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Thoughts on the HSR funding for Vermont


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#21 transit54

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Posted 31 January 2010 - 02:20 PM

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.


I'm almost 100% sure that Pan Am is CTC. A few years ago I was on a cycling trip from Burlington to CT and I came across a stretch of the Pan Am line on the MA/VT border. It was CTC and CWR, as I recall.

The NECR has been slowly working on moving to CWR for some time now - I think they have about 25 miles or so at this point (not contiguous, though). But I'd expect they'd move the rest over to CWR. And while they do run track warrants north of Windsor, I wonder how much more infrastructure they'd need to build to move to a signaled line. I know there are signals in Essex Jct where the Burlington subdivision breaks off from the mainline to connect to the VRS downtown.

Now that we're on the topic, I'm wondering how much work it would be to upgrade the Burlington sub and have the train end in downtown Burlington and park in the VRS yard for the night. That might be cheaper than upgrading the tracks north of Essex, though its in pretty bad shape. I believe it's excepted class track right now, but it could be class 1.

I'm also not sure what kind of resources they need to service the train overnight and if that would be possible. But that would restore service to downtown Burlington and also slightly shorten the running time, which would save on operating costs. The problem is that this would bypass the Essex Jct station, and Essex would have an absolute fit over that. St Albans wouldn't be happy either, but they don't have the ridership to justify going up there. And the Burlington station is 100x nicer than what's over in Essex.

Man, that would nice if it could be done. I'd be able to watch the trains come and go right from my window, which looks out over Winooski and a brief stretch of that track. And it would bring service to downtown Burlington after all.

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....


Didn't Mexico eliminate practically all passenger trains a few years back? How are they a 'surprisingly rail oriented country?'

#22 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 31 January 2010 - 03:55 PM

Now that we're on the topic, I'm wondering how much work it would be to upgrade the Burlington sub and have the train end in downtown Burlington and park in the VRS yard for the night. That might be cheaper than upgrading the tracks north of Essex, though its in pretty bad shape. I believe it's excepted class track right now, but it could be class 1.

I'm also not sure what kind of resources they need to service the train overnight and if that would be possible. But that would restore service to downtown Burlington and also slightly shorten the running time, which would save on operating costs. The problem is that this would bypass the Essex Jct station, and Essex would have an absolute fit over that. St Albans wouldn't be happy either, but they don't have the ridership to justify going up there. And the Burlington station is 100x nicer than what's over in Essex.


Isn't the Essex Junction Station problem just a matter of building a new platform on another side of the wye?

I believe this has some information on what maintenance facilities Amtrak requires in Portland, ME for the Downeaster. Given that the Vermonter runs through to WAS, it may turn out that any maintenance that can be done only every other day can happen at WAS, though.

#23 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 31 January 2010 - 04:00 PM

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.


Most of the MA work involves Pan Am, and I'm pretty sure I saw Pan Am saying that some track upgrades that could happen somewhere in New England with stimulus money that would benefit passenger rail (not necessarily on the Vermonter route) were something they could get done within two years. So I'll be surprised if the reroute isn't done by 2012.

#24 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 31 January 2010 - 04:16 PM

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.


I think with either of these arrangements, you'll end up with one of these trains meeting the existing Vermonter, so some investment in passing sidings would probably be needed.

If you schedule the trains around not needing additional equipment, they may not end up being scheduled for maximum ridership. Whether this is ultimately beneficial if Vermont is paying for the train depends on whether Amtrak offers Vermont a discount for not using additional equipment.

Presumably if travel times improve on the existing daily trip, so will revenues, which leads to the question of whether the money Vermont would be saving in paying to subsidize the Vermonter could pay for an additional WRJ frequency.

There might also be the option of avoiding the passing siding issue by running the new train to Bellows Falls and then Rutland, but presumably that requires track upgrades that probably will cost a lot more than passing sidings.

I wonder how practical it would be to extend one of those shuttle trainsets to Haverhill, MA via Worcester, Ayer, and Lowell. One question is whether CSX would tolerate an additional train between Springfield and Worcester, and another question is how much it would cost to upgrade various freight tracks between Worcester and Haverhill to Class 3 or so standards.

#25 battalion51

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Posted 31 January 2010 - 06:50 PM

Where the two trains pass is largely dependent on how the Vermonter's schedule is adjusted. I would guess they'd try to have it hit an earlier slot on the corridor Southbound and later Northbound, but who knows with Amtrak. All just speculation at this point, but it'll be interesting to see how it all shakes down.

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#26 transit54

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Posted 01 February 2010 - 09:12 AM

Isn't the Essex Junction Station problem just a matter of building a new platform on another side of the wye?

I believe this has some information on what maintenance facilities Amtrak requires in Portland, ME for the Downeaster. Given that the Vermonter runs through to WAS, it may turn out that any maintenance that can be done only every other day can happen at WAS, though.


Well, you'd have to construct a new station, too. Unless you'd just want it to be a stationless platform, which Essex probably wouldn't like much, either. Either way, you'd have to locate it off a side road between downtown and the IBM plant. That's the only space I can see where it could be fit. And all this takes money.

But I'm pretty intrigued by this idea. I might have to contact a few people I know around here and float it.

#27 George Harris

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Posted 01 February 2010 - 06:48 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 wonder if anybody has taken a real look at the curves on these lines? Raising the speed limit from 59 mph or 55 mph or whatever to 79 mph will not mean much for a line that has lots of curves that limit the speed to 50 to 60 mph or less, regardless of what type of signals you have, or whether you have 141 lb welded rail or 100 lb jointed rail.

#28 transit54

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Posted 01 February 2010 - 10:05 PM

I wonder if anybody has taken a real look at the curves on these lines? Raising the speed limit from 59 mph or 55 mph or whatever to 79 mph will not mean much for a line that has lots of curves that limit the speed to 50 to 60 mph or less, regardless of what type of signals you have, or whether you have 141 lb welded rail or 100 lb jointed rail.


My understanding is that the entire line is not slated to be upgraded - just the sections on which trains could benefit from the higher speed. So yes, I believe that's being taken into account.

#29 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 05 February 2010 - 09:36 PM

Well, you'd have to construct a new station, too. Unless you'd just want it to be a stationless platform, which Essex probably wouldn't like much, either. Either way, you'd have to locate it off a side road between downtown and the IBM plant. That's the only space I can see where it could be fit. And all this takes money.

But I'm pretty intrigued by this idea. I might have to contact a few people I know around here and float it.


OK, I hadn't realized until I looked just now that the track that a White River Junction to downtown Burlington train takes actually is more than a quarter mile from the existing station.

I was under the impression that Amtrak had a policy of not adding new stationless stops, though it might be the case that their idea of a minimum amount of shelter does not quite require a building.

If a new Essex station were only being used for trains heading to the station in downtown Burlington, ridership at Essex would drop off considerably, so it might be adequate to find an existing building of which part could be used as a waiting room (a small storefront might work if it were close enough to the tracks). And a short high level platform designed for a bridge plate is probably enough; it's probably OK if the train were to only open one door at Essex if the majority of Burlington passengers were going to stay on the train to downtown Burlington.

I still think the expensive part of a project like that is upgrading the tracks from Essex Junction to downtown Burlington.

#30 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 05 February 2010 - 09:52 PM

I wonder how practical it would be to extend one of those shuttle trainsets to Haverhill, MA via Worcester, Ayer, and Lowell. One question is whether CSX would tolerate an additional train between Springfield and Worcester, and another question is how much it would cost to upgrade various freight tracks between Worcester and Haverhill to Class 3 or so standards.


I realized this morning that there is another possible route for extending the Northeast Regional to Maine using existing tracks:

Head more or less directly north from Springfield on the Knowledge Corridor to Deerfield, then continue east to Fitchburg; this would put Springfield to Fitchburg all on Pan Am trackage. Follow the MBTA tracks from Fitchburg to Ayer (much of this is currently single track, but I believe it is expected that Fitchburg to Ayer will be double track the whole way within about two years). Then follow Pan Am's track from Ayer to the MBTA Lowell Line, stop at Lowell Station, and then take Pan Am's track over to the Haverhill Line, and continue along the Downeaster route from there.

With that route, the only railroads on the whole Springfield to Portland route are Pan Am and MBTA, which would simplify the negotiations a bit vs a route that adds CSX and Providence & Worcester. (Indeed, Pan Am and MBTA are the two host railroads for the Downeaster.)

I'm now also curious exactly how the Vermonter is going to be rerouted from Deerfield to Northfield, as it appears that Pan Am has two connections to NECR. From Deerfield, it is possible to head east to Montague, and follow the NECR tracks from Montague to Northfield. It is also possible to stay on Pan Am tracks all the way to Northfield, going through Greenfield and Bernardston. (It might even be possible to schedule meets between opposite direction trains on the Vermonter route so that they would normally happen by one train taking one of these routes, and the other train taking the other route, depending on how much time difference there is between the two routes.)

Edited by Joel N. Weber II, 05 February 2010 - 09:53 PM.


#31 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 07 February 2010 - 03:44 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.


Has there ever been a good study done of the best travel time that can be reasonably achieved going from Bellows Falls to Rutland to downtown Burlington, vs Bellows Falls to White River Junction to downtown Burlington, with some reasonably plausible set of track upgrades?

Essex Junction to Bellows Falls is 133 miles, according to the Amtrak System Timetable. I believe you've said Essex Junction to the downtown Burlington Union Station is another 7, which makes 140 miles.

Google Maps seems to think the highway mileage from Burlington to Rutland is about 67 miles on US-7, and from Rutland to Bellows Falls is about 50 miles on VT-103. That's only 117 miles, about 23 miles shorter than the route via White River junction. Switching to the route via Rutland might cut out a half hour unless the curves are much worse via Rutland than via White River Junction.

The numbers I can find on the web discussing the Ethan Allen extension to Burlington suggest 1:30 or 1:40 travel time on that segment, but don't seem to have clear references to any formal study. But that's also based upon a 59 MPH speed limit; are there straight sections of track that could go faster with an investment in a signal system?

Brattleboro to Bellows Falls is 35 minutes, 24 miles. Can that be improved?

Brattleboro to Fitchburg looks like it's probably 60-65 track miles, judging from various highway routings between those places.

117 + 24 + 65 miles would be about 206 miles from Burlington to Fitchburg. A Fitchburg to Boston North Station commuter train that skips some but not all of the current commuter stops should be under an hour within a few years, and I suspect that could translate to an Amtrak train that stops only at North Station, Porter, Fitchburg, and maybe one other commuter stop covering North Station to Fitchburg in 45 minutes. The interesting question, then, is whether it's possible to get the average speed from Fitchburg to Burlington via Rutland up to about 50 MPH (and I suspect overcoming the slowdown from the curves requires being able to go at least 79 MPH on most of the straighter parts of the route, and might even require something closer to 110 MPH).

The other interesting question there is whether the Boston to Fitchburg tracks could ever hope to support more than the 80 MPH currently planned there. I believe they are planning to upgrade to cab signals over the course of the next two years or so. On the other hand, I believe the typical MBTA coaches and locomotives can support 88 MPH, which suggests that rolling stock limitations are not the limiting factor for speed on that line.

Edited by Joel N. Weber II, 07 February 2010 - 03:47 PM.


#32 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 28 March 2010 - 01:48 PM

This has some information on Ethan Allen extension costs.

#33 transit54

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Posted 31 March 2010 - 02:21 PM

This has some information on Ethan Allen extension costs.


Thanks for the link, Joel. I really don't see the value of improvements between Rutland and Bennington. Sure, I'd love for pretty much every population center in the state to be connected by rail (save a few, like St Johnsbury), but the benefit in terms of an increase in ridership would seem negligible. The link to Burlington makes tremendous sense, especially since the report points points out that it would actually save operating costs, given the massive ridership increase you'd see. I really hope that they find the funds to extend the train at some point in the near future. In the meantime, I'd love to see connecting bus service, so at least there is a transportation link on that corridor.

At the same time, given the improvements to the Vermonter, I wonder if routing the Vermonter into Burlington would be desirable (as was discussed earlier in this thread). Or even if both could be brought to Burlington and structured so that multiple departure frequencies could be offered.

Something like this: Ethan Allen leaves NYP at 7:30 AM, arrives at 3:30 PM in Burlington. The train leaves at 4 PM from Burlington and arrives at 11 PM in NYP. This would have the advantage of only requiring a single trainset.

The Vermonter leaves Burlington at 8 AM, gets in to NYP at 4 PM. Northbound leaves NYP at 2 PM, gets into Burlington at 10 PM.

Between the trains arriving and departing from Burlington and the increased frequencies, I think they're would be a explosive increase in ridership. However, this is a very Burlington-centric view (as is much of my thinking). I wonder if constituencies further downline (Rutland, Montpelier, WRJ, Brattleboro, etc) would resist the schedule changes.

#34 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 01 April 2010 - 07:35 PM

I really don't see the value of improvements between Rutland and Bennington. Sure, I'd love for pretty much every population center in the state to be connected by rail (save a few, like St Johnsbury), but the benefit in terms of an increase in ridership would seem negligible.


It looks to me like the Hoosick Junction to Manchester to Rutland track goes through North Bennington, and there's a spur from North Bennington to downtown Bennington.

If there is a goal of extending some existing trains that run NYP-ALB and currently terminate in ALB so that some would go to downtown Bennington, others to Manchester, VT, and most would continue to terminate in ALB, I'm not sure a 60 MPH speed limit in VT is the most cost effective approach. It may turn out that upgrading track between NYP and ALB would cost less per passenger minute saved when you take into account all the extra people who travel between NYP and ALB and don't continue into Vermont, assuming the tracks in Vermont could at least support 30 MPH passenger trains. It would be interesting to do a study of exactly how many minutes would be saved by operating at 60 MPH instead of 30 MPH in Vermont, and just what it would cost to save that many minutes between NYP and ALB.

Manchester does appear to have some population, but I doubt connecting it to Rutland with a passenger train is cost effective.

On the other hand, what's the predicted ridership for Manchester and Bennington? Is it such that running DMUs between ALB and Bennington/Manchester and then coupling them to ALB-NYP trains and towing them to NYP would make sense?

Something like this: Ethan Allen leaves NYP at 7:30 AM, arrives at 3:30 PM in Burlington. The train leaves at 4 PM from Burlington and arrives at 11 PM in NYP. This would have the advantage of only requiring a single trainset.

The Vermonter leaves Burlington at 8 AM, gets in to NYP at 4 PM. Northbound leaves NYP at 2 PM, gets into Burlington at 10 PM.

Between the trains arriving and departing from Burlington and the increased frequencies, I think they're would be a explosive increase in ridership. However, this is a very Burlington-centric view (as is much of my thinking). I wonder if constituencies further downline (Rutland, Montpelier, WRJ, Brattleboro, etc) would resist the schedule changes.


You lose the one seat ride to WAS if you do that.

I'm also wondering what locomotives you expect on the train at which point of the route. I'm sure there's a dual mode diesel/third rail locomotive for at least part of the Ethan Allen Express route. Does that currently run through to Rutland? (Then again, even if it does, it may or may not run through to Burlington if the Ethan Allen is extended.) If there were some NJT style dual mode diesel/catenary locomotives available for the Vermont trains, is there catenary available in the Empire Connection tunnel at NYP so that there would be no need for a third rail locomotive?

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Posted 19 April 2010 - 11:08 AM

On other posts they discussed the possibility of Amtrak ordering the NJT ALP-45DP (dual mode diesel/catenary) locomotives. To me it seems like the Vermonter would be the ideal route for them because it would eliminate the need for the 15 minute layover to change from diesel to electric. This alone adds a further time saving to the route which makes it more appealing for travelers south of New Haven.




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