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Thoughts on the HSR funding for Vermont


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#1 transit54

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 04:36 PM

Here are my thoughts and commentary on the funding that was awarded to the Vermonter line...

There are two basic pieces to the funding:

Upgrading the NECR to 79 MPH from St Albans to Brattleboro (Approx 45 min savings)
Bypassing Palmer MA and rerouting the Vermonter through MA (Approx 45 min savings)

Total - Train is 1.5 hours faster

(I also think the layover could be shortened in SPG, where the Vermonter sits for 15 minutes, and that a few other pockets of time savings could be found).

What this means for me: my usual trip from Essex Jct, VT to Bridgeport, CT will go from 8 hours to a nearly car-competitive 6 hours.

Now, I think these upgrades have a tremendous amount of potential. I also think there's the potential to completely squander the money, without adding much convenience to passengers and attracting ridership.

How to do it right and greatly increase ridership:
The two basic problems with the Vermonter as structured currently are:
1) It takes way too long, compared to driving, to get outside of Vermont (most the of VT ridership of the train rides outside of VT).
2) One must devote most of the day to riding the train. Southbound, I ride 9 AM to 5 PM - northbound isn't as bad - 12:42 PM to 8:42 PM. And I'm only going to Bridgeport, CT - those who are going to NYC or points beyond are literally spending the entire day on the train, which one just doesn't need to do if they drive (at least as far as CT/NYC).

Let's assume a 6 hour Essex to Bridgeport trip. I pick those city pairs because I'm most familiar with them and because Bridgeport is the first stop after changing to electric and entering the NEC - south of Bridgeport, there's really no difference between the Vermonter and any other regional as far as time.

Right now, if we shorten the ESX-BRP time by two hours, I get into Bridgeport at 3 PM. Not a huge difference from 5, but a very respectable time that gives me much of the afternoon and all of the evening. It's good option.

I'd suggest it would be worthwhile to start the Vermonter an hour earlier, so I'd leave at 8 AM from Essex instead of 9 AM. The one or two who get on in St Albans would still leave at 7:30 AM, which is a reasonable hour. Now I get to Bridgeport by 2 PM, which gives me the bulk of the afternoon and all of the evening. If I was going to NYC, I'd be able to get in at around 3 PM, very respectable. The train might even be a viable option to take to get an international flight out of JFK/EWR in the evening.

Now, for the return trip, let's push back the departure from Bridgeport to 2:42. I'm now leaving in the afternoon, rather than mid-day. I have more time in CT/NYC/wherever I've taken the train to, and I still get into Vermont at the same time. We could even push that back an hour, which would let me leave at 3:42. In the winter, I'd barely have more than an hour of daylight left in CT, and it gives me much of the day before I have to head back. Now my return day becomes a day I can do something, not just travel. I'd get in at 9:42 PM, which functionally is probably no different than 8:42 PM. The few going to St Albans won't get in absurdly late either, though it probably wouldn't make sense to push it back any farther than an hour.

The other thing this would do is at least allow northbound connections from some LD trains. I know it would make the Silver Meteor a guaranteed connection at WAS, and maybe with other trains also. Sure, it wouldn't be ideal to only be able to connect northbound and not southbound, but a one way connection is better than none at all! And it's a connection I'd certainly use. Right now, an LD train for me means flying somewhere first, or going into or out of Rutland, which there isn't any way to get to. Next month I'll be arriving into Rutland off a connection from the Silver Meteor, and I'll probably have to pay at least $80 for a two hour, fifty mile cab ride home.

Also, the last bus is 10 PM from the Essex Jct station, M-F, and I think it's important to have the public transit link. If individuals have to take a cab to the station, that's only going to discourage ridership.

Another interesting idea would be for the train to leave southbound in the evening, also. Maybe a 1 PM or so departure from ESX. But that would probably get to DC way too late to make it worthwhile…


Now, above is sort of what I see as an ideal scenario. Here's what I'm afraid will happen:

I can't imagine the departure time southbound will be changed much. It doesn't make any sense to shorten the length of the trip, then not have it leave until 10 AM or 10:30. If they pushed back the departure time of the train, you're still spend the bulk of your day on the train. In the winter, it would be the vast majority of your daylight hours. While an afternoon departure would make sense, a 10 AM or 10:30 AM departure would benefit no one - what am I going to do from 7:30 to 10 AM or so? I can't really go into work and make it worthwhile, and I'm going to be leaving soon, so I'm not going to have much to do. So I just don't think it makes sense to mess with the morning departure time.

Where I really am worried is the afternoon. I'm worried that they'll shorten the train ride, but not push back the departure time at all. In other words I'd get into Essex at 6:42 PM rather than 8:42 PM. Honestly, what good would an earlier arrival time in VT do? What is someone going to do between 6:42 and 8:42 that they otherwise wouldn't be able to do? Whereas, there's a huge functional difference if I don't have to leave till the afternoon. A difference of boarding at 12:42 versus 2:42 is a big difference - many times I take the train down just for the weekend, and having that extra time would be incredible helpful. Now I can wake up at 8, do things till 1 or 1:30 and then head to the train station. It makes my day of travel a useful day. Having to take the train in the middle of the day, even with a shortened trip, just kills the day outright. A few hours in CT, a few hours on the train and a few hours in VT doesn't add up to much.

While I'll still be on the train regardless, most people are just not going to find it convenient for a weekend trip, or really for anything at all if the train travels earlier in the day. They'll just drive, so they don't have to kill a whole day traveling. I think it only makes sense to make the northbound train as late in the day as possible. I think the Ethan Allen is a great example of this.

The other reason I'd like to see the VT arrival stay the same or later is it allows one to go to Montpelier or Waterbury for an evening on a commuter bus and then take the train back. I've done that with friends to check out brewpubs down there, I'd done that on many occasions to do some evening work in Montpelier, and I almost once even planned a date around it. It's one of the few trips that can be made outside of the Burlington area easily without a car and without spending the whole day in a place. I'd hate to see that go away.

In anyway, those are my hopes, dreams and fears about the new and improved Vermonter service. Regardless of what happens, I'm very appreciate we received funding, even if it wasn't for the service I was really hoping for. This will still be incredible and more than I thought possible for a while.

#2 the_traveler

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 04:50 PM

Just using your proposed times (arriving St Albans ~10 PM and departing ~7:30 AM), it's not just the 2 or 3 passengers, it is the train crew also. AFAIK. the crew that takes it up in the evening also operate it the next morning. Would they have enough rest? Especially if it is late arriving?
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#3 amtrakwolverine

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 04:53 PM

so add a extra on call crew if the one crew is late and does not have enough rest to run the train in the morning the backup crew then takes over.
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#4 acelafan

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 06:29 PM

Nice thoughts here, a couple of questions:

1. How do customers get Amtrak's attention about considering a possible schedule shift (and will they listen?)
2. I assume a schedule change would need to be coordinated and approved by the host railroad(s). Any possible friction there?
3. How long will the improvement work take to complete and when might the improved trip times be seen?

I agree with you 100% - in order for the train to be competitive with a car, it needs to be convenient on times (and make sense financially). It seems the timetable could be adjusted on the Vermonter to help make better connections with other trains in the Amtrak network. That should definitely boost ridership.

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#5 Long Train Runnin'

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 06:57 PM

More direct Vermonter route and track enhancements: $120 million. Restoring the direct Springfield, MA-Brattleboro, VT route through Northampton will improve running times for this Vermont-funded train, as will further upgrades to the New England Central Railroad in Vermont.


That quote is from NARP.

Does that mean the train won't reverse direction anymore?
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#6 transit54

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 07:42 PM

Nice thoughts here, a couple of questions:

1. How do customers get Amtrak's attention about considering a possible schedule shift (and will they listen?)
2. I assume a schedule change would need to be coordinated and approved by the host railroad(s). Any possible friction there?
3. How long will the improvement work take to complete and when might the improved trip times be seen?

I agree with you 100% - in order for the train to be competitive with a car, it needs to be convenient on times (and make sense financially). It seems the timetable could be adjusted on the Vermonter to help make better connections with other trains in the Amtrak network. That should definitely boost ridership.


I think Vermont has substantial say in how this operates, seeing as they're funding the train itself. So I think the best place to start would be there. As this project progresses, if I feel the need to be pretty concerned, I'll probably try and get ahold of someone over in the Rail office at VTrans. Since I work in public transit here, it wouldn't be hard to find people here who know people there and potentially get the ability to make my voice heard to the right people (one of the benefits of living in a small state, also!).

As far as the NECR goes, they're very open to Amtrak's needs. They stand to benefit tremendously from this project in and of themselves, and they like to keep Amtrak happy and on time because it pays off for them in ways like this. They're line isn't anywhere near capacity and certainly won't be once these improvements happen. I think the rest of the trackage is owned by Amtrak, though I'm a bit unfamiliar with the railroads involved in the rerouting away from Palmer. I think my proposed times keep the train out of NYP and WAS at peak times, so I can't imagine there would be capacity issues from that perspective.

I heard that everything should be done, at least in Vermont, by 2012. I haven't seen an estimate for the MA portion, but I'd have to guess its pretty similar.

Just using your proposed times (arriving St Albans ~10 PM and departing ~7:30 AM), it's not just the 2 or 3 passengers, it is the train crew also. AFAIK. the crew that takes it up in the evening also operate it the next morning. Would they have enough rest? Especially if it is late arriving?


That's an excellent question. I'm not sure what the crew rest requirements are. Right now it arrives at SAB at 9:30 PM and leaves at 8:30 AM, so that wouldn't be too far off from that. If that was an issue, I think it makes sense to leave the morning departure where it is.

More direct Vermonter route and track enhancements: $120 million. Restoring the direct Springfield, MA-Brattleboro, VT route through Northampton will improve running times for this Vermont-funded train, as will further upgrades to the New England Central Railroad in Vermont.


That quote is from NARP.

Does that mean the train won't reverse direction anymore?


As I understand it, yes. This bypasses Palmer. I'm not quite sure which railroad owns the tracks for this proposed reroute, though. I know it's not the NECR.

#7 AlanB

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 07:56 PM

so add a extra on call crew if the one crew is late and does not have enough rest to run the train in the morning the backup crew then takes over.


That requires money. You have to pay the on call crew to be on call, even if they never actually work once during the month. People won't just sit at home waiting for a call that may never come unless they are still guaranteed some pay.
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#8 Long Train Runnin'

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 08:18 PM

More direct Vermonter route and track enhancements: $120 million. Restoring the direct Springfield, MA-Brattleboro, VT route through Northampton will improve running times for this Vermont-funded train, as will further upgrades to the New England Central Railroad in Vermont.


That quote is from NARP.

Does that mean the train won't reverse direction anymore?


As I understand it, yes. This bypasses Palmer. I'm not quite sure which railroad owns the tracks for this proposed reroute, though. I know it's not the NECR.


Very cool, that won't only save time, but just makes for a better ride.
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#9 transit54

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 09:50 PM

so add a extra on call crew if the one crew is late and does not have enough rest to run the train in the morning the backup crew then takes over.


That requires money. You have to pay the on call crew to be on call, even if they never actually work once during the month. People won't just sit at home waiting for a call that may never come unless they are still guaranteed some pay.


That, and I think the closest crew base is Springfield. As much as I'd love this area to have enough service to justify a St Albans crew base, it's not going to happen!

#10 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 11:47 PM

[
Does that mean the train won't reverse direction anymore?


As I understand it, yes. This bypasses Palmer. I'm not quite sure which railroad owns the tracks for this proposed reroute, though. I know it's not the NECR.


If the train is going to stop in Springfield, it's going to have to back either into or out of the station until the abandoned track from the east end of the platform to Hartford is put back into service, unless perhaps they're planning to build an entirely new platform at a 90 degree angle to the current ones with a long walkway connecting it to the station.

However, this means that there will be only a minute or two of backing up, and the train will be going in the same direction at Essex Junction and Hartford.

I believe Pan Am owns the tracks that the Vermonter is being rerouted on to. I believe this means the host railroads will be NECR, Pan Am, Amtrak, Metro North, Amtrak.

If Amtrak keeps the same schedule for the New Haven to DC trains, and takes a slot that's currently used for a Boston to DC run to swap with the Vermonter to adjust the Vermonter schedule, changing the time of one Boston round trip, they'd also presumably have to coordinate with the MBTA Commuter Rail system's schedule. If they wanted to leave all the Boston to DC runs alone, rescheduling the southern part of the Vermonter would involve coordination with Metro North, NJT, SEPTA, and MARC (and maybe even LIRR). However, only the MBTA and Metro North own the tracks involved in the commuter rail services; Amtrak owns the rest (and the MBTA only owns the tracks to the Massachusetts border, and then the MBTA deals with Amtrak as the host railroad in Rhode Island).

#11 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 29 January 2010 - 12:25 AM

Now, I think these upgrades have a tremendous amount of potential. I also think there's the potential to completely squander the money, without adding much convenience to passengers and attracting ridership.

How to do it right and greatly increase ridership:
The two basic problems with the Vermonter as structured currently are:
1) It takes way too long, compared to driving, to get outside of Vermont (most the of VT ridership of the train rides outside of VT).
2) One must devote most of the day to riding the train. Southbound, I ride 9 AM to 5 PM - northbound isn't as bad - 12:42 PM to 8:42 PM. And I'm only going to Bridgeport, CT - those who are going to NYC or points beyond are literally spending the entire day on the train, which one just doesn't need to do if they drive (at least as far as CT/NYC).


It's absurd to try to amortize the capital costs of track improvements over a single daily round trip.

The right way to connect Springfield, Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and DC with Burlington and Montreal is a train that splits/combines in Springfield with a Boston section and a New York City / Philadelphia / DC section, and have that train spend roughly midnight to 6 AM covering Springfield to Burlington. This train should have at least one sleeping car for each section. Yes, I know rural Vermont doesn't benefit much from this train, but I don't remember ever hearing that Amtrak was having trouble keeping trains 66 and 67 running because of protests from residents of Connecticut and Pennsylvania that the hours those trains stop in those states are inconvenient.

The right way to connect rural Vermont with New York City, Philadelphia, and DC is with a train with a sleeping car that spends midnight to 6 AM in Massachusetts and Connecticut. I won't complain about how useless this train is to me as a Massachusetts resident if there's an overnight train from Boston to Montreal that's useless to rural Vermont residents.

One other train that would be nice to have is an MBTA Fitchburg Line train extended to meet the Vermonter at Brattleboro or so. I suspect the Brattleboro to North Station time might be around 2 hours, once the MBTA finishes getting Fitchburg to North Station down to an hour. (Or it would be possible to run a train from North Station to Fitchburg to Gardener to Brattleboro to Essex Junction and beyond, but I suspect extending the commuter rail train to provide a connection would be a lot cheaper than having an extra round trip through Vermont.)

#12 transit54

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Posted 29 January 2010 - 09:02 AM

It's absurd to try to amortize the capital costs of track improvements over a single daily round trip.

The right way to connect Springfield, Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and DC with Burlington and Montreal is a train that splits/combines in Springfield with a Boston section and a New York City / Philadelphia / DC section, and have that train spend roughly midnight to 6 AM covering Springfield to Burlington. This train should have at least one sleeping car for each section. Yes, I know rural Vermont doesn't benefit much from this train, but I don't remember ever hearing that Amtrak was having trouble keeping trains 66 and 67 running because of protests from residents of Connecticut and Pennsylvania that the hours those trains stop in those states are inconvenient.

The right way to connect rural Vermont with New York City, Philadelphia, and DC is with a train with a sleeping car that spends midnight to 6 AM in Massachusetts and Connecticut. I won't complain about how useless this train is to me as a Massachusetts resident if there's an overnight train from Boston to Montreal that's useless to rural Vermont residents.

One other train that would be nice to have is an MBTA Fitchburg Line train extended to meet the Vermonter at Brattleboro or so. I suspect the Brattleboro to North Station time might be around 2 hours, once the MBTA finishes getting Fitchburg to North Station down to an hour. (Or it would be possible to run a train from North Station to Fitchburg to Gardener to Brattleboro to Essex Junction and beyond, but I suspect extending the commuter rail train to provide a connection would be a lot cheaper than having an extra round trip through Vermont.)


Joel,

While I agree with you that the track improvements make less sense for a single round trip, I'm not sure if your solution is the most practical way forward.

For one - a trip from Burlington to Boston takes 3.5 hours by car and 4.5 hours by bus. Unless you can construct a train that runs the trip is 5 or less hours, no one will ride it. Even five hours would be pushing it for it to be popular. Sure, you and I would love a sleeping section to Boston, but let me tell you, everyone else will drive or take the bus. First off, the cost to take a sleeper would be enormously more than anyone will pay to get between Burlington and Boston. Probably a one way - at low bucket - would be $120 or so with railfare - and if you buy the tickets in advance, it can be done on Greyhound for about $75 round trip. So you're basically asking most people to sleep in coach overnight for a trip they could drive in four hours. Not going to happen.

By the time this would even get off the ground, Greyhound will have their new buses on the Boston-Burlington-Montreal route. I already see them up here occasionally. They have better legroom, nicer seats, and free wifi and power outlets. Sure, a train is still a better experience, but if it costs vastly more or takes much longer, most people will be on the bus. The bus also offers four departures a day, versus a proposed one or two for the train.

The only time a train to Boston would make sense is if it ran along the proposed route for Boston-Montreal High Speed Rail (basically paralleling I-89).

Now I personally think that rural Vermont is served pretty well with the current Vermonter and the Vermonter times I proposed above. With a much faster trip, what's the benefit of a sleeping section? That made perfect sense when it was accepted that the NECR would never see trains above 59 MPH, but now I think the Vermonter works much better than a day train. Rather than running a sleeper section, I think a second frequency that terminates in NYP would be more ideal. Something like a 7 AM NYP departure that arrives in Essex at 1 PM, and a 4 PM Essex departure that arrives in NYP at 10 PM. I'd certainly use the latter to go visit CT for the weekend - I could work almost a full day than head on over to the train station and jump on the train.

The only other problem with increasing frequencies is the NECR has very few sidings, and even fewer that can accommodate a freight train of any length. I can count them on a single hand. The NECR loves Amtrak, sure, but they still need to run their own trains, which probably number 3 or 4 a day on that stretch of line (and I'm going to guess that traffic will increase when they can offer much more competitive speeds). I'm not sure how many, if any, sidings are going to be funded by this project. Not an insurmountable obstacle, but something to keep in mind.

With the increased speeds and the new routing, I'm really at the point where I don't think a sleeper section makes sense anymore. Maybe for WAS-ESX passengers, but how many of those are there, considering you can fly that stretch in an hour and multiple carriers out of BTV offer direct flights (and pretty much all offer 1-stop connections)? Having two trains a day, with a morning and late afternoon departure, would be ideal, but I think even the single train will capture quite a bit of traffic if configured right.

As far as rural Vermont goes, these improvements decrease the trip time so substantially that I think they are well served regardless of where the train goes. Bellows Falls will probably have a four or five hour trip time - at absolute most - to NYP. Brattleboro, about the same. That's pretty much car competitive, especially if you factor in the chance of traffic outside of NYC and in the Hartford region.

Edited by transit54, 29 January 2010 - 10:01 AM.


#13 transit54

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Posted 29 January 2010 - 11:16 AM

Here's an update from the Burlington Free Press:

http://www.burlingto...rail-overlooked

They state it will reduce the Essex to NYP trip time by 80 minutes. Not as much as I've had hoped, but still worthwhile.

I'm glad to see money is still being sought for the Ethan Allen extension.

#14 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 29 January 2010 - 10:32 PM

For one - a trip from Burlington to Boston takes 3.5 hours by car and 4.5 hours by bus. Unless you can construct a train that runs the trip is 5 or less hours, no one will ride it. Even five hours would be pushing it for it to be popular. Sure, you and I would love a sleeping section to Boston, but let me tell you, everyone else will drive or take the bus. First off, the cost to take a sleeper would be enormously more than anyone will pay to get between Burlington and Boston. Probably a one way - at low bucket - would be $120 or so with railfare - and if you buy the tickets in advance, it can be done on Greyhound for about $75 round trip. So you're basically asking most people to sleep in coach overnight for a trip they could drive in four hours. Not going to happen.


I think this overnight train ought to also serve Montreal, and you should keep that in mind in estimating ridership. I assume Montreal is likely to be at least 2-3 times more popular than Burlington.

Acela First Class one way between BOS and NYP is about $163 low bucket. I'm pretty sure the first class car carries more people than a Viewliner. There is also more than one round trip a day between BOS and NYP. Amtrak has no trouble selling those seats at those prices.

Another interesting question we could ask is how quickly a train from North Station to Fitchburg to Brattleboro to Burlington could be. North Station to Fitchburg is allegedly going to be under an hour within a few years, even with commuter rail stop frequencies. (Admittedly, that's with fewer stops than the typical commuter train presently makes on that route, but an intercity train could save a bit more time by skipping some more stops.) Fitchburg to Brattleboro, mostly via Route 2 and I-91, is about 57 highway miles. There are then 181 track miles from Brattleboro to St Albans. (St Albans to Essex Junction is 24 miles, and IIRC you said Essex Junction to downtown Burlington is 7, so Brattleboro to Burlington Union station is about 164 track miles.) It seems like an average speed of 60 MPH on that route could get North Station to Burlington quite time competitive with the bus. Though IIRC very few Amtrak trains actually achieve an average speed of 60 MPH.

Now I personally think that rural Vermont is served pretty well with the current Vermonter and the Vermonter times I proposed above. With a much faster trip, what's the benefit of a sleeping section? That made perfect sense when it was accepted that the NECR would never see trains above 59 MPH, but now I think the Vermonter works much better than a day train. Rather than running a sleeper section, I think a second frequency that terminates in NYP would be more ideal. Something like a 7 AM NYP departure that arrives in Essex at 1 PM, and a 4 PM Essex departure that arrives in NYP at 10 PM. I'd certainly use the latter to go visit CT for the weekend - I could work almost a full day than head on over to the train station and jump on the train.


Is Metro North going to be happy with an extra train during their peak travel time in the morning?

The only other problem with increasing frequencies is the NECR has very few sidings, and even fewer that can accommodate a freight train of any length. I can count them on a single hand. The NECR loves Amtrak, sure, but they still need to run their own trains, which probably number 3 or 4 a day on that stretch of line (and I'm going to guess that traffic will increase when they can offer much more competitive speeds). I'm not sure how many, if any, sidings are going to be funded by this project. Not an insurmountable obstacle, but something to keep in mind.


Passenger trains take about four hours now to cover St Albans to Brattleboro, which means that if you have six one way trains a day and they all follow the schedule perfectly, you could just about have exactly one train on the entire mainline at any given time if you wanted to prevent conflicts that way. It would not surprise me at all if there currently is no passing siding construction planned, since you probably need higher traffic frequencies to justify it.

I think any of the possible options we've been discussing for adding a second daily frequency is going to end up causing an Amtrak train to meet another Amtrak train in NECR territory in Vermont. If it's a daytime meet, a decent stretch of double tracking is probably desirable.

Double tracking all of Essex Junction to Montpelier and also running commuter rail might make some sense, but that's probably unfortunately not the ideal meet point for any pair of daytime Amtrak trains along the Vermonter route.

The other possibility might be to run some trains on the Bellows Falls to Rutland track, sort of like how the Wildcat Branch in MBTA territory is sort of used like a passing track, but that would require an awful lot of miles of track upgrades, too.

With the increased speeds and the new routing, I'm really at the point where I don't think a sleeper section makes sense anymore. Maybe for WAS-ESX passengers, but how many of those are there, considering you can fly that stretch in an hour and multiple carriers out of BTV offer direct flights (and pretty much all offer 1-stop connections)? Having two trains a day, with a morning and late afternoon departure, would be ideal, but I think even the single train will capture quite a bit of traffic if configured right.


There's also the question of connecting to long distance Amtrak service at NYP.

#15 Green Maned Lion

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Posted 29 January 2010 - 11:21 PM

Joel,

While I agree with you that the track improvements make less sense for a single round trip, I'm not sure if your solution is the most practical way forward.

For one - a trip from Burlington to Boston takes 3.5 hours by car and 4.5 hours by bus. Unless you can construct a train that runs the trip is 5 or less hours, no one will ride it. Even five hours would be pushing it for it to be popular. Sure, you and I would love a sleeping section to Boston, but let me tell you, everyone else will drive or take the bus. First off, the cost to take a sleeper would be enormously more than anyone will pay to get between Burlington and Boston. Probably a one way - at low bucket - would be $120 or so with railfare - and if you buy the tickets in advance, it can be done on Greyhound for about $75 round trip. So you're basically asking most people to sleep in coach overnight for a trip they could drive in four hours. Not going to happen.

By the time this would even get off the ground, Greyhound will have their new buses on the Boston-Burlington-Montreal route. I already see them up here occasionally. They have better legroom, nicer seats, and free wifi and power outlets. Sure, a train is still a better experience, but if it costs vastly more or takes much longer, most people will be on the bus. The bus also offers four departures a day, versus a proposed one or two for the train.

The only time a train to Boston would make sense is if it ran along the proposed route for Boston-Montreal High Speed Rail (basically paralleling I-89).

Now I personally think that rural Vermont is served pretty well with the current Vermonter and the Vermonter times I proposed above. With a much faster trip, what's the benefit of a sleeping section? That made perfect sense when it was accepted that the NECR would never see trains above 59 MPH, but now I think the Vermonter works much better than a day train. Rather than running a sleeper section, I think a second frequency that terminates in NYP would be more ideal. Something like a 7 AM NYP departure that arrives in Essex at 1 PM, and a 4 PM Essex departure that arrives in NYP at 10 PM. I'd certainly use the latter to go visit CT for the weekend - I could work almost a full day than head on over to the train station and jump on the train.

The only other problem with increasing frequencies is the NECR has very few sidings, and even fewer that can accommodate a freight train of any length. I can count them on a single hand. The NECR loves Amtrak, sure, but they still need to run their own trains, which probably number 3 or 4 a day on that stretch of line (and I'm going to guess that traffic will increase when they can offer much more competitive speeds). I'm not sure how many, if any, sidings are going to be funded by this project. Not an insurmountable obstacle, but something to keep in mind.

With the increased speeds and the new routing, I'm really at the point where I don't think a sleeper section makes sense anymore. Maybe for WAS-ESX passengers, but how many of those are there, considering you can fly that stretch in an hour and multiple carriers out of BTV offer direct flights (and pretty much all offer 1-stop connections)? Having two trains a day, with a morning and late afternoon departure, would be ideal, but I think even the single train will capture quite a bit of traffic if configured right.

As far as rural Vermont goes, these improvements decrease the trip time so substantially that I think they are well served regardless of where the train goes. Bellows Falls will probably have a four or five hour trip time - at absolute most - to NYP. Brattleboro, about the same. That's pretty much car competitive, especially if you factor in the chance of traffic outside of NYC and in the Hartford region.


You're thinking like a flyer, pallie. A night train from Washington to Vermont that arrives into Vermont early in the morning and hits Burlington by 9:00 AM makes much sense. Remember: Train travel allows for comfortable travel while one sleeps.
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#16 birdy

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Posted 30 January 2010 - 01:59 PM

Well, a proper HSR line from Boston to Montreal makes sense. I'm just skeptical that the enviros in Vermont would go for it.

#17 transit54

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Posted 30 January 2010 - 02:03 PM

You're thinking like a flyer, pallie. A night train from Washington to Vermont that arrives into Vermont early in the morning and hits Burlington by 9:00 AM makes much sense. Remember: Train travel allows for comfortable travel while one sleeps.


Perhaps. I'm probably more thinking more about my own travel needs than those of others. With the faster speeds, it just wouldn't make sense to take an overnight train to CT/NY. And that's where I'm originally from (and travel to a good deal) and that's where I lot of people I know here travel to. I don't know a lot of people who travel to DC on a very regularly basis from Burlington. But I'm sure there are plenty.

I agree, however, that a Montreal to DC train (i.e. restoring the Montrealer) would make sense. The other benefit it would provide is it would allow easy southbound/westbound connections to a number of other trains at WAS and NYP. The only problem with such a train is I know that VT won't foot the bill for it, nor should they. That was traditionally an Amtrak funded service. But yes, it would be nice if it came back.

My other thought is that with the HSR funding, I'm wondering if it would be possible for the southbound Vermonter to make a connection to 449 at Springfield? Right now 449 departs at 2:15 from SAB and the Vermonter arrives at 2:40. An 80 minute faster arrival time would result in the Vermonter leaving at 1:20 PM. That seems to me to be enough to make a valid connection. In which case, suddenly Albany and upstate NY does become a possibility via train from Burlington. Yes, a very round-about way, but still, that's a lot better than now, when you simply can't get there without a car in the months the ferry from Burlington doesn't run. Not to mention that I could begin to make westbound connections off the Vermonter, a marked improvement to the situation now.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like a return connection would be possible. But again, this is a lot better than the situation now.

#18 transit54

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Posted 30 January 2010 - 02:10 PM

Well, a proper HSR line from Boston to Montreal makes sense. I'm just skeptical that the enviros in Vermont would go for it.


I think more the NIMBYs than the enviros will be a problem. It would mostly run along existing right of way in Vermont, so the only people who would complain are those who don't want frequent trains rushing past their home. But honestly, not too many people like near those tracks, anyway. It's pretty rural. And I think the voices in support would way outshout anyone in opposition. If VT had to put up substantial funds for the project, there would be a lot of outcry from a lot of people who will argue that the train is really only helping the Burlington, Montpelier and White River areas, and not the "real Vermonters" who live in rural areas.


I can't think of another project that would create so many economic benefits for this state, though. At an average speed of 120 MPH, Burlington would be about two hours away from Boston. That alone would bring in immense amounts of economic development.

#19 battalion51

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Posted 31 January 2010 - 12:33 PM

From my perspective there are some big positives coming out of this. First you've got the shorter run times. You're going to have to run over Pan Am territory instead of CSX, but the Pan Am line sees much less volume than the Boston and Berkshire Subs. You will have to make a reverse move out of the Springfield station, but there are reverse moves into the station everyday (thanks to turning the Regional set that is there every night), so this will be nothing new. The new challenge will be to dash across the diamonds, but that's a lot easier to accomplish than getting through the single track bottleneck from CP 92 to CP 83. The one downside is that you will lose train service to Amherst, but I imagine they will likely put in a Thruway connection to Springfield.

As far as what this means for capacity increases I would imagine much of the line will see signaling that it doesn't currently have. There's CTC right now from West River to Windsor, a total of about 50 miles. You also have roughly 15 miles of ABS right now. But you still have at least 120 miles on the NECR that's exclusively Track Warrant. Now I will admit ignorance here, I have no idea what the situation is on Pan Am as far as signaling goes, but I want to say they're on CTC, which helps your case tremendously. But they will have to overcome two big obstacles on the NECR. First you're still using stick rail for pretty much the entire line, it's going to be hard to increase speeds without switching to CWR. Plus on both Pan Am and the NECR you're going to need PTC before too long, which won't be a cheap date.

Finally, as far as crews are concerned right now the train runs from NHV-SPG with SPG based Conductors and Engineer. From SPG-SAB it has SPG based Conductors. From SPG-BRA you run with a BRA based Engineer (he'll work 55/57 south then swing over to 56/54). From BRA-SAB you operate with two BRA based Engineers. It seems possible that they might move the crew base back to SPG since the turn job will be much shorter running over Pan Am than it is over NECR/CSX, but that remains to be seen.

As far as expansion of service is concerned, it's very feasible without additional equipment. Right now the Shuttle sets do very little work. On a weekday you have the sets working the following trains:

Set 1 490-475-494
Set 2 495-470
Set 3 493-476-479

Similar rotations exist on Saturday. On Sunday Set 2 works an extra round trip.

Currently Set 1 arrives in Springfield at 10:10 and doesn't leave until 16:05. Set 2's work is done for the day at 11:35 AM. Also it's currently a 3.5 hour run from WRJ to SPG. Reduce that to 2.5 hours and you're sitting on 5 hours round trip from SPG to WRJ. This gives me two thoughts:

You very easily could have a single crew take Set 1 north operating as 490 to WRJ arriving around 12:40 and turn the set there to go back to SPG leaving at 1:30 , while still giving yourself a little under an hour's worth of layover/catch up time for the Southbound train 475 without altering either train's schedule south of SPG.

As an alternative you could take Set 2 and run it North as 470 arriving in WRJ a little after 2 PM. You could lay the set over there until around 4:45 PM and then run it south as 479 and give yourself a little more wiggle room for a layover. Your set rotations would change slightly, under this scenario you would have:

Set 1 490-475-494
Set 2 495-470-479
Set 3 493-476

This still accomplishes what they're looking for in terms of set rotation, you have Set 1 which starts in NHV and ends up in SPG. You have Set 2 which starts in SPG and ends up in NHV. And then Set 3 starts and ends in SPG. If you're going to expand service one of the two scenarios I've outlined would be most beneficial.

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#20 birdy

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Posted 31 January 2010 - 02:03 PM

Well, a proper HSR line from Boston to Montreal makes sense. I'm just skeptical that the enviros in Vermont would go for it.


I think more the NIMBYs than the enviros will be a problem. It would mostly run along existing right of way in Vermont, so the only people who would complain are those who don't want frequent trains rushing past their home. But honestly, not too many people like near those tracks, anyway. It's pretty rural. And I think the voices in support would way outshout anyone in opposition. If VT had to put up substantial funds for the project, there would be a lot of outcry from a lot of people who will argue that the train is really only helping the Burlington, Montpelier and White River areas, and not the "real Vermonters" who live in rural areas.


I can't think of another project that would create so many economic benefits for this state, though. At an average speed of 120 MPH, Burlington would be about two hours away from Boston. That alone would bring in immense amounts of economic development.



Insufficient attention has been paid to the possible extra benefits of cross-border links, in my opinion. HSR really offers an advantage over air in this regard. (On board customs clearance and the like). Vancouver to Seattle would be huge as would Toronto to---pick 'em. I wish they would at least discuss the matter with the Canadians. Heck, I'm pretty sure the Texans would be OK with links to Mexico (a surprisingly rail oriented country) but I wouldn't want to get into that hornet's nest....




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