Amtrak / Intercity Rail Discussion Thread

Equilibria

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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.
It also guarantees that stations will be as expensive as possible to build and that they'll be farther from the active side of the corridor.
 

Arlington

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It also guarantees that stations will be as expensive as possible to build and that they'll be farther from the active side of the corridor.
Please reference the study. What stations are you picturing building? You seem to be picturing RUR stops west of FRA, and I don't think anybody is proposing that, particularly if the rail is laid inside the MassPike row.

There's only one new station proposed in the whole thing (at Palmer) and only then in the *non* MassPike (slower) options (Alts 1-4)

Palmer is not part Alternatives 5 & 6 (the "Higher" and "High" speed options) are literally just 4 stops at existing stations in SPG-WOR-BBY-BOS . The point is that once you've built a straight and fast right of way, you're better served operating at stations 40 miles apart and not stopping right in the middle. The job of the MassPike running going fast between the hubs.

People who would have driven to Palmer (if the train were slow) would be better served driving to SPG or WOR once the train is fast.

(True, Alt 6 continues out MassPike to Blandford and Lee service plazas as stops, but it could easily duck to one side or the other of the ROW at those points. Nowhere would it be a "Dan Ryan Red Line" type disaster)
 

cden4

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I personally get car-sick when I try to read or do something (as a passenger) in stop-and-go-traffic, so I suspect that for many people, working in an autonomous car won't be particularly viable. A train is a much smoother and more comfortable ride.
 

FK4

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I personally get car-sick when I try to read or do something (as a passenger) in stop-and-go-traffic, so I suspect that for many people, working in an autonomous car won't be particularly viable. A train is a much smoother and more comfortable ride.
Me too.
 

odurandina

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i drove US6/89 in Utah today covering along side:
i arrived in Green River for gas a couple of hours after dark,
and took a little coffee & Hannity break behind the Love's truck stop....
Happy enough to have beaten the storm over the Wasatch passes--
but, what passed by, but the California Zephyr heading west. :)
i had my camera in hand, but i was being lazy.
I've caught the Southwest Chief sneaking through the passes near Flagstaff
a few times--but this was an extra cool treat!
 
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jklo

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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
Seems like that would be rather pricey... looks like at least $20 each way. Of course driving would be pretty expensive to do that every day too, it's like 60 miles.
 

Arlington

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Seems like that would be rather pricey... looks like at least $20 each way. Of course driving would be pretty expensive to do that every day too, it's like 60 miles.
But getting back the hours of productivity is worth it if you can work on the train
 

HenryAlan

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But getting back the hours of productivity is worth it if you can work on the train
I'd argue that for many, it's worth it even if they do no work at all during travel, just to avoid the stress and hassle of driving. But in all cases, people should certainly consider cost and benefit. The train is the best fit for some, less so for others.
 

Arlington

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I'd argue that for many, it's worth it even if they do no work at all during travel, just to avoid the stress and hassle of driving. But in all cases, people should certainly consider cost and benefit. The train is the best fit for some, less so for others.
It is complex, and anybody planning intercity trains for New England is going to have to try to model first order effects
-AVs will do a great job of making SPG-BOS less painful by car
-AVs will compete with the train as a "I can work and rest because somebody else is driving"

And the second order effects:
- AVs will induce demand on the pike and either mean traffic jams or higher tolls (to fend off jams)
- If trips are easy, east-west "deals" will be more common

AVs will, at various times be an alternative, or a supplement. But more mobility east-west has got to be good for the Commonwealth.
 

FK4

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This is really a commuter rail question, but what how much does the final stretch of the Worcester line — all the curves and loops — affect train speeds? And as a follow up, is there any chance at all that there would ever be a project within Worcester and Grafton to straighten out the line in order to achiever faster service to Boston?
 

F-Line to Dudley

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This is really a commuter rail question, but what how much does the final stretch of the Worcester line — all the curves and loops — affect train speeds? And as a follow up, is there any chance at all that there would ever be a project within Worcester and Grafton to straighten out the line in order to achiever faster service to Boston?
It affects speeds a lot, but if you turn on Google Terrain View you can see that it's nearly all geography-induced with few viable options for straightening. It's meandering around some very high cliffs, and there's no way you're plowing some Hoosac Tunnel-equivalent through Grafton & Union Hills plus the drainage region for Lake Quinsigamond. EMU's should be able to recover speed a smidge better coming off the curves, but that will always be a slow zone. The main thing planners will have to look at for any attempts at speeding things up is taking the segments that are already pretty straight and doing curve-easing on the much slighter curves that divide that territory up...such that you're running up the score a bit more where speeds are already good. The Worcester Hills are what they are, and Palmer to Grafton will always be subject to severe speed restrictions at the most unavoidable curves. But if the severe curves are few because the mere 'mildly annoying' ones out in Westborough and Ashland have been tweaked, you rack up meaningful improvements. That's where to focus the energy, if it can be done anywhere.


I'll pour ice cold water on any notion of using the Pike median...which is just zombie residue from the wholly unbelievable NEC FUTURE I-84 tunnel-a-thon rejected alignment that borrowed segments of Pike median and the 1000% environmentally illegal Sudbury Acqueduct ROW to carve a hypothetical HSR line through the Worcester Hills. The highway grading is so much steeper than FRA-permissible RR grading it's physically impossible to do without dozens of miles of tunnel, and electric or no the constant changing of grades puts the trains in too much recovery time from ruined acceleration so the resulting performance would be awfully pedestrian in the real world even if it looks nice and straight in 2D. Pay no mind to it even as it shows up as umpteenth-Alternative alignments on official docs. The fact that the NEC FUTURE commission was so face-palmingly irresponsible as to not check its acid-fever alt. alignments against the laws of physics...then print those alignments as part of its report...means those zombie alignments will keep coming up again and again and again regardless of their impossibility. It was in a fed study, therefore it's going to get name-checked logic-be-damned in other studies years down the line. In the physical world, a passenger train bolted to the Pike is going to perform like ass on the constant substandard bunny-hop through the hills and cost an asstillion dollars in tunneling to ever hope to level out.
 

CSTH

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It is complex, and anybody planning intercity trains for New England is going to have to try to model first order effects
-AVs will do a great job of making SPG-BOS less painful by car
-AVs will compete with the train as a "I can work and rest because somebody else is driving"

And the second order effects:
- AVs will induce demand on the pike and either mean traffic jams or higher tolls (to fend off jams)
- If trips are easy, east-west "deals" will be more common

AVs will, at various times be an alternative, or a supplement. But more mobility east-west has got to be good for the Commonwealth.

One problem with this is that AVs don't exist. And anyway flying cars will make the trip even straighter and faster.
 

CSTH

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The highway grading is so much steeper than FRA-permissible RR grading it's physically impossible to do without dozens of miles of tunnel, and electric or no the constant changing of grades puts the trains in too much recovery time from ruined acceleration so the resulting performance would be awfully pedestrian in the real world even if it looks nice and straight in 2D.
Incidentally - My sense is that a lot of the new HSR construction in Europe, China, Turkey etc. makes extensive use of long and tall viaducts. I suspect that these are (relatively) efficient to build because (a) the ground-contact footprint is small and self-contained, (b) they're naturally secure from things like animals and idiots invading the tracks, and (c) because with big gantry cranes you can almost mass produce them.

If these assumptions are true, is there potential to create a HS ROW across the top of the hills (and only occasionally through them) between the connecticut river valley and the coastal plain? (Like the old Air Line, but with pre-tensioned concrete)?
 

Arlington

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The highway grading is so much steeper than FRA-permissible RR grading
We talk about the NSRL having very steep grades--achievable only with electrification, and yet that's an FRA railroad, right? (as opposed to FTA transit)

How are the grades that the pike requires different from the grades that the NSRL would be permitted to have?

Is there some "passenger only" grade waiver that a Pike alignment could apply for?
 

jklo

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Maybe because it's a tunnel (and you have to use electric anyway) the grades are allowable.
 

The EGE

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Interstate highway standards allow up to 6% grades. NSRL would max out at 3%, and that's for EMU sets at low speed. (Wind resistance is not a significant factor until about 110 mph, where it quickly becomes a major factor - that's why even the best diesels pretty much top out at 110 or 125). CAHSR standards (which are designed for 220 mph, but fairly applicable to any new-build ROW) say grades should be under 1.25%; up to 2.5% is allowed when needed, and 2.5-3.5% in "exceptional" circumstances. So no, no waiver is going to solve the issue that interstate highways in hilly areas are far too steep for HSR.

Interstate curvature will also limit train speeds substantially. A 1,500 foot interstate radius (absolute minimum 1,000) works for 55 mph, 2,500 (1,500) for 65 mph, and 3,300 (2,200) for 75 mph. (Those aren't terribly different for rail, as the need to limit centripetal forces are the same). Rail that exceeds highway speeds needs correspondingly larger radii: 10,500 (7,000 min; 5,700 exceptional) for 125 mph, 16,000 (10,000; 8,200) for 150mph, and 25,000 (16,600; 12,600) for 186 mph. The Pike has a number of long curves with radii of about a mile - so you very probably wouldn't be able to do better than 90 or maybe 110 around them anyway.

Because of all these steep north-south hills between Worcester and Palmer, east-west rail in Massachusetts is never going to achieve HSR speeds without a disproportionate amount of construction. It's entirely possible that true HSR to Providence, HSR on the Providence-Hartford alignment that F-Line has proposed, and HSR on the Springfield line would achieve travel times as good as any Pike-HSR clusterfuck could achieve. It's also entirely possible that some alignment other than the current rail line is actually legitimately better and feasible to construct, so it's worth looking into that to eliminate it once and for all.

tl;dr: Because interstate geometry is much less strict than HSR (because of the lower speeds), any Pike alignment would not offer much better travel times than the current line.
 

The EGE

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Side note: Any discussion of rail to Springfield really should include Westfield in the discussion. It's >90% the population of Pittsfield, including a 5,500-student university. At 8 miles and 40 minutes on frequently-congested Route 20, taking the bus to Springfield represents a large increase in total trip time. The likely station site is less than half a mile from the city center, with a future grade-separated rail trail to get you there. It's also much more convenient to the Pike than Springfield, making it potentially a very useful connection for Western Mass.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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We talk about the NSRL having very steep grades--achievable only with electrification, and yet that's an FRA railroad, right? (as opposed to FTA transit)

How are the grades that the pike requires different from the grades that the NSRL would be permitted to have?

Is there some "passenger only" grade waiver that a Pike alignment could apply for?
NSRL's grades are one incline in, one incline out...for about 2/3 mile total length on any sort of grade. And, steep as they are, still no worse than fully existing commuter rail bridge grades like Neponset River on the Old Colony and Mystic River on the Eastern Route. You can hold your nose and do that for the tunnel because the performance damage is entirely self-contained in a very small and completely contiguous area, and is entirely within the terminal district where hitting each of the 3-4 CBD stations in a short distance to serve maximal demand is far, far more important than maintaining raw speed to begin with. There is absolutely no comparison whatsoever between that and attempting to limit the performance hit over 40 miles of constantly rolling hills. The constant changing of grades from up to down from each hill means the train has to constantly go to back to work recovering lost acceleration. And if you travel the Pike it is impossible not to notice just how constant those changes are: up and down, up and down, up and down. NEC FUTURE was deaf/dumb/blind about this on the I-84 alignment, and deaf/dumb/blind about this on the alt-Shoreline I-95 alignment. Neverending bunny-hop hills will arguably clobber schedules worse than curves if you can treat enough of the curves with superelevation tricks.

Second, "grade waivers" do nothing except buy you third-world transit for the money. By laws of physics a rubber-tire vehicle on asphalt can more reliably climb a steep grade than a steel-wheel vehicle on steel rails because of the adhesion properties of the mode. Therefore, there are very different allowable max grades on an Interstate highway vs. an FRA railroad. This is not some backwards dumbed-down freight lowest common denominator from a bygone era. The maximum unaltered grades on the Pike would be wheel-slip city for a modern EMU set (which are more prone to slip issues than loco-haul), and loco-haul runs elevated risk of engine stalls meaning double-ended power is probably necessary. This is why NEC FUTURE required such pornographic sums of tunneling and viaducting on these bunny-hop alignments. The grades aren't interchangeable by mode. Now, the problem with everything NEC FUTURE scoped out is that for all the tens in billions in tunneling on these bunny-hop alignments to pound out the overgrades they were still producing designs with woefully inadequate HSR performance because the grade changes within allowable grades were still so numerous the acceleration losses took their toll anyway. And that is still the problem you have with the Pike: the dollar-to-performance ratio is forever shit because the hills are still one after the other after the other.



Finally, "passenger only" is never going to float an Eastern MA to Western MA link through the density cavity of the Worcester Hills...much less the really really big density cavity of the Berkshires. Whether Springfield supercommuters are a growth market or not, there certainly don't top out enough of them to stuff hourly trains full of them 18 hours a day such that there's any "passenger-only" alignment to be bought in our wildest dreams. The only way we have an above-average shot of having a robust Inland Route schedule is because CSX's multibillion dollar intermodal franchise underwrites so much of the cost in economic return (current and projected-future) to the region...with a nature to the growth (more carloads per nonstop train rather than more trains or more stops per train) spot-on ideal for carving out a robust passenger schedule. Much like there's no effing way the Downeaster has a prayer of expanding its service without Pan Am's premier Western Route shipping lane underwriting the investment hand-in-glove. Any and all improved train travel to Western MA is going to use the existing corridor...full-stop. The NNEIRI study already specced out lots of curve-easing opportunities through the hills that can take time off if we're willing to pay the price, as well as an option for Class 5/90 MPH speed on the straight and flat segment between Palmer and Springfield if we're willing to pay for that. Any of those investment options are there for the taking, even if we have to do them incrementally as we go along because they're otherwise a tad steep to front-load for service starts. But you aren't getting HSR speeds to Springfield (pop. 153K), much less Albany (pop. 97K). The markets are flat-out not big enough no matter how deleriously optimistic your supercommuter projections are. Paydirt is competitive with the intercity buses on a more reliable/less-variable schedule than Pike traffic, not slaying them with kajillion-dollar Crazy Transit Pitches that don't have the bodies to ever amortize themselves. That's a dream maybe-someday someday apply to a Boston-Providence-Hartford-New Haven interior HSR routing, but never ever the Pike corridor. And that is no tragedy. We can do pretty damn good for ourselves sinking targeted performance improvements into the stet B&A alignment, without requiring us to lose our minds in the process.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Incidentally - My sense is that a lot of the new HSR construction in Europe, China, Turkey etc. makes extensive use of long and tall viaducts. I suspect that these are (relatively) efficient to build because (a) the ground-contact footprint is small and self-contained, (b) they're naturally secure from things like animals and idiots invading the tracks, and (c) because with big gantry cranes you can almost mass produce them.

If these assumptions are true, is there potential to create a HS ROW across the top of the hills (and only occasionally through them) between the connecticut river valley and the coastal plain? (Like the old Air Line, but with pre-tensioned concrete)?
They aren't all that efficient in the case of China, who's done the most building of that type. The country has suffered extremely overheated civil engineering construction costs and is well into writing checks its economy can't cash for those "manifest destiny" HSR builds across the mountains. They're starting to scale back pace of builds because the overindulgence has outpaced the (naturally slower w.r.t. a still-developing middle class) amortization rate in ridership growth. Authoritarian gov'ts in general tend to do very poorly with that because they lose their risk aversion to keeping such structures self-contained and "rare". China has morphed into a sort of worst of both worlds because it's combining the authoritarian streak of no geographic obstacle too big to tame with a market bubble mentality. Alon Levy is required reading on this, since he's the guru of gurus when it comes to benchmarking construction costs and puts the stark numbers to how much those places are overspending themselves to instability.

Euro-land it's situational. Some countries are much better than others, and some countries you'd think were good (Germany) have lately not been living up to their historical reputations of late on cost efficiency. But when it comes to really hard geological challenges like crossing the Alps the damage gets limited by the one-and-done killshot nature of some of the structures. The Gotthard Base Tunnel was a megaproject of megaprojects, but it shaved hundreds of kilometers off the route, lopped a full hour off the HSR schedule, increased the freight loading capacity of the route by 3x for an insane economic windfall, and so reduced the power requirements from the old route going through the grades of the mountain pass that every train passenger and freight became way cheaper to operate. So you could call a project like that a tactical nuclear strike on both the cost and benefit sides. It would be way different if you had to build six Gotthard Base Tunnels to do the route. That's the NSRL vs. NEC FUTURE/Pike bunny-hop analogy here. The really big isolated challenges finding away around one really big obstruction for one really big individual payoffs have clearer paths to amortization than having to viaduct or tunnel your way across the whole countryside where neverending changes in terrain end up chewing up resources either better spent elsewhere or never practically able to be recovered once spent.
 

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