Slotting Intercity Trains on Regional Lines

In 2011, Clem Tillier and Richard Mlynarik put out sample schedules for modernized Caltrain service, with an applet anyone could use to construct their own timetables. I played with it, and one of the schedules I made, a trollish one, had room for local and express regional trains, but not intercity trains; intercity trains would be slotted with express regionals, and make the same stops. This was a curious exercise: intercity trains would be high-speed rail, which should not slow down to make every express regional stop. But more recently, as I’ve worked on schedules for Boston and New York, I’ve realized that when the regional trains are fast, there is merit to slotting legacy (but not high-speed) intercity trains together with them.

The origin of this pattern is the problem of slotting trains on busy railroads. There are many lines that are not really at capacity, but cannot easily combine trains that run at different speeds. One solution to the problem is to build extra tracks and give the intercity trains a dedicated pathway. This works when there is heavy intercity traffic as well as heavy regional traffic, but four-tracking a long line is expensive; Caltrain and California HSR ended up rejecting full four-tracking.

Another solution, favored for Caltrain today instead of full four-tracking, is timed overtakes. I have argued in its favor for Boston-Providence and Trenton-Stamford for high-speed rail, but it requires more timetable discipline and makes it easier for delays on one train to propagate to other trains. It should be reserved for the busiest lines, where there is still not enough traffic to justify long segments with additional tracks (that would be four tracking Boston-Providence and six-tracking Stamford-New Rochelle and Rahway-New Brunswick), but there is enough to justify doing what is required to run trains on a tight overtake schedule. It is especially useful for high-speed trains, which tend to be the most punctual, since they use the most reliable equipment and have few stops.

But on lower-ridership intercity routes, the best solution may be to force them to slow down to the speed of the fastest regional train that uses the line. On the timetable, the intercity train is treated as a regional train that goes beyond the usual outer terminal. This option is the cheapest, since no additional infrastructure is required. It also boosts frequency, relative to any solution in which the intercity train does not make regional stops: since the intercity train is using up slots, it might as well provide some local frequency when necessary. These two benefits together suggest a list of guidelines for when this pattern is the most useful:

  1. The intercity line shouldn’t be so busy that a slowdown of 10 or 15 minutes makes a big difference to ridership relative to the cost of overtakes. Nor should it be especially fast.
  2. The regional line, or the most express pattern on the regional line if it has its own local and express trains, should have wide stop spacing, such that the speed benefit of running nonstop is reduced.
  3. The regional line should connect long-distance destinations in their own right, and not just suburbs, so that there is some merit to connecting them to the intercity line. These destinations may include secondary cities, airports, and universities (but airports would probably be intercity stops under any pattern).
  4. The regional and intercity lines should be compatible in equipment, which in practice means either both should run EMUs or both should run DMUs (locomotives are obsolete for passenger services).

Both Switzerland and Japan employ this method. In Switzerland, the fastest intercity trains in the Zurich/Basel/Bern triangle run nonstop. But intercity trains going north or east of Zurich stop at the airport, interlining with regional trains to create a clockface pattern of trains going nonstop between the airport and the city.

In Japan, high-speed services run on their own dedicated tracks, with separate track gauge from the legacy network, but legacy intercity services are integrated with express regional trains. An intercity trip out of Tokyo on the Chuo Line starts out as a regular express commuter train, making the same stops as the fastest express trains: starting from Shinjuku, the Azusa sometimes stops at Mitaka, skips Kokubunji, and stops at Tachikawa and Hachijoji. Beyond Hachijoji, some trains make regional express stops, others run nonstop to well beyond the Tokyo commuter belt. On the Tokaido Line, the intercity trains (the Odoriko) skip stops that every regional train makes, but they still stop at Shinagawa and Yokohama, and sometimes in some Yokohama-area suburbs.

In North America, there are opportunities to use this scheduling pattern in New York, Boston, and Toronto; arguably some shorter-range intercity lines out of Philadelphia and Chicago, such as to Reading and Rockford, would also count, but right now no service runs to these cities.

In Toronto, GO Transit already runs service to Kitchener, 100 kilometers from Union Station. For reasons I don’t understand, service to Kitchener (and to Hamilton, a secondary industrial city 60 km from Toronto) is only offered at rush hour; in the off-peak, commuter trains only run closer in, even though usually intercity lines are less peaky than commuter lines. There is also seasonal service to Niagara Falls, 130 km from Toronto. As Metrolinx electrifies the network, higher frequency is likely, at least to Hamilton, and these trains will then become intercity trains running on a regional schedule. This works because GO Transit has very wide stop spacing, even with proposed infill stops. Niagara Falls is a leisure destination, with visitors from all over the Greater Toronto Area and not just from Downtown, so the extra stops in the Toronto suburbs are justified. Right now, Niagara Falls trains make limited stops, about the same number in the built-up area as the express trains to Hamilton but on a different pattern.

There are no infill stops planned on Lakeshore West, the commuter line to Hamilton and Niagara Falls. It is likely that future electrification and fare integration will create demand for some, slowing down trains. The line has three to four tracks (with a right-of-way wide enough for four) and is perfectly straight, so as demand grows with Toronto’s in-progress RER plan, there may be justification for local and express trains; express trains would make somewhat fewer stops than trains do today, local trains would stop every 1-2 km in the city and in Mississauga. Intercity trains could then easily fit into the express commuter slots; potential destinations include not just Hamilton and Niagara Falls, but also London.

This is unfriendly to high-speed trains. However, Canada is not building high-speed rail anytime soon; if it were, it would connect Toronto with Montreal, using Lakeshore East, and not with points west, i.e. London and Windsor. London and Windsor are small, and a high-speed connection to Toronto would be financially marginal, even with potential onward connections to Detroit and Chicago. A Toronto-Niagara Falls-Buffalo-New York route is more promising, but dicey as well. Probably the best compromise in such case is to run trains on a four-tracked Lakeshore West line at 250 km/h; the speed difference with nonstop trains running at 160 km/h allows 15-minute frequency on each pattern without overtakes, and almost allows 12 minutes. Alternatively, express trains could use the local tracks to make stops, as I’ve recommended for some difficult mixtures of local, express, and intercity trains on the Northeast Corridor in New York.

In Boston, the Northeast Corridor is of course too important as an intercity line to be slowed down by regional trains. Thus, even though in other respects it would be great for merging intercity and regional service, in practice, overtakes or four tracks are required.

However, all other intercity-range commuter lines in Boston should consider running as regular commuter trains (electrified, of course) once they enter MBTA territory. These include potential trains to Hyannis on Cape Cod, 128 km from South Station; Manchester, 91 km from North Station; and Springfield, 158 km from South Station; as well as existing trains to Portland, 187 km from North Station. Hyannis, Manchester, and Portland all feed into very fast regional lines: my sample schedule and map have trains to Hyannis averaging 107 km/h and trains to Manchester averaging 97 km/h. Trains to Haverhill, the farthest point on the line to Portland with any Boston-bound commuter traffic, average 88 km/h.

Springfield is more difficult. The Worcester Line is slower, partly because of curves, partly because of very tight stop spacing in the core built-up area. Once under-construction infill is complete, Auburndale, 17 km out of South Station, will be the 7th station out, and another infill station (Newton Corner) is perennially planned; my schedule assumes 3 additional stations, making Auburndale the 11th station out. On the line to Hyannis, the 11th station out, Buzzards Bay, is at the Cape Cod Canal, 88 km out. There is room for four tracks for a short segment in Allston, but in the suburbs there is no room until past Auburndale, which constrains any future high-speed rail plan to Albany. Low-speed intercity trains would have to slow down to match commuter rail speed, because the alternative is to run commuter rail too infrequently for the needs of the line. Average speed from South Station to Worcester is 70 km/h, even with express diesels today, so it’s not awful, but here, slowing down intercity trains is a less bad option rather than a good one.

In New York, as in Boston, intercity trains fit in regional slots away from the Northeast Corridor. Already today there are intercity trains running on the LIRR, to the eastern edge of Long Island, much too distant from the city for commuter traffic. Those trains run nonstop or almost nonstop, and are infrequent; if the entire LIRR were electrified, and express trains were eliminated, locals could match the express speed today thanks to reduced schedule padding, and then some trains could continue to Greenport and Montauk providing perhaps hourly service. Service to Danbury and Waterbury on Metro-North is of similar characteristics.

The New Jersey end is more interesting. Right now, there is no significant intercity service there, unless you count the Port Jervis Line. However, New Jersey Transit is currently restoring service on the Lackawanna Cutoff as far as Andover, and there remain proposals to run trains farther, to Delaware Water Gap and Scranton. Those would be regular express diesel trains on the Morris and Essex Lines, presumably stopping not just at Hoboken but also at important intermediate stations like Newark Broad Street, Summit, and Morristown.

If service were electrified, those trains could run, again on the same pattern as the fastest trains that can fit the Morristown Line (where I don’t think there should be any express trains), going to New York and onward to whichever destination is paired with the shorter-range commuter trains on the line. The same is true of other potential extensions, such as to Allentown, or, the favorite of Adirondacker in comments, a line to West Trenton and onward to Philadelphia via the West Trenton SEPTA line. There’s not much development between the edge of the built-up suburban area at Raritan and either Allentown or the Philadelphia suburbs; but intercity trains, averaging around 90 km/h, could succeed in connecting New York with Allentown or with the northern suburbs of Philadelphia, where a direct train doing the trip in an hour and a half would be competitive with a train down to 30th Street Station with a high-speed rail connection.

The characteristics of intercity lines that favor such integration with regional lines vary. In all cases, these are not the most important intercity lines, or else they would get dedicated tracks, or overtakes prioritizing their speed over that of commuter trains. Beyond that, it depends on the details of intercity and regional demand. But by default, if an intercity line is relatively short (say, under 200 km), and not so high-demand that 200+ km/h top speeds would be useful, then planners should attempt to treat it as a regional line that continues beyond the usual terminus. Alternatively, the commuter line could be thought of as a short-turning version of the intercity line. Planners and good transit advocates should include this kind of timetabling in their toolbox for constructing integrated regional rail schedules.


  1. Alon Levy

    Due to length considerations, I did not talk much about exceptions – about places where such slotting is not a good idea, other than HSR and potential HSR lines. Here’s a short compendium:

    – All grandes lignes connecting to Paris. SNCF should be planning on connecting every Transilien branch into the RER eventually, but even on the longer Transilien branches, it gets dicey. On this map, the longest line, inherited from Transilien R and J, is 200 km, and SNCF isn’t all that punctual. On longer-range lines, say trains to Rouen, there’s not much point in treating them as long-range RER services; terminating at the usual intercity stations is fine. There is also extensive four-tracking, and the RER already runs express and local trains on just two tracks. Finally, most of the suburbs are weak intercity trip generators; the biggest exceptions manage to miss the grandes lignes, because they’re on their own dedicated commuter branches (like Marne-la-Vallee or the airport) or because they’re frustratingly just off the mainline (La Defense).

    – Los Angeles-San Diego, as proposed here, is not HSR, but is still in the “too important to be slowed down by commuter trains” basket. Right now Metrolink has absurdly wide stop spacing, but if it electrifies as in the proposal then it should aim for a stop every 2-3 km. LA-Santa Barbara I’m conflicted about.

    – Washington, DC. To the north, the lines are either worthless for intercity service (the B&O lines) or HSR (Penn). To the south, intercity service is a continuation of NEC service at lower speed, with an engine change; under any modernization plan, the intercity trains, if not turned into HSR (to Richmond and point south), remain continuations of HSR at lower speed. Since the rolling stock is HSR, it’s useful to run trains faster than a regional milk run, even if the milk run is so express it averages 100 km/h. Expensive HSR rolling stock should be traveling as fast as the timetable permits in order to amortize depreciation over the maximum number of train-km.

    – Chicago-South Bend, possibly. In every way, the South Shore Line is a perfect Metra Electric branch, except one: the branch-to-trunk ratio would be 4, and this might be problematic. Moreover, the line should probably run express when it can, whereas Metra Electric should not run express trains on the trunk, downstream of the South Chicago Branch split; Metra Electric already has ridiculously short stop spacing most of the way, and it should get even more stops at the innermost end. So while it should connect to an onward destination via some RER-type tunnel, the South Shore Line should use the express tracks and terminate at Millennium.

    • car(e)-free LA

      In terms of the LA projects, I think several things:
      1. LA-San Diego should be an electrified, intercity service running at least half-hourly, serving all stops. From Laguna Niguel north, a local train should serve every local stop, running at least half-hourly, spaced in between intercity runs. North of Laguna Niguel, intercity trains should serve Irvine, Santa Ana, Anaheim, Norwalk, and LAUS. When CAHSR is completed, LA-San Diego intercities should share track through the Palmdale base tunnels, serving, Burbank Airport, Palmdale, and Lancaster. This would replace the Metrolink service northeast of Santa Clarita. The Laguna Niguel local should continue north to Santa Clarita, but possibly bend northwest towards Valencia rather than curving around to Via Princessa.

      2. Santa Barbara runs should be redirected to Indio, via the San Bernardino line, and a new route from Redlands to Beaumont. This service should run at least hourly, and stop at all stations west of Chatsworth, then Chatsworth, Burbank Airport, LAUS, El Monte, Claremont, San Bernardino, Beaumont, Banning, Palm Springs, and Palm Desert. A local service, stopping at all stops, should run at least half-hourly from Chatsworth to Upland, then splitting, with half of the trains going to Riverside via Ontario Airport, and the other half going to Redlands via San Bernardino.

      3. The 91 and IEOC lines can continue as they are, but possibly terminate at Fullerton, ARTIC, and/or Orange, with timed transfers. All trains should go to downtown San Bernardino.

  2. Henry Chin

    Question: with the Third Track’s new lease on life, and with double tracking to Ronkonkoma, is there really a need to chuck expresses out of the schedule?

    • Alon Levy

      Doubling the line to Ronkonkoma actually makes it easier to run locals, for 2 reasons:

      1. It reduces the required schedule padding, which reduces the local/express speed difference.
      2. It doesn’t require trains to run nonstop to make timed meets.

      The third track makes it easier to run express trains, but only in one direction at a time. It risks creating a situation like that on the 6 and 7 today, where there is more frequent service to the local stations in the reverse-peak than in the peak direction. It still has positive benefits, but not enough to justify the cost; if the LIRR has $1.5 billion, it should spend it on grade-separating the Hempstead/Main Line junction at Floral Park, and on completing electrification, and not on the third track.

      • adirondacker12800

        It is grade separated. All sorts of interesting things can happen between Queens Village and Bellerose.

          • adirondacker12800

            Look at the satellite images of Bellerose. The maps-that-are-no-longer-online has it color coded. If I’m reading it right they can get to Brooklyn without crossing. Merge with the Montauk branch but without crossing the Main Line. . Whether or not they do that regularly is different question. . We’d need an employee timetable to see which tracks are signaled for bidirectional travel. From the way Jamaica is setup I’d hazard a guess it’s most if not all of them …..since the new Jamaica station opened in 1912.

          • Alon Levy

            Oh, the junction between the Main Line and the Atlantic Branch is definitely grade-separated. But the junction between the Main Line and the Hempstead Branch is flat.

  3. adirondacker12800

    They can run trains eastbound-westbound-eastbound-westbound. They can run trains westbound-westbound-westbound-eastbound in the morning if they want to. And westbound-eastbound-eastbound-eastbound in the afternoon. For short periods. Who knows what else is going on with the new platform and East Side Access.

    The LIRR was enamored of loops. They probably had something in mind where the Hempstead trains looped through Valley Stream and went to Brooklyn. While the trains to and from Far Rockaway did the reverse. Or something. Something was going on with what now is the Montauk.

    The ROW is still visible in Queens. The odd blocks that are parallel to Huxley and Edgewood Street south of the Belt Parkway just south of the Laurelton Station. Squint at it, north of the Belt Parkway. it’s wide. they were plotting to put four tracks on it someday. Dig up Atlantic Ave and the super-express subway that terminates in Valley Stream can use it. 18 trains an hour is every ten minutes to Garden City, every ten via Saint Albans and every ten via Locust Manor. With a few infill stations, the north side of Rochdale Village for one…. Green Acres Mall is a shopping and employment destination…

    Garden City would freak out. So would Valley Stream.

  4. Eric

    “which in practice means either both should run EMUs or both should run DMUs (locomotives are obsolete for passenger services).”

    Do you have an article spelling out EMU vs DMU vs electric locomotive vs diesel locomotive?

    • Alon Levy

      I have a post from 2011 about EMUs vs. electric locos in the context of the Northeast Corridor. I have a much more recent post about electrification.

      In general, passenger locomotives are an obsolete technology. Passenger rail operators not shackled to them by tradition or by installed base get multiple units. In Japan, there are to my knowledge 28 passenger locomotives nationwide, used on night trains. In the UK, the privatized operators to my understanding only buy multiple-units. Switzerland has an enormous installed base, but it’s transitioning to EMUs, it’s just taking decades. I’m not even 100% sure that night trains have to use locomotives, although to my knowledge they all do.

      One complication, somewhat unique to the US, is that it has long lines that aren’t and shouldn’t be electrified. While EMUs are pretty much Pareto-better than electric locos in passenger service, DMUs are less comfortable than diesel locos because of the engine noise and vibration. A long, unelectrified line in Norway had DMUs to reduce operating costs, but after complaints it replaced them with a diesel loco. The really long intercity lines in the US also tend to have very long consists, which favors diesel locos in fuel consumption.

      • anonymouse

        The UK fleet of passenger electric locomotives is probably smaller than the US one: there’s 31 on the ECML, 15 on the GEML, and about half a dozen for the sleeper train to Scotland. And it looks like the entire intercity fleet is being replaced with EMUs in the next few year.
        And EMU night trains do exist:

  5. michael.r.james

    In general, passenger locomotives are an obsolete technology.

    Except for MagLev of course 🙂

    Not entirely facetious comment. My thoughts turned to maglev when reading the comment of car(e)-free LA who wants to:

    . LA-San Diego should be an electrified, intercity service running at least half-hourly, serving all stops. From Laguna Niguel north, a local train should serve every local stop, running at least half-hourly, spaced in between intercity runs.

    Those demands really put a lot of pressure on standard trains, even RER, and networks. It inevitably is a slow service for which every person on that line suffers, and of course it interferes with other intersecting lines etc . This is why maglev has often been suggested to be as useful for city commuting as for long distance. And maglev is the equivalent (or better) of double-tracking. For example, reading on this blog about the eye-watering cost blow-outs of standard engineering solutions to the Newark-NYC commuter lines one wonders if maglev would be cheaper and more effective (than doubling the tunnel and thus stations/platforms etc).

    • Alon Levy

      Maglev runs multiple-unit… and no, it’s not going to reduce costs, because it needs a dedicated pathway, including station tracks and such.

      • michael.r.james

        Maglev runs multiple-unit…

        Err, that was my point. The entire train is a “motor”. But unlike your loco-pax units there is no penalty for doing so. In fact it is a big advantage (well except for the tinfoil-hat brigade).

        As to your claim about costs …. prove it! No, seriously, do it for the cross-Hudson plans. The route is half (or less) the Shanghai maglev length so you already have all the real-world performance data you could ask for.

        As all the mega-cities have increasingly congested PT systems the “solutions” of just building more of the same seems to be failing. I mean the RER-A has reached its limit at about 300m pax pa, and are they really going to build $10 or $20 billion dollar tunnels and stations to duplicate it somehow?

        • adirondacker12800

          And what does maglev buy you between New York and Woodside or New York and Secaucus? Besides a tank of liquid nitrogen under the floor?

          • michael.r.james

            Increased capacity, increased train frequency and much quicker point-to-point travel (without extra trains or staffing). But anyway I don’t quite understand the question or why you would ask it. How would any place on the line not benefit? As I said, almost the sole argument against maglev is its cost, and now the Gateway is currently broaching $25 billion! (I don’t accept AL’s reasons, and I don’t accept “interoperability” in this particular case.)

            Only the Japanese version of maglev (for which there is no actual fee-paying passenger-carrying service in operation) needs that liquid nitrogen. (Not only that but it requires standard wheels too, below ≈150 kmph, which is kind of nuts. I don’t really understand the Japanese design–must be purely a domestic manufacturing mania driving it. They certainly don’t want to import the now-Chinafied Siemens MagLev even though to my eyes, or any engineers, it is far superior. Like their Shinkansen I doubt their maglev is going to be found outside Japan–even though they are trying to drive it hard right now, via dubious funding arrangements etc. to foreign governments and potential “partners”.)

            BTW, Alon, your earlier comment of ” because it (maglev) needs a dedicated pathway” is not entirely correct. In principle one could make a maglev track compatible with wheeled trains, though I doubt it would make much sense (except perhaps in your case, where it could be an emergency fallback under the Hudson if maglev failed for whatever reason; or for occasional (off peak) interoperability of standard trains proceeding thru to eastside etc.?).

          • Alon Levy

            The EDS technology in Japan is not compatible with wheeled trains, even though it does need wheels at low and medium speed.

          • michael.r.james

            Reply to Henry Chin:
            Those are the reasons why you would build the whole line as MagLev; I was simply pointing out that the longest section by far was the Secaucus to PennStn bit (and though I don’t know, I presume it is the busiest section thus maglev would make the biggest difference for the most people on this section). The Shanghai Maglev is 30.4 km so that is in the same ballpark as the whole Gateway route, yes?
            You say that most of the $25 billion is mostly for station upgrades? Alon is correct. Something is profoundly wrong with this process.

            Reply to Alon:
            Many transport decisions end up looking strange. Sure, the termination of MagLev at Longyang Road so that you are forced to transfer to the Metro was very poor. But guess what, if you use Metro Line 2 from the airport, you have to make the exact same transfer in the exact same station (well nearby, at Guanglan Road Station which is 2 stops further out after Longyang Road; perhaps it shares a platform, don’t know)–it is not a continuous line! Another weird decision. So one wonders if a few puny dollars is the difference that makes people choose the Metro? I never would.
            Of course the government cannot make up their minds about extending the MagLev, and to where. But I suspect they will eventually do it, probably to Hongqiao Airport (via Hongqiao Railway station); yes, Line 2 already serves those places but it must be a very long ride and is reminiscent of London Piccadilly line serving Heathrow, ie. awful for travellers). The Chinese clearly have not given up on maglev technology as they have opened three new low-speed (100 kmph) “urban” maglevs.
            Finally I reckon they should extend the maglev from Longyang Road thru Lujiazui above ground (ie. as it is currently all the way to the airport). This thing is the most futuristic and technologically advanced transport system on planet earth so it would fit perfectly in with their slightly surreal Lujiazui hi-rise district. It is near-silent and totally non-polluting. OK, it would need new tunnels to cross the river … (except see below).

            And what’s the penalty for EMUs that doesn’t exist for maglev, exactly?

            That’s not what I said, is it? You said the locomotive-passenger units were a disadvantage and I said, “except for maglev”. Which is true, but not a big point. It was just my excuse to jump into one of my fave topics in transport. I think the arguments about interoperability are really overdone–particularly in projects costing $25 billion! Won’t you admit that the age of maglev will eventually arrive? And that as the costs of any standard rail escalates into the stratosphere (nevermind what it pays for) that the cost argument (which remains unproven) means maglev should be looked at? Perhaps especially for these smaller distances, ie. urban or intra-urban (connecting the exurbs to the centre and the rest of sprawl)?

            Finally, just to make Henry Chin even unhappier, I wrote a comment last night that never survived posting. It was to point out that high-speed travellators may have a very useful role in filling various gaps in a Metro network.

            Acccelerating walkway could extend rail’s reach
            David Briginshaw, 29 April 2015.

            ThyssenKrupp believes it has developed a system to extend the reach of rail without the need to build additional stations or costly extensions to the network. It is called Accel – a high-speed moving walkway capable of carrying 7300 passengers/h/direction in a permanent flow at speeds of 7.2km/h, or above 10km/h for people who decide to continue walking while on the belt, which is around double the average walking speed.

            Now, as I understand it the only public installation is at Toronto Pearson International Airport but I understand the more recent version is at the Spanish factory (which journalists visit and write about) and achieves 12 kmph). Alas, I would agree that for many applications it is still too slow. This is only double my walking speed. Thus I calculate that the 2.4 km from Penn Stn to a transport interchange on the Jersey side would still take 14 minutes, which is not bad but still too slow. Halve that and you’d be talking. Addressing Henry’s carping about changing modes, a continuous moving walkway is not the same thing. Do you grumble when you step onto such a walkway in an airport with your heavy wheelie luggage? Do you think, “how tiresome” when you step on to an escalator in a mall? No, because there is zero wait; it is always there waiting to take you the moment you arrive. And considering that you would arrive much closer to your destination–just a short escalator to the street, instead of deep in the bowels of a complex train station–there wouldn’t be as much difference between even that 14 minutes and total travel time on a train (waiting times, travel time then walking thru the station to get to street level or wherever).

            This bit is for Adirondacker (TransRapid was a co-development of Siemens & Thyssen-Krupp):

            The low-vibration and low-maintenance linear motors have been developed from the Transrapid maglev train.

            Note that Thyssen-Krupp have also used the same technology to perfect cable-free elevators. The first building with these will open later this year (a 246m building in Rottweil, Germany). The elevator cars can now travel sideways as well as up and down, so this solves the problem of existing elevators in which the car has to go up and come down in the same shaft. Now with two shafts, multiple cars continuously go up in one and return in the other, all simultaneously, greatly increasing capacity and reducing wait time. You will have noticed that there is overlap in this functionality and moving-walkways: these elevators can actually turn into horizontal people-movers and could connect adjoining buildings etc. (A fictional application of this was neatly shown in the remake of the movie Total Recall.)

            Anyway, clearly in dense cities there will be alternative means of moving people around. These may appear first in places like Dubai or Hong Kong but I reckon NYC is a candidate too. That elevated “High Line” like moving walkways linking Penn Stn and GCT is not as dumb or impractical as Alon & Adirondacker claimed (when I made it some months ago commenting on another article). In fact I think a trans-Hudson walkway is not so silly. In fact there is a walkway under the Huangpu River linking the Bund to Lujiazui and millions use it every year. Yikes, I just googled it and it has completely transformed since I walked it (in fact it is a second tunnel). It now has a MagLev:

            The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel
            Shanghai Bund Sightseeing TunnelThe Bund Sightseeing Tunnel goes under the Huangpu River connecting the Bund and Lujiazui Area of Pudong District. Its length is 646.7 meters.
            The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel is almost a virtual facility under the ground and provides a memorable experience of the special multimedia effects. The compartments of sightseeing maglev train are completely transparent and it allows the 360 degrees view. The six channel surround system amplifies the experience and the sound effects change as the scenery changes. The compartments are unmanned and it provides steady and fluent ride. It takes 3-5 minutes to travel through the tunnel and enjoy the sites to the fullest.
            The tunnel links Puxi (‘West of the Huangpu’) and Pudong (‘East of the Huangpu’). The entrance on the Bund is located in the north of Chenyi Square, while the one in Pudong is situated on the south side of the Oriental Pearl TV and Radio Tower, facing the International Convention Center.

            A maglev people-mover might be ok for a tourist thing but I reckon moving walkways under the Hudson (perhaps with a central glass canopy as a design feature/gimmick) would work. With three walkways so two can go in the peak direction at appropriate times of day. Incidentally for these endless billions spent on painful rail upgrades etc. you could build an entire network of elevated high-speed walkways, in the busy parts of NYC, as I discussed for Penn to GCT; not ugly things like an El Metro but more like the High LIne with vegetation, cafes etc. that would be much more pleasant to use. Are you guys going to let the Chinese, Japanese and Germans forever show you the way to the future? Trump’s populist slogan could certainly apply to American transport … 🙂

          • Alon Levy

            Where did I say there are disadvantages to “locomotive-passenger units”? Or do you mean disadvantages to separating locos from coaches, as opposed to running EMUs? Because maglev runs as EMUs too, with every car powered and occupied, just like 90% of conventional HSR ridership (and most of the remaining 10% is TGVs and the TGV-derived KTX).

            The Chinese are mainly showing everyone the way by building conventional trains (and a few monorails), and not maglev. The Germans, same. The Japanese, they’re building a maglev, alright, on a line where conventional HSR is maxed.

          • adirondacker12800

            Nobody else wants the German system including the Germans. Or the Chinese.

            It doesn’t have more capacity. It seemed like it would have more capacity back in 1962 when everybody thought the Japanese wouldn’t be able to run a railroad at 125mph/200kph for long. … they didn’t,.. they went faster. Commuters get upset if you slosh their coffee, being able to go really really fast after accelerating for miles and miles doesn’t do much good when the next stop is a mile or two away.

          • michael.r.james

            adirondacker12800 2017/04/09 – 02:52

            Of course it has higher capacity. It accelerates and decelerates faster than wheeled trains so regardless of station spacing it achieves higher average speeds. This is even true for RER style trains that are more efficient than standard light-rail Metro because the former are designed to be capable of achieving 100 kmph compared to the former at sub-25 kmph (though being heavier some of this is lost due to slower acceleration). Of course it is true that it works more efficiently if stations are further apart as RER stations are compared to Metro stops.

            It is much easier to drink coffee on any HSR including maglev than any conventional train, including when they are accelerating or decelerating. In any case, we’re talking commuter trains here. Is coffee even allowed? As far as I can tell Americans drink that stuff they call coffee out of those sippy-containers designed for babies, non?

            As for the Germans I reckon it was a failure of nerve. And the Germans would not have been sceptical about the Japanese as it was the French who developed the technology that proved more successful around the world, and how to implement in a Germany-sized & shaped country. I suspect the interoperability argument by existing railway management and conservative engineers and politicians would have won the day, especially in such countries with an existing very large rail system. (And they might have been correct.) On the other hand you are wrong that “nobody wants it” since the Chinese are building such a commuter line: the S1 line in Beijing:

            The 10.24-kilometer-long line, which uses low and medium-speed magnetic levitation technology, goes east from Mentougou’s Shimenying to Pingguoyuan of its neighboring Shijingshan District.
            Also known as the first urban low and medium-speed maglev light rail in the country, it runs at a top speed of 105 kilometers per hour, cutting travel time from Mentougou to Pingguoyuan to merely 8 minutes. The line has 8 stations along its route, six in Mentougou and 2 in Shijingshan.

            Construction has started (though most of the Chinese websites with info don’t seem to want to load …). As I understand it this is a re-configuration and development of Siemens TransRapid technology. (I don’t know its current status but Siemens were suing or threatening to sue the Chinese for stealing their technology. The Chinese insisted on technology transfer being part of the Shanghai TransRapid deal but they have probably taken liberties. The Chinese claim to have halved the cost of the technology too.)

            There is also a Japanese commuter line, the Linimo line:

            The line has a minimum operating radius of 75 m (246 ft) and a maximum gradient of 6%. The linear-motor magnetically levitated train has a top speed of 100 km/h (62 mph). More than 10 million passengers used this “urban maglev” line in its first three months of operation. At 100 km/h (62 mph), this urban transit technology is sufficiently fast for frequent stops, has little or no noise impact on surrounding communities, can fit into tight turn radii rights of way, and will operate reliably during most inclement weather conditions.
            Besides offering improved operation and maintenance costs over other transit systems, these low-speed maglevs provide ultra-high levels of operational reliability and introduce little noise and zero air pollution into dense urban settings.

            The Beijing line is shorter than the Gateway project but broadly similar number of stations. (And the longest stretch is between Secaucus and Penn Stn so this busiest of sections would benefit from its speed capability.)

            Oh, also, though while it may go nowhere, the Hyperloop project is evolving towards a maglev design of the Siemens type (but with sufficient PR to fix it as “American technology” in the political mind–all important.)

          • michael.r.james

            I forgot the second maglev line in China:

            The Changsha Maglev, or Changsha Maglev Express (Chinese: 长沙磁浮快线; pinyin: Chángshā cífú kuàixiàn), is a medium-low speed magnetic levitation, or maglev line in Changsha, China. This is China’s second maglev line, after Shanghai Maglev, and the first domestically built maglev line that uses indigenous technology. The line stretches over 18.55 kilometers and runs between Changsha Huanghua International Airport, Langli station and the high-speed railway station Changsha South Railway Station. Its rolling stock is designed for a speed of up to 120 km/h, currently however it is running with a maximum speed of 100 km/h.
            Construction started in May 2014, trial running in 26 December 2015, and finally start trial operations on 6 May 2016.[4] Since the beginning of construction in May 2014, the project has received an estimated investment of 4.6 billion yuan ($749 million).

            More about “Nobody else wants the German system”. Here is info on the latest iteration of the ThyssenKrupp variable-speed walkway (travellator), from 2015:

            Acccelerating walkway could extend rail’s reach
            David Briginshaw, 29 April 2015.

            ThyssenKrupp believes it has developed a system to extend the reach of rail without the need to build additional stations or costly extensions to the network. It is called Accel – a high-speed moving walkway capable of carrying 7300 passengers/h/direction in a permanent flow at speeds of 7.2km/h, or above 10km/h for people who decide to continue walking while on the belt, which is around double the average walking speed.

            Both of you guys were very negative about my suggestion of an elevated walkway to link Penn Stn to GCT, partly because of scepticism that Americans would be willing to “walk” such distances (even as the walkway is doing all the work, you lazy sods). I guess you would hate even more the idea of traversing the Hudson this way: by my reckoning it would be about 2.4km from the Union City side (close to car tunnel exits) to Penn Station (ie. not just riverbank to riverbank) so the Accel would allow people to traverse it in 14 minutes …
            But anyway, the reason I mention it is:

            The low-vibration and low-maintenance linear motors have been developed from the Transrapid maglev train.

          • Henry Chin

            @michael: Interoperability is the exact reason why this wouldn’t work. No one in their right mind coming from White Plains, Ronkonkoma, Morristown, or any of those other suburbs wants to introduce another transfer into their commutes. Does a commuter commute of ‘drive to train station, take train to Secaucus, take maglev to Penn, take subway or walk to work’ sound appealing to anyone? Either no one would use it and people would continue to fill the East River tunnels, or you’d force everyone onto it and end up tanking ridership by a half.

            Most of the cost of Gateway is acquisition costs for Penn South, and necessary quadrupling of Portal Bridge. Anything that maglev could do to reduce those costs, Amtrak could also probably do, since station design does not really change drastically from train type to train type.

          • michael.r.james

            In reply to:
            adirondacker12800 2017/04/10 – 11:07

            Airbus Pop-Up Pods.

            Absolutely. Designed for Americans so you won’t have to move your lazy asses even to change from car to train or plane. (Though I’m not sure your average-size American will fit in that thing, let alone two of you with shopping.) And just imagine, at peak hours, some 10,000 or 20,000 pods per hour flying across the Hudson …

          • adirondacker12800

            The maglev trains were in the April and November issue, the flying cars in the June issue and the vac trains in the October issue. The SSTs in the February and September issue. The PRT articles were quite interesting too. We were gonna be using them to get to the SST ports. Sometimes the flying cars were personal helicopters.

          • michael.r.james

            In reply to:

            adirondacker12800 2017/04/10 – 23:19
            The maglev trains were in the April and November issue, the flying cars in the June issue and the vac trains in the October issue. The SSTs in the February and September issue.

            The odd thing about that list is: unlike all the rest maglev is not fictional or some future fantasy. One has been operating for 12 years and has carried about 32m passengers, operates at between 350 and 430 kmph to traverse its 30.4 km in as little as 7m20s. Its operation has been flawless and almost without maintenance. The Japanese have an operating (if not commercial pax carrying) maglev that does 500 kmph and are building a 320km line for it (Nagoya to Tokyo in 45m). Then there are the five (probably more being built) lower-speed urban MagLev Metros in China, Japan and Korea.

            Oh, and the high-speed Thyssen-Krupp walkways and their cable-free sideways elevators aren’t fiction either.

            Even if Americans aren’t going to see any of these “futuristic” things any time soon (unless they get a passport and use it).

          • adirondacker12800

            There was commercial SST service to or from London or Paris for decades. WIkipedia says from 1976 to 2003. There was and probably never will be a Concorde II. We were all going to be on high speed hovercraft monorails if the maglev didn’t work out. The French built test tracks. Freight railroading was going to go obsolete because dirigible service was going to be cheaper and faster. Probably being filled with the waste helium from the cheap fusion plants. Maybe it was with the waste hydrogen from the electrolysis plants the fusion plants would be running. Drill the tunnel on a chord instead of an arc and you can be anywhere in the world in 42 minutes. Vac tube trains going 4,000 miles an hour in the cable stayed tube a few meters under the waves would get you from London and New York almost as fast as the tunnel drilled on a chord. Unless we were all going to the rocket port.

          • Henry


            Those are the reasons why you would build the whole line as MagLev.

            This is completely asinine. The rail network’s outer parts already exist in the form of conventional commuter rail; why reinvent the wheel and rebuild it from the ground up if it provides little transportation benefit? For increased through rail capacity, it makes more sense to build Gateway relief as the thing the rest of the network is already built as, conventional rail.

            This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem. Fetishization of maglev is a hammer looking for a nail to hit.

        • Alon Levy

          The Shanghai Maglev’s construction cost was average to above average for a Chinese el. And because it has to run segregated from all other traffic, it can’t get any closer to the CBD without new tunnels, which the Chinese government rejected on cost grounds; instead, it built a subway duplicating the route to the airport. The big advantage of conventional rail running on the same gauge as the legacy network here is that the construction is entirely outside built-up areas – the TGV rarely needs new approaches to the cities it serves, which helps keep construction costs down.

          As for the RER A, they’re building a tunnel extending the RER E to the west, and it’s not $10-20 billion, it’s around €3 billion including a lot of surface work.

          And what’s the penalty for EMUs that doesn’t exist for maglev, exactly?

          • michael.r.james

            Shanghai MagLev construction was higher than usual and predicted because all of it was built on essentially swamp (well, former river delta with deep soft subsoils). But so what? (For example some large fraction of the vastly longer Beijing to Shanghai HSR is similarly elevated and that structure has to be much more robust compared to carrying maglev. The part that brings it into Shanghai is the longest bridge in the world: 164-km long Danyang–Kunshan.) As I pointed out the maglev could get to the right bank by just continuing as it is. I don’t think cost was more than one factor, and really maybe a minor one, in the decision (though really indecision) about their MagLev plans. I’m not saying they were wrong but equally it’s kind of silly to dismiss maglev for anywhere else just because of those Chinese (or even German) decisions.
            BTW, I think we all know why the Japanese are doing maglev: to spend money on their own technology, and with the hope that it will be a loss-leader for selling it in overseas markets. It’s certainly a part of Abenomics to stimulate the domestic economy. On demographic grounds it is not at all clear their rail network will need the extra capacity.

            As to RER-E, I agree that €3bn for the 8km tunnel and associated stations etc is a veritable bargain; so much so that I remain a tad sceptical and will look forward to your reports on this as it completes 🙂 As you know it wouldn’t buy anything like that in the Anglophone world.

            Re EMUs, I really don’t think I was making the argument you imply. I was simply pointing out the feature of maglev (which adds little weight and in any case is obligatory). EMUs redistributes weight across the train (which is good; not sure what we are arguing about).
            I mention both the maglev and that amazing Beijing-Shanghai HSR because I reckon it is a model for how the NEC-HSR should be done. When you’ve got such horrible issues as conflicted ROW (due to freight) and densely-built ground structures (roads and buildings etc) along the entire route, at some point it is just easier and probably cheaper to go over it all. That single Danyang–Kunshan bridge on the Shanghai HSR is 70% of the NYC-WashDC distance! But once you’ve made that decision the next decision is to go to MagLev. I am absolutely certain there would be a reasonable case for a NEC MagLev (from NYC: 30m to Boston; 33m to DC). In a prior age the US wouldn’t be pissing around for half a century (after the rest of the world builds HSR) … they’d just do it.

          • Alon Levy

            The RER E tunnel is cheaper than that; my understanding is that the cost includes a lot of surface work. The tunnel might be just €2 billion. If it really were €3 billion I’d be surprised: it’d be almost €400 million per km, whereas M14, in much more difficult environment, was around €200 million/km. (RER stations are longer than Metro stations, but there are only 2 of them in the new tunnel, and they’re in Porte Maillot and La Defense, not Central Paris.)

            JR-Maglev has nothing to do with Abe. The Chuo Shinkansen plans predate him; the national government isn’t financing the line, even under Abe, and the most JR Central is getting from the public sector is money from prefectures to build intermediate stations between Tokyo and Nagoya. Current industrial policy still emphasizes exporting conventional Shinkansen, which is already almost Pareto-superior to European HSR, except in being vendor-locked (and in D-ATC being vendor-locked and possibly lower-capacity than ETCS 2). The demographics are just fine – Greater Tokyo and Greater Nagoya have positive population growth (and the cities proper grow faster than the suburbs), and Greater Osaka doesn’t but Osaka proper does.

          • michael.r.james

            Hah, look at what is in the latest edition of CityLab that just dropped into my inbox:

            Should the Hyperloop Be for Cities or Suburbia?
            One company is making progress on the technology, but where it ends up is an open question.
            Linda Poon, 11 April 2017.

            Berger was among the panelists speaking at the event, and also one of the judges reviewing the 11 proposals the day before. His role was to help the “technology minds” understand the urban planning issues around mobility in the U.S. “The Hyperloop shouldn’t go into the city,” he says. “It should be trying to capture, in a concentric city model, all the peripheral movement.” Most people, he adds, move from one periphery area to another instead of traveling into the city, anyway. In that sense, the system should work for people living in suburban or ex-urban areas, which he says make up some 70 percent of the American population.

            My take on Hyperloop has always been that it is simply an Americanized version of maglev. And now considering it for intra-city travel I can’t see that the main original feature of Hyperloop, ie. a tube under vacuum, makes any sense since you can’t hyperaccelerate/decelerate humans to take advantage of it. At the speeds of essentially Metro there’s no point at all. They will end up with an Americanized maglev (which is fine if that is what it takes to bring Americans to the modern world of transport). There is a map of the Texas HSR triangle in that article.

  6. Ian Mitchell

    If CAHSR does indeed go with the inland empire-SD routing, what’s the right approach to LA-SD?

    • car(e)-free LA

      Along the existing LOSSAN corridor to Solana Beach, then along a new ROW to Sorrento Valley, combining into a Peninsula-corridor-esque, blended line with HSR to San Diego, like this:

      That said, I think CAHSR should do a NAUS-Norwalk-ARTIC-Corona-Murrieta-Escondido-University City-San Diego Routing, with a branch from Corona to Riverside Downtown and San Bernardino TC, rather than the currently planned LAUS-El Monte-Ontario Airport-San Bernardino-Moreno Valley-Murrieta-Escondido-University City-San Diego routing, with a branch to Norwalk and Anaheim.

  7. Ryan

    where there is still not enough traffic to justify long segments with additional tracks (that would be four tracking Boston-Providence

    This hasn’t been true at any other time you’ve posted it and it isn’t true now; four tracking BOS-PVD can and absolutely should happen. It is further the only way that a full set of (4 locals, 4 expresses, 4 intercity, 4 HSR) can happen.

    South of PVD I’m willing to accept that it’s overkill compared to station overtakes, but south of PVD there are no regional express stops that aren’t intercity stops anyway in any universe of new or current infrastructure and stopping patterns; Rhode Island should be adopting the New Haven Line model and therefore all 4 of the commuter express trains magically become locals out of Providence and no local traffic proceeds south of there.

    • Alon Levy

      There is no reason for there to be 4 local and 4 express regional trains between Providence and Boston. The Providence Line has wide stop spacing and plenty of ridership per station, distributed relatively equally along the entire line from Route 128 south. (From Readville north, ridership is suppressed by separate-and-unequal fare policy and poor frequency). Nor is there enough demand for 8 tph on the line: right now there’s demand for 3 tph at the peak, and the mode share of commuter rail for Boston-bound workers is already pretty high, so 4 tph is reasonable.

      The New Haven Line model is just not applicable. Boston is not as big as New York, the Providence Line has much wider stop spacing than the New Haven Line, and there are no distinguished stops like Stamford.

      • adirondacker12800

        …It’s Shoreline West, west of Providence. Twice an hour to Kingston and Westerly would be overkill. Might be a good places for the Kodama to Hartford and Springfield to stop. So that dozens and dozens of people a day can get on and off the trains.

        • Alon Levy

          Yeah, I was going to say something along the lines of, south of Providence it’s more like Shore Line East to Boston-Providence’s New Haven Line, and not Stamford-New Haven to Boston-Providence’s New York-Stamford.

  8. michael.r.james

    In reply to:
    Alon Levy 2017/04/10 – 23:46

    JR-Maglev has nothing to do with Abe. The Chuo Shinkansen plans predate him; the national government isn’t financing the line, even under Abe, and the most JR Central is getting from the public sector is money from prefectures to build intermediate stations between Tokyo and Nagoya.

    Well, of course it’s been cooking for decades so maybe, but we’ll see. I know that JR Central, since it has all the fabulous infrastructure (not to mention more than 4 decades of the maglev research project) built over 6 decades by the Japanese government, is profitable and is of a size that it might be able to manage such a big project without the usual troubles and recourse to government bailouts. OTOH, I don’t know where that “private finance” comes from, especially given that the Japanese government holds something like 10% of all Japanese stocks etc. As you know I don’t necessarily accept the description of some of these Japanese entities as “private” especially when they are essentially trustees of huge capital infrastructure built and financed by government over decades. I note that their owners only add up to 25% (the biggest slice is 4.7% by Mizuho Corporate Bank) so what about the remaining 75% (feasibly pension funds etc but why not listed) or does government still retain a majority ownership? Can you imagine their corporate strategies are not approved at the highest levels, or that they are really free to do as they wish (such as sell off land holdings etc)?

    Re financing: already:

    Politicians from the Kansai region have called for expanded government assistance in order to expedite the line’s construction.


    The demographics are just fine

    Are you sure? Overall national decline (dubious plan to “stabilize at 100m” which is already a 25% decline) and currently 26% are over 65y and that is approaching 40% in coming decades. Do such oldies travel that much? (Maybe to airports so as to visit their grandchildren and great-grandchildren in places like Australia, Hawaii and California … )

    • Alon Levy

      JR Central has no government ownership; neither do the other mainline JRs. The island JRs might still be government-owned in part; I know one of them has recently been sold to investors, but I forget whether it’s Hokkaido or Kyushu.

      Japan’s population is declining, yes. But it’s the rural areas that are emptying, not the cities. Tokyo itself has high population growth, since, unlike London, Paris, and New York, it’s building housing at a fast pace (10 units per 1,000 people, vs. 5.5 in Ile-de-France and around 2 in New York).

  9. Stephen Karlson

    Have you considered the Chicago style three track configuration, as on the old Burlington line, and the Chicago and North Western Harvard line? (The Elburn line also has three tracks, but there aren’t enough intermediate crossovers yet to exploit the flexibility.) Yes, it’s one fast direction at a time, but that works for the commuter rush hours, and the longer-distance trains can go with that flow during the rush hour, and be scheduled so as to not be stuck behind the off-peak and peak-reverse-direction locals at other times. And somehow Burlington, well, BNSF, manage to blend in more than a few intermodal and autorack trains as well.

    • michael.r.james

      In reply to:
      Alon Levy 2017/04/11 – 11:32

      This is all deja vu about true JR ownership.
      First, you don’t give any sources and my own (brief) searches just reveal the official (eg. in JR-Central annual financial report) listing of their top ten or so shareholders which in total account for about 29%. This might imply the rest are holdings of small numbers of shares by what would have to be lots of individual investors. Perhaps (perhaps the government organised this at the time of privatisation which is not uncommon, ie. a significant proportion of stock is reserved for small investors who get a special discount).
      Second, the deja vu part is that I have previously explained on these pages how the huge liabilities of the JNR was assumed by the JNR Settlement Corporation when JR Central and East and West were created). Of course these growing liabilities and its burden on public finances was a major reason for the privatisation (exactly as for British Rail) however the new private entities did not inherit these burdens. There was a government charge on the companies that was supposed to cover the interest charge on these costs via the Settlement Corporation. Naturally this arrangement has repeatedly failed and the debt continues to grow; yet “analysts” will continue to claim that JR-Central (and the others) are “profitable”. Well, give anyone trillions of yen (if not dollars) of infrastructure without any of the pre-existing liabilities–and development rights over stations etc–and it is not too difficult to make money, but they are really making profit from public debt (and continuing public liability for that debt).
      Third, this is why:

      The JR Group lies at the heart of Japan’s railway network, operating a large proportion of intercity rail service (including the Shinkansen high-speed rail lines) and commuter rail service. Despite JR East, JR Central and JR West now having full private ownership, Japanese people often talk about “private railways” as if none of JR Group (nor third sector former JR lines) is part of them, since they are successors of “national railways” i.e. JNR. Maps almost always denoted JR and private railways differently, as does JR itself.

      And they are perfectly correct to do so. And it is why, as I wrote in the earlier comment, that none of these “private” companies will have true independent action, as is only correct and proper. I don’t have the patience–or perhaps the analytical skills–to know whether this arrangement (notionally private entities but with ultimate public liability not to mention trillions in assets never truly accounted for) is better than the fully government-owned arrangement. Quite possibly this kind of thing works well enough in nations like Japan, China, Singapore, Hong Kong and indeed France. But we know it is a diabolical disaster in the UK and Anglophone countries.

      Take my own backyard: about a decade or so ago, Queensland Railways (state-owned) privatised its profitable arm which was the freight component (now called Aurizon)–which was extremely profitable on the back of the massive coal mining. (Note that Queensland is about four times the size of Texas but with one quarter the population, obviously not an easy mix for rail.) But the passenger side is continually starved of investment and is labelled a poorly-run cash drain by the usual suspects. All of the network and business was funded by government yet the profitable part is allowed to be effectively cherry-picked by investors (for what always turns out to be a nominal return to government; of course they will claim the entity is hugely profitable because, you know, it is so more efficiently managed!). Yet despite this profitability, both state and federal governments want to subsidize to the tune of $1 billion, a new freight railway to support the biggest coal mine in the world by an Indian family company (Adani; Gallilee Basin). Doubtless this railway will also be considered “fully private” and make loadsamoney … for someone. (Actually this whole dodgy project is unlikely to succeed. It has become the biggest eco-fight in the nation. The public is not amused by the fact that many multinational mining companies manage to register massive profits but not to pay any tax in Australia, often via their Singapore Sling tricks.)

      Re Japan’s population decline, you have more confidence than I have. Of course the majority of small towns and villages have been in decline for decades but eventually this and the ageing demographic must catch up with the cities–especially as, unlike all those other world cities you mention, Japan has effectively zero net immigration and has failed in any program to induce it. But I hope Japan does resolve these issues, because ultimately they will face the whole developed world before too long. It would be good to have an example, though arguably Japan is too singular to be a model for the rest of us.

      • Alon Levy

        Japan’s birthrates are rising; it’s possible population will stabilize. Abe is sincerely trying to make it easier to have the work-life balance required for family.

        I’d class Singapore and Hong Kong as the worst of the Anglosphere, to be honest. The MTR is getting corrupt land deals – the government could be selling the land to the highest bidder instead of handing it over to the MTR for cheap. And in Singapore, the Government Investment Corporation, headed by the prime minister’s wife, seems to have lost several hundred billion dollars of the sovereign wealth fund, financed by mandatory pension contributions; the state has been steadily cutting pensions since 2003 using higher life expectancy as an excuse. Not to mention, construction costs in Singapore and Hong Kong are very high, more like the US than like France or Japan, let alone Spain or South Korea.

        • michael.r.james

          I’d agree about Singapore but you are totally utterly wrong about Hong Kong. First remember than MTRC is still majority government owned (and I hope it remains that way) so it is not “giving” stuff away to private interests. And this is the world’s best type of value capture, ie. where the capture is by the entity (majority public) creating the infrastructure that is creating the value in the first place. And the proof is in the pudding, that MTRC is now nominally profitable (though still in the sense that it doesn’t repay the historic value of the assets which were fully built by the public; and never will, just as the various JRs never will). Further, the red-in-tooth-and-claw developers in Hong Kong (who let’s face it are about the most rapacious on the planet) cannot be too unhappy about. Not least because they still get the biggest share of the new development, such as in Tung Chung (new town opposite the airport) destined to be a town of 250,000 upmarket enclave.
          So overall it is a good arrangement that MTRC is able to help fund its operations by capturing some of that value that it enables (I’m not sure anyone owns a car in Tung Chung as you can travel into Central in about 30m.) Indeed MTRC is able to contribute about 50% of the capital cost of new lines and stations etc (the rest still comes from government) only because of this activity (ie. value capture). Gotta hope no future government fucks with this highly-functional arrangement (by doing what you propose: giveaway to purely private property developers who always get absurd bargains when public assets are sold. Funny that.)

    • Alon Levy

      I have! I tend to dislike it, more than most railfans. The big reason is that I don’t like it when fast intercity trains have to take the diverging direction on a switch, and if there are three tracks, at some point this is inevitable; if there are two or four, or a blend of two and four, this is not necessary.

      Freight trains should be accommodated on the local tracks rather than the express tracks. Their average speed is comparable to that of local commuter trains. They have a different speed profile – a constant low speed rather than medium speed punctuated by stops – but if the frequency isn’t too high, it doesn’t matter as much as average speed does. I computed this for a proposed line in Providence at 15-minute frequency and it worked, with spare capacity; it’s probably still good down to 10-minute passenger rail frequency, maybe even a little more.

      On BNSF, there is probably no way to accommodate frequent passenger traffic on two tracks. Express trains are needed even with electrification, most likely, so the inner parts have to be four-tracked, for local and express commuter trains rather than for freight (which could go on the local tracks, off-peak – even BNSF has more passenger than freight trains per day).

      • anonymouse

        You could have a three track arrangement with the center track being a reversible local line, so that the express trains stay on the outside tracks all the time, and the locals use the center track in the peak direction and mix with the expresses in the reverse-peak direction. But that also requires platforms with access to all three tracks.

        • Alon Levy

          The problem is that if you have too big a difference between peak and reverse-peak service, trains still pile up at the center.

  10. Benjamin Turon

    High Speed Rail Boston-Albany??? It takes the Lake Shore Limited 5 1/2 hours to travel the 200 miles from South Station to Rensselaer, there is one train a day, and due to delays from Chicago the eastbound train is seldom on-time. It took the New York Central in 1952 using Budd RDCs (Beeliners) only 4 1/4 hours in 1952, making more stops than the Lake Shore makes today. So if you could replicate that today, or even knock travel time below 4 hours (3hrs 45mins?) you’ll be doing great!

    • adirondacker12800

      It’s 175 on I-90/I-93. Greyhound makes it in 3 1/2 when traffic isn’t bad. If Bostonians want to take the train to Montreal and Toronto it has to get to Albany in 1:15, 1:30.

    • Alon Levy

      What Adi said. Boston-Albany HSR is justified because of the connections to points west (and to Montreal, with a timed transfer at Albany).

      The problem with trying to restore NYC speeds is that there’s heavier freight traffic west of Worcester. West of Springfield the terrain gets hilly, which slows down freights dramatically, making it even harder to run passenger trains at speed.

      • adirondacker12800

        There are enough people in New England for whole train loads to be going to Montreal. Vermont AOT and their consultants came up with 8 trains a day which I think is too low.

        Click to access BostonMontrealHSR.pdf

        Unless you want to run trainloads of empty seats between New York and Albany there won’t be any seats for them to have a timed transfer with.

        • Alon Levy

          My fantasy schedule is 3 patterns: Boston-Buffalo, New York-Montreal, New York-Buffalo. The first two have a timed transfer; the third provides additional service on the two busiest legs of the cross at Albany.

          • adirondacker12800

            There’s a lot of empty seats between New York and Albany. Metro Albany has a tenth of population of southern New England. There won’t be enough people getting off the train.

          • Benjamin Turon

            A decent modern intercity rail service Boston-Albany utilizing the current CSX mainline seems entirely possible given that the former double-track line is now largely single track from Albany to Springfield to Worcester. Redoubling the line would seem to go a large way to addressing conflicts between freight and passenger trains.

            Given how the FRA now seems to be backing away from its proposal in the NEC Future EIS to build a parallel double-track electrified railway next to the existing double-track electrified railway in Southeastern Connecticut and also its commitment for further upgrades from New Haven to Hartford and Springfield; and Massachusetts’ new found political enthusiasm for “HSR” from Boston to Springfield… simply upgrading the entire Amtrak-CSX inland route from New Haven to Boston would seem logical. Avoid the “NIMBYs” by going to the “PIMBYs”, expand NEC service to new communities.

            Obviously, we would not want to adversely effect freight traffic, but as far as I can see from Springfield to Worcester it wouldn’t be that much more difficult in terms of land acquisition and construction to make that a three-track electrified main line. True there is curvature but that is what tilt is for, otherwise why have it? It seems to me from Springfield to Worchester, or even Albany to Worchester the ownership of the existing line could be divided between the state governments and the freight railroad.

            With the Boston-Springfield segment upgraded as a triple track electrified railway and the Albany-Springfield segment doubled-tracked (ideally also electrified but why push it?) a double-ended diesel hauled intercity tilt train-set (think Brightline) should be able to make in let’s say at least 3 hours. The example should be Japan’s conventional “limited-express” intercity services where the limitations of existing ROWs can be overcome in part by innovative technology, like its new active pneumatic air spring tilt system that is cheaper to install and maintain then older tilt system. It only tilts up to 2-degrees but that’s still an extra 5, 10, or 15 mph around most curves.

            But given even the fact that the cost would only be a “few billion” its hard seeing New York State committing to such a project, but if Massachusetts upgrades Boston-Springfield for “HSR” passenger service it would be foolish for NYS not to piggyback on this to bring some sort of corridor service to Albany from Boston.

            Remember it takes the “Late Shore” Limited 5.5 hours today but the New York Central in 1952 ran the 200-mile route in 4.25 hours with Budd RDC “Beeliners”. I think we could do the same, if not much better today if we wanted too!

          • Alon Levy

            …is the FRA actually proposing quadrupling the Shore Line? I haven’t seen anything along those lines. I’d be surprised if it did, since the Shore Line isn’t at or anywhere near capacity, and the only problem segments are the movable river crossings, for which the low-investment solution is to replace them with higher fixed spans.

            Massachusetts has zero enthusiasm for service expansion, actually. It’s looking at a slow-ass Boston-Springfield train. Maybe someone in the state conflates that with HSR, but none of the informed transit activists I interface with does. The slow-ass train is not planned to be electrified, and, depending on your point of view, either interferes with fast electric operations on Boston-Worcester or creates demand for diesel trains displaced by electrification.

            Double-ended diesel trains… ew. Locomotives are expensive. There are exactly two passenger trains in the world that has any business running two of them: the TGV Duplex and the Talgo AVRIL. The TGV needs two power cars to supply enough power to the train, and the same is true of high-speed Talgos. Normally, all electric passenger trains should be EMUs, but the Talgo tilt system doesn’t work with powered axles, and the TGV Duplex is bilevel so it has somewhat more seats than a single-level EMU (by about 10%). Diesel trains usually have no business running locomotives, but if they do, it should be one loco.

          • adirondacker12800

            NEC-o-Future is carving a new ROW between Providence and Hartford then on to Waterbury and Danbury. So sorta kinda four tracks. If they want to get from Boston to New York in 90 minutes there can’t be a local train stopping every few miles on the same tracks. I suspect they are actually thinking about ShinDanbury and ShinWaterbury, Otherwise there would have to be tunnels into downtown. Hartford too.

          • Alon Levy

            The alternative they’re saying they’re trying to move forward with is Alt 1, the one with the short bypasses.

          • adirondacker12800

            Short bypasses don’t get 90 minutes. Probably don’t even get 2 hours. They don’t it want near the bucolic charm of the Turnpike, they don’t want it through town…. It can go via the Inland Route or on a causeway from Orient Point to Westerly. They can take the once an hour SLE train to New Haven or Westerly and change trains. Or sit in traffic on the Turnpike and pay for parking near the HSR station.

          • car(e)-free LA

            One noteworthy thing abut an inland route is that if built, a 30 mile spur to Poughkeepsie could cut Empire Service train’s times by about 30 minutes. This also allows Albany/Montreal/Buffalo trains to enter New York from the east, allowing them to run through to Harrisburg or Washington. This makes new routes that could partially share tracks with HSR viable, like Stamford to New Canaan to Danbury Pittsfield, or Hartford to UConn to Norwich to New London. Moreover, it allows the elimination of slower, inefficient services, like Southeast-Wassaic, and Danbury-Norwalk.

            I also think that a lot of efficiency is gained through routing all Amtrak service, as well as Port Washington-NYC-Montclair/Boonton service through ESA to Gran Central, then through a new tunnel to Hoboken, instead of Gateway. Assuming a Hoboken-WTC-Atlantic tunnel, this results in a very simple service pattern that doesn’t have to deal with Amtrak much:
            Jersey NEC-New Haven
            Hudson-LIRR Main
            Harlem-Grand Central-somewhere south someday
            Montclair Boonton-Port Washington
            North of Secaucus-LIRR Babylon

  11. adirondacker12800

    Short bypasses don’t get you from Boston to New York in 90 minutes. You might get between Boston and New London in 45 with some straighting here and there but west of New London it goes all squiggly. If Connectucuters don’t want trains ruining the bucolic charm next to the Turnpike the causeway can always go from Montauk to Westerly. Being able to get out to the Hamptons in under an hour will be deeply fascinating to New Yorkers. Being able to get to Saratoga Spring in 90 minutes will be too. Along with Bostonians. Who if they can get to the Hamptons in under an hour won’t be as interested in coastal Connecticut. Or to Saratoga Springs.

    There are enough people and enough traffic on the Connecticut Turnpike that upgrading the Shore Line makes sense, for local traffic. The local traffic can include a once every hour or two through train. Or out to ShinNewLondon where the SLE trains and MBTA trains have timed transfers with the intercity trains. Or Westerly.

    • Alon Levy

      The NEC Future alt 1 plan indeed isn’t anywhere close to 90 minutes NY-Boston. I forget what the target trip time is – probably on the order of 2.5 hours.

        • Benjamin Turon

          In the NEC Future DEIS the Boston-DC travel time in Alt 3 was to be reduced from the current 6.5 hrs by almost 3 hrs, so a total travel time of about 3.5 hrs. The cost was of course $290 billion.

          In the final EIS the Boston-NYC trip time is predicted to be 2 hrs 45 mins and NYC-DC is 2 hrs 10 mins. If you had 15 mins layover at Penn Station the trip time Boston to DC would be about 5 hrs 10 mins. The cost of the preferred alternative in the EIS is $123-8 billion which is actually higher than the cost for Alt. 1 in the DEIS which was $65 billion. The reason is a lot of the “new segments” (bypasses or cutoffs) of Alt. 2 south of NYC where adopted and the idea of a new rail line New Haven-Hartford-Providence in Alt. 2 was dropped in favor of a roughly 50 mile new segment paralleling the existing coast line from Old Saybrook Station to almost Kingston Station in Rhode Island that was in Alt. 2.

          That’s the segment everyone in that part of Connecticut is screaming about, first the residents and now their state and congressional representatives. If I remember from the reporting most of the public comments for the DEIS came from Connecticut, and according to the most recent reporting the proposed new segment passing thru Old Saybrook, Old Lyme, New London, Groton, and Mystic will be by the FRA downgraded to “aspirational” or as a “suggestion” in their “Record of Decision”. There is also apparently growing public protest to a new high speed segment from Norwalk to New Rochelle in Metro-North territory on the other side of the state. And apparently a proposal by the FRA to electrify from New Haven to Hartford and Springfield is opposed by the state government which fears the Tier 2 EIS studies will take to much time to complete and delay some planned work.

          If it was me, I would make the necessary investments Penn Station to New Haven to increase capacity and then multi-track and electrify a inland route utilizing existing Amtrak and CSX rail lines from New Haven to Hartford, Springfield, Worcester, and Boston. Dealing with CSX would be difficult, but I think you create a shared ownership rail line with the caopacity carry both freight and new intercity trains. Given that NEC regional trains already terminate at Springfield, making it so all trains on the Hartford Line could run Boston-Washington just seems to make sense. To me travel time is less important than increase frequency, if you can make it in about 3 hours with the Acela Service than that should be good enough.

          In reality there is no money for any thing in the NEC Future EIS, and its unlikely that there will be for the foreseeable future. The Republicans who control the Congress opposed infrastructure spending and the Trump Administration in its proposed budget zeros out USDOT funding like TIGER Grants and New Starts. The talk is about encouraging private investment and not more public spending. There are even doubts about funding for the Gateway Project. Trump talks big about infrastructure but so far his words are not backed by action.

          • Benjamin Turon

            Well I did a lot of online research tonight, and also dug up my old New York Central timetables and Budd RDC brochure and it seems like a 4 hr 30 min travel time or even 4 hr 15 min Albany-Boston is within the realm of possibility. In 1950 utilizing Budd RDCs making eight intermediate stops New York Central ‘Beeliners’ ran the 200 miles in 4 hr 15 min which was increased to 4 hr 30 min by the mid-1950s. If I remember a hurricane or something like that damaged the line, and the railroad opted for a cheap repair that added an extra 15 mins to the schedule.

            In the fifties, there was multiple round trips but those included long-distance trains like the ‘New England States’ to Chicago which were slower than the Budd RDC ‘Beeliner’s. There was a single Boston-Albany ‘Beeliner’ round-trip, the train left Boston at 7:00am and arrived in Springfield at 9:00am and Albany at 11:15am, in time to make the connection with the westbound ‘Empire State Express’. There was a return trip making more intermediate station stops that departed at 4:20pm and arrived Boston at 9:00pm. So that is what was possible in the 1950s.

            MassDOT’s “Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative” examined three alternatives and eliminated the 60-mph one (Alt. 1) and the 90-mph tilt train one (Alt. 3), selecting the middle 79-mph alternative (Alt 2.). The 90-mph Tilt Train alternative was 15 minutes faster than the 79-mph one but with ticket fares Boston-Springfield of $25 its extra costs outweighed its increase in ridership and revenue, which was 170,000 more than the 1 million of the 79-mph alternative. The travel time Boston-Springfield for 79-mph Alt. 2 is 2:01, about three minutes slower than in 1956 for the ‘Beeliner’.

            So let’s suppose that this charitably called “HrSR” project went thru, could New York State piggyback onto it to create a useful intercity service Albany-Boston? I think that yes, you could. If you take the current travel time of the ‘Lake Shore Limited’ between Springfield and Albany than a travel time of 4 hr 38 min would be the result. If you go by the 1956 ‘Beeliner’ travel time than you cut that to 4 hr 28 min and if you go by the 1950 ‘Beeliner’ travel time than a 4 hr 15 min travel time is within reach.

            For comparison driving on the 1-90 (which mileage 30 miles shorter than the railroad) takes 2 hr 45 min. Greyhound has 4 departures starting at 6:30am with 4 hr 40 min trip making four intermediate stops, but the other three at 10:00am, 1:50pm, and 8:15pm take 3 hr 30 min. The schedule from Boston to Albany is about the same, except there are some transfers in Springfield required for some trips. Fares start at $24. As for airlines Cape Air offers three non-stop round trips daily at $406. Amtrak takes over 5 hours with the Lake Shore, its starting coach fare is $24.

            Ideally the intercity train should be at least as fast as the bus, but with the Boston-Springfield travel time of Alt. 2 combined with a travel time Springfield-Albany requiring minimum investment in infrastructure a 4 hr 30 min travel time is likely the best that can be done. Two train-sets could provide two and a half round trips daily, with each set alternating throughout the week between Boston and the maintenance base at Rensselaer. Combined with the ‘Lake Shore Limited’ a traveler would have their choice of four daily departures and arrivals. Properly scheduled an individual at Albany, Boston or several intermediate stations would be able to make a day trip by train.

            For example, trains departing Albany and Boston at 6:30am would arrive at their destinations at 11:00am. Turned and cleaned for 12:30pm departures they would arrive at 5:00pm, to be cleaned and turned for 6:30pm departures and 11:00 pm arrivals.

            As for rollingstock, it could be conventional locomotive hauled rake of conventional coaches but perhaps a intercity version of Nippon Sharyo’s FRA compliant commuter DMU could cut travel times with better grade climbing and faster acceleration from station stops. This is why I suggested two locomotives for a seven-coach set before. And perhaps adopting Japan’s active pneumatic air spring tilt system could also shave off minutes by allowing higher speeds, even at 60 to 79-mph thru curves. It be cool if Nippon Sharyo was able to create a Turboliner like DMU train-set incorporating the best of Japanese rail tech. Perhaps with high horse power and tilt you could with minimum infrastructure costs get Albany-Boston close to 4 hours even if speeds are limited to the 60 (Albany-Springfield) to 79 (Springfield-Boston) mph range.

            I think the idea is at least worth some study my MassDOT and NYSDOT.

          • Alon Levy

            You’re proposing really bad rolling stock. The FRA-compliant DMU is not great: single-source, heavy, not much of a history of reliable operations.

            You also underestimate the flexibility of the car. Amtrak takes 4 hours to get from Boston to New York today, and 3.5 from New York to Washington. In both cases it’s faster than cars in the middle of the day. The modal split seems about even between trains and buses, but by far most people making those trips drive. New York-Boston also has a nontrivial number of fliers.

          • Benjamin Turon

            Concerning the proposed Boston-Springfield-New Haven trains of the “Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative” it still seems to be it would be best if these where trains that ran thru to New York City. Its the biggest population center and destination in the Northeast, why stop short of it and require transfers at New Haven? Without electrification you could avoid engine changes by using the new PRIIA dual-mode locomotives. Their top speed is limited to 110-mph (due to weight of additional equipment) but with new high-speed segments in Metro-North territory these trains could run on the existing tracks at existing speeds to Penn or perhaps even Grand Central Station.

          • Alon Levy

            I don’t think it’s physically possible to do New York-Boston in 3 hours via Hartford and Springfield on the existing ROW. The Boston-Springfield line is very curvy. The shared tracks with commuter rail east of Worcester also create bigger capacity problems than on the faster Providence Line.

          • Benjamin Turon

            Yes, 3 hours NYC-Boston on the Inland Route utilizing the numbers from the “Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative” is not possible, the best travel time utilizing the Boston-New Haven travel time from ALT 3 (90-mph Tilt Train) and that of the Acela New Haven-Penn Station gets you… 3:16 + 1:32 = 4:48. Perhaps a more realistic travel time utilizing that for the ‘Regionals’ New Haven-Penn Station would be… 3:16 + 1:46 = 5:02. That compares to 4:10 today by Amtrak ‘Regional’ trains on the current NEC and 3:35 by the ‘Acela’.

            Now if you were to go full bore NEC Future with the massive investment in new infrastructure including electrification and segments of new high speed track on new ROW then you could get close to current travel times I think. Examining the maps from the “Northern New England” study there is a real slow (25-60 mph) section making up about 2/3rds of the track from Palmer to Worcester, so perhaps building a new 125-mph cut-off “New Segment” like those proposed elsewhere in the NEC Future Final EIS could lead to a significant reduction in Boston-Springfield travel times. In ALT 3 at 90-mph with tilt you had 1:46 so perhaps you could get that down to 1:16? Now assuming you ran the 4 proposed express trains Boston-New Haven at Acela timings south of New Haven and the 4 proposed all-stops trains at Regional timings then NYC-Boston you get… 4:18 Express and 4:32 Regional via a new electrified Inland Route. Of course with the NEC Future’s proposed new high speed segment in Metro-North territory south of New Haven, travel times would be further compare to today, so perhaps you could cut another 30 min? Getting you to 3:48 Express and 4:02 Regional.

            Now the new Avelia Liberty is a higher degree of tilt compare to the existing Acela sets so that could get you NYC-Boston closer to 3 hours as originally planned in the 1990s. Amtrak is also proposing an hourly Acela frequency NYC-Boston with the new train-sets, which will also be longer and thus carry more passengers. In the final preferred alternative of the NEC Future the travel time NYC-Boston for the Acela is 2:45, take out that controversial segment in SE Conn and perhaps that rises to 3 hours?

          • Alon Levy

            Okay, so now you’re talking about building an expensive cutoff in hilly terrain, where tunnels may not be avoidable, and run trains at 200 km/h on it, to achieve an average speed that a good tilting train can do on the legacy Shore Line.

            Just to showcase how unreliable everything that runs on the NEC is, look at New York-New Haven. I was jotting down train speeds to figure out what a regional rail schedule would look like on the New Haven Line. Turned out the end-to-end travel time was 1:17, for a train that makes every stop from South Norwalk East and limited stops between Grand Central and South Norwalk (Harlem, New Rochelle, Greenwich, Stamford). This includes only 2 curve modifications: straightening curves in Milford (where these regional trains are stopping anyway), and replacing the two short, sharp curves in Cos Cob with one long, wide curve as part of the Cos Cob Bridge raising. This is with 150 mm cant (today: 127) and 150 mm cant deficiency (today: 76); Metro-North does not allow the Acela to run any faster than its own trains even when there’s plenty of room in the schedule, e.g. east of Stamford. A tilting train not stopping between Stamford and New Haven could do this in about an hour, with a rail-on-rail grade separation in New Rochelle.

            To reiterate: there’s half an hour of possible saving, most of which can be done today, coming purely from better organization. This can be done because the New Haven Line has four tracks and little freight traffic, and isn’t as curvy as Boston-Springfield.

  12. Benjamin Turon

    Investing in the Inland route isn’t about reducing travel times but increasing capacity and serving other markets better by giving them thru NEC service. I think if your running trains from Boston to New Haven, you might as well go all the way to New York City. MassDot has chosen the 79-mph ALT. 2 so to run to New York City you would need to use the new PRIIA dual-mode locomotives which Metro-North will be soliciting bids for some time this year.

    • Alon Levy

      Is Metro-North soliciting bids for dual-modes? Its network is electrified except for a few tails running through to Grand Central with third-rail dual modes, and if they asked me I’d tell them to electrify everything.

      How does the Inland Route increase capacity? There is no capacity limit on the Shore Line: the trains are so short that the next move should be to lengthen consists to 16 cars, all occupied. The Acela has 306 seats per train, a Shinkansen at equal seating density would have 1,100. Better rolling stock makes it more advantageous to build the bypasses (and build them right – the current plan for Old Lyme has more impact than it has to have), but works even without them.

      • adirondacker12800

        The next move is to go from 6 car trains, with 5 cars of seats, to 8 car trains with 7 cars of seats, a 40 percent increase.
        If Old Lyme doesn’t want to be able to take the once every hour or so Regional that toddles through on the old Shore Line tracks to get to New York or Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore…. The back office jobs can go to Utica or Lancaster instead of to New London. … Some tunneling in Hicksville and a few dozen houses in Bethpage gets nice straight track

  13. Benjamin Turon

    It’s too late to discuss electrification Croton-Harmon, Metro-North needs to start replacing their existing dual-mode fleet as it reaches it’s the end of its service life, and Amtrak is in worse shape for its dual-modes used for the ‘Empire Service’, half of the fleet as passed its 20-year service life and their failure rate is reportedly pretty high, and getting higher. The good news is their getting new paint jobs, so they might not move but they’ll look pretty!

    Electrification would have been a good idea 10 years ago, you could have timed it with the now necessary fleet renewal (as apparently Caltrains was doing before Trump suspended federal funding) and you would have needed a decade to complete studies (EIS), arrange funding, undertake actual construction and acquire new electric rollingstock. That’s basically the time frame for the San Francisco-San Jose.

    It’s too late for electrifying the Hudson Line, and there is ZERO interest in the idea at NYSDOT, it was they who in the yet to be released going on year seven ‘Empire Corridor HSR EIS” who in one alternative proposed building a new electrified grade separated high speed line Albany-Buffalo while keeping the Hudson Line non-electrified because it “would be too expensive to electrify it”! Of course, Alt 125 was just for show, it wasn’t a well throughout or vetted plan because it was never going to be seriously considered. It was all about building a dedicated 110-mph track along the existing CSX ROW; CSX of course said no… and here we are seven years and no EIS.

    With luck the state will fund new dual-modes for Amtrak as an add on to Metro-North’s future order, bids are reportedly going out this summer to the likely contenders Bombardier (ALP-45DP), EMD (F-125), and Siemens (Charger). The specifications where drawn up by the PRIIA Next-Generation Equipment Committee and layout a locomotive with a top speed of 110 (the heavier DM locomotive creates too much forces on the track for 125) that meets the needs of Amtrak Empire Service, Metro-North, LIRR, and NJT. A former NYSDOT worker I know was on the dual-mode committee and he’s been trying to get the state to fund new locomotives and I help him get a commentary published in the Schenectady Gazette on the subject.

    State needs to purchase more ‘green’ trains

    Realistically there is little money in the USA for intercity rail and has been for decades, and while many politicians talk big about “HSR” they along with state DOTs and the average citizen seemingly at the end of the day prefer “Slow Mo” service like the Downeaster or the Pacific Surfliner. Both services could be speed up at the cost of a billion or two if that, but like MassDOT rejecting the 15 minute faster 90-mph tilt train alternative Boston-Springfield because of the extra cost, California and Maine are happy with trains slower than their predecessor service before WWII. The B&M’s Budd streamliner ‘Flying Yankee” in 1936 was 20-35 minutes faster than today’s Boston-Portland ‘Downeaster’ in 2017!

    When they do invest in intercity rail states seem happier to build new stations, buy new (or refurbished) equipment, or extend service to new communities; oppose to investing large amounts in the permanent way (double-tracking, new signaling, increase track speeds) to dramatically reduce travel times and increase frequency. “Incremental” improvements is the mantra, a few million here, a few million there, and that rules out major “speed-up” programs of existing conventional service on the scale seen in Japan, France, Britain, and Germany in the 1960-70s. It rules out the kind of modern service you see being created Miami-Orlando with All Aboard Florida’s “Brightline”.

    • Benjamin Turon

      Back to the NEC, if Massachusetts and Connecticut move forward to create a new non-electrified “Inland” corridor New Haven-Hartford-Springfield-Worcester-Boston, use of the new PRIIA dual-mode locomotives would allow thru running to New York City eliminating cross-platform transfers or engine changes. And those locomotives are going to exist. Giving residents of Hartford, Springfield, Worcester, and other interior New England communities direct rail service to New York City seems a worthwhile goal, as does providing folks at either end (New York and Boston) more NEC frequencies to choose from, even if they’re much slower trains. And as for Boston-Albany, if you match 1950 travel times while getting CSX to agree to host them (a very big “if”) at a reasonable initial capital cost (a few hundred million at most) then that will have to be good enough.

      • adirondacker12800

        The locomotives exist, NJTransit and AMT use them all the time.
        Why would anybody use a slower train when a faster train is available?
        1950 travel times between Boston and Albany were two hours longer than today’s bus. Not many people are going to opt for that. Just like they won’t opt for the slower train through Worcester when they want to get to New York.

  14. jefftk

    “Trains to Haverhill, the farthest point on the line to Portland with any Boston-bound commuter traffic, average 88 km/h.”

    The line to Portland runs via the Lowell line for more of it’s route than the Haverhill line, so this doesn’t seem like the right comparison to me? This routing, via the wildcat connection between the Lowell and Haverhill lines allows for overtakes, and is used for them. It’s also used for express trains to Haverhill.

    • Alon Levy

      The schedule I’m working off of routes every train to Haverhill via Wildcat, and uses the lower Haverhill Line only as far as Reading. I’ve also drawn a different schedule, in which no regional trains use Wildcat, and to pair it correctly on the South Side, every Franklin Line train goes into Downtown Boston via Fairmount and not via the Southwest Corridor.

  15. Benjamin Turon

    The Bombardier ALP-45DP would be a good fit for a thru New York-New Haven-Hartford-Springfield-Worcester-Boston corridor service, it as a pantograph and can run at 125-mph under the wire. The PRIIA Dual-Modes will be limited to 110-mph to minimized track wear, Amtrak’s top speed for the ‘Empire Service’ is 110-mph so they saw little reason to go faster given issues with axle weight. Using the ALT 2 (79-mph) travel time from MassDOT’s “Northern New England” study a travel time of 5 hrs 20 mins (3:31+1:46) is possible NYC-Boston. Of course, for those who live of the current NEC in inland New England that would matter less than those at either end. They would have a one seat ride to NYC or Boston.

    Lots people do ride trains much slower than intercity buses, because must Amtrak trains outside the NEC or slower than Greyhound or MegaBus. For example, the ‘Adirondack’ or the ‘Downeaster’. The ‘Pacific Surfliner’ only averages 45-mph. Even in France the SNCF is offering slower trains with lower fares as an alternative to the standard TGV. Chiltern Railway competes now with Virgin Trains between Birmingham to London. Yes, I think trains should be at least as fast as the bus, ideally as fast as driving, but this is America so realistically if your averaging 45-mph at least you’re not in the 30s where some Amtrak trains are at least for parts of their runs!

    For Albany-Boston one 4 hr 15min run that makes several intermediate stops and the rest take 3 hr 30 min. The New York Central at a Budd RDC ‘Beeliner’ ran in in 4 hrs 15 mins in the early 1950s making several intermediate stops including Boston Trinity Place, Newtonville, Framingham, Worcester, Springfield, Pittsfield, and Chatman. By 1956 and extra 15 minutes was added. Today the Lake Shore Limited Springfield-Albany is 2 hrs 37 mins compared to 2 hrs 27 mins in 1956. With MassDOT planning a 2 hrs travel time Boston to Springfield, matching the travel time of 1956 or even 1950 seems possible at a reasonable cost. Perhaps you could do even better if speeds were increased from 60 to 79-mph and some form of tilt was employed like it is in many Japanese limited-express trains.

    • anonymouse

      One factor here is that not all intercity routes are point to point. So while the bus might be going a steady 65 mph on the highway, it still has to get off the highway, traverse local streets, stop, let people off, let people on, deal with their luggage, and then traverse more local streets back to the highway. This tends to have a pretty significant effect on average speed. A train that just has an acceleration/deceleration penalty and a dwell time, even if it’s three minutes, is still affected much less by intermediate stops.

    • Alon Levy

      SNCF doesn’t charge more per km for TGVs than for low-speed intercity trains. And historically, when the TGV opened, it charged the same fare as the legacy trains that it replaced, which SNCF used in its marketing materials (“260 km/h at the price of 160 km/h”).

      A service that averages 45 mph will get approximately zero ridership, so investing up to that level is a waste of time. In LA traffic, on the single busiest intercity market outside the Northeast, the Surfliner still fills less than a train per hour. That’s how bad it is. Speeding it up would be a major boost, and I’ve argued for electrification and a single cutoff to speed it up to about 2 hours LA-San Diego. But that’s specifically in order to make it faster than driving, not slightly slower than driving.

      • Benjamin Turon

        An example of people taking the slower train (for a much lower price), even a TGV service, is the new IZY budget service utilizing TGV train-sets which is 30 to 60 minutes slower than regular Thalys service because it utilizes the classic Paris–Lille Railway instead of the LGV Nord in order to pay lower track fees to SNCF Réseau. I am aware of the history of the TGV Sud-Est fares, own the book “On the Fast Track: French Railway Modernization and the Origins of the TGV, 1944-1983” by Jacob Meunier. If I recall the base fare was the same but using yield management fares turning peak travel times where higher in order to better distribute demand through the day.


        • Benjamin Turon

          Obviously, a service with a 45-mph average speed will not get “approximately zero ridership” because thousands do ride Amtrak corridor services like the ‘Pacific Surfliner’ or ‘Downeaster’. Have you ever worked out the average speeds for Amtrak trains outside the NEC… they’re pretty pathetic yet they account for several million of Amtrak’s overall annual ridership.

          Obviously, they could also be significantly faster after a reasonable investment in the permanent way but like I said it’s not apparently a priority of most state DOTs. It should be said that California is now slowly double-tracking the Surf Line section by section, including thru Camp Pendleton. You can observe the progress by comparing images on Google Streetview and looking at the aerial photos. Some capture actual construction.

          I read your piece on the Surfliner and posted it to my organization’s Facebook page, it was pretty good and echoes my thoughts since I first observed the CaHSRA’s plans that if your electrifying to Anaheim you might as well go all the way to San Diego. Building an entirely new line seems wasteful when upgrading the existing line at a much lower cost would be good enough. And concerning thru high speed service to San Diego a 5 hour or less trip time San Francisco-San Diego seems possible and while most business travelers would fly; you’ll still get the college students, retirees, foreigners, and folks who hate flying that I see on the ‘Empire Service’ west of Albany-Rensselaer which takes 5.5 hours to reach Buffalo.

          Still I think you should have mention Brightline as an example of a modern intercity service in America. Here you will have an hourly service averaging about 75-mph over mostly an existing rail line which has been upgraded mostly thru double-tracking and other select and limited investments. I think once it gets running it will become the paradigm, the case study of what state supported corridor service could be in the USA if several hundred million or perhaps a billion or two could be raised and spent on actually significantly upgrading the permanent way and not just building pretty new stations.

          There is an incredible lack of ambition, like Michigan which is not willing to take its service to Chicago to the logical conclusion of double-tracking the former double-track New York Central line which is now Amtrak and State owned to create a fast and frequent Chicago-Detroit service. It will spend a lot to get speeds up to 110, but no more to increase frequency to at least a dozen daily trains.

          You see this I think in the “Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative” where MassDOT rejected ALT 3 because despite cutting travel times to 1:45 compare to 2:00 of ALT 2 and attracting 118,000 more annual passengers compare to the estimated 1.052 million of ALT 2; ALT 3 cost $250 million more than ALT 2’s estimated capital cost of $1.0-1.4 billion. Also, operating costs of ALT 3 would be $12 million more than the $76 million of ALT 2. The higher costs of ALT 3 was due not just to the faster speeds but also increased frequency to 16 trains per day Boston-Springfield, 5 more than ALT 2.

          Thus, MassDOT opted for the alternative that doesn’t break above 50-mph average seed (48-mph) instead of the one with a more decent 56-mph average speed, equal to the ‘Empire Service’ NYC-Albany which due to its high ridership (1.2 million) and much higher fares ($38 NYC-Hudson compare to the estimated $25 Boston-Springfield) actually has an annual operating deficit half of that estimated for ALT 2. Its about $22 million for the ‘Empire Service’ but NYSDOT adds additional funding for capital projects and to cover the ‘Adirondack’ and ‘Ethan Allen’ north of Albany, so its been as high as $40 million in total if I recall correctly in recent years. The yet to release Empire Corridor EIS had one early rejected alternative that showed just investing in NYC-Albany, increasing the daily frequency from 12 to 16 trains and reducing the travel time from today’s 2:20 to 2:40 to 2:05 would actually lead to a annual positive cash flow for the service.

          The model set forth in the Northern New England study is not the faster ‘Empire Service’ or ‘Brightline’ in Florida or even ‘Chiltern Railways’ in the UK but the ‘Downeaster’. So, they apparently selected the service level (ALT 2) which match the Boston-Portland service the closest in terms of top speed, average speed, and train frequency. Anything slightly better, slightly faster, and slightly more expensive was just too expensive!

          • Alon Levy

            Yes, when I said zero ridership, I was in fact talking about most Amtrak services outside the NEC. The ridership on these is painful, and in most cases it should be deemed to not exist when it comes to questions like “can we suspend service for six months while doing upgrades?”. On the NEC, the answer is lol. On the Surfliner it’s probably a no, because LA is so vast there’s still some ridership, just not much compared to city size. On Downeaster, it’s a yes: service is so poor and low-ridership it might as well not exist.

            Brightline is a dicey model for lines with frequent stations. It’s an unelectrified line with 4 stations; with no intermediate stops along coastal Central Florida, the value of electrification decreases. It’s the opposite of the Surfliner, which has a ton of stops.

        • Alon Levy

          On the other hand, SNCF’s we-hate-our-customers low-cost service between Paris and Lyon, OuiGo, runs at the same speed as the regular TGVs. It just doesn’t actually serve Paris – it dumps passengers at Marne-la-Vallee.

          • Benjamin Turon

            The whole track fee structure in Europe makes little sense to be, the SNCF charging the SNCF money for using the tracks of the SNCF. I think vertical integration like in Japan works better. The competition is cars, buses, and planes; not other train services.

            On Boston-Springfield according to Google it takes 1:32 to drive on the I-90 Mass Turnpike and Greyhound does it in 1:37; that likely are the several non-stop runs and not the once daily service from Albany that makes several stops and takes about 4:30 to make the Albany-Springfield-Boston trip. So to me if I worked at MassDOT I would support the alternative that got closest to travel times on the highway, and that would be ALT 3’s 1:45 travel time.

          • Alon Levy

            The reason for the vertical disintegration here is that the EU wants to promote international train services. With vertical integration, SNCF and DB can run trains onto each other’s turfs, but that would require trackage rights agreements and each party would have an incentive to screw the other. EU-wide nationalization is a nonstarter since pretty much nobody likes EU federalism/supranationalism, so instead they came up with this kludge. It… isn’t working well.

          • Benjamin Turon

            Brightline seems to be a clone of British Rail’s Intercity 125 HST, I agree that electrification is a good idea for the Surf Line due to its frequent station stops and heavy traffic among other factors but ‘Brightline’ is a good example of what a modern intercity corridor service should like in terms of average speed and frequency. I plan on using it as an example to push for in advocating to get the ‘Empire Service’ to a flat 2 hour (or maybe a bit less with new tilting train-sets) hourly service NYC-Albany averaging about 70-mph. A few years ago I attended a open house at SUNY Albany for the Empire Corridor EIS and after talking to some disappointment college students and one bus driver (its not “true” HSR or Maglev) about All Aboard Florida’s ‘Brightline’ service I got some positive feedback that such a rail service made sense economically and is one they could support for Upstate NY.

  16. Benjamin Turon

    I think setting forth a law requiring fair and transparent track fees for third parties operating international services makes sense, but the whole vertical separation, uh… non. I subscript to ‘Modern Railways’ so that topic of track fees plus open-access services is always being covered concerning the privatization of British Rail and the since then continual reorganization of the rail system. Amtrak and other railroads pay track fees in the USA, Amtrak’s costs are set I think by federal law (too low according to the freight railroads) so it could have been workout better in Europe. I have read that track fees are in some large part responsible for the rapid demise of overnight sleeper trains in Europe.

    • adirondacker12800

      They reorganize rail in the U.K. fairly frequently so that the City can extract another round of vigorish.
      There’s more than one way to calculate track fees. The host railroads want to use the method that results in the highest charges for the tenant.

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