Amtrak / Intercity Rail Discussion Thread

George_Apley

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Glacial, pathetic, and almost definition hampering the economic potential of Gateway cities out on the 495-ville (or just beyond) perimeter.

So anything that addresses a high-speed Springfield to Boston mandate, without fixing this glaring decades-long deficiency, is to me dangerously myopic.

(Of course, I don't know--maybe Springfield to Boston will be purposefully tethered somehow to speeding up all the CR lines?)
This. I don't see how Springfield-Boston happens at all without the whole system getting its due.
 

Wash

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Improving BOS-SPG is a bone we have to throw Western Mass so they'll vote for more transit spending in metro Boston. Yes, there are more urgent projects that can benefit more people faster, but this is how politics works.
 

Arlington

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Commutability from WOR and SPG would be a serious win for BOS labor market: housing affordability and employer access to talent (including all the colleges out there)

This is not just a bone to throw to Area Code 413; It is in the direct interests of Boston to be better connected to the other trading centers of New England, for about the same reasons as the Erie Canal made NYC rich.

Somehow it is more plausible when Rhode Island wants to pay to be better connected to Boston--it seems like other people s money. But the justification for connecting to WOR and SPG is even stronger: more people & they pay our sales an income taxes, and we want dibs on the talents they acquired in our schools

If you want to be an economic hub, you need bigger, better-connected hinterlands, and participate in constructing better spokes to draw them to your orbit.

I want to claim, capture & hold the wealth of the CT River Valley. Given CT won't/can't build additional capacity to NYC, us throwing HSR out there is a good way to draw them into our orbit.
 
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Arlington

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... on the commuter rail lines right now:
Providence-South Station: 70 minutes (ave. of the 2 height-of-rush hour inbounds), 43 miles. 37 mph average
Great post. Let's use BOS-PVD as something of a parallel.
Current commuter performance is hampered by slow acceleration and Transit Matters says that if terminal congestion were eliminated at South Station they'd improve the schedule to just 46 minutes!

That'd mean that BOS-PVD would run 3 tiers of service:
  • MBTA Today = 70 minutes (to be replaced)
  • MBTA Electric = 46 minutes
  • Amtrak NER = 40 minutes (Train 171, the 8:15a southbound)
  • Amtrak Acela = 35 minutes (I suspect Acela II, with its lighter weight, might trim a minute or two more)
So suggestion 1 is to think of this more like Amtrak (indeed this is an "Amtrak" thread), and since there are unlikely to be many stops west of Framingham, it really will NOT be making nearly as many stops per mile as PVD-BOS does, and that's going to help performance. Amtrak Virginia stops are about 30~60 miles apart, so by that standard you'd stick with the Amtrak stops we have (SPG-WOR-FRA-BBY-BOS) and resist even a Palmer park-and-ride.*

Here are some real-and-possible for BOS-SPG (98 rail miles today)
  • Amtrak LSL = 148 minutes / 2h28
  • Bus on Pike = 120 - 150 min / 2h00 to 2h30
  • EWRS Alt3 = 100 - 120 min / 1h40 to 2h00 (90 mph top speed)
  • EWRS Alt5 = 85 - 105 min / 1h25 to 1h45 (110 mph top speed)
  • EWRS Alt6 = 80 - 100 min / 1h20 to 1h40 (150 mph top speed)
To me, an HOV lane on the pike (or dynamic tolling) should be included as a way of ensuring that BOS-SPG buses never get stuck in traffic--and they would let us "do" frequent 2 hour service in a signals-before-concrete implementation. If we do dynamic tolling any extra $ should be lockboxed to fund rail (or rebuilding the pike with a clear median for rail, anyway)

Think of:
Alternative 3 = the best you can do within the existing CSX-owned alignment
Alternative 4 = the best you can do next to the existing CSX-owned alignment
Alternative 5 = the best you can do slightly outside the existing CSX-owned alignment
Alternative 6 = using the Pike Weston-Worcester"offramp" and Worcester"onramp" to Palmer

Since they really haven't considered costs yet, and because it is hard to tell the difference between Alternative 5 and Alternative 6, that's why I think you'll get some kind of Alternative 5½ which trades back and forth between CSX and the Pike depending on bang-for-buck.

*I think the question of a Palmer Park and Ride really depends on whether it turns out to be a place we'd rather the train be going fast through (Alternative 6 wants to do 80 to 110 mph on the Pike through Palmer) or whether it'd be slowing for a curve anyway (Alternative 4 on CSX). If it costs too much to connect at Palmer, I think we're better off speeding and intensifying service at SPG.
 
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stick n move

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Howabout woonsocket which is even closer than worcester, has the cheapest housing around, and lots of it that is good quality, and is already located on and not far down the forge park ROW.

Woonsocket is actually surprisingly getting a commuter rail to Providence in 2020 and then to Worcester in the near future so it could become a little up and coming transit gem.
 

millerm277

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Woonsocket is actually surprisingly getting a commuter rail to Providence in 2020 and then to Worcester in the near future
That is not happening anywhere but in a fever dream of the guy "running" BSRC before he files for bankruptcy again.
 

Arlington

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If you haven't read the 2015 Study on NEC Intercity travel (by all modes, car, bus, rail, air), give it a look.

Or this guy at newGeography has pulled out some nice charts.
Cars, Not Trains or Planes Dominate Northeast Corridor Travel

As of 2015, Amtrak's share of the "Air-Rail" market WAS-NYC was said to be 70%. I think it has since climbed to 73% (but can't find that source). Either way, Amtrak's share of WAS-NYC has climbed steadily in the Acela era (from something like 1/2 to 2/3 to pushing 3/4ths). But that's because WAS-NYC is a reliable 2:40 (ish) by train. BOS-NYC is too slow by train (I find that train only wins when I'm leaving directly from midtown)
 

whighlander

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Great post. Let's use BOS-PVD as something of a parallel.
Current commuter performance is hampered by slow acceleration and Transit Matters says that if terminal congestion were eliminated at South Station they'd improve the schedule to just 46 minutes!

That'd mean that BOS-PVD would run 3 tiers of service:
  • MBTA Today = 70 minutes (to be replaced)
  • MBTA Electric = 46 minutes
  • Amtrak NER = 40 minutes (Train 171, the 8:15a southbound)
  • Amtrak Acela = 35 minutes (I suspect Acela II, with its lighter weight, might trim a minute or two more)
So suggestion 1 is to think of this more like Amtrak (indeed this is an "Amtrak" thread), and since there are unlikely to be many stops west of Framingham, it really will NOT be making nearly as many stops per mile as PVD-BOS does, and that's going to help performance. Amtrak Virginia stops are about 30~60 miles apart, so by that standard you'd stick with the Amtrak stops we have (SPG-WOR-FRA-BBY-BOS) and resist even a Palmer park-and-ride.*

Here are some real-and-possible for BOS-SPG (98 rail miles today)
  • Amtrak LSL = 148 minutes / 2h28
  • Bus on Pike = 120 - 150 min / 2h00 to 2h30
  • EWRS Alt3 = 100 - 120 min / 1h40 to 2h00 (90 mph top speed)
  • EWRS Alt5 = 85 - 105 min / 1h25 to 1h45 (110 mph top speed)
  • EWRS Alt6 = 80 - 100 min / 1h20 to 1h40 (150 mph top speed)
To me, an HOV lane on the pike (or dynamic tolling) should be included as a way of ensuring that BOS-SPG buses never get stuck in traffic--and they would let us "do" frequent 2 hour service in a signals-before-concrete implementation. If we do dynamic tolling any extra $ should be lockboxed to fund rail (or rebuilding the pike with a clear median for rail, anyway)

Think of:
Alternative 3 = the best you can do within the existing CSX-owned alignment
Alternative 4 = the best you can do next to the existing CSX-owned alignment
Alternative 5 = the best you can do slightly outside the existing CSX-owned alignment
Alternative 6 = using the Pike Weston-Worcester"offramp" and Worcester"onramp" to Palmer

Since they really haven't considered costs yet, and because it is hard to tell the difference between Alternative 5 and Alternative 6, that's why I think you'll get some kind of Alternative 5½ which trades back and forth between CSX and the Pike depending on bang-for-buck.

*I think the question of a Palmer Park and Ride really depends on whether it turns out to be a place we'd rather the train be going fast through (Alternative 6 wants to do 80 to 110 mph on the Pike through Palmer) or whether it'd be slowing for a curve anyway (Alternative 4 on CSX). If it costs too much to connect at Palmer, I think we're better off speeding and intensifying service at SPG.
Arlington -- Springfield is just too far unless you can deliver terminal to terminal in 60 minutes or less
that in turn would translate in about 90 minutes door to door

You can do 90 minutes door to door over a huge swath of Greater Boston including Southern New Hampshire

As for someone's comments about the latent, untapped talent in the CT River Valley -- I think the "move" of a Springfield heavy weight -- Mass Mutual to the Boston Seaport tell you all you need to know
 

Arlington

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Arlington -- Springfield is just too far unless you can deliver terminal to terminal in 60 minutes or less
that in turn would translate in about 90 minutes door to door
There does have to be a definition of "too far" (or too long) applied here, and I agree that there is a magic associated with 30, 60, 90, 120 thinking. Lots of commuter railroads run 90 minute runs where most of the ridership appears only inside the 60-minute boundary.

But while I'm trying to knit the labor markets together, I'm not proposing commuter rail. This is New England Intercity Rail.

First, consider the kind of work
- There are 10,000 supercommuter weirdos. I'd hope to serve them, [EDIT: Whittle points out that that number is a mix of full and part-time commuters]
Consider [EDIT] (as noted above) the 1/wk "facetime" or "client meeting" worker
- Field workers (territory sales/support reps)
- Working from a "second home" (having sold the city house)
- MassMutual people who might ping back and forth
- Attorneys who might cover courts in SPG and WOR

Second, acknowledge some key 2h30 Intercity train markets that "kinda" work today:
a) The Downeaster does "well enough" at 2h30 from POR to BON (or did before BRU service caused it to run too many empty miles)
b) Amtrak Virginia does very well at 2h30 --which is where both Richmond and Charlottesville are from DC
c) NCR/BWI/BAL to NYP also does well making PG/Arundel/Howard/Baltimore the "affordable" NEC counties to actually live in and still get to NYC often.
d) Same kinda goes for New Haven, at 2h30 (ish) by either MNRR or Amtrak from NYC
d) Amtrak really, really wants to get to a predictable 2h30 WAS-NYP

So, already, we should have 3 to 5 trains per day SPG-BOS for about the same reason that (a) and (b) do, but we dropped them more because on-time-performance totally stunk (and still does for the LSL)

Third, consider how powerful "under two hours"
Both NNEPRA (as the Downeaster sponsor) and VA DRPT (as Amtrak Virginia's sponsor) have studies showing that that 2 hours would be significantly more compelling than 2h30.

Fourth, consider the competition
Yes, I want SPG to be "objectively" close to BOS, but the train being "subjectively closer" (than driving) is, well, progress at making them closer of the kind that we haven't aspired to since the Pike opened.
 
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whittle

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First, consider the kind of work
- There are 10,000 supercommuter weirdos. I'd hope to serve them, but they're not my target
Consider instead (as noted above) the 1/wk "facetime" or "client meeting" worker
- Field workers (territory sales/support reps)
- Working from a "second home" (having sold the city house)
- MassMutual people who might ping back and forth
- Attorneys who might cover courts in SPG and WOR
The 10,000 number you refer to includes part time commuters.
 

Arlington

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The 10,000 number you refer to includes part time commuters.
Thanks! Edited. I don't think it changes the point too much. The goal of the train would be to actually increase that number by having more people from Greater Worcester and 413 feel that participating in the BOS market is more doable more often.
 

George_Apley

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Howabout woonsocket which is even closer than worcester, has the cheapest housing around, and lots of it that is good quality, and is already located on and not far down the forge park ROW.

Woonsocket is actually surprisingly getting a commuter rail to Providence in 2020 and then to Worcester in the near future so it could become a little up and coming transit gem.
Woonsocket is already a potential extension to the Franklin Line, so it's definitely possible. RI would have to pay for it.
 

stick n move

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That is not happening anywhere but in a fever dream of the guy "running" BSRC before he files for bankruptcy again.
Who knows.Theyre running a Bus service on the route soon. Regardless that wasnt the main point though, woonsocket has the franklin line ROW running to it and its a close by city that has TONS of cheap housing. I think as far as actually making a dent in affordability I cant think of anywhere with more upside. Its in RI, though just barely, but that makes it much cheaper, but its still close and already has the rail ROW. Im sure RI has higher priorities, but as far as a good size city that can house tons of people cheap with a reasonable (shorter than worcester or prov) commute theres nowhere better.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Woonsocket is already a potential extension to the Franklin Line, so it's definitely possible. RI would have to pay for it.
RIDOT's most recent State Rail Plan revision has a bucket list item for a new joint study with MassDOT by 2025 for Boston-Woonsocket via Franklin-Blackstone. To be done as follow-on to the '07 study which had no MA participation and some routing assumptions gerrymandered around that MA non-participation which were flawed and now need an acknowledged correction in a fresh look. MassDOT hasn't responded with whether they'll partner-up (still early yet), but since official state rail plans are the decade-level planning docs of record for the Feds used for indexing grants there's no chance RI stuck that item in there without Stephanie Pollack's foreknowledge and at minimum a "We'll talk."

Providence-Woonsocket as a service blending of trunkline RI intrastate service is already well-studied and a "when" not "if" whose timetable is only dependent on how slowly it takes to first fund-design-build their remaining NEC intrastate intermediates. Providence-Worcester, a deeper-future study wishlist, is the only one I'd say is extremely far-fetched to be seeing pre-2040. The other two with Woonsocket as a major multimodal hub are both reasonably-priced and tasty-looking on leverage to either state.


It is zero coincidence that BSRC scammer magically appeared from the shadows of an Arlington Center law firm's P.O. Box when the Draft RI Rail Plan was first circulated for public comment. Though it looks like his latest reincorporation scheme in NH has been torpedoed by securities fraud, so he's probably done-done this time.
 

whighlander

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The 10,000 number you refer to includes part time commuters.
Some of these are people who use their car for work -- i.e. Sales Reps and some Field Service people -- these you are not going to get to abandon driving no matter what

Then there are people who do a couple trips a week to a couple trips a month --

I was in that category for a while when I was teaching some graduate seminars at UNH and also was a key member of a lab there. For the Seminar -- unless there was some extraordinary event which could not be accommodated by the heavily in-bound AM Schedule -- I would take the Downeast out of Anderson directly to the edge of the UNH Campus in Durham in the morning and return that evening

The good the bad and the ugly of it:
  • Good:
    • Wifi on-board,​
    • AM usually fairly empty so there was plenty of room to spread-out my work
      • an opportunity to get a nice new coffee when most needed in the AM.​
    • In the PM usually somewhat more crowded [people going to Celtics and Bruins, etc] so less working space --
      • Big advantage -- grab and beer and relax on the way home​
  • Bad:
    • the AM schedule was heavily tuned toward in-bound commuters,
      • The earliest train from Boston to Durham was just on the edge of acceptability for a Graduate Seminar -- would not work when I was teaching undergrads.​
    • Delays of half and hour were common-enough that when something important such as student presentations was on the calendar I had to drive.​
    • Sometimes I had to drive because I was delivering or retrieving equipment that was not easy to schlep across the campus​
  • Ugly:
    • a few instances of hardware failures in Anderson Station [train and parking ticket printing] which screwed-up a couple of commutes and forced last minute reversion to the car -- loss of fee for parking. etc.​
    • a couple of times when the parking system went awry and I had to pay a fine for parking legally​
    • When I was very spread-out -- doing last minute "homework"
      • I couldn't get off in time -- had to go on to the next stop, etc.​
      • A couple of times when work or winter clothing got left on the train​
 

Arlington

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  • Bad:
    • the AM schedule was heavily tuned toward in-bound commuters,​
Thank you for a nice commute-occasionally-by-rail illustration.

I'm expecting service and demand to be reasonably bi-directional: WOR people going CT/NY, or at least frequent enough that they will have to run a balanced schedule both ways.

It also reminds me that by 2035 (or certainly within our "rail plan time horizon) autonomous vehicles will be competent-enough on the MassPike that supercommuters will likely be able to work in their car--but induced demand will likely cause considerably more traffic

So part of the goal for SPG-BOS service has got to be to "out-compete" autonomous vehicles, which I think leads us back to needing to achieve much higher speeds than driving.

If AVs do crush he Pike with supercommuters working in their cars, is that something we want to encourage (in the name of "affordability") or discourage (with congestion tolling).

My answer would be congestion tolling where the proceeds are lockboxed to first getting higher-speed rail and only then widening the pike (particularly between I-84 and 495)
 

whighlander

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Thank you for a nice commute-occasionally-by-rail illustration.

I'm expecting service and demand to be reasonably bi-directional: WOR people going CT/NY, or at least frequent enough that they will have to run a balanced schedule both ways.

It also reminds me that by 2035 (or certainly within our "rail plan time horizon) autonomous vehicles will be competent-enough on the MassPike that supercommuters will likely be able to work in their car--but induced demand will likely cause considerably more traffic

So part of the goal for SPG-BOS service has got to be to "out-compete" autonomous vehicles, which I think leads us back to needing to achieve much higher speeds than driving.

If AVs do crush he Pike with supercommuters working in their cars, is that something we want to encourage (in the name of "affordability") or discourage (with congestion tolling).

My answer would be congestion tolling where the proceeds are lockboxed to first getting higher-speed rail and only then widening the pike (particularly between I-84 and 495)
Arlington -- If say by 2030 there are significant numbers of AV's on the Pike -- there need to be AV only lanes where the speed and spacing between vehicles could be significantly different

I think it is now fairly conclusive that AV's operating autonomously or linked -- all under limited access highway circumstances will be safe enough to allow essentially train-like behavior allowing high speeds and close spacing -- BUT only if non AV's are excluded. This will be especially true for long-haul trucks which can become driver-less very soon
 

Arlington

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Arlington -- If say by 2030 there are significant numbers of AV's on the Pike -- there need to be AV only lanes where the speed and spacing between vehicles could be significantly different
I think I agree. And given that trains made up of AVs will be safer and more fuel efficient (drafting off the car(s) ahead) it is clear to me that we face an infrastructure bill coming up to rebuild the MassPike to maximize the SPG-WOR-BOS connectivity that I think is needed.

The MassPike seems like it is going to need 2 tiers of road service and rail down the middle (so you can safely/efficiently do 110mph+ speeds)

It is unclear to me what the 2 tiers of road will be
  • AV vs Non?
  • Small (cars) vs Big (truck) (and is an trainline of AVs "big"?)
  • SOV vs HOV (where HOV = Bus & trainline?)
But moving passenger rail to the median of the Pike will also permit/allow more investment in better double-stack freight to carry things that trucks now carry.
 

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