Other People's Rail: Amtrak, commuter rail, rapid transit news & views outside New England

OldColony

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Given that it has been studied as GLX to Needham and OLX to West Roxbury, it’s nothing more than a stall (at best) or sabotage to bloviate about OLX to Needham.
Umm, no. GLX to Needham and OLX to West Roxbury is an entirely reasonable approach, though I'd hope an OLX would extend to Route 128, if 128 traffic can be sent directly into a terminal station and a walking path be provided for Needham's Greendale neighborhood. I assume a Needham GLX would extend to Needham Junction, but if were extended to an OLX terminal at Route 128, that would be a bonus.
 

Brattle Loop

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Umm, no. GLX to Needham and OLX to West Roxbury is an entirely reasonable approach, though I'd hope an OLX would extend to Route 128, if 128 traffic can be sent directly into a terminal station and a walking path be provided for Needham's Greendale neighborhood. I assume a Needham GLX would extend to Needham Junction, but if were extended to an OLX terminal at Route 128, that would be a bonus.
Where could you put an OLX terminal at 128? One side of the highway is residential, and they'd eat you alive if you redirected 128's traffic onto their roads, the other side is wetlands, which besides the difficulty of getting environmental approval (if it's possible at all) means the density around there is terrible. Is there really that big a market for a park-and-ride given the rest of what Needham Line replacement entails?
 

Stlin

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Where could you put an OLX terminal at 128? One side of the highway is residential, and they'd eat you alive if you redirected 128's traffic onto their roads, the other side is wetlands, which besides the difficulty of getting environmental approval (if it's possible at all) means the density around there is terrible. Is there really that big a market for a park-and-ride given the rest of what Needham Line replacement entails?
Well... This is almost definitely crazy pitch territory, but how wide is the NEC south of Forest Hills? It'd probably be too narrow for 4 NEC tracks and OL, but if you're willing to ED or stack your way through, I could see a branch running through to the Amtrak garage @ 128. That said, by the time you do that you might be better off just tunneling under Dedham from W. Rox. to Dedham Corp.
 

Brattle Loop

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Well... This is almost definitely crazy pitch territory, but how wide is the NEC south of Forest Hills? It'd probably be too narrow for 4 NEC tracks and OL, but if you're willing to ED or stack your way through, I could see a branch running through to the Amtrak garage @ 128. That said, by the time you do that you might be better off just tunneling under Dedham from W. Rox. to Dedham Corp.
I thought the previous post was referring to an OLX terminal at 128 on the Needham Line (which is what mystified me). The NEC trench at Forest Hills is insufficiently wide for an OL branch, meaning you'd have to via W. Rox. Given Dedham's attitude towards transit-related projects (selling off ROW for housing and, if I'm remembering correctly, reflexively opposing a rail trail for reasons I've never been quite able to discern) I would like to see their reaction to the idea of a crazy transit pitch of an OLX tunnel under them, if only for the humor in watching steam come out of their ears.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Umm, no. GLX to Needham and OLX to West Roxbury is an entirely reasonable approach, though I'd hope an OLX would extend to Route 128, if 128 traffic can be sent directly into a terminal station and a walking path be provided for Needham's Greendale neighborhood. I assume a Needham GLX would extend to Needham Junction, but if were extended to an OLX terminal at Route 128, that would be a bonus.
A Greendale Ave. rapid transit station would be a fraught proposition for number of reasons:
  • Some of the very lowest surrounding density of any rapid transit stop current or proposed.
  • Straight residential, no mixed use. Totally built-out surroundings, no upzoning potential.
  • Zero buses presently. A 59 re-route from Needham Center to here via Great Plain Ave. would contribute almost nothing, and Dedham is a bus desert.
  • If park-and-ride is going to be the primary audience, the 9-5 shift skew is going to be extreme here given the lack of any demographic mixing or other transit connections to backfill the off-peaks. Easily the single most extreme such skew on the whole rapid transit system. This isn't like Alewife where there's an employment center next door to go along with the garage, or Wonderland with a shitload of buses. The skew may get to a point where you're going to have extremely empty trains on the off-peak, and may bleed enough on ops cost that you may have to consider truncating the line at West Roxbury on nights and weekends if you're only boarding a couple people per train.
  • The present-day transit gap on that section of 128 gets generously filled all around Greendale by other means as you're considering this, so it's very much a moving target. Highland Ave. 1 exit up with its flanking Green Line stops and proposed circulator bus serving all of the adjoining 128 TOD, is where all the mixed-use upzoning is going to be. That's likely to accentuate the off-peak drain on OLX-Greendale or Hersey when the Pn'R lots are under-capacity because there's more stuff to do there in/around the train stations. Dedham Corporate Center 2 exits south right by Legacy Place is likely to be getting Purple Line every :15 deep into the evening, and also has tons of errands you can run around the train station. Westwood Landing will be getting the :15 treatment. Riverside will be getting load-shifted a lot on its current Pn'R volumes by virtue of the GLX Highland Ave. stops, will be gaining :15 Purple Line service into the Riverside superstation via Newton, and will also be upzoned significantly into more of a destination in its own right. The Fitchburg Line superstation in Waltham will be getting the :15 Purple Line and shuttle bus treatments, affecting loading downwind to Riverside and elsewhere. The total demand pie is going to diffuse a lot and in very beneficial ways by having so many new transit touches to 128, and all of them have significant upzoning components to them...except Greendale. That's the only one that can't/won't be upzoned in any way/shape/form. How much of an off-peak loss leader you're willing to put up when its fortunes are directly tied to how many all-day TOD flourishes are going to surround it?
  • Millennium Park to Greendale Ave. is ⅓ of the total past-FH mileage for the extension. For only this one stop with extreme-iffy toplines, zero TOD, and surrounding offsets at richer TOD sites blanketing the 128 belt. That's a lot of additional cost for very muted additional toplines. Given that we still don't do transpo budgeting with any innate degree of self-discipline here, it's a potentially crippling extra cost to lard on top as any outright requirement for its comparably very outlier fundamentals.

Look...there's nothing that says you can't build this. The storage yard would still be at Millennium Park/Home Depot even if you went to Needham because that's easier EIS'ing, and you're probably still tacking on a VFW Pkwy. stop because the storage yard has to go there. Absolutely nothing precludes you from building to Needham on the installment plan. It just has not been studied at any detailed level, while West Roxbury has...therefore OLX-Needham is not something you can wad together for a fast-tracking, take advantage of the favorable federal funding environment, and serve up quickly as a Purple Line trade-in for the Rail Vision's NEC relief effort. So you fund the fast-track project as OLX-W. Rox + GLX-Needham Jct., and tack on a study adddendum. Work up these alts against each other in the study:
  1. An OLX extension to Greendale Ave./128 stub-out, embarked upon as an optional Phase II, with complete top-and-bottom line workup.
  2. A GLX wraparound extension from Junction to Greendale
  3. OLX to Greendale meeting cross-platform with GLX at Junction
  4. No-build.
. . .and see where the chips fall. I'll be honest: I think this points hard at "No-build" because all of the others are likely to have putrid demand levels for their cost, and all the other transitification/TOD'ification around 128 ends up satisfying things quite well enough without this. But you accomplish 2 big goals by making the effort to study it: (1) you get the actionable data we don't have in-hand today about whether there's something/anything to be had in that part of Needham, and (2) you do it without hurting the chances of a fast-tracking of the OLX-W. Rox + GLX-Junction trade-in essentials by risking a potentially onerous premium of dubious merits. If it checks out, you have some chosen mandate for Phase II and you go for that Phase II with all the same due haste that we're going for GLX-Mystic Valley Parkway right now. If it doesn't check out, you sit on it confident that you at least filled a major data gap for your troubles. We can craft this with all-of-the-above flexibility.


But duly realize, if you own sense of OCD completism mandates that everything sucks if we can't wad OLX to Needham: you aren't getting that in any universe as a fast-track project. It's not been studied. It won't qualify for any upcoming fed funding streams if you make the un-studied appendage an outright prerequisite for the Purple Line trade-in. Adjust your expectations and strategies accordingly. The fastest way this will likely get done is by trying to fast-track the essentials trade-in as Phase I, then backfilling the study effort before making any build decisions on a Phase II. That might not be perfect for one's personal sense of instant gratification, but it is the straightest-line and lowest-risk path towards getting shit done.
 
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DominusNovus

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Probably not the best thread for this, but it certainly is 'other people's rail. I meant to share this video when I first saw it, because it has an interesting take on how to connect two disparate train systems (basically how to get the NSRL done). I don't think it is particularly applicable for us, but it was an enjoyable watch.

 

stellarfun

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More new trainsets for AMTRAK

Amtrak has signed a mammoth contract with manufacturing company Siemens Mobility for 83 new train sets, part of a $7.3 billion plan to upgrade its rolling stock over the next decade.
Under the plan announced Wednesday, Amtrak will replace nearly 40 percent of its rail car fleet by 2031 and invest $2 billion in facilities upgrades systemwide. The oldest cars in Amtrak’s fleet would be taken off the rails after five decades of service.

Amtrak officials say they hope to have the first of Siemens’s Venture trains operating in 2024 and the entire new fleet in service in 2031...
....
As part of the contract, California-based Siemens will provide Amtrak with technical support and maintenance for 20 years after delivery of the first train set.

Amtrak also is on track to replace its Acela fleet with 28 high-speed train sets from French manufacturer Alstom. Those trains, part of a $2.5 billion project, are expected to enter service next spring after delays caused by testing, as well as production and training interruptions during the coronavirus pandemic.
........
The new equipment will be similar to Siemens’s Venture train sets in use on Florida’s Brightline service, a privately run intercity train in the Miami area. The train sets are certified to operate at speeds up to 125 mph.
.....
The train, built with bidirectional capacities, will reduce turnaround times while their dual-power engines — electric and diesel — will help reduce the time it takes for trains to transition from electrified into non-electrified territory. The fleet will include diesel-only train sets for use on the West Coast, where tracks are not electrified, and some battery-diesel hybrid trains.
....
The new rolling stock will operate in the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak’s Palmetto route along the East Coast and along several state-supported routes.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/transportation/2021/07/07/amtrak-new-trains-northeast/
 

Arlington

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Hmm, the accompanying image shows windows on the "locomotive" shape, which says to me that that's actually the cab car at the "other" end (non-locomotive) end:


On the Acela 2s, part of the bargain with the FRA for being lightweight was that Amtrak was *not* permitted to put seats in the endmost units (they had to have separate, non-passenger locomotives).

But since these Siemens *are* natively FRA compliant, the "cab car" end can have seating, Similar to what California is buying


And they are calling these "trainsets," why? Will they be permanently coupled? Or is that just to stress that they are buying the component units in exactly the right ratios to make up something like:
1 - Locomotive (including enough Diesel-Overhead dual modes to eliminate the engine change at Washington Union Station for all the VA/NC/SC trains...and maybe the MA/VT trains that operate beyond New Haven)
1 - First Class Car
X - Standard Coaches
1 - Cafe / Coach
1 - Cab Car

Also, the other reason you can't squeeze seats into both ends is that these will have plenty of equipment jammed in there: a diesel engine and fuel tank, a battery, and a multi-rated electrical.

Also of note: these will be push-pull right down to the seats, which will be a fixed set of "half-forward, half-backward" facing seats (trains will no longer need to be Wyed or looped to face the "right way" assuming that US passengers will accept the European-standard seating setup)
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Def the cab car. Cab cars that look like faux-locomotives have become a thing with some commuter rail agencies lately (GO Transit, Metrolink), and Amtrak has so few Northeastern push-pull routes (just Keystone/Pennsylvanian, Springfield Shuttle/Valley Flyer, Downeaster, to-be Ethan Allen Express after the Burlington extension...and maybe a couple bit-player expansion routes like Berkshire Flyer and a restored Cape Codder) that they don't really need to provision for pass-thru vestibules. It makes for a less cramped engineer's cabin than what they have to put up with on the Metroliner cabs today.

The Ventures are "sets" because they have open gangway ends on some of the cars that are hard-bolted together (which allows for the creature comforts). Conventional couplers between all cars, but it takes staff with tools to properly separate the open gangway ends. Caltrans ordered their San Joaquins coaches as 7-car "sets", meaning Cars 1 & 7 have standard vestibules on their outermost ends, open gangways on all other ends. The Midwest fleet, however, are only 2-car married-pair "sets" with an open gangway between the two cars in the pair but conventional vestibules on the ends of the pair. VIA's are 5-car; Brightline's are 4-car.

The vestibule ends are made up of the same modular snap-in sections as the rest of the interiors, so anyone can order the "sets" in whatever numeric configuration they want, or even change the # of cars in the sets later by replacing the endcaps and snap-ins for the open gangways and/or vestibules. Northeast Regionals max out at 12 cars, so the "sets" here have to be some unspecified divisor of 12 (2, 3, 4, or 6 cars...probably 4 or 6). The statie option orders (NYSDOT/Empire, PennDOT/Keystone, Downeaster) can themselves be completely custom and individualized lengths, and the long-distance order can be completely custom length because of this newfound modularity.
 

ceo

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VIA Rail Canada is out with a proposal for "High Frequency Rail" from Québec City to Toronto, with 200km/h service on lots of trains per day. They kind of imply that it'll be electrified, and it sounds like it'll use dedicated tracks on existing ROW, which I'm guessing is why it's not true HSR. Transport Canada press release here.
 

DBM

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VIA Rail Canada is out with a proposal for "High Frequency Rail" from Québec City to Toronto, with 200km/h service on lots of trains per day. They kind of imply that it'll be electrified, and it sounds like it'll use dedicated tracks on existing ROW, which I'm guessing is why it's not true HSR. Transport Canada press release here.
IF that service would run on this line, which I imagine hugs the St. Lawrence Seaway pretty closely for the entire corridor, then I have to think there'd be some pretty spectacular views intermittently. I get that this is geared 100% to business travel as it should be... but if I were doing the tourism thing up there, I'd certainly pay to sit on that train and listen to smart people lecture me about the natural history & human culture of the Seaway. Especially the Old Port of Montreal and its status as the greatest mixing-bowl in Francophone culture outside of Paris itself.
 

Arlington

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^ It is proposed for that side of the river, and I think on that line. Incidentally, this map has been around since 2019:
 

MjolnirMan

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I assume someone here knows - what are current Amtrak (specifically Northeast Regional) service levels relative to pre-pandemic? I recently reached out to RIDOT to ask how this part of the Rhode Island Transit Master Plan was going:
And I got the following reply:
We fully support cross-honoring between Amtrak and MBTA trains. We were about to embark on such a program until COVID impacts last year. The pandemic significantly impacted train travel for Amtrak with reduced schedules and travel restrictions. As Amtrak climbs back with increased service we are reengaging with them to ensure the targeted cross-honor trains that filled time gaps in the MBTA schedule last year are back operating. This will be dependent upon Amtrak’s continued rollout of its services. Thank you for your interest in this program.
 
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Scalziand

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Wonder if they're using the agreement with CTRail for cross honoring of tickets as the template for the program.
 

bakgwailo

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Something I was wondering on this: as far as I can tell, Amtrak looks like they want to replace the ACS-64s and try to unload them right around the midlife rebuild point. The timeline also seems to somewhat align with the T's regional rail/potential electrification plans. While I very much support EMUs, could this be something the T might be able to pick up reasonably cheap/easily to jump-start eclectic services?

It also seems interesting to me that they are replacing the full electric ACS-64s with now diesel-electric hybrids. Wouldn't just straight electrics perform better on the (electrified DC/Bos portion) of the NEC? If say the NSRL was actually done, would they be able to make the grades needed to get in and out of the tunnels? I guess I can see it being useful to have a single fleet that can do everything needed on the NEC (run-off diesel where there is no power/the route leaves the NEC), but, I wonder about the impacts that might have as a comprise on the main NEC service.
 

Stlin

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Something I was wondering on this: as far as I can tell, Amtrak looks like they want to replace the ACS-64s and try to unload them right around the midlife rebuild point. The timeline also seems to somewhat align with the T's regional rail/potential electrification plans. While I very much support EMUs, could this be something the T might be able to pick up reasonably cheap/easily to jump-start eclectic services?

It also seems interesting to me that they are replacing the full electric ACS-64s with now diesel-electric hybrids. Wouldn't just straight electrics perform better on the (electrified DC/Bos portion) of the NEC? If say the NSRL was actually done, would they be able to make the grades needed to get in and out of the tunnels? I guess I can see it being useful to have a single fleet that can do everything needed on the NEC (run-off diesel where there is no power/the route leaves the NEC), but, I wonder about the impacts that might have as a comprise on the main NEC service.
I don't think replacing the ACS 64 is the goal here? I was under the impression that this is about replacing the P32AC-DMs, other genesis locos and generally eliminating/minimizing locomotive changes along the NEC and at Albany. I assume that Amtrak is basically getting the exact same dual mode Chargers that Metro North recently bought, (possibly using options from that contract) but deploying them more widely outside the Empire Corridor. Presumably, they would go to Springfield/Newport News Regionals and other routes that run along the NEC that would otherwise require time consuming power changes - the Vermonter for example.
 
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F-Line to Dudley

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Something I was wondering on this: as far as I can tell, Amtrak looks like they want to replace the ACS-64s and try to unload them right around the midlife rebuild point. The timeline also seems to somewhat align with the T's regional rail/potential electrification plans. While I very much support EMUs, could this be something the T might be able to pick up reasonably cheap/easily to jump-start eclectic services?

It also seems interesting to me that they are replacing the full electric ACS-64s with now diesel-electric hybrids. Wouldn't just straight electrics perform better on the (electrified DC/Bos portion) of the NEC? If say the NSRL was actually done, would they be able to make the grades needed to get in and out of the tunnels? I guess I can see it being useful to have a single fleet that can do everything needed on the NEC (run-off diesel where there is no power/the route leaves the NEC), but, I wonder about the impacts that might have as a comprise on the main NEC service.
Careful...there was only one media report from a not-very-reputable outlet that said that, and when pressed the reporter refused to elaborate. This needs additional confirmation that trade-in was even offered as a possibility by Siemens in the one-vendor contract, much less that Amtrak would ever consider pursuing that. It would directly contradict just about every piece of published fleet maint documentation from them until very recently, and doesn't make sense on an enormous number of levels over how many units worth of dual-modes they'd have to buy to track with service increases. The RR.net thread on this is a total dumpster fire of wild unhinged speculation right now, and the AMTK employee sources who usually confirm/deny what Mechanical/Procurement's aims are haven't been around to contain it. Until there's a second credible confirming source, treat this Sprinter replacement rumor as very highly suspect.
 

Riverside

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we are reengaging with them to ensure the targeted cross-honor trains that filled time gaps in the MBTA schedule last year are back operating
So this is interesting.

Here are the departure times of afternoon trains pre-Covid:

3:10pm, 3:20pm, 4:15pm, 5:20pm, 5:35pm

And here are today’s:

3:20pm, 4:15pm, 5:35pm

Now, what’s interesting is that their email mentions “gaps” in the MBTA’s schedule. Historically, the most egregious of these was between the T’s 4:53pm and 5:40pm departures, which were filled by the Acela’s 5:20 departure and secondarily by the Regional’s 5:35 departure.

Today, with the fancy clock-facing schedules, there is a Boston-to-Providence train leaving :25 past the hour (plus or minus 5 minutes) every hour from 6:25am to 8:25pm -- with one exception: a gap between 4:52 and 5:40 (which is bracketed by a 4:25 and a 6:22)

So, if the objective of the cross-honoring initiative is to fill gaps, that means that the scope is probably limited to 1 or 2 (maybe 3) trains at most:
  • The 5pm hour southbound Acela (least likely, also I believe not running right now)
  • The 5pm hour southbound Regional (most likely)
  • The 6am hour northbound overnight Regional (maybe)
That last one is a definite maybe -- the old schedule had a gap from 6:24 to 7:13, and the Regional slot in right in the middle at 6:53. On days when the Regional (which was overnight originating in Washington or further south) was running late (which obviously was not unheard of), the Amtrak passengers would crowd on to the 7:13 (to the chagrin of the MBTA passengers, especially those boarding at Mansfield, who might be stuck with SRO).

Now, that Regional is still on Amtrak's schedule (shifted to 6:56), and it's worth noting that, for example, if you purchase 1 week in advance, the coach ticket is actually cheaper than the commuter rail ticket ($8 as opposed to, I can't remember, $12?). Even pre-pandemic, the Amtrak ticket wasn't much more expensive than the MBTA ticket.

So, maybe the morning train would also be a candidate for cross-honoring. However, with the new schedule, the gap is 10 minutes smaller, from 6:35 to 7:15. Moreover, the 6:35 is a super-express that runs non-stop after Mansfield -- meaning that PVD-BOS journey time is trimmed to 62 minutes, which is basically faster than any other MBTA PVD-BOS journey (aside from the lookalike service at 7:40). Plus, the northbound train is inherently less reliable than the southbounds. So, there are reasons to cross-honor on the morning train, but I could understand why they'd decide to skip that.

^^^ All of which is a very long way of saying that it seems plausible to me that this will boil down to an initiative to cross-honor MBTA fares on a single southbound Regional train departing Boston in the 5pm hour.
 

MjolnirMan

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^^^ All of which is a very long way of saying that it seems plausible to me that this will boil down to an initiative to cross-honor MBTA fares on a single southbound Regional train departing Boston in the 5pm hour.
I completely agree that this is a possible outcome. Hopefully not, however, considering that their strategy paper states the following:
Providence Line/Amtrak Fare Integration
A cross-honor fare agreement that allowed Rhode Island riders to use Providence Line and Amtrak trains interchangeably would have a number of benefits. These include:
  • More frequent service
  • A better passenger experience
  • Fewer gaps in off-peak service
  • The equivalent of express service to Boston, since Amtrak trains serve fewer stops and are faster
  • Stronger ties between Rhode Island and Boston
While that last point is of course some tier-one marketing speak, they are at least aware of the desire for express service.
 

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