Amtrak NEC, Downeaster, Acela, & Long Distance

F-Line to Dudley

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Congratulations f-line, it took a few posts but I'm glad to see you finally agree that the platform height is not a barrier to continued use of Acelas, and using it as an excuse to dump a billion dollars into the ocean is silly.

Onwards.
That's clearly not at all what anyone has said, but at least there's now consensus beyond shadow of a doubt who's interested in participating in a productive problem-solving discussion vs. yelling at clouds.

As you were, jass, and as the thrust of discussion were with or without you. . .
 

Arlington

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Where there is a will there is a way
And where there's ADA laws, there are fewer ways.

Note, for instance, that before it was permitted to extend Amtrak service to Roanoke [2017], the State of Virginia was forced to build full-highs platform.

Amtrak platform issue pits project team against federal regulators (article from 2015, when the service had been committed but the station was in question)
Most Amtrak stations in Virginia — including the last new one, Norfolk [2011], and the closest, in Lynchburg[2009] — have low boarding platforms. But they were built before the implementation of a federal rule designed to increase train accessibility. The rule says Amtrak stations built or substantially renovated after February 2012 must offer level boarding unless the track passing through the station carries “existing freight operations.” Roanoke would be the first new station in Virginia covered by the regulation.
Not directly applicable, except to illustrate the Federal RR Admin's ADA mindset: they want new things done "all in"

Virginia wanted to use Amfleet's traps on the excursion platform it had, but the FRA insisted on a full-build of a level-boarding platform capable of berthing the longest of trains.

If PennDOT went to the FRA with a ramp-kludge to accommodate the Acela 1s for 2022 to 2024 (or whatever), I suspect they'd get an answer:"just speed up your level boarding project" --which rather than facilitate the Acela 1s as a stop-gap would just end up being a case for buying more Acela 2s
 
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F-Line to Dudley

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Not to go further off topic, but this came across my twitter feed this morning, which I thought was a fun coincidence.

Where there is a will there is a way

This is great. An 8-inch boarding car that cannot interface with East Coast highs in any way/shape/form with an ADA-violating step interface instead of the 3 ft. long ramp plates all U.S. 8-inch'er cars (Superliners, Talgos, commuter galleries, commuter BLV's) have already had for 40 years at full compliance. And this is supposed to be taken as scrutiny-free "with a will there's a way" proof of something completely irrelevant to the imagespam offered.


Son, this is bait.
 

jass

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And where there's ADA laws, there are fewer ways.

Note, for instance, that before it was permitted to extend Amtrak service to Roanoke [2017], the State of Virginia was forced to build full-highs platform.

Amtrak platform issue pits project team against federal regulators


Not directly applicable, except to illustrate the Federal RR Admin's ADA mindset: they want new things done "all in"

Virginia wanted to use Amfleet's traps on the excursion platform it had, but the FRA insisted on a full-build of a level-boarding platform capable of berthing the longest of trains.

If PennDOT went to the FRA with a ramp-kludge to accommodate the Acela 1s for 2022 to 2024 (or whatever), I suspect they'd get an answer:"just speed up your level boarding project" --which rather than facilitate the Acela 1s as a stop-gap would just end up being a case for buying more Acela 2s
Does the Keystone line carry "existing freight operations"?

The current plan in California and Michigan for their fancy new Siemens trains (high level) is accommodation via portable lifts in the short term and mini-highs in the long term. Of course, the lines are owned by freight railroads who run frequent freight operations.

But again, you get past the entire problem by only using Acelas as *added* express service that stops only at high-floor stations.

That leaves the "they're expensive" argument as the barrier. Unfortunately, that's impossible to analyze with what is publicly available. Amtrak ahs every incentive to say they're not worth keeping, in the same way the politicians argue that an existing sports stadium is "obsolete" and "must" be replaced by a new $2bn stadium immediately because maintaining what exists is simply impossible.
 

FitchburgLine

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...yes, if the train is designed to support low level platforms, it supports low level platforms. What the heck are we even doing here?
And I suspect people would be more willing to give the only board at high levels concept additional analysis if you hadn’t condescendingly attempted to brush the low level concern away with unworkable ideas, then claimed you were never arguing for any specific strategy and in reality the stations should just be skipped. And why aren’t we talking about Amtrak’s bad spare ratio which is almost by definition both a prerequisite to any Acela reuse and a full solution in and of itself?
 
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jass

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...yes, if the train is designed to support low level platforms, it supports low level platforms. What the heck are we even doing here?
And I suspect people would be more willing to give the only board at high levels concept additional analysis if you hadn’t condescendingly attempted to brush the low level concern away with unworkable ideas, then claimed you were never arguing for any specific strategy and in reality the stations should just be skipped.
Once again, I was pushing back at the "no because" argument by pointing out that a wide range of options are available, some better than others.

When faced with an obstacle, it IS possible to engineer solutions or change policies to make things work.

Don't give up so easily. Everything is a "no" these days. It doesn't have to be. This country has badly stagnated over the past 50 years and it's because "no" has become the default.

To reference a cliche, if we could put a man on the moon, we can find a way to run an Acela trainset on the Keystone line for 5 years.

As transit fans/advocates/employees/professionals, we can have a circular firing squad and do our best to shut down every idea. Personally, for 2020, I'm looking to avoid that.
 

anthtucker312

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I was pushing back at the "no because" argument by pointing out that a wide range of options are available, some better than others.
And it's already been explained multiple times that the "wide range of options" you have brought up would be infeasible.

This debate is getting old.
 

citylover94

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But sometimes engineering a solution is a bad idea even if it can be done. I don't think anyone has said that it can't be done with enough money and work. People have said that in this case it could be done, but it doesn't make sense. Why would you want to run the Acelas on the Keystone line for 5 years? What does that provide?

Additional trains each day? Maybe, but they are actually very expensive to maintain and operate so it would need to be proven that the current services provided on the NEC could be maintained while adding a new HSR fleet and attempting to maintain older poorly designed and expensive Acela trainsets.

I just don't see an argument that has enough factual backing to convince me that saving the Acelas makes financial or operational sense. I don't see people senselessly shutting down ideas here I see well thought out and researched arguments for why continuing to operate Acelas is a bad idea and would hamper Amtrak's ability to improve service in the long run.

Yes stagnation has occurred and that stagnation is what led to the design and purchase of the Acelas in the first place. It is also why they are so expensive to maintain. I don't see how continuing to hold onto them pushes rail service in the United States forward. From my point of view it holds US rail service back by keeping Amtrak using outdated trains that don't work well and are very expensive to maintain. What about that is forward looking or based on what other rail operators around the world do? Does France operate outdated expensive to maintain trains because well we bought them already and they weren't a good investment, but oh well too late guess we will just continue to waste money maintaining trains that don't work well instead of buying new cheaper trains that work better.
 

roy_mustang76

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Not to go further off topic, but this came across my twitter feed this morning, which I thought was a fun coincidence.

Where there is a will there is a way

Not to go further off-topic but let's go further off.
Once again, I was pushing back at the "no because" argument by pointing out that a wide range of options are available, some better than others.

When faced with an obstacle, it IS possible to engineer solutions or change policies to make things work.

Don't give up so easily. Everything is a "no" these days. It doesn't have to be. This country has badly stagnated over the past 50 years and it's because "no" has become the default.

To reference a cliche, if we could put a man on the moon, we can find a way to run an Acela trainset on the Keystone line for 5 years.

As transit fans/advocates/employees/professionals, we can have a circular firing squad and do our best to shut down every idea. Personally, for 2020, I'm looking to avoid that.
We could run the Acela sets on the Keystone Corridor right this second if we magically had enough Acela 2s to operate the existing Acela schedule. For that matter, we could simply buy and run more Acela 2s on the corridor if we're happy to just tell the existing low platform riders to screw off on those frequencies, but that's not the proposition you've brought up, because you were out here arguing that you could use air stairs to deal with the high-low discrepancy. We have plenty of options, but pretty much all of them suck for one reason or another (leaving ridership behind, unnecessary FUBAR ops, necessity of servicing the whole fleet out of Sunnyside because Keystones don't pass NYP which is lunacy), and as transit fans right here, we've kicked around just about all of them and concluded that they suck or that for the time and money, there's way more effective options. You've had an account here for over a friggin decade, there's no way you haven't seen some of these discussions already. It's 2020, why are we relitigating arguments from 2013 onwards?

This is madness, you're moving the goalposts just for the sake of arguing instead of proposing real, considered solutions (because if you were, you wouldn't have ever gone down that airstair rabbit hole). If you want to come back with a researched, viable way to reuse the Acelas that wouldn't be lighting money on fire compared to just using literally any other rolling stock, go for it, otherwise you're in Crazy Transit Pitches territory at best (and I think they might savage you there too).


EDIT because it's worth mentioning: The Keystone Corridor is a state-supported route, so it's not just that Amtrak doesn't see the value in reusing the Acelas on the corridor, but PennDOT, who would ultimately be footing the bill for it, clearly doesn't see the value in doing so (I suspect Amtrak would gladly hand them over to the Keystone if PennDOT covered the costs of continuing to operate/maintain them, but PennDOT doesn't seem interested, I wonder why?)
 
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Arlington

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Does the Keystone line carry "existing freight operations"?
Yes, but.

Yes, Norfolk Southern has rights to operate freights HAR-PHL over what are Amtrak & Septa-owned track
But: NS also owned the whole Roanoke site--existing freight ops galore--but that didn't seem to matter. The FRA still wanted their high-level (maybe because the particular siding was VADRPT funded?).
Most people thought Virginia had a good case and the FRA was overplaying its hand.
Nevertheless: FRA 1, Virginia 0.

The FRA is just going to say that they're playing the long game--willing to delay Virginia's service expansion--in the name of long-term accessibility and all-door, high-level boarding. I'd venture that it isn't worth PennDOTs fight if it wasn't worth Virginia's.

EDIT because it's worth mentioning: The Keystone Corridor is a state-supported route, so it's not just that Amtrak doesn't see the value in reusing the Acelas on the corridor, but PennDOT, who would ultimately be footing the bill for it, clearly doesn't see the value in doing so (I suspect Amtrak would gladly hand them over to the Keystone if PennDOT covered the costs of continuing to operate/maintain them, but PennDOT doesn't seem interested, I wonder why?)
Roy's point about the Keystones being State Supported is very important. (But they'll be Bombardier's to "hand over", not Amtrak's, once Amtrak stops using them on the NEC)

PRIIA, as discussed up thread, requires that states either:
1) Lease equipment from Amtrak at a standard-formula rate based on replacement cost (Amfleets such as PA/Keystone, ME/Downeaster VT/Vermonter, VA/Virginia use )
2) Provide their own equipment (as NC and WA/OR do, and CA/Midwest will)

The Acela's won't be Amtraks to give away, or lease for free. And even if they were, PRIIA wouldn't let them lease them for free.

For the Acelas to operate in PennDOT service, they'd have to be leased from Bombardier to PennDOT, either directly or via sublease from Amtrak.

I just do not see the win for PennDOT in cutting a deal with Bombardier for end-of-life equipment: "Hey Central PA, we got you unreliable unicorn hand-me-downs that can't stop at all stations! But don't worry, we're spending money that could have raised platforms or expanded service with newer trains"


Terminology nitpick:
high-floor stations: please call them "high-level platforms"
 
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jass

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Why would you want to run the Acelas on the Keystone line for 5 years? What does that provide?

Additional trains each day?
Correct. The current plan it to retire them as Acela 2.0 comes online essentially on a 1:1 basis. That means you get the same number of trips (but higher capacity since theyre longer).

Eventually, maybe, they buy more Acela 2.0s and you get more trips. Eventually.

I am saying they should keep the Acela 1.0 to increase service, temporarily, before the next order comes in.

We could run the Acela sets on the Keystone Corridor right this second if we magically had enough Acela 2s to operate the existing Acela schedule. For that matter, we could simply buy and run more Acela 2s on the corridor
I am speaking in the realm of reality, not magic. Amtrak's number one constraint to adding service is fleet availability. Throwing away trains when there is a shortage is a poor move, period.

Yes, but.

Yes, Norfolk Southern has rights to operate freights HAR-PHL over what are Amtrak & Septa-owned track
But: NS also owned the whole Roanoke site--existing freight ops galore--but that didn't seem to matter. The FRA still wanted their high-level (maybe because the particular siding was VADRPT funded?).
Most people thought Virginia had a good case and the FRA was overplaying its hand.
Nevertheless: FRA 1, Virginia 0.

The FRA is just going to say that they're playing the long game--willing to delay Virginia's service expansion--in the name of long-term accessibility and all-door, high-level boarding. I'd venture that it isn't worth PennDOTs fight if it wasn't worth Virginia's.
Do you think FRA will hit California and Michigan with the same issue?

For the Acelas to operate in PennDOT service, they'd have to be leased from Bombardier to PennDOT, either directly or via sublease from Amtrak.
Bombardier of today is in a very different place than they were 20 years ago. A much worse place. I wonder how much they'd be willing to negotiate to keep an income stream on the books.

Just breaking is that the MTA is pulling 300 Bombardier cars due to door problems.

The company has had major disaster after major disaster. A dead fleet on their books isn't in their best interest.

I do agree that getting PennDOT to pay for anything is a much steeper challenge than anything else related to the Acelas. PA legislator is not kind to transit.
 

Arlington

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I think the FRA would say: if you want to use trains without traps (Acela 1 or 2) you need to have all high-level platforms. (for not much more reason than "We're the FRA and we prefer high-level platforms" and that we're talking just 3 platforms)

Since CA/Midwest trains will have traps, I don't think it'll be an issue. And the FRA knows that asking for scores of new high platforms across the Midwest would be obvious overreach.

And since the Amfleet 3s will likely be ordered from Siemens on the same CA/Midwest template, I think if PennDOT wants to expand service they'll have two clear options:
1) Pre-Commit to expansion that results in a larger Amfleet 3 order
2) Pre-Commit to high platforms and commit to a follow-on Acela 2 order.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Yes, but.

Yes, Norfolk Southern has rights to operate freights HAR-PHL over what are Amtrak & Septa-owned track
But: NS also owned the whole Roanoke site--existing freight ops galore--but that didn't seem to matter. The FRA still wanted their high-level (maybe because the particular siding was VADRPT funded?).
Most people thought Virginia had a good case and the FRA was overplaying its hand.
Nevertheless: FRA 1, Virginia 0.

The FRA is just going to say that they're playing the long game--willing to delay Virginia's service expansion--in the name of long-term accessibility and all-door, high-level boarding. I'd venture that it isn't worth PennDOTs fight if it wasn't worth Virginia's.



Roy's point about the Keystones being State Supported is very important. (But they'll be Bombardier's to "hand over", not Amtrak's, once Amtrak stops using them on the NEC)

PRIIA, as discussed up thread, requires that states either:
1) Lease equipment from Amtrak at a standard-formula rate based on replacement cost (Amfleets such as PA/Keystone, ME/Downeaster VT/Vermonter, VA/Virginia use )
2) Provide their own equipment (as NC and WA/OR do, and CA/Midwest will)

The Acela's won't be Amtraks to give away, or lease for free. And even if they were, PRIIA wouldn't let them lease them for free.

For the Acelas to operate in PennDOT service, they'd have to be leased from Bombardier to PennDOT, either directly or via sublease from Amtrak.

I just do not see the win for PennDOT in cutting a deal with Bombardier for end-of-life equipment: "Hey Central PA, we got you unreliable unicorn hand-me-downs that can't stop at all stations! But don't worry, we're spending money that could have raised platforms or expanded service with newer trains"
NS's humongous intermodal lane to Harrisburg is on the Lehigh Line paralleling further north. NS dips and dives around several segments of Keystone because it has diverging branchlines, but it's mostly just a light local freight line. Any Keystone stations that have high-and-wide freight passage already have the necessary passing tracks, and any two-track stations that are full-high don't have high-and-wide freights at all. The low remainders slot into either category and need no special treatment.

Now, where PennDOT has a real pickle is on the Pennsylvanian from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, which IS the Norfolk Southern intermodal main and one of the busiest freight lines in the country. It was formerly quad-tracked under its Pennsylvania RR days, so much like CSX's and Amtrak/VADOT's recent megadeal there's a future traffic-separation business agreement to be made on "Keystone West" as PennDOT eyes more substantial Pennsylvanian service increases and eventual convergence/integration with the standard east-of-Harrisburg Keystone Service. Pittsburgh Union Station actually has some closed off short full-highs from the mid-80's defunct PAT Pittsburgh commuter rail, but they're probably looking for a full rebuild of that station. The 7 low-platformed intermediates, on the other hand, have Norfolk Southern screaming past them 24/7 with huge intermodal loads...but not yet enough passenger traffic to triple them up. The Amfleet replacement is thus perfect for them to bring those 7 stations quickly in-line with Keystone East by doing them up as gapped full-highs and using the auto bridge plates on the new cars. It'll be many years later before they're modding them for passing tracks, filling in the platform gaps to cut out the bridge plate dwell, and lengthening out the platforms to handle more than 4-5 cars like a Harrisburg Keystone...so a just-the-basics refresh is the kind of immediate scope they need for quickly getting accessibility up-to-snuff.

Now where do you think PennDOT's PRIAA priorities are going to be given what the Pennsylvanian's transitional needs are? Platform refresh they can fund & build quickly and as many new cars with bridge plates they can order quickly? Or deep-diving for premium-$$$ old that's only run-compatible with Keystone East while simultaneously cannibalizing budget from the long game on Keystone West? I'll put my money on projection that they want their service integrity-of-concept more than they want no-holds-barred instant gratification. They need Pittsburgh tied into the NEC more frequently to sell their rail vision to the whole state for eventually bringing Keystone West up to 110 MPH fast-n'-frequent diesel and then in future generations another shot to bring it up to electrification + service par with Keystone East. What move serves the long game better? Probably Pennsylvanian increases sooner than Keystone first-class service (which they can sort of get anyway if they want it by just custom-configuring modular first-class livery in the Amfleet replacements, which PRIAA allows them to do).


I'll tell you what more speculative fleet purchase PennDOT has lots more interest in than Acela trash: dual-mode locos. As per here with other modular follow-on orders to NYSDOT's imminent Empire duals replacement order, PRIAA states like Virginia and even ConnDOT+MassDOT have enough service running through mixed-power territory with long waits for electrification infill to have a market for eliminating time-consuming engine-switch dwells on their run-thru routes. A Pennsylvanian that starts stepping up its frequencies to act more like a Keystone is another one tailor-made to that. Harrisburg-Pittsburgh (despite being not-horrible on number of overhead bridges) carries those NS double-stacks where 24' electrical clearance over tall freights induces a premium in bridge mods; wires clearly aren't going to happen until many years after 110 MPH diesels have saturated the route to their performance limits. Necessary first step for them rapidizing the Pennsylvanian into a more standardized Keystone Corridor service tier is whacking the 10+ minute Harrisburg engine change dwell into an immediate departure. If VADOT, NCDOT, ConnDOT/MassDOT/VTrans have similar motivations @ D.C./Richmond and New Haven/Springfield...there's easily enough scale for PennDOT to bite. Or the other way around...states like the New Englanders with comparatively very small unit needs seeing their price drop because VADOT and PennDOT go in with larger orders first on a tag-team.
 
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odurandina

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Will they soon increase the speeds of the Providence/Boston commuter trains w/ Siemans locomotives/or 1 electric locomotive at each end? By doing it, will they be able to add more Acela trains?
Is there a plan to do this?
 

Arlington

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^ Proposed but not yet planned.
In the MBTA RUR thread we've discussed Transit Matters proposal to electrify and speed up Providence CR trains via electrification and single level coaches with all door level boarding (and more doors).
 

F-Line to Dudley

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^ Proposed but not yet planned.
In the MBTA RUR thread we've discussed Transit Matters proposal to electrify and speed up Providence CR trains via electrification and single level coaches with all door level boarding (and more doors).
Schedule's not going to significantly speed up until they get high-level platforms at Hyde Park (or delete it altogether from Providence/Stoughton for big service increases down the street at Fairmount), Canton Jct., Sharon, Mansfield, Attleboro, and South Attleboro. That matters much more than the single-level vs. bi-level preference TM seems to be hung up on (field evidence including widespread Euro-land bi-level usage suggests they're overvaluing the flats vs. bi's choice by a lot, and may have some holes in the metric that led to that conclusion since other factors are usually in-play for closing that dwell gap). But the T can't raise those platforms until Amtrak is ready to fund/implement the extra passing tracks through all those stations...so it takes two to tango. Right now AMTK's speed-up priorities are way further south, since for their own trains MA already has the longest stretch of 150/165 MPH territory on the East Coast.

T funding for expanding Sharon substation capacity is the other ironclad requirement, since the power system does not today have enough juice to run a full schedule of electric commuter trains. And full schedule it must be, because the spacing is otherwise set by lowest-common-denominator and likelihood that a 79 MPH-capped diesel malingerer could be assigned to any run amidst a *partially* electrified fleet. Therefore the recent item about MA potentially being interested in renting some electric locos is not a "speedup" move at all...just an equipment trial. EMU's ultimately end up the answer, though the easiest available to order are NJ Transit's bi-level EMU's in development. If the T's 200 bi-level coach procurement happens to buy Bombardier MLV's, those same push-pull coaches are trainline-compatible with the NJT EMU power cars. In which case NJT's hundreds of 'slush' options on that order can be laundered to the T quickly for just purchasing the power cars, with their own procurement of 200 coaches being plug-compatible. 'Slush' option laundering is exactly what they just did with SEPTA to equip them with a new EMU fleet, so watch for further developments there. There's multiple moving parts involved in such a deal, but NJT-SEPTA just proved it can be done rather straightforwardly.
 

DowntownDave

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But the T can't raise those platforms until Amtrak is ready to fund/implement the extra passing tracks through all those stations...so it takes two to tango.
Could you help me understand this point in a little more detail? Do you mean that some stations could have extra tracks laid across space currently occupied by the low level platform? Thus therefore you could not build a high level platform in the current station geometry?
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Could you help me understand this point in a little more detail? Do you mean that some stations could have extra tracks laid across space currently occupied by the low level platform? Thus therefore you could not build a high level platform in the current station geometry?
Yes. Hyde Park and South Attleboro are planned to be quad-track stations, Sharon and Mansfield triple. Attleboro is already quad but needs an AMTK-install crossover first. These plans were all ratified in the 2010 NEC Infrastructure Improvements Master Plan with AMTK and MassDOT co-sign. Subsequent information from the NEC FUTURE study may require the tripled stations + Canton Jct. to get revised up to quad (and tri on the NEC side at Canton) for the next revision of the Master Plan.

It means that the non-depot building sides of each station have to have their platforms moved back to fit the extra tracks, while prefab South Attleboro is probably a full nuke/rebuild. All affected stations have the room for it, but the T can't initiate action on the stations-proper without an AMTK schedule for the track work because it's all split-jurisdiction.
 

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Am I correct that at these stations, the general style would be two side platforms on the "outer" CR tracks, while Amtrak would express through on either a single or double central track?
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Am I correct that at these stations, the general style would be two side platforms on the "outer" CR tracks, while Amtrak would express through on either a single or double central track?
Yes. Basic New Haven Line-like setup with side local platforms. Except Hyde Park where some sort of structural limitation forces a 2-track island squished ops-awkwardly to the southbound side. Which I don't quite understand, but forces the dilemma of whether it's just better to outright eliminate that station in favor of Fairmount service increases.
 

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