• 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 OrangeGrove
The portion of the Northeast Corridor from New Rochelle to New Haven is not actually owned by Amtrak, but rather by Metro-North.
  by Jeff Smith
Clarification: the NEC from New Rochelle to State Line is owned by NYS/MNRR. The portion from State Line to New Haven/Division Post (State St?) is owned by CtDOT.
  by F-line to Dudley via Park
seacoast wrote:I was surprised to learn that CT DOT is now opposing electrification of the New Haven - Hartford - Springfield corridor. Apparently, they are claiming this is due to public opposition, but I'm pretty certain that there is no opposition to the plan, nor will there be. Is this simply cost-savings conveniently blamed on NIMBY? Is it rooted in a capacity issue west of New Haven?

It's odd because I was under the impression that this project was top priority for the Malloy administration, and that in fact CT DOT was diverting money from other projects (including the CT River Bridge replacement) to help pay for the electrification.

A few months ago, CT DOT/Malloy wrote the FRA to ask that they not electrify Hartford to Springfield, and that seemed odd, but this downright bizarre. Thoughts?
No one's formally proposed electrifying the Springfield Line, but there's an active "ELECTRIFY ALL THE THINGS!!!" short-attention span contingent in the Legislature. Same folks who keep harping on Danbury Branch electrification and light study money on fire every few years. They've been pushing it for the Hartford Line similarly since the day it was announced. I wouldn't read anything into Malloy's statement other than cutting off those same local pols before they pollute all this NEC FUTURE tension with their own "Can I haz shiny thingz?" letter to the FRA.
  by Greg Moore
No, but honestly, it would be nice if the US started to consider it more often in more areas. Allows more flexibility in power supply among other things.
  by F-line to Dudley via Park
Greg Moore wrote:No, but honestly, it would be nice if the US started to consider it more often in more areas. Allows more flexibility in power supply among other things.
Yes...eventually. But wires alone don't a "Springfield = Keystone" make.

-- The grade crossings on the Springfield Line make a tremendously bigger difference to performance and service levels than wires. Especially the big Downtown Wallingford and Downtown Meriden clusters & associated speed restrictions. It's a couple megaprojects unto itself to separate those big clusters and lift the restrictions enough to amplify the performance effects of electrics enough to truly matter on a schedule. Windsor Station and points north to SPG the crossings are few, far-between, and low-traffic enough (due to the adjacent river and street grid fizzing out at the river) not to matter much. But you really do need to clear out all the public crossings between Hartford and North Haven to get anything that can perform with the throughput of the Keystone Line. And the warchest for mounting that massive effort shouldn't in any way be competing with impatience for wires.

-- No continuing points past SPG will ever be electrified in our lifetimes. Even if the MBTA Worcester Line were completely electrified--a both very good and very feasible effort--the three-dozen bridges cleared for double-stack freights between Springfield and Worcester are far too costly to clear for wires to be justified by the rosiest of projected 2030 Amtrak demand. It'll never be a thick enough Inland Route schedule alone to merit it, and it's extremely unlikely that commuter rail is ever going to be reaching west from Worcester to Palmer or east from Springfield to Palmer to backfill the missing passenger slots that would justify studying it. Points north of SPG have to contend with a 19'6" clearance route on the Conn River Line. There'll always be an AMTK engine switch point, whether it's in New Haven or eventually Springfield. But absolutely none of the NNEIRI studies compel moving that switch point to Springfield solely on strength of Inland service levels.

-- Springfield Line stop spacing is fairly wide, owing to the geography of the line with large stretches of wetlands or industrial backlots spacing out the distance between the downtowns where the station stops are located. There aren't more than a couple feasible infill stops with enough likely demand to seriously consider down the road to densify the Hartford Line's stop spacing much beyond its initial intermediates roster of: State St., North Haven, Wallingford, Meriden, Berlin, West Hartford, Hartford, Windsor, (relocated) Windsor Locks, and Enfield. The acceleration advantage of an EMU isn't going to be stratospheric improvement over diesel with wide spacing like that over 60 miles. Zapping the ^^grade crossings^^ makes a bigger total difference out of Wallingford and Meriden, so again electrification is a clear #2 on the pecking order to crossing eliminations as a performance enhancement.

-- Hartford Line service scale-up is going to be slow. Even after the rest of the commuter stations are built, it doesn't really start to sizzle until the network effects of bus and employee shuttle transfers at the stops get exploited to full effect. They're thinking smart there and heavily encouraging the office parks all up and down I-91 to get into the shuttle game. But that's a slow-burn effort. Really, this service start is like a 10-year plan before it starts really cooking. So there isn't an immediate need to hurry up and feed the infrastructure beast right away after they finish the rest of their service-starts and state-of-repair bucket list. And obviously if looking longer-term, grade crossings are #1 with a bullet and electrification in no way exceeds that in priority because it doesn't make as much performance difference as the Meriden/Wallingford separation megaproject.

-- Hartford Line service has extremely little need for run-thru to NYP or GCT. Yeah, CDOT talks about that like it's a thing...but New York and Hartford are a universe removed while New York and New Haven are not. Even Stamford pushes the bounds of tolerable time/distance in a commuter rail seat from Hartford, so one-seat to one of the NY terminals isn't a compelling reason for electrifying either. Hartford-Bridgeport is about the most you can milk for sustained demand on a regular one-seat service pattern. From there optimizing the quick transfers to MNRR are where Central CT gains its best access to New York City. And since the AMTK Shuttles aren't going away, the Inlands can be more capable of absorbing demand if the schedule got a mix of NYP-BOS turns at similar semi-subsidized Shuttle fare. No demand there that can't be accommodated with the stet NHV engine switch.

For real paydirt on electrification, you have to start looking past 2030 when Hartford Line service levels are really swelling to the point where those grade separations must happen for the good of all, and the NNEIRI route network is built out and reaching that study's fullest projections for an Inland Route schedule. The grade separations will be an acute need to fund, and while you're thinking big about that must-have...then is the time to start seriously pondering the next step (or tandem step) of electrification to really make it a premier corridor like Keystone. But because that mass grade separation is such a huge thing that'll take so long to plan, secure community support, and fund...it is an outright distraction to develop target fixation on wires before serious advocacy on crossing elimination gets rolling.

And unfortunately that's exactly what the CT Legislatorcritters are doing. They chucked in that study money for Danbury electrification even though it makes not one minute's difference to the schedule and not 1 train's difference to the service density...all because "we bought shiny new M8's, therefore the service must be better than a smelly old Shoreliner." Well, blow the whole wad on electrification in lieu of more easily achievable service enhancements and you'll have your shiny MU's...but be running fewer trains than all the other capacity management recs in the study because all the money got blown on the nth priority instead of real-world Priorities #1, #2, #3, and so on. That's exactly what their target fixation risks on the Springfield Line when those grade crossing restrictions are the one barrier that has to be lifted to reach for an additional gear...and wires sooner would come at self-defeating risk of punting off the crossing eliminations to a later generation. Shiny MU's, but less bang-for-buck than if they invested in the correct priority sequence.

Malloy knows his local pols too well to give them an open loophole to free-associate about shiny things to an FRA that hasn't exactly been negotiating in good faith with the state. In no way is he hinting that NEC FUTURE via a Hartford/Midland routing is no longer on the table. On the contrary...he doesn't want the FRA chumming the water by offering to electrify Springfield as a branchline (which doesn't matter as much as crossing elimination) to divide-and-conquer some short attention-span local pols with a severe M8 target fixation...and then redouble their efforts on that Shoreline bypass while attention spans are divided. If 'native' Springfield Line services aren't going to demand electrification on their own service levels until post-2030 after a whole bunch of more consequential investment...then the only thing that's going to force a study on the issue sooner is a Midland HSR alt-spine getting a serious study workup. If NEC FUTURE studies the Springfield Line into Hartford, then it's an ironclad given they're going to do the crossing eliminations...they're going to do the electrification...and they're going to do minor/modest curve-straightening all at once. It's the only way to get a >125 MPH corridor between NHV-HFD for HSR, and it accomplishes every post-2030 service enhancement needed for CDOT and AMTK Inland local service. Thus, it keeps the terms of engagement nice and clean. Everyone wants electrification as an endgame, but only if the consequential stuff like Meriden/Wallingford separation gets taken care of beforehand or simultaneously. Before/during is a given if NEC FUTURE is ever going to be forced to consider that route. Malloy just wants that to be the rule for every other enhancement under consideration at or below the level of real-deal alt spine to keep everyone honest. Tactically, that statement of his helps filter out a lot of signal-to-noise.
  by east point
There is only one way New Haven - Springfield can get complete grade crossing elimination. If the HSR follows that ROW for all or part and that necessitating complete grade crossing eliminations for speeds above 110.
  by F-line to Dudley via Park
bdawe wrote:I'd love to know more about the way the line's grade crossings play into it's potential speeds
Prior to start of the project, the Wallingford and Meriden crossings all had 25 MPH speed restrictions. Those restrictions ran from MP 12.5-13.5 and MP 17.8-19.7, with Meriden also having a 60 MPH restriction from MP 17-17.7 on an S-curve just south of the downtown crossings. Other than that, the only permanent restrictions between New Haven and Windsor Locks station at MP 47 were MP 0-1 (35 MPH) at the split with the NEC in New Haven, MP 1-3 (60 MPH) through Cedar Hill Yard limits, and MP 36.3-37.4 (20 MPH) through Hartford Viaduct + the junctions with the Griffins Secondary and Manchester Secondary. Everything else was 80 MPH with not a single individualized restriction. So those crossing clusters were bigtime toilet clogs.

The current upgrades install kitchen-sink crossing protection at those spots: quadrant gates, wayside horns, and advanced warning devices. That's enough to increase the speed limit through Wallingford cluster from 25 MPH to 80 MPH and Meriden cluster from 25 MPH to 60 MPH. However, immediately south of Wallingford it's now gone from 80 to 91 MPH and immediately north of Wallingford from 80 to 110 MPH. South of Meriden it's now 110, with the restricted S-curve now 80 instead of 60.

Speeds on all the newly-upgraded Class 6 track are a little more variable than the flat 80 MPH when it was all Class 4. Bounces between 80, 90, 100, 110 with more individual changes per the (very hard to read) latest NHHS track chart...but is uniformly much faster in virtually every spot. NEC split and Cedar Hill are the same out to MP 3, but 100 MPH starts immediately at end of yard limits. Hartford's also been improved to 50 MPH west of the viaduct, 30 MPH on the viaduct, and 40+ through the junctions just north of the viaduct. About the best you can do while the ancient viaduct has to be band-aided through the I-84 project, though that whole area should get a lot faster when the rail line gets put next to the sunken highway in a much straighter cut.

Those restrictions are much, much improved as 25 is a painful crawl for a full mile even on a full-local schedule making all stops. And it kept the gates down too painfully long, so the downtowns of both cities gridlocked at rush when a train came through. But proportionately the toilet clog is still nearly the same magnitude compared to the rest of the line as it was before, because the rest of the line has gotten so much proportionately faster. So all you need to do is count up the service density and layering by number of years until those restrictions once again become the ruling service limiters on the entire line. And that projects to roughly 2030 when something big has to be done. This time it's more likely to be traffic density than time-on-clock that slaps the ceiling on service levels, because the downtowns are going to get gridlocked worse than ever by number of times the gates are triggered and that'll place practical limits on how dense a train schedule you can run. A much lower cap than the line's native throughput. The relief from faster-acting gates and faster-clearing trains is going to be relatively short-lived before frequencies overpower the gains.

By 2030 the Hartford Line's slow-burn growth era will be over, as the bus + shuttle network will be fully built-out to critical mass. Then its growth curve is going to start to very quickly accelerate...not to full-on Metro North levels, but a bit more Stamford-New Haven resemblance than SLE resemblance in the explosiveness of its demand growth. These crossings will then be an immovable object for expanding the schedule.

For Amtrak, speeds do matter as it's very unlikely that Regionals, Vermonters, and Shuttles will stop at both Wallingford and Meriden after the Hartford Line picks up those stops. Wallingford does 13K annual boardings vs. Meriden's 27.5K and Berlin's 21.2K...not surprising because Meriden is at the E-W-N-S crossroads of I-91 and I-691, and Berlin likewise at I-91/CT 9/CT 15 while being in spitting distance of New Britain. Nobody's going to complain about 80 MPH passing Wallingford in 2020...but that starts becoming an issue when all manner of AMTK service increases collide head-on with the Hartford Line's density ceiling around those crossings come 2030. Local and intercity trains are staring at the same problem. And you're not going to be able to go "full-on Keystone" effortlessly blending ever-denser local service with ever-denser medium-haul service past a certain tipping point that realistically gets breached in another 15-18 years.

So...yeah, it's absolutely correct to underscore the crossing eliminations as Priority #1 for the future. It's a long, long ramp-up to fund it and sell it non-destructively on those downtowns. And I would never call this a NIMBY battle when grade separation has to be done just...so to avoid erecting economically destructive walls straight through the heart of built-up semi-urban downtowns...so they really need to take their time--a full decade if necessary--to get it right on the community sell job. That means this is will probably be a major conversation dominating the 2020's. But you have to do it because the crossings are what's going to tighten the noose on traffic density, and there's not a thing that electrification is going to do to delay/defer that reckoning. Plot them in tandem ideally, but "electric is better just because..." conventional wisdom can't sidetrack from the priorities that most matter here. The Springfield Line gained one gear for the 2020's and brand new services with the ongoing upgrades. Its next gear to a real Keystone-like densely-blended corridor can't come without that being Priority #1. And of course if HFD-NHV becomes a re-study candidate for NEC FUTURE you're doing all those megaproject priorities as one gargantuan service prerequisite.
  by F-line to Dudley via Park
BandA wrote:At what service density does electrification become cost-effective for a railroad?
Depends on so many variables that's almost impossible to answer in a vacuum. More useful line of inquiry might be taking a line with some potential electrification upside, then working backwards to deconstruct the cost variables specific to that one application. Rinse, repeat with other examples. Eventually you'll see enough patterns start to emerge amongst similar-profile lines to be able to classify them into categories. Demographic and scalability data will line up, and then you'll have educated enough guesstimates for final candidate picks to pass the electrification smell test. Generally speaking, the topmost priorities have broad consensus and the secondary priorities are slam-dunk if the top priorities ever get addressed. So we're not dealing with many unknowns until we drill down a few thousand route miles on the priority pile.

Crude way of evaluating, yes. But it's simply not possible to arrive at some Grand Unified Field Theory of Railway Electrification because every line or system has some wholly unique factors weighting its valuation.
  by Woody
bdawe wrote:Thanks. Your posts are always illuminating.
F-line, I want to second that praise.

Awesome posts, informative and educational. Now I feel that I understand the Hartford line well enuff to know what we can realistically expect, and to avoid foolishly advocating unproductive or premature investments.
  by east point
Lets muddy the electrification waters more.
1. Electric motor pulling a conventional train has quicker acceleration which is more important for those routes with many speed changes. For example a Charger on a 30 mile no speed change probably can make that distance in about 2 - 3 minutes more. But many speed changes will probably take 10 - 15 minutes more.
2. EMUs can even exceed say an ACS-64 for schedule work. The longer the train the more advantage EMUs have.
3. If New Haven <> Springfield only had 3 - 4 car EMUs not much advantage over Charger pulling. But 12 - 14 cars it is different.
  by AgentSkelly
BandA wrote:At what service density does electrification become cost-effective for a railroad?
The answer I got from oddly a highway traffic engineer is when traffic is so high, that your defect detectors don't talk unless there is a problem!
  by Patrick A.
F-line to Dudley via Park wrote:The current upgrades install kitchen-sink crossing protection at those spots: quadrant gates, wayside horns, and advanced warning devices. That's enough to increase the speed limit through Wallingford cluster from 25 MPH to 80 MPH and Meriden cluster from 25 MPH to 60 MPH. However, immediately south of Wallingford it's now gone from 80 to 91 MPH and immediately north of Wallingford from 80 to 110 MPH. South of Meriden it's now 110, with the restricted S-curve now 80 instead of 60.
F-Line, thanks for that insightful analysis. I had no idea that the current track work would raise speeds in those areas to such an extent. Coupled with the longer stretches of dual track south of Hartford (eliminating need to wait on late running Shuttles to clear), I imagine there will be significant time savings on the NHV-SPG runtimes. Any guess as to what kind of time savings we could be seeing here come next year?
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