Where is Electrification Warranted?

At the beginning of the month, I published a piece in Voice of San Diego calling for medium-speed rail investment in the Los Angeles-San Diego corridor, centering electrification. This was discussed in a 500-comment thread on California HSR Blog, in which area rail activist Paul Dyson ripped into my plan, arguing (among other things) that electrification is costlier and less useful than I think. Instead of reopening the debate on that particular corridor, I want to discuss a more general set of guidelines to when rail lines should be electrified.

I haven’t said so in these exact words, but I think North American rail authorities and activists underrate electrification. As a result, I find myself persistently prescribing electrification and defending it when it’s already on the table, even as I attack other rail investments as wasteful. On social media and in blog comments I find myself having to constantly explain to people that no, a $20 billion New York regional rail plan should not use dual-mode locomotives but rather spend $250 million on New Jersey-side electrification.

A year and a half ago I wrote about why small, dense countries should fully electrify. The reasons laid out in that post are included in the guidelines below, but there are some additional circumstances justifying electrification.

Narrow stop spacing

Each train has a stop penalty – a total amount of time it loses to making each stop. The penalty is based on dwell time, line speed, and train acceleration and braking performance. If the line speed is 130 km/h, then the penalty excluding dwell time is about 35 seconds for a FLIRT and 80 seconds for a diesel GTW. This 45-second difference per stop is the same if there is a stop every 3 km or if there is a stop every 50 km.

Stop spacing is narrower on commuter lines than on intercity lines, so electrification usually starts from commuter rail. The first mainline electrification in the world was in Paris on the commuter lines serving Gare d’Orsay; subsequently the commuter lines in Paris, London, Tokyo, Berlin, New York, Philadelphia, and other major cities were wired. In many of these cases, commuter rail was electrified decades before intercity mainlines: for example, Japan started electrifying Tokyo’s innermost commuter lines in the 1900s and completed them in the 1920s and early 30s, but took until 1956 to electrify the first intercity line, the Tokaido Line.

However, in some dense regions, even the intercity lines have many stops. Cities in Israel, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland are just not very far apart, which blurs the distinction between regional and intercity lines somewhat. Switzerland is all-electrified, and my post from 2015 argued that the first three should be, too. In the US, there are specific regions where continuous sprawl has led to the same blurring: the Northeast Corridor, Southern California, Central and South Florida, New England. All are characterized by high population density. New England has closely spaced cities, whereas the LA-San Diego corridor and corridors within Florida have so much sprawl that there have to be several stations per metro area to collect people, reducing stop spacing.

Frequent sharp curves between long straight segments

Electric multiple units (EMUs) can make use of their high acceleration not at stations, but also at slow restrictions due to curves. They are also capable of higher cant deficiency than top-heavy diesel locomotives, since they have low center of gravity, but the difference for non-tilting trains is not so big. A uniformly curvy line does not offer EMUs much advantage, since all trains are slow – if anything, the lower the top speed, the less relevant acceleration is.

The big opportunity to accelerate is then when a mostly straight line is punctured by short, sharp curves. Slowing briefly from 130 km/h to 70 km/h and then speeding back up costs a FLIRT on the order of 15 seconds. A diesel train, whether powered by a locomotive or by diesel multiple units (DMUs), can’t hope to have the required power-to-weight ratio for such performance.


EMUs’ better acceleration profile makes them better-suited for climbing hills and mountains. Modern EMUs, especially low- and medium-speed ones optimized for high acceleration, can effortlessly climb 4% grades, at which point DMUs strain and diesel locomotives require helper engines. When the terrain is so mountainous that tunnels are unavoidable, electric trains do not require ventilation in their tunnels. As a result, some long rail tunnels were electrified from the start. The combination of uphill climbs and tunnels is literally toxic with diesels.

Cheap, clean electricity

Electrification has lower operating costs and lower greenhouse gas emissions in areas where the electricity is powered by cheap hydro or geothermal power than in areas where it is powered by fossil fuels. Switzerland became the only country with 100% rail electrification because it had extensive hydro power in the middle of the 20th century and was worried about relying on coal shipments from Nazi Germany during the war.

This is especially useful in far northern countries, like Sweden and Canada, which have low population density and little evaporation, leading to extensive hydro potential per capita. Despite its low density, Sweden has electrified about two thirds of its rail network. In the US, this is the most relevant to the Pacific Northwest.

But in the future, the falling cost of solar power means that clean electricity is becoming more affordable, fast. This favors electrification in more places, starting from sunny regions like most of the US.

Small installed diesel base

A rich or middle-income country building railroads for the first time, or expanding a small system, needs to build new yards, train maintenance crews, and procure spare parts. It should consider electrifying from the start in order to leapfrog diesel technology, in the same manner many developing countries today leapfrog obsolete technologies like landline phones. In contrast, a larger installed base means electrification has to clear a higher bar to be successful, which is why Japan, France, and other major core networks do not fully electrify.

The US situation is dicey in that it does have a lot of diesel equipment. However, this equipment is substandard: reliability is low, with mean distance between failures (MDBF) of about 45,000 km on the LIRR compared with 680,000 on new EMUs (source, pp. 30-31); the trains are very heavy, due to past FRA regulations; and the equipment is almost universally diesel locomotives rather than DMUs, which makes the acceleration problem even worse than it is for GTWs. Total acceleration and deceleration penalty on American diesel locomotives is not 80 seconds but 2-2.5 minutes.

Because North America underrates electrification, some people who self-identify as forward-thinking propose DMUs. Those require new maintenance regimes and facilities, creating an entire installed base from scratch instead of moving forward to EMUs.

Globally, the installed diesel base for high-performance lines is vanishingly small. The technology exists to run diesel trains at more than 200 km/h, but it’s limited in scope and the market for it is thin.

Through-service to electric lines

Whenever a diesel line is planned to run through to an electric line, it should be a prime candidate for electrification. Dual-mode locomotives exist, but are heavy and expensive; dual-mode multiple units are lighter, but are still boutique products.

This is especially true for the two biggest investments a network can make in passenger rail: RER tunnels, and HSR. RER tunnels involve expensive urban tunneling. When a kilometer of urban subway costs $250 million and a kilometer of catenary costs $2 million, the economics of the latter become stronger. Not to mention that RERs are typically short-hop commuter rail, with frequent stops even on the branches. HSR is a different beast, since it’s intercity, but the equipment is entirely electric. Running through to a diesel branch means towing the train behind a diesel locomotive, which means the expensive HSR traction equipment is idle for long periods of time while towed; this is at best an interim solution while the connecting legacy line is wired, as in the line to Sables d’Olonne.

Nearly complete electrification

Areas where the rail network is almost completely electrified benefit from finishing the job, even if individually the diesel lines are marginal candidates for electrification. This is because in such areas, there is a very large installed electric base, and a smaller diesel base. In small countries the remaining diesel base is small, and there are efficiencies to be had from getting rid of it entirely. This is why the Netherlands and Belgium should finish electrification, and so should Denmark and Israel, which are electrifying their main lines.

This is somewhat less applicable to larger countries, such as Sweden, Poland, and especially Japan. However, India is aggressively electrifying its rail network and planning even more. Note that since networks electrify their highest-trafficked lines first, the traffic can be almost completely electrified even if the trackage is not. For example, Russia is about 50% electrified, but 86% of freight tonnage is carried on electric trains, and the share of ton-km is likely higher since the Trans-Siberian Railway is electrified.

This also applies to networks smaller than an entire country. Commuter rail systems that are mostly electrified, such as the LIRR, should complete electrification for the same reason that mostly electrified countries should. In New England and Southern California, regional rail electrification is desirable purely because of the acceleration potential, and this also makes full electrification desirable, on the principle that a large majority of those two regions’ networks have enough potential traffic to justifying being wired without considering network effects.


Every place – a country, an isolated state or province, a commuter rail system – that is at least 50-60% electrified should consider fully electrifying. The majority of the world that is below that threshold should still wire the most important lines, especially regional lines. Capital-centric countries like Britain and France often get this wrong and focus on the intercity lines serving the capital, but there are low-hanging fruit in the provincial cities. For example, the commuter rail networks in Marseille, Lyon, and Bordeaux are almost entirely electrified, but have a few diesel lines; those should be wired.

In North America, electrification is especially underrated. Entire commuter rail networks – the MBTA, Metra, Metrolink, MARC/VRE, GO Transit, AMT, tails on the New York systems – need to be wired. This is also true of short-range intercity lines, including LA-San Diego, Chicago-Milwaukee, Boston-Portland, Toronto-Niagara Falls, and future New York-Scranton. It is important that good transit activists in those regions push back and support rail electrification, explaining its extensive benefits in terms of reliability and performance and its low installation cost.


  1. Cincy

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the potential for trains powered by fuel cells to combine the performance and emissions advantages of electric propulsion and the lower infrastructure costs of diesel propulsion. Eg: http://www.citylab.com/commute/2016/09/germany-hydrogen-passenger-train/501575/

    Many of the obvious disadvantages of fuel cells for transportation, like the need to create a network of refueling stations, seem less acute for trains vs automobiles.

    • Max Wyss

      There are experimentals and prototypes out there (such as the German case, but also in Japan). So far, they could not reach a breakthrough.

      Personally, I am sceptical, because with the developments of batteries and supercapacitors, that would be the more promising and easier to manage technology.

      In any case, fuel cells or battery will work for light vehicles only, but you won’t be able to get the energy density needed for a mainline locomotive, or a high(er) speed train.

      • Adirondacker12800

        Cheap durable fuel cells have been 10 years away since the 60s. Like fusion power. Using a cheap way to make hydrogen from fossil fuels or even biomass… just use it directly. Using electricity to make hydrogen to then make electricity, it’s more efficient to use the electricity to charge a battery. Hydrogen fuel cells are going to be a niche market forever.

        • michael.r.james

          Surely the point is that trains don’t need their gear to be especially cheap. And they can carry the heavy (and potential explosion risk) hydrogen as compressed gas wit little penalty. (Actually, just checked, apparently it is stored as liquid –which carries its own penalty, essentially energy cost.) So yes, this is a niche market but it seems a pretty good one. Alstom apparently thinks so:

          Fuel cells power Alstom’s Coradia iLINT
          William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
          Fuel cells—a technology originally developed for NASA’s Gemini and Apollo space programs in the 1960s—are powering an Alstom main line passenger trainset.

          “Despite numerous electrification projects in several countries, a significant part of Europe’s rail network will remain non-electrified in the long term,” Alstom notes. “In many countries, the number of diesel trains in circulation is still high—more than 4,000 DMUs (diesel multiple-units) in Germany, for instance. Alstom is among the first railway manufacturers in the world to develop a passenger train based on [hydrogen fuel cell] technology. To make the deployment of the Coradia iLINT as simple as possible for operators, we offer a complete package, consisting of the trainset and maintenance, as well as the whole hydrogen infrastructure, thanks to help from partners.”

          • Adirondacker12800

            Physics is a bitch. Charging and discharging a battery is a more efficient use of electricity than making hydrogen. Which then has conversion losses when you make electricity out of it. Hydrogen looked attractive when batteries were heavy, short lived and expensive. They aren’t any more and getting better.

          • michael.r.james

            Adirondacker12800 2017/02/21 – 01:41

            Charging and discharging a battery is a more efficient use of electricity than making hydrogen.

            Quite, but the sheer amount of energy needed by a mainline train means batteries cannot deliver. So the comparison is with diesel (and its externalities, not to mention it is all imported in most of Europe; France has excess nuclear power to run water electrolysis). I think it is also Alstom who is trialling tramways which use quick-recharge batteries to get it from station-to-station (closely spaced of course unlike rural railways). Is it Orlyval?

          • Adirondacker12800

            Electrify the mainlines. The really busy ones first and instead of going out and buying diesel locomotives they can buy electric ones. They can stuff a megawatt into a 40 foot shipping container these days. Put a few dozen of them at the substation and they can suck up the excess electricity sloshing around in the dead of night. And the regenerative braking. The alternative scenarios, like making synthetic gasoline, made some sense when batteries were heavy, short lived and expensive. They aren’t anymore.

          • michael.r.james

            Adirondacker12800 2017/02/21 – 03:15

            They can stuff a megawatt into a 40 foot shipping container these days. Put a few dozen of them at the substation and they can suck up the excess electricity sloshing around in the dead of night.

            I assume you mean containers of batteries?
            I agree that with hydrogen it seems strange to lose about 20% in water electrolysis to convert electricity to hydrogen, then a similar amount to return it to electricity. Why not just store the electricity? But, again, it is a question of the amount of energy that is required –and often on 300+km routes etc. And I note that you are talking about having multiples of those container-batteries hanging around. Perhaps some tech like ZnBr-flow can provide sufficient capacity but I also assume Alstom have done their homework. I haven’t done the calculations but at first glance it seems unlikely batteries can really compete: the diesels they replace are 300 kW so your 1MWh batteries would be lucky to give 3h service, if I have that right.

            With a top speed of approximately 90 mph, the Coradia iLINT can operate up to 500 miles on a single fueling and carry up to 300 passengers. Alstom says it’s the world’s first fuel-cell-powered passenger train that can regularly operate long-distance. It’s also low-noise. ….
            Though its price is yet to be announced, Alstom anticipates its operating costs will be similar to those of a DMU.

            Actually here is an update:

            The Coradia iLint is a version of the Coradia Lint 54 powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.[6] Announced at InnoTrans 2016, the new model will be the world’s first production hydrogen-powered trainset. The Coradia iLint will be able to reach 140 kilometres per hour (87 mph) and travel 600–800 kilometres (370–500 mi) on a full tank of hydrogen.[6] The first Coradia iLint is expected to enter service in December 2017 on the Buxtehude-Bremervörde-Bremerhaven-Cuxhaven line in Lower Saxony, Germany.[7]

            So, we’ll have a real live test case within a year.

          • Adirondacker12800

            No doubt doing this has been possible for a while. I haven’t read about any breakthroughs in making fuel cells really cheap. High pressure tanks are a mature technology. There’s no sudden cost savings to be found there. They didn’t say how much the hydrogen will cost. If this costs ten times as much as running a diesel that makes electrification look much better.

            Wikipedia says the theoretical maximum of energy stored in the hydrogen is 62%. I’m going to assume the other 38% wafts away with the oxygen. Some of it is going to go in the oxygen. If that is true it is a machine that is 100% efficient. 100% efficient machines will never exist. I vaguely remember reading a guesstimate that with conventional industrial processes they might get 50%.. ….60% will require magic catalysts plated onto Rearden metal.

          • michael.r.james

            Adirondacker12800 2017/02/22 – 20:47

            I haven’t read about any breakthroughs in making fuel cells really cheap. High pressure tanks are a mature technology. There’s no sudden cost savings to be found there.

            Now you’re just freewheeling. While I am sure fuel-cells have been steadily improving, the point is that in such a high-capital cost item as a train engine, the relative high cost of a fuel cell is not the definitive factor. As you know, all over the world where diesel is used to provide power, “expensive” non-fossil fuel alternatives are being installed. Almost always higher capital cost but lower running costs and of course much lower GHG emissions.
            And I don’t know why you would pluck a figure of hydrogen costing “ten times as much as running a diesel”. Especially when the hydrogen will be produced using off-peak almost surplus power (of course some may even be coal-fired so reducing its “clean” credentials).
            But as I said, it appears to be real and so we’ll get to see how it pans out.

            BTW, as I wrote in the first post, the hydrogen is being stored as liquid so no pressure tanks needed. And “high pressure tanks” are not really a mature technology. Here is what Honda say about their latest Hydrogen car, the Clarity:

            The gas is stored at tremendous pressure, 700 bar [16,000 psi], and to deliver the necessary capacity, around 5kg of hydrogen, the Clarity uses a vast main tank and a second smaller one under the rear floor. Both are made of carbonfibre and lined in aluminium. They’re hugely expensive – the cost of these tanks is the main reason fuel cell cars are so pricey …

            Again the sheer amount (of gas or power) required to run a mainline train presumably meant that it needed to be stored as liquid.

            As I wrote earlier I might have thought ZnBr-Flow batteries could be good for this application. The two electrolytes are stored in (big as required) separate tanks and one can recharge the system as quickly as you can pump out and swap the (exhausted) electrolytes with charged electrolytes. OTOH it almost certainly wouldn’t have the range of hydrogen, necessitating recharge cells at many, many rail stations etc. The hydrogen route seems to provide sufficient range that all the infrastructure (and its associated hazards) can be centralized at a few major rail junctions.

          • Adirondacker12800

            They aren’t saying how much the fuel cells cost. You want two megawatts, which is what locomotives need, they have to be cheap. Freight locomotives that don’t have to be very fast. Passenger locomotive suck down a lot more. Or go slow.

            If I remember my high school chemistry correctly a liter of hydrogen at 700 bar will weigh more than a liter of liquid hydrogen at 1 bar. I’m not going to look references and type 5,000 words about why liquid hydrogen is a bad idea. The problems, there are few, revolve around that it boils at 20 degrees Kelvin, at ambient pressure. .

            ….fun fact, a liter of methanol, which is a liquid at ambient pressures and temperatures, has more hydrogen in it than a liter of liquid hydrogen. It’s liquid, it can be stored and transported in unpressurized tanks. Platoons of cost accountants could go to work on that for a very long time. It frees you from compressing hydrogen to high pressures or compressing it more to liquefy it. Or handling high pressure gas or a liquid that boils at 20 degrees Kelvin

            Yes they would have to centralized refueling infrastructure. Scattered around like the one they have for diesel. Anecdotal. The Amtrak train is idled. I seem to remember a bad snowstorm ahead that has stopped the railroad temporarily. They are running low on food and fuel. Having lights and heat on the train is a nice thing in the winter. They get food from a nearby fast food place and call the local heating oil supplier who comes over with a few hundred gallons of home heating oil. It’s the same stuff as diesel more or less. Do that with hydrogen. That only railroads use because everybody else looks at the inefficiencies and goes with batteries. If trucks go with hydrogen …. all the places that now sell diesel will be the places to buy hydrogen. The home heating oil guy won’t be around and there would be a few phone calls to the distributor to get a truck full of hydrogen out to the train..

        • michael.r.james

          “As you know, all over the world where diesel is used to provide power, “expensive” non-fossil fuel alternatives are being installed. ”

          Obviously I meant, all over the world where diesel transport and costs are especially high. This includes islands (even Hawaii) or isolated places in frozen tundra of Canada and Alaska, and outback Australia etc.

          • Alon Levy

            I’d draw a distinction between places that are remote because they’re cold and places that are remote for other reasons. Cold places like Canada and Scandinavia have ample hydro resources. Pacific islands, and deserts like Australia, don’t have this; Australia has coal (because fuck the planet), not rivers.

          • michael.r.james

            Alon Levy 2017/02/22 – 23:49

            I’d draw a distinction between places that are remote because they’re cold and places that are remote for other reasons.

            Not really true:

            In Alaska, for instance, the vast majority of the more than 200 small, isolated communities populated primarily by native Alaskans rely on dirty, expensive diesel fuel to generate their electricity and heat. As in other remote communities throughout the world that have no grid to fall back on, diesel generators now provide the only reliable option for these desperately poor towns to meet their essential energy needs.

            The same is true for isolated communities or installations across our vast but empty continent (ie. Australia) who don’t burn coal but have been dependent on diesel. Of course diesel is even more expensive in all these situations because of the transport component.

            From your last comment I am guessing you saw a picture of our clown federal Treasurer bringing a lump of coal into parliament last week (against parliamentary convention):

            Yes, our crazy conservatives (in a party misnamed “Liberals”–it got Trump all confused on that phone call), having failed to close down Labor’s RET (Renewable Energy Target) or ARENA (Australian Renewable Energy Agency) or CEFC (Clean Energy Finance Corporation) they are going to try to allow them to fund new (UltraSuperCritical) coal-fired generators or Carbon Capture & Storage. But I don’t think they will succeed because it needs a change to the legislation (they don’t have a Senate majority) and there is a clear majority in the country for clean power. It is very close to the last roll of the dice for dirty (especially brown) coal in the electricity market in Australia. They are in a bit of a panic because a large number of coal-fired generators are already a decade beyond their economic life; just in a few weeks the giant 45-year old Hazelwood brown-coal generator closes and instantly removes 3% of Australia’s CO2 emissions (well, maybe not, it will be replaced by some other coal generation in the short-term).

          • michael.r.james

            Adirondacker12800 2017/02/23 – 01:53

            If I remember my high school chemistry correctly a liter of hydrogen at 700 bar will weigh more than a liter of liquid hydrogen at 1 bar. I’m not going to look references and type 5,000 words about why liquid hydrogen is a bad idea. The problems, there are few, revolve around that it boils at 20 degrees Kelvin, at ambient pressure. .
            ….fun fact, a liter of methanol, which is a liquid at ambient pressures and temperatures, has more hydrogen in it than a liter of liquid hydrogen. It’s liquid, it can be stored and transported in unpressurized tanks.

            You’ve given some of the reasons why they have chosen liquid hydrogen versus compressed hydrogen. The weight is irrelevant, especially for a train. Its energy density versus methanol or anything else is irrelevant as it’s raison d’etre is to displace the use of fossil fuels. I presume the Alstom engineers have done their calculations and determined it is better to carry these large quantities as an unpressurised liquid than as gas compressed to 700 bar. Again it is all determined by the sheer scale required, and presumably justifies the compromises (the energy & infrastructure need to cool and keep cold the liquid hydrogen; and the 1% daily losses). In fact large volume freight trailers for rail transport of liquid hydrogen already exist.

            I didn’t quite get your snowstorm vignette. A hydrogen train would have literally tonnes of energy on-board and the fuel-cell to convert it to electricity to run the heat and lighting etc on the stranded train, probably for weeks. They’d run out of food pretty quickly (maybe resorting to cannabilism) but they’d be warm and cosy and could keep their mobiles charged.

          • johndmuller

            michael.r.james said
            ….. and determined it is better to carry these large quantities as an unpressurised liquid than as gas compressed to 700 bar.

            There’s a chance that I might be wrong about the physics (i.e. the pV=nRT thing), but as I see it the hydrogen being in the liquid state does not mean its like water sloshing around in a paper cup or just sitting there in a standard fuel tank. Now if the hydrogen were inside a refrigerator car whose ambient temperature is about 20°K, then maybe sloshing or in a basic tank, but otherwise it seems that it should be in something that is extremely sturdy, both structurally and thermally; this goes for the fuel lines, etc. Presumably the engineers know this and deal with it, but we should not be so quick to brush off the storage/transportation/use risks.

            The stuff is still hydrogen, and it comes with its own baggage (read “Hindenburg”, “Hydrogen Bomb”, etc.), so it starts off with a negative PR rating. Thus it is easy for folks to imagine that were the Hydrogen Train to crash, it would be that much worse a disaster.

            The relatively low energy content has already been mentioned – I suppose that is because ihydrogen is lightweight and low density. Does that mean that the carbon in hydrocarbons is a major part of the energy being produced and not just the source of the nasty CO2?

          • Adirondacker12800

            They could direct the waste heat from the fuel cells at the pipework. I’m sure the nitrogen icicles and the oxygen snow, around the pipes, at an end of a run, would be quite festive.

          • michael.r.james

            johndmuller 2017/02/23 – 20:21
            michael.r.james said

            the hydrogen being in the liquid state does not mean its like water sloshing around in a paper cup or just sitting there in a standard fuel tank. Now if the hydrogen were inside a refrigerator car whose ambient temperature is about 20°K, then maybe sloshing or in a basic tank

            Of course the tank needs to be heavily insulated but probably not particularly strong (because hydrogen is so light even in liquid form). Yes, it’s scary. Liquid nitrogen at a mere -196°C is pretty scary and it doesn’t spontaneously combust (though it can accumulate solid oxygen which can pose spontaneous combustion risks), and it is stored in just such a tank. Some cryostat tanks can be quite large. (Indeed I remember that the only research laboratory death in the 2000s in Australia was due a big tank rupturing–I can’t remember if the attendant was frozen or simply asphyxiated, or I suppose both. There is a reason why those “molecular” chefs (Hestor Blumenthal et al) wear that protective gear (other than it being OHS law): a drop landing on something hot instantly boils with the risk of “spitting” of droplets into the eyes.)
            The point is that compressed hydrogen is much scarier: 700 bar (in the new Honda Clarity they have pushed it to 800 bar, all in the quest for longer driving range, using those special hi-tech composite tanks). Anyway such large tanks on both trains and trucks exist and are used all the time to ship the stuff around. Clearly it is much safer on a train than on the roads. They appear to have very large tankers for compressed hydrogen (though perhaps not clear if it isn’t a series of smaller tanks inside the outer skin?) the bigger the tank the more trickier and demanding the engineering needs to be. You can read about this on dedicated pages on Wikipedia.

            You wouldn’t want to be in the vicinity of either a liquid or compressed hydrogen tank failure/accident but overall I suspect liquid would be more survivable mainly because it would be a slower event giving you more time to escape and it being less likely to envelope the entire area. Compressed hydrogen gas instantly expands about 1000 fold in volume whereas liquid will boil off more slowly and upwards more than outwards. BMW made a limited-edition hydrogen-ICE car (BMW Hydrogen 7) that uses liquid hydrogen instead of compressed gas:

            The hydrogen fuel is stored in a large, nearly 170 litre (45 gallon),[6] bi-layered and highly insulated tank that stores the fuel as liquid rather than as compressed gas, which BMW says offers 75% more energy per volume as a liquid than compressed gas at 700 bars of pressure.[7] The hydrogen tank’s insulation is under high vacuum in order to keep heat transfer to the hydrogen to a bare minimum

          • Joey

            As another point of reference, hydrogen for fuel cells on spacecraft is typically stored as liquid (also for propellants, but there are additional reasons there). I’m not familiar with the exact reasons but if I’m not mistaken (1) very highly pressurized tanks are necessarily heavy and probably a liability and (2) My understanding is that when you use it in a fuel cell you want it to be gas, so with relatively continuous usage boiloff is somewhat a feature (waste heat can be used to vaporize the rest).

          • Adirondacker12800

            No one is saying they are not technically feasible. Are they economically feasible. We don’t know, no one is saying how much they cost or how much the fuel is going to cost.

  2. Matthew

    It’s funny that you should write this now because I’ve been dwelling lately, including today, on the idea that the UK should be putting up electrification on many, many more of its lines than it already has.

    It seems that in general you are much more apt to find electrification on a mainline route leading into London than one that crosses the country but doesn’t go to London. But that is a shame. Many of the DMUs that flit about the network seem to run under wires for significant portions of their journeys, and there would be a short-term cost/long-term gain from upgrading them to EMUs. Besides the obvious performance benefits there’s also the major improvement in air quality.

    It’s not like the USA where people have no clue about electrification. The general public understands the benefits. Network Rail is in the process of upgrading some lines and has the institutional knowledge to get it done (albeit with the usual annoying cost overruns and such). They just need the will and the resources, and maybe a slightly more thoughtful and less self-absorbed political set.

    • po8crg

      The complete fuck-up that has been the Great Western Main Line electrification has created political problems.

      I don’t think it’s a systemic problem with UK electrification. Everything else has just had the normal level of overrun, but that one has been a disaster and it’s got politicians running for the hills.

      • Nathanael

        It is one of the oldest lines in the country (fourth-oldest, I think?) and originally built to broad gauge, and undermaintained for decades. You’d expect to have problems. That said they are doing very well on the Great Western Electrification compared to *any project whatsoever in the United States*. Look at how long it takes us to do a single station renovation (Springfield, MA is perhaps the extreme example, with the renovation project having started in the 1970s).

        • po8crg

          What we – transit proponents – need to do is to convince the political class that the failings of GWML electrification are sui generis, and that the (much more successful) electrifications of the Liverpool-Manchester, Manchester-Blackpool and Glasgow-Edinburgh routes are more typical of what can be expected.

          If we can do that, then other electrifications – the Midland Main Line (London-Sheffield) and a number of other busy lines in the North and Midlands – can remain on the agenda, and the GWML just becomes a delay of a year or two on the overall electrify-everything programme.

  3. Dan Kohn (@dankohn1)

    Nice essay. But could you please get in the habit of spelling out your acronyms the first time you use them. I know that most of your audience may already know these like the back of their band. But some of us are just hobbyists, who are reading your blog to stay informed of the issues. Defining FLIRT and GTW the first time you use them doesn’t take much effort but makes your post much more approachable. It also will help it stand up over time, as the popularity of certain acronyms declines.

    • Alon Levy

      The FLIRT and GTW are two trains for which there’s a lot of available performance data, from videos. The FLIRT is electric (but has a recent diesel version), the GTW is lower-powered and can be either.

    • Max Wyss

      FLIRT and GTW are both trains built by Stadlerrail in Switzerland. The acronyms are quite well known, but this is their meaning:

      GTW: Gelenktriebwagen … articulated motor unit. Typical for the GTW is that it consists of a central power unit (also named “power cube”, which contains all the traction equipment, bei it diesel motor(s) or transformer, power electronics, motor electronics etc.), on which sit two passenger/cab cars. The GTW was developed as a low-operation cost unit, originally for a Swiss regional operator. But the concept was so flexible that quite a few operators did order it.

      FLIRT: Flinker Leichter Innowativer Regional Triebzug … agile lightweight innovative regional motor unit. Typical for a FLIRT is that it has two completely independent power trains, powering the end bogies. The train is articulated, and uses Jacobs-type bogies under the articulations. Essentially all FLIRT trains are low-floor (550 mm above rail head). Because of the two power trains, and the lightweight design, it has an excellent power-to-weight ratio, which allows for a very good acceleration (better than 1 m/s^2). Again, it is highly modular, and can be configured for regional, or interregional use.

      Stadler used to have a data sheet of any of their products. With their new website design, they also reduced the vehicles for which they provide a data sheet, and that’s probably the main source of information for the author.

      • Alon Levy

        My acceleration performance data for the FLIRT comes from watching YouTube clips shot inside the operator’s cab with the speedometer showing. For the GTWs, I forget if I saw a sheet somewhere (if so, it wasn’t on Stadler’s site) or videos from the cab.

        • Adirondacker12800

          Watching enthusiast videos, out the front window of SEPTA trains, the dwell at low platform stations is 90 seconds and the dwell at high platform – level boarding – stations is 30 seconds.

          • kclo3

            The takeaway being that for high-volume stations, high platforms scale a lot better than low platforms can. SEPTA unfortunately doesn’t prioritize the highest-ridership stations but instead has used high-platforming as gimmicks to prop up low-ridership stations with minimal success. They’ve even gotten away somehow with rebuilding stations in-kind with stimulus money and keeping low-level platforms, like at Langhorne.

          • Adirondacker12800

            At least SEPTA manages to do one occasionally. The Californians have been wrestling with it for decades. Something to do with regulations about loading ice into refrigerator cars if I remember correctly.

    • michael.r.james

      I second Dan Kohn. Even experts sometimes need reminding (even if professional pride makes them refuse to admit it). It’s a iron law of all scientific journals: the first use in the article must spell out the acronym (and the two things must be together (I’ve noticed newspapers and other writings will use the full words at first use but not give the acronym, which when you come across later in the piece you are no wiser and have to go trawling). Thus, your usage here was correct:

      “Electric multiple units (EMUs) …”

      By all means give a Wiki link but readers should not be forced to click on an external link to find out what a FLIRT is!

  4. ant6n

    The main issue in North America is where commuter rail shares track with freight, the freight corridors are privately owned, and the freight companies resist electrification. I don’t see many options, if the freight companies can not be convinced. One way is to build new tracks along the ROW and electrify. Another is to use those dual mode trains. A third may be to use battery powered trains, if the distances are relatively short. Although that’s also a “boutique” solution at best (some experiments in Japan, UK, and Bombardier’s Talent 3).

    • Alon Levy

      The freight companies operate under catenary on the NEC. UP is flexing its muscles, and maybe BNSF will too (has anyone even suggested wiring LA-SD without extra tracks between Redondo and Fullerton?), but nearly all of the useful lines are owned by public passenger rail authorities. Metra is the glaring exception, but UP-N has no freight traffic, UP-NW has almost no freight traffic, and BNSF has so much freight traffic that just running trains more frequently requires four-tracking.

      • CP Norris

        The NEC is owned by Amtrak, and it was electrified before that anyway. Getting NS to agree to electrification out to Port Jervis seems a lot harder. I don’t know how CSAO would feel about their part of the Raritan Valley Line.

        Dover-Hackettstown, MSU-Dover, and the Pascack Valley are owned by NJT so it’s not an issue there.

          • Adirondacker12800

            The Erie Limited left Jersey City and arrived in Binghamton five and quarter hours later. 215 mile trip.
            The Phoebe Snow left Hoboken, a few blocks away and arrived in Binghamton in just under four and half. A 192 mile trip. … Passengers from Binghamton don’t want to use the Erie. It’s squiggly. People from Port Jervis don’t have a choice.

          • CP Norris

            But this started with your saying commuter railroads should “finish the job” and extend electrification everywhere. I was following that logic to Port Jervis.

          • Alon Levy

            Sure, but Suffern-Port Jervis is legitimately so low-traffic (and low-demand) that abandoning it is a reasonable option.

          • Nathanael

            NS would agree to electrification of Suffern-Port Jervis no questions asked. It’s basically MTA-owned (yah, it’s some convoluted lease arrangement, that’s NY for you, but effectively it’s NY owned).

            The only *practical* restriction is that they might want high catenary, to clear doublestacks. This is perfectly feasible.

          • F-Line to Dudley

            Metra Electric and NITCD have very little freight. There’s a short overlap with CN downtown on the same portion that Amtrak uses before diverging, but I think the additional CN track(s) are separated from Metra traffic most of the way so the overlap is pretty much in name only. The rest of the district is piddling little freight locals that don’t transport anything high-and-wide through the district’s full-high platforms, and freight on the South Shore Line is nearly extinct except for a handful of very small residual customers. Metra and NITCD also have outright owned the electric district since 1987 save for that shared-use CN section downtown, unlike all of Metra diesel territory where they’re under the thumb of multiple ornery Class I landlords.

            For apples-apples comparisons Metra Electric + South Shore Line freight are like majority of SEPTA, MBTA, Metro North, and LIRR: nothing that requires any accommodation whatsoever except for some small-distance, minimally-invasive overlaps with designated Plate F or greater mainline freight (e.g. outer West Trenton Line, outer Worcester/Fitchburg/Haverhill Lines, Port Jervis Line, and other lesser flotsam).

          • Adirondacker12800

            Long Island has two choices, Widen the Long Island Expressway, the only limited access highway east of the the city that allows commercial traffic or shift the bulky low value stuff to rail. . . and the no value stuff like garbage. 2.8 million people generate a lot of garbage.

          • fbfree

            No. Metra Electric and CN are separate railroads in the same right of way. There’s no at-grade crossings of the two railroads.

          • Adirondacker12800

            The Illinois Central did it up right, didn’t it? Four tracks of suburban service and two tracks of intercity/freight? Six tracks of railroad along the Metra Electric, through Chicago anyway?

          • sajohnston

            IC’s ROW in Chicago is between 4 and 6 tracks wide. The electrified tracks are fully separated from the freight tracks, which also host Amtrak’s diesel-powered intercity trains (and did the same when IC was still running intercity trains into Central Station). In any case freight trains on that segment are nearly extinct as a result of the EJ&E acquisition.

          • david vartanoff

            The IC/Metra Electric situation is complicated. In fact the commuter line had SIX tracks from 11th to 51st Streets until 1960 (and the space is still there to restore them if and when MED is ever upgraded to the rapid transit level of service of the 1950s when I was first riding it). Second there were also four tracks to the east of the Electric line two for LD and two for freight. The downtown freight yards have long since become skyscrapers and Milennium Park.
            Metra Electric tenant South Shore Line crosses the frt/LD tracks @ 115th Street so the catenary is tall enough for stacks., but very few move up the Lakefront line.
            As to Amtrak usage of the Lakefront and Saint Charles Air Line (E-W connector to the Union Station area) the best reason to continue this otherwise inefficient route is to preserve access for some nebulous mid-west sorta HSR if and when the money… Restoring a connection at Grand Crossing to the NS (former PRR) line which goes more directly to Union Station would improve currently operated service from a passenger POV.

        • Nathanael

          CN is remarkably hostile to passenger service. However, they’ve been willing to simply sell their lines outright, with the exception of some of the biggest mainlines. So Toronto is electrifying by simply buying the lines and then electrifying, and Montreal is doing the same thing. (Toronto has to build new lines in a couple of areas where the commuter rail shares track with the transcontinental mainline, but not elsewhere.)

      • Adirondacker12800

        One of the main routes out of the port is the West Trenton line. It’s under wire in Pennsylvania. If there is a lot of commuter traffic freight needs it own track so it doesn’t clog things up.

      • F-Line to Dudley

        The dirty secret here is that the Class I freights were thoroughly consulted when the Amtrak 25 kV electrification scheme was being designed and studied from mid-80’s to mid-90’s. Those specs reflect the freights’ full vetting and optimal legal liability threshold for running high-and-wides under wire. That’s why the AMTK standards are used as the template for all new-construction 25 kV electrification in North America: NJ Transit’s post-1984 25 kV re-electrification and extensions therein, AMT’s mid-90’s 25 kV re-electrification, Mexico City Tren Suburbano (on KC Southern-operated track), Denver RTD…plus advance design for CAHSR, Caltrain, and GO Transit.

        Not only did the Class I’s put their fingerprints all over that, but they literally borrowed the AMTK specs lock, stock for consulting gigs on electrification abroad. India, which has spent billions standardizing its once-hodgepodge national rail network to standard gauge track and electrification cleanup to consistent 25 kV, hired CSX as a primary consultant for a major double-stack freight and electrification initiative. The country decided to adopt U.S.-size intermodal truck shipping containers (rather than the smaller international cubes) and U.S. loading weights in order to bootstrap a North American-style intermodal network on its revamped rail network…for all the same reasons the Class I’s are investing big in that here. CSX submitted the rote standard Amtrak specs: 20’2″ tall double-stack cubes on low-rider well cars, +4″ safety slack for ice buildup and chance obstructions for a 20’6″ car clearance envelope, then +2’6″ of safe under-wire clearance for an unshielded metal car roof under a 25 kV line. 23 ft. in total maximum clearance. Exactly the same as it is here in the few places where double-stacks intersect 25 kV passenger lines (e.g. P&W Providence-Davisville, RI). And then it scales down from there to 19’6″ + 2’6″ = 22′ for autorack-only and 17′ + 2’6″ = 19’6″ for Plate F-only clearance routes. The first major 25 kV U.S.-cube carrying intermodal main in India is now up and running, and the specs from that successful reference build are being applied to other new corridors there. With the North American Class I’s profiting handsomely from sticking their fingers into that int’l supply chain they helped create. Somewhere on the Internets is an archived copy of the reference whitepaper detailing all specs and Class I consulting for that Indian project. It’s damning in how comfortable the Class I’s truly are with the vanilla 90’s AMTK 25 kV scheme.

        The freights’ opposition to electrification is empirically proven B.S. They signed off on the AMTK design 25 years ago, and made boatloads of money importing it abroad. It’s naked turf warrage. On lines the Class I’s outright own they’ll cite spurious legalities about downed wires on one of their cube cars, or demand an above-and-beyond 22 ft. clearance envelope (+2’6″ = 24’6″) for cubes on piggyback trailers: an obsolete form of intermodal transport from the early experimental days of stacking before the now-universal well cars were perfected. It’s completely made-up. Their design fingerprints are all over the very same electrification designs they so vigorously oppose. UP, BNSF, and CP are the worst with this, because they own pretty much all track where the biggest ongoing electrification studies (Cali, Mountain West, Toronto, Montreal) are ongoing. Norfolk Southern and CSX, having so much of their east-region networks derived from the remains of gov’t-created Conrail and trackage rights on state-owned lines, tend to be a lot less apprehensive because their profit centers are so much more reliant on public infrastructure and negotiating relationships therein.

        • Alon Levy

          India is not using standard gauge. It’s using broad gauge, which gives it enough stability to run double-stacks on flat cars; the US and China can only do double-stack on well cars. India also has a very wide loading gauge (as does Russia) – 3.66 m wide, same as American oversize freight, allowing 6-abreast seating in coach.

          Toronto is notably electrifying territory that’s owned by Metrolinx and not by CP or CN. I don’t even know if it’s electrifying a single km that’s owned by CP or CN; if it is, it’s electrifying very little of that, and not planning to run high off-peak frequency there, until it manages to buy out the remaining portions of the network. It’s on a binge of buying out the network precisely to avoid having to run commuter trains on freight-primary lines.

          California isn’t really trying to electrify anything that’s owned by the Class Is. Caltrain owns its own line between SF and Tamien, and has a guillotine clause in UP’s trackage rights that allows it to kick out UP if it modifies the line in a way that’s incompatible with freight. The guillotine clause was written in anticipation of BART service severing the line from the mainline network, but it can be used now for grade separations with 3% grades to reduce viaduct length, and it means UP can’t whine about not being able to run under the wire. (UP is planning to sell the trackage rights to a short line anyway, it’s losing money on the Peninsula.) Metrolink has some freight ownership, but isn’t seriously considering electrification; I think it should, but it isn’t. The blended plan for HSR between LA and Burbank/Sylmar even maintains a non-electrified track for UP, even though UP doesn’t have absolute trackage rights, only a non-binding memorandum of understanding saying there should be a non-electrified track. Between Redondo and Fullerton there are plans for electrification when HSR gets to LA, but these come with additional passenger-dedicated tracks to avoid having to run fast, frequent passenger trains on the Southern Transcon. Other than that segment, the LA-SD corridor is entirely owned by passenger rail-oriented public agencies.

          • F-Line to Dudley

            Toronto is binge-buying because the second those lines transacted CP and CN dropped their onerous requirements for above-and-beyond 22′ piggyback-DS clearances everywhere (including the lines that don’t see any traffic taller than 15-17′) and stopped bitching about insurance liability. Not a single freight train is disappearing from GO as a result of these transactions, just the hostage-taking games that were a perverse privilege of ownership. CP and CN never truly had a problem with the electrification specs, but saw it as good business to induce an artificial crisis to bait an overpay. Metrolinx/GO will end up spending less overall on electrification now that it only needs to accommodate not-fake intermodal clearances where the real intermodal traffic actually runs and don’t have to buy as much senseless surplus-to-requirement extra clearance or traffic separation fluff on the lines that won’t ever need them. Public ownership doesn’t “avoid” any co-mingling of traffic, but it ends up right-sizing expectations across the network and bottom-lining capacity management improvements to the places it matters most.

            AMT is building up its funding warchest to make a similar mass buy of its CP and CN -owned lines for the same reason. They want to expand electrification, but advancing the scoping studies is a pointless exercise so long as the Class I’s have boundless leverage for making demands as if all lines were equally profitable. AMT’s gameplan is the same “spend money to save money” strategy Metrolinx deployed. They’re pursuing it because CP and CN have fully tipped their business hand at being just like CSX and NS in NY/New England when it comes to looking for any reasonable sell-high opportunity to convert ownership over to indemnified trackage rights in shared passenger territory.

            Remains to be seen if UP, BNSF, and KCS have similar herd mentality when it comes to cost-trimming opportunities, but if the other four Class I biggies are that willing to deal chances are the mindset goes industry-wide. Loading up for bear on public ownership buys may well be the prerequisite to making any rational determination on electrification, simply for cutting out the negotiating BS on what’s reasonable accommodation for traffic sharing where traffic sharing most matters.

          • Nathanael

            What F-Line to Dudely said regarding Toronto (and Montreal) is entirely correct. CN and CP have used ownership as an excuse to pull bogus shenanigans, but really they want to sell out. Toronto figured out that both CP and CN would just sell out for the right price. No more shenanigans. There are a couple of segments where CP and CN want to retain ownership (key segments of freight mainline) but not very many; on those it is sensible to have separate passenger tracks anyway. (In Toronto, there’s one short segment line this on CN, one on CP. Plus it’s not clear about the Hamilton / Niagara stuff; it might get sold to Metrolinx too.)

            NS is certainly willing to do the same thing. They pressured Michigan into buying the line there with deliberate “we won’t maintain it until you buy it” tactics. Former chairman Wick Moorman actually said in a published interview that he thought it would be better if the freight railroads were tenants on government-owned hosts, rather than the passengers being tenants on freight-owned hosts.

            CSX? It’s not entirely clear to me. They have been beyond unreasonable negotiators in selling trackage to Massachusetts… but in the end they’ve done it. They leased to NY at a perfectly reasonable price.

          • Alon Levy

            I think Moorman is incorrect. If the tracks were owned by the US or by the states, they might designate some lines as passenger-primary and charge freight extra for all the slots it’s hogging. When there’s a train averaging 80 km/h and a train averaging 40 km/h, it’s an open question how to charge each for slots. Right now the Class Is can charge passenger trains under the assumption that slots are at freight rail speeds, so if Amtrak wants to run faster, Amtrak must pay for additional tracks. If a neutral authority were in charge, it would come to the opposite conclusions on lines with more passenger trains than freight trains, which include fairly busy freight lines in Chicago like the BNSF and UP-West Metra lines.

          • Adirondacker12800

            It’s more complex than that. If the bookkeepers at the railroad have decided – they have been using machines to help them figure these kinds of thing out for a century – that Class 2 track on that line is what it’s worth …. it costs a lot of money to maintain it to Class 4 for two passenger trains a day.

    • po8crg

      Freight tends not to like electrification because double-stacked containers don’t fit under the wires.

      It’s solvable – you just put the wires higher up – but then you need either taller electric locos / EMUs or special longer pantographs on regular-height trains like the Eurostars have for the higher wires in the Channel Tunnel.

      • F-Line to Dudley

        Nope. Pantographs on all NEC-rated vehicles are designed for full extension to 24 feet, so no modification is necessary to the onboard equipment of any EMU or electric loco in North American service today. While the most oft-cited example of double-stack freight under wires–SEPTA West Trenton–is 12.5 kV not requiring quite as much mandatory clearance, the NEC in Rhode Island is already cleared to DS-under-25 kV everywhere that P&W co-mingles on the electrified track. I believe SEPTA may have even raised the West Trenton default clearance in most places so they can upgrade from 12.5 kV to 25 kV in the future without having to re-string wire.

        The NEC, in fact, specs that all of its new-installation catenary towers out in open air be hot-swappable to 23′ clearance should double-stack ever be needed. Much like the pantograph length requirement, it makes it easier for everyone to buy the same catenary parts in-bulk when the North American spec is one-size-fits-all. For example, these NEC bracket arms in Waterford, CT (https://goo.gl/maps/KZUXhCY1Ros) are set to a lower height (19′ or whatever) because nothing tall passes through there or is ever likely to. But the default-spec pole assembly allows the bracket arms to be ratcheted up in-place on the pole a few notches to full 23′ DS-under-wire clearance without needing to replace anything on the assembly or even take the wire out of service for more than a few hours at a time as they work their way from pole to pole. Thus, the only hardware replacement required for taller clearances are mods to the different-design cat towers that squeeze the wire down in advance of a lower-clearance overgrade bridge, and obviously the offending low overgrade structures themselves.

  5. ckrueger99

    SEPTA fully electrified its network in the ’80s in a different way: by simply closing down the non-electrified lines!

    • Alon Levy

      Yes, and I’m probably the only rail activist with strong opinions on SEPTA who isn’t clamoring for restoration of diesel service.

      • ckrueger99

        I can see the argument for diesel service from Quakertown and Pottstown, either as far as Lansdale or Norristown or expressing all the way to 30th St Lower level. But I’d be happy to hear arguments as to why that’s a bad idea. Map for reference: http://bit.ly/250M0aH

          • Alon Levy

            1. Amtrak’s equipment is diesel locos and not DMUs.
            2. Amtrak’s equipment is crap.
            3. Amtrak doesn’t like to share.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Contract it out to NJTransit. If it’s an ALP-45 it can go to Suburban, Jefferson and Temple.

          • Adirondacker12800

            …..it doesn’t have to be SEPTA. It can be something like LANTA that contracts with NJTransit to run trains to Philadelphia or run trains to New York. Like DART does… but then the Lehigh Valley is metro New York not metro Philadelphia…..

        • kclo3

          For the Atlantic City Line, I think that if NJ wants to give South Jersey proper commuter rail service, it should electrify the line to Atco or Hammonton and contract with SEPTA to run electric push-pulls to Suburban Track 5. The Pottstown service should also terminate at Suburban, while the Quakertown service should run through the Main Line and terminate in Powelton Yard. Other parts of the plan are also wonky (Oxford Road branch is CSX’s critical Philadelphia Subdivision, Newark-Bear local, low-ridership Bustleton Branch, Trenton-North Broad reroute is transportation-negative)

          • Adirondacker12800

            why would New Jerseyans want to trade NJTransit for the Keystone Kops? NJTransit knows how to run electriic MU service. For that matter NJTransit knows how to run diesel MUs. … they know how to run diesel on the suburban end and electric on the urban end too. No reason why the Atlantic City line trains couldn’t run to Suburban…

          • ckrueger99

            What do you mean “Trenton-North Broad reroute is transportation-negative”?

          • kclo3

            1) It (along with CHW-Swampoodle) tips the balance on SEPTA’s through-running service pairs and ridership parity towards the Reading side, eliminating through-running pairs, overcrowding the inbound Reading main and Powelton Yard but underfeeding the four-track approach to 30th. and curtailing available frequency on the farther Reading branches. A potential 9 separate branches from one trunk line is untenable in any country and would be a dispatching nightmare for SEPTA’s capabilities.
            2) Doesn’t really save time for the Trenton Line. To Suburban Station, it’s currently 13 minutes from North Broad and 16 minutes from North Philadelphia. Upgrading NEC interlockings and catenary for speeds faster than crawling would eliminate the time penalty cheaper than tunnels would. Direct service to 30th St is becoming increasingly desirable as well, and infill stations at Zoo and Brewerytown/Strawberry Mansion actually enable better commute options than surface transit.
            3) No intercity benefit. Amtrak NEC should not be stopping at more than one station in Philadelphia, especially one that is already so transit-connected. The Keystone reverse move is a non-issue and could easily be made faster by changing brake test regulations and speeding up the 30th St approach as mentioned.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Think big. Harrisburg service gets so popular, send one train an hour directly to New York. No stop in Phialdelphia but scooting from the eastbound Main Line to the northbound Trenton/New York line on the west side of Zoo saves a lot of time. The second train continues on to Wilimngton or even Washington DC.
            The third train uses the upper level and goes to Suburban, Jefferson and Temple and continues on to New York on the West Trenton line. New Jersey has to electrify between West Trenton and Newark to do that. Or both of them go to Temple. Or something. There’s a half a million people in Harrisburg and half a million in Lancaster, they want to go places.

            Something has to be done about Chestnut Hill West crossing over all the tracks. The cheap thing to do is send it down the Reading approaches.

          • ckrueger99

            kclo3: My pairs go as follows:
            Locals (FLIRTs on 15 min clock faces): Chester – Manayunk, Cemetery(Cynwyd) – Holmsburg, Airport – CHW, Bryn Mawr – Fox Chase
            Expresses (Silverliners & Double deckers on 30min clock faces): Thorndale, Wilmington, Wawa – Trenton, Doylestown, West Trenton, Norristown (here’s the imbalance – maybe Thorndale goes on 15 min clocks? or 1/2 Norristowns go via Swampoodle/30th?)
            CHE becomes a BSL spur via Germantown Ave, Erie (http://bit.ly/22DxhR1).
            Part of the benefit of TRE & CHW via North Broad is to get trains out of Amtrak’s way near Zoo, which is why they might pay for part of it. Giving Amtrak more flexibility on one side of 30th really helps SEPTA & Amtrak to more fully utilize the tracks they share (Wilmington & Harrisburg lines). Makes straightening of Frankford for HSR (http://bit.ly/1Siloyl) more of a no-brainer for them.
            Adirondacker12800: Higher frequency Pennsylvanian (3X or 4X/day) from Pittsburgh can coordinate with Keystone at Harrisburg, cutting the PIT-NYP times as well. Maybe even SEPTA outsources TRE express service to AMTK with the Keystone via Suburban, including Princeton Jct…

          • Alon Levy

            The Pennsylvanian is a pretty good candidate for electrification, actually. It ties into the electrified Keystone and NEC, and the route is mountainous.

          • Brendan Dawe

            The Pennsylvanian? I take it you think that the legacy route west of Harrisburg has lots of passenger potential that isn’t being met with current service, or are you incorporating freight-utility into this estimate of it being a good candidate?

          • Alon Levy

            It’s probably both. The Pennsylvanian is unambiguously a weaker electrification candidate than lines in New England and LA-SD. But it does have some passenger potential, and if there’s an electric district in New England, Downstate New York, and New Jersey, then electrifying mountainous mainlines starts having freight utility as well.

          • Adirondacker12800

            The line between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh squiggles all over the place. It’s never going to be much faster than driving. An ALP-45 can cope with that. If it’s not much faster than driving it’s not going to generate much demand. All it buys you is ten minutes or so of engine change in Harrisburg. You want to get Ohioans to Philadelphia and New York you gotta bite the bullet and do mostly greenfield between Harrisburg and Ohio. Pittsburgh is along the way.

            The slow part on the Broadway Limited was between Harrisburg and Ohio…


            It’s Philadelphia stop was North Philadelphia…. not going to downtown Philadelphia saves a lot of time. There are grade separated tracks to be able to do that.

            …. the 20th Century Limited made it to Chicago in the same amount of time even though the route is 75 miles longer… It’s squiggly in western Pennsylvania.

            If it’s fast enough to attract Ohioans it’s fast enough to make Pittsburgh to New England look good, especially for places like New Haven, Hartford and Providence. . . if I’m in Worcester I can schlep to Logan for an airplane or schlep to Providence for a train…. well with HSR to Albany and beyond I take the train from Worcester to New Haven….. there are enough people in Hartford Springfield and Worcester for a train or two an hour between them and Boston and New York…. and beyond. …. PIttsburgh-Albany and Harrisburg-Syracuse. Utica is relatively small but it’s along the way….

            There is going to be a Harrisburg-New York express to soak up demand and free up those seats for Cleveland-New York and Pittsburgh-Philadelphia and beyond. The New York train from Harrisburg can turn into the train that goes through Worcester.When I want to go to Lancaster or Harrisburg it’s a one seat ride…. that’s one of the features of yield management software… and it can come up with that it’s not a good idea change in New York…. or Trenton….

          • kclo3

            @ckrueger99, That’s the fundamental problem here. You’re cutting off far too many Reading branches (including Warminster which you missed) as 30th-terminating expresses, giving too much service to outer segments like Doylestown while underserving the dense, busy Montco suburbs from Fern Rock north (or at least cementing that). It’s a dispatching clusterfuck even before adding NOR to the mix. Cutting through-running from the suburbs is significant when important nodes like University City, the Airport, (and a potential Schuylkill Yards station at Spring Garden) aren’t located on the CCCC proper, and that there isn’t a proper highway to the north which enables such high demand to begin with.
            The main SEPTA-Amtrak NEC conflict isn’t at Zoo, which is 100% grade separated, it’s at PHIL interlocking with the CHW (and the horrid switches north of the Connecting Bridge) which is much more SEPTA’s problem than Amtrak’s. If we had the money the money to build your N Broad/N PHL junction, then we also have the money to simply grade-separate PHIL, which also doesn’t involve any land takings. Chestnut Hill already has the CHE which goes straight down North Philly; in that respect, a CHW that goes direct to 30th St is useful in its own right and has no real need to be changed to create redundancy.

            Re Keystone, the top O/D pairs by ridership are pretty evenly distributed between Philadelphia and NY. Riders don’t want to have to pass on a train that misses Center City, or have to take a train that crawls through the uninteresting Montco/Bucks bedroom communities before reaching NJ. A 30th St reverse move is far and away the best compromise for both. And with Harrisburg-west electrification, I think Amtrak/PennDOT could get joint funding with NS to straighten/flatten curves far sooner than it could convince them to electrify. A steady and continuous program of curve improvements could mitigate the need for tilting equipment in order to run higher average speeds, whether electric or diesel.

          • Nathanael

            CHW – Swampoodle needs to be built to eliminate the obstruction to intercity traffic. If you’re worried it will put too much on the Reading side… move Norristown to the Pennsy side by reconnecting Cwynyd to it at Ivy Ridge.

            But perhaps the most important thing to do is to rebuild N Philadelphia and N Broad as a transfer station. This eliminates a lot of problems for commuters. Basically the Reading-side station needs to be relocated between Broad/Lehigh and the Pennsy-side station, and needs to act as a connecting pathway from the Pennsy-side station to the Broad Street Line. This is a big project, unfortunately, involving relocation of retaining walls and closure of a few smaller streets.

          • kclo3

            Like I said, I believe the obstruction happens nearly entirely on SEPTA’s end rather than Amtrak’s, but Swampoodle has and always will be a relatively pointless project. One, because it’s redundant: CHE already exists, serves a denser area, and connects to Wayne Junction, a more useful transfer location than N. Broad. CHW’s untapped potential lies in faster direct service to 30th St, as well as other developing potential station areas in West Philly. Second, because Norristown similarly is a FAR more important line to remain on Reading than CHW; cutting or eliminating frequencies between Manayunk and Allegheny would be disastrous for regional connectivity.
            The utility of connecting the North Broad stations has been severely decreased ever since the commuter tunnel; the Trenton Line doesn’t really attract such a wide area of service demand, and the area has a far greater amount of rebuilding to do to be of regional importance. The most important thing for SEPTA to do, regional-rail wise, is to reopen more city stations and commit to cut conductors to lower operating costs.

      • kclo3

        Don’t be discounting me or SicTransitPHL just yet! In the early decades of SEPTA and SEPTA-bashing it was common to berate the agency for “abandoning” diesel lines (when there was absolutely no public funding going towards that) or foregoing installation of costly ventilation in the commuter tunnel for said “potential” diesel service. The ambition the PRR and RDG had for systemwide electrification (stringing up wires as late as 1974) didn’t seem to cross over in the public era. A general dislike of the European-styled direction SEPTA was going by traditional railroaders and railfans was erroneously reinforced by an underfunding and deterioration crisis, as if it proved that they could only move forward through tried-and-true American diesel or take responsibility for diesel rolling stock with nonexistent maintenance shops. Now that there’s a modicum of dedicated funding, the electric power grid doesn’t fail quite as often, and SEPTA wants to buy a shitload of ACS-64 push-pull sets there seems to be more acknowledged support for extension with electrification, even if we don’t know how the freights or residents will react.

          • kclo3

            In my best speculation, it’s mostly because SEPTA (and NJT) has committed for some time to buy multilevel for the next EMU order, but those hadn’t been drafted in time (or at least an FRA-compliant pre-wavier version) before the AEM-7’s really began shitting the bed. I’m surprised they’re buying so many of them, since most of the sets sit by idly in the off-peak. They might be really committed to outer express + short-turn local service on the 4-track lines, but there’s little confidence that they can pull off such a feat through dispatching.

          • Alon Levy

            Caltrain got the waiver in 2009 or thereabout. What’s SEPTA’s excuse for not following the same process if it really needs bilevels? (It doesn’t, but that’s a separate discussion.)

          • kclo3

            That’s like asking what SEPTA’s excuse is for not getting an FRA waiver for the Silverliner V. They know they don’t really need new EMUs urgently as long as the Silverliner IV’s remain solid, but they remain staunchly set in conservatism and Northeast tradition, assisted by equally conservative and oblivious contractors like LTK Engineering, who designed the specs in the first place. I really wonder which NEC agency will be the first to buck the trend.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Caltrain was going to have PTC/CBOSS lickety split too. SEPTA wasn’t going to have PTC over the whole network by the delivery date.

          • Michael Noda

            *Strong* commitment to a rush hour pattern of outer express + short-turn local, plus a commitment to bilevel because of storage yard constraints. The outer express thing makes sense as soon as you realize how much of senior management lives in Chester County or north of Lansdale…

            I am perfectly happy to never see SEPTA run a diesel train in revenue service again, FYI.

  6. Rob Durchola

    New York – Scranton under wire? Seriously? Shouldn’t even be built. So many better uses for money.

    • Adirondacker12800

      In niee round numbers metro Scranton – Wilkes Barre is half the size of Albany and just as far away. Albany has a train an hour to New York all day long. There are enough people in Scranton to run a train every two hours all day long. Until a few thousand more refugees from metro New York housing prices get the bright idea to move to East Stroudaberg and I-80 turns into a parking lot. . . well turns into a parking lot more often.

      • kclo3

        The last LEHD analysis finds 1190 commuters from Lackawanna and Luzerne counties to NY, which is only 1/3 as many commuters to Philadelphia. Albany/Rensselaer has 8300. There’s a much better case to run an isolated Scranton-Wilkes Barre commuter rail service on one of the region’s many rail lines than to extend the Andover extension beyond Stroudsburg.

        • Adirondacker12800

          um um there are attractions in Manhattan besides work. And Manhattanites that don’t own cars like to go to the mountains.

        • Nathanael

          Regardless of the “extreme commuters” the train from Scranton to NYC would be very heavily used. Hell, I’d use it, and I live in Ithaca.

          • Adirondacker12800

            It would be really cheap and faster than driving to extend them or some of them to Binghamton…… The headliner is the Cutoff in New Jersey. There is another one between Scranton and Binghamton.. Someday far in the future three hours to Buffalo implies two hours to Syracuse and until that happens via Scranton looks good.

          • Nathanael

            Absolutely, I’d back a Binghamton extension in a heartbeat. From Binghamton to Cortland and Syracuse is really easy, too.

          • Alon Levy

            But then from Binghamton to Syracuse is not really a great candidate for electrification. There are unlikely to be many through-passengers, because HSR is massively faster between New York and Syracuse. (Even New York-Binghamton is hardly faster directly via Scranton than with HSR and a transfer at Syracuse.) So it would be mainly for local passengers, without through-trains. I doubt demand can fill more than a short DMU train every hour.

          • Adirondacker12800

            No it’s not. It didn’t get improved north of Binghamton. It’s all squiggly. A bus on the interstate would be much faster. A bus on the interstate to Syracuse to the HSR station would be faster than the train through Scranton.
            …and stop your fantasies about how Binghamton is a big origin or destination. Japanese levels of ridership comes out a 25 passenger bus every half hour 16 hours a day. Which would probably be a bit excessive. Or two Super Shuttle type shared vans that give people door-to-door service for a few dollars more. And that is probably optimistic because Upstate New York isn’t Japan and almost everybody has a car. Many of them would just drive to the cheap parking out in the middle of nowhere where the train station is going to be in Syracuse.

  7. Max Wyss

    About the reason why Switzerland electrified very aggressively, I already commented in the referred article from 2015. The initial reason was the terrible shortage of coal during World War I, and the far superior performance of the Lötschberg line (which opened 1913, electrified from the beginning). Helpful was, of course, also a very active and innovative industry (BBC, MFO, Séchéron).

    The main line network was completely electrified by 1928, and, after another shortage of coal during World War II, the last standard gauge line was electrified (or close for regular operation) by 1960. Nowadays, there are only three non-electrified lines in Switzerland: The Brienz Rothorn Bahn (mainly steam operated), the Dampfbahn Furka Bergstrecke (mainly steam operated museum line, refurbished and maintained by volunteers, after the Furka base tunnel became operational; was part of the Glacier Express route), and the Etzwilen-Hemishofen line (steam operated museum line).

    In the electrification and freight discussino one hears very often the argument about yards and spurs. This is not a real issue anyways, as there are now “last mile diesel” locomotives in the market, which have regular power rating (4 MW), plus a diesel power pack rated at around 800 kW, which is sufficient for shunting. Successful electrified heavy-haul lines do also exist, such as Kiruna-Narvik (Norway/Sweden), or some lines by Transnet in South Africa (and that on narrow gauge…), or the (soon to be defunct) Black Mesa and Lake Powell Railroad in northern Arizona.

    • Adirondacker12800

      Wellll,,, when you can burn coal and dump all sorts of toxic chemicals into the air and water, it’s a really cheap way to generate electricity. Not so much if you can’t. And even less attractive when the price of natural gas is expected to be low for a long time. . .

  8. Bjorn

    What’s the timeline on battery-powered trains?

    Battery-powered buses are now feasible to run on local routes for an entire shift without recharging, and in a few years should be capable to run for a whole service day at a similar initial capital cost than diesel buses.

    • Martin

      Is it feasible that battery operated trains that ran partly on overhead wires can be charged on sections when running on the overhead wire? If so (and I dont see why not) I guess they really could be quite attractive for dual use.

    • Max Wyss

      There are several lightrail/streetcar applications which are using batteries, and have a short section of overhead wire at stops.

      State of the art is a combination of batteries and supercapacitors. The supercapacitors can be fully charge within very short time, an then charge the batteries. We may look out what will come along on this line from China.

    • Nathanael

      Battery trains work fine. Only restriction is how far they can go before recharging. Overhead wire trains are using batteries as a matter of course now. The UK is buying hybrid wire / battery trains so that they don’t have to put wire up over branch lines.

      • michael.r.james

        Nathanael 2017/02/25 – 17:11

        Battery trains work fine. Only restriction is how far they can go before recharging.

        Indeed, but that is still quite a restriction. So far they are only being deployed in trials and on short routes:

        From March 2014 a passenger battery train has been in operation in Japan. Britain successfully trialled fare paying passenger hybrid overhead wire/lithium battery trains in January and February 2015.

        The first JR trials are under 30km; and I’ll bet that allows them to have long recharging times at the termini, obviously not feasible on longer rural routes. Though, as I have written elsewhere on this thread, Zn-Br flow batteries can in principle be “recharged” in a few minutes simply by pumping/swapping their electrolytes. I don’t think the technology is anywhere near maturity. For more demanding applications of the type I believe Alon is addressing in this piece, Alstom is trialing its hydrogen trains which can achieve 140 km/h and a range of 600-800km:

        “Despite numerous electrification projects in several countries, a significant part of Europe’s rail network will remain non-electrified in the long term,” Alstom notes. “In many countries, the number of diesel trains in circulation is still high—more than 4,000 DMUs (diesel multiple-units) in Germany, for instance.

        • Adirondacker12800

          the obscure branch they are hoping to use these on don’t go very far. Go very far in Germany and you bump into someplace that is big enough and busy enough to be served by an electrified line.

          • michael.r.james

            Adirondacker12800 2017/02/25 – 23:26

            Go very far in Germany and you bump into someplace that is big enough and busy enough to be served by an electrified line.

            And yet those 4,000 DMUs still exist in Germany, in the second decade of the 21st century. With technology on energy storage advancing I suspect it will become ever more difficult to spend a lot of public money for expensive catenation when it is perceived as being redundant before very long.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Yes they do, that has fuel tanks that aren’t being held at 20 degress Kelvin holding something starts to boil violently if it’s exposed to the very closest winter day. . .

          • Adirondacker12800

            I live on planet Earth where it is very expensive, very complicated and moderately dangerous to deal with things that have to be kept at 20 degrees Kelvin. Liquid nitrogen is at positively tropical temperatures compared to liquid hydrogen, It doesn’t explode. Or make the nitrogen in the air condense and freeze.

        • michael.r.james

          Adirondacker12800 2017/02/26 – 00:33

          Yes they do, that has fuel tanks that aren’t being held at 20 degress Kelvin holding something starts to boil violently if it’s exposed to the very closest winter day. . .

          I wouldn’t have taken you for such a Luddite. And perhaps I was a bit extreme in my earlier comment describing the scariness of such cold liquids. As a bio-medical research scientist I handled liquid nitrogen my whole career. You just learn to respect it. And they don’t start “boiling” when simply open to the air but only if a smallish amount comes into direct contact with something of some mass. There are thousands of industrial plants producing hydrogen all over the world, and some liquid and compressed hydrogen is transported by rail and by road. It is not that unsafe. Or you would have seen it on prime-time news stories.

    • Max Wyss

      Actually, I completely forgot about the DB battery-powered motor units, originally ETA-150, later Class 515/815. On flat lines, they were quite popular, and the DB had 232 motor units plus 216 matching cab cars. They were built between 1954 and 1965, and their operation ended in 1995.

      But things go even further back, to the Prussian State Railways, which started procuring battery-powered units back in 1907 (Wittfeld-Akkutriebwagen), and their fleet consisted eventually of 176 units. The last ones ran for the DB until 1962.

      Both types had a range of up to 300 km between charges.

  9. Martin

    In practice all of Sweden is electrified. Some (dual motor) diesel locomotives are still in use for cross-border traffic (as well as some nostalgia traffic), but the volume is minuscule. It is true that a lot of the tracks are not electrified, but they are simply not used at all any more, waiting to either further deteriorate or eventually be converted (more likely the former). I think (though I am not sure) that this is true for the other Nordic countries as well.

    • Alon Levy

      Very little of Denmark is electrified – only one main line plus the Copenhagen S-Tog network. But they’re electrifying most of the system now. And they’re doing so with 25 kV even though both Sweden and Germany have 15 kV and Denmark has a lot of intercity traffic to both.

      • EJ

        Why does Denmark use 25kV? I mean I understand that it’s more modern and lets them run the OHLE of the existing grid rather than have a special distribution system like Sweden and Germany, but it still seems weird considering they are a smallish country and it’s a different system from the countries on either side of them.

        • Max Wyss

          It is a bit strange, indeed. I don’t know the reasons, but it may have originally to do with the size of the network and the inexistence of a 16.7 Hz infrastructure; they would have needed several converters. On the other hand, with modern power electronics, a dual-frequency locomotive/EMU only causes minimal incremental costs, if any at all. That means that one can live with that decision.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Instead of having all the trains in Denmark eat the marginal costs of using 16.7 Hz – I forget the techincal reason why shifted ever so slightly to 16.7.. The intercity trains can have the whiz bang power electronics that can cope with 16.7 and 50 Hz.

          • Max Wyss

            I think the reason for shifting to 16.7 Hz is that there were more and more interferences with its second harmonic and the national power grid. With 16 2/3 Hz, it is exactly 50 Hz, with 16.7 Hz, it is 50.1 Hz, which is beyond the frequency band the national grid is set.

  10. Syd Chan

    Does the $2m/mi figure for catenary include electrical infrastructure costs? Costs such as new electrical substations, power grid, transmission wires, power generation units, etc. It seems to me that electricification of American heavy rail track is required to be run on its own power grid, and to build the infrastructure needed to extend a power grid is very expensive. It may be that, in Europe, heavy rail catenary piggybacks off of local consumer power grids, or that the nationalized electric utilities are responsible for the costs of building separate power grids for electrified railroads, but in the U.S., railroads bear more than just the costs of extending catenary when electrification is extended to more track.

    • Adirondacker12800

      One of the considerations for siting new substations is the availability of 69kV or 138kV.

    • Alon Levy

      First, it’s $2m/km, not $2m/mi. The only example I know of $2m/mi was Nantes-Sables d’Olonne, which is single-track.

      Second, New Haven-Boston used the local power grid too. Sometimes it’s possible to do that, sometimes it isn’t. It’s not really a Europe vs. US thing.

  11. Adirondacker12800

    I find myself having to constantly explain to people that no, a $20 billion New York regional rail plan should not use dual-mode locomotives but rather spend $250 million on New Jersey-side electrification.

    They would still need to go out and buy trains. ARC was going to open in 2017 and demand would go up fast. They needed more trains right then and now not 15 years later. After the alternatives analysis finds yet again that dirigibles and aerial tramways aren’t viable options. And the environmental studies document that the electricity won’t cause the chicken milk to curdle or make the cow eggs lay green shelled eggs.

    S’kay that increasing ridership is served in the short term by locomotives and multilevels. When they electrify to Suffern the dual modes and multilevels can be used for increased frequency on other lines. Or new service to West Trenton. Then to Bridgewater and by then there isn’t much left except for the low frequency tendrils reaching out into the exurbs. And Bombardier has figured out how to turn multilevels into MUs.

    … it makes it easier to shut up the NIMBY’s. More noisy smelly diesel trains makes electrification more attractive.

    …. The MTA looked at the projections for the additional demand East SIde Access would generate and came to the conclusion the Main Line needs to be grade separated. The NIMBYs screeched that triple tracking and grade separating would ruin the bucolic charm of houses that were built a century after the railroad. They are now complaining the OMG more trains means more grade crossing gates being down! And why didn’t the LIRR warn them about that!

    • Alon Levy

      The ALP-45s are $10 million apiece if I remember correctly. Without ARC, the only through-service between diesel territory and Penn is Bay Head or maybe Raritan Valley, and electrifying all the way there is bound to be cheaper than just the ALP-45s alone, let alone the operating costs of diesel.

      • Adirondacker12800

        10 million, I seem to remember 9, included the development costs, documentation costs – it comes with a service manual that costs a lot to write – training and spare parts inventory. The ones ordered by exercising option were cheaper.
        The project to connect the lower level at Secaucus to the upper level is a separate project from either tunnel, ARC or Gateway, just like the new bridges are a separate project. The long term plan is for any train to be able to go to Manhattan.

        • Alon Levy

          Sure, but until there are new tunnels, they’re not sending many more trains to Manhattan at the peak, so fleet requirement is approximately constant. A train on the Erie lines displaces an NEC or M&E train. It might possibly displace more than one train, because the more branches you have, the less reliable the system is, which means (slightly) less peak capacity.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Putting off the ramps until the tunnel is underway means the ramps get completed just before the tunnel or soon after the tunnel. Do them now they will rust gently in the damp air of the swamp until a tunnel is completed. A reasonable thing to do. Buying the dual modes meant everybody was well trained by the time the tunnel opened in 2017. They didn’t have to wait around until perfection arrives.

  12. h st

    Meanwhile MARC just switched to back to diesel on the electricified Penn Line! Unbelievable how stupid American rail operators can be

    • scratchy

      I get their reasoning, that most of the mileage is non electrified. And if they ever are able to work with VRE, that’d be the gear to use. However, once the NEC has capacity expanded so that they have Subway level service, they’ll be regretting not going with EMUs.

      • Alon Levy

        Most of MARC’s ridership is on the Penn line, though.

        And as for subway-level service, I don’t even know what that means. Right now they can run a train every 15 minutes in each direction all day if they try hard enough, and when they have 4 tracks on the entire line, they’ll be able to run as much as there’s demand for.

        • scratchy

          I forgot the term for more than Commuter service. I’ve taken MARC for a decade, it’s only on more frequent service between 5-8 AM and 3-6:40PM. The Night service would have a lot more customers if the last train out of DC was later than 10:30. I recall a MARC plan for more frequent service in the Baltimore area, which would almost certainly have required EMU’s.

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  15. scratchy

    Just a nitpick, I think the first mainline railroad electrification in the world was the Baltimore Belt Line, in 1895.

  16. EJ

    I think you have the wrong link in the sentence about 200 km/h diesels. Railjet is entirely powered by electric locomotives. Maybe you meant to refer to something like the British Class 43 HST?

    Railjet is in some ways instructive for Southern California. Austria is a small, mountainous country, and when they looked at developing high speed trains, they rejected the 300 km/h EMU approach in favor of 200-230 km/h locomotive hauled trains, which wound up being considerably cheaper since in many cases they could run on existing, upgraded track, and the Taurus locomotives they used could be used on all sorts of other trains as well, as well as being cheaper to own and maintain than EMUs. Austria does of course run some EMUs on regional trains as well as on the Vienna S-Bahn.

    • Max Wyss

      And then, there is the Westbahn (private operator) with 200 km/h KISSes on the Westbahn (line) between Wien and Salzburg…

      The Taurii for the Railjets are dedicated to that service, but it is possible to use a regular unit if needed (just not for the Zürich services, where the train has to be hauled in this situation by a SBB locomotive).

      OTOH, the ÖBB has a long tradition with loco-hauled fixed consist trains, with the famous Transalpin train sets.

  17. EJ

    Metrolink (assuming you mean LA-area Metrolink) is a poor-candidate for system-wide electrification, at least based on passenger volume. On 7 lines, it only carries about 2/3 the weekday ridership that Caltrain does on 1. It’s also got something like 6 or 7 times the route mileage. Higher volume of trains on many lines is an iffy proposition due to the extensive freight traffic.

    Now if BNSF and UP could be persuaded (or forced) to use electric locomotives, there would be some merit. The Alameda Corridor was in fact designed with sufficient clearances for OHLE, in case it ever became a priority in the future. Electrifying the core Chatsworth-Laguna Niguel line (what Paul calls “Electrolink”) and running more frequent service has merit as well.

    • car(e)-free LA

      Metrolink has low ridership particularly because of disinvestment.
      Right now, there are really just four parts of Metrolink that run through “core areas”
      1. Santa Clarita to Laguna Niguel
      2. Chatsworth to San Bernardino
      3. LAUS to Riverside
      4. San Bernardino to Orange County.
      Assuming you switch service west of Chatsworth to 3x more daily Surfliners to Goleta, service south of Laguna Niguel to 8x more daily Surfliners to San Diego, and Antelope Valley service to express busses and HSR, you are left with just those four core lines.
      Lines 1 and 2 can easily be electrified, provided that Metrolink gets its own ROW from Santa Clarita to Fullerton (not that difficult). Line 3 can be purchased and electrified by Metrolink east of Ontario, but not west of there. However, if Metrolink constructs a short new line from the San Bernadino line from Rancho Cucamonga to the Riverside line via Ontario Airport, service could operate from Chatsworth to the Inland Empire every 15 minutes or so, with 50% of trains going to San Bernadino, and 50% to Riverside. This would also provide a very good rail connection to Ontario Airport. The only stations that would lose service would be Downtown Pomona (not a big deal) and Industry (to be served by the Metro gold line eastside extension phase two.)
      This leaves only the IEOC and 91 lines unelectrified, and there isn’t much you can do about that. I would expect service to be truncated at Irvine and Fullerton, respectively.

      • EJ

        You’ve still got huge numbers of UP freight trains on the San Bernardino and Riverside lines. It’s already an operational challenge since UP generally operates those lines as two halves of a double-track line, whereas Metrolink trains run in both directions. You’re not going to have the train paths you need without extensive, expensive double-tracking.

        • Alon Levy

          Where is there freight on the San Bernardino Line? The line is parallel to UP, but the I-10 corridor is not where UP goes, and they only share ROW (not track) for a few km east of the I-10 segment.

          • Joey

            As far as I can tell they actually don’t even share track on that segment. The passenger track crosses over the freight track on a bridge.

            There are scattered freight spurs throughout the rest of the line but nothing major (i.e. probably nothing that needs to run during the day).

          • EJ

            Sorry, yeah, I guess I had old news. Regardless I’m skeptical that electrification and more frequent service would lead to the vast increase in ridership necessary to justify electrification of this line.

          • car(e)-free LA

            This route results in roughly 85 miles of new express metro, running every 10-20 minutes. Going of Gold Line Foothill extension numbers, plus a little more because of the replaced Silver Line riders, the increased speed, and more important anchors, it would result in 50,000 new daily trips, in addition to the existing 13,000 daily riders. This would result in nearly 5 times the daily ridership, for the cost of $630 million. I think it is worth it.

        • car(e)-free LA

          Freight is almost exclusively on the UP line (which is fully double-tracked) from Colton to LAUS, via Pomona and Industry. My proposal would entirely avoid that. However, much of the existing San bernadino line is single track, and these segments would need to be double tracked to allow for frequent service (a investment that is big, but still less expensive per mile than building a new metro line):
          Main line, LAUS to Ranch Cucamonga:
          1. LA River Bridge (500 feet)
          2. USC Medical Center-Irwindale Ave (this is by far the longest stretch, and much of it follows a tight ROW. A new route can be built for the 2 miles from Mission Rd/Valley Blvd to CSULA station, via a new station on the north side of USC Med Ctr. From CSULA to El Monte, a distance of 9 miles, a second track would have to be added to the median of the 10. This would require either roadway widening, or replacing an express lane, which is reasonable, since this will probably replace the Silver Line BRT. A new station may be added in Monterey Park. El Monte Metrolink would be relocated to El Monte BRT Station. From there, a new 6 mile elevated route would have to be built to Irwindale Ave., via Ramona Blvd., and a new Baldwin Park station. In total, this is a 17 mile route with 25 miles of new track.
          3. 6.5 miles need to be double tracked from Covina to La Verne.
          4. 4 miles need to be double tracked from Montclair to Rancho Cucamonga (Vineyard Avenue)
          Riverside branch, Rancho Cucamonga to Riverside
          1. A new connection needs to be build for 5.5 miles from Rancho Cucamonga to East Ontario Station, via Ontario Airport.
          2. 3 miles from Pedley to Jurupa Ave. Need to be double tracked.
          3. The one mile approach into Downtown Riverside needs to be double tracked.
          San Bernardino branch, Rancho Cucamonga to San Bernardino:
          1. 1.5 miles from Rancho Cucamonga to Etiwanda Ave. Needs to be double tracked.
          2. 3.5 miles through Fontana need to be double tracked.
          3. 3 miles through Rialto need to be double tracked.

          • Joey

            A lot of buses use the I-10 express lanes. Take out a general purpose lane if you’re going to take out anything.

          • spencepatrickj

            But no busses would need to travel into DTLA on the 10 if there was train service every 10 minuites costing $1.75/ticket.

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  19. Phake Nick

    Korea is planning to fully electrify their passenger railroad operation within the next decade or so together with upgrading a number of their lines
    Speaking of which, in some countries like Japan, there are now some electric trains that use rechargeable battery, and thus can operate with electricity even without overhead lines. Does that actually offer much advantage?

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