North Coast Hiawatha Study

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mtuandrew
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Re: $1bn for a new North Coast Hiawatha

Post by mtuandrew » Mon Dec 14, 2009 3:40 pm

kmillard wrote:That's about the time when the whole system could stand to have a little more capacity but you can't take cars off one train at that time to put on another one because everyone's at capacity.

A Portland/Seattle - Spokane daylight regional train would probably do a lot to free up Space on the Empire Builder for Washington State passengers originating/terminating at points East of Spokane.
Likewise, a Minneapolis - Chicago train running opposite the Builder would relieve a lot of pressure. 807/8 (the coach or two added to the Builder at MSP) are a half measure, but at least Amtrak recognizes that there is a need for elasticity on our train.

On the other hand, a new NCH would serve the Twin Cities and Spokane as a regional, as well as Montana. Timekeeping would be critical, but there is a theory that a through long-distance train is more cost-effective than a regional.

kmillard
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Re: $1bn for a new North Coast Hiawatha

Post by kmillard » Thu Dec 17, 2009 2:36 pm

It seems logical on so many levels that with population increasing and with that the increase in passenger miles travelled per year that just to keep pace with increased travel and just to keep market share that Amtrak HAS to add capacity through additional and larger trains on existing routes and occasionally through new routes. Of the new routes suggested, this one seems among the very strongest and seems to be the first one to be added for a variety of reasons.

1. It's already projected to be one of the strongest LD performers when it starts, even with Amtrak's propensity to overstate startup costs and underestimate ridership and revenues.
2. Virtually no competition from aviation or bus service on much of it's proposed route. (And if they haven't done it now, they would be even less likely with a popular train in the mix.)
3. The promotion of tourism as this would be the closest rail service (or public transportation of ANY kind) to Yellowstone National Park.
4. It would provide at least the second frequency between Chicago and the Twin Cities as well as Portland/Seattle to Spokane, something that has been clamored for for many years anyway by residents of both regions.
5. This train already has a highly distinguished history of 70 years on this route and is really the only route of one the truly great trains of the past currently without passenger service. People in ND and Montana still remember the NCL and I'm sure a new generation would definitely welcome having train service back with their pocketbooks.
6. This train wold have a better support network of connecting trains than did the old NCH in 1979 with the new Northern Lights Express service service to Duluth and increased MWRII service at Milwaukee and Chicago. Also, there was no service to Vancouver from Seattle in 1979 and only a couple Seattle - Portland frequencies.
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electricron
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Re: $1bn for a new North Coast Hiawatha

Post by electricron » Thu Dec 17, 2009 9:20 pm

Image

Doesn't the 4 lane I-94 parallel the North Coast Hiawatha route much of the way? The Empire Builder has the advantage in that it doesn't closely parallel I-94 most of the way, it follows the 2 lane US 2. I-94 would attract far more drivers than US 2.

Good luck finding that $1 Billion to fix the route and finding some idle Superliner cars.
If the NCH was restarted, I would have it terminate in Portland, and have the EB in Seattle, eliminating the need to switch cars in Spokane. This could easily save a half hour or more on the EB time. Passengers could just transfer trains in Spokane instead.

mtuandrew
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Re: $1bn for a new North Coast Hiawatha

Post by mtuandrew » Thu Dec 17, 2009 11:30 pm

electricron wrote:Image

Doesn't the 4 lane I-94 parallel the North Coast Hiawatha route much of the way? The Empire Builder has the advantage in that it doesn't closely parallel I-94 most of the way, it follows the 2 lane US 2. I-94 would attract far more drivers than US 2.

Good luck finding that $1 Billion to fix the route and finding some idle Superliner cars.
If the NCH was restarted, I would have it terminate in Portland, and have the EB in Seattle, eliminating the need to switch cars in Spokane. This could easily save a half hour or more on the EB time. Passengers could just transfer trains in Spokane instead.
I-90/94 does parallel the entire NCH route from Chicago to Seattle, but it's within 10 miles for the entire distance from Fargo to Missoula (excepting the split to Helena, as the Butte line is out of service). There's still a call for this train though, even if it ends up being a smaller consist than the Builder.

As for switching cars, I think Amtrak should continue offering through service to Portland from the EB, and should also have a Portland section of the NCH. They're already paying switching costs, and I don't think it'd help business to roust all your passengers at o-dark-thirty and make them change trains.

Station Aficionado
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Re: $1bn for a new North Coast Hiawatha

Post by Station Aficionado » Fri Dec 18, 2009 9:42 am

electricron wrote:If the NCH was restarted, I would have it terminate in Portland, and have the EB in Seattle, eliminating the need to switch cars in Spokane. This could easily save a half hour or more on the EB time. Passengers could just transfer trains in Spokane instead.
I've wondered about that possibility, too. The Portland section's cars could fill part of the equipment needs for a restored NCH. Also, there would be no need then to put all the money into the Stampede Pass route (and assuming its just not possible to put a second Seattle train through Cascade Tunnel). You would need consistent timekeeping on both trains and, per Andrew's comments, the schedules would have to be revamped so that both trains were in Spokane at a much more civilized hour. But the idea could be worth exploring if revival of the NCH ever gains traction.

Slightly off-topic query: does Amtrak switch the EB itself at Spokane, or do they pay BNSF to do it?

Gilbert B Norman
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Re: $1bn for a new North Coast Hiawatha

Post by Gilbert B Norman » Fri Dec 18, 2009 10:56 am

Until someone steps forth with "on the ground" knowledge, allow my guess that Amtrak road crews perform the necessary switching at Spokane to stand.

#7 arrives and the cut is made ahead of the Lounge; station work is done, and it is "hi-ball P007" to Seattle. Now #27's power backs down, couples up, air and HEP, "and we're off'.

Road crew has not been asked to any work that normally inures to Yard crews; ask them to drill a car out of the consist, save emergency, and you have a whole new ballgame.

Now handling #8 and #28 will require a double back as here it would be 28 arrives and cuts its power. #8 arrives but then must double back to the track where 28 consist was parked. But then it is simply a case of couple up, do your air and HEP, your station work, and "hi-ball P008'. Again work allowed under a Locomotive Engineer's schedule (or at least it was "back in my day").

Related, and again I speculate (deferring to Mr. Vincent); I'm willing to guess that when a P-42 is observed handling a 5XX Talgo Cascade train, such is to move power assigned to 27-28 to/from Seattle for periodic maintenance.
Last edited by Gilbert B Norman on Fri Dec 18, 2009 7:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

kmillard
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Re: $1bn for a new North Coast Hiawatha

Post by kmillard » Fri Dec 18, 2009 3:05 pm

electricron wrote:Image

Doesn't the 4 lane I-94 parallel the North Coast Hiawatha route much of the way? The Empire Builder has the advantage in that it doesn't closely parallel I-94 most of the way, it follows the 2 lane US 2. I-94 would attract far more drivers than US 2.

Good luck finding that $1 Billion to fix the route and finding some idle Superliner cars.
If the NCH was restarted, I would have it terminate in Portland, and have the EB in Seattle, eliminating the need to switch cars in Spokane. This could easily save a half hour or more on the EB time. Passengers could just transfer trains in Spokane instead.
Quite a few Amtrak train routes parallel interstate highways. In fact, It's pretty hard not to nowadays. But the fact remains the ridership projects still put this "train" as one of Amtrak's stronger LD performers from day one and there's precious little else in the form of competition from aviation and buses. Plus the population centers are larger on a revived "NCM" route. I'm guessing that the drive times on sparsely populated US 2 are pretty competitive with drive times on I-94.

AFA the Superliners are concerned, I've long felt that Amtrak has needed a placeholder trainset for startup services. The ex-Santa Fe High levels should never have been disposed of so quickly either but that's for another day.
"Government isn't the solution to our problems, government IS the problem."

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Gilbert B Norman
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Re: $1bn for a new North Coast Hiawatha

Post by Gilbert B Norman » Fri Dec 18, 2009 3:25 pm

Mr. Millard, I'm certain that Amtrak's decision to give the "go ahead" to refurbishing the 70 some A-I's was based on the strength that even if funding for 200 or so A-III's comes to pass (yes they have asked for 4l6 but isn't that how the game is played?), there will be a reserve fleet for any locally funded start-up services.

Under law set forth with RPSA '70, Amtrak is obligated to respond to any local jurisdiction that desires and has funded passenger service. The reserve A-I's in "state of good repair' will show they have every intent of complying with that mandate (also "shovel ready" projects under ARRA '09).

But insofar as any Long Distance services go, first, all such are Federally funded, and secondly I doubt if any new LD service routes, consultant feeding aside, will be inaugurated, hence obviating any need for a reserve LD fleet. While there have been some substitutions, i.e. Lake Shore for the Broadway and Texas Eagle for the Lone Star, all of the 70's and 80's LD start ups are gone.

vermontanan
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Re: $1bn for a new North Coast Hiawatha

Post by vermontanan » Fri Dec 18, 2009 5:13 pm

kmillard wrote: 2. Virtually no competition from aviation or bus service on much of it's proposed route. (And if they haven't done it now, they would be even less likely with a popular train in the mix.)
3. The promotion of tourism as this would be the closest rail service (or public transportation of ANY kind) to Yellowstone National Park.
Not true.

To the contrary, the proposed North Coast Hiawatha route has parallel bus service - with multiple frequencies - along the entire route, except at Helena, where the buses follow I-90 through Butte, and at Paradise and Sandpoint, where again the buses follow the Interstate.

Air service along the North Coast Hiawatha is relatively good compared to most other areas in the country, really. If one accepts that Mandan is served by the Bismarck airport and that East Auburn, Washington would be served by the nearby Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, then only 5 of the proposed 17 new stops (per the study) would not have air service: Valley City, ND; Forsyth, MT; Livingston, MT; Paradise, MT; Ellensburg, WA. Valley City is only about 60 miles from Fargo and 35 from Jamestown; Livingston is about 35 miles from the Bozeman airport; Forsyth has less than 2,000 people and is 45 miles from Miles City; Paradise has less than 500 people; is about 35 miles from Yakima, the closest airport. The Bismarck, Billings, Bozeman, Helena, and Missoula airports have service to three or more hubs.

As for the North Coast Hiawatha being the closest public transportation of any kind to Yellowstone: The train would stop at Livingston, about 50 miles from the north entrance at Gardiner. Greyhound and Rimrock Trailways already serve Livingston. The West Yellowstone Airport is about 10 miles from the west entrance and sees summer service from Salt Lake City. The Jackson, Wyoming Airport is served by multiple carriers and is about the same distance from the south entrance to the park as is Livingston from the north. The Cody, Wyoming airport has year-round service and is a similar distance from the east entrance. The Bozeman airport (in Belgrade), though slightly further than these others from Yellowstone, has excellent service and is probably the major airport serving Yellowstone because it serves the Big Sky Ski Area (a major development) on the way to Yellowstone via US 191.

So, to the contrary, Yellowstone National Park currently has fairly good access, with or without a passenger train.

vermontanan
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Re: $1bn for a new North Coast Hiawatha

Post by vermontanan » Fri Dec 18, 2009 5:22 pm

electricron wrote: If the NCH was restarted, I would have it terminate in Portland, and have the EB in Seattle, eliminating the need to switch cars in Spokane. This could easily save a half hour or more on the EB time. Passengers could just transfer trains in Spokane instead.
Technically speaking, this would be illegal, because the amendment to Senate Bill 294 that authorizes the study (added by Senator Jon Tester of Montana) specifically states that such reinstated service “will not negatively impact existing Amtrak routes.” A cross-platform transfer would be a negative, as would any thoughts of using equipment from the Empire Builder or any other train for the new service.

vermontanan
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Re: $1bn for a new North Coast Hiawatha

Post by vermontanan » Fri Dec 18, 2009 5:31 pm

Gilbert B Norman wrote:Until someone steps forth with "on the ground" knowledge, allow my guess that Amtrak road crews perform the necessary switching at Spokane to stand.
True. Amtrak crews separate the train and put it back together.

Gilbert B Norman wrote: Related, and again I speculate (deferring to Mr. Vincent); I'm willing to guess that when a P-42 is observed handling a 5XX Talgo Cascade train, such is to move power assigned to 27-28 to/from Seattle for periodic maintenance.
Or, one of the regular "Cascades" locomotives is broken. That happens quite a bit.

Vincent
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Re: $1bn for a new North Coast Hiawatha

Post by Vincent » Fri Dec 18, 2009 5:44 pm

Slightly off-topic query: does Amtrak switch the EB itself at Spokane, or do they pay BNSF to do it?
Amtrak handles its own switching in Spokane, from what I observed on my ride west this fall.
Related, and again I speculate (deferring to Mr. Vincent); I'm willing to guess that when a P-42 is observed handling a 5XX Talgo Cascade train, such is to move power assigned to 27-28 to/from Seattle for periodic maintenance.

I rode a very weird consist on 508(17). First, the power was on the north end of the train--something I've never seen before--and we were deadheading 2 F59s in Cascades livery, but the lead engine was Amtrak engine #185, a P42. It's no longer unusual to see blue P42s powering a green, white and brown Cascades trainset. There's even a P32 that sometimes gets the call, and that's an ugly consist. Not that the P32 is an ugly loco, but when it's on a Talgo consist, that's ugly.


Regarding the NCH proposal (and its billion dollar price tag), the study had times that connected Seattle and Spokane at hours that are almost identical to the current Empire Builder's inconvenient schedule, which won't drum up any new business for the Seattle to Spokane market. But running a train over Stampede Pass would likely gain a few passengers in the Tri-Cities, Ellensburg and Yakima, so there could be a need for that service. Also, there's a movement in Montana to create a Billings to Missoula corridor, possibly continuing on to connect with the Empire Builder in Spokane that makes some sense and the need for another Chicago to MSP train is obvious, there might even be a market from MSP on to Fargo and Bismarck. I can't say if it makes more sense to connect those 3 corridors with one full service LD train or if it would work out better to create 3 separate shorter corridor trains. If there ever is an FRA compliant and economically dependable DMU designed for the North American market, the southern Montana and Stampede Pass sections of the NCH proposal would be a perfect locations for such a vehicle, with schedule times designed to provide train service at the hours the markets would find most convenient.

kmillard
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Re: $1bn for a new North Coast Hiawatha

Post by kmillard » Sat Dec 19, 2009 7:21 pm

Regarding the NCH proposal (and its billion dollar price tag), the study had times that connected Seattle and Spokane at hours that are almost identical to the current Empire Builder's inconvenient schedule, which won't drum up any new business for the Seattle to Spokane market. But running a train over Stampede Pass would likely gain a few passengers in the Tri-Cities, Ellensburg and Yakima, so there could be a need for that service. Also, there's a movement in Montana to create a Billings to Missoula corridor, possibly continuing on to connect with the Empire Builder in Spokane that makes some sense and the need for another Chicago to MSP train is obvious, there might even be a market from MSP on to Fargo and Bismarck. I can't say if it makes more sense to connect those 3 corridors with one full service LD train or if it would work out better to create 3 separate shorter corridor trains. If there ever is an FRA compliant and economically dependable DMU designed for the North American market, the southern Montana and Stampede Pass sections of the NCH proposal would be a perfect locations for such a vehicle, with schedule times designed to provide train service at the hours the markets would find most convenient.
You may be right but I usually think of RDC's/DMU's as being designed for sparsely patronized routes. The projections are here that a good service here could result in very strong ridership figures. (I wish there WERE an FRA compliant and economically dependable DMU designed for the North American market!!)

Interesting comment about the 3 corridor trains vs. one through train. I have a buddy in Western Iowa who I've tried to get here to visit in Michigan but he chooses to drive because flying is prohibitively expensive from the airports out there, and the California Zephyr, while close to his home, is basically unusable for him because the Eastbound train can often be up to 6 hours late and is rarely clean having been overrun with passngers since it's departure from Emeryville. It's one of those cases where a "Nebraska Zephyr" daylight train is needed to complement the CZ's service.
"Government isn't the solution to our problems, government IS the problem."

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electricron
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Re: $1bn for a new North Coast Hiawatha

Post by electricron » Sat Dec 19, 2009 9:38 pm

kmillard wrote:You may be right but I usually think of RDC's/DMU's as being designed for sparsely patronized routes. The projections are here that a good service here could result in very strong ridership figures. (I wish there WERE an FRA compliant and economically dependable DMU designed for the North American market!!)
There are new design FRA compliant DMUs available. US Railcar bought all Colorado Railcar property and could make them if there were sufficient orders. The only railroads I'm aware of running CRC DMUs are
(1) South Florida (Tri-Rail) > 3 Bi-level DMUs and 2 Bi-level Trailers
Image
(2) Trimet (WES) > 3 Single-level DMUs and 1 Single-level Trailer
Image
(3) Alaska RR (Chugach Explorer) > 1 Bi-level DMU
Image

Additionally, several railroads still run Budd RDCs on a regular basis. Trinity Railway Express has the largest fleet of RDCs in operation today in the USA. TRE has 13 RDC-1s.
Image

The FRA has a committee in the process establishing crash energy management (CEM) "Alternate" FRA regulations. Rumors suggest that these "Alternate" regulations may be released next year. If they do, some non-compliant FRA trains may become compliant under the "Alternate" regulations. Many believe a Stadler GTW could be built to meet the "Alternate" regulations, including DART.
Image

Some form of "Alternate" regulations will be needed for lightweight European or Japanese HSR trains to run at slower speeds on shared tracks to reach inner city train stations. Might as well make them available for commuter trains too.

neroden
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Re: $1bn for a new North Coast Hiawatha

Post by neroden » Fri Dec 25, 2009 2:16 pm

electricron wrote: The FRA has a committee in the process establishing crash energy management (CEM) "Alternate" FRA regulations. Rumors suggest that these "Alternate" regulations may be released next year. If they do, some non-compliant FRA trains may become compliant under the "Alternate" regulations.
This would be the best news in American passenger railroading in years, if the regulations are good. This is presumably in response to the studies done by Caltrain and others showing that European lightweight equipment with crumple zones is a lot safer in a crash than FRA-compliant piles of metal. I would expect practically everyone to rush for the "Alternate" regulations as soon as possible -- less weight means faster trains, better acceleration, more fuel-efficiency, et cetera.

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