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Manny T

High Speed Rail Proposed for United City-States of America

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The vast distances in that proposal are just a pipe dream....we already have high speed transportation in those markets much more suitable....you know....airliner's.... ;)

 

I tend to agree.

 

True HSR is feasible and should be built in large parts of the US, but a national network that looks nice on a map is really not worth the money. Nor is transcontinental passengers of any significance here. No matter what you build - the vast majority of them will stay in the planes.

 

Where the investment is worthwhile is in corridors, where time and comfort allows the train to be competitive with air. How fast that is differs from corridor to corridor. On the NEC the present speed is evidently fast enough to beat the airlines. Other corridors would have to faster, and that can only be done on largely new alignments.

 

And then some relations will never be feasible. Denver to the west coast would cost a very large number of billions and it is still too far to be able to get travel times competitive with air. The market that prefers to spend 10 hours+ in a train to a few hours flight will always be a niche market, and that does not warrant investments of that order.

 

That said, the whole eastern US is thick with corridors where HSR would be very successful. As Philly writes the whole eastern seabord is an obvious place to start. Even if Northeast to Miami never gets fast enough to beat the air market, there are so many good middle markets that it would be very successful and probably generate a nice operating surplus.

 

But for it to happen we need a fundamental shift in transportation policies in the US. This is not right around the corner, but both Californa HSR and Brightline might help change the game once they start operating.

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I tend to think there's room for a decent network of HSR lines...but as noted, it's mostly east of the Mississippi. I have real trouble stringing together a serious coast-to-coast link that would have a shot at working (basically there are two marginal routes for this: The old Desert Wind routing and the Sunset routing). I think you can justify a pretty good network out to MSP/OMA/KCY/OKC/FTW/SAS, but once you get west of there you have about 500-1000 miles of relative nothingness in terms of population density and relative hell in terms of geography. On the western side I could see a system based out of CA and going into AZ, NV, and possibly WA/OR (though there's a gap there, too).

 

If we made a national decision to go for an HSR network you'd get something out there for political reasons (I cannot see omitting that region entirely, if just because of the Senate) even if it ended up being more of a modestly beefed-up version of Amtrak (e.g. the bullet train goes as far as Omaha but there are 2-3x daily Zephyrs going through).

 

As to the NEC-Florida market, no, you might not beat the air market outright...but if you could get average speeds up to 100 MPH over the run and you're still willing to run some overnight trains, an 11:30-12:00 run from NYP-ORL means you can start looking at trains which depart up north at 1800-2200 and arrive in Central FL at 0600-1000 (or which run down the FEC and get to Miami between 0800-1200). On the one hand the concept of the overnight market changes, but on the other hand I think there's a ready-made market (business travel aside) for being able to take the train down, get to Disney or Universal when the parks open on the first day of your vacation, and being able to stay until pretty much park close on the last day. Moreover, especially on the Orlando/Tampa end of that operation, there are some impressive options in terms of equipment utilization if you could somehow shave the time down to about 11:00 (e.g. being able to turn your sets for an immediate return to New York in the daytime, followed by cycling to a later slot for the evening trip to allow for servicing).

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Historically CHI - DEN has been a market that has been able to support relatively higher speed and dense rail traffic. Don;t know if that is repeatable any more, but I suspect it may be.

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Historically CHI - DEN has been a market that has been able to support relatively higher speed and dense rail traffic. Don;t know if that is repeatable any more, but I suspect it may be.

I tend to agree (heck, it generates something like 40k/yr with one train per day where you lose half of a day on the Chicago end and the train is subject to being sold out). You've got enough intermediate pairs from Omaha/Lincoln eastwards.

 

The main problem is that Denver (and the Front Range along with it) are sort-of isolated (SLC is a long haul with nothing in the middle over any route that can be run reasonably fast, and it in turn is horridly isolated as well). I think if you could pair a reasonably fast (e.g. average speed of at least 80 MPH/runtime of <12 hours) train from Chicago to Denver with decent regional networks on each end (and multiple frequencies, of course) I think you could get a robust system there.

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To get 90mph average on the CHI - NYP route we will need to get something like 125mph max speed on significant part of the route. That is not going to happen easily.

 

Give me 70 mph then, still an improvement. And it's not just the speed, it's eliminating freight interference. I remember practically sitting on the CL just outside of WAS, assumedly because of CSX. We get a freight free line between HAR and DET or HAR and CHI and I wouldn't even care that much about the speed.

 

CP offered $28 billion to buy NS. How much do you think it will take to just buy HAR-CHI from NS? $10-$15B? Not that Congress will spend it but at least put some figures out there.

 

 

Does the line have to be taken over wholesale?

 

Wasn't that corridor 4-track back in the days of the PRR?

 

And now its 2-track, maybe 3-track in places like Horseshoe Curve.

 

So maybe somebody could talk to NS and say, can we give you $$$$$ for the ROW you're not using?

 

A modest Amtrak service could be run on a line that's single track with short sections of double track. This is what Brightline wants to do.

 

There might still be a couple of pinchpoints such as at junctions where freights could slow down Amtrak, but it would be a huge improvement over today.

 

And construction coulod be phased as funds permit, with Amtrak continuing to use NS tracks in the interim.

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Grade separating the passenger tracks from freight at the junctions should not be all that expensive as an additional cost to get more predictable passenger service, I should think.

 

Indian Railways is doing something like this while they ironically build a new freight network to move the freight trains off the passenger network. The logic for doing a new freight trackage bypassing urban centers is that they wish the passenger network to continue to run through downtowns.

 

There is a vague plan to create a third HSR network eventually on the so called "Golden Quadrilateral" routes which will bypass urban centers but provide connections into the classic networks at both ends of select large urban center allowing trains to switch to the classic network to serve city center stations wherever desired.

 

Of course there is a difference between opportunistically building bits and pieces of an unplanned system vs. building out a planned system in many small steps, like the US Interstate system was built.

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Alright, I have to wonder: Presuming a decision not to do "full" HSR or electrify (likely limiting operations to 125 MPH or thereabouts), what's the highest average speed one could hope for on a 110/125 MPH alignment? I know FEC is shooting for about 80 MPH average, I'm just wondering if it is feasible to "nudge" an operation any faster without needing the whole kit and caboodle of HSR equipment, overhead wire, etc.

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That would depend on how many stations you stop at, how many less than clear indications you get, curvature of the route, and amount of double track is layers on the route.

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Alright, I have to wonder: Presuming a decision not to do "full" HSR or electrify (likely limiting operations to 125 MPH or thereabouts), what's the highest average speed one could hope for on a 110/125 MPH alignment? I know FEC is shooting for about 80 MPH average, I'm just wondering if it is feasible to "nudge" an operation any faster without needing the whole kit and caboodle of HSR equipment, overhead wire, etc.

 

Are we considering freight interference into your question?

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Ok, here are my presumptions:
(1) Freight interference is mostly avoided. Either the tracks are owned/leased by the passenger operator, there's agreed-upon physical separation even if the tracks are nominally freight-owned (and the dispatching agreement is pretty bad for the freight operator to break), or there's temporal separation of some sort. Note that these options aren't mutually-exclusive, but the bottom line is that freight actually is subordinate to passenger operations unless you have a truly extraordinary situation (and/or the passenger train is horridly out-of-slot).
(2) I'm presuming that the route is entirely double-tracked or is double-tracked anywhere the passenger operations would demand it.
(3) Stop-wise, I'm assuming roughly one stop every 50 miles (on average) with a possible second "suburban" stop on each side of a sufficiently major/sprawling city (e.g. Chicago, Washington, Orlando). Basically take AAF's present system plan and plop the long-expected Cocoa stop onto it for an idea of what I'm thinking.
(4) I'm presuming that there are few-to-no cases where you have a "bad stretch" (e.g. operations under about 40 MPH) that isn't in the immediate vicinity of an all-trains-stop-here station (where they'd have to slow down a little ways out anyway). Basically you deal with the super-slow stretches like, IIRC, Springfield IL by either "fixing" the issue (possibly elevating track, possibly other, still-expensive options) or building a bypass.

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Amtrak now owns most of BOS-WAS (except New Haven to New Rochelle, owned by Metro-North), Harrisburg-NYP, and part of the Wolverine route (Michigan DOT owns Kalamazoo-Detroit), but the CHI-STL route is still listed as owned by Union Pacific. Is the UP line being upgraded to 110 mph or will it be a new line?

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Alright, I have to wonder: Presuming a decision not to do "full" HSR or electrify (likely limiting operations to 125 MPH or thereabouts), what's the highest average speed one could hope for on a 110/125 MPH alignment? I know FEC is shooting for about 80 MPH average, I'm just wondering if it is feasible to "nudge" an operation any faster without needing the whole kit and caboodle of HSR equipment, overhead wire, etc.

 

As far as I am aware the best ever done with conventional trains on conventional non electrifed tracks over long distances was British Rail's HST service with 125mph commercial top speed and start to stop averages of around 100mph being operated where conditions were favorable. I think the Didcot to Swindon was for many years and maybe still is the world's fastest start to stop scheduled diesel passenger train, basically because they go full speed basically as fast as they could accelerate there and there were no go-slow bits in the middle.

 

Today with multiple units rather than locomotives, you could accelerate a bit faster on the same nominal power and maybe shave a few minutes extra.

 

However, in the long run, electrification is just the more attractive proposition. This is why the East Coast was electrified in the late 1980s and the Great Western is being electrified now.

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Amtrak now owns most of BOS-WAS (except New Haven to New Rochelle, owned by Metro-North), Harrisburg-NYP, and part of the Wolverine route (Michigan DOT owns Kalamazoo-Detroit), but the CHI-STL route is still listed as owned by Union Pacific. Is the UP line being upgraded to 110 mph or will it be a new line?

The UP line is being upgraded. AFAICT there is no plan nor money to acquire that track from UP.

 

OTOH Poughkeepsie to Hoffmans part of the Empire Corridor is leased from CSX by NYSDOT and is now maintained, operated and dispatched by Amtrak.

 

Deland to Poinciana around Orlando is now owned and operated by the Central Florida Rail Authority (Sun Rail) and used by Amtrak Silver Service. Similarly Mangonia to Miami Intermodal Center (at Miami Airport) is owned and operated by Tri Rail and used by Amtrak Silver Service.

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Alright, I have to wonder: Presuming a decision not to do "full" HSR or electrify (likely limiting operations to 125 MPH or thereabouts), what's the highest average speed one could hope for on a 110/125 MPH alignment? I know FEC is shooting for about 80 MPH average, I'm just wondering if it is feasible to "nudge" an operation any faster without needing the whole kit and caboodle of HSR equipment, overhead wire, etc.

 

As far as I am aware the best ever done with conventional trains on conventional non electrifed tracks over long distances was British Rail's HST service with 125mph commercial top speed and start to stop averages of around 100mph being operated where conditions were favorable. I think the Didcot to Swindon was for many years and maybe still is the world's fastest start to stop scheduled diesel passenger train, basically because they go full speed basically as fast as they could accelerate there and there were no go-slow bits in the middle.

 

Today with multiple units rather than locomotives, you could accelerate a bit faster on the same nominal power and maybe shave a few minutes extra.

 

However, in the long run, electrification is just the more attractive proposition. This is why the East Coast was electrified in the late 1980s and the Great Western is being electrified now.

 

I agree with the point about the attractiveness of the proposition (electrification vs diesel operation); I was really more looking at the question of what could be managed if for some reason you can't cover all of a service with electrification (e.g. the sprawling services south of Washington, DC) and don't want to lose half an hour somewhere with a "toaster pop".

 

I'm basically looking at, presuming you could meet the operational separation requirements (e.g. having a more-or-less full dedicated track with good passing sidings), what you could theoretically do with the Florida services without getting into a fight over overhead wires (or Chicago-Denver, or any of a number of other services).

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If the US ever considered investing in "high speed rail" (outside the NEC), what would be the targets in terms of distance and/or speed (ignore specific geographic areas or population for now)?

 

Assume the average car through highway traffic averages 50 mph (counting for local traffic and stops).

 

If the trip is 50 miles, even if we can go 100 mph on the train, you would save 1/2 hour. I'd probably still rather drive so I can set my own schedule. For a 100 mile trip at a train speed of 100 mph then you would save a full hour and that might start to become attractive.

 

Now I don't fly but too far a trip most people would rather fly. Assume a 500 mile trip at 100 mph (5 hours). I'm guessing that flight would be about 2 hours in the air but add security considerations the overall trip could be 3 or maybe 4 hours (last time I flew was the mid 90's so I have no idea as to the actual times). I can see people willing to take the train for 500 miles if it is only 1-2 more hours (also such train could also stop at intermediate points so the 100-200 mile trip which we already know is reasonable). Beyond that (assuming 100 mph) you're looking at many more hours extra on the train and those who are afraid of flying (me) or enjoy the scenery are taking LD trains now and time isn't as important (although I think all of us would like a faster train). Even at 100 mph, I doubt for a 1000 mile trip these "high speed trains" will ever be competitive with air travel (although it would be much better than cars or buses). Now if we could go 200 mph then everything changes).

 

So I'm thinking at 100 mph maybe 100-500 mile trips would be the target audience. Feel free to discuss the numbers.

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Just to give you a ballpark figure, with no checked bags and with TSA-Pre it takes me 3.5 to 4 hours curb to curb from Orlando to Newark. The gate to gate time is about 2:45 out of that.

 

Having a checked bag adds at least 45 mins but more like an hour to that.

 

Note that Orlando has notoriously long TSA lines, but with Pre it is much better than without, and the lines move relatively smoothly usually.

Edited by jis

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So I'm thinking at 100 mph maybe 100-500 mile trips would be the target audience. Feel free to discuss the numbers.

I agree that 100mph consistent travel (except for slowing down for stations) would be sufficient for most trips of this length. As to shorter trips, trains could compete with cars and air if they went to large city airports. Half of airline hub city traffic (if my memory is correct) consists of short connecting flights from nearby airports. Given that trains can do this albeit even at less than 100mph, not only would it be better than a car but by eliminating local flights, would reduce airport costs by eliminating "hop" flights.

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Amtrak does not have any segment that would be rightfully called HSR anywhere else in the world these days. A few small segments of the NEC spine come close. But that's about it. There is nothing in PHL - HAR, or the Michigan Line that would be called HSR by anyone except a few in the US, and there is little chance that using the current ROW they will ever become HSR by world standard.

One of the issues that caused the UK's HS1 line from London to the Channel Tunnel to be delivered so late is that it was effectively a greenfield line. Some shorts ections are in places that had railroads before but mostly it was new build. As the London area has a high amount of sprawl, it was virtually impossible to find an alignment that didn't interfere with something. Lots of homes had to be acquired and legal cases bogged the project down and in fact forced them to chanhge their plans and reroute in many cases.

 

If there will ever be a greenfields route to dupliacte something like the NEC, they had better start early by earmarking land and making sure nothing gets built on it that will be expensive to take down when the time comes.

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Or they have to tunnel under everything in deep tubes. Expensive.

 

When they added capacity to the Tokyo Central they constructed the tracks that are used by among other, the NeX Airport Express trains. It is all in tunnels in central Tokyo with no footprint on the surface.

 

On the NEC South, there are significant lengths where speeds can be increased a bit more. The problem is track center distance. To fix that some minimal amount of land will have to be acquired along the ROW at its edges. This is actually feasible between Jersey Ave. (County) and Trenton (Ham), and at several places in Delaware and Maryland. NEC North is an entirely different kettle of fish. The only vaguely feasible way may be the extremely expensive proposition of building out along the LIE and digging under the Long Island Sound to get to RI basically avoiding all of Connecticut, which of course is also politically fraught. I would not hold my breath on that one. The alternative is to try to build some bypassess that are straighter around the worst parts. that won;t be easy either. Ironically I-95 has a significantly straighter alignment than the railroad which was apparently built along whatever cow path was available, even back then.

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So I'm thinking at 100 mph maybe 100-500 mile trips would be the target audience. Feel free to discuss the numbers.

Absolutely, the 500 mile and under midtown to midtown market (large population centers) is the prime area for train transportation.

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So I'm thinking at 100 mph maybe 100-500 mile trips would be the target audience. Feel free to discuss the numbers.

Absolutely, the 500 mile and under midtown to midtown market (large population centers) is the prime area for train transportation.

 

 

Sure, but with perhaps a couple of caveats:

1) At the present "HSR" speeds in the US, like the Acela, and

2) Assuming there exist nonstop flights between the endpoints: if flying involves changing planes at an intermediate hub, the equation changes.

 

I made a little stupid model of when flying or the train is faster, as a function of distance. I made the following assumptions:

1) There is an additional time overhead associated with flying over taking the train, which involves everything from getting to the possibly remote airport to security to required check in times to the time it takes the plane to get from the gate to cruising speed. I "determined" this time by forcing the rail and air trip from NYP to WAS to take the same amount of total time, which has been demonstrated in the past to be roughly the case. The result was 2.5 hours of extra overhead time associated with flying, which at least is more or less consistent with reality.

 

2) The cruise speed of a plane is 400 mph. I just made this up.

 

3) The additional overhead associated with stopping at a hub enroute is two hours. I just made this up as well, based loosely on the many hundreds of hours I have spent in DFW and other airports over the decades.

 

Under these assumptions, obviously taking the train will be quicker for short trips and flying will be quicker for long ones, with a "crossover distance" at which the times are equal, with the crossover distance varying with train speed and number of airplane stops. We can make a little table of the results (I hope the formatting works!):

 

Crossover distance (flying is quicker if the distance is longer than this)

Number of stops enroute by air 0 (nonstop) 1 (stop at hub)

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Train average speed 77 mph 240 miles 430 miles (77 mph is the average speed of an Acela between NYP and WAS)

100 333 600

150 600 1000

 

So, sure, 500 miles is about the right cut off with the caveats mentioned above. If we could build true high speed rail in the US, though, or if we were connecting non-hub cities with few or no nonstop flight connections, a longer distance might be time-competitive with flying. Memphis-San Antonio (625 miles by air, 727 by road), to pick a pair of random non-hub cities: 11 hours driving time, 8 hours flying (according to my assumptions above), but would only take six or so hours by 100 mph high speed rail.

 

So given higher speeds and non-hub cities, the threshold where air takes over might be significantly higher.

 

Ainamkartma

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...

 

On the NEC South, there are significant lengths where speeds can be increased a bit more. The problem is track center distance.

 

...

 

I know track center distance has been mentioned as an issue in the past. What sort of spacing is being suggested at a minimum for track centers?

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Apparently, ideally they would want something like 15' or more (if you really want two trains traveling at 186mph to cross without causing significant aerodynamic problems, but are unlikely to get too far beyond 13.5' to 14' with a little bit of luck and added expense. Currently some are as low as 12'2" Fortunately for the areas where they want to go to 160mph, apparently they can get it up to above 12'6" and closer to 13' in many places. This business of what is safe at 12'6" and 13' has been a major part of the study involving those high speed runs.

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Apparently, ideally they would want something like 15' or more (if you really want two trains traveling at 186mph to cross without causing significant aerodynamic problems, but are unlikely to get too far beyond 13.5' to 14' with a little bit of luck and added expense. Currently some are as low as 12'2" Fortunately for the areas where they want to go to 160mph, apparently they can get it up to above 12'6" and closer to 13' in many places. This business of what is safe at 12'6" and 13' has been a major part of the study involving those high speed runs.

 

Well 15' does certainly present a challenge, I suppose it could be worse.... Beyond physically having the property, it would most likely require rebuilding or replacing a fair number of the bridges along that particular stretch of tracks. Thinking aloud; assuming 4 tracks, it would be 45' between the centers of the two outer tracks, add 15' on each side of that you are now at 75'. If you went to 16' centers (as a worse case) and 16' outside the outer centers, that would be 80'.

 

I won't hold my breath that they will every actually rebuild a stretch of the southern NEC for 186 mph, but I sure would enjoy seeing that...

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Apparently, ideally they would want something like 15' or more (if you really want two trains traveling at 186mph to cross without causing significant aerodynamic problems, but are unlikely to get too far beyond 13.5' to 14' with a little bit of luck and added expense. Currently some are as low as 12'2" Fortunately for the areas where they want to go to 160mph, apparently they can get it up to above 12'6" and closer to 13' in many places. This business of what is safe at 12'6" and 13' has been a major part of the study involving those high speed runs.

 

Well 15' does certainly present a challenge, I suppose it could be worse.... Beyond physically having the property, it would most likely require rebuilding or replacing a fair number of the bridges along that particular stretch of tracks. Thinking aloud; assuming 4 tracks, it would be 45' between the centers of the two outer tracks, add 15' on each side of that you are now at 75'. If you went to 16' centers (as a worse case) and 16' outside the outer centers, that would be 80'.

 

I won't hold my breath that they will every actually rebuild a stretch of the southern NEC for 186 mph, but I sure would enjoy seeing that...

 

Enormous outlay of tax dollars for minimal results.

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