Difficult Transit

Many people have heard that certain regions are well-suited for these projects, for example the Northeast Corridor is unusually good for HSR because it links four major cities and several medium-size ones on a single line. By implication, there has to be a flip side, i.e. regions that are poorly-suited for HSR and cities that are poorly-suited for new rapid transit. If there weren’t – if every region were like the Northeast Corridor – then the ridership models would just have higher first-order estimates. Several proposals I’ve seen in comments and on my blogroll in the last few days are in areas where the urban geography makes it harder to justify such projects. These and a few others are the examples I will use in this post.

As usual, there’s a caveat that difficult does not equal bad. Some of these ideas are worth pursuing, but have more challenges that their easier counterparts do not, and if those challenges are solved, then they can perform well. One of the biggest success stories of modern rail investment, the TGV, is in an urban geography that’s not particularly conducive to rail: France’s secondary cities surround Paris in all directions (although Lyon and Marseille are collinear with Paris), the stub-end layout of stations in Paris and many other cities forces awkward branching, Lyon needed a business district to be built from scratch around Part-Dieu. France made this work, and it’s possible some of the projects on this list can be made to work in similar vein.

High-Speed Rail in Sweden

Project: greenfield HSR lines connecting Stockholm with Sweden’s major secondary cities, Gothenburg and Malmö.

The problem: Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö do not lie on a straight line. The three cities are quite small by the standards of more populated countries: Stockholm has a bit more than 2 million people, Gothenburg has a bit less than a million, Malmö has 700,000. A line connecting just two of them, or even a Y-shaped line, is unlikely to get enough ridership to justify the construction costs of full HSR. There are no large intermediate cities: the largest, Linköping, has about 100,000 people. As noted above, French urban geography is not great for HSR, either, but at least the LGV Sud-Est could serve both Lyon and Marseille, and France’s greater population ensures that its secondary cities are large enough to generate enough traffic to fill an HSR line.

As a silver lining, Malmö is adjacent to Copenhagen, and the difficult part, bridging the Øresund, has already been done. While international lines tend to underperform, the tight cultural and economic connections between the Scandinavian countries make it likely that international projects within Scandinavia would be exceptions to the rule. Copenhagen would add another 2 million people at the end of the line. However, even that is unlikely to generate enough ridership to pay for 500-odd kilometers of greenfield HSR (plus a connection to Gothenburg).

Because of its poor urban geography for conventional HSR, Sweden has investigated cheaper solutions, allowing higher speeds on legacy track or on greenfield tracks built to lower standards. As a result, there is research into the possibility of high-speed tilting trains, running faster than the 250 km/h Pendolino. This research is likely to be useful in the UK and US, where the urban geography is better-suited for HSR but fully greenfield construction is obstructed by suburban development near the rights-of-way and by high construction costs, but the original context was faster speeds within Sweden.

High-Speed Rail in the Pacific Northwest

Project: greenfield HSR connecting Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver. This is not officially proposed anywhere that I know; current plans focus on incremental improvements to the Amtrak Cascades. However, every American HSR fantasy map I’ve seen (including the ones I’ve drawn) includes this link, since at least superficially based on city populations it would succeed.

The problem: getting out of the major cities involves a slog on curvy legacy track in areas where it’s hard to straighten the right-of-way. Heading north of Seattle, the route goes along the water, in terrain that is too hilly for an easy inland cutoff all the way to Everett, 50 km north. Getting out of Vancouver is also hard, because of suburban development in Surrey, and becomes even harder if one wants the Vancouver station to be Waterfront rather than Amtrak’s current stop, the less centrally located Pacific Central. The Northeast Corridor is said to have slowdowns near the major stations, leading to proposals to bypass them with new tunnels, but at no point are there 50 nearly-continuous km of low curve radii; the New Haven Line does not look as curvy, while the Shore Line farther east is easy to bypass on I-95.

The Seattle-Portland segment is much easier: the route heading south of Seattle is not constrained, and north of Portland it is possible to run alongside I-5. However, the most important intermediate cities, Tacoma and Olympia, can only be served with exurban stations, since getting into their centers would require the mainline to detour on curvy alignments.

Through-Run Commuter Rail in Chicago

Project: there are many proposals by transit activists to construct new infrastructure to enable through-running on Metra, analogous to Crossrail, SEPTA Regional Rail, the Paris RER, and multiple S-Bahns. Details differ, but other than the lines through Union Station, through-running generally means connecting Metra Electric to some of the lines feeding into Union Station from the north or the Union Pacific lines; UP-North is especially notable for serving dense neighborhoods and not having any freight traffic.

The problem: the layout of the lines entering the Chicago central business district makes it hard to build a coherent network. What I mean by coherent is that commuter lines can make multiple CBD stops to serve different CBDs, or different parts of the same CBD: in New York, a Penn Station-Grand Central connection would let trains serve both the West Side and the East Side. Look at the map proposed by Sandy Johnston, in the second link above: there is no station on the Near North Side, there is no connection from the West Loop stations to the Loop, and effectively lines are still going to be split between lines bound for the West Loop and lines bound for the Loop in the through-run system.

None of this is the fault of any of the people drawing these maps. To serve both the West Loop and the Loop, a line would have to go east-west in the vicinity of Union Station, where there is no legacy line pointing in the right direction. The options boil down to a long greenfield east-west subway, and an awkward transition to the preexisting east-west lines, BNSF (which is too far south) and UP-West (which is too far north), which to add another complication carry heavy freight traffic.

A system prioritizing north-south connections runs into different dilemmas, concerning the tradeoff between service to the Near North Side and easier connections to the rest of the North Side Metra lines. A north-south line connecting UP-North to Metra Electric through the Near North Side would be beautiful, and miss all other Metra lines and most L lines. Sandy’s proposal has Metra Electric swerving west to meet UP-North just north of its terminus at Ogilvie Transportation Center, meeting all L lines and potentially the North Side Metra lines but missing the job centers in the West Loop and Near North Side.

Rail to LaGuardia

Project: construct some rail extension to LaGuardia Airport. Which rail extension varies based on the proposal. The most mainstream proposal, in the sense that it was supported by Giuliani until it was torpedoed by neighborhood opposition, would have extended the Astoria Line east to airport grounds. More recent proposals from various activists have included not just the Astoria Line extension, but also a Northeast Corridor spur, an AirTrain from the Astoria Line, an AirTrain from Jamaica with JFK connections, a subway shuttle under Junction, and a subway running from the airport to 125th Street along the route of the M60 bus.

The problem: all of the above ideas face the same pair of problems. At the airport end, the airport competes with other urban destinations, rather than complementing them by lying on the same straight line with them. An extension from the west, such as the Astoria Line extension, needs to choose between serving the airport and serving the Astoria Boulevard corridor, which has high residential density and no nearby subway service; Astoria Boulevard itself is so wide that as with Queens Boulevard, an elevated line in its middle would be an improvement. Farther east, there is nothing that a LaGuardia extension could be continued to, because of Flushing Bay. An extension across the bay going to Flushing or College Point could be useful, but an extension of the 7 to College Point would be even more useful and avoid underwater tunneling. The bay, and more generally the Long Island Sound, dooms any proposal for a loop returning to the mainline, in the manner of Zurich Airport, while a spur would again compete for capacity with more important lines. Compare this with LAX, which, going along the Harbor Subdivision, is collinear with Inglewood, the Slauson corridor, and Union Station, and would have an easy connection to El Segundo.

At the other end, the question with every airport extension is, what does it connect the airport to? The answer for LaGuardia has to be the Upper East Side, where as I remember most riders originate; but there is no good way of connecting to the Upper East Side, which has no east-west subway line, and shouldn’t, as there are perhaps a hundred kilometers of higher-priority tunnels in the region. A connection to 125th Street is ruled out by the fact that Second Avenue Subway has an even better connection to 125th. The Astoria Line serves the Midtown hotel cluster well, and has a connection to the Lexington trains to the Upper East Side, but I doubt that it can beat a taxi across the bridge in non-rush-hour traffic.

Providence East Side Tunnel

Project: restore rail service through the East Side Rail Tunnel, with a new connection to Downcity at the western end and connections to new or restored rail lines in and beyond East Providence. In Jef Nickerson’s version, the trains are light rail and drop to the surface at the Downcity end. In mine, they continue elevated through Downcity, with a new station replacing Providence Station for both commuter and intercity rail. All versions include a stop at Thayer Street for Brown University service, should one be constructable at reasonable cost.

The problem: there’s no real need for local or regional service from the east along the tunnel (intercity service could be sped up by about half a minute to a minute by avoiding curves in Pawtucket). Light rail service would run into the problem of incredibly spread-out suburbanization east of Providence. Commuter rail would run into separate problems: the legacy lines go along the water in East Providence and don’t serve the town itself well; beyond East Providence, the line going north serves the same suburbs as the existing Providence Line minus Pawtucket, while the line going south would need extensive and costly restoration work to get to Fall River, and only passes through small and low-density intermediate points.

Cutting off Providence Station to move the city’s main station to the south is useful, but the only rail from Providence to Pawtucket and Woonsocket goes due north of Downcity and would be left out of this system. Shoehorning it to the same station that leads to the East Side Tunnel would produce every adverse impact of viaducts on cities: heavy visual impact coming from elevated-over-elevated grade separation, squeal coming from low curve radii, takings of condo buildings near the existing Providence Station.


  1. sajohnston

    A more than fair critique of my brief proposal :-). I think you’re absolutely right that through-running might not have the same impact in Chicago that it could in NYC/Boston/Philly. That being said, I think the CrossRail idea, with or without the tunnel I suggested, has merit because the Loop-O’Hare leg runs through one of the last parts of the city that has no rapid transit service at all; bringing service there, and rapid-transitifying the MED, is absolutely worth it, and you might as well through-route the trains while you’re at it. Similarly, commuting between the North and South Sides by transit is an absolute disaster that usually involves multiple transfers, and the Red Line is REALLY slow. A “Lakefront Line” that united MED and UP-N service would, I think, draw heavy ridership, and it has the benefit of running through the city’s densest areas and serving secondary CDBs (albeit mostly professional-class ones) in Evanston and Hyde Park. If that’s all you’re doing, though, it’s probably not worth the expense to tunnel; just use the CUS run-through tracks.

    The other part of my proposal was that it would be better for through-routing future HSR trains. I’m not sure about that, but I do know that MED is for sure a better approach for HSR than the lines that run into CUS (the approach from the South/East has a grade crossing!)

    On another note entirely: I agree that most of the plans for re-using the Providence tunnel are eh. But wouldn’t a restoration of the Providence, Warren, and Bristol (if you could wrest the ROW away from the trail) be useful? Most of the towns along the line are (for obvious reasons) built to streetcar suburb densities, and you could eventually extend it over to Newport, though the necessary bridge would be quite expensive.

    • Alon Levy

      I actually thought about the Newport bit. The problem is that the legacy line is incredibly circuitous – it detours through Fall River. You could build a direct line, but that would be greenfield through Bristol. Good luck. Absent that, the line hangs almost entirely on Fall River; Warren and Barrington have something like a town center near the tracks if you squint your eyes enough, but they’re not of the same size as, say, Attleboro’s, and most of the development nowadays looks like a less dense version of the tract housing of California.

      As for your proposal, it’s not really a critique of what you’re doing! It’s a critique of how Chicago is set up. You can’t just through-run at Union Station without missing a huge proportion of the ridership as well as the Loop, you can’t build a tunnel from Millennium without cutting off either an extension of the CBD or the L. Choices need to be made; for all I know the ones you’re proposing are the right ones.

      • Christopher Parker

        Not so, regarding Newport. The old line split, with one route going south to meet the ferry to Newport south of Warren. At one time the East Providence tunnel carried quite a bit of local passenger traffic. There is also a direct link from East Providence on the continuation of the line from Wonsocket and Worcester.

        • Adirondacker12800

          How bad is the congestion in Providence and how hard is it to park? Unless it gets very expensive to drive, people who own cars will drive if it’s faster to drive.

        • Alon Levy

          The line from Woonsocket indeed has a connection to the East Side tunnel, but it’s circuitous and misses downtown Pawtucket.

          • Peter Brassard

            With just 50,000 people it doesn’t make sense proposing to redevelop the legacy right-of-way in Bristol County, RI. By a fairly fast bus it just takes a half-hour from Bristol and only 15-minutes from Barrington to get to Downtown Providence.

            Another possibility for reusing the East Side Tunnel could be to create a new route in East Providence following the Henderson Bridge/Expressway stub to the state line then extend south along the boundary to I-195 to Fall River and New Bedford. For most of its length in Massachusetts, I-195 has a generous median that could accommodate tracks and platforms. Granted there would be an expense crossing Mount Hope Bay to Fall River.

            The towns between East Providence and Fall River have a population of 60,000 and when extending to New Bedford the population is roughly 300,000 who would be within this corridor. Today there’s no public transit that links the RI and MA halves of the Providence metro area.

    • betamagellan

      It looks, to me, like CrossRail is mainly a means of getting some high speed rail infrastructure built without an actual high speed rail program. It doesn’t look like they have any stations between the Loop and O’Hare, and the focus on connecting to places which don’t have much to do with Chicago commuting patterns makes me think it’s aimed more at the Illinois Statehouse than anything else. A lot of it makes me want to gag, honestly—the Chicago region has higher priorities than subsidized commutes from Kankakee to Hoffmann Estates, the O’Hare-Rockford section’s in highway ROW, McCormick Place isn’t important to anyone except conventioneers, etc. Honestly, I’d think that electrifying the Milwaukee Lines would be an easier way to get frequent or frequent-ish Chicago-downtown service there. Both lines are fairly frequent during peak hours, are owned by Metra, MD-N has the most reverse commuters of all the lines, already have appropriate stop spacing in Cook County and I have an easier time imagining incremental improvements in intercity services to Milwaukee eventually evolving into medium- and later mixed medium-and-high speed rail than any of the Midwest HSR’s helicopter drop proposals (I came up with a blended schedule and incremental improvement plan—maybe I should put it online somewhere).

      I think fantasy planners tend to overreact to the problems of within-downtown transit in Chicago. Union and Ogilvie really are within easy walking distance of their riders’ destination offices—professional employment is concentrated further towards that end of the loop, and the Chicago River there isn’t a barrier. The Red Line carries more people headed towards educational work, government or retail in addition to office people (the Loop proper still being mostly pretty convenient, with the West Loop being a bit too far); the same goes for the Blue. The only lines with real problems are MED/NICTD, which are at the edge of downtown and lack convenient connections to the rest of the system. That said, I got the impression that the ridership is more government/educational/retail oriented than financial services-oriented—while that’s probably in part the result of only people with work within easy walking distance of the train taking the train, I wouldn’t be surprised if demographic profile of MED’s suburbs play a role too (the same goes for the subways—less financial services oriented, more oriented towards working-class, other professionals, and students). River North more distant than for commuter rail riders, but it’s also a less important employment area.

      It looks like Sandy Johnson’s proposal for a Superstation would both the Loop and West Loop fine: though south of Adams it starts to be a hike, Ogilvie’s already distant from that area now. It also serves the River North better—though there’s still a barrier in terms of Wacker Drive and the River, both of those would be at least partly solvable with improvements to the local pedestrian environment. My main questions are about whether a big new station under the Blue Line tunnel would be worth the expense in terms of increased ridership, particularly in comparison with an alternate through-running through the West Loop that might bring trains closer to the southern end of the West Loop.

      I’m not really confident that there’s a big north side-south side commute market, either—Hyde Park has the better university ( 😉 ), but it’s not a “mini-CBD” like Evanston. And while there are a lot of non-downtown trips in Chicago, a lot of those travel markets are very diffuse (that’s true of most cities, and why bus rider union-type activism rings true with a lot of working-class transit riders—their commutes aren’t oriented towards downtown, and if you have a coastal CBD like Chicago even through-running is irrelevant to them). There’s also the fact that a lot of the commute destinations on the North Side are well to the east of the UP-N line—UP-N gets you to Evanston, Great Lakes and (if you hop onto a shuttle bug) Lake-Cook, but the Red Line takes you to Loyola, Uptown, Lakeview and DePaul (the commute main market for Purple Line Express isn’t Evanston-Loop but Evanston-Lakeview/DePaul, which works well for the CTA because there are North Siders ready to board when Evanstonians disembark). The four-tracked North Side Main Line has plenty of spare capacity and will be (is? I moved about a year ago and am out of the loop, so to speak) being incrementally upgraded, and I can imagine a revised Evanston express service stopping at Loyola, Wilson, Belmont, and Fullerton before running through the State Street subway to one of the south side lines working well from both crosstown and downtown commuters.

      • sajohnston

        I agree that a lot of the CrossRail project is gag-worthy. The initial proposal seemed to be totally geared toward the globe-trotter class’ laughable demands for a Loop-O’Hare express (if it’s really that important to you, pay for it yourselves!), and the expansion to Hyde Park but not African-American areas of the South Side was painful. That being said, the proposal now contains lots of vague language about modern commuter trains, which I take as referring to European-style regional rail operations, and I think they’ve recognized that to be palatable the proposal has to provide local service to underserved areas of the South Side and that huge swath of the Northwest Side that has ZERO rapid transit service. Anything beyond Phase 1 (MED-O’Hare) is a waste minus a more thorough Midwestern HSR system, but Phase 1 alone, with local service, I still think could be transformative.

        I think the downtown circulation question is interesting. On the one hand, it really isn’t that far to walk across the Loop, but it’s just far enough to be mildly inconvenient, especially if (when) the weather is bad. On the other (and this is a problem that dates back to the days of steam) transfers between the various commuter rail and intercity lines are REALLY hard for the most part. That’s why I thought through-running is an interesting proposal–but is it worth the money? I don’t know, but it’s worth thinking about.

        The North Side Main Line is in the process of a major upgrade, but it’s going to be slooowww for most riders as long as the stations are still as close together as they are in places. I was hoping the modernization program would include closing some of the close-together stations (Jarvis, one of Thorndale/Argyle/Berwyn, etc), but a better express option would really help.

        Finally, just as anecdata, I know a decent number of people who commute from the far North Side (my family lives in West Rogers Park) or near northern suburbs to the near South Side (UIC/Medical Center, South Loop) or Hyde Park. Obviously, that’s not empirical, and my perception is biased by my parents’ community being largely upper-income and professional class. But I think there is demand going that way, and I’m more intrigued by the possibility of demand going the other way–people from the South Side who could benefit from a fast ride to service and other such jobs on the North Side.

        • betamagellan

          I actually know a lot of Evanston/Hyde Park people too, but that’s because my family and social circle is heavily weighted towards academics and doctors.

          Have you seen ardecila’s (of SSP) idea for a reroute of Metra BNSF on the west side? It would involve taking it through a new tunnel to hit UIC and the Medical Center, with the hoped-for side effect of spurring redevelopment that stretch of Chicago.* It’s one of the few Chicago fantasy plan ideas I’d like to see actually happen.

          • Roland Solinski

            That was admittedly fantastical based on Paris’ RER planning, but you could build a shorter tunnel under Ogden and then use the leftover space in the Eisenhower median, with the advantage of easy (even cross-platform!) transfers to the Blue Line. You could even do it with zero tunneling by using the viaduct along Rockwell.

            The current BNSF routing doesn’t really serve anyone well; it sits between dense Pilsen and a low-density urban renewal zone. Very few jobs within walking distance of that alignment, and anybody who lives nearby will choose the higher frequency CTA options.

          • Roland Solinski

            I was just referring to the BNSF segment within the city, which (like most other railroads in city limits) is a low-density industrial corridor far from job concentrations or dense housing, with infrequent stations and poor transfer opportunities.

            BNSF has a ton of ridership overall because it serves walkable inner suburbs well (LaGrange, Berwyn, Hinsdale, etc) and because it draws ridership from the fastest-growing suburbs on the fringe (Naperville, Aurora).

        • Sascha Claus

          If it’s inconvenient to cross the Loop on foot in bad weather, enclosed pedestrian passages could help a little. If there’s much (re)development going on, permits could require public, possibly heated, mid-block passages. Around the subway stations, diagonal crossings could do wonders to extend the walking shed.

      • Falstaff

        Sure, though I expect any HSR system in the world could be made so with sufficient public money expended on the project.

        • Joey

          There aren’t many forms of transport that aren’t subsidized. The TGVs, like most HSR systems, generate more than enough revenue to cover their operating costs.

  2. Henry

    I don’t know how unnecessary another set of tubes to the UES would be; the Astoria Line is currently a problem area for the 60th St tubes due to the fact that three services must use the 60th St tubes, and the bus routes across Central Park are some of the most frequent in the city. In addition, there’s been a movement to make Central Park car-free for quite some time, and if buses are also banned from the park then the value of a subway connection through the park is even greater. Granted, the fact that the IND has no express between 59th and 125th and the IRT has its express stops on different streets makes things more difficult, but the distance between Queens and Manhattan at 86th St is even shorter than it is further south, so an underground tunnel under the east river to 86th, hitting 2nd Av, the Lex, and CPW before turning up to the Broadway 96th St station is not extremely difficult (although whether it would be worth the money is a different question altogether).

    I feel like the LGA extension would do well to continue via Northern Blvd into Flushing by turning onto Main, with a station either at Main and Roosevelt or Main and Kissena. It would allow for congestion relief on the Flushing Line, and for a southern extension to Jamaica via either Main or Kissena/Parsons, relieving a lot of the congestion in Flushing and Jamaica. If built to light rail standards, it would even allow for Green-Line style through running for the various buses on Kissena and Main that run into Flushing from the south.

    • Alon Levy

      The problem with this is that, like every other east-west LGA proposal, the line can serve exactly place out of three: the Astoria corridor, the Northern corridor, and LGA. LGA is the least useful of the three, given congestion on the Flushing Line, service that points in the direction of parts of Manhattan that are more interesting to commuters than to airport traffic, and high population density in North Corona and East Elmhurst. If you’re going farther east, it’s even more important to go straight rather than swerve to hit LGA.

      As for traffic across Central Park, the most important route, the M86, goes in a sunken road. The NIMBYs have been successful in keeping the M72 off the park and on the 66th Street detour, but like the other sunken streets, 86th is effectively separate from their backyard. Not that it matters thaaaat much; there really are about a hundred km of more important lines. For example, a subway under 125th is going to take some traffic off the crosstown buses, because it’s a faster connection, certainly if your West Side destination is from Morningside Heights north.

    • anonymouse

      “Car Free Central Park” is not, and never has, included the four sunken streets that cross the park. It’s all about the loop roads that are at grade level through the park and heavily used by joggers, cyclists, and so on. Hypothetically, if they really wanted to, they could dedicate the Transverses just to buses and call that BRT, but the crosstown buses mostly get bogged down outside the park anyway.

  3. Alan Robinson

    Given that a new transit right of way will likely be constructed in the next 10 years on Michigan and North Lakeshore Drive, my preference for the ME line would be to split the service downtown, with half going up lake shore drive in a new mile long tunnel, and half using cross-rail. Some extra peak trips could terminate at Millenium station and have off-peak service concentrate on the LSD branch. On lakeshore drive, the line would have very tight stop spacing, unlike regional rail.

    • sajohnston

      I don’t know if it’s “likely” that a new transit ROW amenable to rail will be constructed in LSD; I think we’re much more likely to get dedicated lanes and maybe a few stops for the express buses that already use the Drive (which, according to something I read today, carry 69,000 riders/day–way more than I realized). The problem with regional-rail style transit on the drive is twofold: first, the Drive is kinda isolated, with density only on one side by definition, and it’s not well integrated into the neighborhoods. Second, where does the service terminate? Evanston is the obvious answer, but you’d need *another* mile-long tunnel to get trains back to the UP-N ROW from LSD. Otherwise you’re kinda just terminating on the lakefront in the middle of nowhere in particular. That being said, if Chicago’s willing to spend the money to build rail along the Drive under those conditions, I wouldn’t be opposed–bringing MED service to River North and the Mag Mile is good. I just think we’re much more likely to get bus lanes, and it would be great to link those with dedicated bus lanes on arterials that connect to the Drive, like Sheridan, Lincoln, Irving Park, etc.

  4. Adirondacker12800

    The problem: Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö do not lie on a straight line.

    Neither are a lot of places. Trains don’t have to go as fast as possible all the time. They just have to get you from door to door faster than the alternatives. The straightest route from New Haven to Boston doesn’t go through Hartford, Springfield, Worcester or Providence. Or New London or Woonsocket,. It skirts Storrs!
    Google says it 610 kilometers between Stockholm and Malmo and 730 if you detour to Gothenburg. 120 kilometers at an average speed of 240, which would be slow for a greenfield HSR system, means it takes an extra half hour to detour to Gothenburg. I’m going to assume that it’s a hour from the curb at the airport to the time the door slams shut and at least a half hour from the time the door pops open to the time you are at the curb. The speed limit in Sweden is 120 KPH.
    Three hours versus two and half is faster than flying or driving.

    • Sascha Claus

      »120 km/h (75 mph) is only set on the best, safest and straightest motorways, usually the newest […]«, otherwise its 110 km/h, says Wikipedia. And Google shows a non-divided section on the Stockholm–Malmö freeway. Doesn’t exactly make the car faster.

      Oh, and don’t view HSR separetely for countries like Sweden and Norway. Oslo is only ~100 km from the border and as close to Gothenborg as Malmö. That could make for a nice Y- (or T-)shaped network, with hourly meetings in Gothenburg and direct trains Malmö–Oslo, Oslo–Stockholm, Stockholm–Malmö in the even hours and direct trains Malmö–Stockholm, Stockholm–Oslo, Oslo–Malmö in the odd hours. (Or the other way round or more or less frequently or whatever as desired).

      • Adirondacker12800

        T-shaped with Gothenberg at the intersection. Oslo-Stocklholm, Oslo-Gothenburg, Oslo-Malmo and Oslo-Copenhagen for track from Oslo to Gothenburg.

        If the expensive tracks can only scare up a train an hour it’s not worth it to build the expensive tracks. Google says it’s 500 km and 6 hours to drive or 1:37 to fly. Or 750 km if you detour through Gothenburg. 500 km at an average speed of 250 is two hours and 750 an an average speed of 250 is three hours. It’s faster than driving or flying if you detour through Gothenburg.

        • knott

          You could not make an average of 250 km/hour unless you skipped all cities on the way, which would make the entire enterprise even more dubious. A line connecting Stockholm to Malmö/Köpenhamn via Gothenburg would have an extremly low market share. It would barely compete with current trains for Malmö-Stockholm, if they carried even a minimal extra fee.

          It seems like a very poor sacrifice to make to connect Malmö/Copenhagen and Gothenburg, in particular as the Gotenburg-Stockhol line still would go over Jönköping.

          • Adirondacker12800

            It doesn’t take a lot of time to fly from Oslo to Stockholm or Copenhagen. It does take a lot of time to get from the curb at the airport to the time the door closes on the airplane. Airplanes only have one door and unless you are in one of the seats next to the door it can take a half hour from the time the door opens until you are off the plane.

            There aren’t going to be a lot of stops along the way because there isn’t a lot of places that merit a 25 million Euro station. A time penalty of 10 minutes for two stops slows down the 300/350 kph train down to an average of 275, throw in an extra 10 minutes for the slow parts in Stockholm and Gothenburg and it’s 250. Even if it drops to an average speed of 225 750 km is 3:20 which is still faster than driving and very competitive with flying. They’d lose a few people who won’t make the trip because it takes 3:20 instead of 2:10. They’d make up for it with the people who go because the fare is lower because the cost of the track, per passenger is lower. Much lower because the Swedes are going to want the line from Gothenburg to Stockholm and the Norwegians are going to want the line from Oslo to Copenhagen and sending a train from Oslo to Stockholm via Gothenburg would be using tracks that are going to be there anyway.

          • Sascha Claus

            And if you’re not interested in collecting pictures of airport curbs, Oslo’s airports are 50 km/20 min (Gardermoen)and 60 km/45 min (Moss) away. Malmö Airport (it exists!) is 45 min by bus. Only Stockholm and Copenhagen are close to the cities. So you can add ½ to 1½ hours to the travel time.

          • Adirondacker12800

            I don’t know about Scandinavians but Real Americans(tm) are deeply fascinated with airports and airport security. Plain ol’ Americans that want some domination get it places other than the airport where the lube isn’t confiscated. And where they can use it along with the domination.

          • knott

            The good arguments for high speed rail in Sweden are based on providing access for the midsized citites (ca. 100,000) to the bigger regions. Analysis of travel patterns have also shown that the line would mainly be used for people in those citites travelling to the bigger regions. Borås/Linköping/Norrköping/Nyköping would all have much better commuter possiblitites, which is what would fill up the trains.

            To spend 10+ billion euros on a line that will only replace airplanes between Copenhagen-Gothenburg-Stockholm, and largely skip other stations would be a complete waste (and if the Malmö-Stockholm trains goes over Gothenburg, not even that). Arguments such as congested air-space is not relevant, and the highways also have lots of capacity.

          • Adirondacker12800

            40 percent of the Swedish population lives in metro Stocklholm, Gothenburg or Malmo. According to Wikipedia the fourth largest metro area is Uppsala with 200,000 in the county. There aren’t any other places it Sweden.

          • Sascha Claus

            Borås, Jön-, Lin-, Norr- & Nyköping are all located on a line from Stockholm to Göteborg, so a newly built or upgraded line could host express as well as regional trains.

            Given the size of these intermediate towns, compared to the endpoints, i’d expect it is easier for their regional/commuter HSR to piggyback onto a Stockholm – Gothenburg – Malmö/Oslo line than to get one on their own.

          • knott

            Adirondacker12800: The midpoint destinations might not be that large (though they easily are another 15% of the Swedish population), but more importantly they would provide commuters to the regions, which makes countless trips over a year, while the longer distance market is made out of travelers that travel far less often.

            Which is why it has been shown that very much of the ridership would consist of people going from the mid-sized cities to the larger regions.

    • knott

      What Alon didn’t mention is that the distance between Malmö and Stockholm is also a little to long for HSR (as seen above), the population count for Malmö at 700,000 is also very generous. In general I am pretty sure that public transport within cities are much better value for money in Sweden and I am therefore sceptic to HSR.

      Despite that, the line between Gothenburg and Stockholm may still be a quite good idea. There are some advantages; the distance is perfect for HSR, there are also actually two mid-size cities Linköping, but also Norrköping between these two cities. Both cities are also conveniently close to Stockholm so that it would be possible to do a daily commute with HSR. There is also a shortage of space on the tracks already between these two cities, and the HSR would go between cities where there currently are no tracks. Yet another advantage is that the optimal Y-line between these cities, actually also includes the optimal line for the Stockholm-Gothenburg tracks, so it is quite simple to build the most important part of the network first. The section between Linköping and Stockholm will however most likely be built anyway, and I am not sure that further expansion is warranted.

      Also if you are going to Stockholm Alon, you will see that the major problem transit problem here is ridiculous highway tunnel projects crowding out other investments.

  5. betamagellan

    Norwegian high-speed rail runs into the same issues as Swedish HSR, but with even smaller cities and mountain tunneling. Thus, they don’t have ambitions above 250 km/h. Oslo-Trondheim is surprisingly easy, mostly going through the Østerdalen valley. The next most favorable line, in Norwegian reports, is actually Oslo-Gothenburg. Oslo-Bergen generally rates the highest in terms of ridership, but is only be a third-tier priority due to cost/risk reasons, mostly relating to mountain crossings.

    The preferred route for Oslo-Bergen is the Numedal. An alternative, the Haukeli, would also serve Stavanger and have a wye potentially allowing for Bergen-Stavanger travel. It’s also faster and requires less new construction (at least to Bergen) than the Numedal, but would be almost entirely tunneled, and I’m guessing the Norwegians are a bit skittish about that post-Gardermobanen. Here’s the West Corridor report in English, if you’re interested.

  6. mulad

    I’m not sure how to get data on where passengers are coming from, but don’t forget that many people work at airports (apparently about 7,000 in the case of LGA), and that can be analyzed through census data. Only one out of the top 25 and eight of the top 50 zip codes (ZCTAs) are in Manhattan. The rest are in Queens, the Bronx, and Nassau County. This makes me think that something along 94th Street / Junction Boulevard would be a good idea, with an initial connection to the 7 subway, but later extending to the Queens Boulevard Line. I suppose you could continue it to Jamaica, but it would be pretty redundant at that point. Forest Hills would be a logical endpoint.

    • mulad

      Hmm. Looking again, I see there’s a nice abandoned right-of-way extending south from Rego Park. That could allow even more cross-connection with other lines to the south along Jamaica Avenue and Liberty Avenue. And once you get that far, may as well get to Howard Beach to make the JFK AirTrain connection, or do something to get to JFK directly.

        • Adirondacker12800

          The LIRR had a Far Rockaway fetish. Just because people who are obsessed with Far Rockaway built something doesn’t make it a good idea. Reactivate the Rockaway Branch and instead of changing to Airtrain from the LIRR in Jamaica you change to the Airtrain in Howard Beach. Whoopee! Unless we spend billions more to drag the LIRR out to the airport. Where most people will have to change to Airtrain anyway.

          • Joey

            The Rockaway Beach Branch might be useful for local service – I can’t see any benefit to airport-bound passengers, who are generally outnumbered by local passengers anyway.

          • Adirondacker12800

            The neighborhood hasn’t changed radically since the LIRR abandoned service for lack of demand.

          • Henry

            It’s the potential for very cheap service that makes the corridor attractive. The airport and such lack a good connection to the rest of Queens, and even with the buses the route attracts approximately 6000 people per route-km per day on the shared section of the Q11/21/52/53. Any such rail line would probably boost that amount of riders, and would also draw people off of the various long east-west bus routes crossing the area.

            In addition, a surface bellmouth from Queens Blvd to the ROW already exists, and even if most of the ROW has to be rehabilitated it doesn’t involve much in the way of land takings except where stations are placed, so it’s certainly worth looking at. (It was looked at for a JFK project a while back, but that involved no intermediate stations due to federal restrictions on airport line funding and thus failed the feasibility study.)

          • Adirondacker12800

            an express train to the airport from Manhattan is great if you are in Manhattan. The people who work at the airports don’t live in Manhattan. Not many of them anyway. A local train on the line doesn’t do you much good if you don’t live along the line. There aren’t going to be a whole lot of people who work at the airport who would be able to use it.
            an express train from Manhattan to the center of the Airtrain system isn’t all that much better than express train to the end of the Airtrain system.

    • mulad

      Oops, I meant Queens, Brooklyn, and Nassau County. That puts some of those ZCTAs outside of Long Island in the Bronx. One of those B-boroughs…

    • Alon Levy

      Yes, but against those 7,000 workers, i.e. 14,000 trips in both directions, there are 58,000 domestic O&D passengers in both directions.

  7. Nathanael

    I think that running Metra Electric to connect to an electrified UP-North — which would have to be purchased by Metra first, mind you — is well worth it, even if it’s far from ideal; everything in Chicago is disconnected and it could certainly be made an improvement.

    I can see a number of different ways to do it. They’d pretty much all be improvements.

    Probably the most sensible route is
    – a tunnel from Millenium Station under the Chicago River, underneath Michigan Avenue,
    – follow Lake Shore Drive, then turn west under the park at the latitude of Armitage Avenue,
    – under Armitage Avenue,
    – across the North Branch probably where the old railroad bridge is,
    – connect to UP-N south of Clybourn Station

    Stations at Michigan/Grand, LSD/Division, LSD/North, Clark/Armitage, Red/Purple/Brown Armitage station (which should be modified to be a full transfer station). Clybourn would act as a transfer point to UP-NW.

    Expensive but worthwhile for the area.

    The other thing I’ve been wanting to see done in Chicago for a long time is sorting out the criss-crossing of the UP and Milwaukee District lines. This seems to have political, contractual, and ownership issues, but it would require very little construction.

    * Swap the MD routes to Ogilvie with the UP routes to Union to eliminate the Western Avenue diamonds. UP-NW and UP-N can be brought into Union Station via the yard used to serve the Chicago Tribune, with the upgrade of two grade crossings and track, and the demolition of one building a bit north of Ogilvie, along track which already exists. There’s also an alternate route; it could be run down “Jefferson Street”.
    * Swap inner UP-NW and inner MD-N (getting rid of three sets of diamonds near Mayfair station, if done right).

    You end up with UP-N, MD-N, and UP-W, in Union;
    UP-NW, NCS, and MD-W in Ogilvie.
    This unfortunately is a very unbalanced transfer of passengers which has the potential to overcrowd Union, and the grade crossings on the MD line. If UP-North is tunneled to Metra Electric, however, then it becomes a balanced swap and should work.

    Amtrak would still have to transfer from the MD-W line to Union Station approach on the new Rockford route, but that’s much less of a conflict.

    • sajohnston

      There’s actually an easier way to connect MED and UP-N, though obviously a tunnel would be ideal in a world with unlimited money. If, following the model of CrossRail Chicago, you connect MED to CUS across the St. Charles Air Line and electrify the run-through tracks, there’s actually only one building in the way of connecting the CUS northern throat to the UP-N tracks. if you look right where the CUS throat crosses Canal Street, you could cut off a couple of tracks there, and demolish the Cassidy Tire building to connect them to the old C&NW Navy Pier Branch, which then runs up to the UP-N/NW tracks. Google Maps: http://goo.gl/maps/87rtf The clearances are a tad tight, but it’s way cheaper than any of the alternatives. And UP-N, given the density of North Side n’hoods around it, its complete absence of freight traffic, lack of interlockings with any freight-carrying lines south of Lake Bluff, and connection to a secondary CBD of sorts in Evanston, is clearly the easiest candidate of the North Side lines for electrification/rapid-transitization, though arguably MDW would have greater car-displacing impact because it runs through a rapid-transit desert.

      • Nathanael

        Getting back to this, the problems with this proposal for connecting UP-N to MED are: the lack of terminal space at Union Station, which would get overloaded; the lack of use of Van Buren St. and Millennium Stations, which are quite popular; the lack of direct service to the Magnificent Mile; etc….

        Despite which, I still think connecting UP-N & UP-NW to CUS through the Cassidy Tire Building is an *excellent* idea; if you note, it’s actually part of my plan for sorting out the MD-W and UP-W traffic.

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  9. Eric

    This is off topic, but I don’t have a twitter account so I decided to reply to you here.

    Yonah Freemark wrote: “Apparently major section of Jerusalem Light Rail has been destroyed by riots”

    As support, he quoted a news article saying: “All traffic lights, control systems and ticket selling machines were broken or burned; traffic signs were torn out of their place and shattered. concrete was poured into the rails. There were attempts to saw down the massive electric polls along the rails.”

    You replied: “To be more precise: there were riots, and as a result the government decided to shut down service to East Jerusalem.”

    I’m confused by what you mean. Do you think that the news article is lying, or that light rail is capable of running without lights, signs, control systems, rails and electricity?

    • Alon Levy

      First, some background on the line: as one goes into East Jerusalem on the light rail, one goes through French Hill and Giv’at HaMivtar (Jewish settlements built immediately after 1967), Shuafat (a Palestinian neighborhood, including a refugee camp, annexed after 1967), and Pisgat Ze’ev (a more recent Jewish settlement). The riots were in Shuafat and Beit Hanina, which the light rail line serves the margin of; all service north of French Hill is suspended.

      With that in mind, the Jewish Press article Yonah linked to is inaccurate when it claims that there is no service to Pisgat Ze’ev. Pisgat Ze’ev still has bus service to West Jerusalem, although it is of course slower than the trains; Shuafat and Beit Hanina do not. Moreover, rebuilding efforts are focusing on allowing trains to go through Shuafat without stopping first so that they can serve Pisgat Ze’ev; rebuilding the stations in those neighborhoods is a secondary priority, according to both the Jewish Press and Haaretz.

      The Jewish Press article worries me especially when it claims that “Pisgat Zeev was almost completely cut off from public transportation during the rioting, as the Jerusalem Light Rail doesn’t have an alternative route around Beit Hanina and Shuafat.” Israel’s road planning has often justified building bypass roads around Arab cities, such as Nazareth, on the grounds that they are riot-prone and Jewish travelers should be able to avoid them. Likewise, government offices were moved from Nazareth to Nazareth Illit (and subsequently to the border between the two towns), originally a segregated Jewish suburb. The state’s urban planning has repeatedly isolated the Arab community; despite anti-Arab hate crimes, such as violence against Arab men who date Jewish women and the recent revenge murder in East Jerusalem, there has never been any road built to make it easier to avoid areas with unusual concentrations of Kahane followers. I don’t even think there’s been any road built specifically to make it easier to avoid Haredi cities, which too have their share of rioting every time someone proposes to draft them to the IDF, and with the possible exception of the Ethiopians, the Haredim are the most marginalized Jews in Israeli society.

      The Jerusalem light rail, despite serving the goal of creeping annexation of East Jerusalem, does serve Arab neighborhoods, and has high Arab ridership. Pro-Israel photographers have taken photos of its diverse riders as proof that Israel means well. It could have skipped Shuafat by going along Route 60, but doesn’t; it serves Shuafat the formal neighborhood and not Shuafat the refugee camp, but to be honest it’s very hard to serve the refugee camp with surface transit. The one thing the light rail’s doing well – unlike its high construction costs, the Bridge of Strings boondoggle, and questionable alignment decisions – the Jewish Press is subtly mocking.

      • Eric

        OK, if the rebuilt light rail ends up running through the Arab neighborhoods for a while without stopping there, I can see why the Arab residents would be upset.

  10. Eric

    “A connection to 125th Street is ruled out by the fact that Second Avenue Subway has an even better connection to 125th.”

    On the contrary, the fact that a 125th St tunnel can also be used by SAS-bound trains is an extra point in favor of this alignment!

    Or, perhaps, you could add a SAS branch from 125th St, going east over the RFK Bridge/GCP to LaGuardia. It would be more indirect than a N/Q extension, but would serve the Upper East Side better, if that’s really where LaGuardia passengers come from.

    • Alon Levy

      That is true, but introduces other problems:

      1. SAS would need to have some trains not run onto 125th Street, to avoid creating a capacity bottleneck. For example, the Q could continue to 125th while the T could continue north to the Bronx, on a new subway under Third or University Avenue or taking over an existing IRT branch.

      2. The capacity of the link from 125th to Queens would only be half that of a dedicated tunnel, since half the trains from 125th would go to SAS. So an underwater tunnel would be used at less than its full capacity. Moreover, most riders from 125th would prefer to go along SAS, to the CBD, rather than to Astoria and LGA; problematically, most riders from Queens would want to go down SAS and not along 125th.

      • Eric

        Yes, SAS is obviously the busiest corridor of the three. I agree with you that 125th-Queens would not justify an underwater tunnel, but there are already bridges in place, and using them or a new bridge would be much cheaper than tunneling. In that case the SAS would have two northern branches with a transfer at 116th.

        • Alon Levy

          Of course if it’s possible to run trains on the Triboro Bridge then it’s a different matter. It also simplifies capacity questions involving the NEC, Triboro, and Penn Station Access – it allows each of the three to have its own dedicated tracks (with freight sharing with Penn Station Access).

          • Adirondacker12800

            It’s possible to run streetcars on the Triboro,. If 125th is going to have the 2nd Avenue running across it and father uptown is going to have the Triboro frequent streetcars instead of infrequent subway may be a better solution.

      • Nathanael

        This sort of problem is why SAS was supposed to be quad-tracked in the original IND Second System proposals.

  11. Steve Dunham

    Would a Long Island Railroad branch off the Port Washington line be a good way to connnect the Upper East Side to La Guardia airport once the East Side Access project lets Port Washington trains run to Grand Central?

    • Alon Levy

      Not really. East Side Access is deep underground, with long transfer times to any transit that actually serves the UES.

      The only real use of the Port Washington line would be if the through-running infrastructure were constructed in a way that sets up the Port Washington line as the sole LIRR line connecting to some Manhattan tunnel; in that case, more branching would be good, so a tunnel to the airport would make use of excess capacity. Today, this is not the case: any excess capacity in the East River tunnels should go to Metro-North’s Penn Station Access, for the underserved neighborhoods in the Bronx and potentially the Queens-Bronx connection and a Sunnyside Junction transfer.

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    • Alon Levy

      I would like to note that, although California has awful mountain crossings, its urban geography is conducive to HSR: a more or less linear population distribution, two huge cities, a variety of trips leading to less peaky travel. The only problem is that LA’s destinations are unusually dispersed and far from the train station, although they themselves are linear enough with the train station to justify a subway linking them all.

  13. Ian Mitchell

    Seems like LGA is pretty awful in a lot of ways (not to mention ugly)- and somewhat nightmarish to ATCs.

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to turn Teterboro into a real airport, or re-activate Floyd Bennett Field, or improve the connectivity of ISP with LIRR, improve service, and make one of those the city’s third airport instead?

    • Alon Levy

      LGA was built specifically because Floyd Bennett was too far from Manhattan. I doubt building a Utica subway would create much demand for moving the airport back to Floyd Bennett; the line would hit the UES and Midtown East, but travel time would be too long, about 45 minutes from Grand Central. A taxi from Grand Central to LGA in current (weekend) traffic does the trip in 15 minutes.

      • Nathanael

        Well, LGA was also built because Mayor LaGuardia was angry at the idea that New Yorkers would have to fly out of Newark. NJ-NY fighting has caused a lot of stupid decisions over the years.

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  21. Ian

    This is an old post, but re: extending the Astoria line east to college point/Flushing, why would it need to be a tunnel under the bay? How expensive would it be to just put it on a causeway low to the water with either a bump in the middle or a lift bridge à la Rockaway line to let what little marine traffic there is through.

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