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

clam

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Note; FLL-PBI-MIA metro is 2x as dense as Boston Metro
How much of that density is in walking distance of a transit stop though? Metro Boston has sneakily large pockets of parks and nature, but I feel like it's much more dense in terms of people living next to rail corridors radiating out from downtown.
 

Arlington

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How much of that density is in walking distance of a transit stop though? Metro Boston has sneakily large pockets of parks and nature, but I feel like it's much more dense in terms of people living next to rail corridors radiating out from downtown.
A surprising amount: the urban cores were laid out along H. Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railroad (now Brightline) And then the Seaboard line built what is now TRI-Rail commuter system about 2 ~ 5 miles inland (now very suburbanized) And Miami Metrorail and metro mover seem well patronized

It really helps to have very tall buildings intense low rise all wedged in to a narrow strip between swamped and Coast and served by two parallel rail lines
 

F-Line to Dudley

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A surprising amount: the urban cores were laid out along H. Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railroad (now Brightline) And then the Seaboard line built what is now TRI-Rail commuter system. And Miami Metrorail and metro mover seem well patronized.
If transit ridership were within a whiff of that density, there might be something to this argument.

It's not. MetroRail did 18.07M annual riders in 2019, 10th in the U.S. amongst HRT-only systems. The #9 system, which is L.A. Metro's B & D -only lines, did 2-1/3x as much. That's...uh...rather very unimpressive as a function of density.

Tri-Rail is #14 in U.S. commuter rail ridership. It did a half-million fewer rides than #11...Salt Lake City?...in 2019. That's quite very unimpressive as a function of density.


They're not exploding, either. Steadily up, but incremental...no giant leaps like sprawly L.A. whose transit ridership growth is pretty much lapping the field. So while that signifies lots of room for improvement for Metro Miami, it does not in any way/shape/form signify that they are on a pervasive trend towards exponentially higher transit shares down there.
 

The EGE

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South Florida is endless sprawl - except for the urban cores and some sections of the waterfront, it's pretty much all 5-houses-per-acre single-family homes. That's not enough density to support anything other than local bus service at mediocre frequency, which in turn is not sufficient for any kind of meaningful mode shift. So you have a couple higher-density corridors like Metrorail and the coastal rail routes, but the vast majority of the metropolitan area is stuck with congested roads but little transit. It's the same issue that a lot of western cities (LA, Denver, etc) face.

Boston's density is concentrated - within a 5-10 mile radius of the core, you have densities of 10-15 units per acre in most areas (and higher in urban squares and villages), which is enough to support rail transit. That's a function of topography and centuries of village growth constraining where development happens. At full fantasy build-out, you're looking at a dozen 5-10 mile HRT/LRT/EMU radial lines plus at least one circumferential route, and a dozen 20-60 mile regional rail lines, all of which would have higher productivity than Miami. That's balanced by some very-low-density suburbs that don't need transit (and don't account for a majority of the population the way Miami's sprawl does), and a lot of parkland. When you subtract the huge swaths of forest that don't need transit, the remaining areas average much higher density than South Florida.
 

Tom Nevers

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Quick video that explores the relationship between density and ridership as well as the importance of robust bus service. In essence, the narrator asserts density surrounding a station is important but connecting that station to well used bus lines is what really spurs ridership.

 

bdurden

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South Florida is endless sprawl - except for the urban cores and some sections of the waterfront, it's pretty much all 5-houses-per-acre single-family homes. That's not enough density to support anything other than local bus service at mediocre frequency, which in turn is not sufficient for any kind of meaningful mode shift. So you have a couple higher-density corridors like Metrorail and the coastal rail routes, but the vast majority of the metropolitan area is stuck with congested roads but little transit. It's the same issue that a lot of western cities (LA, Denver, etc) face.

Boston's density is concentrated - within a 5-10 mile radius of the core, you have densities of 10-15 units per acre in most areas (and higher in urban squares and villages), which is enough to support rail transit. That's a function of topography and centuries of village growth constraining where development happens. At full fantasy build-out, you're looking at a dozen 5-10 mile HRT/LRT/EMU radial lines plus at least one circumferential route, and a dozen 20-60 mile regional rail lines, all of which would have higher productivity than Miami. That's balanced by some very-low-density suburbs that don't need transit (and don't account for a majority of the population the way Miami's sprawl does), and a lot of parkland. When you subtract the huge swaths of forest that don't need transit, the remaining areas average much higher density than South Florida.
Nice post although I’m not so sure LA is a good example as it’s rapidly expanding metro system, albeit years behind, is able to function rather successfully (where is reaches) due to LA density across the entire metro area.
 

Balerion

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Virginia seals deal for $3.7 billion rail plan, including new Potomac River bridge

The signing of agreements advances a pledge Gov. Ralph Northam (D) made in December 2019 to significantly grow passenger rail service this decade by building a new rail bridge over the Potomac River, adding new track in the Washington-Richmond corridor and buying hundreds of miles of passenger right of way from CSX.

Within the next month the state will begin taking over some CSX tracks and will start construction of a fourth track in the Interstate 95 corridor in Alexandria this year, officials said.
In the long run, Amtrak expects to add six daily round trips to Richmond. It expects to add a new trip from Washington to Norfolk and another to Roanoke this year. Two more trains would be added — one ending in Richmond and the other in Newport News — by 2026, and three additional to Richmond would be added by the end of the decade. Amtrak now runs five daily Northeast Regional trains to Richmond.
Under the plan, Virginia Railways Express will add one trip on each of its two lines this year.
VRE’s Fredericksburg Line, which uses the CSX tracks, will see an increase in service of 75 percent during peak periods by the plan’s completion in 2030. The line, which operates eight round-trip trains each weekday, will add six new round-trip trains. One is planned for this year.

Virginia officials are still negotiating with Norfolk Southern to allow expansion on VRE’s Manassas Line, which has eight daily trips. The plan calls for one new trip this year and three new round trips by 2026.
Outside the Washington region, Virginia will acquire from CSX the 186 miles of track on the Buckingham Branch Line, between Doswell and Clifton Forge, which will allow Virginia to launch an east-west train route from Norfolk to the Roanoke area.

The state also will acquire the rights to use the abandoned S-Line from Petersburg to Ridgeway, N.C., which could facilitate plans for a high-speed train system in the southeast.
 

jass

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My friend goes to VT, a second Roanoke train (and eventual extension to Blacksburg) would be useful.

Currently its a 6am departure and a 11pm arrival. The reverse would work well.
 

stellarfun

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Under Biden's Infrastructure proposal, AMTRAK would extend corridors "branching from Boston to Manchester and Concord, N.H. A new railroad service outlines a route that extends from Rockland, Maine, through Boston and Providence, to Roanoke or Norfolk, Virginia."

It also appears there would be a new service between Boston and Albany.
See:
http://media.amtrak.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Amtrak-Connects-Us-Fact-Sheet-for-Statement.pdf

Service between Jacksonville and Mobile would be discontinued. That is Rep. Gaetz's district.

:eek:
 

Riverside

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My vague recollection is indeed that those loop track tunnels are long gone, though I suppose maybe those are the approaches?
 

Stlin

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This is way outside of New England, but it probably says something about how people are viewing rail funding under the Biden admin if even Montana is proposing intrastate intercity rail. For a state with a RI sized population but 150 times the land area, this is an audacious proposal if I've ever seen one, but giving them study money wouldn't be a bad idea just to get Tester's vote.

 

F-Line to Dudley

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This is way outside of New England, but it probably says something about how people are viewing rail funding under the Biden admin if even Montana is proposing intrastate intercity rail. For a state with a RI sized population but 150 times the land area, this is an audacious proposal if I've ever seen one, but giving them study money wouldn't be a bad idea just to get Tester's vote.

They're pushing this because airline consolidation and hub-ification has made flying utterly unaffordable to/from Montana and the Dakotas. There aren't nearly as many direct flights as there were 30 years ago, it's more time-consuming than it used to be because of the excess connections, and prices are gouged through the moon for the last leg because of the very small airports served. So this route ends up having similar ridership juice as the statie corridors in the Northeast and attached to Chicago Hub at being a viable alternative to airline pricing...all in spite of having the layout of an LD route. Strange quirk, but explainable by some of the blind spots in 21st century airfares creating grave inequities that hit those states particularly hard. And that explains the whole of the bipartisan support. I mean, the campaign donors up there are bitching nonstop about how much a P.I.T.A. flying is...so, squeaky wheels.

Amtrak study (2009): http://nrvrc.org/nrvpassengerrailst...ational/Amtrak_North_Coast_Hiawatha_Study.pdf. I'm sure the projected ridership is higher now since the energy sector in those states went through a decade-long 2010's boom, but the airline pricing/availability situation not only didn't get better but got a whole lot worse.


Also...while it's unsurprising in the slightest that Biden is living up to his "Amtrak Joe" rep, these things don't always break ideologically the way you'd assume. The deepest all-time cuts to the Amtrak route network happened in the Carter and Clinton Admins., respectively...while the appropriations that direct-set the Acela into motion were an H.W. Bush joint rammed through Congress on the eve of the '92 election.
 

Roxxma

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I crossed Montana on the Empire Builder four years ago, its arrival is probably the biggest event of the day in many of the towns where it stops, it's a true lifeline to the outside world. I also noticed a lot of Canadian plates on cars parked in the station lots of some of the longer service stops (Minot and Williston, ND, and Shelby and Havre, MT) I would guess the infrequency and expense of Via Rail Canada's Canadian and these stations' proximity to the US/Canadian border has something to do with that.
 

fatnoah

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I crossed Montana on the Empire Builder four years ago, its arrival is probably the biggest event of the day in many of the towns where it stops
I felt like this during my one and only trip on the Texas Eagle. There are places where just getting to the airport is a multi-hour journey and the cost of flying is extreme, so it really becomes a bus vs. train conversation. For any length of time, train will definitely win on comfort.
 

Arlington

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President Biden in his speech today marking Amtrak’s 50th anniversary openly pined for 220 MPH service, Such as a new line between Charlotte and Atlanta

He also lamented that if just three curves could be straightened between Washington and New York trip times could be cut to an hour and 35 minutes.

I don’t think this is hyperbole I believe I know two of the three curves that he refers to:

1) the Metuchen curve, Which interrupts what would otherwise be a long straight fast section of track. New Jersey’s section of 165mph track ends at the Metuchen curve Because it did not pay to continue high speed running (Upgraded power and constant tension catenary was installled Trenton to New Brunswick but not continued
all the way to Elizabeth given the need to slow at Metuchen.

2) The Frankford Junction curve near Philly, Site of two famous derailments (1943 & 2015) And a curve that currently splits two sections of high-speed running into two stretches that can’t afford to get up to speed because they have to deal with the curve

(To me both of these curves looked like they should have been solved using eminent domain and a straight surface shot a long time ago—And neither is particularly prime real estate even to this day such that you might be tempted to do a tunnel Because the surface development was too valuable)

Biden suggested that these were beyond current budget in terms of affordability. He also suggested that whatever the third curve was it fell in the same category. What would that be?

Some have suggested as the third curve the B & P tunnel in Baltimore but this is some thing that they’re actually is budget to fix and it isn’t so much a “curve” that needs straightening as it is simply a decrepit piece of curving track that will be straightened some and replaced with modern clearances

I think I’m counting on F line to know whether my first two guesses are correct and what the third curve might be, like a needless jog in the middle of two straight sections Somewhere in Maryland or Delaware would be my guess
 
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F-Line to Dudley

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Elizabeth, NJ is the third one...approx. 1 mile of 80 MPH speed zone with a restricted 55/65 MPH S-curve while all else Newark Airport to Metropark is 125+ (125 per my 15-year-old track map...think it's 165 now). Nasty one because NJT Trenton Line and North Jersey Coast Line commuter trains get caught up in it, too, with the Trenton expresses in particular losing a bit of consequential time-keeping on the S-curve. That one is solveable with eminent domaining in a built-up downtown, but the only substantial structure affected is one large parking garage. The local politics are, however, delicate. That's an ongoing but very slow negotiation.

Metuchen is a 80/90 MPH S-curve centered around the station in an approx. 4-mile stretch of 110 MPH territory bookended by all- 125-165 territory. Being able to whack that one would allow for the entire speed zone to be uprated.

There are a few other *spot* curve restrictions between Newark and Frankford Jct., but they are all anywhere from 100-130 MPH. And generally speaking when the restrictions themselves are >100 they're not acceleration-punitive enough to make a difference, and don't stretch long enough to change the overall signal-system speed zone. So whacking the sub-100 ones does a lot of good. These two in particular are particularly bad ones because they're close enough to amplify each other's effects and create a dispatching bottleneck that reverberates down through the Regionals and NJT expresses. Get rid of them and the schedule is pretty much only limited by the Aveila equipment's native acceleration out of the Metropark and Trenton station stops.


Frankford Jct. is punitive at 50/60 MPH restricted S-curve inside a 70 MPH speed zone, with amplified effects necessitating 3 miles of 100 MPH speed limit north to SEPTA Holmesburg Jct. Station. But City of Philly doesn't get above 80 MPH and there's no way to tame the 30 MPH restriction at Zoo Interlocking just outside 30th St. Station, so you're never going to rocket through downtown. Fixing Frankford mostly helps the schedule for being able to uprate the 3 miles to Holmesburg to 125+, give the Acela a helpful northbound acceleration boost on to Trenton, and to strip out some southbound schedule padding. It doesn't mean you're suddenly going to start flying all the way in/out of 30th Street.

The B&P tunnels are extremely slow...30 MPH. But that's all in largely unimprovable Downtown Baltimore where speeds are 45 MPH through the Union Tunnel north of Baltimore Penn + associated approach curves and 80 MPH with one 55 MPH restriction between the B&P south portals and West Baltimore Station. It's all accel/decel zone from the station stop, so nothing through Downtown will ever be triple-digit unless you want the passengers to barf from the G forces. If the replacement tunnels can just stay north of 50 that'll be fine and dandy. It's a dispatching congestion problem more than it is a speed problem.


I dunno if the singular focus on curves really tells the whole story. New Portal Bridge being 90 MPH instead of 60 MPH is huge for the time it'll shave between NY Penn and Newark...and that's not on a high-speed segment at all because of all the unimprovable NY terminal district switches it has to weave through. Reinforcing consistency of 80-90 MPH through there and stripping out a lot of slovenly schedule padding is where the new bridge makes all the difference to all users.
 

Scalziand

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Unfortunately there's a new apartment building just built snugged up to the tracks in Elizabeth so that reasonable fix just got messier.
 

Arlington

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For the record The Biden Amtrak Connects Us plan has elements which are both good corridor creation and good politics:

1) Front Range: Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Denver, Ft Collins, Cheyenne.

The eastern face of the Rockies Is a straight relatively flat rail route. By adding Cheyenne Wyoming gets added as a state to the Amtrak map. Stops at Air Force Academy and other urban cores you’ve heard of but did realize were on the same line

2) Chicago Indianapolis-Louisville. Kentucky would get served to its big city (instead of just its WV-OH borderlands). Kentucky would get added “politically”. Indianapolis service has struggled partly because Cincinnati had sufficient competing airline service. Louisville should be a more appreciative market

3) Nashville-Chattanooga-Atlanta. Memphis has long had Chicago-New Orleans, But from Central and Eastern Tenn, perspective it isn’t just a different time zone, might as well be service on another planet. This would solidify Tennessee as an Amtrak state

4) Dedicated S Line from Richmond to Raleigh. All EIS and now fully owned by VA and NC (Finally acquired in abandonment from CSX) They should be fairly ready to build a 125 mile an hour to track Railroad that would greatly cut travel time between urban North Carolina and DC

5) Biden spoke of 220 mile an hour service from Charlotte to Atlanta if there ever were a pair of cities that should have a Greenfield world class high speed rail connection it is Charlotte and Atlanta and the several million size metro cities in between.
 
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