• NEC Future: HSR "High Line", FRA, Amtrak Infrastructure Plan

  • Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.
Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.

Moderators: GirlOnTheTrain, mtuandrew, Tadman

  by Noel Weaver
 
This is not the first time this topic has come up here and the situation is no different now than it was last year or the year before. Part of the reason the corridor is as successful as it is is the important intermediate stops in Connecticut and Rhode Island. Stamford is an important suburban point with major connections, New Haven in addition to the situation at Stamford also has Yale which is a traffic producer, New London is a major travel point with bus connections, ferry connections, military posts and colleges in the area. Rhode Island is the same with colleges, military posts, big city (Providence) and other traffic sources. By-passing these points by running inland would destroy the mission of running trains, New York - Boston service amounts to much more than just New York and Boston. Building a whole new railroad through Westchester County, New York and Fairfield County, Connecticut is simply not going to happen, the cost would be trillions of dollars which do not exist and will not exist in the future either. The inland route east of New Haven would wipe out major sources of traffic and would still cost way too much. Having said all that, it would still be possible to get rid of at least two of the worst bottlenecks for speed which are Bridgeport and New London. It would cost a lot of money but it would be possible to tunnel under the harbor area of Bridgeport which could eliminate several restrictive curves and New London which would also eliminate a number of curves. Restrictive drawbridges could also be skipped. The trackage through Bridgeport would be retained for Metro-North plus some Amtrak trains that would continue to stop there as well as New London in order to continue service to that important stop. Building tunnels is not cheap but at least with tunnels they would not for the most part have NIMBY problems and would not have to acquire nearly as much expensive property. Providence is a restrictive curve as well but in this case all trains stop there anyway and there is not much likelyhood of trains not stopping at Providence in the future as it is an extremely important source of traffice. Yes there are a number of other places where you could straighten out curves and get ride of some more restrictions but at a big cost and maybe knock off a few more minutes here and there. Again the worst two spots are Bridgeport and New London and if they were to do anything, these two spots are where something should be done and running time could be reduced as a result. Two tunnels with sustained speeds of maybe 80 MPH compared with the stretches in question plus a mile or two less in both cases and elimination of 5 drawbridges would help save much time and still continue to serve all of the points that presently are served. You would still have restrictions at several locations but with good electric power the time lost would not be that severe. Many places where they have built successful high speed rail lines it has happened because the routes pass through areas that are not nearly as built up as suburban New York and suburban Boston and they have not had to deal with property owners who do not want a railroad line anywhere near their residence, NIMBY's, attorneys and other obstacles that exist in our country and will always exist. I do not think it would be possible to bypass the existing rail line between New York and New Haven. There is just no available land to build another railroad line at this time and probably not in the future either. To sum this up, in my opinion it would be far better use of funds to improve on the existing lines than to start from scratch and build new ones. A few minutes here, a few more minutes there could reduce the running times between New York and Boston and still provide good service to all.
Noel Weaver
  by RWERN
 
I would argue that the "biggest offenders" in terms of twisting routes through eastern CT are the sections from Old Saybrook to Niantic, Niantic to New London, Groton to Mystic, and Mystic to Westerly. Choosing the right places to deviate from the current alignment, radical straightening could be achieved by rerouting through sparsely populated regions between city centers. I'd imagine these areas, while sparsely populated, are affluent, which would likely complicate things.
  by twropr
 
There is something that could be done on Metro-North's NH Line. Before Penn Central there were no speed restrictions on the moveable bridges at Cos Cob, Saga and Devon. I realize that M-NR has little incentive to restore 70-75 MPH over these bridges so the funding would probably need to come from another party.
Back in about 1965 I got a cab ride in an EP-5 between Penn Station and New Haven. The engineer, an old timer, knew the railroad thoroughly and would get up to 80 MPH in several spots between Port Chester and the curve coming into Bridgeport.
Speaking of curve realignments, Amtrak has realigned several curves on its Main Line between Zoo and Paoli, which is probably similar in characteristics to M-NR's NH Line. A few years ago the maximum speed was increased from 70 to 80 MPH, following the installation of concrete ties and the curve realignments. It is far from being a continuous 80, but is faster than it had ever been back in the PRR days.

Andy
  by Noel Weaver
 
For the most part the problem with raising the speeds in the Metro-North territory is track capacity. In order to operate at higher speeds many of the blocks would probably have to be longer and that would result in fewer blocks (signal sections) and would reduce the ability to provide existing rush hour service. Things were a lot different back in the 60's, I was there on a daily basis but we can NOT go back to that period. Running 80 in a 70 zone today simply will not be done by any engineer who cares about his or her job, it is simply not possible. We did a lot of things years ago before the days of speed tapes, event recorders, automatic train control (between New York and New Haven in this particular case), radar speed checks and other controls. The railroad was aware of this and they looked the other way. We routinely ran freight trains over 50 MPH in some place, we all knew where we could do that, if we hadn't done that in some cases the trains would not have made it over the road in time to make scheduled connections and deliverys. This is moot today because the freight is gone and will not return. Yes, I know the jets could go like hell, I remember some pretty fast rides on those motors many years past, the jets are gone, the speed restrictions today remain and are enforced and it is a good thing that they are. As for the drawbridge restrictions it is true that most of them were put into effect by the Penn Central but some of them were in place before then too if not in the timetable then by bulletin order, that's why I mentioned tunnels in at least two places which could by-pass as many as five drawbridges. A big improvement in running times was possible with the electrification between New Haven and Boston, we always said years ago that we had the power between New York and New Haven and the railroad between New Haven and Boston but we did not have both at any point.
Noel Weaver
  by mlrr
 
Greg Moore wrote:I'd also argue to an extent asking if there is a market for HSR between Boston and NYP (and points south) is sort of like asking if there is enough market to justify building the first bridge across the Mississippi. "Sure, we know ferry traffic, but the existing ferry traffic won't ever pay for a bridge." This of course ignores the fact that once a bridge is built, traffic will almost certainly go up.
I love it! THANK YOU!

Acela (to a limited extend) has shown that "if you build it, they will come". Acela, since it entered service has diverted a significant share of ridership between NY-BOS (or perhaps the results showed BOS-WAS). In either case, if Acela was successful as a limited attempt at HSR, imagine what true HSR investment would do.

Thanks Greg for that example!
  by Greg Moore
 
You're welcome.

I'm going to add another thought.

Sometimes people say that HSR will never work in the US because of the population density is too low. There's a whole lot of nothing between Chicago and points west for example.

On the other hand, in the NEC, we have almost the opposite problem. True HSR may never happen because the population density is too high!

I think Mr. Weaver hit the nail on the head. Things are different in Europe. In a number of the places, while they have dense cities, they also have open spaces.

(Of course I'd still like to see HSR between ALB-NYP :-)
  by Hamhock
 
Greg Moore wrote:Sometimes people say that HSR will never work in the US because of the population density is too low. There's a whole lot of nothing between Chicago and points west for example.

On the other hand, in the NEC, we have almost the opposite problem. True HSR may never happen because the population density is too high!
This reminds me of the logically-cancelling arguments against rail: "These cities are already adequately served by bus" and "There's no bus, therefore there's no market for rail".
  by F-line to Dudley via Park
 
In more practical terms, what is the shortlist of NEC improvements to the existing infrastructure that'll knock off a meaningful number of speed restrictions without getting into NIMBY or megaproject hell. Categorized along these lines:

-- Feasible curve straightenings
-- Feasible restricted/movable bridge replacements or mitigation (excluding Portal Bridge, etc. that are already on the funding or functionally-deficient docket for replacement)
-- Feasible track tilt upgrades (anything in MNRR territory?)
-- Other misc. speed restrictions or unfunded projects
-- Equipment (existing or feasible near-term tech)
-- Operations/regulations (ops improvements that aren't a bureaucratic mess to implement)

We know the constant-tension cat project is ongoing. We know what the Eastern CT grade crossings are, although we don't know when CDOT's ever going to care enough to get with that program. We know what the 3- and 4-track infill gaps are from the official Cap Improvement plan. We know the local commuter rails have to get their stations all up to level-boarding spec to improve dwell times, that CDOT's got to get second platforms constructed on SLE, that the MBTA's got to have third passing tracks put in at 3 of its two-track stations, that the CR agencies running far below track speed are going to be under pressure to upgrade their equipment to a 90 MPH minimum. We know a whole ton of capacity issues hinge on whether Gateway Tunnel gets approved and that the B&O tunnel replacement is not optional.

What else, then, is there from all the decades worth of infrastructure studies that they can do--and get real-world approved--to get caught up on all the not-megaproject improvements and net the best can get out of the current line. Assuming the U.S. is willing to get serious about investing a goodly pile in those "achieveables" to make a serious effort to close the backlog. The 2040 vision is almost meaningless until we know exactly what 'The Best NEC The NEC Can Be' means on the current route. I don't think we can quantify what the bypass needs are in cost/benefit until we know what truly is the max realistic throughput of the current alignment. So what is that comprehensive list of achieveables?
  by Jishnu
 
One thing that involves no NIMBY's or bureaucracy is going to shorter blocks allowing trains approaching diverging interlocking to proceed at a higher speed over larger portion of what is now a relatively long block preceding the interlocking. Would improve the situation considerably at places like Menlo, Iselin, Fair and even approaching the Elizabeth S curve through North Elizabeth and blocks preceding Elmora. That sort of thing might actually produce more bang for the buck that all of the 160mph segments.

Going beyond 160mph on the current RoW will be difficult since it would require increasing track center spacing, and there isn't enough space to achieve that in most places, though there are other areas where space is available but will require tearing down catenary posts and relocating them, and even moving some station platforms out of the way. Most potential curve straightening/easing projects have the same problem too.
  by Suburban Station
 
I thought the 160 mph stretch basically rebuilt the railroad including power and things like blocks?
I think straightening frankford curve is viable. the land and structures are inexpensive and mostly light industrial. if there are people, overpaying for their homes shouldn't break the project. the speed increase would affect all trains (acela, keystone, regional). the nimbyism here should be more managable and land values less astronomical. it also involves the biggest city pairs (philly ny AND washington ny)
edited to add: it looks like they've added capacity, the trains are no longer sold out. wonder why they waited to long to do that
  by ThirdRail7
 
Jishnu wrote:One thing that involves no NIMBY's or bureaucracy is going to shorter blocks allowing trains approaching diverging interlocking to proceed at a higher speed over larger portion of what is now a relatively long block preceding the interlocking. Would improve the situation considerably at places like Menlo, Iselin, Fair and even approaching the Elizabeth S curve through North Elizabeth and blocks preceding Elmora. That sort of thing might actually produce more bang for the buck that all of the 160mph segments.

Going beyond 160mph on the current RoW will be difficult since it would require increasing track center spacing, and there isn't enough space to achieve that in most places, though there are other areas where space is available but will require tearing down catenary posts and relocating them, and even moving some station platforms out of the way. Most potential curve straightening/easing projects have the same problem too.
Suburban Station wrote:I thought the 160 mph stretch basically rebuilt the railroad including power and things like blocks?
I think straightening frankford curve is viable. the land and structures are inexpensive and mostly light industrial. if there are people, overpaying for their homes shouldn't break the project. the speed increase would affect all trains (acela, keystone, regional). the nimbyism here should be more managable and land values less astronomical. it also involves the biggest city pairs (philly ny AND washington ny)
edited to add: it looks like they've added capacity, the trains are no longer sold out. wonder why they waited to long to do that

Elizabeth? Iselin? Elmora? Frankford? None of these places are between New York and Boston. Perhaps we can start a thread on time saving improvements NYP-WAS.

As for the topic at hand, none of it will matter until something is done with Metro-North. As previous posters mentioned, this will not be easy.

There are a couple of suggestions that I made years ago that can help reduce the time it takes to get over Metro-North, particularly during rush hour.

Turning/staging tracks for Metro-North trains that turn at interlockings.

I suggested (to Amtrak and Metro-North upper echelon) that Amtrak finance turning tracks at CP 255 (Bridgeport) and CP 223 (Pike) as part of the high speed project. Currently, the Waterbury bomb and the Harrison locals hog a main track between the adjacent interlockings as they wait to turn. This results in a three track railroad between the points.

CP 248 alleviated some of the Bridgeport problem and the redesign of CP 240 helped around Norwalk. However, there's still a major issue between Pike and Green. By my calculations (which are quite unscientific) a 10 car turn track could be constructed on the 3 track side of the ROW. If you look, there's enough room between the ROW and interstate 95, no houses to tear down. You would have to build a few bridges over the streets below and the track could run from 223 to the RYE curve, where it could stub end.

Something like this could save about 10 to 15 minutes, especially during rush hour.
  by timz
 
twropr wrote:Amtrak has realigned several curves on its Main Line between Zoo and Paoli
Where?
  by mlrr
 
Suburban Station wrote:shell flyover?
Leading up to Acela there was discussion about a flyover track at Shell interlocking to increase speeds which not too long ago were limited to 15 MPH for Amtrak when diverging from/joining the Metro-North New Haven Line just West/East of New Rochelle station.

Instead what we got was some straightened out track and better switches (basically improved track geometry) which upped the speeds to about 40/45MPH for Amtrak. It's all been about incremental improvements since 1971 along the NEC and this is just one of many.
  by afiggatt
 
mlrr wrote:
Suburban Station wrote:shell flyover?
Leading up to Acela there was discussion about a flyover track at Shell interlocking to increase speeds which not too long ago were limited to 15 MPH for Amtrak when diverging from/joining the Metro-North New Haven Line just West/East of New Rochelle station.

Instead what we got was some straightened out track and better switches (basically improved track geometry) which upped the speeds to about 40/45MPH for Amtrak. It's all been about incremental improvements since 1971 along the NEC and this is just one of many.
The May 2010 NEC Infrastructure Master Plan report discusses the potential flyover at New Rochelle as a project that needs further study relative to the current improved configuration. The FRA staff recommended inclusion of a flyover project in the Master Plan, while Metro‐North Railroad is focused on the short and long‐term service disruptions of a flyover project. A flyover could be quite expensive if room has to be made for it. The Metro-North plans and current study for running some New Haven Line trains to NYP after the ESA project is done could tip the decision to build a flyover if Metro-North traffic is to be added to the current Amtrak traffic switching to the Hell Gate line. If a flyover is necessary to accommodate Metro-North traffic to NYP, then MTA may be expected to foot much of the bill for a flyover.
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