Why no government focus on improving commuter rail?

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Why no government focus on improving commuter rail?

Postby SouthernRailway » Sun Mar 08, 2015 4:41 pm

With all of the Obama administration's emphasis on "high speed rail", which hasn't really amounted to much in practice, and constant harping on the need for "high speed rail" by some politicians:

Why is there no emphasis on improving commuter rail? Wouldn't that have much more of an impact on the transportation needs of more people than HSR would have, and wouldn't it have more benefits?

For example, even on lines around NYC that are pretty heavily used, some lines aren't electrified, have low-level platforms and are largely single-track--thus they're slow and thus don't attract as many riders as they otherwise could.

Wouldn't setting a goal of having all commuter rail lines that transport more than a minimum number of people per year be electrified, double-tracked and with high-level platforms be a good thing? And wouldn't setting a goal of having, for example, all downtowns that have more than X number of jobs, or metropolitan areas with more than X number of people (or using whatever criteria you want), have at least one commuter rail line be a good thing?

Thoughts?
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Re: Why no government focus on improving commuter rail?

Postby BandA » Sun Mar 08, 2015 7:14 pm

A buyer's cooperative for engines and rolling stock would be a start. Works great for police departments ordering police cars. Instead of, say, the MBTA custom-ordering 40 engines once every 25+ years, get 20 different agencies order 2-3 or so each of exactly the same locomotive every year for the next 4 years.
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Re: Why no government focus on improving commuter rail?

Postby CHTT1 » Sun Mar 08, 2015 7:56 pm

Commuter rail is basically a local/regional option. A local area has to be interested enough to fund such operations. Federal assistance in equipment purchases has been around since the 1970's. While standardization of equipment is a nice idea, there are lots of operations that need specialized equipment. I also imagine that congress people representing rural areas or small towns would always be an impediment to federal oversight. It's hard enough to get them to support Amtrak, which actually serves rural areas.
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Re: Why no government focus on improving commuter rail?

Postby kaitoku » Mon Mar 09, 2015 12:45 am

Commuter rail is basically a local/regional option.


This. However, the federal government should be working with state and local agencies to come up with a plan/standards that integrate local transport as seamlessly as posible with intercity/interstate rail passenger transport. But I don't expect such common-sense done_in_other_first_world_countries thinking to ever take hold, given the transient, election cycle driven nature of transportation policy in the U.S.
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Re: Why no government focus on improving commuter rail?

Postby electricron » Mon Mar 09, 2015 2:29 am

The Feds do give funds to commuter rail agencies.
Full integration isn't going to happen as long as Amtrak insists on commuter rail agencies over-buying insurance so Amtrak can run their trains on commuter rail tracks. For example, Amtrak's Texas Eagle switching to TRE tracks between Fort Worth and Dallas. Amtrak asked TRE to pay Amtrak's insurance when TRE is doing Amtrak a favor by giving up train slots. DART just outright refused to pay it's 50% share, forcing FWTA to ante up 100% of the extra insurance costs. FYI, DART and FWTA each own 50% of TRE. The FRA did ante up some funding to double track another mile or two of the TRE corridor. Never-the-less, the yearly cost of the extra insurance will far outpace the one time double track funds in just a few years.

Integration between local and Amtrak trains should come at no additional costs to either parties. Integration should be used to reduce overall costs, not increase them.
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Re: Why no government focus on improving commuter rail?

Postby F-line to Dudley via Park » Mon Mar 09, 2015 5:41 am

BandA wrote:A buyer's cooperative for engines and rolling stock would be a start. Works great for police departments ordering police cars. Instead of, say, the MBTA custom-ordering 40 engines once every 25+ years, get 20 different agencies order 2-3 or so each of exactly the same locomotive every year for the next 4 years.


Well, the MBTA isn't a good comparison here. Commuter rail equipment (non-EMU/DMU) is about as vanilla off-shelf as it gets.

What are the most widely-used commuter rail engines with multiple-agency orders?
#1. EMD F40PH's (later-generation -2C's, PHM-2C's, and -3C's...original-generation ones nearly gone). Still far and away the leader, with multiple ongoing rebuild programs to the latest "3C" spec. Operators: Metra, NJT/MNRR west-of-Hudson, MBTA, Caltrain, Tri-Rail, Coaster, ACE
#2. MPI MPXpress (MP36PH/MP40PH, and Sunrail's new MP32PH-Q's which are full-blown MP36 engine/traction/cab inhabiting the hollowed-out carbody of an ex- GP40-2W). Operators: GO Transit, MARC, Metra, Metrolink, VRE, Sounder. UTA FrontRunner, SunRail, Rail Runner Express, Northstar, Music City Star.
#3. EMD F59PH/F59PHI's. Operators: GO Transit, Metrolink, AMT, Caltrain, Sounder, West Coast Express, TRE, Coaster.
#4. GP40-2 family (GP40PH-2, GP40PH-2B, GP40FH-2, GP40-2H, GP40MC, GP39H-2). Operators: NJT, MBTA, MARC, CDOT/Shore Line East.
#5. GE Genesis (P40DC and P32AC-DM dual-mode). Operators: MNRR, CDOT/Shore Line East, NJT.
#6. Bombardier ALP-45DP dual-mode. Operators: NJT and AMT.
#7. AEM-7DC electric. Operators: MARC and SEPTA.

GP40's are rapidly dwindling in number and generally not a purchase option. AEM-7's are on their last legs. Everything else is rebuildable ad infinitum whether it's still in-production or out-of-production, and commuter rail power is going to be flooded with rebuild-grade Genesis units displaced by Amtrak's new orders and various agencies secondhand F59's for another dozen years at least. So this list is going to be rock-stable save for the Geeps and Toasters.

The only push-pull outliers are NJT's Bombardier ALP-46/46A electrics (55 units), MBTA's MPI HSP-46's (40 units), Metrolink's EMD F125's on-order (20 units), LIRR's craptacular EMD DE30AC's (24 units) and DM30AC dual-modes (21 units) up for retirement in 5 years, Metro North's Brookville BL20GH oddities (12 units), Tri-Rail's controversial new Brookville BL36PH's (12 units), Tri-Rail's converted ex-freight GP49-3's (6 units), and final surviving ABB ALP-44 on SEPTA. The Brookvilles are never going to be much more than a niche product because they're a small manufacturer; ALP's are proven-quality but there are few buyers at the moment with a specific need for electric push-pull who don't have an outright dependency on Amtrak (and what Amtrak's using) for maintenance. EMD designed the F125 was made for Amtrak's next-gen order...and lost that contract, so that may (whether it's good or not) not be a market EMD wants to chase that hard for future orders. HSP-46...MPI took a bath on trying to build to that daunting new design, and there are rumors they're just going to say "no mas" and retreat to the MPXpress lineup, gut-and-rebuilds, and borrowing some of the more applicable tech from the HSP's for their other products.

The way the aftermarket is shaping up, especially if Amtrak displaces its P42DC's, probably means remanufactures (not overhauls, but "like-new" everything) are going to be a majority of the sales. There doesn't necessarily have to be all that many "new" makes. This is where the HSP-46 design isn't totally useless. GE has aims on packaging its passenger-rated GEVO engine inside the HSP as a Tier IV-compliant upgrade kit for other rebuilds. Especially the Genesis. So you may see a ton of rebuilt P42's and F59's that become quasi- HSP's under the hood with AC traction. GE certainly sees profits there where it doesn't quite see the need to go high-risk with an all-new make. You'll also certainly see a lot more gut-and-rebuilds like the MP32PH-Q as more old Geep carbodies come available. That's almost going to make things even more off-shelf in the immediate-term.

------------------------------------------------------------

What are the most widely-used coaches?
#1. Bombardier BiLevel and derivatives (low-boarding). Operators: GO Transit, Metrolink, Caltrain, AMT, Tri-Rail, UTA FrontRunner, Sounder, West Coast Express, TRE, Coaster, ACE, SunRail, Rail Runner Express, Northstar.
#2. Metra gallery cars via multiple manufacturers (low-boarding). Operators: Metra, Caltrain, VRE, Music City Star
#3. Comet-class single-levels (vestibule boarding...same near-exact design goes by different names on different operators). Operators: NJT, MNRR, MBTA, SEPTA, AMT, UTA FrontRunner.
#4. Bombardier MultiLevel (vestibule boarding). Operators: NJT, AMT, MARC. Future orders expected for MNRR and LIRR.
#5. Kawasaki-style bi-level and derivatives (vestibule boarding). Operators: MBTA and MARC.

Outliers: LIRR's craptacular customized C3's up for retirement soon, MARC IIA (in active phase-out) and IIB single-levels, Shore Line East Mafersa single-levels.

Now...there are some bad derivatives out there. Pretty much anything with Rotem's name on it (Bombardier BLV knock-offs, Kawasaki bi-level knock-offs) has been a disaster. The MBTA's anal-retentive software specs have been a bad decision. But there are basically only 5 designs of commuter rail coaches on the continent that you can order or get for rebuild. 4 if you're talking all-new, since single-levels are on the wane and rebuild-only. All of them battle-tested through multiple-generations. And that's basically how it's going to be for pretty much the next couple decades. If you don't deviate from what's bulletproof on 38 years of BLV perfection, 70+ years of gallery car perfection, 23 years of K-car perfection, 45 years of umpteenth-rebuilt Comet perfection, and 2 generations of MLV's now rounding into form...it is pretty damn hard to screw up a coach order. Which is amusing for how hard some agencies seem to try.
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Re: Why no government focus on improving commuter rail?

Postby F-line to Dudley via Park » Mon Mar 09, 2015 6:23 am

SouthernRailway wrote:For example, even on lines around NYC that are pretty heavily used, some lines aren't electrified, have low-level platforms and are largely single-track--thus they're slow and thus don't attract as many riders as they otherwise could.

Wouldn't setting a goal of having all commuter rail lines that transport more than a minimum number of people per year be electrified, double-tracked and with high-level platforms be a good thing? And wouldn't setting a goal of having, for example, all downtowns that have more than X number of jobs, or metropolitan areas with more than X number of people (or using whatever criteria you want), have at least one commuter rail line be a good thing?

Thoughts?


There's no one way to approach this. Especially the electrification part. Some lines (MNRR Upper Harlem Line north of Southeast, Danbury Branch, Waterbury Branch; LIRR Oyster Bay Branch, Greenport Scoot, outer Montauk; several MBTA branchlines; etc.) do not and never will have the service density to make electrification cost-effective...ever. Others have LOTS of other state-of-repair, capacity enhancement, and speed enhancement busywork--stuff that'll take 1-2 decades even in a generous funding environment--to settle up before electrification is truly going to make a difference (e.g. Upper Hudson Line which needs to dovetail with NYHSR capacity; the Springfield Line which needs major grade crossing elimination work; the MBTA Worcester Line; all of LIRR's Main Line ESA-related capacity enhancements before Port Jefferson and eastward electrification expansion from Ronkonkoma and Babylon can happen). There's freight-clearance routes where under-wire clearance is going to be hard to come by and make cost/benefit of electrification hard to meet (some NJT and MBTA routes). And so on. Each one has to be judged on the merits. And nowadays has to be judged on its merits where full-capability dual-mode locomotives lessen the need for total electrification (such as if NJT remains a half-and-half operation, or SEPTA considers expansion without necessarily electrifying from Day 1). You just can't state an aesthetic preference for electrics-everywhere. It has to fit the purpose, and every line is going to have umpteen unique pros and cons feeding into the equation. It's impossible to apply one golden rule.

Single-track is the same way. Unless there is an identified capacity pinch or over-congestion, you don't need to have full-completist double-track everywhere. If your mainline forks into multiple branches, the proportional headways are always going to be proportional enough to the mainline's capacity to not exhaust what single-track + passing sidings can handle. Ditto where short-turns drop the service levels on the outer portions of a line. The lines that are straining under the weight of too few tracks (especially when they used to have more historically that were later removed) are all pretty obvious.

As for platforms...yes, there's a lot of ADA work left to do. SEPTA and MARC are way behind at raising their platforms, even on the NEC. The MBTA and NJT simply have too many stations total to blitz everything. And of course the MNRR Waterbury Branch is like a third-world country. But keep in mind there are designated wide-freight clearance routes on many Northeastern commuter rail systems where you can't have high platforms without a passing or gauntlet track. The freights are protected by interstate commerce law on those lines that have sufficient and historically steady quantities of wide-load traffic. Sometimes space just isn't physically available for a passing track, and gauntlets have their own sets of maintenance, operational, and safety compromises that make them a non-preferred last resort. Some platforms can only be low with a single-car mini-high platform with a retractible edge. That's a fact of life. Elsewhere in the country the platform height is a standard 8 inches with low-boarding cars...anywhere west of Albany, west of Harrisburg, and south of D.C. is low-boarding territory. The only level-boarding exceptions in the U.S. outside the northeast are Metra Electric and the South Shore Line--a largely isolated system--and CAHSR which will force changes to currently low-boarding Caltrain, portions of Metrolink, and possibly ACE and Sounder. The only U.S. commuter rail operator outside those very slow and long-term CAHSR-fueled changes that may have to contend with the divide is MARC if it starts running thru into Virginia. It just so conveniently happens that hardly any commuter systems get anywhere near the divide.
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Re: Why no government focus on improving commuter rail?

Postby wigwagfan » Sat Mar 14, 2015 10:23 pm

Commuter rail = local.

High speed rail = interstate.

Frankly, the feds shouldn't be involved in anything that is local, or for that matter contained within a state, and they don't necessarily have to be involved if it involves two states that are closely working together (for example, Washington and Oregon). I wish the Federal Transit Administration would be abolished, because here in Portland, Oregon FTA requirements have been disasterous for local transit (priority is on building new light rail, commuter rail and streetcar lines, at the expense of the regional bus network which has been cut significantly.)
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Re: Why no government focus on improving commuter rail?

Postby YamaOfParadise » Sun Mar 15, 2015 7:45 pm

Standardization seems to be the only things the fed could help with that it really isn't doing in some capacity already. You can certainly say that more money/resources could be given to getting the rail network that's part of commuter routes back into a condition of good repair... but when it comes down to it, it is much easier to get money out of state and municipal governments than trying to convince Congress to give you money in the federal budget.

The Federal Government also can't help with the institutional failures, dysfunctions, and other conditions many commuter rail operations face; and they're all different, since the circumstances under which they exist are so varied. SEPTA is... SEPTA, don't think I have to elaborate there. The MBTA has to deal with the portion of debt they were given of the Big Dig (I believe it was about $1.7bn), and they also have to directly deal with the obligatory mitigation: the Greenbush line (completed), Green Line past Lechmere (in progress), and the Blue Line extension to Charles/MGH on the Red Line (unfunded and barely planned), all incredibly expensive on their own. There's also all the problems in the ability to operate and construct new infrastructure that stem from being one of the oldest cities in the nation, and the years and years of horrendous management that the B&M and NH had (in both cases due in no small part because of Patrick B. McGinnis). That's a tremendous amount to deal with, and it only makes the impact any blunders they make all that more problematic. These are just the problems faced by one organization; every other CR organization has their own problems and overall problematic histories to deal with as well.

My own wishes would be to do something about the profiteering that is involved with the big projects that eventually have to be undertaken; someone is always trying to turn a coin on it, be it the contractors trying to cut corners, or someone in-government making dubious deals.
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Re: Why no government focus on improving commuter rail?

Postby BandA » Tue Mar 17, 2015 4:07 pm

YamaOfParadise wrote:The MBTA has to deal with the portion of debt they were given of the Big Dig (I believe it was about $1.7bn), and they also have to directly deal with the obligatory mitigation: the Greenbush line (completed), Green Line past Lechmere (in progress), and the Blue Line extension to Charles/MGH on the Red Line (unfunded and barely planned), all incredibly expensive on their own.
The "big dig" debt was for transit "mitigation" projects (Old Colony lines including the white elephant Greenbush), Silver Line (Bus/Dual-Mode Rapid Transit) IIRC, possibly the others you mentioned that aren't paid for yet. Not required by the federal govt, but by agreement between MA & the Conservation Law Foundation. No valid link to I-93 highway project other than "me-too" greed and their threatened lawsuit. Which is ironic since the highway project alone probably reduced air pollution in Boston (fewer idling cars) and definitely reduced noise pollution and improved quality of life.

The big problem with federal funding for transit is the distortion of rational decision making to chase those "free" dollars. Like Buy-American where a foreign manufacturer sets up an assembly plant which gets shut down as soon as the order is complete, and the cars cost 50% more but since the feds are paying 80%, who cares? Or a transit agency doesn't maintain anything knowing the Feds will pay for new vehicles. Or they tear down an EL, use federal money to convert railroad tracks to subway to replace the EL, resulting in less capacity for Amtrak and commuter rail.
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Re: Why no government focus on improving commuter rail?

Postby electricron » Tue Mar 17, 2015 4:44 pm

When it comes to transit projects, I would prefer local agencies planning, building, operating, and financing them. The more local the better, because that's where we the public have the greatest influence. I dislike the powers from high dictating to the those below.

The main reason why government in general has little focus on transit is that transit agencies have been formed to finance, plan, operate and maintain them. Similar to independent school boards, hospital districts, and etc.
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Re: Why no government focus on improving commuter rail?

Postby Arborwayfan » Mon Sep 05, 2016 5:40 pm

A new President's Conference Committee to create standard equipment designs for CR and maybe also transit (not federal, but national cooperation of local agencies)? It worked once for transit, after all; if anything, it helped out the market by reducing uncertainty about designs and letting bids focus on production costs etc. At least that's the way I understand it.
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Re: Why no government focus on improving commuter rail?

Postby electricron » Tue Sep 06, 2016 12:10 am

There are two FTA programs that could help fund commuter rail capital projects, "New Starts" and "Small Starts", depending upon how much money the transit agency needs. In general, fewer commuter rail projects qualify for these programs because light rail and heavy rail projects qualify better, but there are commuter rail projects that have received Federal FTA programs funding.
Commuter and all passenger rail agencies also get Federal funding for operations as well. To determine how much, check out your local transit agency yearly budgets. For example, DCTA's 2014 Annual Budget;
Operating Revenues $4,516,140
Operating Expenses Total $23,789,419
Non - Operating Revenues Total $27,692,472
> Sales Tax Revenues $21,387,086
> Net Investment Income $21,100
> Long Term Debt Interest -$1,451,364
> Non Operating Revenues $81,520
> State Grants & Reimbursements $648,939
> Federal Grants & Reimbursements $7,025,190

While $7 Million is just slightly more than a third of DCTA's operating budget, it's still more Federal funding on a yearly basis to a transit agency than many believe! And yes, this is the budget for the entire transit agency, both buses and trains. I wouldn't suggest how much Federal funding comes for buses or trains since the agency didn't specify that division. Never-the-less, some is definitely for operating trains.
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Re: Why no government focus on improving commuter rail?

Postby mtuandrew » Tue Sep 06, 2016 4:14 pm

Arborwayfan wrote:A new President's Conference Committee to create standard equipment designs for CR and maybe also transit (not federal, but national cooperation of local agencies)? It worked once for transit, after all; if anything, it helped out the market by reducing uncertainty about designs and letting bids focus on production costs etc. At least that's the way I understand it.

It worked once, yes, but that was for an American industry in decline. The trend now is foreign manufacturers with American subsidiaries (though I'd be happy to see a homegrown, serious, and fully-capitalized American competitor.)

Also, the second time America tried to create a standard LRV, it wasn't so successful :P
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Re: Why no government focus on improving commuter rail?

Postby wigwagfan » Sun Dec 25, 2016 6:26 pm

mtuandrew wrote:
Arborwayfan wrote:A new President's Conference Committee to create standard equipment designs for CR and maybe also transit (not federal, but national cooperation of local agencies)? It worked once for transit, after all; if anything, it helped out the market by reducing uncertainty about designs and letting bids focus on production costs etc. At least that's the way I understand it.

It worked once, yes, but that was for an American industry in decline. The trend now is foreign manufacturers with American subsidiaries (though I'd be happy to see a homegrown, serious, and fully-capitalized American competitor.)

Also, the second time America tried to create a standard LRV, it wasn't so successful :P


It was tried with a new generation Streetcar...and of course an Oregon Senator made sure to funnel that money to an Oregon company (United Streetcar), which in turn made a handful of streetcars.

Oh, and that company went out of business.
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