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

The EGE

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Amtrak is the obvious choice - they already know how to run intercity service, they have existing trackage rights on the line, and ticketing and operations would integrate nicely (such as having some trains run New Haven-Springfield-Boston or Greenfield-Springfield-Boston). Like other states, MA would pay to have additional rolling stock ordered - in this case, probably extra units in the Amfleet replacement order, rather than a separate order. Unless Amtrak and MA somehow have a huge schism, I would put my money on Amtrak being the operator.

MBTA (operated by Keolis) would have to have a dedicated coach fleet for the service - 3x2 seating for commuter use simply isn't comfortable for intercity travel times - and they don't have the trackage rights or crew qualifications for the territory. (This is in contrast to NH service, where straighter track would permit 90-minute travel times to Concord, and the MBTA already owns the track to the NH border plus has trackage rights to Concord.)

There's always the option of a different private operator, or of MassDOT operating the service in-house. The first option is what ConnDOT did for the Hartford line, somewhat bafflingly. Trackage rights were less an issue there though (Amtrak owns the line), and the state was already purchasing commuter rolling stock for the line. It seems very unlikely that the state would bother contracting it out rather than using the existing Keolis contract, should negotiations with Amtrak go awry. In-house operation also seems very unlikely, as it's almost an order of magnitude smaller than any other in-house public rail ops in the US.
 

Tallguy

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If E/W is combined with RR on the Worcester Line, Transitmatters suggests 90 min service. With hourly frequency, this should be considered commuter, not intercity, service. The MBTA is the better organization to operate this as an extension of RR, as the T will be EMU based long before Amtrak.
 

themissinglink

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If E/W is combined with RR on the Worcester Line, Transitmatters suggests 90 min service. With hourly frequency, this should be considered commuter, not intercity, service. The MBTA is the better organization to operate this as an extension of RR, as the T will be EMU based long before Amtrak.
According to the Massachusetts Intercity Passenger Rail Governance White Paper, the determination has already been made that Amtrak would be the operator of East-West rail.

The MBTA is the better organization to operate this as an extension of RR, as the T will be EMU based long before Amtrak.
East-West rail will not be using EMUs, as electrifying Worcester-Springfield would be an exercise in torture due to the ridiculous amount (30+?) of bridges that would need to be majorly modified or rebuilt entirely in order for catenary to be installed.

The only East-West rail alternative which included electrification was Alternative 6, which would require a new HSR ROW alongside the Mass Pike. It was estimated to cost like $25 billion or something crazy like that.
 
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Tallguy

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Firstly, no one has "determined" that Amtrak would run it. The white paper is another in a series of attempts of MassDOT to run away from E/W rail.
Secondly, double stacking requires, I believe, 22+ ft, which is more than enough height to put a catenary wire over a second track under those bridges.
I wouldn't take a single figure in that excuse of a report that MassDOT put out last year. The NNEIRI REeport of 5 yrs ago does a much more through, uninflated job.
BTW, MassDOT wanted to spend $2B just to get the same time the LSL takes now.
 

Brattle Loop

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Firstly, no one has "determined" that Amtrak would run it. The white paper is another in a series of attempts of MassDOT to run away from E/W rail.
That MassDOT clearly wasn't particularly interested in East-West (and, per Baker & Co. practice sandbagged the cost numbers) doesn't inherently mean everything in that white paper or any other documents they put out is necessarily wrong. The MBTA (and MassDOT proper) doesn't own the former Boston & Albany west of Worcester, and (correct me if I'm wrong) the T doesn't have trackage rights west of Worcester either. The paper isn't wrong in noting that Amtrak doesn't have the same jurisdictional hurdle (namely trackage rights) that the MBTA or any other operator would have; if the T wants to run trains out there, CSX would have to let them (and their agreement can frequently be purchased, but rarely cheaply) while Amtrak can do it with much less of a hassle...which is exactly why it's pegged as an Amtrak-operated service.

Secondly, double stacking requires, I believe, 22+ ft, which is more than enough height to put a catenary wire over a second track under those bridges.
How many of those bridges even have room to fit another track? 22' is not enough clearance to put catenary wire over double stacks, and there's no way CSX lets anyone screw up their bread-and-butter New England main line with wires. If there's bridges where a bunch of work would need to be done just to fit a passing track that could be wired (built at the state's expense, of course) the cost would go through the roof.

I wouldn't take a single figure in that excuse of a report that MassDOT put out last year. The NNEIRI REeport of 5 yrs ago does a much more through, uninflated job.
BTW, MassDOT wanted to spend $2B just to get the same time the LSL takes now.
Definitely a valid point that the cost numbers (and running times) were sandbagged to hell in the MassDOT documents (unsurprising, given the state's lack of interest coupled with the fact that, unlike the more technical infrastructure/operation questions, fudging the assumptions can make the numbers vary wildly, which is why that was Baker & Pollack's primary M.O.)
 

themissinglink

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Firstly, no one has "determined" that Amtrak would run it.
Word for word, this is what is said in the white paper regarding the operator of East-West rail. This report was released almost 2 months ago, on 11/12/21.
After examining the functional characteristics and legal/regulatory framework of different types of passenger rail, it is clear all three East-West Service Alternatives would be considered Regional Intercity Passenger Rail and therefore should be operated by Amtrak. As the primary operator responsible for the nation’s Intercity Passenger Rail, Amtrak is the only railroad that has rights of access to the facilities of any other railroad or regional transportation authority. These access rights provide Amtrak with access to any rail line in the United States and give Amtrak the ability to use any host railroads’ facilities, such as stations or railyards.

The cost for Amtrak to use those rail lines and facilities are based on the incremental costs (added costs resulting from Amtrak’s operation) and not the full cost of capital and maintenance. Furthermore, Amtrak is provided preference in train dispatching, which minimizes delays to Amtrak trains when operating on tracks with both freight and passenger services.

The unique rights provided to Amtrak through federal law make it a preferred operator when considering passenger rail services and the preferred operator for the East-West Passenger Rail Service. Although the process of exercising Amtrak’s unique rights takes a considerable amount of time and is costly, Amtrak has the right to bring any seemingly unresolvable issues to the Surface Transportation Board (SB) for ultimate resolution. Although recent federal law allows other passenger rail operators to bring issues to the STB for mediation, it is a process that has not yet been tested. If other rail operators, such as the MBTA, were considered to operate the East-West Service, the difficulties in accessing the CSX-owned portion could render the service unfeasible.
I have yet to see any source which contradicts the information I linked which identifies Amtrak as the preferred operator. If any such source exists, I would appreciate it if somebody would send it in this thread (or the East-West rail thread).

Secondly, double stacking requires, I believe, 22+ ft, which is more than enough height to put a catenary wire over a second track under those bridges.
Even if there was sufficient vertical clearance for catenary between Worcester and Springfield, the only E-W Rail alternative which included electrification was already eliminated from consideration. I'm aware that the cost estimates were sandbagged, but it's pretty clear regardless that any electrification isn't going to be included in the initial build.

Don't get me wrong, I would love to see electrified East-West rail service. However, it would be unrealistic to expect electrification on the B&A from Boston to Springfield (or Pittsfield) as part of the initial build. Other improvements, specifically the curve realignments proposed in Alternative 4/5 hybrid, are of greater importance and should be the focus of the initial build, IMO.
 
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Tallguy

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Word for word, this is what is said in the white paper regarding the operator of East-West rail. This report was released almost 2 months ago, on 11/12/21.


I have yet to see any source which contradicts the information I linked which identifies Amtrak as the preferred operator. If any such source exists, I would appreciate it if somebody would send it in this thread (or the East-West rail thread).



Even if there was sufficient vertical clearance for catenary between Worcester and Springfield, the only E-W Rail alternative which included electrification was already eliminated from consideration. I'm aware that the cost estimates were sandbagged, but it's pretty clear regardless that any electrification isn't going to be included in the initial build.

Don't get me wrong, I would love to see electrified East-West rail service. However, it would be unrealistic to expect electrification on the B&A from Boston to Springfield (or Pittsfield) as part of the initial build. Other improvements, specifically the curve realignments proposed in Alternative 4/5 hybrid, are of greater importance and should be the focus of the initial build, IMO.
To be to the point, Richie Neal will decide who will run it, and whether it is electrified or not. If MassDOT wants anything else out of the Infrastructure Bill, they will do E/W.
And electrification and superelevation will do much more for speed than any of the proposed re-alignments.
And, again, that report was a total POS from day one, and using it as a definitive source of information is not helping your case.
 

Tallguy

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That MassDOT clearly wasn't particularly interested in East-West (and, per Baker & Co. practice sandbagged the cost numbers) doesn't inherently mean everything in that white paper or any other documents they put out is necessarily wrong. The MBTA (and MassDOT proper) doesn't own the former Boston & Albany west of Worcester, and (correct me if I'm wrong) the T doesn't have trackage rights west of Worcester either. The paper isn't wrong in noting that Amtrak doesn't have the same jurisdictional hurdle (namely trackage rights) that the MBTA or any other operator would have; if the T wants to run trains out there, CSX would have to let them (and their agreement can frequently be purchased, but rarely cheaply) while Amtrak can do it with much less of a hassle...which is exactly why it's pegged as an Amtrak-operated service.



How many of those bridges even have room to fit another track? 22' is not enough clearance to put catenary wire over double stacks, and there's no way CSX lets anyone screw up their bread-and-butter New England main line with wires. If there's bridges where a bunch of work would need to be done just to fit a passing track that could be wired (built at the state's expense, of course) the cost would go through the roof.



Definitely a valid point that the cost numbers (and running times) were sandbagged to hell in the MassDOT documents (unsurprising, given the state's lack of interest coupled with the fact that, unlike the more technical infrastructure/operation questions, fudging the assumptions can make the numbers vary wildly, which is why that was Baker & Pollack's primary M.O.)
All of the bridges are at least double-track, and a few are more. There are a two bridges which may or may not fit a 3rd track near Springfield, and one in Palmer. The vast majority of bridges are presently single track but were double. The new track would be used by pass rail and the old one for freight
 

Tallguy

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Both the NNIERI study and Transitmatters have carefully studied the route including the bridges
 

Tallguy

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Near impossible to justify electrifying WOR-SPG, but 125mph diesel should do just fine. Better to spend the $ on the curves- bypass track concepts
You are never going 125mph east of Palmer. Well, you might for about 2 miles but then you'd end up in the river! EMUs and superelevation will get you more saved time for 1/4 of the price. Please read "90 Minutes to Springfield" It has been posted here before.
 

themissinglink

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And, again, that report was a total POS from day one, and using it as a definitive source of information is not helping your case.
It's not a matter of "my case" versus "your case"; it's not a disagreement of opinions. Official East-West rail documents have been explicitly clear when it comes to identifying and justifying Amtrak as the proposed operator of East-West rail. The sandbagged cost estimates from the East-West rail study are irrelevant when it comes to the clear specification of Amtrak as the only viable operator of East-West rail, per the white paper. The documents have also been explicitly clear when it comes to whether it will be electrified or not, and the current alternatives still being considered are all diesel-only.

Both the NNIERI study and Transitmatters have carefully studied the route including the bridges
Did the NNIERI study or TransitMatters identify electrification between Worcester and Springfield as feasible? I don't doubt the buildability of electrification between Worcester and Springfield, but I'm doubtful that it will be worth it with regard to its cost effectiveness. Major bridge modifications to at least 35 bridges would be necessary in order for catenary to be installed, and that's not even considering the challenges with electrifying the Springfield to Pittsfield segment. F-Line to Dudley seemed to suggest that the vertical clearance on most of these bridges was already maxed out and would require complete replacement of the bridges for 24 feet of clearance to install catenary, although I don't know the exact number of bridges which are maxed out clearance-wise and would require complete replacement.
 

Tallguy

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It's not a matter of "my case" versus "your case"; it's not a disagreement of opinions. Official East-West rail documents have been explicitly clear when it comes to identifying and justifying Amtrak as the proposed operator of East-West rail. The sandbagged cost estimates from the East-West rail study are irrelevant when it comes to the clear specification of Amtrak as the only viable operator of East-West rail, per the white paper. The documents have also been explicitly clear when it comes to whether it will be electrified or not, and the current alternatives still being considered are all diesel-only.



Did the NNIERI study or TransitMatters identify electrification between Worcester and Springfield as feasible? I don't doubt the buildability of electrification between Worcester and Springfield, but I'm doubtful that it will be worth it with regard to its cost effectiveness. Major bridge modifications to at least 35 bridges would be necessary in order for catenary to be installed, and that's not even considering the challenges with electrifying the Springfield to Pittsfield segment. F-Line to Dudley seemed to suggest that the vertical clearance on most of these bridges was already maxed out and would require complete replacement of the bridges for 24 feet of clearance to install catenary, although I don't know the exact number of bridges which are maxed out clearance-wise and would require complete replacement.
Again, there is NO NEED to raise "35" bridges. Again, EVERYBODY'S plans involve new tracks for passenger rail ALONGSIDE the existing single track(yes, I know that there are a few sections of double track right now)
Please stop repeating this as no one other than the Great and Powerful F-Line makes this claim. No one is suggesting both tracks get electrified, and no one is suggesting electrification west of Springfield.
And, yes, electrification is a key part of "90 Minutes to Springfield".
 

themissinglink

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Again, there is NO NEED to raise "35" bridges. Again, EVERYBODY'S plans involve new tracks for passenger rail ALONGSIDE the existing single track(yes, I know that there are a few sections of double track right now)
How exactly would you expect electrification to be possible without modifying the bridges? It's irrelevant whether the electrified track is the existing CSX tracks or new tracks adjacent to the existing ones, there would still need to be sufficient vertical clearance under the bridges to install catenary with enough room to run double stack freights regardless of if the electrified track is new or existing. As shown in the attached image, only ~25% of the proposed separate track between Worcester and Springfield is planned to be fully outside of the existing alignment, meaning the other ~75% of the proposed separate track planned to be adjacent to the existing alignment would still need to interface with the problematic bridges, which would likely necessitate prohibitively expensive modifications and/or replacements.

alt 4 & 5 hybrid.PNG


It's also worth noting that MassDOT cast doubts on the benefits of electrification on the B&A with regard to the maximum speed achievable with electric equipment vs. diesel equipment. If electric equipment can't compete with diesel equipment speed-wise, the cost-effectiveness of electrification is cast further into doubt. This is what was said by MassDOT about electrification:
Electrification was investigated along the I-90 corridor within Alternative 6. However, the horizontal and vertical geometry of the existing rail corridor largely limits maximum achievable speeds in Alternatives 1-5 to a level that can still be attained using modern diesel equipment.
(Source, page #39, reply to comment #64)

Please stop repeating this as no one other than the Great and Powerful F-Line makes this claim. No one is suggesting both tracks get electrified, and no one is suggesting electrification west of Springfield.
Why would you expect me to stop discussing the challenges with electrifying Worcester-Springfield? There's a lot of things to be taken into consideration when it comes to electrification, especially with regard to vertical clearance issues and the complexity and/or expenses of resolving said potential issues. Also I wouldn't be so dismissive of F-Line's input on the topic of electrification between Worcester and Springfield. He is clearly pretty knowledgeable when it comes to things like this, and he brings up some good points about the challenges associated with potential electrification between Worcester and Springfield.

Multiple of the alternatives considered included service west of Springfield to Pittsfield. Regardless of if it was part of the initial build or not, future East-West rail service to Pittsfield would be anticipated nonetheless and is worthy of consideration with regard to electrification. In the East-West rail study final report, MassDOT seems to assert that electrification between Springfield and Pittsfield would be infeasible due to CSX:
CSX policy guidance will not permit electrification of the Springfield-Pittsfield section.
(Source, page #40)

And, yes, electrification is a key part of "90 Minutes to Springfield".
Are you able to send a link to this source that you speak of? I tried finding "90 Minutes to Springfield" but I was unable to. I'm not sure if it's because of the recent unreliability with ArchBoston's search function or not, but several searches of "90 Minutes to Springfield" have yielded "No Results Found".
 

Tallguy

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I will dig up a link today.
I remain perplexed at your dogged insistence that both tracks of what is now mostly a single track railroad would need to be BOTH DS and catenary.
CSX would operate on the existing track JUST AS IT DOES NOW.
There is a 6.2 mile section of DT east of Springfield. There seems to be adequate space for a third track along this if necessary. An added expense, but a relatively modest one.
Again, there is a 2.5 mile section of DT east of Palmer to the Quabog River bridge which again, could be tripled. There is one bridge which might need a modified abutment on the south side. There is a 1000 ft section of DT east of the Quahog Rr bridge.
Both the MassDOT study and TM expect TT in E.Brookfield where there is DT right now.
Lastly, there is about 1.5 miles of DT in Worcester that would be expensive to add a track. This would have to be part of the negotiations with CSX.
 

Tallguy

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And TM is not calling for electrification west of Springfield. The expectation is that Bos trains would turn south to New Haven(when the Hartford Line is electrified) and that Albany service could be a continuation of Amtrak Springfield service.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Why would you expect me to stop discussing the challenges with electrifying Worcester-Springfield? There's a lot of things to be taken into consideration when it comes to electrification, especially with regard to vertical clearance issues and the complexity and/or expenses of resolving said potential issues. Also I wouldn't be so dismissive of F-Line's input on the topic of electrification between Worcester and Springfield. He is clearly pretty knowledgeable when it comes to things like this, and he brings up some good points about the challenges associated with potential electrification between Worcester and Springfield.

Multiple of the alternatives considered included service west of Springfield to Pittsfield. Regardless of if it was part of the initial build or not, future East-West rail service to Pittsfield would be anticipated nonetheless and is worthy of consideration with regard to electrification. In the East-West rail study final report, MassDOT seems to assert that electrification between Springfield and Pittsfield would be infeasible due to CSX:
(Source, page #40)
Hello, world. :whistle:


Don't take my word for it. The American Railway Engineering and Maintenance of Way Association (AREMA) body sets the standards everyone must abide by for railway electrification. Hyper-technical copy of their latest specs is here (draft of the latest revision...final version is paywalled). The denser it gets the more you need an electrical engineering background to grok it all, but they have a few helpful tables. The AREMA standards are further codified into Amtrak's NEC 25 kV specs from the late-90's NHV-BOS electrification, which were then copypasta'd by Denver RTD, Caltrain, CAHSR, and GO Transit for their modern 25 kV electrifications/studies and namechecked by the T for the Rail Vision. Per the chart on p. 23 of the linky you need 31.5 inches of total underclearance at overhead structures (i.e. between the structure and the unshielded car roof, with the energized catenary in the middle). Certain hyper-technical operating conditions--speed vs. suspension, curvature vs. suspension, track superelevation, altitude, relative air pollution, position of certain OCS components like resistors--can wobble the total by up to a few inches in either direction, but it's generally accepted that it's a fail-safe blanket +2½ feet over the tallest car roof that currently trawls the 25 kV line in question.

Don't go by the 22 inch. (11" x 2) quote that TransitMatters gave from unnamed "German railroad law" in its recent Modernizing The Haverhill Line report. AREMA is the law of the land so it's regulatorily irrelevant what somebody in another country did that one time, and based on what's human-parseable from AREMA's tolerances that quote seems to be egregiously cherry-picked from very niche and speed-restricted operating conditions. You might have a game of a few inches to play with here in certain specific layout situations, but no way you're lopping off a half-foot or more from the AREMA defaults.


Double-stack railcars are 20'2" inches tall in absolute height, and double-stack lines are cleared with a 4" cushion (hedge against ice buildup and/or overzealous suspensions at speed) to a minimum of 20'6" clearance. So any electrification on the B&A west of the I-90 overpass @ Westborough Yard has to have between 22'8" and 23' of underclearance at the track centerline of any one electrified track (all tracks usually being at the same level unless it's mid-curve and one of them happens to be superelevated while passing under the structure).


There are only 6 total DS-cleared overhead structures between Westborough and Worcester Union in MBTA territory, but another 35 of them between Worcester Union and Springfield Union. Then at least a few dozen more west of Springfield to Schodack, NY where freights split from Amtrak. All are currently cleared for 20'6" over track centerline (all running tracks) and will need to be cleared for up to 23' (whichever applicable track). The 20'6" mods happened between 2008-2012 and involved some share of bridge raisings that got MassDOT pay-in, a larger share of trackbed undercuttings that were nearly all CSX-paid, and a minority share of bridges that were OK as-is. MBTA territory had only a couple of touches 15 years ago, and at least 2-3 of the current structures Westborough-Worcester are verifiably supertall enough to not likely to need any mods this time around; the T should be able to electrify commuter rail here *almost* scot-free. It's a whole other matter on the 35 WOR-SPG structures, many of which were maxed out of cheaper trackbed undercuts the last time around. The state already knows the exact answer to how many structures would need structural mods and what degree of modding...even though it hasn't published those tallies in any of the E-W or NNEIRI docs...because it was fully privvy to all engineering that went on 15 years ago for the collaborative CSX project. Them already knowing that exact answer informs a lot of their stated reluctance to electrify on the non-cleanroom ROW Alts. being studied. It's only a matter of when they choose to show the math there; then they will be able to put hard numbers to the poorish investment amortization afforded by running the proposed service levels at the proposed ultra-wide stop spacing under electrification.


The B&A outside of commuter territory has been single-tracked since the early-80's when Conrail redid the whole physical plant and lifted a majority of the second track. In some places the empty berth is blank and to the side; in most others the whole trackbed was re-centered...often for the sole sake of maximizing clearances for the single track under the highest/centermost parts of spans. A considerable amount of the re-DT'ing work here is going to involve re-spacing the current tracks, which is going to change the centerline clearances at some bridges and induce more incidental modding work. Incidental work even with no electrification, because the current stacks-cleared track may not be resting in the same position under the same clearance as before after the second track comes back. It's highly unlikely that CSX would ever agree to total binding single-track ops anyway because track work and flipping track assignments due to scheduling snafus is a mundane thing that happens on any reasonably-trafficked multi-track line, and "any running track" running is extremely likely to be codified into any future sale/rights agreement since that matches current ops conditions in all DS+DT territory. See the big D.C-Richmond ROW sale that CSX made to State of Virginia a year-plus ago (on a mostly 3+ track-to-be corridor) that partitions the ownership and dispatching down the middle with considerable complexity; the fine print of that deal absolutely gives CSX the right to run on passenger track when they must, regardless of how neatly traffic ends up segregated by-track during normal dispatching conditions. "@#$% happens" fail-safes will be baked in. Any B&A cross-agreements are going to borrow heavily from that Virginia template, albeit in much simplified form for a 2 (not 3+) -track RR. Even if by some miracle they signed off on hard split-the-difference running on only 1 DS-cleared un-electrified track ever, it is nonetheless still not a bankable assumption that the state can shirk considerable quantities of bridge mods. Because lots and lots of track is going to shift position when the tracks are re-centered. Again...they already have the internal math in-hand to answer the cost savings or relative lackthereof for this particular scenario if it needs to be spelled out to its absolute public ends.


Note that for self-exploration purposes you can't easily rely on Nat'l Bridge Inventory web search for precise clearance measurements at each bridge because the NBI measurements don't take into account track centerline (just an arbitrary spot on the ground). Plus, on the B&A corridor some of their datasets are just flat-out old predating the '08-12 clearance project. So unfortunately individual deep-dives aren't going to answer the thorniest price-tag questions except in a couple edge cases you can check off due to NBI showing literal feet's worth of slack overclearance. The search is unfortunately not that good for parsing the games-of-inches cases, which majority of these will end up being. You'd need access to the not-public RR official measurements.
 

Tallguy

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So, the Stadler KISS is 15 ft, 7/8in tall. Unclear as to how there is insufficient height to run catenary.
There is only one bridge, at Hovey Rd., west of Palmer, that might be centered.
Of the overhead bridges on the ST section between Palmer and E Brookfield, Washington St and South St in W. Warren , Rt 67(Quaboag Rd) in W Brookfield and Rt 67(Main St) in Warren appear to have centered track.
Further east, Jones, Gould and Pleasant Sts in Charlton and Leicester appear to be centered as well.
Have I missed any?
 

Tallguy

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And MassDOT does want to do E/W, so if they had data damaging to the plan, they would have dropped it already.
 

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