HSR Routes: Triangles and Ys

This post partially responds to “The Altamont of X” comments made by Adirondacker, though it is far more general than that.

Whenever a route has to connect three non-collinear cities, compromises must be made between cost and directness. The two basic configurations are a triangle and a Y or T; a triangle is more direct but requires more infrastructure, whereas a Y is the opposite. The purest example of this issue is in Texas; the Interstates connecting Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio form a triangle, but with future high-speed rail, either configuration and many compromises in between are possible. Since not even in Texas is there a pure triangle with equal vertices and nothing in between, each site has its own questions regarding phasing, constructibility, intermediate cities, and relative importance of the triangle’s three sides.

In California, the Altamont vs. Pacheco debate is at least in part a Y vs. triangle debate. Here, the three nodes are Southern California, the Bay Area, and Sacramento. The LA-Sacramento leg is the simplest, because the line would just run straight up the Central Valley. The question is then what to do with the other two. The Pacheco alternative is essentially a triangle: San Francisco-Sacramento service gets an Altamont overlay, or maybe a heavily upgraded Capitol Corridor, and there is wide separation between the Central Valley-Bay Area connection used by trains heading to Los Angeles and ones heading to Sacramento. Altamont is a Y whose branch point is Manteca, with tracks going west to the Bay Area, north to Sacramento, or south to Los Angeles.

The particular case of California, however, favors the Y over the triangle. LA-SF and SF-Sacramento are both important corridors, so being able to serve both more easily is an advantage. Although Pacheco is shorter in distance than Altamont, it is not shorter in time to San Francisco, because more of Altamont is in the Central Valley and less is on the Caltrain corridor; for the same reason, the two options are about even on the cost of LA-SF alone. Altamont is actually a bit cheaper according to the original alternatives analysis, and the recent cost overrun is disproportionately in areas used only by Pacheco, such as the pass itself and the San Jose Diridon complex. Although Altamont has to cross water, a water tunnel parallel to the potential crossing site is currently under construction and so the geology and environment are well-understood. Pacheco’s advantage is just about San Jose: it offers it a faster connection to Los Angeles, and also the prestige of being on the main line rather than on a spur that would have gotten canceled as soon as costs ran over.

The fact that Altamont is no worse than Pacheco at connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco, as opposed to San Jose, is the key here. Altamont has other advantages, but since the biggest advantage of triangles here is reduced to connecting a secondary city better, there’s every reason to prefer the Y.

The same is not true elsewhere. Let us consider three cases: New York and New England, Texas, and the eastern part of the Midwest.

In the Midwest, this is the easiest. The question is how to connect Chicago to Detroit, the options being the I-94 corridor through Michigan, and the I-90 corridor through Indiana and Toledo, which would be shared with a connection to Cleveland. In this case the savings due to picking a Y rather than a triangle are much greater, while, again, the Y does not compromise Chicago-Detroit, but only reduces Chicago’s connectivity to small cities on I-94 in Michigan. Unsurprisingly, there is no longer a debate I am aware of; the SNCF proposal and the Siemens proposal both connect Detroit to Chicago via Toledo.

In the other regions, it is harder. When one leg of the triangle is obviously more important than the other two, it can be useful to have a T, which is like a Y except that one leg is straight and the other two are lengthened slightly more. If Houston and San Antonio swapped locations, it would be obvious that it should be a T. But given that they are where they are, the strongest leg, Dallas-Houston, has nothing significant in between, while Dallas-San Antonio has two intermediate cities in addition to Austin, complicating that kind of T. The Texas T-Bone alignment keeps straight Dallas-San Antonio, the second strongest leg; on this rudimentary list of possible alignments on Keep Houston Houston, a T with Dallas-Houston straight does not even appear. SNCF’s proposal starts with Dallas-San Antonio and is agnostic on whether to extend to Houston as a triangle or a T.

Practically any solution but a triangle would make the weakest leg, Houston-San Antonio, more circuitous, but various compromises that keep it at least competitive are incompatible with making both Dallas-San Antonio and Dallas-Houston straight. The presence of Austin also makes an exact triangle infeasible. Houston-San Antonio on I-10 is 321 km; via Austin, it is 389; via the T-Bone, it is 500; via Dallas, it is over 800, making it completely uncompetitive with driving. The Interstates had an easier time – cars can get from Houston to Austin, Temple-Killeen, and Waco on state roads, and because 1960s’ Texas was empty between the three Triangle cities, construction costs were low.

In the Northeast, there is also an opportunity for a triangle versus Y argument, in the New York-Boston-Albany triangle, but this time the Y is weaker. The problem is that New York-Boston is by far the strongest leg and the first that should be constructed. For that leg alone, the advantage of a shore route through Providence over an inland route through Hartford and I-84 is not overwhelming, but it requires less construction (New Haven-Kingston vs. New Haven-Boston). On top of that, the pure Y would not use I-84 but require New York-Boston trains to go through Springfield, lengthening the trip, and even that would only make the extra construction required even with the triangle. On a high-value, relatively short corridor where every minute matters, this is a problem. The only leg that works either way, Boston-Albany, is by far the weakest.

Meanwhile, the second leg, New York-Albany, would greatly suffer from any such detour. New York-Albany direct is about 230 km. Via New Haven and Springfield, it’s 330, and the average speed is also lower because of unfixable curves between New York and New Haven and several forced station stops. On top of that, although less overall construction would be required at the end, New York-Albany direct requires less tunneling than going through the Berkshires, even with the Hudson Highlands, and also less urban construction through Hartford and Springfield. (Without the Y, New Haven-Hartford-Springfield would be an upgraded legacy corridor, rather than a dedicated HSR line, which would provide similar local functionality but be insufficient for an intercity through-route to Boston or Upstate New York.)

What this means is that just because a Y is preferable to a triangle in one location does not mean Ys are always better. It depends on how it impacts the stronger legs, on phasing, and on very dry constructibility questions. “The Altamont of X” is incomplete; the Altamont Y is special in that the strongest leg is indifferent to Altamont vs. Pacheco, making the benefits (as opposed to costs) a matter of 10 or 20 extra minutes on secondary markets.


  1. Eric

    “Although Pacheco is shorter in distance than Altamont, it is not shorter in time to San Francisco, because more of it is in the Central Valley and less is on the Caltrain corridor;”

    Confusing, what is “it” here?

  2. Joey

    I’m not entirely convinced on the Midwest issue. I see both sides of the argument, but along I-90 you’ve basically got nothing between South Bend and Toledo. You could divert south to Fort Wayne (metro 419k), but you’d be adding a significant amount of time to Chicago-Detroit. Along I-94 you’ve got Ann Arbor (metro 345k), Jackson (metro 160k), Battle Creek (metro 136k), and Kalamazoo (metro 327k). This route could still serve South Bend, which is much more important than the Benton Harbor area, and you get a much easier connection to Grand Rapids (metro 774k). That also provides a pretty fast route from Detroit to Grand Rapids. And Toledo itself only has 651k people in it’s area…

    • Alon Levy

      I-90 is already needed for Chicago-Cleveland. In fact both the SNCF and the Siemens alignments serve Fort Wayne, on the legacy alignment; it looks like a big detour on a map, but it’s only 24 kilometers longer than I-90 (see this map). On a greenfield alignment you could even serve both South Bend and Fort Wayne, though that’s a slightly longer detour.

      You’re right that I-94 is a better connection to Grand Rapids, but then you need to weigh that against Detroit-Cleveland, which you get essentially for free with I-90.

      • Joey

        I suppose it’s worth mentioning that I was also assuming that you’d be bypassing Toledo to get to Detroit even from I-90, in order to avoid the sharp curves and speed restrictions. Though I do acknowledge that neither the Siemens or SNCF proposals (at least IIRC) do this.

        • Alon Levy

          The SNCF proposal bypasses the Toledo station, but not the city itself, the wye being located within the city just west of downtown; probably trains could through most of the city at 200 km/h and through the turnouts and wye at 160 km/h.

          • betamagellan

            Siemens is the basically the opposite—trains from Fort Wayne approach from the south side of the city and cross the Maumee with a new bridge before heading to Detroit. Chicago-Cleveland trains would bypass Toledo and join I-90 via a wye southeast of the city.

        • Joey

          As a side note, it looks like an I-94 Greenfield route would probably save ~15-20 minutes of travel time over a Fort Wayne-Toledo-Detroit route. Half is from the additional distance, half is from slow downs … express trains would probably pass through Fort Wayne at 250 km/h (unless you want to build a greenfield route north of the city), and Toledo you’d have to go down to at least 200 through the curves (depending on how much you push the radius outside the current ROW).

          • Adirondacker12800

            …well… there might be quite a few people who want to escape to Chicago or Toronto now and then….

        • Joey

          On a more serious note, people might want to go to (or from) Grand Rapids for the same reason anyone might want to go to Toledo or Bakersfield or Wilmington.

        • Eric

          Grand Rapids probably doesn’t have much of an airport, so HSR would face less competition there, and do better.

          • betamagellan

            Grand Rapids is only ~180 mi from Chicago and has less than a million people, which means that conventional rail (even if it only averages around 60 mph) should be fine. What really needs work is reliability in northeast Indiana near Chicago, where there’s a lot of freight interference (some of which is being done now).

          • Alon Levy

            That’s the big advantage of letting HSR use conventional track. Once you do Chicago-Cleveland/Detroit, you can skip the Chicago-area congestion entirely, and do about half of Chicago-Grand Rapids on high-speed track.

            Curiously enough, however, the average speed of the Michigan services in Illinois and Indiana is actually a little higher than in Michigan, even on westbound trains, where the end-of-line padding is in Illinois.

      • Nathanael

        The Midwest HSR proposals from the activist group also go Chicago-Fort Wayne-Toledo. The ones from the official interstate commission do not have an official alignment… but all their maps also show Chicago-Fort Wayne-Toledo.

        The choice is made simpler by the fact that the Chicago-Kalamazoo-Battle Creek-Ann Arbor-Detroit train line is not going away — and by the fact that the legacy Pennsylvania Railroad Fort Wayne Line alignment is quite straight already.

        However, the choice is made harder by the fact that the government of Indiana is totally uninterested in rail service. If the government of Michigan manages to speed up the Detroit-Chicago line through Michigan enough, it may start seeming tempting to run Chicago-Detroit-Toledo because of the principle of giving more service to the people who want it than to the people who don’t.

        • Alon Levy

          Just because Indiana today doesn’t care doesn’t mean it won’t by the time there’s funding for actual HSR, as opposed to cutting half an hour from a 5:30 trip and trying to brand it as something better than it is. The same is true of Ohio. Kasich won’t be around forever.

          • Nathanael

            Ohio will get better sooner. Ohio *had* substantial passenger rail advocacy and support, and still does, really.

            Indiana? Try to find that support; it’s miniscule to the point of political irrelevance. There’s some along the route of the South Shore Line, but even South Bend is not really interested in passenger rail expansion.

            Unless there’s a massive population shift in Indiana, I don’t see the home of the Indy 500 lifting a finger, even if a better governor gets into office.

          • Nathanael

            South Bend and Notre Dame, for the record, are currently trying to abandon and shut down tracks which could be used for downtown passenger service. Efforts to move the Amtrak station back to a downtown location died out decades ago and have not been revived.

            It’s instructive to compare this to oh, practically any city in a state which is less rail-hostile.

          • Alon Levy

            Are these Amtrak tracks they’re trying to shut down, or the South Shore Line? Because Amtrak isn’t that great even there. The average speed going eastbound is quite high (the trip takes 1:30 vs. 1:50 by car on Google Maps), but it’s still just one train per day, at a less than ideal time.

        • BruceMcF

          This is the advantage to the current development of an Express Intercity rail corridor through southern Michigan ~ it minimizes the current footprint in Indiana, while providing a bottom bracket to the perceived benefit of having an Express HSR rail corridor through Fort Wayne. Similarly, establishment of the Express Intercity link between Toledo and that Michigan corridor would allow daytime Express Intercity trains Cleveland / Toledo / Chicago via Michigan, and lay the foundation Express HSR Chicago / Fort Wayne / Cleveland with a branch at Toledo to Detroit.

    • Steve

      The other thing to consider it that a large section of the I-94 route is currently (or soon will be) owned by the State of Michigan. So from a financial standpoint I would think using already publicly owned right of way would be less expensive than having to purchase/lease rights of way along the I-90 corridor.

      • Alon Levy

        That ROW is completely useless for HSR. It’s nice for legacy intercity rail, but you’ll never squeeze high speeds out of it.

        • Steve

          I don’t know. I’ve actually taken Amtrak from Detroit to Chicago. Have you? As someone who has actually rode this route, yes, there are curves, but nothing really sharp except in a few of the cities, like Kalamazoo, where you would be slowing down anyway for station stops. There are a lot of long, basically flat, basically straight sections on this route. And there is a stretch in SW Michigan where they’re currently running at 110 mph. Not true high speed, but with some adjustments in certain places I don’t see why they couldn’t get up to 200+ mph. And having done a fair amount of traveling in northern Indiana I’d have to say all of the existing train routes I’ve seen there have just as many if not more curves than the Michigan route. While they may look straight when viewed on a large map the rail lines tend to follow the rivers there, which means lots of curves. And if your talking about following I-90, then there are NO population centers between South Bend and Toledo whereas on the I-94 route you’d hit population centers with over 1 million in total population. Now, if you’re talking about building totally new infrastructure then I would say go where you would hit the greatest number of significant population centers since I would suspect that a fairly large percentage of the trips taken are not going to be Chicago-Cleveland or Chicago-Detroit but Chicago-medium sized population center in between Chicago and Detroit.

          • Alon Levy

            I haven’t ridden it, but I’ve looked at it on a map and it’s not straight enough. It’s straight enough for Amtrak speeds, but if you want high speeds, the absolute minimum radius is 4 kilometers, and the preferred radius on new lines outside Japan is 7 km. For a random example of curves on the legacy routes, I just went again and checked curves in and around Kalamazoo. The result: the curve east of 131, just as the tracks align next to Business 94, has radius 800 meters, and the curve just west of the station has radius 650 meters. Straightening them would require heavy urban takings. And that’s without talking about all those urban grade separations that would be required; in California they’re discovering the hard way that they’re expensive.

            So in either case, we’re talking about a 100% greenfield track. The Fort Wayne route actually has a better shot at using a legacy rail corridor, because that corridor is actually straight.

          • Steve

            If you were running express trains I could see that as being a problem but if the idea is to stop at the larger population centers on the route wouldn’t you be slowing down/starting up to/from the Kalamazoo station? In which case why would the turn radii you talked about be a problem? I’m just curious.

          • Alon Levy

            They should be running both locals and expresses. But anyway, there are similar curves elsewhere on the line, and grade crossings in little towns without stations.

          • Steve

            Well, no matter where you build there are going to be grade crossings, so that’s a non-argument. I guess what bothers me the most about a Fort Wayne routing is that between South Bend and Fort Wayne and between Fort Wayne there’s NOTHING THERE. There are no population centers that I know of that even approach 15,000 people whereas along the I-94 route there are, as someone else pointed out, Ann Arbor (metro 345k), Jackson (metro 160k), Battle Creek (metro 136k), and Kalamazoo (metro 327k). So you have a potential ridership pool of over 1 million people on that route, as opposed to 390k in the Fort Wayne metro area. So the question comes down to do you pick your route mostly with endpoint to endpoint (i.e. Chicago-Cleveland) travel in mind or do you spend more money to tap the intermediate markets along a potential route?

          • Alon Levy

            Grade crossing elimination is much cheaper outside city centers than inside them. California is saving money by going around cities, because then instead of having to grade-separate over every city street it only needs to grade-separate over the occasional rural access road. The on-paper unit costs between rural and urban grade separations differ by a factor of 15, according to the Penn Design HSR study, which cribs its unit cost numbers from California HSR. (In practice, California’s had enormous cost overruns with urban grade separations; the on-paper cost of $23 million should be compared with actual cost of $90 million on the Caltrain corridor.)

            The problem with I-94 is really that unless you’re seriously proposing to connecting Chicago to Cleveland via I-94 and Detroit, I-90 and I-75 are already going to get HSR. So you get Chicago-Detroit for free piggybacking on Chicago-Cleveland, and the question becomes whether it’s justifiable to build a new HSR line just for Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, and Jackson, and for a more direct connection to Ann Arbor.

          • betamagellan

            Steve, if you’re concerned about intermediate markets and small-to-medium-sized cities you don’t want to invest in HSR, which for getting from big city to big city to big city as quickly as possible, which means bypassing everything. I guess something like the NEC or Shinkansen might be possible between Chicago and Detroit through Michigan, but do you really think the market’s there for that sort of investment?

          • Steve

            I guess it comes down to a question of what you want HSR to do. I’ve been reading that a number of smaller cities along the new HSR Madrid-Barcelona line in Spain as well as smaller cities along the TVG lines in France have experienced considerable growth that they directly attributed to having HSR stations. So the question is, do you design HSR to be A) a service from major Metro A to major Metro B ignoring everything in between, which seems to be what you are saying it should be or do you design it to be B) a service that is offered to not-so-major Metro areas in between major Metro areas along the route, which is what I believe it should be. As far as I know (and I could be wrong) none of the HSR systems in the world operate under choice A; they all operate under choice B. I’m not saying there have to be stations at all of the cities along I-94 or that every train would have to stop at every station. Battle Creek (as well as Grand Rapids) would be within an easy drive of a Kalamazoo station and Jackson would be in easy reach of an Ann Arbor station (although a Jackson station would help tap into the Lansing market). But by running HSR in the I-94 corridor you would be expanding your potential customer base by over a million people over an I-90 route (nearly 2 million if you include Grand Rapids and Lansing).

            As far as market support the route currently supports three round trips a day between Pontiac and Chicago and is experiencing fairly strong growth even with the slow-downs currently put in place by the freight railroads. And with the purchase of the right-of way by the State of Michigan between Kalamazoo and Dearborn, the track between Niles and Kalamazoo that Amtrak already owns and the track improvements currently being implemented to allow 110 mph service between Dearborn and Niles ridership should increase fairly dramatically in the near future. So I do think that this is a “if you build it they will come” service.

          • betamagellan

            Here’s the issue—when SNCF (which actually has experience successfully modeling ridership) makes projections, they weigh city populations they multiply urban populations and raise it to a coefficient, something like—(MetroA*MetroB)^.85. Connecting bigger cities performs much better than connecting strings of smaller cities, so connecting the two biggest metros in the Midwest makes a lot of sense. So does connecting other big metros—Cleveland takes precedence over a bunch of metros with populations of less than one million. Thus it makes sense to build the minimum amount of infrastructure to connect as many big metros as possible—as Alon notes above, if you’re going to build to Cleveland anyway why not set up the Detroit route in a way that that allows you to save on future construction costs (and opens up the possibility of Detroit-Cleveland trains to boot)?

            SNCF also divides (CityA * CityB)^.85 by travel time squared, so the longer your trip is the worse your ridership is and each extra minute has a pretty deleterious effect. This means you maximize ridership by connecting the biggest metros in your region as quickly as possible, which means few (if any) intermediate stops. The extra time it takes to stop in a small city intermediary actually cuts into the number of riders from a large terminal city—if travel time is increased, fewer people choose to ride. It also hurts revenue—people traveling longer generate more revenue-miles. So yes, I’d say HSR actually does better when it’s focused on connecting large cities.

          • Nathanael

            Steve: the local advocates for Midwest High Speed Rail have been proposing a “local” (110/125 mph) route along the existing Michigan Line and an “express” (220 mph) line from Chicago to Fort Wayne to Toledo (with no other stops), along with frequent trains between Toledo and Detroit.

            This would pretty much satsify everyone, I think, except for the people at Elkhart and South Bend, and most of them haven’t been lifting a finger to get better service.

            For reference, an awful lot of the trips on the “express” line from Chicago to Toledo are likely to be passengers coming from points in Ohio or even further east.

            On Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, for reference, the top city pairs are:
            …together amounting to 32% of ridership.

            On the Capitol Limited, the top city pairs are
            …amounting to 53% of passengers.

            A lot of people want to get between the Northeast and Chicago. If a fast line is built, it will *have* to be used for passengers going between Chicago and the Northeast, as they would object to having to take the slow line.

            There would probably be substantial Ohio ridership; Amtrak ridership in Ohio is suppressed by all the stops being in the middle of the night. On the other hand, Indiana ridership seems to be genuinely weak — I guess the land of the Indy 500 is still car-crazy.

          • Alon Levy

            Indiana is weak because the Hoosier State/Cardinal has the average speed of a commuter train. The Providence Line locals average about the same speeds between Boston and Providence that the Hoosier State averages between Chicago and Indianapolis. And that’s on top of not having the most convenient schedule – westbound trains leave Indy at 6 am and eastbound trains arrive at midnight.

            Cincinnati has all the above problems, plus the arrival times are even less convenient and the train only comes 3 days a week. Why would you expect it to have nontrivial ridership? The vast majority of people are not hardcore masochists.

          • Nathanael

            “The problem with I-94 is really that unless you’re seriously proposing to connecting Chicago to Cleveland via I-94 and Detroit, ”

            If the border politics weren’t so crazy I’d propose connecting Detroit to Buffalo (and onward east) via roughly the former Canada Southern route, the NY Central’s express across Canada. No need to actually stop in Canada. Then it might make sense to follow I-94 from Detroit to Chicago…

            …but I don’t think that proposal has a chance of happening in my lifetime.

          • Nathanael

            Alon, *Elkhart and South Bend* ridership are weak, and taking the train from either to Chicago doesn’t require masochism.

          • jim

            I’m working from a 1980 Conrail track chart, but I doubt there’s been much improvement since then.

            There are two and three degree curves in most of the cities and towns between Kalamazoo and Dearborn. The curves in Kalamazoo itself that Alon points to are all under two degrees. That section of the line isn’t going to get straight enough to run 200 km/h trains, let alone genuine high speed. 110 mph will be a challenge.

            But it’s the grade separation which is the greater problem. There are, I believe the technical term is a shitload of, at-grade crossings. In Jackson and Kalamazoo on the order of ten in a mile. Grade separation in the cities and towns will require long viaducts along already curvy right of way.

            This is not a candidate for HSR.

          • BruceMcF

            So, given a relatively short Toledo / Ann Arbor or Dearborn Rapid Rail corridor connecting to a Chicago / Cleveland HSR corridor, the Detroit metro travel to Chicago as well as to point east is via the Chicago / Cleveland Express HSR corridor. Given that the line of sight distance between Dearborn and Kalamazoo is 196km (121mi), a 110mph corridor is adequate for the intra-state cross-Michigan route, and adequate for the western Michigan to Chicago transport demand, so long as a clear route is available through Chicago and the northwest corner of Indiana.

            And since it can be completed much faster than an Express HSR Chicago/Cleveland, a 110mph Kalamazoo / Dearborn corridor also functions to build up rail patronage Detroit metro / Chicago.

            Good thing that’s what they are working on, then.

    • betamagellan

      The Siemens and SNCF proposals do divert south to Fort Wayne—it’s in some ways similar to Altamont-vs-Pacheco in that it adds distance (though not much, as , but not necessarily time or cost. The topography between South Bend and Toledo/Detroit is not as flat as between Fort Wayne and Toledo, raising making construction more expensive and necessitating more curves and climbs, cutting into speed. Furthermore, my understanding is that while Fort Wayne-Toledo could be put in (or adjacent to) existing transportation rights-of-way South Bend-Toledo/Detroit would require carving a new one.

  3. anonymouse

    The Pacheco alternative also allowed then-chairman of the HSRA board Rod Diridon to route the train through the Rod Diridon station in San Jose, thus ensuring that it would become a fitting monument to Rod Diridon and everyone in the state could see how great he, Rod Diridon, Son of an Italian Railroad Brakeman and Father of Modern Rail Transit In Silicon Valley, was. There seriously needs to be a law prohibiting things from being named after people who are still alive.

  4. Adirondacker12800

    There’s alternatives hiding too. Not as many at the Ts versus Ys versus Triangles but they are there. Sortat kinda bow shaped.
    If the NEC evaporated between New York and Philadelphia everyone would be drooling over the former CNJ/Reading route between the the two. Assuming that the NEC gets upgraded to much higher speeds there would still be a market for New York-Philadelphia via West Trenton. If I’m reading the March 1956 schedule correctly it supported 14 trains a day on weekdays. Traffic and parking are much worse than they were in 1956, it could probably support that many today. Doesn’t have to be full fat HSR, just faster than driving. An alternative I could see being popular would be local-ish between New York and Philadelphia then express, WIlmington, Baltimore and DC only. Though something could be said for Wilmington, Perryville, Baltimore, BWI, New Carollton and DC. The humongous parking garage hovering over I-287 and the station in Bridgewater would make Morristown to DC by train much more attractive – compared to going to Metropark. Being able to change trains in Wayne Junction makes the trip from the Northern Philadelphia suburbs more attractive. The ROW is decent, an hour between New York and Philadelphia would be relatively cheap.
    Same sort of thing with Boston-NY via Hartford. Springfield to New Haven just needs to be faster than driving. It has slightly more people than via Providence. Make New Haven to DC much faster and you can scare up enough people to be running a train an hour through to DC. I’d lean towards making that the super-express New Haven to DC, people who want to go to Metropark can change to the “local” service in New Haven or even to NJTransit in Penn Station. If it gets up to twice an hour one super express and one “local” running via West Trenton. Upgrading Springfield-Boston to full fat HSR wouldn’t make much sense but upgrading that segment means you upgrade Boston to Albany too. And Boston-Vermont. And Harford-Albany. And New Haven-Albany. …. Boston-Buffalo throwing in metro Hartford has more people in than the Bay Area. And you’d be using Albany-Buffalo for the NY-Buffalo and probably the NY-Toronto market…. and the Boston-Toronto market. Boston-Toronto is 549 miles according to Google. Just past the limit for HSR. But it’s a PITA to get to Logan and if they do customs and immigration on the train it could be faster than flying. And all of it makes sense to build for other reasons. It means NY-Montreal can also serve Hartford-Montreal and Boston-Montreal.
    The last one is New Haven to Long Island. Go directly south from New Haven and you are in central Suffolk county. Nassau and Suffolk have more people than Sacramento’s MSA. The tunnel or the causeway-tunnel ( Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel instead of one long tunnel ) would be well used…. Not cheap but getting to New England from Nassau and Suffolk is a very painful PITA. And there are already tolls…
    Bruce M can do the same thing in the MIdwest. You end up with a lacy network from St Louis and Chicago to DC and Boston.

    • Adirondacker12800

      …. and an interesting little tidbit in the Central of New Jersey timetables. Four times a day between Jersey City and Harrisburg via Allentown and Reading…. Much more difficult to do anything about west of Bound Brook because it curves and swoops between mountains down next to the river on any of the alternatives….but there’s almost a million people in the Lehigh Valley and they want to get to New York, Harrisburg, Philadelphia…. Richmond, Cleveland….

    • Nathanael

      If it were rebuilt, the Pennsy’s “secondary” route from Camden to Bordentown to Perth Amboy would probably also be popular as a route for local trains between Philadelphia and New York. NY-Philadelphia is quite capable of supporting three or more separate passenger routes; it would take pressure off the NEC.

      • Nathanael

        Note that this sort of issue only arises in countries which are willing to really invest in their passenger rail. Scotland will soon have, IIRC, four rail routes from Edinburgh to Glasgow, with different speeds and intermediate stops; none are unnecessary.

      • Alon Levy

        New York-Philadelphia supported multiple competing passenger routes, but that was in the day of lower-capacity operations (so, each route’s capacity was lower) and destructive competition with routes built out of spite (you probably know where the Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnels come from). The Amboy & Camden was one of those early routes built to low standards, and nowadays, when a direct connection to Manhattan is needed, it can’t really compete with the NEC mainline. Local trains can use the outer local tracks nowadays, and because HSR compresses travel times along the route, for a lot of inner Jersey Shore cities it’d be faster to take the train wrong-way to Newark and then take HSR down to Philly.

        Nowadays France is thinking of a relief line for the LGV Sud-Est, but that’s not the most immediate priority. The Sarkozy administration only proposed advancing the LGV Centre from planning to construction right at its end, knowing it couldn’t fund it, just so that Hollande would have to cancel it and deal with negative headlines.

        The issue is that the travel demand in the Northeast is astonishingly linear. The independent centers, even ones subsumed into larger metro areas like Trenton and Newark, pretty much all lie on one line, and then the suburbs fan out. Occasionally you get suburb-sharing, or some cities that lie off the line, and this is where you start getting plausible triangles like New York-Philly-Allentown, but otherwise it’s better to invest in the main lines than to have four lines connecting pairs of cities. New York-Philadelphia can plausibly support two different alignments – the NEC and West Trenton – and West Trenton is and will always be a secondary commuter line.

        • Adirondacker12800

          The Camden and Amboy route was downgraded to secondary status…. as soon as they had a route that that went to Jersey City. Part of it is today’s River Line between Camden and Trenton. Some of it was abandoned soon after the line to Jersey City was opened. The West Trenton line on the other hand was as fast as the NEC up until the 1950s. Well almost as fast since the trains went from Reading Terminal to Jersey City. Make that “faster than driving to a NEC station” and it would see moderate ridership. And it’s almost free since the line would be restored for commuter service between West Trenton and New York anyway. The Crusader/Wall Street versus a Clocker.


          • Alon Levy

            Sure, but keep in mind that speeding up the NEC means that it’s harder to beat driving to an NEC station, at least if the station you can drive to has intercity trains.

          • Adirondacker12800

            The really fast trains are going to stop in Newark, Metropark, Trenton and Philadelphia. Trenton and Metropark are iffy if you are talking about the really really fast super-express. It’s a PITA to park in Trenton and Metropark. Very expensive in Newark in addition to being a PITA. And it’s a PITA to get from Plainfield to Metropark. And driving to Philadelphia is a PITA and it’s expensive to park. Once an hour at moderate speeds and you can capture the people who want to get to New York or Philadelphia. ( Plainfield or Cranford to Philadelphia and Fern Rock or Jenkintown to New York ) …if you are in Glenside you can walk to the station go to Jenkintown and be in New York faster than it is to drive. You don’t have to deal with traffic or figure out how to drive to Trenton.

          • Alon Levy

            That might work, but probably more for people closer to West Trenton. From Glenside, you can walk to the Glenside station, get on the train to Center City, and change to HSR at 30th Street. You get 15-minute off-peak frequency from Jenkintown and 3 out of the 4 off-peak tph from Glenside, and then it’s just a matter of how personally transfer-averse you are. Not counting transfer time, it’s about 35 minutes from Glenside to 30th Street and 38 from 30th Street to Penn. If you build the New Jersey half of the West Trenton Line to 160 km/h standard, then going north from Jenkintown in 73 minutes you’re still only in Bound Brook.

          • Adirondacker12800

            From wherever to Jenkintown is going to take the same amount of time no matter where you start out or end up. So that part of the trip will be the same no matter what. Newark to New York will be the same no matter what too. If the line doesn’t get upgraded it’s going to take a half hour to get between Jenkintown and Philadelphia. So the trip from Jenkintown to Newark is where..

            … you did understand that someone from Glenside would get off the Philadelphia bound train in Jenkintown and get on an express to New York? Or get off the New York-Philadelphia express in Jenkintown and change to the local to Warminster or Doylestown?

            According to the Official Guide Jenkintown to Newark is 70 miles, give or take. 38 minutes New York to Philadelphia implies 28 minutes Newark to Philadelphia. So an hour from Jenkintown to Newark via 30th Street. Jenkintown to Newark via West Trenton has to be as fast or better. That would be an average speed of 70. An average speed of 70 should be very easy to do on that ROW. It’s mostly grade separated and the New Jersey portions, expect for a few curves, are very straight. Eliminate a few grade crossings, put 50 miles of electrification, straighten a nearly rural curve or two and an average speed of 70 would be low. No reason why an electric train couldn’t blow through Hopewell or Dunellen at 150.

            …now if you were doing this in Idaho, it probably wouldn’t be worth it. But the former CNJ/Reading line runs through densely populated suburbs and connects to the biggest city in the country on one end and the fifth largest on the other. Probably one of the biggest bang for the buck things they could do.

          • Alon Levy

            Ah, that explains it. In my calculations of trip times via West Trenton, I assumed trains would make more than just a handful of stops – too much local demand from those annoying commuters who insist on wanting to take the train to Newark and New York (and Philadelphia, at the other end). And I was working from fast regional trains rather than intercity trains that are capable of high speeds. The Raritan Valley Line isn’t the NEC, which has long-range commuter rail demand from Princeton Junction and Trenton justifying a more express commuter rail stopping pattern. West Trenton is not important enough to justify a line that skips stops on the inner Raritan Valley Line, and when you account for that, you get service that stops in Bound Brook, Westfield, and so on.

          • Adirondacker12800

            It ain’t BART. The commuters can continue to take the local and express trains that they use today. Just like the commuters on the NEC use commuter trains and not Acela. They will be a bit happier with them because the improvements to the line have made them a bit faster and the slightly better travel time induced demand that called for increased frequencies. Clunky old ALP46a’s and multilevels can hit 125. That would probably be good enough. Amtrak “extras” using that as a consist meet the schedule of crack PRR expresses of the 50s. Though why the Shore Line Limited from New London to Baltimore would be using commuter equipment is a different question. Shore Line Limited because it runs along the Shore Line, the super-express between Boston and New York is hitting 220 out along the Connecticut Turnpike.

            The CNJ ROW is 4 to 6 tracks wide between Elizabeth and Bound Brook. South of Bound Brook it was built to break the monopoly the United New Jersey Railroad and Canal Company ( a.k.a. The Pennsylvania Railroad ) had over Philadephia-New York traffic. Plenty of space for local and express service. A very cursory Google flyover between Bound Brooks and West Trenton looks like it’s 4 tracks wide and mostly grade separated already. Cheap and easy to run higher speed trains in New Jersey. And it’s cheap. NJTransit says 219 million to restore service between Bridgewater and West Trenton. ( 2007 dollars ) I’m sure that doesn’t include electrification because it would be pointless to electrify until Bridgewater to Newark was electrified. 30 miles of electrification, Bridgewater to West Trenton, isn’t’ all that expensive. And if you done all of that for commuter service throwing a few ready to retire Acelas at test service on the line isn’t all that expensive.

  5. Herbie

    CHI-STL-IND/CIN is another possible Y. As proposed by the MWHSRA, a CHI-STL high-speed route would go through Urbana-Champaign rather than Bloomington-Normal. Assuming CHI-IND-CIN gets built via Lafayette IN, as little as 75 miles of track would be needed to enable STL-IND-CIN service, a route that would never be justifiable in a triangle style alignment.

    Of course, this brings up the question of whether both the northern legs (via Kankakee and via Lafayette) are necessary. The MWHSRA 2011 Economic Report suggested using only the Kankakee alignment with its direct connection to Urbana-Champaign and UIUC. However, I would imagine that this scenario would severely piss off Purdue University in Lafayette.

    • Eric

      Purdue has 40000 students who disproportionally have a high need for travel and are without cars. I haven’t crunched the numbers, but it seems like a dumb idea to leave such a university off the route. How about leaving the CHI-IND route untouched, and building a Urbana/Champaign-Lafayette connector rather than Urbana/Champaign-IND. This would add a few miles to STL-IND, but remove a few from CHI-IND, and connect Lafayette to every possible major destination (CHI, IND, STL, Urbana-Champaign) in the area rather than to nothing.

    • betamagellan

      According to the Siemens MHSR report, via Gary and Lafayette it’s 178 mi from Chicago to Indianapolis. They don’t give numbers for the route you’re proposing, but Chicago-Champaign is 128. MHSRA assumes (for 220-mph HSR) 45 min to Champaign and 45 min to Lafayette (115 mi away), so we’ll assume that Champaign-Indianapolis is also 45 min. This gives us 1:30 for Chicago-Champaign-Indianapolis, compared to 1:10 for Chicago-Lafayette-Indianapolis—twenty minutes longer. To Cincinnati distance to Chicago is increased from 284 mi to 354 mi; adding the Indianapolis-Cincinnati time we get 2:15 for the Champaign alignment, versus 1:55 for the Lafayette one.

      I ran some numbers based on a really simplified version of the SNCF ridership model, and it gave basically the same results for both—a Y with St. Louis got something like 2% more ridership than a Lafayette route and only entailed five miles more of construction (the distance from Champaign to Indianapolis is almost the same as Chicago to Lafayette); while Chicago-Indianapolis-Cincinnati only ~81% of the ridership it would via Lafayette, it gains about 21% from St. Louis-Indianapolis-Cincinnati). It only took into account metro areas populations (of greater than one million) and station-to-station travel time, though—I’m guessing the ease of driving and weaker downtowns in St. Louis, Indianapolis and Cincinnati would make driving more competitive than in Chicago-centric trips (lots of stuff’s in downtown Chicago, parking’s expensive, lots of congestion, and conceivably a nice Blue Line connection will happen if we end up spending billions on HSR), so I’m very sure my rough, rough model either overestimates demand between St. Louis, Indianapolis and Cincinnati. Thus I’m more open to a Champaign-Indy connection than when I started writing this post but still pretty skeptical of it.

      I haven’t seen much in factoring students into modeling, so I’m assuming they’re only a small adjustment if included at all—mostly it’s based on things like raw population. Detours to towns that wouldn’t necessarily even get beetfield stations in France sound like a very poor idea to me.

      • betamagellan

        Goddamn arithmetic—a system that connects Chicago to Indianapolis with a spur to Champaign would have 58 miles less track than two mostly separate Chicago and Indianapolis corridors, not five miles more. That translates to about 10% less track, which still makes the Y option look better but I’m still skeptical for the reasons listed above.

      • Alon Levy

        To be honest, I hadn’t thought about that Y before. I was leaning toward SNCF’s I-55/Bloomington route rather than the 57/Champaign route, but it turns out that, like with Fort Wayne vs. I-90, the difference in length is minimal (30 km, and the Champaign route can share more high-cost Chicago-area trackage with other routes). Obviously if the Y pencils out it’s a strong argument for Champaign over Bloomington. It helps make the Midwest network a polycentric intercity system, too, as opposed to an imperial Chicago-centric system.

        It reminds me a bit of the original 94 vs. 90 argument. I think the first time I saw the Toledo route suggested as a possible Chicago-Detroit route was on Yonah’s original HSR map, which I initially found strange before warming up to it.

        • betamagellan

          But Alon, strengthening Chicago’s Empire is the only reason to build Midwest HSR! 😉

          Nevertheless, the more I think about a Y alignment for the southern midwest (even with twenty minutes added to Indianapolis- and Cincinnati-Chicago travel times) the better it looks.

          I haven’t seen anything about true HSR to St. Louis via Normal-Bloomington for a while. IIRC the SNCF report was vague about what route the St. Louis alignment would take in Chicago and used a different alignment than the one now preferred to get to Gary (SNCF preferred west of Dan Ryan and heading southeast at Englewood, while Siemens, in keeping with Chicago’s desire to keep that ROW all for freight, prefers the Metra Electric alignment and heads southeast and Grand Crossing). Under SNCF you’d either need to go through a lot of suburbia or Chicago’s southwest side to get to a ROW hitting Bloomington-Normal or build a second way out of Chicago along the canal. I’m pretty sure the current preferred alignment via Champaign is based on:

          1. Building as little in Chicago and its suburbs as possible

          2. The fact Normal’s already getting Amtrak+ while, other than Champaign, there’s not enough on the Illini/Saluki’s line to justify such investment there

          3. Adding service to Decatur (and generally as much of Downstate as possible)

      • Adirondacker12800

        Ten minutes of rummaging arourd in Wikipedia… Champaign is SOL.
        Chicago-St Louis makes more sense via Springfield. You get Bloomington in the deal. ( and the movers and shakers in Chicago can think of more reasons to go to Springfield than they can to go to Champaign ). The Chicago legislators can think of many many reasons to have a train from Springfield to Chicago. You drag along the line heading to Des Moines, east of Joliet. You get service to St Louis from Joliet. Via Champaign you get Champaign.

        As you pointed out Indianapolis-Chicago via Lafayette is shorter, faster and cheaper. It makes Dayton, Columbus and Cincinnati to Chicago faster.
        Assuming Indiana is interested in connecting Indianapolis to St Louis when they consider routes Terre Haute is going to be more important than Champaign. And it’s faster and cheaper because it’s shorter. You get the Dayton, Columbus and Cincinatti traffic and assuming Ohio builds the ThreeC systems, Cleveland-St Louis, It makes Pittsburgh-St Louis attractive. Which gets you Indianapolis, Dayton, Columbus or Cincinatti to Pittsburgh

        Champaign is SOL.

        • Herbie

          Umm, the proposed 220mph STL-CHI HSR route hits Springfield-Decatur-Champaign-Kankakee along the way vs. the present Springfield-Normal-Joliet. Springfield will not be bypassed in any conceivable STL-CHI scenario. In my opinion, via Champaign is the better option.

          Let’s assume CHI-DET/CLE gets built via Fort Wayne. The present STL-CHI Amtrak route via Normal is ~280 miles excluding shared Chicago trackage; via Champaign, ~300 miles. Sure, the total route via Champaign is still 25 miles longer, but given the curviness of the route out of Chicago via Joliet, the time difference between the two routes will likely be negligible.

          Now let’s look at connecting CHI-IND to the network. The shortest logical route is out I-74 to Champaign, but not my much: ~115 miles compared to ~130 miles parallel to I-65 south of Lafayette to a connection with the Detroit line near Valparaiso. But the direct and significantly shorter overall CHI-IND route leaves STL-IND SOL. Again, I just can’t foresee ridership on a STL-IND supporting the construction of ~230 miles of HSR.

          However, STL-IND does become much more realistic by nudging CHI-IND via Crawfordsville which only adds ~10 miles to the route. Taking advantage of the ROW along I-74, STL-IND suddenly becomes much more feasible with only ~75 miles of track needed. Sure, the route is a bit circuitous, but STL-IND would still be reachable in 2:00 hours and STL-CIN in 2:40.

          Lastly, how realistic is it to do away with one of the northern legs? CHI-IND in ~190 miles vs. ~240 miles; CHI-STL in ~310 miles vs. ~400 miles. If one of the legs had to be sacrificed, the Lafayette leg it is.

          • Nathanael

            Here’s the thing: if anyone gave a damn about passenger rail service to Indianapolis, then yes, the Chicago-Champaign-Decatur-Springfield route would clearly be better.

            Nobody does. Indianapolis doesn’t care, the state of Indiana doesn’t care, and Illinois certainly won’t help out Indiana if it won’t help itself.

            The route via Champaign is actually STILL better, mind you; the former Chicago & Alton Railroad is unsuited for even medium-speed running, while the Illinois Central is geometrically excellent with limited grade crossings.

            But Illinois state government has upgrades to the Alton (now UP) route stuck in its head. It’s not even doing it sensibly; the slowest sections, near Chicago and near St. Louis, are remaining slow. This is in contrast to the Cascades plan in Washington State, which has poured money into the final approaches to Portland and Seattle to eliminate the slowest sections.

          • Adirondacker12800

            But Illinois state government has upgrades to the Alton (now UP) route stuck in its head.

            Because it goes through Springfield? State legislators who represent Chicago care about Chicago-Springfield service…..

          • Adirondacker12800

            There’s been 147 different routes suggested over the years. If the two options you are examining go through Springfield what does Alton, a suburb of Saint Louis, have to do with Bloomington versus Champaign?

          • Alon Levy

            The original Alton reference was just the legacy railroad following the corridor: Chicago and Alton vs. Illinois Central. I try to just call them the Bloomington route and the Champaign route.

          • Nathanael

            I tend to name the legacy railroads because nowadays each of the giant class Is owns multiple lines and there’s frequently no other easy way to distinguish them.

          • Nathanael

            My railroad atlas tells me, for example, that in Illinois there are NS lines into Bloomington from three directions (so much for “Bloomington route”), and two north-south UP lines other than the ex-Chicago & Alton route. (One west of Peoria, one East of Champaign).

            Frankly, the names of the railroads which originally built the lines — most of which were little tiny railroads with only one line — are the only way I’ve ever been able to clearly distinguish one ROW from another. In upstate NY, there are *at least two* NY Central ROWs running east-west. Confusingly, one is usually called the “West Shore Line” (it’s on the south) while the other is called the “Water Level Route” (it’s on the north), and both of them go through many of he same cities… unfortunately, in this case the individual railroads which built the routes were SO short that there are, IIRC, something like eight involved in each route, so even that doesn’t disambiguate.

          • Adirondacker12800

            It’s the West Shore because it ran down the west shore. Of the Hudson. Still does.

  6. Norman

    Is the benefit of Altamont over Pacheco the implied faster time from SF-Sac using Altamont vs Pacheco? Certainly it will be. But it still requires the train to head south out of SF to get to the Altamont crossing before heading back north to SF.
    What is the expected time from SF-Sac on a HSR over Altamont vs the current time from SF-Sac using the Capitol Corridor? Admittedly, using the Capitol Corridor train from SF-Sac is a pain due to having to cross the bridge somehow, but the route is more direct. With the “potential heavily upgraded Capitol Corridor” as an option (hoping costs aren’t too high), wouldn’t it be best to evaluate that as an option to get people from SF-Sac and let the train go over the Pacheco Pass so that SJ gets the benefit of HSR as well?

    • Alon Levy

      Turns out I said most of what I said in this post about California in an earlier post.

      The Capitol Corridor is so slow that it’s faster to go between SF and Sac via Pacheco than via the existing route. The old EIR says SF-Sac is 1:06 via Altamont and Dumbarton, 0:58 via Altamont and a second Transbay tube, and 1:47 via Pacheco. (All numbers are probably underestimates.) The CAHSR website’s trip planner puts SF-Sac at 1:53. Current travel time is about 2 hours, give or take, depending on whether you choose the Bay Area end to be Oakland, Emeryville, or SF with a bus connection to Emeryville.

      SF-Sac in an hour, even with the Altamont detour, is competitive with driving. SF-Sac in two hours isn’t, or else more people would be taking the Capitol Corridor, whose ridership is pitiful by international HSR standards.

      • Adirondacker12800

        It wouldn’t be that slow if it was upgraded…. building Altamont wouldn’t cause the Second Coming. It would just cause people along the Capitol Corridor route to ask when their upgrades can be expected.

        • Alon Levy

          The CC route can do Oakland-Sac in maybe 1:30 if it’s heavily upgraded, and even that requires UP head-bashing (easier after HSR opens than before). And that’s without dealing with the part about getting to SF proper.

          • Adirondacker12800

            They are going to be digging very very expensive tunnels under Altamont so that people can get from Fremont to Livermore. A few tunnels between Oakland and Martinez will pale in comparison. The few billion dollars to build the bridge between Fremont and Redwood City buys a lot of tunnel too.

          • Nathanael

            The correct upgrade for fast service from SF to Sacramento is a direct route from Martinez to Oakland (probably with lots of tunnels, though it could also follow roughly the route of BART); continue through Second Transbay Tube to San Francisco. North of Martinez the Capitol Corridor can provide perfectly good speeds with relatively few upgrades.

            This wasn’t seriously considered for reasons of sticker shock, basically. Given the cost escalations on everything else, they probably should have seriously considered it.

          • Alon Levy

            You’d need to upgrade SF-Sac to the same average speed of London-York to get it down to the same travel time that’s achievable without any extra infrastructure via Altamont and a second tube.

          • Adirondacker12800

            But they aren’t building Altamont anytime soon and the bridge will probably never happen unless cars are banned. If cars are banned they can repurpose the automobile bridge. If you want to connect the diffuse residential patterns of the East Bay to the diffuse employment patterns of the Peninsula a bus terminal at one end of the automobile bridge works better…. only one transfer in your trip instead of bus to the train to the bus to get to and from work. And better frequency.

          • Ted K.

            Points to ponder :
            The critical city pair isn’t only Oakland – Sacto.
            Berkeley (UCB campus) – Davis (UCD campus) is also strong.
            Fairfield (Travis AFB) has value to vendors and military personnel.
            Richmond – Sacto. is currently 85-100 minutes on the CC schedule.
            S.F. (Montgomery St. Stn.) – Richmond is about 40 mins. via BART.
            The above leads me to believe that upgrading the Richmond – Sacto. leg should be given priority. True-HSR speeds would be too expensive but 125 MPH / 200 KPH regional service would be well worth it.
            BART – http://bart.gov/index.aspx
            Cap.Corr. – http://www.capitolcorridor.org/route_and_schedules/
            P.S. I’ve driven the hundred mile (roughly) I-80 route from S.F. to Sacto. in about two hours. A comfortable train ride of about the same length would be a welcome alternative.

          • Joey

            Certain parts of Richmond-Sacramento are very difficult to upgrade. This is mainly Hercules-Martinez, which travels along the edge of the bay and has basically zero room to realign.

            You also have to contend with the fact that the trackage is 100% UP-owned. In general they are very hostile to the ideas of both service increases and speed increases (both of which decrease capacity for their freight trains). This means that any segments you want to speed up you need new, dedicated tracks on, and you won’t be able to increase frequency much anyway.

            I don’t think anyone advocating Altamont suggests eliminating the CC service entirely. Like you say, the intermediate markets have value. But when you have a chance to speed up service between the endpoints at zero additional cost (negative cost, arguably), there’s no reason not to pursue it.

          • Adirondacker12800

            This is mainly Hercules-Martinez, which travels along the edge of the bay and has basically zero room to realign.

            It’s not like Altamont is a wide open plain. You can dig tunnels under Altamont or you can dig tunnels other places. Or dig tunnels both places.

          • Joey

            Given the choice, why would you want to dig tunnels in more than one place? You can dig tunnels in Altamont or you can dig tunnels in Pacheco … then eventually Altamont too and somewhere on the CC route.

            As a side note, Altamont doesn’t require a huge amount of tunneling. The bulk is actually between Fremont and Pleasanton, but the Altamont Pass itself only relatively short tunnel near Livermore … the rest can be done with cuts and viaducts (cheaper than tunneling).

          • Adirondacker12800

            I forget that once Altamont opens the heavens will part and manna will float down onto the grateful populace. Well maybe that’s the installation of ERTMS. Altamont brings world peace and prosperity.

    • Joey

      From Emeryville the Capitol Corridor typically takes 1:50. Amtrak gives 40 minutes for the bus to/from SF. You can maybe shave 10 minutes off by transferring to BART at Richmond, but your travel time is still about 2:20. By comparison, the fastest travel time possible for SF-Sac via Altamont is 1:06 (from the EIR). Now, that’s express travel time, and SF-Sac trains would probably make a few intermediate stops. Still though, you’re well under 1:30.

  7. Donal

    If you add Austin (pop. 1.8 m, 34th ranked MSA) to the mix, how does that change the Texas equation?

    • John W

      Going a step further, you get this interesting compromise – the mini-triangle: http://www.neohouston.com/2009/09/texas-high-speed-rail-the-routes. It has vertices at Waco, College Station and Austin, with spokes heading out to the metropolises.

      Not only does it give the capital and a major college town direct links to the three big cities, it will also improve their economies, as they’ll be ideal meeting points for parties from each of the big three. It’s an effect that has boosted the convention and meetings sector in Zaragoza, halfway between Madrid and Barcelona.

  8. lpetrich

    It’s interesting to compare the network topologies of nations that have built a large amount of HSR trackage. I’ve made this classification, with US and Canadian proposals for comparison:

    * Linear, usually with short branches: Italy, Japan. US analogies: Northeast Corridor, California HSR, Pacific Northwest. Canada analogy: Windsor – Toronto – Ottawa – Montreal – Quebec City.

    * Star, radiating from major city and branching: France, Spain. US analogy: Chicago area.

    * 2D or Sheet: China, Germany (patchy). US/Canada analogy: the eastern half of North America if built out.

    Y’s without a city at the junction are not very common. France has Paris – Le Mans – Tours, Spain has Madrid – Alicante – Albacete.

    Likewise, triangles and other polygons are evident only in China and possibly also in Germany. Spain is now building some lines along its Mediterranean coast that will create some triangles. So one can expect triangles to come from later-stage construction or big bursts of construction.

    • Alon Levy

      If the South gets more than branches coming down from the North, it’ll have a sheet. Depending on how far you believe HSR can compete, what assumptions you make about growth in Atlanta and Texas, and how low you’re willing to go down the ROI scale, you could justify a sheet-like network. Atlanta would have east-west lines connecting it to Dallas and Houston, and there would be north-south lines from Texas, Atlanta, and New Orleans converging on Chicago from different directions. Something like link. The point of course is that unlike the Northeast, California, or even the Midwest, the South has cities not so neatly arranged along a few easy corridors.

      • Nathanael

        Personally, I’m assuming the depopulation of the South due to global warming; a combination of flood, drought, and sheer heat risk will render it a very, very unattractive area. And it’s already unattractive in every way *except* the climate.

        • BruceMcF

          That’s drawing too long a bow. “Sheer heat risk” from global warming in the US Southern states implies a counterfactual lack of population in many tropical nations due to “severe heat risk”. However, with storms of growing intensity, inland population centers may fare better than coastal population centers ~ another reason to point to Atlanta as a strategic gateway for Southeastern Express HSR.

          • Nathanael

            Actually, mass deaths — billions — and depopulation are expected in many tropical nations. Sorry to be gloomy about it.

            I guess it depends on your time horizon. If we’re talking 20 years, that’s one thing; if we’re talking 50 or 100 years…. well, unless we engage in a massive program to suck CO2 out of the air, very soon…

          • BruceMcF

            Nathanael, you are postulating depopulation of the US Southeast based on projected conditions that are LESS severe than CURRENTLY are the case in many heavily populated tropical countries. So projections of future conditions in tropical countries is a red herring. And depopulation of an area that will support rain fed agriculture after our current corn and wheat bread baskets in the Great Plains and Rockey Mountains have become desert seems implausible on its face.

          • Adirondacker12800

            There are scenarios where everything becomes wetter. If the growing season in Iowa is two weeks earlier in Spring and two weeks longer in the Fall and rain is ten inches more than it is now Iowa is going to have bumper crops every year.,, of course if the rain is ten inches less and the snow pack is ten inches less you get a reenactment of the Dust Bowl.

          • Nathanael

            When I said “depopulation of the South” I was really referring to the depopulation of the *Southwest*, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana, and also of Florida. (Southern Florida, which is the biggest population center for the whole region, is going to be *completely gone* because it’ll be underwater.)

            The rainfall might turn out OK in the south*east* (from northern Florida north, of course). That area would now have tropical rather than subtropical climate, of course, and would be smacked by hurricanes on a *very* regular basis.
            We can speculate on where the migrants are going to move; I don’t see any reason why they’d settle in the Southeast. The population does *not* follow the farmland anymore, hasn’t for a very long time, so even if there is a solid farm belt in the Southeast, I don’t think that means a large population.

            So I’m not sure there’s going to be a need for a rail hub as far in the flats as Atlanta to serve the region from Mississippi to Jacksonville (E-W), what with no trains going west of Mississippi or south of Jacksonville. It might make more sense to have more lines in the Appalachians, which are quite likely to repopulate, with branches out to the “bottomlands”.

          • Alon Levy

            South Florida could be underwater. The rest of Florida, not so much. See the 7-meter map here. Orlando and Disneyland would be spared. The beaches would become unbearable (stable coastlines are scenic; recently flooded ones aren’t), but that would be true pretty much everywhere. Maybe lakes, rivers, and very cliffy coasts would take their place, leading to a further boom in Monterey and Lake Tahoe. But in either case, a 7-meter flood would cause bigger problems than trying to figure out where to relocate first-world train networks. Just sayin’.

            There’s zero reason for the air-conditioned Southwest to depopulate. It’s not as if present-day weather there is conducive to human habitation. In non-air-conditioned Israel the government had to pay people for decades to get them to move to the Negev. But when there is air conditioning, people voluntarily move to Riyadh, which is somewhat hotter than Phoenix is today, and much hotter than Dallas.

          • Nathanael

            Um. Clarification: Southern Florida is the biggest population center for the South*east*. Texas, which will become too hot, has the biggest population centers in the South*west*. Southern Louisiana will be underwater like Southern Florida. Texas/New Mexico/Arizona will suffer the heat and drought.

          • BruceMcF

            So when you were talking about depopulation of “the South”, you were explicitly referring to places entirely OTHER THAN the places being talked about in the comment you were replying to.

            Talking about “the South” as meaning the southWEST in response to a comment pointing to a potential HSR grid in the southEAST … I did not catch your changing the subject from the Southeast, often colloquially referred to as “the South”, to the Southwest, almost never colloquially referred to as “the South”. My remarks were with respect to the Southeast.

            As far as resettlement of displaced populations ~ most will be distributed between, firstly, adjoining areas and, secondly, areas that are currently attracting net inmigration in general. So if the coasts of the Southeast see a drop in population, that is likely to see an increase in population in inland cities in the South ~ Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville, Knoxville, Raleigh, etc. ~ and outmigration to areas receiving new immigration, such as the Arctic Tiger economies that will be emerging over the next few decades.

          • Adirondacker12800

            But in Riyadh it’s a dry heat. And there are lots of rich people in Riyadh looking to spend money.
            I’ve been in Phoenix when it’s 100 degrees. As long as you don’t bask in the sun it’s tolerable. 90 is almost pleasant. 100 degrees in Atlanta is a very different thing. Or 100 degrees in Boston.

          • Nathanael

            OK, Bruce, I’ll believe that, barring further research. So we may expect the inland, just below the mountains, “Crescent route” areas to get a large influx of resettled population, and so Atlanta would be critically important from a transportation point of view.

            You’ve convinced me.

        • Ian Mitchell

          The idea that 7 meters would spare the northeast but not South Florida seems laughable to me. You either raise the streets, build levies, move a lot of earth, or some combination thereof, in every case. Most of SoFla’s beaches are already artificial- the real estate taxes available on a per anum basis could easily pay for all climate remediation efforts.

          Atlanta, meanwhile, just seems like a nonideal place to try to build HSR around. It’s a direct flight to anywhere, and consists of 60-something extremely balkanized suburban municipalities. You’ve got to go more than the DC-NYC distance to connect Atlanta to just about anywhere. In Florida, you can’t hardly draw a 250 km line without connecting two metro areas of over a million people. There’s only one place you can do that starting from Atlanta.

          Florida’s the best place to build rail outside of the Texas Triangle. It’s flat land, there’s no tunneling, the highways are mostly straight, and a lot of them tolled, with medians wide enough for rail but often to narrow for usable new lanes. HSR makes sense along all of I-4/I-275, all of the east coast Miami-Jacksonville, and I-75 for political reasons (or as part of a larger network). Sort of on the other side of what Alon discussed in his “Northeast HSR, 90% cheaper” post, if we built out the infrastructure/ROW for HSR, we’d be able to make regional and commuter options available which we need as part of the whole program.

          The Florida intrastate HSR or Rapid Rail network I’d like to see would have one line from Brickell-Naples along the tamiami trail ROW, then following I-75 or hugging the coast (whichever’s cheaper) up to Sarasota, along the Sunshine Skyway (Current, former, or new bridge) to st. pete, then to Tampa, along I-4 to Orlando, then from there to Daytona Beach, connecting there with most likely upgraded FEC track from Homestead to Jacksonville. This isn’t exhaustive (Tallahassee, Gainesville, and Ocala are notably unserved), but it could be built and operated efficiently and profitably, and would positively change the development character of the state.

      • BruceMcF

        That wouldn’t, however, be a sheet of Express HSR corridors, it would be a backbone grid of Express HSR corridors and an overlay grid of Express Intercity Corridors: actually fund a significant extension of Express HSR corridor stretching from one or more of the “infection” points of the Jacksonville, the North Carolina / South Carolina border, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Dallas and Houston and that restructures the landscape for later projects.

        So to would be a single Express HSR corridor interior to that sheet. So, for example Atlanta / Chattanooga boosts the prospects that the “northern” Atlanta / Memphis corridor is the Express HSR corridor, while Atlanta / Birmingham boosts the chance that the “southern” Atlanta / Memphis corridor is the Express HSR corridor, and either as an Express HSR corridor boosts the chances that the other will instead be an Express Intercity corridor.

          • BruceMcF

            My feeling is its likely to be a very loose Southeastern grid of Express HSR, comprised of two or three hubs, one Express HSR corridor through on a general Northeast to Southwest axis, and one or two Express HSR corridors through on a general Southeast to Northwest axis, so either one or two Express HSR “hubs”. However, given that the population distribution is almost ideal for supporting Express Intercity corridors, the Express HSR and Express Intercity COMBINED could well form something like a “sheet” grid.

    • Alon Levy

      On second thought… I’m checking up Atlanta now, and an enormous proportion of its air travel is to cities within 5-hour station radius even if you require that they be on reasonable lines. This is because New York, Chicago, and Miami are all at such range as to be prime air travel corridors from Atlanta, and there’s a lot of development on neat lines in between. Then there’s Houston. Add lines to those four and obvious connectors and you get 56% of the air market. It’s a lot better than, say, Washington, much of whose short-distance traffic is to cities that have no reason to have HSR connections to it even if cars and planes are banned.

      • Nathanael

        Probably has something to do with Atlanta having been built at the location of a railway junction, and all the intermediate cities having developed along the railroads.

        • Alon Levy

          Not sure it’s railroad history. It’s not the connections to nearby cities that drive Atlanta’s 5-hour radius share up, but the ones to farther away cities: New York, Chicago, all of Florida (whose main connection is direct to New York, and I think also was in the railroad era with the Seaboard Coast Line). The nearby cities people drive to. Birmingham-Atlanta’s O&D air travel is 18 passengers per day. I think it’s just a matter of Atlanta being 4-5 hours away by HSR from a bunch of major cities – close enough I count it, but far enough that people fly instead of driving.

          • Nathanael

            Perhaps it’s really due to the geography. Atlanta exists solely due to the presence of a railroad junction; but why were the railroads there, and why did they have a junction there? Probably favorable geography….

          • BruceMcF

            Going from South Carolina to the northeast, the Appalachian terrain is the Piedmont on the east, the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Appalachian mountain valleys and ridges, and the Cumberland Plateau. The Blue Ridge Mountains come to an end in Northeastern Georgia, so in heading from southeastern Georgia toward the midwest, its possible to pass through the Piedmont, Appalachian mountain valleys and ridges, and the Cumberland plateau, without going through the Blue Ridge Mountains. That is why Chattanooga is a strategic location for connecting the southeast to the midwest. Atlanta is a basically a high valley in the Piedmont, and the route through that valley is easier terrain than a southeasterly route to its north and south. The natural lay of the land in the Appalachian terrain is often southwest to northeast, making easier terrain on a southeast to northwest alignment a strategic advantage.

          • BruceMcF

            Atlanta’s current importance as the dominant “regional headquarters” city for the Southeast is partly because of that radius, but also partly because of its railroad history, which is what determined that it would be the largest city in the area that would qualify as a Southeastern “regional headquarters” city.

          • Adirondacker12800

            and they wanted to get to Chattanooga because after the Indian Removal Act of 1830 all that lush farmland would be developed….

          • BruceMcF

            Chronology: the act had already been passed when the Georgia Assembly voted in 1836 to establish the Western and Atlantic. And it was Chattanooga because that was the alignment that got them to the Tennessee River.

        • Adirondacker12800

          Atlanta owes it existence to the railroads. It’s the reason Atlanta is there.

  9. Matt

    Another factor in choosing routes in Texas will be the enormous freight traffic in the I35 corridor ( the NAFTA-traffic). This makes I35 between San Antonio and Dallas one of the busiest (and most fatal) highways in that nation, and there’s not really any room to expand it in many places. So anything that will reduce single-vehicle passenger travel in this corridor will have positive benefits. Which may make a San Antonio to DFW line more attractive than a DFW to Houston line, when you might think otherwise looking purely at city populations.

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