Making Sense of Amtrak’s Vision for the Northeast

» Delving into the national railway’s plans for growth.

Let it be known: Amtrak’s focus is on the Northeast Corridor. While Congress may require it to provide long-distance, cross-country services, the public company owns most of the rail corridor between Boston and Washington and it intends to exploit it fully… If it gathers sufficient resources to do so.

That, at least, was the message projected by Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman, who spoke on his company’s future vision in Cambridge last week. And it is in line with the mission the organization has been slowly constructing since the Obama Administration entered office: Not only to upgrade the existing line, as the company has been doing since it was founded in 1971, but also to build a new parallel corridor such as the $117 billion project the agency sketched out last year, which would allow travel times of about three hours between Boston and Washington, compared to six hours today. Such an investment has been being discussed for decades, but for the first time, Amtrak appears to be taking the cause seriously.

With political consensus circling around the idea that something must be done to improve travel in the Northeast, Amtrak could have a winning proposition in its hands.

The national equation has changed what is considered feasible. Less than three years ago, Amtrak President Alex Kummant dimmed the hopes of high-speed rail enthusiasts, suggesting that any advance in the Northeast would be slowed by “20 years in court on eminent-domain proceedings,” not to mention serious difficulties getting the required funds from Congress. Thanks mostly to President Obama’s ability to get $10.5 billion out to states to begin work on intercity rail investments over the past two years, however, that skepticism no longer seems applicable to the rail company. Sounding a different note, Mr. Boardman, who has been heading Amtrak since 2008, argued persuasively for new infrastructure spending.

Amtrak sees a massive investment in the Northeast Corridor as a necessary one, both from an economic perspective and in terms of physical infrastructure. Noting the Northeast’s role as the nation’s most productive region, Mr. Boardman argued that its health depends on the transportation systems that connect it. “We’ve lived off investments that were made two centuries ago,” he said. “And we haven’t made the investments that we need to make for the future.” Amtrak, as the provider of intercity rail and the owner of most of the line, can serve an essential role.

Mr. Boardman noted Amtrak’s record ridership (28.7 million passengers last year) and pointed out that the corridor is reaching its physical limits. As Amtrak’s air/rail mode share has increased — from 37% between Washington and New York and 20% between Boston and New York in 2000 to 69% and 53% respectively today — the rail company has simply not been able to expand its carrying capacity. This explains why Amtrak fares in the Northeast Corridor are so much higher than those on competitor intercity buses: There is too much demand and not enough supply. Part of the problem is due to the fact that trains are simply not long enough, a difficulty that Amtrak hopes to resolve partially with the addition of new cars to each Acela Express train. Mr. Boardman said that purchase would pay for itself over six years thanks to the Acela service’s operating profits.

But the more long-term problem is that Amtrak cannot bring more trains into New York City because of a lack of space on the tracks and at Penn Station. This fact explains why the company jumped at the chance to propose a new tunnel under the Hudson River almost as soon as New Jersey cancelled the ARC project. And in the longer term, the company’s projections suggest that the entire corridor will reach its carrying capacity in thirty years — which is exactly when it has said it wants to open the full extent of its new high-speed corridor.

Amtrak may have found the right cause at the right time. The Obama Administration’s high-speed rail investment program has benefited some states like California, but its expansion into a $53 billion spending regime, as the White House recently suggested to the Congress, is compromised by the fact that fast trains have become — like it or not — a partisan issue.

Yet some Republicans in the House do seem to be interested in funding a project in the Northeast Corridor. At last week’s hearing on privatization of passenger railway provision, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) repeated his complaint that federal funds were not focused enough on the Boston-Washington line, a place that he deems appropriate for federal investment.

Can Amtrak leverage bipartisan support to get its project done, not in the 30 years it has described but instead in ten to twelve, as Mr. Mica has said he wants? Mr. Mica refers to Amtrak as a “Soviet-style” system because he thinks that it as a government monopoly it is inefficient; this implies that Republicans like him will hesitate to offer the national rail company any direct assistance such as in the creation of a new line. Yet Mr. Boardman (himself a Republican) comes across as extremely competent, and it is clear that with its increasing ridership and newly proclaimed interest in radically improving travel in the Northeast, Amtrak is a responsible entity.

If the company can make a convincing argument that it is the right organization to perform radical repair on the Northeast’s main spine and to construct a brand-new corridor through its biggest cities, it could find support among politicians left and right. It would be very difficult to get away with calling a train line between New York and Washington a “train to nowhere,” to repeat the way too many members of the Tea Party have dismissed other infrastructure projects. It is hard to imagine a big investment regime in fast trains that ignores other parts of the country. People in the Midwest and California will want similar funds if Amtrak gets them for the Northeast. But the sheer density of the area and its vital importance to the national economy may mean that it deserves something different.

But even the $117 billion investment program wouldn’t be enough to solve Amtrak’s long-term issues. With infrastructure that is in many places more than one hundred years old, the existing Northeast Corridor must also be improved, and Mr. Boardman suggested that achieving a state of good repair would cost an additional $52 billion. Finally, the agency head noted another problem: “Every Amtrak President since the late 1990s has either been forced out or fired… Amtrak is unable to ever say no to anyone anywhere, because of the political football that it is.”

Does the mere fact that Amtrak is owned by the public make it impossible for it to adequately respond to the public’s demands? Perhaps. But Amtrak’s management has successfully improved the service over the past several years, and with Mr. Boardman in charge, it continues on the right course. The Amtrak of three years ago would have never had the gall to introduce serious plans for a brand-new Northeast Corridor. Today’s Amtrak is a different beast.

Image above: An Amtrak Acela Express train, from Flickr user John H. Gray (cc)

64 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Michael Schaeffer

    Perhaps a joint venture between Amtrak and SNCF can help the corridor

  • PeakVT

    Does the mere fact that Amtrak is owned by the public make it impossible for it to adequately respond to the public’s demands? Perhaps.

    The problem is not that Amtrak is owned by the public; it’s that it is burdened by unreasonable expectations by the US Congress. It’s neither allowed to operate only the services that are in demand, nor given an adequate amount of money to do what it is directed to do.

    • aw

      Given record ridership throughout the system, it’s hard to argue that there are lots of routes that aren’t in demand. This despite the fact that outside of the NEC, the trains are slow, unreliable and infrequent. Not to mention severe shortages of rolling stock.

      It’s appropriate for Amtrak to focus a lot of its efforts on the NEC, but it also needs to attend to the rest of the network. As the experience on the state supported corridors shows, simply increasing frequencies can give a big boost to ridership and bottom line performance even in areas where train travel is not as common as in the NE.

      • Every speed and frequency improvement to Amtrak California, Amtrak Cascades, Amtrak Hiawatha, Amtrak Michigan and Amtrak Illinois service has increased their patronage. Though these routes do not meet Amtrak Northeast Corridor and Keystone patronage standards, they are within striking distance of operating break-even.

        The transportation departments of Virginia and North Carolina have also studied the extremely slow and infrequent Amtrak Piedmont route. This underperforming route is connected to the Northeast Corridor and has a huge built-in market of patrons to tap. Their studies indicate that frequent, 110 mph service from DC-Richmond-Raliegh-Greensboro-Charlotte service service would enjoy similar success as upgraded Amtrak California, Amtrak Cascades, Amtrak Hiawatha, Amtrak Michigan and Amtrak Illinois routes. Hence, Republican and Democrat governors from Virginia and North Carolina are very pro-HSR.

        Thus, I agree Amtrak should sell off or cancel some routes, it should not ignore non-NEC routes that have vast patronage potential after 110-220 mph upgrades. Midwest, California, Pacific Northwest and Piedmont mega-regions are still growing and have a fraction of the per-mile-upgrade-cost Amtrak quotes for the Northeast. California in particular, may have a per-patron-mile cost equal to or better than the Northeast.

      • Of course, an organization can only have so many priorities before “priority” loses its meaning and it is trying to be everything to everybody.

        A freight-oriented electric Steel Interstate network (ani-gif) built primarily on STRACNET corridors and focusing on the dominant long haul truck freight flows would automatically offer 100mph+ long haul passenger rail paths, since cracking the time-of-delivery sensitive long haul freight markets demands being able to support a train running through on time ~ even if most are freight and only a few happen to be passenger trains.

        That could be pursued by an independent infrastructure development bank, given some dedicated funding source to subsidize interest rates and the authority to charge access and user fees to recoup the original capital cost of construction, with Amtrak operating long-haul 100mph routes with improved reliability as well as transit speed to bring the routes along the Steel Interstates close to or through operating break-even.

        • I like the sound of that “steel interstate”. It kind of gets across a lot of the points of having a publicly owned rail network with privately owned operators, with the importance that may have for economy, security and environment. Plus it sounds pretty cool.

  • FG

    Slightly off track, but this might be the time, in light of the earthquake in Japan, to nudge portions of the NEC further from the waters edge for future planning.

    • The Pacific coast of Japan and the Atlantic coast of the US don’t have the same earthquake risk.

      • Ocean Railroader

        The Earthqake washed away four passanger trains into the ocean and they still haven’t found them yet. I think the NEC would do better in a flooding event like this in the sections that are not in tunnels in that you are higher up on a lot of the birdges.

        • One of them has been found since, not washed into the ocean. The others are still at large.

        • Max Wyss

          Actually, there were five trains lost for some time. One train got affected by the tsunami, but passengers and crew left it in time; the other four were simply not reachable for some time (communication systems down). In the meantime, they were able to build up communication and were shown to be unharmed.

      • FG

        No, that’s very true for earthquakes, but there are hurricanes, sea level rise and the potential for tsunami’s, though small, is there. There needs to be an alternate route (I’m thinking primarily Boston-NYC of course) which won’t be as easily affected by storms – I seem to recall that the NEC was shut down recently due to storms (surges perhaps?) other than blizzards.

        • thedofc

          Hurricanes usually don’t make large impacts in the Northeast. Anyways, it was the tsunami’s flood waters that pushed the trains away, not wind which is has more trouble moving large objects after they are knocked over (although this is not always true). Anyways, hurricanes are very predictable, so hopefully Amtrak would have the sense not to be running a train through the middle of one. All in all, I would not worry about the threat of a hurricane taking out an northeast regional train.

          • FG

            My worry isn’t so much the individual trains being damaged, but the whole line being down for extensive repairs over a long period.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Something big enough to affect the whole line would also be big enough to affect any alternates.

            • FG

              It would only take a couple bridges out at once – that’s my point, that a lot of the line is far too close to the ocean (I’m including the Long Island Sound as such) – to cripple the NEC. A hurricane would have a lesser effect inland. Of course, with the hub of the system being an island, it’s really a moot point in some regards.

              • Adirondacker12800

                A bridge or two here or there wouldn’t cripple it. It would make it slower but the buses would carry the passengers around the disabled bridge effectively.
                There’s big chunks of abandoned railroad all over the Northeast. Abandoned after the hurricane season of 1955. Almost all of it deep inland.

              • Ralph

                Oh good, a classic concern troll. Why bother to wake up in the morning if you’re so worried about a hurricane or earthquake powerful enough to take out state of the art bridges striking a specific 100 mile line of the coast.

                Obviously we shouldn’t even bother with California and the Northwest then. And the Lower Midwest has those massive magnitude 8 earthquakes every several thousand years. And Florida has hurricanes too that can shut everything down. Big Snowstorms in the Upper Midwest shut everything down for days at a time.

                Of course thousands of people die in car crashes every year so there shouldn’t be any roads or cars. Airplanes crash without warning so no more airports especially those built along the coast. They are triple threats.

                Obviously if we’re afraid to travel along the coast the fears of the significant proportion of the population that lives within an hour of one will need to be addressed. A mass exodus, if you will. But homes everywhere are plagued with fires, and falls down the steps, even robberys and crime. But I suppose you have to live in some sort of structure?

                I suppose medical care is out too with the possibility that there could be a doctor error or medicine allergy. Dozens of people get food poisoning and die every year just from eating. Maybe we should stop eating? Or drinking on the possibility that there could be toxic heavy metals.

                /argument

              • FG

                Adirondacker – I’m intrigued. I assume you’re referring to the Lackawanna?

              • Adirondacker12800

                The DL&W, the Erie, the NYNH&H I’ve never gone searching but I’m sure there’s obscure branch lines on the PRR and NYC that washed away and were never reopened. If the DL&W and the Erie were affected, probably the LVRR, the CNJ and the D&H. If NYNH&H was affected probably the B&M and the Vermont railroads. The Airline route to Boston was truncated.
                Foamers love to go on and on for hundreds of comments about what coulda shoulda woulda been if the railroads had rationalized things in 1956….

        • jason

          Come on, do you think it will be much better if you are stay inside a car or bus when tsunami comes? I think I would rather stay inside a train if it really happens.

        • Japan has more typhoons hurricanes cyclonic storms than the US, and the Tokaido Shinkansen gets fairly close to the ocean at places. The only segment of the NEC that’s consistently closer to the ocean and lower in elevation than the Tokaido Shinkansen is the Shore Line East segment, which can and should be bypassed for independent reasons. The legacy Tokaido Line is even closer to the sea than the Shinkansen. So I don’t think storm readiness is that big of an issue.

          Another issue is that cyclonic storms are predicted several days in advance, which is not true of earthquakes. An unexpectedly big storm will shut down infrastructure; an unexpectedly big earthquake will kill people.

  • John M

    $117 Billion is a lot of dough, no matter how you slice it. The money needs to come from somewhere, and inevitably it should come from a combination of Congress, the States, and private investors.

    Perhaps a condition of private investment would be to allow competing private services to use the line(Virgin rail and Megatrain in the UK come to mind). I’m typically against privatization of government services, but when it comes to transportation, more choices benefit the traveler.

    • Ocean Railroader

      Amtrak shouldn’t put all it’s funding eggs into one basket such as the NEC and 117 Billion looks like way to much money consdering many other things out there it could be spent on. Amtrak should go after something more realistic such as 25 billion dollars in inprovements on the NEC such as 10 to 15 billion dollars for the tracks in New Jeresy and opening up that tunnel bottle neck at Penn Station and some new sections of tensioned catenary and replacement of the three double track bridges on the system. But spending 117 Billion dollars on a all new rail right of way is way to much money for only one place. A 117 billion rail spending bill would make more logical sense for a national rail network not one rail line which would be putting all there eggs in one basket.

      • thedofc

        I understand the want to separate Amtrak’s funding more, but think of it this way:
        According to Wikipedia, the Northeast Corridor provided “10.0 million of Amtrak’s 25.7 million passengers in fiscal year 2007.”

        Also, Amtrak operates on 21,000 miles of track, but only owns 730 miles of it, with about 360 of which is on the Northeast Corridor. Amtrak mainly works on its own tracks, while the owners of other tracks (Such as CSX) maintain their own. Shutting down CSX rails for Amtrak to expand service could mean large losses to the freight companies owning/using the tracks. It is simply easier for Amtrak to upgrade its most popular service, which also happens to be the one they can control the easiest.

  • John M wrote,

    “Perhaps a condition of private investment would be to allow competing private services to use the line (Virgin rail and Megatrain in the UK come to mind). I’m typically against privatization of government services, but when it comes to transportation, more choices benefit the traveler.”

    Forgive me for not being bamboozled by the seductive sound of privately funded HSR when you consider the big motivations to spend over $100 billion in taxpayer money upgrading a single region. Our motivation is to provide a public asset that moves as many millions of people per year on HSR as possible for each taxpayer dollar. Only Amtrak or another publicly accountable HSR agency, has incentive to “transport the most patrons per dollar”. In contrast, corporate incentive and bylaws are to “maximize profit for shareholders”.

    If you believe that for-profit corporations will transport the most-patrons-per-taxpayer-dollar, you must be smoking something. For-profit corporations want the public to pay for 80-90% of HSR infrastructure. By contributing 10-20% of construction and train costs, some corporations want the ability to CHARGE whatever prices and service frequencies they see fit to maximize profits.

    There’s an analogy to consider in America’s health care industry. In the 1970s, corporations first promised better healthcare at lower costs. President Nixon and Congress went along. In 2011, we see that healthcare corporations are some of the most profitable in America, yet increasingly more Americans are kicked off health insurance or have higher deductibles or went bankrupt for not being able to pay higher hospital bills. That rarely happened before corporate health care gobbled up all the hospitals.

    Given the same corporate profit incentives apply to transportation, an interstate HSR system funded 80-90% by taxpayers must be governed like a well-managed public utility reinvesting operating profits to improve service. Its not perfect, but better than the alternative of a corporate interstate HSR system paying dividends to shareholders.

    But if corporations pay for (not loan) 80-90% of HSR infrastructure costs, I support them charging whatever the market will bear. Here’s another analogy. In Los Angeles, the land and road improvements for Staples Center was donated/paid for by taxpayers. AEG paid for the rest — about 80% of total costs. AEG & its tenants charge event prices comparable to Madison Square Garden in NYC — making both venues, the most expensive in America. Yet today, Angelinos wildly support Staples Center events and AEG makes a handsome profit from Staples Center. Everyone wins.

    Show me a “Staples Center” for-profit corporate analogy for HSR.

    • Danny

      Pure dogma…and the comparison healthcare corporations is priceless, seeing as how they have some of the lowest average profit margins of nearly any industry operating in the US.

      • Tim

        This may be a good time to finally separate New Jersey from the NE! I kid, of course (or do I?). In all seriousness, the time has come for a major investment in the NEC. Many in Congress get this, and the new voices in the wilderness should not stop investment from occurring. Many of these states also recognize that their metropolitan regions are part of a greater economic engine. Pennsylvania’s taken the lead by investing in the Keystone corridor to address this linkage. Who can seriously argue that a rail line that directly connects commerce in 9 states (Note: that’s literally almost 1/5 of the nation by pure state totals count) (Note 2: if New Jersey is allowed to stay that is) doesn’t have a positive impact on the national economy? Not to mention that many other states and reawakening major cities like Philadelphia and Baltimore will be positively impacted by such a high speed corridor. We need to stop letting some knucklehead, for instance someone from Oklahoma, hijack national policy because he doesn’t like it.

      • I believe that Thomas D may be engaged in some loose language here ~ it is common to lump health care, pharmaceuticals, and health insurance together, but when private health insurance companies are split out, their margins seem healthy enough.

      • Danny,

        Go ahead and criticize my analogy to the Health Care industry. I can take the heat.
        But you haven’t shown me a “Staples Center” for-profit corporate analogy for HSR.

        • Danny

          The freight railroads already do it well enough. All US Class I freight railroads are for-profit entities, and the US has the lowest freight rail rates in the entire developed world. In Germany, where freight rail is oh-so-non-profit, freight rates are nearly 8x what they are here. Even in China where the fuel is cheap and the labor is cheaper, freight rates are about 2x what they are in the US.
          http://www.aar.org/~/media/aar/Background-Papers/The-Cost-Effectiveness.ashx

          And yes, Private health insurance industry (the kind that Thomas D accuses of “kicking people off”) ranks 86th in terms of profitability.
          http://mjperry.blogspot.com/2009/08/health-insurance-industry-ranks-86-by.html

          People who think that profit is the greatest evil in the world are usually ideologically driven and very misinformed. Anybody who cares to analyze facts knows that profits rarely account for much more than a few percent of the price of what they are buying…and when profits account for more, it is usually a government failure (failure to enforce anti-trust laws).

          • First, I’m a businessman who likes profits too. But freight rail is a completely different business model than HSR. You still haven’t presented a Staples Center-like HSR example.

            Lastly, this is not the HealthCarePolitic, so lets stick to Transportation.

          • High freight rates or not, China has more freight ton-km per km of route than the US, even though the Chinese freight trains have to share tracks with extensive passenger services and the American trains do not.

    • FG

      “There’s an analogy to consider in America’s health care industry. In the 1970s, corporations first promised better healthcare at lower costs. President Nixon and Congress went along.”

      I seem to remember that Nixon proposed a single-payer plan and Ted Kennedy killed it for not going far enough (I believe he greatly regretted it later). I think you can get some rail analogies from that…

  • Andrew

    I wonder how long it take until someone comes out and calls HSR in the Northeast a “boondoggle” or “train to nowhere”…
    Chances are, someone will say that, regardless how stupid it sounds.

    Sure, I want this thing (NE HSR) built, but how we do that?

    • They won’t use “train to nowhere” ~ they’ll use dogwhistle racism, appealing to rural and suburban Middle America stereotypes about the Northeast coast.

      “train to nowhere” is for tracks running in the San Joaquin valley through Fresno and Bakersfield … except naming the small towns at the end of segments rather than the cities served.

      The target is to keep people living in rural and suburban counties thinking that the train either benefits “them” or benefits nobody. Since once its more widely understood in those places what a benefit it is to have a HSR station within convenient driving distance, there won’t be any stopping HSR.

      That’s why its so urgent for opponents to stop as many projects as possible before they get going: the greatest risk is not the failures that the opponents publicly predict, but the successes that they privately fear.

      • Fear of HSR is certainly on the minds of the oil-lobby backed Tea Party.

        The shame is traditional Republicans have retreated from a leadership role to ensure that we built the right way for success. For example, a sensible Republican governor of Wisconsin should have redirected the funding application to upgrade Milwaukee-Chcago, in prep for the coming 200 mph Chicago-St. Louis route.

        In the short term, the funding would boost Amtrak Hiawatha ridership and make a lot of Milwaukee businesses happy. And once the 200 mph system became operational, it would generate significant operating profits to the state and boost business travel to Wisconsin. By 2020-30, HSR stations will be as important to cities are building/enlarging airports was 1960-1970.

        • Why?

          The state funding for the Madison/Milwaukee route was well worth the direct economic benefit to the state, and at the same time it would have strengthened the benefit/cost case for improvements along the Milwaukee/Chicago route, with Madison/Chicago transport demands laid on top of Milwaukee/Chicago transport demands.

          An old fashioned, fiscally conservative Republican with a skeptical view on estimates of public benefits of rail operations might well have looked askance on Wisconsin contribution to the extension of the corridor west to the Twin Cities, but the killing of the Milwaukee / Madison project was pure right wing ideology untroubled by a sober reflection on the direct benefits and costs to the state of Wisconsin.

          • Adirondacker12800

            An old fashioned, fiscally conservative Republican

            They became rare in the 90s and became extinct sometime around 2004.

            • Adirondacker12800, lets be fair and give props to Republican governors of Virginia and Michigan, and the former Republican governor of California and a few other Repub HSR supporters too — namely LaHood.

              As for Milwaukee-Chicago vs. Milwaukee-Madison, my point was not to discredit the later segment. But to question the economic judgment of the governor.

              From a very credible source, I learned that a collection of Milwaukee business execs in tried to convince the Wisconsin Gov to ask Obama-LaHood to change the funding to Milwaukee-Chicago upgrade to 110 mph (79 mph average speed), and more frequent service. They were not succeeding, but hope remained that they could pull one out of the fire. Then the gov said, “Rail is dead in Wisconsin” killing the state’s chance to get it reassigned.

              At that point, I don’t blame Obama-LaHood for reassigning the $800M in Wisconsin funds. Why risk having the funds caught in limbo for political reasons? For the same reason, I’d like to see Obama-LaHood quickly reassign the $2.4B florida funds to 110-220 mph projects in states committed to HSR.

              • Small correction. Obama-LaHood reassigned all but $14M of the $800M in Wisconsin funds. The $14M was used for a small upgrade to the Amtrak Hiawatha line between Milwaukee to Chicago.

  • Jon

    Sounds like a political trap. Spending all that money on the NEC will effectively prevent investment in other parts of the country. Republicans believe that rail will only work in the NE, so this is a double win for them – court NE voters, prevent rail everywhere else. The only way this should procede is if state, local and private agencies pony up 80%+ of the bill. The Federal government should not be the sole source of funds for this project.

    • Ocean Railroader

      Vriginia and North Carolina are south of the NEC and both our states are working hard to extend the high speed rail south to us which would basicly be a extension of the NEC. So if they start poring some money into the NEC something should most likely happen to us south of the NEC. If this happens and the NEC’s eletric catenary moves down to Richmond VA and Norfolk. The people in the big cities will see this and the busy new high speed Amtrak routes and will start to demand that the eletric catenary rails be extended south to their cities as well.

      • Yes, Virginia and North Carolina is one excellent line of attack, if the approach of having a regional HSR authority in Florida taking the money does not pan out.

      • Ocean Railroader,
        DC-Richmond-Norfolk is part of the NEC upgrade funded bythe surface transportation reauthorization (whenever that occurs). So to me, the $2.4B reallocation dream scenario would be:

        $1.6B California
        $400M Illinois
        $400M Richmond-Raleigh-Greensboro-Charlotte

        California HSR Bond could add $400M to $1.6B for $2B total. Its 78 miles from Bakersfield to Palmdale. Since most of the terrain is open, varying farmland and hills, I assume that $25.6M per mile x 78 miles = $2 billion is sufficient for HSR.

        • Ocean Railroader

          What worries me about Califorinia is that if they put another billion into it and the same thing happens like in Florida all that money will be lost and far game to the tea party’s cuts so they should not put any money into Califorinia’s high speed rail system from this point on intill they see constrcution of line being built with in cost with the existing money for now.

          • California is not Florida. A few luddite assemblymen in the Central Valley can not stop this train. 10+% unemplyment, 2 US Senotors, 1 governor, big city mayors and pent up demand proven by Amtrak ridership won’t let i happen.

          • Gov. Brown in California is short odds to intervene in the California HSR Authority to get some of its ongoing design creep back under control, but the odds of him yanking funding as the Governor did in Florida would be approximately zero.

          • Drewski

            California has any number of problems, but what it can’t/won’t do with or for primary education, it can and will do for HSR.

            Have you looked at a map of Shinkansen services since the earthquake/tsunami/radiation trifecta hit Tohoku? Tohoku Shinkansen runs through Fukugawa and Sendai on the way to (Shin-)Aomori, from which it is planned to use the Seikan tunnel to Hakodate, and ultimately reach Sapporo. Imagine Japan disaster in a sort of reverse here in the US: old railways and roads, then expressways, then HSR, then HSR reaching further than road can, then HSR reaching further than road and as fast as air. Plan was for Shinkansen to reach Sapporo by maybe 2020, but definitely Hakodate by 2015; Sapporo is/was 10.5 hours by train from Tokyo, but Shinkansen would bring it down to 3.5 or so. As fast as a plane flight, and that’s not counting train in from Haneda (or connections elsewhere in Kanto).

            Truth is, California is a good mirror of Japan, as far as terrain and linear alignment are concerned. Cali HSR doesn’t hit Westside LA, but there’s a good chance that train availability at LA Union and in the SF Valley (along with LOSSAN upgrades) could be enough to kill commercial flights from Long Beach and Burbank, in favor of Ontario and Palmdale.

            I like to think of Cali HSR as the analog of an East Coast or Great Lakes toll road. It’s a public utility, it pays its own way, and it has a strong market identity. If a multi-billion-dollar infrastructure investment allows for a public, self-supporting rail service, why bother privatizing it? Why mandate a guaranteed profit margin where a break-even point is the true standard of viability in this case?

            California could be early proof that a public or nonprofit de facto monopoly (by mode) is not innately bad, negative or destructive. In the US, we build new freeways with left and right shoulders wide enough to drive on, yet our rail network is behind nearly every other rich country by two, three or four generations of technology. Those freeways have their limits, and they can never supplant the raw capacity of a rail line, no matter what the fantasies over at the Reason Foundation.

        • Andy K

          That estimate seems very low by US standards.

        • Bakersfield-Palmdale is not “open, varying farmlands and hills.” It’s mountainous, with about a kilometer of net elevation gain and extensive tunneling. Not even in Spain could this be built for $25.6 million per mile. California’s cost estimates for that segment are north of $100 million per mile, and based on what’s required it’s quite reasonable.

  • Tim E

    It will be interesting to see what Amtrak, Virginia and NC submit to LaHood now that the FL HSR money is back on the table. A couple of things, Amtrak making a run for a second Hudson River tunnel now that NJ punted will help the NEC overall. LaHood can’t go wrong with shuffling some funds that way. Second, Virginia and NC hustling for a NEC South is a smart move. Any extra funds to provide better train service to Richmond, Raliegh, Charolette and eventually Atlanta is a big win for those states and a loss for FL.

  • NEC Conductor

    The truth be as it may is, the NEC is self supporting and vibrant. It consistently shows improvement in ridership. What is truly needed is a partnership with the frieghts to improve and extend service.

    One route that is seldom mentioned is Boston to Chicago(Lakeshore Limited) and NY to Chicago. These sections of rail should be electrified and built to carry true HSR like the Acela service. Building on these routes would give the lower ridership areas a reason to improve with better connections to major metropolitan areas like Boston, NY and Washington.

    We are constantly compared to the European systems which are still in the juvenile stages of their existence. Most of our rail is twice the age of their system, therefore we have problems maintaining the higher speeds necessary to be competitive with other forms of transportation. Also, all of the foreign railroads are totally funded by their respective governments.

    • FG

      Hear hear and Amen! Boston to Chicago really needs huge improvements – there are five million plus people between Albany and Chicago – and should be more of a priority than it is…

      • Adirondacker12800

        It’s much more than that and metro Detroit is just 60 miles off the corridor – from Toledo. Metro Detroit has roughly 4 million people.

    • Boston-Chicago HSR is a grand idea, but there’s a governor in Ohio holding up the show. So i say lets focus on the other high merit routes that can start in this surface transportation authorization being negotiated for 6 years. Boston-Chicago can be discussed after the next Ohio gubernatorial election in 2014.

  • Jerry Sullivan

    All I hear or read is the NEC. Down here in the disenfranchised area of Florida, I have no choice train-wise but to go north or south. We once had a great connection to the west until Amtrak decided to shut it down. Their claim of lowering ridership was baloney – CSX maintenance was costing a trip a week east of NewOrleans. I’ll support the NEC when we have better service into Florida. Until them I want the NEC seperated out as a seperate enterprise and it is high time to privatise the rest. Then Sunset Limited ran full every trip, problem was, there were fewer trips, and a full trip schedule was 3/7 of what it should have been, and then Amtrak had the gall to cut equipment out of the train too. Amtrak is worthless.

    • Woody

      Please take a look at the report HSR in America 2050; it’s an excellent survey of the opportunities.

      http://www.america2050.org/2011/01/high-speed-rail-in-america.html

      However, Jacksonville-New Orleans-L.A. is not a very attractive opportunity. Potential routes are each given a numerical rating, and the NEC gets the highest score, over 20. Jacksonville-Orlando/Miami/Atlanta are also scored, but the Jacksonville routes do barely half as well as the NEC. Sadly, Jacksonville-Pensacola rated so poorly that its figure is not shown, but the result is very thin lines shown on the map on page 33. (The section Mobile-Biloxi-New Orleans got a thicker line.)

      I’m sympathetic to Floridians who want to travel west by train; today they have to go to Washington, D.C. to do so. But a more realistic approach would be to see some kind of service Chicago-Atlanta-Florida. That would allow Florida passengers to travel to Atlanta and change for the Crescent and points west. And the lines on that map are thicker Florida-Atlanta than they are on the former Sunset Limited route.

      Of course, you must know that Amtrak suffers from decades of attacks on its budget requests, mostly by Repubs. Right now Amtrak has requested funds to begin purchasing a new generation of rail passenger cars for its aged fleet. Until dozens of new cars every year start rolling out of the assembly plants and onto the tracks, it will be impossible for Amtrak to start, or restart, any new routes.

  • Ole M. Amundsen, Jr.

    *One element of any discussion of Amtrak relates to the makeup of the Board of Directors: for a “national” quasi public/government organization virtually all of its Board lives east of Buffalo! Perhaps Joe Boardmans “focus” might shift if Amtrak were to move the executive offices to Chicago, the “Beltway syndrome” is a powerful aphrodisiac!
    *Physical objects, such as an owned railroad structure, are always more attractive than a “service” such as operating trains over someone else’s rails as Amtrak must do everywhere except in the NEC. Perhaps it is the human and corporate “need to control” which makes this so attractive.
    *A solution so the rest of the nation gets better passenger rail service: make the NEC a separate entity much like Metro North or PATH to own/operate/fund this regional “commuter” line. Let them get the state, private and municipal funding as well as stand in line for Federal aid as a regional entity.
    *Few commenters are old enough to remember the NE hurricane strikes of 1935, 38, 54,and 55 which decimated the tracks and structures of the New Haven Railroad, especially the Shore Line, which drove the railroad into bankruptcy.

    • jim

      If Amtrak is to be broken up, a better split would be by rolling stock: Viewliner Amtrak (centered on New York) and Superliner Amtrak (centered on Chicago).

      • Quite, since the operations on privately owned corridors have no pressing need to be placed all in the same organization.

        Under that break up I would prefer the Cardinal to be split and reconfigured, with a Viewliner Western VA to NYC as a regional corridor, and a Superliner running a sleeper loop consisting of Chicago / Cinci / WV / DC / Pittsburgh / Cleveland / Chicago and return ~ that is, the Capital Ltd and the DC/Chi portion of the Cardinal as a loop centered on Chicago.

  • I am wondering how exactly the HSR lines would be able to function alongside the mainline railways and stay within FRA regulations.

    That is, unless the FRA plans to loosen those regulations a bit.

  • Alewellan

    Conservative Fresno has little wish to meet people, meet their needs nor the quiet of a State Park on their road to San Jose & Monterey. Bay Area blokes are unwelcome.

    So the Gilroy route with its 60 miles of viaduct across stream & once-forested hillside will plow and pour more miles of asphalt than simpler concrete pillar.

    And the existing San Juaquin Amtrak route gets next to zilch. Oh thank yew ree-pub-leakinz 4 yer kind help on ar hspeedy leck-trick modul. HINT:GOTALGO

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