more taxes.

        • Ocean Railroader

          I have been on this section of Amtrak NEC and if you upgrade the existing 1928 catenary wires to modern tensioned 25Hz catenary the train you are on is at least going to knock 40 minutes to a hour off of the route in that most of the bottle necks on the NEC have big ripple effects on the whole system so when you remove one bottle neck you make a chain reaction of benfits on the whole system in the network.

        • Ocean Railroader

          What is happening in the middle east right now with all the revloltions and mayhem in the middle east right now is more of a danger to our county then spending money on Amtrak. In that if Iran has a revolation and 2 to 5 million a barrel a day oil fields are cut off to China then China will start paying top dollar from Arabia which will raise our prices at least $20 to $40 bucks a barrel on the world market. Now the TNT goes off in Arabia like in Iran and the rest of the middle east and if all eight million barrels a day of that sweet crude is cut off there will be massive gas lines cas at seven dollars a gallon in the US. Without oil to keep the rivers of cars running that will set off some run away chaos with gas rationing and many middle income people left home.

          Oddly the NEC and Amtrak would shake this off like a duck in water in that the 25Hz catenary power supppy gets most of it’s eletric train power from two big hydro dams that have been running snice the 1930’s so it will do fine while the oil chaos

      • Anon256

        Acela express gets about 3 million riders a year (many of whom do not ride the NY-PHL stretch). Slower trains would presumably continue to use the old tracks. Suppose the average rider makes $100 an hour, then $25*3 million*50 years=$3.75 billion, which is less than $7 billion.

        That’s without considering discounting, since after all if you put $7 billion in the bank now you’d have a lot more 50 years from now even accounting for inflation. There is also the possibility that at some point in the next few decades the US might learn to plan and execute projects competently at prices that aren’t far beyond those paid anywhere else in the world – the same time improvement should be feasible for a fraction of the cost.

        Of course, this doesn’t mean that freeway spending isn’t still a lot worse.

  • Seven billion for only fifteen minutes improvement, when for that cost they could build a new HSR line between Newark and Philly, doesn’t make sense unless there’s a major capacity upgrade and the Regionals are also enjoying that trip time.

    • aw

      “Seven billion … for that cost they could build a new HSR line between Newark and Philly”

      That’s exactly what they are proposing. Presumably the older mainlines could be used for added capacity. Perhaps when they get new rolling stock capable of >150 mph, they’ll save more than 15 minutes between Newark and Philly.

      • aw

        I should have just quoted Amtrak’s transmittal letter (p. 6):

        “While reducing trip time between New and Philadelphia to 50 minutes, the opening of this
        MOS will substantially increase capacity and service south of New York, thereby generating revenue to
        help fund additional expansion.”

  • Tjon

    Where would they actually manage to fit in more capacity between Newark and Philly? The New Jersey straightaway section is pretty much hemmed in on all sides by suburban development, and a good deal of road bridges.

    • Adirondacker12800

      In the empty places between trains. There’s existing unused capacity south of Newark. They can’t use it because of capacity restraints between Elizabeth and New York. It’s not much but it’s there.

  • Dauntless

    I have an unrelated question that perhaps someone can help me with: It is frequently posited that inter-city passenger rail is 20% (approx.)more energy efficient as a transportation mode than passenger car. What is the source study on which this frequent assertion is made? What were the assumptions? Did they compare fully-loaded passenger trains with “fully-loaded” automobiles? Other sssumption? This 20% (actually, I think I have seen the number as 18%) is frequently quoted but I have no idea of what the assumptions were. Thank you.

    • Don

      Those are “as is” numbers, not “what could be” numbers.

      So, it’s the current fleet of autos making trips with the current number of people per vehicle. The avg vehicle is likely in the mid-20s mpg and has about 1.2 people per vehicle. For Amtrak, it’s the current fleet of heavy, FRA compliant equipment with a load factor in the mid 50s.

      Theoretically, a lightweight HSR trainset ala Talgo could do significantly better, but for auto on intercity trips, there is not much room for improvement.

      Hybrid autos do better in suburban/urban settings because they capture and reuse braking energy. The do slightly worse than non-hybrids on the highway because the are not any more efficient at generating power, but are now lugging around a heavy set of batteries, increasing the vehicles rolling resistance slightly.

  • Anthony

    It does depend on the vehicle and how many passengers are in it.

    An Escalade with one person versus a Prius with 5.

    Same goes for trains. Fully loaded train, versus one 15% full.

    • Steven

      I’m pretty sure it would not be Prius with 5! If we are talking about any corridor in the US, one person in an Escalade is far more likely than 5 folks in a Prius. The NEC is no different in that regard. As for train capacity, while there may be some corridors with trains running at 15% of capacity, that is certainly not the case in the NEC.

      In 2006, the US Transportation Energy Data Book averaged BTU per passenger mile at 2,650 for intercity rail and 3,512 for car, with (nation-wide, not NEC specific) intercity rail averaging 22 passengers per vehicle and cars averaging somewhere less than 2 passengers per vehicle. I haven’t looked too closely into their methodology, but I don’t think they are using assumptions, I think they are using averages (i.e. they aren’t comparing Acela trainsets to Escalades, they are comparing all car traffic to all train traffic nationwide).

      My numbers are from Wikipidia; the DoE stuff is here: http://cta.ornl.gov/data/index.shtml

      • Dauntless

        Thanks for all the replies on my question about the 18%energy savings of Inter-city passenger rail over auto travel. It sounds like the clearest answer is that the study was done based on auto travel with a “load factor” as is currently experience and the same for passenger rail. So the savings could be significantly different if you assumed HS trains loaded at 75% or if you moved around the load factor in the cars. Of course I don’t imagine that without a heavy hand from government, you are ever going to see a steady stream of cars with 4-4 passengers traveling the NEC. Thank you.

        • The answer would be vastly different if trains were not FRA-compliant, too. Talking about HSR energy efficiency by looking at FRA-compliant trains is like talking about hybrid energy efficiency by looking at jeeps.

    • Adirondacker12800

      A lot depends on where those BTUs come from too. RIght now for long distance trips you are looking a car with an internal combustion engine. Trains can use electricity directly. Electricity can come from many sources.

  • Avi

    Any chance Amtrak is planning on using the West Trenton line? That lines seems to be relatively straight on the PA side, and connects with a straight freight line through Northeast Philly. You may need to do something with the curve at Olney, or build a new tunnel from there. This would also have the advantage of avoiding the Zoo interlock and come into Philly from the Market East side so you could run straight through to 30th St and then reconnect with the existing NEC route.

  • An fascinating discussion is price comment. I think that it is best to write more on this topic, it won’t be a taboo subject but typically persons are not sufficient to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers

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