High-Speed Rail

FRA Accepts Applications for State High-Speed Rail Planning

» Georgia introduces plan for rail loop; the Northeast finally makes an effort to introduce better service on the Boston-Washington mainline.

It was just four months ago that the Federal Railroad Administration rewarded huge high-speed rail construction grants to states across the country, but there’s plenty more to do — California, for instance, has assembled just a quarter of the more than $40 billion it needs to complete its San Francisco to Los Angeles corridor. This week, the FRA accepted applications for $50 million in planning grants, and several states put forward proposals to study rail lines that would substantially improve the nation’s intercity train network.

The federal government will announce recipients of the grants later this summer, in addition to the winners of up to $2.5 billion in construction awards. The FRA requires a 20% local match to win funds.

One of the most interesting proposals comes from Georgia, whose state legislature has been notoriously recalcitrant in finding adequate funds to maintain the state’s public transportation systems, and which proposed and then basically abandoned a series of commuter rail lines radiating from Atlanta. Now hoping to get aid from Washington, the state is campaigning to win $16.5 million to begin planning a “Capital-Coastal” rail loop connecting the state’s biggest cities: Atlanta, Athens, Augusta, Savannah, and Macon. In addition, it wants to begin considering improvements along the existing Atlanta-Charlotte route. If won, these funds would come in addition to the $750,000 the state received in January.

Georgia’s rush to submit a proposal for more planning funds was clearly influenced by the success of neighboring North Carolina and Florida in each receiving hundreds of millions of dollars earlier in the year. Unlike Georgia, those states have made clear commitments to improving their passenger rail and transit services, which explains the U.S. DOT’s reluctance to award Georgia money in the past. But the legislature’s passage last month of a bill allowing cities to increase their local taxes to fund better public transportation may indicate a change in thinking there.

California, which is the only state thus far that has made a multi-billion commitment to intercity rail, has applied for $16.6 million to advance planning on the second phase of its true high-speed system. If it wins an award, it will extend engineering studies on the corridors between Los Angeles and San Diego, between Merced and Sacramento, and between San Jose and Sacramento along the Altamont Corridor.

The Northeast states submitted an equally significant bid for $15 million to fund a study of the Washington-Boston corridor, the country’s most-used rail line. Amtrak laid out a $10.2 billion proposal for upgrades along the line last October with the expectation that ridership could quadruple to 60 million annual passengers by 2050. The eleven-state coalition that prepared the application has been slow to focus on the needs of the region’s primary corridor, dispersing money instead on secondary corridors like Connecticut’s New Haven-Hartford line or New York’s Albany-Buffalo connection.

The Northeast must move beyond state borders to respond to the needs of the area’s larger population; this is an important first step in that direction.

Amtrak released today a Northeast Corridor master plan detailing $52 billion worth of infrastructure capital needs that must be fulfilled between now and 2030 to cope with an increase in rides. The project would improve fastest New York-Washington running times to 2h15 from 2h45 today and New York-Boston to 3h08 from 3h31 today.

Other states that applied for funding in this round of FRA grants include Pennsylvania, which wants to speed up trains heading between Cleveland and Buffalo via Erie; Florida, which plans to extend its now virtually guaranteed Tampa-Orlando true high-speed line to Miami; and Arizona, which wants to connect Phoenix to intercity rail service for the first time in decades with a new link from Tucson.

Illinois applied for $8 million in federal funds to begin the upgrade of the St. Louis-Chicago route to 220 mph. The corridor will be upgraded to 110 mph using funding received in January.

Other states likely also submitted proposals; I’ll update this page and the above map as the news flows in.

100 replies on “FRA Accepts Applications for State High-Speed Rail Planning”

In 1997 Georgia did a study for 110mph rail service. That study calcuated cost/benefit for a variety of corridors radiating from Atlanta, but IIRC no Augusta-Savannah line was considered. The best system included a line from Atlanta via Macon to Jacksonville with a spur from Jesup to Savannah and another from Griffin to Columbus. Incredibly, the operating plan called for trains to be split/recombined at Jesup, with a loco and two coaches going to Jax and another loco and one coach going to Savannah.

To me the idea of a Atl-Ath-Aug-Sav line is appealing, especially if there’s a stop in Statesboro, where Georgia Southern University is located. But the existing line from Athens to Charlotte misses Greenville/Spartanburg, which I think would be hard to sell to the Carolinas.

As for the Atlanta commuter rail plan, not implementing it was, IMO, a very major screwup. OTOH, that plan didn’t include in the six viable corridors a Griffin/Macon connection upon which improvements for 110mph service could’ve been piggybacked.

Oregon sent in an application to further study the Portland to Eugene segment of the Cascades corridor. The study is geared toward looking at the alternatives in the Willamette Valley including double tracking the existing route on the UP main line, moving passenger rail to the much less used Oregon Electric line, a new alignment along the I-5 corridor, new ROW altogether, or using a combination of shorter less and unused lines further west (near Corvallis). The goals appear to be 110 mph and 95% on-time performance or better.

IF the proper investment were made, a move off the UP line onto the OE line would be quite sensible, but I wonder also about the Willamette and Pacific right-of-way, either as a replacement to the UP line or as a secondary corridor worthy of its own development.

Given that college towns are such large potential markets for intercity rail ridership, I think the W&P is worthy of study, as it passes directly through Newberg (George Fox University), McMinnville (Linfield College), Monmouth (Western Oregon University), and Corvallis (Oregon State University). A rail connection between Corvallis and Eugene would see significant patronage, and it would only require 8.5 miles of new track (between Monroe and Junction City).

Great idea, Zach – the Willamette Valley is lucky to have the variety of still extant ROW it has, allowing for some creative patching together of lines to make a useful Higher Speed route.
Now if only we could get in and out of Olympia here in WA state.

The Westside Branch line, of which you speak, is in pretty bad shape and would need major work to be placed into any sort of passenger service–let alone high-speed rail. Proposals to extend commuter rail to Portland exurbs such as McMinnville or Newberg, or to have “wine trains” (the line passes through the heart of Oregon’s renowned winemaking industry) are occasionally advanced, though none has gotten past the idea stage.

It’s kind of interesting–I found this old study from the 1970s, which basically says much of the same things that are being said today–other than the fact that the Woodburn/Springfield branch mentioned in the report has long since been FTMP abandoned…

Des Moines is a little off kilter in your map. Would this line actually got to Des Moines? Would it also go through the Quad cities? It is surprising to see no connection between the Chicago Hub system and the Ohio 3C corridor… I thought for sure that would be forthcoming. Is Indiana not playing nice?

Map quibbles. Yeah, Des Moines has wandered off. It should be in the center of the state (and halfway to Omaha, if you think far ahead); here it seems to be shown on the route of the Zephyr that passes through some Iowa towns in the dark of night.

The Alabama route is shown straight line Birmingham-Mobile; I’ll bet a box of donuts that it zigzags to pass thru Montgomery, the state capital.

And the lines in Cali show the route San Diego-L.A.-Santa Barbara, or even -San Luis Obispo, while the text does not mention this extension at all.

Otherwise, some oddities.

WTF is that line in West Virginia? Not the current Cardinal route. Looks like it’s gonna connect to the Capitol Limited, but did Maryland forget to put in its bid to get high-speed Chicago-Cleveland, Pittsburgh on into D.C.?

Really? Really? New England wants three (3) high-speed connections to Montreal, but just nevermind Boston-Albany, with connections to the 42 other lower-48 states?

Still no connection eastward out of Detroit, toward Toledo, Cleveland, and beyond. Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, O.K., but not from Pittsburgh to Cleveland? Well, maybe Ohio has its hands full getting the 3-Cs past the Party of No. At least Gov Rendell and Pennsylvania are trying to get Cleveland and Erie, PA, more firmly connected to Buffalo and that strip of mid-sized cities washed up on the shore of the Eire Canal, and then to NYC and New England.

Right. Indiana is not playing nice. It’s controlled by the Party of No. The application to modestly improve their section of the Chicago-Detroit route (from the Illinois line halfway to Michigan) came in at about 11:59 before the fed’s deadline. Yes, I’d have loved to hear what the Govs of Michigan and Illinois said in the call to their colleague in Indiana to discuss this urgent matter. And now nothing for even Indianapolis-Chicago, much less Chicago-Cleveland via South Bend and Fort Wayne. Ah, well, leaves more for the others.

I’m not unhappy with the surprise proposal from Georgia. It serves the four largest metro areas, which should help it get through the Legislature. It connects with Amtrak’s Silver Star, Silver Meteor, and Palmetto trains and thence to Florida. Funny that there’s no interest in Atlanta-Birmingham, well, not so many votes in that direction, so another time.

At least two of these proposals are ostensibly for HSR, but I’m sure the states would be happy to see a new 79-mph-top-speed Amtrak route up and running in a couple of years, and not wait a decade or two for a higher-speed line. That goes for the routes Denver-Albuquerque-Las Cruses-El Paso, as well as for Kansas City-Topeka-Wichita-Oklahoma City, the Des Moines route, and Birmingham-Mobile too.

But on the whole, a nice set of proposals.

My mistake — I fixed the Des Moines issue.

Note that the corridors with the thin yellow lines received planning grants back in January, not now. Also, it should be noted that because these are planning, rather than construction, grants, the routes are not fully defined. So it’s quite possible that we could get Birmingham-Montgomery-Mobile, not just Birmingham-Mobile.

On the Detroit/Cleveland corridor … yes, Ohio has its hands full getting the starter version of the Triple C up past the Party of No.

Cleveland / Toledo / Detroit is still Ohio Hub stage 2, but stage 1 has now been split into the starter line and then incremental upgrades once its running to get it up to speed. So the focus now is getting the final design work done and winning the Statehouse, so that the 3C go-ahead can take place after the gubernatorial election.

The politics make it impossible for any Republican to hand Governor Strickland a political win right now, but if he succeeds in winning re-election against a Wall Street insider, and Democrats hold the lower house, then the deal making period before the next state budget would be a much more favorable political environment, especially as he would only need one out of three Republicans on the committee to vote to go ahead.

Just found you web site after spending an hour on Amtrak site trying to take a train from Metro Detroit to Cleveland. Would you believe the ONLY trains are either in the middle of the night (with a Greyhound bus ride between Detroit and Toledo) … or, the ride takes about 12 hours through Chicago? Amazing! My son and his family live in Cleveland … and I’m not getting any younger. Sure would LOVE a high-speed option before I’m too old to drive the trip.

“Really? Really? New England wants three (3) high-speed connections to Montreal, but just nevermind Boston-Albany, with connections to the 42 other lower-48 states?”

Can you smell the plans for secession from the US and joining Canada? :-)

It seems more likely that three states want to have the line to Montreal running through their territory … New York, New Hampshire and Vermont … so those are dueling plans, though not plans applied for in this round of funding (those are the thick yellow rather than thin yellow lines).

“Still no connection eastward out of Detroit, toward Toledo, Cleveland, and beyond. Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, O.K., but not from Pittsburgh to Cleveland? Well, maybe Ohio has its hands full getting the 3-Cs past the Party of No.”

Well, if we can get Ohio on board, we can *ALMOST* dispense with Indiana…. if we can get that Detroit-Toledo connection.

“Right. Indiana is not playing nice. It’s controlled by the Party of No.”
Yes, Indiana has been extremely frustrating. Federal involvement will be necessary.

If the 3C can be established and then upgraded to 110mph, and if Indiana is an obstacle, Phase 4 could be shifted to Phase 3 with Detroit / Toledo / Cleveland / Pittsburgh when Phase 2 and 3 are done.

The Phase 2 Cleveland / Chicago route assumes a junction for whatever is the western Detroit suburbs station, continuing along the Detroit/Chicago route, so it only has the short run through NW Indiana required by that route.

There’s one simple way how to shift attitude in Indiana and other “states of no” – build Express HSR line in some corridor nearby to show them, what are they missing. Chicago – Champaign – Springfield – St. Louis seems to be ideal corridor for this purpose, close to them, with decent demand and within one state that supports HSR.

The Cleveland / Toledo / Detroit / Kalamazoo / Gary / Chicago route is even more politically adroit, because the geography gives the free rider privilege to oh-my-goodness GARY Indiana … Indianapolis and Northeast Indiana getting what oh-my-goodness GARY Indiana has is likely to be a demand that state legislators cannot ignore.

This is a bit too state centric and shows why this ultimately needs to come from the federal level. In the bigger scheme, Atlanta to Macon to Jacksonville FL is a good line with an easy spur to Savannah (that can be part of an East Coast HSR line from Richmond/NEC to FL). The line to Augusta/Athens could cross into SC and hit Columbia and then maybe terminate in Charleston (which would also be on the east coast HSR line and thus completing this circle, with Hilton Head included as well)

Yes, this seems to be the position (and obvious vested interest) of the Planning Profession, but it equally well could be taken to mean that there needs to be an accounts based system allowing towns and cities to direct where their per capita share of funding out to go.

Okay, Amtrak’s plan is horrific. Here are some of the gems:

1. A travel time of 2:15 NY-DC and 3:08 NY-Boston. The Pendolino could achieve faster running times than 3:08 NY-Boston with zero infrastructure improvements; 2:15 NY-Boston would require constant-tension catenary. The cost of this: $1 billion for the catenary, plus $20 million per trainset.

2. $286 million for “capacity improvements” at Boston South, a station that’s nowhere near capacity and never will be. Spend a few million on cutting turnaround times and save the money.

3. Station improvements to non-Acela stops.

4. $12.5 billion to Penn Station improvements and to Moynihan Station.

5. No mention of cant deficiency or superelevation.

6. No curve modification, except at the Hell Gate Bridge, where it would be most expensive and least useful.

7. No NEC/feeder line distinction in the program.

(I have to go now – I’m in the middle of a lecture that’s actually interesting. More criticism available on request.)

You are aware the entire NEC line from Hellgate Bridge to Boston will be constant tension catenary sometime in 2015-2018? It is constant tension east of New Haven, the Hellgate to New Rochelle catenary upgrade is supposed to be finished this year, and Metro-North is slowly, small segment by segment, replacing the cat on their New Rochelle-New Haven with constant tension with a completion date of 2015 to 2018. The cat is not the problem with the long slow route through Connecticut – it is the numerous curves and old bridges and even a few grade crossings.

The “Hell Gate Bridge” curve modification in the plan is for parts of the Hellgate Bridge to New Rochelle segment which Amtrak owns so they are willing to push for it, not just at the bridge. It is disappointing that the NEC plan is not more aggressive in looking to either straighten out curves in CT or re-route pieces to new straighter ROWs possibly using I-95, but I think CDOT and Amtrak have decided not to take on that fight and ask for the additional billions needed at this time. The only 2 major near term improvements on the CT NEC line that I see are the replacement of the Niantic River bridge (construction has started) and the CT River bridge with a high(er) level bridge which will likely do modest route straightening. There is no cheap fix for the NYP to Boston line despite what you may think.

The 2:15 part in point 1 of my comment is a typo. I meant to say, “2:15 NY-DC would require constant tension catenary.” I don’t think 2:15 NY-Boston would be a cheap fix, though it would be cheaper than $52 billion.

Ok, so you meant NYP-WAS. But to achieve 2:15 to 2:20 run times between NYP and WAS will take more than constant tension cat – which is listed as one of the trip time improvements for $1 billion in the high speed territories only in the NEC master plan. For faster average speeds, the B&P tunnel in Baltimore, the major bridges in MD, Portal bridge in NJ have to be replaced, do some curve realignments & add tracks in a number of places. Capacity for the NEC is a major issue, can’t go fast if you have to stop waiting for a 2 or 3 track bottleneck to clear. Which is a big part of the NEC plan report.

I think once they achieve 2:20 between WAS and NYP, passenger traffic will grow a lot more than the report expects. Not only will the train take away almost all the airline shuttle traffic, it (along with higher fuel costs & tolls) will draw some people away from driving. Once the train is markedly faster than driving and more comfortable, more people will take the train rather than drive.

Yes, the B&P tunnel would have to be replaced. The rest could probably have a few more years squeezed out of them if the trains were lighter.

Bear in mind, if Amtrak just replaces the catenary, then it won’t be enough to make the Acela do NY-DC in 2:15. Even 2:30 would be a miracle with current equipment. However, modern high-speed trains could do 2:15. Something like the Fastech 360 would do the straight sections in much less time than the Acela, and accelerate better; a Pendolino would not have a higher top speed, but would achieve such a high cant deficiency that it would cruise through the Maryland curves. (The ideal train would have a Fastech top speed and a Pendolino tilting capacity. It’s feasible but there’s no production model yet, because there’s nowhere else in the world that trains need to run at very high speed on legacy track.)

Alon, the AVE 102 was built by Talgo and the cars appear to be based on the Talgo VII design. I’m not sure if the passive tilting is present in the AVE 102 trainsets but they reach 205 MPH in service.

Yes, the Talgo is another option. However, it has the distinct disadvantages that the cant deficiency is limited to 7.2″, and that axle load may be too high for higher cant deficiencies. For the amount of tilting the Acela needs, 17 metric tons/axle is too much; the Pendolino models go down to 13, and the Fastech is at 11.5.

Alon’s lectures are provocative at worst, insightful and educational at best, and much appreciated.

Alon is being, I think, a little ungenerous in his reading of the plan. It is a Master Plan for the corridor, considered fairly broadly. That is, it tries to define all the work that needs to be performed, regardless of who does it and who it primarily benefits. It is focused on capacity. I had been under the impression — I don’t know how I acquired the impression — that there was actually a lot of spare capacity on the NEC which just needed some bottlenecks removed to become useful: I thought Newark to Philadelphia was mainly six-tracked and Philly to Baltimore mainly four; this is not so: there’s only 8.1 miles of six track (just north of Metropark) and there’s lots of two and three track segments, even some north of Philadelphia. Given the massive growth over the last forty years in commuter rail on the NEC, there isn’t much in the way of spare capacity that can be liberated and exploited. The document is focused on building the necessary additional capacity to handle the expected additional growth over the next twenty years in both commuter and intercity rail.

This is not an HSR document. It does not address creating true HSR on the corridor. The additional capacity that would be required to create dedicated trackage for 220 mph capable trains is not addressed. The document assumes that Regionals, running at 125 mph MAS and with on the order of 10 stops between Washington and New York (thus an average speed of 75 mph), will continue to be the workhorses of the NEC, carrying the bulk of the intercity ridership. Acela expresses will continue to be a premium product. Congress has asked for some specific trip times; Amtrak will plan to (just) meet them.

Some specifics. MBTA, which owns Boston South, says it’s at capacity. Amtrak can’t force its way in there, squat at an unused platform and, like, Alice, claim “nonsense, there’s plenty of room.” The other major terminals are at capacity. It may well be that better operation of those terminals can improve capacity by e.g. reducing dwell: better passenger flow at Moynihan station might help. But, right now, it’s going to be hard to schedule additional trains into or through those stations. Platforms at non-Acela stations are a capacity issue. If a commuter train has to cross over to load or unload at the single platform, that cross-track movement cuts down on capacity. Curve modifications are actually mentioned: Part II, p. 26 contains a counterexample to Alon’s point 6 (and the diagram on Part II, p. 22 contains a counterexample to Alon’s point 5: “higher unbalanced”).

This is not to say I like the document. I was disappointed in it. It is too timid and conservative for my taste. But I should have expected timidity and conservatism from Amtrak: they have been bullied and beaten up now for forty years.

The capacity issues are really issues of steam-era practices, and in one case general stupidity. It’s time to dump the theory that Penn Station’s pedestrian flow is inherently constrained. Barely half the area of its lower concourse is used for passenger circulation; the rest is taken by concessions and back offices. Even at the current pedestrian flow situation, dwell isn’t an issue. Long dwells are caused by masses of people on the platform level, for example on the subway’s Lex lines. This is not a problem for intercity rail. What happens on the mezzanine levels is not relevant.

The rest of the issues aren’t stupid, but they’re still solvable at a fraction of the cost Amtrak’s claiming. As always, the solution is to look at practices in Europe and Japan. For the two-track sections in Massachusetts, Delaware, and Maryland, best industry practice would be a four-track passing section in the middle. For the four-track section in New Jersey, even that is unneeded; express commuter trains could just switch to the local tracks. It might require installing high-speed switches, but those have trivial cost by the standards of what’s needed elsewhere.

South Station is a bigger issue, but only because Amtrak doesn’t have leverage over the MBTA (“diesel trains all over the world turn back in 6 minutes, and so can you”). But technically it’s a non-issue. None of the lines feeding into South Station is the Chuo Line.

After extensive remodeling, there are 4-5 staircases from each of the LIRR platforms to the lower level. There are also a lot of escalators from the station to the ground level. That’s not as constrained. The reason NJT thinks it’s constrained is that it did nothing, so it still has 2 staircases per platform.

My quibbles as follows:

1. GA blew its chance to develop a realistic rail plan. The loop makes no sense.

2. Where are NC and VA in regards to restoring the S-line between RAL and PTB? They need to step up.

3. WV’s proposed line is way beyond a !@#$ joke. Is Robert Byrd behind this boondoggle? It should be more worried about daily service on the Cardinal and a productive 79 MPH rail system.

4. The same thing applies to AL. Montgomery needs to build complementary conventional rail lines that connect to ATL and NOL.

5. The Rocky Mountain HSR proposal is far worse than #3. CO and NM should look before they leap.

6. AZ’s plan is a start.

Not sure what the thinking is with the GA loop. What they should be giving priority to is the Atlanta to Charlottesville line to connect to the SE Corridor and a Atlanta to Macon to Jacksonville, FL service to connect to the Florida and Amtrak services.

The map is rather unclear on the WV plan. Is there a link to the WV application or press release on what WV wants to study? For the money that the Feds and WV are spending on the Corridor H project, WV could probably build a 90-110 mph line from Charleston connecting to the DC-Richmond corridor and the NEC or go NE to Harrisburg, PA.

“3. WV’s proposed line is way beyond a !@#$ joke. Is Robert Byrd behind this boondoggle? It should be more worried about daily service on the Cardinal and a productive 79 MPH rail system.”

For the distances involved, “a productive 79mph rail system” and “running the existing Cardinal route through southeastern WV” are contradictions in terms. If its feasible to connect Cincinnati, northern Kentucky and Charlotte, WV onto the more direct route to DC via connecting onto the Capital Limited route, that would make go a long way toward tapping into the Midwest Hub higher speed rail from Chicago through Indianapolis to Cincinnati and rescuing the Cardinal. On its present route and schedule, its headed for closure as soon as Byrd leaves the Senate.

By “high-speed rail” do they just mean “rail”? 125mph+ operation would be absurd on most of these corridors.

As for new 79mph-top-speed corridors, should these really be considered anything other than pork? Everywhere Amtrak runs 79mph-max rail currently, the trains are slower, more expensive, and less frequent than competing buses. As a former resident of Iowa, I’m excited that Megabus just started service from Chicago to Des Moines – they provide better and cheaper service than Amtrak ever will.

Perhaps the article could use such a search-and-replace, then, or at least some quotation marks.

(Though for the NEC proposals, high-speed rail may in principle be an accurate description.)

No, they mean “higher speed than what we got”. “Just rail” is 79mph max speed Amtrak type service.

It offends Alon’s delicate sensibilities that substantially higher speed than what we got is just ordinary intercity express in Europe … but calling a pothole a speed bump does not change the reality. The reality in the US is that 110mph, 125mph, and 220mph are all “High Speed Rail” compared to what we actually have.

That the FRA is calling 110 mph service HSR merely annoys me. What really sets me off is that Amtrak’s proposing to build an upgraded medium-speed system at the cost of full-fat HSR. At European construction costs, $52 billion would build you full-fat HSR on the NEC including Springfield and Norfolk, Keystone to Pittsburgh, and Empire to Toronto, with change to spare.

There’s no place in Europe where there is 200 miles of contiguous suburb to contend with.

Alon already laid out what needs to be done to build full HSR in the NEC. Between the existing corridor and I-95, the amount of actual contending with suburbia/eminent domain required is not that great.

“Everywhere Amtrak runs 79mph-max rail currently, the trains are slower, more expensive, and less frequent than competing buses.”

Nope. Not on the long double-overnight routes — those are faster (though still more expensive and less frequent).

Also, regarding speed, is this really the case for routes such as the Hiawathas and the Pacific Surfliner? Both run through areas where the highways are VERY VERY congested.

Anybody who cared about speed presumably wouldn’t be taking a long-distance Amtrak or Greyhound trip, but:
Chicago to Seattle train: 46:10, bus: 45:05.
Chicago to Oakland train: 52:10, bus: 48:30.
Chicago to Los Angeles train: 43:00, bus: 43:00.
Chicago to New York train: 19:55, bus: 17:25.

For Los Angeles to San Diego, both Amtrak and Greyhound/Crucero take about 2:45. Amtrak Chicago to Milwaukee does manage to beat the bus (1:29 to 1:45); I wonder if a bus that connected with an outlying CTA or Metra station to avoid congestion would do even better. At any rate, few if any of the 79mph routes proposed on the map above suffer from that kind of congestion.

I enjoy taking Amtrak, including on long-distance routes, but it’s hard to claim that all the dedicated infrastructure involved in running train or two a day is a good use of government resources, when private companies are already providing bus service.

The Tollway between Chicago & Milwaukee is pretty congested and has major construction, so I’m thinking a suburban connection wouldn’t help very much.

You can actually take a single Chicago-LA bus?

That must be painful. Can’t imagine it’s popular.

Yes, though most of the other examples I gave involve a transfer or two. At $102 it is consistently the cheapest way from Chicago to LA. As for popularity, it’s popular enough to cover its operating costs, which is more than can be said for the Amtrak train.

Of course, both Amtrak and Greyhound derive a significant proportion of their ridership from shorter trips between points along the longer route. Practical transportation between Chicago and Los Angeles means flying, and will for the foreseeable future. We should really be focusing on the sub-500 mile corridors where passenger rail is practical; on many such corridors, Megabus and similar companies provide faster and better service than both Amtrak and Greyhound (including e.g. free onboard wifi), at much lower prices. In areas where 125mph+ high-speed rail is infeasible, this sort of express coach service (ideally with bus lanes on the approaches to urban areas) seems like a better option than spending millions to prepare tracks for a couple trains a day.

The Amtrak Cascades competes very nicely with driving or buses. The travel time is somewhat shorter depending on traffic.

Greyhound’s service locally is very poor with dirty coaches, dingy stations full of winos, long station dwell times, and rude staff.

Well, it is just planning, and there are lots of dreamers, I’m one of ’em, but gosh you have to hope DOT is more interested in realistic plans. This shows the need for a serious national plan than quantifies and evaluates all the city-pair connections and existing or needed infrastructure, then comes to rational prioritization. It can’t happen soon enough.

On the specifics:
1. great comments on Oregon.
2. agree WTF WV?
3. agree WTF 3 lines to Montreal but no Boston-Albany.
4. Indiana can wait for $ until they pull there head into the daylight. OH should concentrate on 3C success, Detroit and connections east
5. Cali needs an immigration bill to start collecting income tax on a large share of it’s workforce…
6. Why isn’t FL going for the full JAX-MIA line which would bring on Corrine Brown (house o reps $bags)
7. GA had it’s head in the dark like Indiana but at least there’s some light appearing at the end of the tunnel. The feds should fund the Charlotte line and perhaps a look at ATL-Macon-JAX. GA’s real priorities should be connecting ATL with Charlotte, Jacksonville, Birmingham and Nashville. Augusta is a small town – but I have often wondered if a southern southern crescent could make sense in a 3rd or 4th tier way … connecting Charlotte-ColumbiaSC-Augusta-Macon-Columbus-Montgomery-Jackson?. There are no competing convenient interstates and most flights connect through somewhere, so even though they are relatively small cities there may be some kind of advantage for rail. No idea what the infrastructure ROW’s look like for that…
8. etc. – AZ is good start. no probs w/ AL, CO/NM plan as 3rd tier… Des Moines, Witchita? 4th tier…
9. Oh yeah – we should not spend another dime on the NEC unless it’s for something that can blaze and beat the socks off China! It’s time to once again get friendly with the eminent domain clause our foresighted fathers wrote into the constitution.

I believe that “wtf WV” is that going through depopulated areas of southeastern WV to get to DC the long way around (on coal lines that will be abandoned once the coal has been worked out) is why the Cardinal route is an abject failure. That and the delays between Indianapolis and Chicago, but there is already headway being made on that front.

If there was a way to connecting Cincinnati and Charlotte WV into the Cleveland / Pittsburgh / DC Capital Ltd route at the Maryland border, passing through the greater population areas of NE West Virginia, that would have a crack at being able to survive.

There is, apparently, an old B&O Charleston WV-Cumberland MD line. CSX still operates the northernmost part, Cumberland to Grafton, as the Cowen Sub. It’s supposed to be up for sale, though. CSX abandoned the rest of the line in 1987. The middle part, Grafton to Hartland, was leased as the Elk River Line. They did a fair amount of work rehabilitating the (essentially single) track, but have since suspended operations at least once. Hartland to Charleston, as far as I know, hasn’t been touched since 1987. It may not even have rails at this point.

This seems the only candidate for connecting Cincinnati and Charleston into the Chicago-Pittsburgh-Washington route. It seems to me a desperation move to consider it.

It’s not the elevation, it’s the curves. The line hugs the Elk River as it winds. Inside the bends of the river, it’s likely the tracks are going to have limits of 25 or 30 mph.

Conceptually, cutting off at Charleston and running up to meet the Capitol Limited route makes a lot of sense. Washington-Cumberland-Pittsburgh-Cleveland-Chicago and Washington-Cumberland-Charleston-Cincinnati-Chicago become a nice pair of routes bracketing Ohio.

But the existing right of way won’t do. It isn’t much shorter. Ignoring the wiggles, I measure it at 210 miles Charleston to Cumberland. So at best Charleston-Washington is 40 miles shorter via Cumberland than via Charlottesville. Following the river bends, that advantage might disappear entirely. It’s probably slower. It will require a lot of rehabilitation and there’s little or no freight traffic to apportion the maintenance cost to. 200+ miles of track to maintain to support one passenger train?

In addition, the Capitol Limited route from Cumberland to Washington is a major CSX freight route. It carries freight from the Midwest to e.g. the Port of Baltimore. From Martinsburg (about halfway between Cumberland and Washington) it’s also a MARC commuter train route. Adding another Amtrak long distance train will not be easy.

So it only actually comes into frame under a national Steel Interstate program that includes the electrification and high reliability rapid freight rail paths Pittsburgh/Washington corridor, and then the faster route to Cincinnati is via Columbus.

And then under that kind of system, a Steel Interstate along the Shenandoah Valley would not leave any substantial freight task for a new line running generally NE to SW across the Appalachian ranges, especially on a winding river bottom route … its the NW to SE cross cut of the current Cardinal route to western Virginia that would be more likely to be useful.

(on coal lines that will be abandoned once the coal has been worked out)

Former C&O mainline along New and Greenbrier Rivers won’t go anywhere, it’s extremely gentle (1.2 % westbound, 0.6 % eastbound) and pretty fast, considering that it follows river valley.

“4. Indiana can wait for $ until they pull there head into the daylight. OH should concentrate on 3C success, Detroit and connections east”

If we could simply build a line from Chicago to Michigan without going through Indiana, I’d agree with you. I fancy the Lake Michigan Bridge would not be an easy sell.

Someone outside Indiana needs to step up and fund the Michigan City – Chicago line.

I wonder whether this is part of why Ohio Hub Stage 2 is Cleveland / Toledo / Detroit / Chicago, since although a longer route, that minimizes the track distance through Indiana.

Of course, its a near thing whether OH can pull our head into daylight, the force of the Dark Side is strong in the obstructionist brigades.

I thought that Amtrak owned the tracks from Porter, Indiana well into Michigan, is that not the case?

But from downtown Chicago to the state line and on to Porter, the trains go barely a third the speed they get on Amtrak’s Porter-Kalamazoo section.

Illinois is trying to sort out its tangled mess of roads and rail with the CREATE program.

Indiana ain’t doing squat.

I see nothing from Mass. for Boston-Springfield; do they have money saved away for improvements to that line? I remember that a condition of the Big Dig was that Western Mass. was supposed to see rail improvements that have not yet come into existence.

As for the NEC, I think CDOT and Amtrak missed a huge opportunity to fix the line when they began to rebuild I-95. In Bridgeport, for example, the highway was completely reconstructed, while the railroad still curves along the coastline on a circa 1840 berm. A new route through the forests of SE Connecticut (conveniently near the casinos) toward Providence is probably the best high speed route (hills may be a problem), while the Shore Line could remain a Regional or full Shore Line East-Providence commuter rail line. But I know we’re stuck with the Shore Line, and at the least it is a pretty ride.

The Boston-Springfield route is mentioned in the NEC Infrastructure Master Plan as part of a proposed New Haven-Springfield MA – Boston Inland Route. The NEC plan calls for electrification from New Haven to Springfield. If Mass can acquire or lease part of the ROW from Springfield to Worcester and build dedicated passenger tracks, there might be future plans for electrification of the Springfield-Boston line so Amtrak could use it as an alternate route for the New York-Boston trains. But that is not in the current NEC plan so far as I read it.

The NEC Infrastructure Master Plan is worth skimming for those in the NE and Mid-Atlantic regions because it touches on proposed rail upgrades throughout the region, not just the current NEC.

Rail enthusiast: please do your homework. NC and VA’s work to upgrade RGH-PTB is farther along than just about any other HSR proposal out there. While the max speed will be planned for 110-125 mph, the line is being designed with curvatures that will give it a higher *average* speed than the Acela. That’s why NC just received half a billion $. Read all about it at

How likely is the Orlando-Miami line to be funded? Orlando-Miami is a much more important corridor than Tampa-Orlando.

Depends on how the Orlando/Tampa line pans out. Orlando/Miami is a much longer route and would be more difficult politically without Disney pushing it, and Disney pushing it is a lot more likely if it is connecting to the Orlando/Tampa line.

If the Orlando-Tampa line gets built, then it’s almost certain it’ll be extended to Miami. Only a major failure of the technology would prevent that. The disappointing ridership would be rightly excused as a consequence of the Orlando-Tampa line’s connecting two smaller cities.

The Miami line is more important, but also more difficult because it will need to operate on the FEC ROW. That’s why it’s second up. The state has already started planning for the FEC through PB, Broward and Dade counties, so they have a good start. That said, it will be very difficult and expensive to construct in the middle of all the coastal towns. Lots of at-grade crossings, businesses and residences right on the track. Tunneling isn’t an option because of the high water table and an elevated or viaduct line is gonna draw ire from FEC by cutting off thier sidings that serve freight customers. Look at the peninsula in Cali and you’ll see what’s in store for S. FL. – big fights before it gets done, but hopefully it gets done.

This is completely backward. How about we eliminate all the slower-than-cycling (in many cases slower than walking!) bus routes, and spend the savings on transit that actually stands a chance at getting people to stop driving (i.e. rail and occasionally busways).

Adirondacker nailed it. It’s 100 times easier and cheaper to put HSR through mostly rural land in between cities, especially when private property rights are weaker and the government is often the key landowner.

If we were talking about a greenfield line between NY and Philadelphia you’d be right, but fortunately the existing NEC is beautifully straight for almost that entire stretch, and only needs constant-tension catenary (and sane rolling stock) to run at 300+ km/h. The worst curves and bottlenecks on the NEC are in Connecticut east of New Haven, which is as rural as anywhere HSR was built in Europe. Further, the government already owns the reasonably straight I-95 right of way through that area. Other parts of the NEC could use some curve easements, but this is usually feasible within the existing right of way (and occasionally an adjacent parking lot).

Also I’m not sure what you mean by property rights being stronger in the US… eminent domain works just fine (how do you think freeways get built?) and is actually relatively cheap compared to alternatives like tunneling.

the existing NEC is beautifully straight for almost that entire stretch, and only needs constant-tension catenary (and sane rolling stock) to run at 300+ km/h

. . . if there were no other trains in the way.

Property rights work the same way in every first-world democracy: if the government wants to seize privately owned property, it needs to compensate the owner at market prices or higher, and prove that it actually needs the property for public benefit. SNCF’s low cost of property acquisition don’t come from communism; they come from years of planning ahead before constructing LGVs, ensuring smooth, litigation-free acquisition.

The actual cost of land is usually small compared to the cost of building the tracks; it’s the litigation that makes things more expensive. On the NEC, the only places where tracks actually need to run through suburbs, rather than through rural territory near suburbs, are in northern Maryland and southwestern Connecticut. Yes, eminent domain in Darien and Milford is going to cost a lot of money, but it’s not prohibitive. It’s $500 million for the entire NEC on the highest estimates of property values and impact zone. On more reasonable estimates, make it $100-200 million.

Nobody’s said anything yet about the Pennsylvania request to study Cleveland-Erie-Buffalo. I’d just like to point out that such a corridor piggybacks on Triple-C. Triple-C will create an Amtrak maintenance facility in Cleveland, which then becomes available for corridor trains where Cleveland is part of the corridor: in this case Cleveland-Erie-Buffalo, but equally Cleveland-Toledo-Detroit or Cleveland-Pittsburgh. It also enables a shared sparing strategy across corridors.

If triple-C got built and Cleveland-Erie-Buffalo got started with *appropriate scheduling*, so that I could get on Empire Service at Syracuse, continue to Buffalo, continue to Cleveland, and continue to Columbus, all without an overnight hotel or train station stay, I’d actually use it. Probably yearly.

There is a case for a Syracuse-Cleveland corridor train. It’s about three and a quarter hundred miles and the Lake Shore Limited runs it in about five and a half hours (a bit faster eastbound, a bit slower westbound) which is close to 60 mph average speed, about as good as you’re going to get on 79 mph MAS railroads. Three active trainsets would provide 3 tpd. Add the 3 tpd Empire Service, the LSL and the Maple Leaf and you’ve got 8 tpd between Syracuse and Buffalo. Getting up towards actually useful levels of service.

Not everyone in western New York wants to travel to Albany. It’s one of the problems with existing state-centric planning that planners assume within-state travel patterns.

Yes, an advantage of a national municipal / county accounts based system is projects would lobby cities for support, with an incentive to connect people in those cities to places they want to go.

The ultimate targets of the northeastern extension of the triple-C to Buffalo are both to link up with the state-focused Empire Corridor and to eventually run through to Toronto.

The notional schedule (pdf) is Buffalo 0920, Cleveland 1145, Columbus 1350, so Buffalo/Cleveland +2:25, Buffalo/Columbus +4:30. What would be Syracuse to Buffalo on a well built conventional rail, with say 15 minute layover?

She’s been working on the railroad!

Louise Slaughter and friends have good news for upstate NY:
http://www.timesuni s/story.asp? storyID=935830

And if she’s OK with a 30 foot divide, I’m OK with it too.

30′? Ugh. It’s better than UP’s demand for 40-something feet, but it’s still going to raise land acquisition costs whenever the ROW hits a constrained area.

I don’t know what CSX has against 15′ separation, but they’re consistent. The May 09 SEHSR track charts mark the additional track between Centralia and S. Collier as being 30′ min. track centers from the existing eastmost track.

You could do a little better than 60 mph, but just a little. The LSL is slower than Empire on stretches where it runs the same stopping pattern, presumably due to its longer consist. A corridor train with good acceleration could do 65 mph, maybe even close to 70 mph, without increasing top speed.

For a Cleveland-Western New York route, the eastern terminus should be dictated by the ability to connect with Empire trains. Where it’s done does not matter. Having a reliable timed connection is much more important.

For a Cleveland-Western New York route, the eastern terminus should be dictated by the ability to connect with Empire trains. Where it’s done does not matter.

Given the Toronto terminus, its hard to imagine any Empire corridor connection other than Buffalo.

No, what I’m saying is that there may not be a point in a Cleveland-Syracuse route. New York is a much bigger draw, so extra trainsets should be spent on extending more New York-Albany runs west to Buffalo, timed with the Cleveland-Toronto trains.

Given the distance, a Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo train to fill in the frequency of the NY/Albany/Syracuse/Rochester/Buffalo trains makes sense, but it should also terminate in Toronto.

That is, one of the several daily Syracuse/Buffalo/Toronto services should transfer with the Toronto/Buffalo/Cleveland/Columbus/Cincinnati service, and one of return services should transfer with the Cincinnati/Columbus/Cleveland/Buffalo/Toronto service.

You’re right, there are five in the notional schedule each way. Toronto/Buffalo/Syracuse looks to be under 300mi, so any connections that cannot be made by by NY/Albany/Syracuse/Buffalo/Toronto or Boston/Albany/Syracuse/Buffalo/Toronto inter-regionals can be covered by Syracuse/Buffalo/Toronto regionals.

Wouldn’t Albany make more sense as a terminus for this than Syracuse? Or is the distance too far? The more trains through Albany the better in terms of maximising network effects, as it connects the points west that you mention with Montreal, Boston, NYC (and points south of NYC) – it should be a major transfer hub.

John W.,

No. The point here is that Western New York, say between the Lake and the Thruway, is a conurbation on its own, not a region to be passed through to get to a transfer point. It needs internal rail, Syracuse-Rochester-Buffalo, and rail connections to its neighbours: to the east, Albany and New York City, to the west, Cleveland and northeast Ohio generally, to the north, Toronto and to the south, Binghamton and the Southern Tier. Two questions: (1) Which of these should be direct and which transfers? (2) How much service in each direction?

Alon (who lives in New York) thinks the eastern connection the most important, so he would equate the internal connection to the eastern connection and have passengers transfer at Buffalo for the west and north. Bruce (who lives in Ohio) thinks that Ohio-Toronto is the key connection and Western New York’s internal connection can hook into that at Buffalo. I (whose only connection to the region is that my youngest daughter was once a graduate student at UB) think that both the eastern and western connections are more or less equally important (New York may be bigger, but Ohio is closer; nothing propinks like propinquity), so would create the internal connection by overlapping the eastern and western. Plus there isn’t going to be a direct US-Toronto train without massive border delays for a long time yet.

But these questions could best be answered by a serious ridership study (rather than by our intuitions). Where is Louise Slaughter when you need her?

Jim, Not as impressed with ‘serious ridership surveys’ as you seem to be. And I’ve been reading about the new Regional train extension D.C.-Charlottesville-Lynchburg, VA, that in its first 6 months has exceeded the (no doubt ridership-survey-based) forecast for the full year.

But I do like your overview of the Empire Corridor issues here.

In any case, looks like Louise Slaughter has blown past the time-wasting surveys and 10 years of detailed planning that gives transit projects a reputation for getting nowhere fast. She’s come to the basic conclusion that whatever form of service or routes or city pairs chosen, the trains will have to go MUCH faster to get anywhere.

Alon has pointed out that the 79-mph-top-speed trains on the Empire Corridor already do 60 mph on average, nicely above the Amtrak national average. And that ain’t good enough.

Meanwhile the State of New York has not been so hostile to intercity passenger trains as Indiana, but because of weak leadership from Pataki and Patterson, the usual legislative sloth and dysfunction, and now a deep budget crisis, our state has not outperformed even Indiana.

So Louise Slaughter has been pushing NY State and LaHood’s team to make serious commitments to investing in rail through the Mohawk Valley. When we get a plan for trains to average 80 or 90 mph, the various likely routes will make themselves clear. I’m sure the answer will be several overlapping services.

@Jim, I was looking at the inter-regional Boston / Albany / Buffalo naturally heading toward Chicago and the regional Syracuse / Buffalo naturally heading to Toronto, at least multiple times a day if not every service.

As far as Cincinnati / Columbus / Cleveland / Buffalo / Toronto … that is the official Ohio Hub plan, so it has the advantage of a notional schedule worked out.


I’m not in love with ridership studies. Yes. The Lynchburg train has been doing much better than the models predicted. The models seem to have underestimated the amount of student travel: the most popular city pairs on this route are C’ville-Washington and C’ville-New York and anecdotally they’re heavily students. It may also be that the models didn’t predict the extent to which the corridor train would cannibalize the local Virginia Crescent ridership.

But. The guy who comes to an argument with a model, no matter how crude, will always win over a guy who comes to an argument just with handwaving.


I’m sorry if I distorted your position. I didn’t mean to distort it (over-simplify, perhaps, but not distort).

If my position could do with some oversimplifying, that’d not be so uncommon.

The 3C service is the trunk corridor service and schedules built around target start of business day and end of business day arrivals and departures. The eastern extension is leveraged off that. As close as Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse are, their transport market will involve a lot of same day transit, and getting that served effectively out of the eastern extension of the 3C seems to me a lot less likely that from a regional Western NY corridor service.

Jim: my main point here isn’t about adding service to New York. It’s that if you have hourly service from New York to Albany, and hourly service from Syracuse to Buffalo, then it’s probably cost-effective to bridge those services with hourly New York-Buffalo service.

Woody: while models sometimes go wrong, the good ones don’t consistently fib in the same direction. For example, since the downward adjustment of MAX ridership projections in the 1980s, American LRT models have generally predicted ridership correctly: for every underperformer like VTA, there’s an overperformer like Phoenix – and in most cases, real ridership is close to projection.

@Woody, kind of what Alon said. The ridership estimates are a rough guide. Certainly, if success of the project requires them to be on with very high precision, that’s a marginal project at best.

But you can’t tell whether a ridership projection is safely in the viable range for the business plan with a broad margin of error, is on the borderline, or is unlikely to get ridership to allow it to satisfy its business plan, unless you’ve done the ridership projection.

There is a section in the NEC where it breaks into a V shape and turns into a double track main line and four main line in the middle of New Jersery. The double track main line on google streetview looks like it had it’s catenary removed at one time but you could still see the old catenary masts. If they would relay the catenary and up grade the old side line which runs from the middle bottom of New Jersery up to the northern part they could have a bypass to take pressure off the four track wide NEC.

You’re referring to the “Old Pennsy Main Line” Trenton-Newark, and it deserves to be reinstated.

If they up graded that to double track with triple track passing sidings. It would make a great bypass around the over loaded four track mainline. On google street view it goes though some fairly built up areas so they could add new commuter train stations along it and rebuild some of the old abanondoned factory sights.

It appears that Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor Master Plan resembles Network Rail’s recent £13 billion modernization of the West Coast Main Line. By no means high speed rail (125+ mph), the WCML modernization enlarged capacity and improved an infrastructure dating from the 19th century. Current discussion of High Speed 2 from London to Birmingham-Manchester does not negate the achievement of the WCML upgrade the two services would attract different passengers.

The NEC Master Plan appears to modernize a 19th century infrastructure for the benefit of commuter rail while marginally improving intercity trip times. This begs the question of spending billions of dollars to improve trip times by a few minutes (Unlike the current 3-hour trip between Paris and Marseille on the TGV and LGV lines vs. the 1980 9-hour trip on the TEE Mistral and ‘lignes classiques’). In fact, capacity is as important as speed. While high-speed rail is something to strive for, capacity improvement makes for more frequent commuter rail services.

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