Amtrak Florida High-Speed Rail

Amtrak Plans to Compete for Florida Service, Purchase Dozens of New Trains

» “America’s railroad” is not going to let foreign operators get all the good stuff without a fight.

In a conference call and press release yesterday, Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman made clear he wouldn’t let his company’s current dominance of the American intercity rail market simply fade away with the expansion of high-speed rail on corridors across the country. Notably, Amtrak intends to offer its services to the State of Florida for the operation of the planned fast train line between Tampa and Orlando, likely to receive billions of dollars in funding from the federal government later this month.

In the interim, the government-owned railroad will ask Congress for billions of dollars in additional funding to pay for upgrades of the Northeast Corridor and hundreds of new locomotives and passenger railcars, both long awaited investments.

Amtrak’s interest in the Florida corridor is further evidence that the project is set to receive a large chunk of the stimulus’ $8 billion devoted to high-speed rail. Mr. Boardman’s position — that his is the only company with experience in operation of high-speed trains in the U.S. — suggests that he feels the heat from foreign competitors, some of which have already produced in-depth studies of potential American rail operations. Indeed, it would be dangerous for the company to be relegated to providing slow-speed services along the country’s least-frequented routes while private operators such as Veolia or public providers from abroad such as SNCF pick up the profitable new main lines.

But whether Amtrak will be able to move past its mediocre reputation for service and persuade conservative politicians in the Sunshine State not to engage in the current fad of public-private partnerships is another question. Mr. Boardman will have a lot of convincing to do before the Florida service opens in 2014: Existing Amtrak lines in Florida are slow and frequently late.

California, the other state eagerly pushing for new high-speed trains, has yet to determine how service would be provided on its tracks.

In the shorter term, Amtrak plans to upgrade its existing corridors with improved tracks, renovated trains, and new equipment. This year, the company will increase speeds from 90 mph to 105 mph between Porter, Indiana and Kalamazoo, Michigan, affecting Blue Water and Wolverine routes most directly. In addition, Acela Express trains on the Northeast Corridor will get wireless internet in March and new seats later in the year.

Amtrak recognizes that its train fleet is ancient; apart from the Acela, no new passenger cars have been purchased since the 1980s. As a result, the company will release a plan in February to replace all of the nation’s locomotives and railcars over the next few years; there are some 1,400 in all, including more than 100 locomotives as well as single and bi-level railcars. The report will coincide with the agency’s Congressional budget request for FY 2011. Amtrak will probably demand a multi-year financial commitment from the federal government to pay for the new equipment.

It will also move forward with the already studied $16 billion plans to upgrade the Northeast Corridor and reduce travel times by 15 minutes between both Washington and New York and Boston and New York. Such a project would require a huge governmental commitment that could be partially financed by high-speed rail funds in the future. However, since Amtrak owns the line already, it could simply ask for an independent allocation that the currently rail-friendly Congress may well produce. Difficult budget conditions, however, may make such a project impossible over the next few years.

After years of retrenchment during the Bush Administration, the news that Amtrak has become newly entrepreneurial is good for the system’s users, who will eventually benefit from more comfortable and modern trains and faster travel along the Northeast Corridor. The railroad’s ambitions, however, have yet to be accepted by Congressional officials and there is no guarantee that the company will be provided the funds to complete its upgrades. If it does so, however, Amtrak will have a leg-up on operating fast routes in other parts of the country like Florida,  proving that it has the organizational resources to provide a high-quality service and the governmental resources to ensure adequate maintenance along existing lines.

In other news: I’ve altered the look of The Transport Politic significantly over the past few days, as you’ve probably noticed. If you have any comments or requests for changes, please email me (yfreemark (at) thetransportpolitic (dot) com) or leave a comment here. Thanks.

32 replies on “Amtrak Plans to Compete for Florida Service, Purchase Dozens of New Trains”

“Amtrak recognizes that its train fleet is ancient; apart from the Acela, no new passenger cars have been purchased since the 1980s.”

Don’t forget the Talgos on the Cascades line, which came into service in 1999, I believe.

dont they have some diesel locomotives from the early-late 1990s for national service, they are not going to replace those are they?

i’m indifferent to whether amtrak operates the service, if a public private partnership is what it takes to get more conservative support then so be it. i’ve always viewed amtrak as a placeholder for in the cheap oil era to bridge between the past golden age of rail and the future revival of rail.

hopefully that 15 minute reduction for $16 billion on the NEC also allows more reliability and more service too

Jim, that 15 minute reduction for $16 billion on the NEC doesn’t allow much more reliability, no. However, it includes $1.3 billion for Moynihan Station, so if you go to New York, you’ll have a really magnificent station hall, located one block further away from where you want to go than Penn Station for maximal inconvenience.

Is there somewhere I can see what the $ 16 billion for the NEC will be spent on? That sounds like a ridiculous amount of money for a 15 minute improvement.

Considering the LGV Est cost a total of € 4 Billion for the 406 km (252 miles) the line will be upon completion, why the hell is improving the NEC so expensive. Something is a miss.

Deacon –
I wrote about an Amtrak study on line improvements back in October. But things have clearly changed: back then, Amtrak said it could get trains down to 2h15 between New York and Washington (a 0h25 improvement) and to 3h15 between New York and Boston (a 0h20 improvement) for just 10.2 billion. It’s unclear why there’s a sudden cost escalation here; we’ll have to wait for further information from Amtrak.

Amtrak is working on an NEC Master Plan which covers not just the NEC Spine from Washington to Boston but also the feeder lines from Maine to Virginia. The October document just addressed speeding up the Spine. There have been earlier indications that the Master Plan would be released in late January/early February, so it’s likely that a close to final draft is on Boardman’s desk and that he’s using (possibly unrelated) soundbites from it in answering questions during the conference call. The earlier study, for example, talked of a 2:35 NY-DC trip time by 2018, 2:30 by 2023 and 2:15 by 2030. The 2018 number may have been slightly revised and he may be quoting it. The $16B is likely the cost for something more than the Spine, where the $10.2B was the cost just for the Spine (and for 2:20 DC-NY, not 2:15!).

It would be good if Amtrak could release the Master Plan, but recognize that they’re coordinating with twelve states, seven commuter railroads and three major freight railroads. This is an exercise in herding cats.

However, it includes $1.3 billion for Moynihan Station, so if you go to New York, you’ll have a really magnificent station hall,

Where they won’t get trampled by commuters. Or get in the commuter’s way.

located one block further away from where you want to go than Penn Station for maximal inconvenience.

Maximal inconvenience is putting everybody on PATH in Newark or Metro North in New Rochelle. Buses might be even more inconvenient.

It’s half a block, it’s going to be on the other side of 8th Ave. It’s a wash if you are getting on the 8Th Ave. Subway. Closer if want to use the 7 train to get to Grand Central because you live in Bronxville or just want to take the 7 home to Corona. Closer if for some reason you have the urge to use the Ninth Ave bus or want to go to the Javits Center. About the same if you are taking a cab.

Well its good to seem Amtrak getting more business minded. It would be great to have Amtrak run the new high speed lines as it would allow through booking to lots of places. This would encourage people to use their other services and hopefully help them offset the losses on their legacy lines. Updating their trains should help them bring in new customers as well. Hopefully they can get trains which will allow for more capacity on the NEC. Will the newer trains be able to further cut the time?

I would hope with $16 Billion they would be able to get constant tension caternary all the way from DC to Boston and fix all those problems with old brides and what not. Hopefully they could bring the speed up even further with that. Why would the updates take until 2030? That seems like an awful long time considering most of the track is already in place.

Thanks Yonah & Jim.

The herding cats reference you give Jim, seems to be one that can relate to most any region in the country. A dedicated HSR Line in the NEC should be the ultimate goal. Neigh on impossible for the multitude of problems that such a plan might create, but a goal that would make for a great system. One can dream of such things I suppose.

$6 billion, not $16 billion for at least 15 minutes improvements DC-NYC:

“Longer-term, the NEC is due for $10 billion in upgrades, $6billion of that between Washington and New York. Amtrak is looking to replace all the NEC’s aging variable-tension catenary between Washington and New Haven,Conn., with a modern constant-tension system (like that is in place between New Haven and Boston). A $700 million Washington-New York replacement program is already under way. Catenary improvements, along with improvements to curves and tunnel approaches and tie replacement, is expected to decrease trip times initially by 15 minutes. Further improvements should shave another 15 minutes. Boardman said Amtrak’s goal is to increase the Acela Express’s top speed on this segment of the NEC to 150 mph from the current 135 mph.”

It’s good that Amtrack might get to add a new rail line that might allow it to take in more money then it spends on a rail line. I hope they use NEC type catenary masts on the new rail line with tensioned catenary on them. It’s also good that if it’s controled by Amtrack it will help keep money inside the US vs it going over seas.

Amtrack could start building high speed rail lines by extending the catenary wires and Acela outside of the NEC.

Look on the NEC as being rather like the West Coast Main Line in Britain — all the existing infrastructure is shot and needs to be replaced. That’s why there’s not much apparent return on such a huge investment; they need to do something big simply to keep it running. And as the current Railway Age piece cited above above points out, if the full $16 billion is spent, we’re actually talking about a half an hour in time and a fair bit in extra capacity — much like the comparably expensive WCML upgrade. Those improvements are worthwhile.

how much time is being saved now with the current improvements in CT to the Metro North route? obviously this isnt included in this number. it seems this is one of the most critical places for improvement on the NEC (vs. say, increasing 135 mph trackage to 150 mph)

would these improvements bring the NEC up to a state of good repair?

hell double that amount and you have a brand new built from scratch 220 mph HSR service between LA and the Bay Area.

I hope Amtrak finally does something about the NEC slow times , maybe they should ban freight operations along the NEC. Maybe Amtrak should go with more Euro looking Diesel trains. I think its time we start talking about a second NEC , this one would cut inland more and feed into the inland empire cities of the NE. The NEC also needs to be widen to 6 tracks in some places , its way to congested.

Adirondacker, pretty much nobody wants to use the 8th Avenue Line. Its ridership is pitiful – it may actually be the least busy Midtown trunk line. For the connection to the 7/S, and for service to almost all West Side destination, the 7th Avenue Line is more useful.

DBX, Britain is almost as high-cost as the US, for the same reasons: overreliance on consultants, lack of concern with how trains work in Continental Europe or East Asia, endemic PPP corruption. HS2 is projected to cost $55 billion for 700 km, ten times the cost of the LGV Est for less than twice the distance. Even the California project is cheaper per-km, despite the multiple mountain crossings.

Alon –

Based on this data, the 8th Ave Line’s ridership isn’t as bad as you make it sound (and from experience commuting on it everyday, it certainly isn’t empty).

In 2004:
50th St Station (C/E) – 5.1 m riders, compared to 8 m (1), 7.2 m (R/W)
34th St Station (A/C/E) – 22.1 m, compared to 26.1 m (1/2/3), 34.8 m (B/D/F/V/N/Q/R/W)
23rd St Station (C/E) – 5.9 m, compared to 4.7 m (1), 6.7 m (F/V) [though it should be pointed out that the 1 train’s 28th St Station also got 3.6 m)
14th St Station (A/C/E) – 9 m, compared to 13.9 m (1/2/3/L/F/V)

It may be the least busy midtown north-south line, but it’s not free of riders. It also connects people directly to Queens, Brooklyn, and northern Manhattan; Via easy transfer, there is service to the Bronx and several other parts of Brooklyn. The 7th Ave lines, on the other hand, don’t connect to Queens and don’t have the ease of connections of the 8th Ave lines.

They need to extend the catenary down to Petersburg Virginia and Newport News to get rid of the 40 minute catenary change over in Washingtion DC. They also need widen the major river crossings from two tracks to four tracks.

The bridge over the Potomac is in ugly shape. I don’t know if there is room to expand it to more than three tracks though.

That 15 MPH increase in the midwest is great. I think the suggestion of an Acela service outside the NEC is great – perhaps a 21st Century Limited to Chicago?

I do think the bridges along the Amtrack NEC are in bad shape and in need of replacement a lot of them are eather rusted though or beat up. The Bridge over the Potomac does need to be replaced with a four track bridge in that they are already working on having three to four sets of tracks on eatch side of it.

pretty much nobody wants to use the 8th Avenue Line

92,750 fares are collected at the 34th St stop on the 7th Ave on an average weekday. 85,541 at the 8th Ave. station. ( MTA 2008 figures )

For the connection to the 7/S,

And when or if the new Amtrak Station is complete there will be a station on the Flushing line at 34th between 10th and 11th. Block and half, two blocks from the new Amtrak Station. Easier to get to than the labyrinth that is Time Square if you are wheeling a suitcase.

and for service to almost all West Side destination, the 7th Avenue Line is more useful

Meh, depends on where you are going. No difference if you want to get to Columbus Circle. A NJTransit or Amtrak rider would be inclined to use the 8th Ave because NJTransit and Amtrak use the 8th Ave end of the station. LIRR riders would be inclined to use the 7th ave because the LIRR uses the 7th ave end of the station. Any of them that wanted to get to West 4th street would use the 8th. If they wanted to get to Zabar’s the 7th. Museum of Natural History, the 8th. There’s life beyond the Broadway on the Upper West Side, Union Square or Chinatown? The 6th or the Broadway BMT. Lexington, Madison or Park in the upper 40s or lower 50s? The E train. Bloomingdale’s? the N, R, or W. ….

The national fleet replacement is great news, particularly since it opens up huge new possibilities for improved service, as long as the old equipment isn’t scrapped. Viewliner II’s, Superliner III’s (?), and something to replace the Crash-8 based P42DC’s would allow existing equipment to be idled long enough for major rebuilds that could extend service lives for decades on new corridors and secondary services at a fraction of the cost and lead time of buying new–kind of a second Heritage Fleet program. In addition, it would also allow Amtrak to stop having to run the National Network with a spare ratio of effectively zero by using older equipment to protect schedules and even occasionally add capacity when trains like the Crescent or Empire Builder occasionally sell out days or weeks in advance.

They could buy new trains and keep the old ones to add space to some of the over packed trains. I don’t think they should get rid of the older trains and locomtives in that Amtrack’s ridership has gone up to record levels in the last three years and it could easly grow to say form 23 millon to 30 to 35 millon very easly in the next ten years. But consdering there are 300 millon people in the US 50 millon trips might happen one day.

I’m sorry folks, but the idea of Amtrak running new HSR lines anywhere is an indication that the agency has its priorities mixed up. Instead of trying to outbid the Europeans and the Asians, Amtrak needs to provide a California-like network of CONVENTIONAL speed corridors in the state first, not to mention, adding more long-distance trains that serve Florida.

I love AMTRAK. I fully support it’s mission. But to use the montra that AMTRAK is the only only high-speed rail operator in the US is completely absurd, and theyy know it. The fact is AMTRAK, there is NO high speed rail operator in the US. I understand that AMTRAK would like very much to be allowed to, and be given the resources to become a valid high-speed rail operator, but unfortunately, that has not been the case thus far. If measured in Europe, Acela would in fact, be considered conventional rail with its performance at current levels. I’m sure the SNCFs, the Shinkansens(JCS), and the Deutsch-Bahns, (groups that really do high speed rail) find this just as laughable as I do. True high speed rail requires rail ROW that is planned, designed, and constructed and equipped meter for meter on solely for high speed rail. That does not exist on this continent.
Instead, of AMTRAK talking big and trying to experiment in something it actually knows nothing about, they should be proactive in trying to lead the discussion on what format high-speed rail is going to take on this continent. Otherwise, we will have mag-lev here, TGV-type trackage there, modified existing rail ROW elsewhere, and who knows, some weird monorail system to fill in the gaps. Allthewhile AMTRAK must consult with those bodies that have experience doing this. We’re building the cart before the cart path, and its going to lead to a big mess, nothing that we can weave into a synthesized, continental true high speed rail network.

Amtrack can do it.

The reason why it has not been able to give out high speed rail is that it has been spending most of it’s time fighting off 30 years of underfunding and dealing with the danger of being ended. At the same time the other major counties spent huge amounts of money on their national rail systems Amtrack has been living off of table scraps. I think high speed rail would be very good for Amtrack it could very well become as good as the high speed rail in the other counties.

I think Amtrak should use the money to build new high speed tracks, each track should be build in pairs, one running in one direction and the other track of the pair running in the other (i.e. the pair would be north and south bound from DC to Atlanta). I would also think it should have a major track system (high speed) above ground so the safety issues would be handled, and make all the train system communicate via wireless between the trains and controlling stations, only have human operator as a standby in case of a fault. Each major city would have high speed rail traffic from major city to major city, like a express from NYC to DC (no stops). This way the trains can compete as a safe reliable transportation system.

Amtrak should add more auto trains to all their major long travel routes so that people could take their cars with but avoid the long drives and expessive hotels going between cities.

New Cars? THe new sleepers aren’t as comfortable as the old sleepercoachs were. THey rock and roll and no toilets in the singles and not enough room to change your mind, let alone clothes.

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