High-Speed Rail for the Eastern United States

Yesterday, I tweeted this proposal for a high-speed rail network for the eastern half of the United States:

I’d like to go over what the map means and address questions that have appeared on Twitter.

The color scheme

Red denotes high-speed lines, with a top speed in the 300-360 km/h range, not including the occasional enforced slow zone. The average speed would be around 225-250 km/h in the Northeast, where the routes are all compromised by existing infrastructure, and 300 km/h in the Midwest, where flat expanses and generous rail rights-of-way into the major cities should allow the same average speeds achieved in China. The South is intermediate, due to the rolling terrain and extensive suburban sprawl in the Piedmont.

Yellow denotes high-speed lines as well, but they are more marginal (in the linked tweet this is purple, but yellow is friendlier to the colorblind). This means that I expect much lower social return on investment there, so whether these lines could succeed depends on the price of fuel, trends in urban sprawl, and construction costs within the normal first-world range. Some of these lines, namely Atlanta-New Orleans and the connection from Savannah to Jacksonville, should be legacy lines if HSR does not pan out; others, like Kansas City-Oklahoma City, are unlikely to be worth it.

Blue denotes legacy lines that are notable for the network. It does not include the entire set of legacy intercity lines the US should be running, but does include all lines that I believe should get through-service to high-speed lines; but note that some lines, like Minneapolis-Duluth and Charleston-Greenville, do not have through-service. Some of these lines are potentially very strong, like New Haven-Springfield as a Northeast Corridor extension. Others are marginal, like Binghamton-Syracuse, which Adirondacker has recurrently criticized in comments on the grounds that New York-Syracuse is much faster on HSR and the intermediate cities are too small to justify more than a bus.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list. Some of the alignments may not be optimal, and one of the red lines, Albany-Montreal, can plausibly be reclassified as yellow due to the weakness of travel markets from the United States to Montreal.

Trip times

The schedules I’m proposing are fast – all faster than in Germany and Italy, many faster than in France and Spain. The reason for this is the long expanses between American cities. Germany and Italy have high population density, which is in theory good for HSR, but in practice means the closely-spaced cities yield lines with a lot of route compromises. In Britain people who advocate for the construction of High Speed 2 complain that England’s population density is too high, making it harder to build lines through undeveloped areas (that is, farms) between big cities the way France and Spain did.

Out of New York, the target trip times are:

  • Boston: 1:40
  • Philadelphia: 0:40
  • Washington: 1:35
  • Albany: 0:55, an hour minus half a turnaround time, useful for Swiss run-trains-as-fast-as-necessary timetabling
  • Syracuse: 1:50
  • Rochester: 2:25
  • Buffalo: 2:45
  • Toronto: 3:20
  • Harrisburg: 1:20
  • Pittsburgh: 2:30
  • Cleveland: 3:10
  • Richmond: 2:15
  • Raleigh: 3:10
  • Charlotte: 4:05
  • Atlanta: 5:30
  • Birmingham: 6:15, probably no direct service from New York except at restricted times of day, but hourly or 30-minute service to Atlanta

Out of Chicago, they are:

  • Milwaukee: 0:30
  • Minneapolis: 2:30
  • St. Louis: 1:30
  • Kansas City: 2:50
  • Indianapolis: 0:55
  • Cincinnati: 1:30
  • Louisville: 1:35
  • Nashville: 2:35
  • Atlanta: 4:00
  • Toledo: 1:15
  • Detroit: 1:35
  • Toronto: 2:55
  • Cleveland: 1:50
  • Buffalo: 2:50

Stop spacing

For the most part, there should be a stop in each metropolitan area. What counts as a metropolitan area remains a question; truly multicore regions can get one stop per core, for example there should definitely be a stop in Newark in addition to New York, and South Florida should have individual stops for Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. On the Northeast Corridor, what I think the optimal express stopping pattern is is one stop per state, with additional local trains making some extra stops like New London, Stamford, New Rochelle, and Trenton; Wilmington can be a local or an express stop – whether the infrastructure required to skip it at speed is worth it is a close decision.

On most lines, multiple stopping patterns are unlikely to be worth it. The frequency wouldn’t be high in the first place; moreover, the specific stations that are likely candidates for local stops are small and medium-size cities with mostly short-range travel demand, so serving them on a train stopping less than hourly is probably not going to lead to high ridership. Among the lines coming out of Chicago, the only one where I’m comfortable prescribing multiple stopping patterns is the one headed east toward Cleveland and Detroit.

Another consideration in the stop spacing is where most passengers are expected to travel. If there is a dominant city pair, then it can get express trains, which is the justification for express trains on the Northeast Corridor and on Chicago-Detroit and Chicago-Cleveland. However, in Upstate New York, there is no such dominant city pair: travel demand from New York to Toronto is not much more than to Buffalo (the air travel market is around a million people annually, whereas New York-Buffalo is 600,000) even though Toronto is a lot bigger, so there’s little point in skipping Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo to speed up end-to-end trips.

Ultimately, stops don’t cost that much time. In 360 km/h territory, a late-model Shinkansen has a stop penalty of a little under 3 minutes excluding dwell time – figure about 4 minutes with dwell. Those minutes add up on short-range lines with a lot of stops, but as long as it’s restricted to about a stop every 150 km or more in high-speed territory, this should be fine.

Highland gaps in service

Several people on Twitter complained about the lack of service to West Virginia and Arkansas. West Virginia is a politically distinguished part of the US nowadays, a metonym for white working-class decline centered on the coal industry, and as a result people notice it more than they do Midwestern poverty, let alone Southern or Western poverty. Poor cities are often served by red lines on my map, if they are between larger cities: Youngstown and Bowling Green are both noticeably poorer than Charleston, West Virginia, and Lafayette, Killeen-Temple, and Erie are barely richer. In the West, not depicted on my map, Pueblo, Chico, and Redding are all as poor as Charleston and are on standard wishlists for upgraded legacy rail while Tucson is a hair poorer and probably should get a full HSR extension of Los Angeles-Phoenix.

The reason Appalachia is underserved is the highland topography. Construction costs go up sharply once tunnels are needed; the route through Pennsylvania connects New York and Philadelphia with Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago, which are big enough urban centers to justify the expense, but additional routes would connect smaller cities. Washington awkwardly gets poor service to the Midwest; a yellow line between Baltimore and Harrisburg may be prudent, but a blue line is not, since the legacy line is so curvy that a high-speed detour through Philadelphia would still be faster. The Piedmont South gets a red line parallel to the mountains and some branches, but nothing that justifies going over the mountains.

Legacy rail additions are still plausible. Amtrak connects Charleston with Cincinnati in 5 hours, but cutting this to about 3.5 should probably be feasible within existing right-of-way, provided CSX does not mind faster passenger rail on its tracks; thence, Chicago-Cincinnati would take around 1.5 hours. However, the negotiations with CSX may be difficult given the line’s use by slow, heavy freight; the blue lines shown on my map are mostly not important freight mainlines.

In Arkansas, the question is whether a line to Little Rock is justifiable. The yellow route between Atlanta and Dallas could plausible detour north through Memphis and Little Rock instead of the depicted direct alignment; Atlanta-Dallas is about the same distance as New York-Chicago, a trip of about 5 hours, so the line would have to survive based on intermediate markets, making the less direct route better. On the other hand, Memphis and Little Rock are small, and while Atlanta and Dallas are big, they’re nowhere near the size of New York, and have very weak centers, encouraging driving rather than riding paid transportation whether it’s a train or plane.

Regional rail additions

As I said above, the blue line list is not intended to be exhaustive. I suspect it is exhaustive among long-range intercity lines, not counting yellow routes like Dallas-Oklahoma City or Atlanta-New Orleans. I was specifically asked about Amtrak’s City of New Orleans route, connecting Chicago, St. Louis, Memphis, and New Orleans, since there is no trace of it on the map beyond the Chicago-St. Louis HSR. There could certainly be a high-speed line down to Memphis, which would place the city around 3 hours from Chicago. However, Memphis is not a large city; St. Louis, Memphis, and New Orleans have all stagnated in the last hundred years, making them weaker candidates for HSR than they were for legacy rail in the postwar era.

In contrast with the deliberate omission of the City of New Orleans routes, there are many regional lines that could be added. In the Northeast, a number of lines are every bit as valuable candidates for a national map as Boston-Portland, including Boston-Cape Cod, Boston-Manchester, New York-Allentown, Philadelphia-Allentown, and maybe Syracuse-Watertown with a timed HSR connections. Boston-Portland could have through-service to the Northeast Corridor or it could not, depending on timetabling in the North-South Rail Link tunnel; my current position is that it should only have through-service to other regional lines, but it’s a close decision.

Outside the Northeast there may be strong in-state networks. I showed the one in South Carolina since it substitutes for lines that I think are just a little too weak to even be in yellow, connecting North Carolina directly with Jacksonville, as well as the one in Wisconsin, based on through-service to HSR to Chicago. But Michigan can have an in-state network, either electrified or unelectrified, connecting cities orthogonally to HSR, and maybe also an electrified spine running the current Wolverines route with through-service to HSR. Indiana can have interregional lines from Indianapolis to outlying cities, but there would need to be more stuff in the center of Indianapolis for such service to attract drivers. Florida has some decent regional lines, even with how unusually weak-centered its cities are, for example Tampa-St. Petersburg and Tampa-Sarasota.

Alignment questions

In a few places, the alignment is either vague or questionable. In the Northeast the biggest question is whether to serve Hartford on the mainline. I dealt with that issue years ago, and my answer has not changed: probably not. The second biggest is which alignment to take across the Appalachians in Pennsylvania; this requires a detailed engineering survey and the line I drew is merely a placeholder, since further design is required to answer questions about the precise costs and benefits of serving intermediate cities like State College and Altoona.

By far the biggest criticism I’ve gotten about macro alignment concerns how to get between the Midwest and the Northeast. The alignment I drew connects Chicago with points east via Cleveland. Due to the decline of Cleveland and slow growth of Columbus in its stead, multiple people have posited that it’s better to draw the red line well to the south, passing via Fort Wayne and Columbus. This would give Columbus fast service to Chicago, in not much more than 1:30, and also connect Pittsburgh better with Columbus, Cincinnati, and plausibly Louisville.

The problem with the Columbus route is that Detroit exists. The drawn alignment connects Pittsburgh with Detroit in about 1:35 and New York with Detroit in about 4:05, in addition to the fast connection to Chicago. A legacy connection in Fort Wayne would slow Chicago-Detroit to about 2:50, nearly doubling the trip time between the Midwest’s two largest cities; it would lengthen New York-Detroit to around 6 hours via Pennsylvania; the route via Canada would take a little more than 4 hours, but might not even exist without the ability to connect it west to Chicago – Canadian HSR studies are skeptical about the benefits of just Toronto-Windsor.

In contrast, the new city pairs opened by the Columbus alignment, other than Chicago-Columbus, involve small, weak-centered cities. Detroit is extremely weak-centered as well, but Chicago and New York are not, which means that suburban drivers will still drive to the train station to catch a ride to Chicago or New York if HSR is available; in contrast, city pairs like Pittsburgh-Cincinnati are very unlikely to get substantial rail mode share without completely revamping the way the geography of jobs in American cities is laid out.

Changing the geography of the nation

In one of the interminable Green New Deal papers, there was some comment about having HSR obviate the need for air travel. This proposition is wrong and misses what makes HSR work here and in Japan, South Korea, and China. The median distance of a domestic American air trip is well above the point beyond which HSR stops being competitive with air travel.

Counting only city pairs at a plausible HSR range of around 4-5 hours, maybe a bit more for New York-Atlanta, my estimate is that about 20-25% of domestic US air trips can be substituted by rail. This excludes city pairs at plausible HSR distance on which there will never be any reason to build HSR, like El Paso-Albuquerque, Minneapolis-Denver, and Charlotte-Columbus. Higher-end estimates, closer to 25% than to 20%, require all the yellow lines and a few more, as well as relying on some long-range city pairs that happen to be on the way of relatively direct HSR and have no direct air traffic.

However, the fact that people will continue flying until vactrains are invented does not make HSR useless or unnecessary. After all, people fly within Europe all the time, even within individual countries like France. Not only do people fly within Japan, but also the country furnishes two of the world’s top air routes in Tokyo-Sapporo and Tokyo-Fukuoka. As an alternative at its optimum range of under about 1,000 km, HSR remains a solid mode of travel.

Moreover, HSR has a tendency to change the geography of the nation. In France and Japan, it’s helped cement the capital’s central location in national economic geography. Tokyo and Paris are the world’s top two cities in Fortune Global 500 headquarters, not because those cities have notable economic specialization like New York but because a large company in Japan and France will usually be headquartered in the capital.

The likely impact of HSR on the US is different, because the country is too big for a single city’s network. However, the Midwest is likely to become a more tightly integrated network focused on Chicago, Texas and Florida are likely to have tighter interconnections between their respective major cities, and the links between the Piedmont South and the Northeast are likely to thicken. HSR cannot supplant air travel at long distances, but it can still create stronger travel volumes within its service range, such that overall trip numbers will be much higher than those of air travel, reducing the latter’s relative importance.


  1. red dog

    one addition—–Pittsburgh to St. Louis, a route that used to be run by Amtrak–connects middle America to the east coast, taking in Columbus, Dayton, and Indianapolis.
    one subtraction/question, a rail route serving and dead ending in southern Delaware? Serving who, chicken farms?

    • Alon Levy

      The NY-Columbus connection is a real benefit, it’s just not thaaaat big a deal by itself, and the intercity connections within the non-Chicago Midwest are weak since most employment in these cities is outside the center (this is what I mean by weak centers).

      The Delmarva line is basically a regional line I tacked on because it’s easy to depict. It connects a couple town centers with Wilmington for an NEC connections. Nothing huge, but it could support a short train running maybe hourly.

      • adirondacker12800

        There are lot of people on the Delmarva Peninsula. Chicken farmers send their kids to school, go to the doctor and dentist, buy food etc. The chicken farmers and all the people providing services to them want to go to Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Albany and Hartford. I’m sure there is a small cadre of consultants deeeeeply interested in traveling between Dover, Harrisburg, Trenton, Albany, Hartford, Providence and Boston. Richmond if it was fast enough and maybe even Raleigh. It can alternate every other hour with the Hikari to Roanoke.

  2. ckrueger99

    Pretty clear that Chicago is the big city winner from HSR, as it should be. The Mid-West is the regional winner, for exactly the same reason. As a state, Pennsylvania gets to move its two largest cities plus its capital much closer together: They’re currently poorly served by planes, trains and automobiles. Philly is also a huge winner, as it gets closer to both of the most important cities in the country.

    • Alon Levy

      My vague guess is that the top beneficiary is New Haven, but among the bigger cities, Philadelphia gains big, yes. A few more cities that benefit disproportionately: Cleveland (good service to Chicago and New York), Pittsburgh (ditto), Richmond (good service to Washington and New York), Raleigh (same and also service to Atlanta), Louisville (good service to Chicago, which it’s not as connected to as the Midwestern cities today, and also to Atlanta).

      • Ian Mitchell

        RDU airport has been quietly adding a lot of cities and passengers lately, similar passenger/destination growth rates as Austin (also, the biggest thing I noticed in this map versus the circa 2008 maps is that Houston-Austin has replaced Houston-San Antonio as the bottom leg of the Texas Triangle).

        As far as Cleveland— Trenton and Gary have pretty awesome proximity to New York and chicago (respectively) today. It hasn’t prevented them from… well, being how Trenton and Gary are. I’m inclined to believe HSR will improve the lots of cities that are already growing, but not that it can stop any place from hemorrhaging people and economic vitality.

          • Alon Levy

            They do in theory, but in practice most of them run nonstop between Newark Penn or EWR and Trenton and most of the rest only make an extra stop at Metropark.

          • adirondacker12800

            In nice round numbers there are 1.8 million people in Bucks, Mercer and Middlesex counties. There are four tracks between Newark and Philadelphia. Any decade now all the way to Manhattan. Some cheap upgrades and there can be a once an hour train between Boston and DC and 30 minutes later between NY and Temple. Someday far far in the future there is probably demand for Philadelphia-Wall Street-Brooklyn-Jamaica too.

      • po8crg

        If you want to run a consultancy that has customers in both Chicago and New York, then basing out of Cleveland or Pittsburgh would be really smart business – just over two hours on the train; almost certainly under three office-to-office.

        I suspect that starts centralising the geographies of those two cities as well, especially if they amend their zoning to allow core densification.

    • red dog

      Philly to Harrisburg presently is in good shape thanks to having the line rebuilt not too long ago. Sure HSR would be better, but that’s the case everyplace. Harrisburg and west is over freight lines. Harrisburg and east is on Amtrak owned lines, which will be much easier to upgrade to higher speeds—-if that ever happens. Better and faster service between Philly and Pittsburgh is much needed. Basic improvements over the present route are possible; chicken and the egg problem.

    • Ian Mitchell

      >Pretty clear that Chicago is the big city winner from HSR, as it should be.

      Cook county has lost no fewer than 100,000 people per decade since 1970. Chicago’s metro area has only “grown” in that time because the US census keeps adding less-relevant counties to the area.

      I’m much less convinced that HSR will have some transformative impact on the midwest. Trenton, Baltimore, Providence, some of the absolute poorest cities in America, with long-term population decline, are served by Acela express to some of the richest cities in the world.

      Where I see it as important are in Texas and Florida, whose metropolitan areas and economies have grown astonishingly with virtually no legacy rail network.

      I do agree that the piedmont and northeast will become more closely integrated with HSR, but they have grown closely even without it.

      Charlotte has 40+ nonstop flights per day to New York City, pretty comparable to the number between Dallas and Houston or Los Angeles and San Francisco (smaller planes, though). I’m unsure whether its use as a major financial center caused the air travel market or vice versa.

      Atlanta and DC are also extremely closely linked, 50+ flights a day between the two, though ATL is definitely more important than Atlanta itself.

      • Michael

        Even in the dead of the winter, there’s 80 flights per day between the Chicago area and NYC area airports. It’s clearly one of the most important economic corridors in the first world & is currently served by a once-per-day 24 hour train.

        Re: Texas & Florida… The weighted average density of those metros are pretty low with the exception of maybe Miami & even weighted average densities are overstated because everything is segregated land uses, so there’s many housing census tracts that lack any daytime job/population density. Transit usage is more than order of magnitude higher in Chicago than Houston… Is there anywhere in the world that has quality HSR in an automobile ultra-dominated metro? Anyway, I just can’t see it being particularly relevant there.

        • Oreg

          HSR doesn’t need local transit more than airports do. In fact, HSR is less dependent on local transit where the station is closer to the CBD than an airport could be.
          It’s probably more a political problem: People in car-dominated regions don’t experience the value of public transit and, therefore, might be less willing to invest in HSR.

          • Alon Levy

            Airports do actually benefit from local transit! There was a one-time dip in KTX ridership after Seoul Metro Line 9 opened to Gimpo.

            The bigger issue, though, is that if destinations within the region are extremely dispersed, then the location advantage of HSR decreases. In a city like Chicago or Boston or Philadelphia, which by European standards are very auto-oriented, you still have a strong city center with intercity destinations like high-end hotels clustering there. But in Houston, Dallas, Miami, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and other no-transit Sunbelt cities, the CBD is weaker, and business destinations tend to be all over.

        • IAN! Mitchell

          Atlanta is “no-transit”? MARTA serves every relevant business district in ATL. I’m always perplexed when people try to frame Seattle or Denver as transit cities but exclude ATL.

          HSR in the texas triangle compelling for the same reason that pre-9/11 southwest airlines was. You save 2-3 hours versus driving, and enough business destinations are within the loop or in Downtown Dallas that you just need a couple cab rides, not enough to justify renting a car. The shortened trip makes doing a day of work in one city and sleeping in your own bed that night possible.

          Florida’s never had such a strong short-haul air travel market, but populations now are reaching similar levels to 1970’s Texas, actually, they’re bigger.

          Dallas county had 1.3 million in 1970, Orange county (orlando) has 1.3 today. Harris county (Houston) had 1.7 million in 1970, Broward county (Ft. Lauderdale) has about that today, Duval County (jax) just surpassed what Bexar county (San Antonio) had in 1970. Plus Hillsboro county (Tampa), which is 1970 houston-sized, and Miami-dade, which has about as many people as the entire metroplex did in 1970.

          It’s both unarguable that 1970’s Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio were auto-oriented in 1970, and that Southwest Airlines succeeded with door-to-door travel times that are comparable with likely high-speed journey times in FL or Texas today.

          • Alon Levy

            I don’t think Denver has public transit, either. Seattle, in contrast, overtook Philly’s transit mode share and is firmly in the category of “terrible transit.”

            The Texas triangle absolutely has compelling HSR. What I’m uncertain about is tentacles like Houston-NOLA and Dallas-OKC-Tulsa.

          • jonahbliss

            I feel like Alon (wish I could do a threaded reply here) is always inconsistent about how he defines “no transit.” Is it ridership, or is it what percent of destinations are near rail? Usually it seems to be defined by the latter, so I would think Seattle still has “no transit” under the usual definition, despite it’s single light rail line. Can you get to Bellevue and it’s secondary CBD? No. Can you get to Redmond and Microsoft? No. How about dense and/or popular neighborhoods like Madrona, Queen Anne, Fremont, or Ballard? Also no. Etc…

          • Alon Levy

            You can get to the CBD, which has around 7% of the Seattle MSA’s employment; this is similar to the proportion for DC and a lot higher than that for LA and other no-transit Sunbelt cities. This is why the Seattle MSA has an abominable 10% transit mode share whereas LA has an even worse 5%, Atlanta 3.1%, Houston 2.1%, and Dallas 1.3%.

        • Michael

          “The bigger issue, though, is that if destinations within the region are extremely dispersed, then the location advantage of HSR decreases. In a city like Chicago or Boston or Philadelphia, which by European standards are very auto-oriented, you still have a strong city center with intercity destinations like high-end hotels clustering there. But in Houston, Dallas, Miami, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and other no-transit Sunbelt cities, the CBD is weaker, and business destinations tend to be all over.”

          My big question in response to this is that airports like ATL, have 30K on-site parking stalls, O’Hare has 23K (in by far the biggest parking structure I’ve ever seen). DFW has 40K parking stalls! And they all have thousands more in private off-site lots. Even at smaller “city airports” like Midway, there’s 11K parking stalls, Regan National has 9.2K. Ultimately, the way that these airports interface into auto-oriented metros is via multi-billion dollar investments in parking structures, car rental facilities, & a spaghetti of ramps. If we’re viewing HSR has a replacement to air travel, I imagine it would require the similar infrastructure which essentially precludes servicing the CBD. Is that what’s being proposed here? The alternative would be to run HSR to these airports where the infrastructure already exists, but the advantage (IMO) of HSR is arriving at actual places of consequences, rather than a $30-80 dollar cab ride away from them like airports tend to be.

      • myb6

        “Cook county has lost no fewer than 100,000 people per decade since 1970. Chicago’s metro area has only “grown” in that time because the US census keeps adding less-relevant counties to the area.”

        These statements are easy to check and are false. No, Cook gained 270k in the 90s. No, holding the boundary constant, between the ’70 and ’10 censuses the MSA gained 1.6 Million people. This is strange behavior on your part.

        • myb6

          If you meant the Cook county losses on average, no, since ’70 I calculate a loss of 60k per decade.

        • adirondacker12800

          US census keeps adding less-relevant counties to the area.
          That’s how metro areas work. The farmland at the edges gets developed into suburbs and people commute from them.

          • Ian Mitchell

            The census now includes Kankakee as part of chicago’s metro area.
            It’s 60 miles away and has fewer people than it did in 1990.
            It was added to the 2017 estimate. Why? To keep greater chicago from shrinking- on paper.

            Kankakee is not a suburb of Chicago. There is less distance from the city limits of Austin to the city limits of San Antonio than there is from Kankakee to Chicago.

          • Alon Levy

            Do you know how many pairs of German cities there are that are closer to each other than Manhattan is to the outer edge of its commute shed, which is around Delaware Water Gap?

          • Herbert

            Oh the German term “Metropolregion” is even more absurd. Sonneberg is put into the same one as Nuremberg – there used to be an iron curtain between the two (but they do both share Franconian culture) Berlin’s includes the (very rural) state of Brandenburg in its entirety…

  3. Reedman Bassoon

    1. The southbound tap from Tampa should be further west/coastal, where the people live. Bradenton, Sarasota. The route shown connects to essentially nothing between Lakeland and Fort Myers.
    2. To go from New Orleans to Jacksonville requires going through Atlanta. Really? Jacksonville is the 12th most populous US city, bigger than any city in the Carolina’s, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, or Washington DC.

    • Ian Mitchell

      1. Easier right-of-way acquisition and usability as an evacuation route. Plus, given the utter weakness of the city centers (ever been to Downtown Fort Myers?), intermodal stations at airports are probably a good idea here, like in Orlando or Las Vegas- it’s an existing pole of accessibility.

      2. Megabus couldn’t profitably run a route from New Orleans to Orlando- they tried for a while.
      They killed it. The along I-10 from New Orleans to Orlando are far from compelling (including my hometown! Which I am happy to have left).

      Jacksonville is only ” 12th most populous” city in America because it’s the largest one geographically (three times the size of the nation of Singapore) because duval county and Jax are synonymous.

      Jax’s metro area is about the size of Oklahoma city’s. It’s the 4th largest metro in Florida, with about 1.5 million people, and about 4 million annual visitors.

      Meanwhile, Orlando has about a million more residents, and 72 million annual visitors (Yes Disney, not just Disney).

      • Paul OBrien

        I’ve been to Ft. Myers. As I understand it, they hit their big growth spurt in the 1980s, when the region’s boosters had given up on downtowns, so they didn’t really develop it there.
        Sarasota and Bradenton have good downtowns–given their size, they’ve probably done better than Tampa. I think that if it’s worth the investment to restore service to Ft. Myers, it’s worth the investment to restore the line through Sarasota to Venice, then build a new line to Punta Gorda, where it will connect to Ft. Myers.

    • Jacob Manaker

      Keep in mind that the map doesn’t show all trains in the Eastern US; legacy expresses unimportant to the system as a whole are omitted. Personally, I think two legacy expresses running New Orleans-Mobile-Montgomery-Columbus-Atlanta and Pensacola-Tallahassee-Jacksonville are warranted, and it’s easy enough to have the connect in Atmore. But the New Orleans-Atlanta train will always play second fiddle to the much faster HSR via Birmingham, so it isn’t included, and the Pensacola train definitely doesn’t belong on the map without the connection.

      • IAN! Mitchell

        Keep in mind, the travel market today is such that there are no nonstop flights between Jacksonville and New Orleans, or either city and Pensacola. There are no nonstop flights between Jacksonville, New Orleans, or Pensacola to Mobile. Or any of those cities and Tallahassee.

        There’s two greyhound buses per day from Jacksonville to Mobile. There are three per day from Mobile to New Orleans. Megabus used to do two buses per day from New Orleans to Orlando. Then one. Now none.
        There are eight non-stop flights from Orlando to New Orleans (neither airport is a hub) daily.

        I-10 is two lanes per direction (passing lane and travel lane) throughout most of the gulf coast section.

        It is not a place with strong travel demand.

  4. Jhonny

    France may still have domestic flights, but travel patterns changed. Before HSR it was Paris to Lyon and Marseilles. Today it’s Paris to Toulouse that’s the busiest route. Largely because Toulouse doesn’t have a good HSR connection…

    When LGV Est opened, air France decided to end flights to Strasbourg and codeshare with sncf instead…

          • IAN! Mitchell

            >some stupid reason nobody understands

            Philly is cheaper to operate in (lower landing fees, lower wages) and American has more domestic connections from there, plus about two-thirds of America’s air traffic delays come from the disaster that is NYC’s airports.

            Getting from the NYC area (especially from Long Island and Westchester, where many of the people taking transatlantic flights to London or Frankfurt lie) to Philly airport isn’t as easy as it ought to be.

            So five-times-daily weedwhackers it is.

          • red dog

            I’m quite sure that most Philly international travelers are willing to go to JFK to get a direct flight to a secondary European city, say Genève, where if American Air had their only flight to Genève based out of Philly I can’t see much of the NYC market being willing to go to Philly to take an overseas flight. It doesn’t make sense but American doesn’t lose the Philly market by having many flights out of JFK, but they would lose much of the NYC market if they didn’t have direct flights from the NYC area. American is Philly’s only (90%) European flyer, where in NYC there are multiple options. Based on costs Philly should be cheaper then NYC but its not. For some its worth the headache of going to NYC to get lower cost tickets.

          • Max Wyss

            So, the 5 daily weedwhackers is just feeders, and barely source-destination. …kind of what I thought.

  5. Jhonny

    If you want HSR to feed airports, you’ll need them to stop there. However, purple who don’t have connecting flights don’t want to go to the airport and airport downtown trips tend to be in the one hour range making the trip time advantage of hsr much smaller…

    You say you only want one stop per urban region. Should feeding an air travel megahub like ATL make room for an exception to the rule?

    What about places that are “naturally” the end of the line due to geography?

    • Ian Mitchell

      “airport downtown trips tend to be in the one hour range”

      Wait… where? Where in the US is this true? ATL is 20 minutes via MARTA, Reagan Airport is 18, BWI’s rail station is 12 minutes from Baltimore and 30 from DC.

      In the case of Philadelphia, Newark, Providence, Baltimore, Atlanta, Charlotte, Orlando, and detroit the argument can be made for an airport station in lieu of any downtown HSR station.

      In the case of Dallas, Minneapolis, Houston and Chicago, having both an Airport station and a downtown station is compelling.

      • adirondacker12800

        Philadelphia, Newark, Providence and Baltimore already have downtown stations. The airport stations can be served by the commuter railroad.

      • Alon Levy

        Providence’s airport is tiny and disproportionately serves trips to other Northeastern cities. Baltimore, Newark, and Philadelphia all have prominent downtowns (and so does Providence, even with the Superman building being empty), and the first two have both airport and downtown stations on the Regional and waaaaaay more ridership downtown.

        • Ethan Finlan (@Ethan_Finlan)

          That assumes that demand from T.F. Green will always skew towards other NEC cities, and with HSR bringing NYC, Philly, and DC within 2-hour travel range of Providence, there’d be less demand for those puddle jumpers. That said, HSR should serve both downtowns, although I think a decent case can be made for stopping HSR at PHL.

          • adirondacker12800

            Not for billions and billions of dollar to get to PHL. Use BWI or EWR if you don’t want to change at 30th Street.

          • adirondacker12800

            Amtrak. Change at 30th Street or figure out some other way to fly wherever you are going.

          • Herbert

            There’s bound to be a cheaper way if you let competent non-Americans do it

          • judgemoonbox

            Providence (and Manchester NH) have developed their airports as part of the Regional Airports Initiative to take pressure off of Boston Logan airport. The airport web pages for most cities served by different airport authorities won’t link to the pages of competing authorities: Go to the Washington Reagan National webpage, you will find a link to Dulles, but not for BWI.
            The airport pages in New England will link to competing authorities.

            I think that you should have a rail connection to Manchester airport as well, but with the famous New Hampshire taxphobia, the only way to get that built is if Massachusetts taxpayers believed that spending $X to get Y% of New Hampshirites off their highways was less burdensome than not getting them off the highways.

  6. PeakVT

    Quibbling over the details of fantasy maps may be pointless, but nonetheless…

    1) No St. Louis (19th largest metro) – Nashville (37th)? Not the strongest city pair, but stronger than, say KC-OKC.
    2) The gap between the Texas cities and everything to the east is big enough that there really isn’t a “good” solution and we should all probably admit that. My preferred connections happen to be Dallas-Little Rock-Memphis-Nashville and Houston-Baton Rouge-Jackson-Birmingham-Atlanta. Dallas-Shreveport-Jackson-Birmingham-Atlanta just seems too weak on the intermediate trips.
    3) Picking up Greensboro on a new-build line may not be worth the complications.
    4) Bringing a new-build line through New Orleans might not be worth the complications. In my maps I ran a line Jackson-Hammond and left New Orleans on an improved legacy branch.
    5) Some of the legacy line branches seem a little arbitrary. Roanoke-Metro DC but not Grand Rapids-Detroit? Arguably the latter is much more worthy of national attention even if it could be hived off in an intra-state network. Roanoke-Charlottesville-NoVA is a corridor of interest mostly to college kids, to be blunt.
    6) It seems like we all did this exercise (caution: linkrot on the graphics) about a decade ago back when the election of Obama got our hopes up, and I’m kind of curious what has prompted a new outburst of effort.

    • Ian Mitchell

      1. Mutual culture is important. Kansas City and OKC, while not geographically close, are culturally close (sort of like how Las Vegas and Hawaii, or Miami and NJ, or Detroit and Tampa, are) there are a lot of folks who choose to drive rather than connect via Dallas.

      2.Dallas to Atlanta or Houston is better served by air. I don’t think there’s any reasonable connection by rail from the Texas Triangle to the East Coast.

      3. Totally agree

      4. Seeing how poorly upstart bus services to New Orleans have perennially done, it seems that anyone within about an eight hour drive will drive, and others go by air. I have little faith in slow rail working where buses haven’t.

      5. Extensions of the NEC tend to be strong.

      6. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    • bahntemps

      RE Greensboro: I think an alignment through Greensboro would depend a lot on whether the line would serve Durham, Raleigh, or both (or neither, with a station around RDU or in the RTP… which would be the worst of all possible options, but perhaps one of the easier ones to achieve). The problem is that Raleigh itself isn’t on the way to Charlotte (or Fayetteville, for that matter); southbound trains approach Raleigh from the southeast, before continuing northwest to Durham and west to Greensboro. The rebuilt S-Line will cut most of that dogleg, but Atlanta-bound trains will still need to travel north from Raleigh before turning west at Durham.

      You can imagine an HSR line that cuts directly between the S-Line near Henderson and Durham–skipping Raleigh altogether–with cross-platform transfers in downtown Durham to regional trains towards Raleigh, Fayetteville, Wilmington, Greensboro-Winston Salem, Asheville and (locally) Charlotte, largely along the existing, state-owned NCRR. By then Durham station will already have light rail to Chapel Hill and a possible proto-S-Bahn-y DMU regional rail line along the NCRR back towards Raleigh and the southeast. If you’re going through Durham, Greensboro is kinda on the way anyway, though an HSR station would probably need to be at a greenfield station outside of downtown, unfortunately… which is too bad, because the Gate City has a great old station.

      Likewise, you can imagine HSR skipping Durham, and continuing southwest from Raleigh via the route taken by the Silver Star, or south-southeast on the eastbound NCRR (which runs primarily north-south through downtown Raleigh), followed by a short tunnel and/or greenfield alignment back towards Charlotte just south of downtown. You could still have connections to regional trains at Raleigh Union Station (as well as regionals to Charleston, which would take a similar route out of downtown Raleigh), but you definitely wouldn’t have HSR anywhere near Greensboro.

      Personally, I prefer a Durham HSR station because it would allow better regional connections, I think. Among other things, it would enter the S-Line just south of an abandoned ROW that connects to the CSX mainline near Roanoke Rapids, where it meets a very straight CSX alignment to Hampton Roads. Bringing that Henderson-Roanoke Rapids ROW back on line would need some serious work (part of it is now submerged under Lake Kerr), but it would open up the possibility of fast regional trains from Atlanta to Norfolk, with transfers at Durham and/or Henderson to other regional trains (NEC-Charleston and/or NEC-Wilmington via Raleigh at Henderson or Wake Forest, NEC-Asheville via Greensboro at Durham); transfers to a local S-Bahn-y regional service to Raleigh and other eastern Piedmont cities at Durham, Henderson or Wake Forest; and transfers to NEC-Charlotte-Atlanta HSR at Durham. But IDK… pipe dreams, I think.

  7. adirondacker12800

    Albany-Montreal, can plausibly be reclassified as yellow due to the weakness of travel markets from the United States to Montreal.

    The NYSDOT I-87 congestion study, which was crippled by assuming nothing would be done south of Albany and ignored that anything existed outside of New York State, concluded that just that market has enough demand for a train an hour. It sucks in the ten million people in Mass. R.I. and Conn. Make it fast enough it serves Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C. 45 million-ish people and not counting things like Syracuse or Maine. If it’s really fast to Saratoga Springs it makes trips to Vermont a lot faster. A two or three car train to Burlington every other hour kind of thing. Burlington to Saratoga Springs has to as fast as driving to Saratoga Springs to attract passengers.

    Albany: 0:55, an hour minus half a turnaround time, useful for Swiss run-trains-as-fast-as-necessary timetabling

    It already is once an hour most of the day. Cut it from two and half hours down to one there will be enough demand for every 30 minutes. It can be a local at :30 and the Nozomi from Montreal to D.C. at :00. Maybe alternating with the Nozomi from Toronto to D.C., once an hour. Train to Boston at :15 and train to Chicago from Long Island and New Haven at :45. It will be a lot cheaper and easier to go via Long Island to get to Boston from New York. New Rochelle, Stamford and Bridgeport can have every half hour to Boston alternating between via Springfield or Providence. I’d be inclined to do something like the one via Providence terminates in Philadelphia via the West Trenton Line. And the one via Springfield is the Nozomi to Richmond. Or sumptin’.

    Wilmington can be a local or an express stop – whether the infrastructure required to skip it at speed is worth it is a close decision.

    The express trains don’t have to pass between the local train’s platforms. It’d be okay if Wilmington got Hikari and Kodama level service, if it’s going to stopping in Wilmington, the slow curves either side of the existing station don’t matter as much. It’s almost exactly halfway between DC and NY and if the train is a little slower because it’s going to stop in Trenton and Garden City, that’s okay. The Nozomi to Baltimore and beyond can blast through over the freight yards east of downtown Wilmington. The tracks and wires will be there for SEPTA and running two, three or four intercity trains, an hour, in between the SEPTA trains, won’t cost much. The tracks and the wires will be there for SEPTA or NJTransit trains on the West Trenton line. Or the old Shore Line and CDOT trains. Bypassing Wilmington can be in phase 42.

    Toronto is a lot bigger, so there’s little point in skipping Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo to speed up end-to-end trips.

    Want to speed up Boston-Toronto or DC-Toronto don’t stop in Buffalo, bypass the squiggles in downtown. Do the customs and immigration, in motion, between Rochester and Toronto and people who want to go from Hamilton to Buffalo can get on a train that does customs and immigration in Niagara Falls. People in Worcester who want to go to Buffalo can take the train that goes to Cleveland. there’s gonna be a train from Boston to Cleveland isn’t there?

    in contrast, city pairs like Pittsburgh-Cincinnati are very unlikely to get substantial rail mode share without completely revamping the way the geography of jobs in American cities is laid out.

    They manage to get from the airport to their business meetings downtown. They let the cabs serve the train station just like they let the cabs serve the airport.

  8. thoss

    I don’t know how it would actually work out but you might think HSR would compete with and reduce interstate automobile trips as much as air travel.

  9. adirondacker12800


    Is metro area of a quarter of a million people and a bus once an hour to Syracuse would be enough capacity. And faster than a train unless you want to spend a lot of money building straight tracks. Watertown is roughly half that size. Get on a bus. Though in Watertown they have the option of sucking up great big drafts of Essential Air Services subsidies.

    … Indiana ….

    There are no outlying areas unless the tracks are there for some other reason.


    ….Altoona…State College….

    The Pennsylvanians can fight it out over where the intermediate stop, singular, is between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh but if it’s near an exit on the Turnpike that’s okay. One of the six buses a day that goes to tiny-little-metro area can get there easily. State College and Altoona have the Bud Schuster Memorial Interstate to get them there fast.



  10. Jacob Manaker

    Continuing in this blog’s tradition of quibbling over details: (in no particular order)

    1.NY-Allentown-Harrisburg-Winchester is a string of cities with much more consistent density over a shorter distance than Raleigh-Fayetteville-Florence-Savannah or either route through Columbia. It should probably be blue instead.
    2.In magical christmas land, where the US and Canada plan their HSR systems for mutual benefit, I think you are right to run Cleveland-Toledo-Chicago to serve Detroit. But I then you are too conservative with legacy expresses: Detroit-Toledo-Fort Wayne-Muncie-Indianapolis almost certainly deserves a link, given how consistently large those cities are (the terminals in particular!) and how direct the route is. Conversely, as soon as we remove the assumption that the US and Canada cooperate, I think you are unduly concerned about Pittsburgh-Columbus-Fort Wayne inconveniencing Detroit. Could you elaborate on where the extra 1:25 comes from with a North-South legacy express Detroit-Toledo-HSR connection? Given that Michigan is already investing in a legacy Chicago-Michigan City-Kalamazoo-Ann Arbor-Detroit express, I’m not sure that you will still have much a high-speed rail market left to tap. Also, OH has long been reluctant to fund trains (because they’re “old” and “slow”), so this also is an excellent way to play them off against PA and IN: do they want the legacy feeder to run…Toledo-Cleveland-Youngstown-Pittsburgh? …Toledo-Fort Wayne-(Muncie)-Indianapolis? …or Toledo-(Lima)-Dayton-Cincinnati-Louisville?
    3.Montréal-Quebec City via Trois-Riviéres, really? Drummondville and Trois-Riviéres are the roughly the same size, and my understanding is that all plans to use the north shore line rely on a (politically) costly turf war to reclaim the Mont-Royal tunnel from REM. It’s much easier (politically) to build a new station in the existing CN yards outside the city (e.g. 45°29’05 N 73°32’59 W) connecting to the REM, and then use the current CN RoW across the Champlain Bridge to Drummondville and thence Quebec City.
    4.The Chicago-Omaha legacy line should probably extend to Lincoln, no?
    5.Adirondacker is probably right that NY-Scranton-Binghamton-Syracuse risks weakness. Ideally, the southern terminal would be Philly (full disclosure: I grew up in a Philly suburb), but I don’t think there is a good route across the Poconos. A “water level route” via Sunbury/Northhampton-Harrisburg-Baltimore is definitely too slow. Maybe give up on it as an alternative route to Upstate, and just run it as a feeder to Corning/Elmira or Ithaca?
    6.Is there a reason for Norfolk/Virginia Beach, rather than Hampton Roads?
    7.”The negotiations with CSX may be difficult given the line’s use by slow, heavy freight” — it’s not just the use for a freight mainline, it’s the US’ balkanized rail system. Amtrak’s *Cardinal* currently runs a ridiculous 3 tpw because the Orange-Clifton Forge segment is effectively part of CSX’s main line to Norfolk (via directional running)…but the tracks are actually owned by small-time Buckingham Branch RR, and BBRR doesn’t have the operating capital to put in even a passing siding or two.

    I’ll conclude with some positive notes:
    8.Harrisburg-Baltimore as a way to connect DC and the midwest has precedent: at least Amtrak’s *National Limited* used the PRR Port Road Branch to do that in the ’70s. Of course, it helped that the line was electrified back then…
    9.As I’m sure you know the yellow line running Meridian-Dallas is roughly the NS/KCS “Meridian speedway.” This suggests that maybe you don’t need to build whole new tracks for the line; if NS/KCS cooperate, we get RoW on the cheap and they get a *major* speedup for their trains. Of course, BNSF and UP haven’t explicitly stated they aren’t interested in any infrastructure the CAHSR is building, but when USPS notices that it can award DB some mail contracts, they might change their tune. It all depends on the chronology of the rollout.

    • adirondacker12800

      Ithaca and Elmira are even smaller than Binghamton. Get on the once an hour bus that connects in Syracuse or Rochester to an eastbound and westbound train. I see it being a 25 passenger one because parking will be cheap in Syracuse or Rochester and many people will just drive to the train station. If the Phoebe Snow or the Black Diamond was hurtling through it would make sense to stop but they won’t be. Get on a bus.

  11. Moshe Schorr

    I commented on Twitter and I’ll add on a bit here — the most plausible routing for Harrisburg to Pittsburgh would be out to about Fort Loudon (near McConellsburg), staying in the valley until Ft Loudon, and then turning west, roughly following I-76.
    Fort Loudon is only about 80 miles from DC. A plausible ROW, running on the Brunswick line until Gaithersburg, then following I-270 until near Frederick, following I-70 from there until Hagerstown, and then making a beeline for Fort Loudon seems quite doable, not very expensive, with side benefits of being able to greatly improve MARC service to Frederick and Hagerstown (and Martinsburg too). Mostly green field parallel to interstates. It would reduce the distance from DC to Ft Loudon (and hence all points west) by 300 miles, for DC-Pittsburgh in 90 minutes or even less. It makes DC-Chicago doable in less than four hours (one of the busiest city pairs in US air travel, 3rd and 5th largest MSAs by GDP, 3rd and 6th by population. Seems easily worth it.

  12. dljiii

    “Counting only city pairs at a plausible HSR range of around 4-5 hours, maybe a bit more for New York-Atlanta, my estimate is that about 20-25% of domestic US air trips can be substituted by rail.”

    If the impetus for this discussion is reducing CO2 emissions then I think you’ve made a decent case that the impact of HSR on emissions would be marginal at best. Presumably those 75-80% of trips that cannot be substituted account for an even higher proportional of aviation CO2 emissions due to these trips’ greater lengths. Then you have the fact that concrete and steel are carbon-intensive to produce using current processes, and HSR generally involves large quantities of both, especially in difficult terrain.

    It may be a good idea for other reasons but the near-to-middle-term climate benefits don’t seem particularly impressive?

    • Oreg

      A plane’s emissions per distance are higher for short hops than long haul as they need to amortize the massive energy consumption of the take off. The emissions of building rail infrastructure are amortized over a very long time.

      All studies I know show massively lower emissions for HSR than planes.

      • IAN! Mitchell

        This is also assuming jets are the only aircraft. They’re not.

        Piston planes require a whole lot less energy (and emissions) to take off, and electric propeller aircraft are plausible for journies of under 100 miles. They’re slower, but that doesn’t matter much if you aren’t going far.

        The main issue is that you have a limited number of slots in major airports.

        So you either have smaller facilities (Like Trenton-Mercer and Bridgeport Municipal) for small planes or… Electric Seaplanes? That sounds like a bad idea somehow.

        Sound zany, but you’ve got this going on on the other coast:

        Oh, and this, apparently seaplanes between Manhattan and Bridgeport are already a thing.

        • emjayay

          Electric propeller aircraft are not plausible for any distance unless they have really long extension cords. Best of current technology: a Tesla battery pack weighs 1,200 pounds.

      • dljiii

        The emissions per km may be greater for short flights, but in absolute terms the emissions from a short flight are less than from a long flight, so I still maintain that the 75% “too long for HSR” flights account for >75% of emissions.

        Re amortized over a long time, that’s correct, but I’m not sure that’s the best way to think about it. It feels like imposing human accounting conventions on physical systems. CO2 emissions are a cumulative problem and those tons of CO2 emitted from building an HSR line are an immediate “hit” which will remain in the atmosphere essentially forever. In the context of rapidly dwindling
        carbon budgets for 2C this means X many tons fewer are available for e.g. building dense infill housing (or whatever else you might care to think of). Not saying this automatically makes it a bad idea but we should be aware of the trade-offs involved. I think that looking at metrics like gCO2 per passenger-km can be useful but risks obfuscating the fact that the atmosphere only “cares” about the absolute quantity of CO2 emitted.

        OTOH, if HSR frees up airport slots used by short flights for medium or long haul flights, as suggested by adirondacker below, then the effect would pretty clearly be to increase emissions.

        • adirondacker12800

          airplanes and airports use concrete and steel too. Well the airplanes haven’t used a lot of steel in a long time. Aluminum doesn’t smelt itself either.

        • emjayay

          No, if air travel still is increasing HSR will mean less airport capacity has to be built.

    • adirondacker12800

      Airport terminals aren’t made out of pixie dust and constructed by elves. There is no place to put more runway in metro New York. Get rid of half the puddle jumpers they can be replaced by trips that aren’t possible with HSR.

      • Khloe

        Or you go “single airport in the sticks”.

        I mean there’s bound to be some place within an hour of NYC where you can put a hundred million pax p.a.

      • Eric

        Yes, HSR is needed in some places (China, Japan, the US northeast) to free up runway capacity. But if the short-range flights cancelled due to HSR are replaced by additional long-range flights, it’s hard to imagine a decrease in carbon emissions…

        • smooth indian

          When carbon emissions or jet fuel usage have to be drastically reduced due to price of oil, availability, pollution, climate change then it would be late/expensive/disruptive to get started with HSR. It is better to start now so as to be ready with future challenges.

          • adirondacker12800

            More than half. The center of the U.S. population is in Indiana. southwest of Indianapolis.

          • Eric

            Honestly, the cost of oil will never be much higher than it is now, as ground vehicles will switch to electric, and power generation to non-fossil-fuels. There likely will be taxes to account for the carbon impact of jet fuel, but continued economic growth will keep the demand for air travel high even with higher fares.

            So runway/air space will still be the limiting factor.

          • emjayay

            Think ahead? Invest for the environment and the future of the planet and improving the lives of people? Not happening here (unless maybe there is a major change of the situation at the national level of course.)

      • Ian Mitchell

        “There is no place to put more runway in metro New York”
        Not sure if Stewart counts as metro NYC, but there certainly is there.

        As for closer to Manhattan:
        ISP. Longer runway possible. Outside of congested airspace.
        The existing airports also handle fewer people than is possible.
        JFK and Newark; set minimum pax capacity per movement, ergo bigger planes.
        Small planes can go to teterboro for good access and TTN for cheap landing fees.

        Kill LGA- it removes more capacity in the air (in the world’s most congested airspace) than its terminals add on the ground. Plus it keeps skyscrapers from going up in flushing.

    • smooth indian

      NY-Atlanta or Chicago-Atlanta or NY-Chicago are multiple city-pairs at the same time. The city-pair comparison between air and train traffic doesn’t always compare since trains are almost always multi-stop and planes go point-to-point.
      That said the NYC-Chicago-Atlanta triangle accounts for nearly half or more of the US population and the density of this region is comparable to that of Europe. So the the above 3 can be the chief HSR corridors in the US.

  13. Eric

    The greater Dallas metropolitan area has 78% the population of greater Chicago. Dallas’ population is rising much faster, so it’s likely that within 15 years the two areas will have equal populations. Dallas is also near (in HSR terms) to Houston, which has a just lower population.

    This makes me think that Dallas-OKC-Tulsa is easily justified, and probably Tulsa-KC too. Incidentally, the latter would create a Dallas-Chicago route running in 5:30.

    I know Dallas has much lower transit use than Chicago, but this should not affect how many travelers switch from flying to HSR. As for driving to HSR, there will be a difference, but the availability of Uber etc will partly make up for it.

    • IAN! Mitchell

      Dallas does also have significant investment in transit, if not significant present ridership.

      DART has 150 km of light rail and a downtown subway in the works. Freeway removal seems likely (345 is falling apart and may not be replaced), so if we’re looking decades into the future, HSR makes sense.

  14. Pingback: Map Monday: Fantasy Eastern US Rail Network | streets.mn
  15. MN rails

    Fascinating. This is pure fantasy, but the only comment I have is that there should be a yellow or red low-priority line for a Minneapolis to Kansas City route! This route would follow the legacy Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha (Omaha Road) line between St. Paul Union Depot to Worthington, MN. Depending on the speed desired, it could stop only at Mankato-North Mankato after leaving St. Paul, or maybe 1 or two other places.

    After Worthington, the line would either take over or parallel the original Worthington–Sioux Falls, SD rail line (barely active freight road today), OR parallel I-90 in a more greenfield construction. At Sioux Falls (one of the fastest growing U.S. cities, metro pop. over 260,000) the line would turn south towards Sioux City, IA. After Sioux City, the line would follow the Missouri to Omaha and finally end at Kansas City Union Station.

  16. dhdaines

    About that NYC-Montreal link, based on your comments in the linked post… The existing route along Lake Champlain (it does not go through the Adirondacks) is flat as a pancake though the curves on it could be an issue for increasing speed. It follows a canal from the south end of the lake most of the way to Albany. But the political will to make rail transport functional is in Vermont, as are the interesting intermediate destinations. This is IMHO one reason the NYC-Montreal train is underused – there’s nowhere interesting to go on it between Montreal and Albany (less charitably, between Montreal and NYC). The other reason is the lack of border pre-clearance, which adds 2 hours to the already rather slow trip.

    • Alon Levy

      This is actually a good point… if the 3C route is HSR then trains can just go Indy-Cincy-Columbus, but if it’s not then maybe it’s better to build the HSR line to Dayton and then branch.

      • adirondacker12800

        The center of population for the US is somewhere in southwestern Indiana. Quarter of the population lives northeast of there, quarter southeast of there, a quarter northwest with a lot it of hugging the edge of the northeastern section, a quarter southwest of there.

        Without looking up all of the details, Chicago-Miami would be one of the most populous routes that doesn’t involve the Northeast Corridor, California or Texas. Much more sense than Chicago-Denver ever will. Phase 17 of Midwest HSR is Columbus to Pittsburgh that drags in a whole bunch of city pairs that wouldn’t happen in the Rocky Mountain states. We need a map with the top 100 metro areas, red for the top 20, orange for the next 20, yellow for the next 20, green, blue.. The crayonista are enamored of Chicago-Denver. Something is going on where they think that because there are three dots along the way it’s the same as Boston to New York. it’s not… I keep reminding myself that Boston or Jacksonville are closer to Chicago than Denver is. It would be nice if the 100 metro map was clickable and it could calculate distances and population.

        • Eric

          Chicago-Denver is shorter than Chicago-Miami (by about 25%) and the terrain is easier. But you’re right, the population numbers do not justify it.

          • adirondacker12800

            Almost no one would take the train from Chicago to Miami. That doesn’t stop Jacksonville from being closer to Chicago than Denver is. Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville, Chattanooga and Atlanta would be along the way. Kansas City would be along the way between Denver and Chicago. It’s very roughly the same size as Indianapolis. Or Jacksonville. Atlanta-Miami would be a stretch but not Chattanooga-Daytona. Chicago-Miami your stumbling across a significant metro fairly often. Kansas has a lot farms.. I want a clickable map that calculates distances and population.

          • Eric

            We are agreeing. I meant that the population numbers don’t justify Chicago-Denver.

          • adirondacker12800

            I’m just discouraging the “but but but Salt Lake CIty!!! ” crayonista who also want to color in El Paso. El Paso is 551 miles from San Antonio on I-10……

          • po8crg

            Chicago-Miami might work with a true HSR sleeper (the Chinese run some; there aren’t any in Europe).

            A lot of people positively like sleeping on trains (count me amongst them), where almost no-one likes an overnight flight: they’re nicknamed red-eyes for a reason.

            But that can only be justified if the tracks already exist for shorter-distance daytime HSR, and they won’t for Chicago-Denver.

            Indeed, if this network were completed, I could see several very long distance sleepers operating from the northern termini (probably just Minneapolis, Boston and Quebec City) to the southern ones (San Antonio and Miami). That’s six trains a night. – and these wouldn’t be like the current Amtrak trains with both sleeping compartments and viewing cars / restaurants; they’d just be plain sleepers (like most of the ones in Europe, except capable of going full HSR speeds) where you can order a (cold) breakfast to be delivered to your compartment in the morning, but you’re expected to eat dinner before you board.

      • smooth indian

        it might be a good idea to connect Indy to Hamilton,OH and Middletown, OH with a Y-junction. This way Cincy, Dayton and Columbus all get connected to Indy and the line takes a more denser area.

  17. Froggie

    Two things I’d like to note:

    First, you point to the “weakness of travel markets between the US and Montreal”, but I have to wonder how much of that is the insane hours-long stop at the border at Rouses Point for Customs. This, at least, is in the process of being addressed, where there will eventually be a U.S. Customs station at Gare Centrale so that passengers are screened through Customs at the station and not next to a cornfield.

    Second, there’s been on-and-off planning and proposing for a more direct Boston-Montreal connection. Since New Hampshire pulled out (though the likely corridor through the state is a curvy rail-trail anyway), focus has shifted to turning the corner at Springfield, MA and continuing north via the Vermonter’s current routing (with proposed extension to Montreal…hingent on the above-mentioned Customs situation). Yet you don’t even show this as a Legacy line even though it’s a logical extension of the Knowledge Corridor or NHHS or whatever you want to call the currently underway upgrades between New Haven and Springfield.

    (Also surprised that PeakVT didn’t mention this either)

    • Alon Levy

      Follow the link (although I think the link in that link rotted); the air travel markets are weak.

      I’m not showing the Boston-Montreal plan as anything because it’s a bad line and shouldn’t be funded. New York-Albany is a natural HSR corridor, so if there’s any HSR from the US to Quebec it should start there; Boston-Albany is another natural HSR corridor, and that would get you Boston-Montreal for free.

      • adirondacker12800

        People drive or take the bus, one of the reasons why NYSDOT did a congestion study for I-87 between the border and Albany. The Vermont AOT funded a study, which is why it shows up on old HSR maps, there was study they could point to. Vermont-NH-Boston doesn’t have enough demand for HSR, not through mountains anyway. Piggybacking Boston-Montreal onto NY-Montreal and Buffalo-Boston adds 90 miles if I remember correctly. It’s a short enough trip that the extra half hour doesn’t matter much.

      • ib

        This is entirely anecdotal, but to adirondacker’s point, growing up on Long Island, whenever people went to Montreal, they drove.

    • Max Wyss

      Actually, in a civilized world, border checks, if there were any at all, would be done on the moving train.

      • Alon Levy

        That works when there’s adequate time for checks between the last stop in the country of origin and the first in the destination country. Do you know how low this minimum went in pre-Schengen Western Europe? I’m asking because on the most important line, NY-Toronto, there is very little time since trains should be stopping at both Buffalo and Niagara Falls, which are 33 km apart. NY-Montreal is much easier – Montreal is 100 km from Plattsburgh and 140 from Burlington. Vancouver-Bellingham is 90 km, and there may be room for express trains, going nonstop for 240 km to Seattle, which is enough for anything.

        • adirondacker12800

          Buffalo and Niagara Falls can have a local that serves St. Catherines, Hamilton Mississauga etc. No stops between Rochester and Toronto is plenty of time to seal the train and inspect. Ya wanna get to Buffalo from Syracuse use the train that is going to Cleveland.
          The congestion study concluded that anything other than Plattsburgh and Saratoga Springs was a rounding error. Something could be finagled where Plattsburgh is the last car or something like that. Southbound there would have to be a quick check to shoo all the people who didn’t understand they need to be in the last car, onto it. Or give up and run a two car shuttle every other hour, it can stop at the commuter station in Colonie where the shuttle buses to the airport, state office buildings, SUNY campus and the malls are. Or a four car HIkari that sops up the Kodama stops between Rennselaer and Manhattan. Or Ronkonkama.

        • Max Wyss

          Well, they did full checks (Swiss Grenzwacht, German Bundesgrenzschutz, Swiss Customs, German Customs) on the ICE/IC/EC (that’s up to 12 cars) between Freiburg and Basel; travel time 31 minutes. It was also not uncommon that they went through the train with drug-sniffing dogs (especially the ECs from Amsterdam…).

          They also did it on 7 car ICE-T/EC between Schaffhausen and Singen; travel time 16 minutes or so). I occasionally took the local between Schaffhausen and Singen, and sometimes, the check was at Thayngen, where the officer just walked along the train outside and looked through the windows…

          • Sascha Claus

            That was between two countries of similar wealth and economic circumstances, where they only checked that you had something that was probably a passport or id card.
            In the east (DECZ/PL), they really looked at the photo. (road and rail)
            And then there were the night trains, where the sleeping car conductor would collect your passports at his ticket inspection so that the border police didn’t have to wake you up for the check.

        • Michael James

          Alon Levy, 2019/02/12 – 14:57
          That works when there’s adequate time for checks between the last stop in the country of origin and the first in the destination country. Do you know how low this minimum went in pre-Schengen Western Europe?

          The gum in the works for Eurostar is the attitude of the Brits. They only allow customs/immigration at a few big stations, and won’t allow it on trains. It has nothing to do with lack of time. Thus, the silliness of the London to Amsterdam train taking 3h30m but Amsterdam to London route taking 4h50m because they force everyone to clear C&I at Lille–by getting off the train and back on, with luggage. Same deal with trains from Cologne, I believe. It’s a point of contention with the continental train companies, but on this stuff the Brits won’t budge. They don’t want refugees landing in UK and claiming asylum. Not quite sure what they do on the London-Avignon (and now Lyon & Aix-en-Provence) summer specials but I suspect the trains don’t stop anywhere, and on the return trip they force everyone to clear C&I at Lille?

          In pre-Schengen times all the checking was done on the train, as far as I can remember. Including Paris to Brussels which is shortish. Before Eurostar, you dealt with French Immigration at Calais and then did the Brit passport control on the ferry (with another quick check on exiting on land).

          • po8crg

            It acutally isn’t the British customs and immigration people, weirdly enough. It’s the security people on the Channel Tunnel. They refuse, point-blank, to accept security checks on-board the train.

            C&I will do the checks on-board, provided the train company pays them a premium (because they only do the checks on inbound trains, so the staff have to dead-head back again, while French staff do the checks on the outbound trains).

            There’s some interesting commentary on this from Michael Guerra (former CEO of London Direct Sleepers, who had got provisional agreements from everyone other than the security people to operate sleepers from London on eight routes: Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, Venice, Vienna, Prague, Berlin, Copenhagen) here https://www.businesstraveller.com/forums/topic/sleeper-trains-from-st-pancras/#post-488634 – you can ignore the posts from everyone other than mjxguerra.

            The Channel Tunnel IGC were completely inflexible on this out of fear of a terrorist bombing the tunnel. Even though checks on cars/trucks are much less thorough.

          • Herbert

            The more I hear about it, the more I think Eurotunnel is run by idiots…

          • Michael James

            po8crg, 2019/02/13 – 18:49
            Even though checks on cars/trucks are much less thorough.

            Thanks for the link–I will read more but for the moment have only read the specific comment you linked to.
            However my reading is different to yours. I think your final sentence (above) reveals the truth. Certainly they may claim “security” (ie. terrorism security theatre) but clearly that is not the main or even the minor issue. It really is the Brits insularity and refusal to yield an inch on Schengen. What do you think was the main issue upon which Brexit was “won” (or lost, really). Given the shrieking headlines over here (15,000 km away in the antipodes) the refugee (boats) hysteria has flared yet again (and yes, it is election time). The whole world is touchy on this but the Anglosphere (exempting Canada & NZ?) seem positively hysterical (on Tuesday the Oz govt lost a vote on a bill enabling medivac from our Pacific island gulags–first such loss in HoR in 90 years, and the govt, along with Rupert’s rags, have gone into meltdown on us being overrun with refugee-boats).

            Re Night trains or sleepers, we discussed this recently on Alon’s site. mjxguerra claims this security issue is what killed his proposition but I think it would have met financial trouble. Such things can only survive as some kind of luxe service and that is too niche for a regular service (ie. other than the odd Venice-Simplon train). I think he also skirted, or rather totally avoided, the “solution” to his problem: like all other trains heading to the chunnel, Lille is built for this purpose, and all the lines pass thru it even if they don’t have to stop. Of course there is the matter of whether the Brits would have wanted to provide “afterhours” C&I service, or at what ridiculous cost to train operators.

            I want night trains but not necessarily sleepers. On HSR, ‘overnight’ is too long–and not just Paris/London to Brussels. Even the 1500 km London-Avignon Eurostar leaves St Pancras at 07.17 and arrives in time for lunch at Avignon by 14.00. I reckon a somewhat better deep-reclining seat would be fine, and with a semi-fixed tray table to work/eat on. Like you get on business class TGVs & AVEs (and I assume, Eurostar). All of the destination cities likely to be served are big ones and are no problem to arrive at in the middle of the night, or v. early morning etc. Unlike sleepers this would provide capacity, and thus could be easily and cheaply modified existing stock (or retired stock such as all the old French Eurostar stock). Incidentally it seems nonsensical that those trains must conform to minimum UK loading gauge when they won’t use anything other than the Eurostar line–still, that is only an issue for duplex trains.
            Again, as I said previously, I think the real reason why late-night, or indeed overnight, service doesn’t exist for Eurostar is that they don’t want it to parasitise their main service which is now very nicely running at full capacity. Other than people like me who like to take the last train outta Dodge–and am frustrated by the early termination of services (about 7pm)–it would also stimulate day-trippers since you could get in a very long, up to 18 hour, day. Naturally, without incurring the cost, or worst of all, the hassle of booking hotel rooms etc.

          • Michael James

            The comments adjoining mjxguerra are exactly what I was talking about:

            The opportunity to have a meal and a drink and set off at 2340 was great. Combinations like that save time and money. Sadly no shower facilities in Edinburgh which takes the shine off doing it the otherway around.

            and …

            What we have discussed here is the Club World style lie flat bed as used by BA, this gives the versitility of a luxury day seat (with the option to lie flat an have a sleep) and a bed during the night. There would be no reason why such a seat could not be fitted to a standard Eurostar carriage. In fact by using such stock would also allow for seated overnight accomodation as well. Therefore the issues regarding what stock to use or not is negated as you use the same stock as now except it is configured internall different to standard LON-PAR/BRU stock.

            I think this proves my thinking is nothing novel but kind of a no-brainer. Why the relevant powers resist is related to narrow sectional interests not lack of inherent demand. Though I don’t think it would work if solely pitched as a high-cost option, eg. so-called business-class fares–since the type* who pay for such extravagance are not the type to want to do it overnight or even late-night, nor of course are they actually paying for those expensive seats; this may not be a trivial commercial matter as I assume, like on planes, the biz seats on Eurostar bring in most of the income/margin.

            *Not all bizoids, as clear from his post below, but in my experience most of them are extremely unadventurous and are in an almighty rush “to get home” when they venture into foreign territory. You’d think this would change with Millennials etc but maybe not.

            I would like to start a new thread on overnight sleeper trains from St Pancras International. I live and work in London, with frequent meetings on the Continent, and I am very weary of either a very late flight after work followed by a rip-off expensive hotel room I only use to crash out in, or a very early flight the morning of the meeting often requiring a 4.45 am start from home.
            Why are there no sleeper trains from St Pancras using the Channel Tunnel? Frankfurt, Vienna, Zurich, Milan, Berlin – all should be within range of an 8-10 hour high speed train from London. Anyone who has tried the sleeper train (“tren-hotel”) between Paris and Madrid for example knows it gives you a nice dinner, a comfortable bed, an acceptable breakfast and arrival in Madrid in time for a 9.00 meeting refreshed and ready. And at a lower price, both in money and stress, than the flight-plus-hotel option.

            That was written in 2011 just before that Paris-Madrid sleeper was discontinued. I took it just before then and totally agree with the writer. Of course it was an old slow train that took the west-coast route into Spain. Today the Paris-Perpignan TGV takes 4.5h and maybe 7 hours (?) to Barcelona. These are appropriate for overnight HSR trains and compete with trying to do a daytrip by flying which inevitably is nonstop hassle and stress for the entire day.

    • PeakVT

      Alon is right; BOS-MTL is bad – bad geography, the intermediate population is very sparse (let’s not forget the population of the entire state of Vermont is roughly equal to that of Staten Island) and don’t even get me started on the legacy ROW.

      If NYC-ALB-MTL is viable then BOS-ALB-MTL is a freebie since BOS-Springfield-ALB is a high(er) priority line in every plan I’ve seen.

  18. Mike Whelan

    1. Any particular reason you sent Kansas City-Oklahoma City via Tulsa rather than Topeka and Witchita?
    2. Should there be a line (either HSR or lower-speed) from Charlotte to Nashville via Ashville and Knoxville? Or as an alternative, should the Roanoke train maybe be extended to Knoxville and Nashville?

    • Eric

      1. MSA populations: Topeka 233k, Wichita 644k, Tulsa 981k. Tulsa is bigger than the other two combined. Tulsa would also be closer to Dallas (the main destination), leading to shorter trips and higher demand.
      2. There should be be a Chattanooga-Knoxville branch, allowing Knoxville access to the HSR network (particularly Atlanta, but also other cities, even including Chicago). However, Knoxville-Charlotte is too mountainous to be justified.

  19. anonymouse

    It would be interesting to also see how this connects to the broader network beyond the Eastern US. For example, in the bottom left of the map, there really should be a line from San Antonio to Monterrey, which is quite a strong travel market though it has the obvious border issue.

    • Alon Levy

      I’m really skeptical about San Antonio-Monterrey. It’s international and trans-linguistic, which makes it a lot weaker than a line connecting Dallas with a Monterrey-size American city. Consider the following comparisons:

      1. I think of Dallas-Kansas City as marginal even with the added Chicago connection; OKC and Tulsa are around half the size of Austin and San Antonio, and KC is around half the size of Monterrey. The international penalty looks higher than 2:1 even within the same language area – NY-Toronto air traffic is maybe twice as high as NY-Buffalo air traffic despite a population ratio of about 6:1. Across different language areas, it’s even worse, judging by NY-Montreal air traffic and especially by Eurostar ridership vs. domestic TGV ridership.

      2. I drew NY-Montreal in red rather than yellow, but Albany-Montreal is probably the weakest single line on the map that’s red rather than yellow. Montreal is about the same size as Monterrey, but New York is larger than the four Texas Triangle cities combined and more strongly-centered. The sum total of CBD employment in the four Texas Triangle cities is about 360,000, rising to maybe 450,000 including near-CBD stuff like the Baylor Medical Center and the Austin near-CBD areas. Midtown alone is 800,000, and Manhattan south of 60th is 1.9 million.

      3. Mexico’s poverty means that an American construction effort going there will have American capital and operating costs, just as the Japanese effort in India has Japanese construction costs. Reducing costs is necessary and possible, but first-world nominal costs are still very high by Mexican PPP standards. China has to charge lower HSR fares than the first world, and as a result its HSR program struggles to make money on lines that in the first world would be very profitable. A domestic effort starting from Mexico City toward Monterrey and then completing the gap toward Laredo would be necessary for such a line to pencil out.

      • IAN! Mitchell

        Monterrey loses from the bottom of the triangle going to Austin instead of San Antonio.

        Houston to Monterrey (10 flights a day, twice as many as from Dallas, 10 times as many as from SA). Adding ~30 minutes (and, let’s be honest, more) to that trip because of going via Austin basically makes it completely noncompetitive with air travel.

        As far as costs and tickets- Monterrey’s per capita income is comparable with American cities, actually much higher than San Antonio’s and San Pedro is rich even by US standards.

        Mexico city to Monterrey HSR Is ridiculous. Mexico city is farther away than Dallas, and while Monterrey to Dallas is flat and has Austin and San Antonio on the way, Mexico city has mountains in between it and Monterrey, and no cities over 1,000,000 or so along the way.

        Monterrey is at the upper end of HSR range from Mexico city in even ideal circumstances, nobody’s taking the train from Mexico City to any place in Texas.

        • Alon Levy

          Mexico City is also an enormous city speaking the same language as Monterrey. It’s 820 km via Queretaro, San Luis Potosi, and Saltillo.

          And Houston-Austin is about the same size as Houston-San Antonio on paper, and Austin grows faster and has a larger CBD than San Antonio. So adding around 50 km to Houston-San Antonio in order to save Houston-Austin about 100 km, and also cut around 70 km from the total construction length, is fully justifiable.

          • IAN! Mitchell

            Hey, Alon, I live in Austin, you definitely don’t have to convince me. I want a fast train from here to Houston.
            In a texas-only model, it’s the clear choice.

            But throw in monterrey, and the increased distance to houston becomes a tradeoff.

          • adirondacker12800

            It has to be faster than the alternatives not as fast as possible.If your objective is to get from Houston to Monterrey as fast as possible it doesn’t go through San Antonio. As fast as possible would cost too much for the demand and won’t happen. Diverting to Austin from San Antonio to get to Houston means it’s using the same tracks that San Antonio to Dallas would be using. and the same tracks that Austin to Houston would be using. It’s “free”.

        • Oreg

          Trains are competitive for trip times of 4 h. Houston — Austin — San Antonio is less than 400 km. With HSR that will be far less than 4 h, very competitive.

      • anonymouse

        Given San Antonio is 63% Hispanic/Latino, is it really that trans-linguistic? The two cities are quite closely linked, likely much more so than, say, NYC-Montreal (or Boston-Montreal). And the terrain between the two cities is relatively favorable for HSR, being relatively flat and it being relatively easy to just run a straight line from Monterrey to Laredo along the highway and from Laredo to San Antonio along the legacy rail line. To save costs, it might even be possible to build a high speed line on the Mexican side since a new, more direct alignment is needed there anyway, and just upgrade the legacy line on the US side. The problem with going from Monterrey to Mexico City is less favorable terrain, longer distances, and lower population, and this is a problem in Mexico in general with its populated center being full of mountains, which is why the legacy lines mostly ended up being rather curvy and slow and thus not very useful for passenger service.

      • Herbert

        Eurostar has lower passenger focus because it charges absurd prices… In part due to the high costs of using the Chunnel. TGVs are (partly for political reasons, they opened under a socialist president after all) run at cheap prices as much as possible…

    • Sascha Claus

      The border issue, like in Vancouver (and soon in Montreal?), hmmm…, how could you solve it?
      Locking the train(s) in a cage when standing at their destination like in Vancouver might even be useful in Mexico.

  20. red dog

    This is an enjoyable conversation about why any two cities should be linked and at what speed, and why this route makes more sense then that route. Granted that the country is years away from HSR, even on the NEC, but if HSR were to ever come to life and it’s operated and managed by Amtrak or similar, and if the airlines are still flying between X and Y, I will throw out that the cost for HSR tickets will be so high that it would be used only when very convenient, CBD to CBD, and that the cost will allow the airlines to largely keep a substantial percentage of present market share. Outside of the NEC where train travel is still somewhat acceptable and common, what two cities are going to have a large HSR market at present day Amtrak Acela ticket rates even if taking the train might mean door to door travel is slightly faster? True HSR tickets rates will undoubtedly be much higher then Acela. For HSR to work in most of this country I believe it would have to be the affordable option, both in terms of time and ticket cost. Presently Amtrak seems almost disinterested in exploring the inter-relationship between ticket cost and ridership.

    • adirondacker12800

      Congress has restricted their flexibility on fares. Something like the cheapest ticket can’t be less than a quarter of the most expensive ticket.

    • Alon Levy

      As Adi notes, Amtrak fares have congressional restrictions on the ability to sell cheap tickets.

      Amtrak generally charges very high fares, with Regional fare revenue per passenger-km about twice as high as European HSR systems and Acela revenue even higher. Reasons for this include very low capacity, coming largely from Amtrak’s own incompetence: low fleet utilization on the Acela, short trains even though there’s room for 16-car trains at the Acela stations from New York south, long turnaround times. A single Acela has about 300 seats – cf. a 16-car Shinkansen at 1,300 – and most of them are full, with about 70% seat occupancy on average. 70% is about where the TGV is, and the TGV runs nonstop operations with little turnover, whereas the Acela has substantial turnover in Philadelphia.

      Higher-capacity HSR would not charge such high fares. The volume of passengers willing to pay $130 one-way between New York and Washington fills an hourly train with 300 seats, not a train with 1,100 seats departing every ten minutes. The California High-Speed Rail plans assume European HSR fares, so about $100 between Los Angeles and San Francisco, with essentially no turnover since the cities in between are small.

      The major cost items of rail operations are all cheaper on HSR than on low-speed rail per p-km: the crew costs less because they get paid by the hour, the trains cost twice as much but get more than twice the annual kilometers, and electricity consumption on a 300 km/h HSR line is actually less than on a regional line because constantly cruising at 300 is more efficient than the recurrent acceleration cycles of regional rail. Add in the fact that Amtrak has high operating costs even relative to train speed due to the aforementioned issues and you should not have problems charging normal first-world HSR fares on HSR.

      • red dog

        “————coming largely from Amtrak’s own incompetence:” ” Add in the fact that Amtrak has high operating costs even relative to train speed due to the aforementioned issues and you should not have problems charging normal first-world HSR fares on HSR.” I don’t see any reasonable hope that Amtrak is going to change it’s stripes any time soon. “—should not have problems——” is miles and miles away then the reality, both present and unfortunately, most likely in the future. Do you see any reason for hope that Amtrak is even interested in true HSR? (especially after what’s taking place in Calif.)

        Are maintenance costs of non rolling stock, rails, wires, ballast, etc. used in HSR much higher then lets say what Amtrak deals with in the NEC? Even if electricity per passenger mile were to fall/stay the same, if other hard costs go up per actual passenger mile that will be more then enough reason to justify Amtrak charging high ticket prices, which will limit need, and so on.

        It’s one thing to paint a picture where if all the parts fit nicely together—length of trains, headway, pricing, use, regulations—-the whole package works and works well, but that’s not realistic. As you have written about in the past, incremental change, but with specific goals in mind that can lead to advancing specific benefits, done in pre-existing rail corridors, seems more likely to bring about a willingness to expand into new areas. If 90 minute service between NYC and DC existed and had TGV fares, other parts of the country would start to want the same. Look at all the cities that want some form of light rail/trolleys, even when the attempts are hugely costly, often slow, and lack a daily service base of interested customers—-all because Portland has success with their set up.

        • Max Wyss.

          I’d think that the fares for Acela Express are market fares. That’s the fares with which they can fill the trains. So, no need to lower them.

          I don’t know how much of the “inefficiency” can be assigned to incompetence and how much to antiquated work rules, and how much to “we have always done it this way, there is no better way, and anyone could come…” (aka the typical railroader attitude).

          • Eric

            “and how much to antiquated work rules, and how much to “we have always done it this way, there is no better way, and anyone could come…””

            Those are also forms of incompetence.

          • red dog

            if Amtrak was running trains that were consistently full wouldn’t that be a indication that either they are doing a top notch job of matching supply with need (and I seriously doubt that is happening!) or the market could handle more trains? But are the trains full——?
            There’s also the idea that getting more people off the highways and out of short hop planes would be good for our society in general. Its not a very radical idea to think that lower fares would increase ridership.

    • Herbert

      Why would it be more expensive than the Acela?

      The Acela is insanely expensive in global terms but still sells out indicating a lot of latent demand…

  21. Max Wyss

    @red dog: Genève may not really be a good example, because there is only one direct flight between Genève and the US, and that one is operated by Swiss. And its only reason to be is because of the business generated by the various UN organizations.

    So, if you want to go from Philadelphia to Genève, you either take the weedwhacker to JFK and then the Swiss flight, or you take the AA flight to Zürich, and connect to one of the transfer flights to GVA (or take the train, which may be almost as fast, depending on the time of the day). …or you go via LHR or CDG, maybe MAD

    • ckrueger99

      I believe there are 3 direct flights: JFK-GVA(LX), EWR-GVA(UA) and IAD-GVA(UA), plus Montreal-GVA(AC). GVA/CH is a Star Alliance city/country.

      • Max Wyss

        You are correct; I take back my statement, and should have done a little bit better research.

        I am not quite sure whether the UA and AC flights are daily, but still…

    • red dog

      Not really the point! I was speaking to why the NYC area might be more attractive as a trans Atlantic hub of sorts for American Air even if hard costs and scheduling is better flying out of Philly. I used Genève as an example only because I used to split my time between Philly and that area. (I’d fly Air France Philly to Paris with a quick transfer to Genève, not as good as non-stop, but for me much, much better then going through NYC) Back when American and US Air were competitors having Philly as the hub for US Air’s trans Atlantic flights made great sense, especially as they didn’t have a NYC/Europe market.

  22. Adam


    Cute, but meanwhile in California, democrat Governor Newsom just announced he is killing the California High Speed Rail project. They’ll complete the bakersfield to Fresno section but the extant operating plan for that section (if the rest of the program is killed) is to gift the multibillion newly grade separated corridor to BNSF for primarily freight use. It is doubtful if California ever wanted to finish the HSR that BNSF would let them have the HSR infrastructure back, so they’d probably have to build a parallel track to their current construction.

    and in deliberate corporate strategy, BNSF has more or less required a ton of concessions and cost escalations from CAHSR, such as the 300 million box structure under highway 180, since BNSF wouldn’t allow any intrusion in their easement ten meters away from the absurd box structure CAHSR is currently building. Looks like their strategy of inflicting outrageous cost escalations on CAHSR is paying off as they’re going to get a massive amount of new grade separated infrastructure totally free!

    But, BNSF is just trying to kill the project for personal gain, their (only a couple billion) cost escalations are not responsible for Newsom killing HSR.

    I primarily blame the consultant caste for jacking up the prices of ex-urban tunneling in the minds of california’s journalists, civil service and politicians. Metro los angeles, for instance, insists that ex urban tunneling costs 505 million per mile.

    And it’s the tunneling costs that have now killed the entire project.

    Not that aerial is any cheaper, consultants have also convinced California that you have to add in at least a 20 million per mile cost for all elevated track (even HSR) for stations, and also convinced California that they have to pay an extra 50% of any rail project budget on hiring consultants for project management. Pure rent to the project management, probably mostly spent by the execs on vegas bacchanals.

    • Jacob Manaker

      Did you read the article past the headline?

      “Newsom also said he will continue to push for federal and private funding for the entire rail system, leading to some confusion about whether he planned to scrap all but the Central Valley portion or simply postpone construction of the remaining legs of the project. After the speech, a spokesperson for the governor’s office confirmed the latter.”

      He’s not killing the project, he’s not gifting the already-constructed RoW to BNSF; he’s paying for yet another engineering study to see if they can reduce costs. (Of course, the easy way to do that is to hire Alon Levy or Richard Mlynarik to manage construction…which won’t be an evaluated alternative, so the engineers will conclude that current costs are necessary, and Newsom will end up changing nothing.)

  23. Onux

    The first route for HSR on the NEC should go through Hartford, not Providence:
    1. A Hartford routing serves more population. Whether you measure by MSA, NECTA (an MSA alternative using New England Cities and Towns instead of counties) or Urban Area, Hartford-Springfield-Worcester consistently have a combined population about 150% that of Providence-New London. Even if you exclude Worcester, Hartford-Springfield are either even or 10-15% larger than Providence-New London.
    2. Hartford has stronger latent demand. In 2015 the NH-Spr branch had ~4,500 pass per mile, compared to. ~11,000 between Old Saybrook and Rt 128 (New Haven excluded from both). The cities are even closer, about 70 boardings per train for Hart vs 100 for Prov. This despite no Acela service, about 1/3 as many trains, no service to Boston (once-a-day, frequently late Lake Shore Limited connection in Springfield discounted) and almost all trips requiring a transfer to reach New York. It is safe to say that if Hartford and Spr had frequent, direct, high speed service to NY and Bos that ridership would jump and exceed Providence.
    3. Better opportunity cost. Providence does not really need HSR. It is a satellite of Bos; at only 43 mi away Alon has shown it can receive service from well-designed commuter rail. Hartford has stronger ties to NY, and at 112 mi from NY and 123 mi from Bos is in optimal HSR service range. Springfield, 98 mi from Boston, is to far for commuter rail so would also benefit from HSR.
    4. Better use of existing infrastructure. The catenary on the Providence route is the newest on the NEC. If HSR goes through Hartford all Providence trains immediately benefit once they reach New Haven, at no cost. HSR through Providence does little for Hartford unless an additional 63 mi of route are electrified, and there would still be no service to Bos for Hartford or Springfield.
    5. Better scheduling. Traffic south of NY will always be greater than traffic north of it. Since HSR trainsets can already go through Providence, building Hartford means more trains can through route in NY, with some going to Hartford and some to Providence. This means more trains from Bos/New England to NY and points south.
    6. Better use of future infrastructure. The NEC will receive HSR first. The Springfield-Bos portion of a Hartford routing is the first part of the Bos-Albany route shown. It makes little sense to plan HSR from Bos to Albany (MSA of 870k, 200 mi away) but not from Bos/NY to Hartford (MSA of 1.2M, ~120 mi from each).

    The main argument against Hartford is it is not fast enough. This assumes 1h40m as a goal for Bos-NY. This is too ambitious. A 2h15m trip time is sufficient, (coupled with 1h45m NY-DC) and is achievable via Hartford. Worldwide, mode share increases little below 2h travel, and NY is the dominant driver of travel all along the NEC. If there is a market for a faster route to Bos from Phila/DC, then the system will have so many riders it will make enough profit for a 350kph route through Providence.

    • adirondacker12800

      Amtrak is aiming to get Springfield to New Haven down to an hour using diesels and low level platforms. Level boarding and electrification, some curve straightening, gets you 15 minutes on an express from Hartford to Springfield and half an hour from Hartford to New Haven. Or less. Spend a gazillion dollars it saves a few minutes. It’s not worth it. And slows down every other trip.

      • Onux

        This plan involves spending gazillions of dollars, plural. The question is are you going to spend a gazillion dollars going to Boston through Providence, then a gazillion going from Boston to Albany, and after two gazillion spent have only added the weak Boston to upstate NY market? Or will you spend a gazillion through Hartford, half a gazillion to Albany, and for 75% of the cost have all the service you did before plus gain Hartford-NY, Hartford-Bos and Springfield-Bos?

        The constant tension catenary exists north of New Haven. Acela hits 240 kph south of Rt 128. Technically Providence already has HSR. A duplicate route past Narragansett Bay while the approx 2M people in the Connecticut River Valley get curve straightening has it backwards. Give the third and fifth largest metros in New England HSR, and do what you can with the slowest curves on the Shore Line. The trains from Providence will benefit plenty once they can get to 250 kph plus south of New Haven.

        You have frequently, and correctly, pointed out to others the need to consider population when planning routes. Google “dot map US”, follow the first link, and turn off color. Look for the thick black line stretching from NY almost to Boston, signifying an unbroken stretch of population density. What route does it take? (Hint, it’s not through Providence.)

        • adirondacker12800

          Boston to Albany is New England to Upstate New York market, New England to Ohio market, New England to Quebec market and New England to Ontario market, a bit more demand than to Hartford. How many minutes does hurtling directly from Providence to Hartford save versus going through New Haven or Springfield?

        • Alon Levy

          It’s not a duplicate route past Narragansett Bay; it’s the existing route in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Only in Connecticut is there a greenfield line, following I-95 as the Shore Line is very curvy.

          The light map goes through Worcester, sure, but Hartford-Worcester is not an easy HSR segment to construct because of the hilly terrain, and while Worcester-Newton is easy, Newton-Boston is really hard to blend with regional rail service.

          • Onux

            “Boston to Albany is New England to Upstate New York market, New England to Ohio market, New England to Quebec market and New England to Ontario market…”
            Boston to Albany is 170 mi, to Syracuse is 312 mi, to Rochester is 392 mi, to Buffalo is 455 mi. Cleveland is 640 mi away, Montreal is 392 mi through Albany (308 via I-89) and Toronto is 550 mi. These “markets” you refer to don’t really exist, they are 3+ hour journeys for anywhere except the near Mohawk Valley, and 4+ hours to get anywhere large. As discussed elsewhere, Toronto has the cross border problem, Montreal adds the linguistic issue. HSR does not get significant mode share at these distances/times/conditions; at 4 hours to Cleveland even if the line was 350 kph the entire way, New England to Ohio is a fantasy.

            Furthermore, Buffalo and Rochester are about 1.1M, Albany is 886k. How you think they would have more demand to Boston/NE from 170 to 400 mi away than Hartford with 1.2M at 110 mi is puzzling. To say nothing of the market from Hartford to NY at 120 mi. Syracuse is 654k and 312 mi from Boston, Springfield is 631k and 219 mi from NY; which do you think will generate more passengers?

            Alon: I was being generic in my use of “Narraganset Bay”, but you are correct, your greenfield line is along I-95 SW of the bay proper. I believe it is still a bad value proposition to do that first, rather than bringing the entire population of Hartford-Springfield-Worcester into the NE corridor. For the same reason, I don’t see the need to try to build HSR Hartford-Worcester. The route is flat, but constrained, Hartford-Springfield, the Mass Turnpike leads to Worcester, and as you note the difficulties don’t start until Boston are proper. As I note in my first post I feel a 2h-2h15m travel time Bos-NY is perfectly adequate for the market, I would much rather follow the population than drive up costs trying to shave minutes via a difficult routing.

            If a faster routing is ever needed in the future, then the I-95 bypass of the Shore Line can always be built for Express service, but a approx. 2h trip Bos-NY would be a game changer regardless of route, so it is best to choose the route that adds about 2M people to the travel market. No one will stop traveling via train to/from Providence because their trip drops from 3h30m to 2h45m rather than 1h45m. Many, many people will begin traveling to/from Hartford when they can get hourly service direct to NY and Bos in about an hour.

          • Alon Levy

            HSR does not get significant mode share at these distances/times/conditions

            Huh? Paris-Marseille, a distance of 710 km, has a 70/30 air/rail mode share (no idea about cars). Paris/Toulon, where the TGV takes around 4 hours, still has a slight TGV majority of the air/rail share.

            Half an hour on a city pair as big as NY-Boston is a pretty big difference. And far from driving up costs, I-95 is easier than the Hartford Line, which is a really good corridor for 200-250 km/h service and a really bad one for anything faster; you ideally want the construction between the cities to be in less populated areas. And that’s without getting into the very real capacity problems you hit when you enter via the Worcester Line from Newton, where your choice is to limit regional and intercity service to 4 tph each forever, to nuke regional rail, or to demolish the Turnpike.

          • adirondacker12800

            I paid attention in fourth grade and can divide 550 by an average speed of 150 to figure out that’s three and two thirds hours or 3:40. Well within today’s HSR range to get to Toronto. Especially if you can avoid loitering around customs and immigration at the airport and do it in motion between Rochester and Toronto. Boston to Cleveland might not make much sense but Worcester to Cleveland would. It’s the same track that would carry all of southern New England to Montreal. And probably suck in Portland and southern New Hampshire. Trade an hour to get to South Station in Boston for the hour changing planes at a hub. Assuming the hub still has flights to places like… well Utica doesn’t have commercial service anymore. Pittsburgh is within range of Boston and getting them to Boston faster is more important than getting them to Hartford faster.
            I can also guesstimate that Amtrak’s current aspiration to get Springfield to New Haven down to an hour can cheaply be made three quarters. It would a lotttttttttttttt of money to halve that and make it 22.5. 22.5 minutes is an average speed of 160 and that would be really difficult to do if the train is going to stop in Hartford. It makes the half hour trip between Hartford and New Haven a quarter of an hour and that doesn’t make a whole lot of difference if you are going to New York or beyond.

            You want to use Hartford’s Combined Statistical Area I get to use Albany’s. I suspect people in the Glens Falls metro area will drive 15 or 20 minutes to the station outside of Saratoga Springs a lot more often than people in New London would drive to Hartford to get to Boston or New York.

          • Onux

            “Paris-Marseille, a distance of 710 km”
            Adi was mentioning Boston-Toronto, which is 885 km and Bos-Ohio, which is 1030 km just to Cleveland. Even Bos-Buffalo is slightly farther at 730 km, and Buffalo has far weaker links to Boston than Marseille does to Paris. You have concerns about NY-Montreal at 600 km, Bos-Montreal at 630 km will not do better when the driving distance is 135 km shorter rather than the same distance.

            French lines tend to overperform on mode share; Jorritsma would predict only 40% share for rail at 4 hours. Tokyo-Fukuoka gets only 10% at 4h45m (Jorristma predicts 25%).

            The biggest difference between us is that I consider 250 kph to be completely adequate and appropriate for HSR service on the NEC. Bos-NY is only 360 km; Tokaido Shinkansen only hit 285 kph in 2015 despite a 515 km distance. If Bos-NY and NY-DC are each 2h, or if the combined trip is a nominal 4h for the purposes of an hourly takt, then HSR will dominate the travel market in the corridor. Reducing these times is nice, but not essential; because NY is in the center, the NEC is really two medium length HSR lines not one long one. While nothing prevents building to a faster standard where possible, chasing 350 kph shouldn’t blind us to the larger demographic and travel patterns. The number of passengers added by including Hartford-Springfield-Worcester should easily exceed the Bos-NY mode share lost to cars at 2h15 vs 1h40. Mode share compared to air will be 100% either way.

            4 tph for intercity service is adequate to start, especially since you would still have at least 2 tph (a Hikari/Limited and a Kodama/Regional) continuing to go through Providence. This could easily be 4 tph; 8 tph intercity is probably beyond the capacity of Bos-NY at first. As I have mentioned, if your ridership grows to the point you need the Express service to be faster, then your operating profit can fund the I-95 bypass, and Providence becomes the main line again. But you still have all of the ridership from Hart-NY, Hart-Bos, Spr-Bos, etc. If nothing else, you can always short turn some regional services in Springfield, and only continue Limiteds/Expresses to Boston through Worcester.

          • Alon Levy

            New York-Hartford can be done on my alignment, and isn’t much slower than on yours. Springfield-Boston is on my Boston-Albany HSR line. Hartford-Boston is somewhat easier on your alignment than on mine, but it’s an awkward distance for rail (in Japan even Tokyo-Nagoya has higher car than rail mode share) and Hartford is not a large city; is it really worth delaying the primary trip, that is New York-Boston, by half an hour in order to save maybe 20 minutes on Hartford-Boston?

          • Eric

            “Paris-Marseille, a distance of 710 km, has a 70/30 air/rail mode share”

            Just 30% rail share for an 3:35 rail trip in a country where rail “overperforms”?

          • Max Wyss

            A reason why France “overperforms” may have a lot to do with the inconvenience of the Paris airports, in particular CDG. ORY does a bit better, mainly for the business centers south of Paris, but from the city, it is a mess to get there.

          • adirondacker12800

            250 kph to be completely adequate and appropriate for HSR service on the NEC.

            Except for Connecticut most of it is dead straight and could cheaply support 350 for long stretches. Why wouldn’t we do that? It’s not just coastal cities in the Northeast. It’s things like Charlotte to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh to Boston and Cleveland to New York.

          • Onux

            A very late posting, but some replies:

            “Divide 550 by an average speed of 150”
            150mph average implies a top speed of 315kph and express service. You will not get either between Toronto/Buffalo and Boston. The Berkshires are between Albany and Springfield, it is likely not cost effective to force a 300+kph route through this terrain.
            Express service is a feature of routes like:
            Tokyo(37M)-Nagoya(9M)-Osaka(19M), or
            Beijing (22M)-Nanjing(12M)-Shanghai(36M), or
            Toronto(6M)-Buffalo(1M)-Albany(0.9M)-Boston(5M) is not a large enough market for this service. Not with the border to Toronto and upstate tied to NYC. Any express from Toronto will go to NY.
            The Paris Marseille express averages 143mph. The Nozomi from Tokyo to Osaka averages 135mph, but only since upgrades in 2015. The Hikari averages 107 mph, which would be 5h8 to Toronto or 4h15 to Buffalo. Daily air travel from Buffalo to Boston is in the range of 500-600. Lets say you capture a third of that market. Is less than 200 passengers a day justification for a 300+kph HSR line?

            “Boston to Cleveland might not make much sense but Worcester to Cleveland would”
            Boston to Cleveland is 640 mi, Worcester to Cleveland is 600 mi. Boston has about 5M people and Worcester 0.9M, Cleveland to Worcester also does “not make much sense.”

            “Pittsburgh is within range of Boston”
            Pittsburgh to Boston is 611mi through Philadelphia (driving distance). The Appalachians are in the way, cutting speed. Pittsburgh is at best 4 hr to Boston (maybe 3.5hr at the bleeding edge of train technology with a never-happen Pitt-NY-Bos express) and realistically 5 hr (or more, given the mountains). DC is an easy 3 hr from Hartford at 250kph, Baltimore is closer, and this could drop to 2h45 or 2h30 with improvements in the DC-NY stretch. In the first half of 2018 there were 881 daily air passengers from Pittsburgh to Boston, but 956 from Hartford to the DC area (DCA, IAD, BWI). Why eliminate the larger travel market with the larger potential mode share, to gain a miniscule share of a smaller market? The number of people going from Springfield or Hartford to NY or Boston will far exceed the number going from Pittsburgh to Boston via train at achievable times.
            I note that the DOT Consumer Airfare Report Table 1 shows no passengers from Hartford to Philadelphia, even though according to Google there are 5 nonstop flights daily. This drives up the ridership from Hartford even more.

            “You want to use Harford’s CSA”
            I gave MSA for both cities. Harford is 300k larger. If you use CSA Hartford is 1.5M and Albany 1.2M. Harford is still 300k larger, plus it is 20mi closer to NY and 60mi closer to Boston. The larger city at a closer distance almost always has a greater market. The close ties between Albany and NY only reduce Bos-Albany traffic further.

            “Than people in New London would drive to Harford”
            People in New London would continue to use New London Station. I explicitly noted continuing DC-NY trains to Bos along the existing route for better load matching, as well as through Hartford. Trip time New London to Boston is unchanged, trip time to NY would drop by 1h+ using HSR tracks past New Haven. The issue isn’t the people in New London, it is the. 1.8M people in the Connecticut river valley between New Haven and Springfield who won’t be taking any train with no service to Boston and no direct service to NY.

            “could cheaply support 350 for long stretches. Why wouldn’t we do that”
            We could, and I have no objection to making routes as fast as possible where easy. However:
            -We are not talking about a 350kph upgrade of straight track. We are talking about a greenfield alignment, which is not cheap. There is an opportunity cost to spending that money, and the choice of the alignment versus others.
            -You get diminishing returns on speed as your distance decreases. DC and Boston are about the same distance to NY as Tokyo-Nagoya and 60mi closer than Paris-Lyon. They are not especially long corridors and once you get travel time down to about 2h for each, you have essentially taken the market. The international comparisons are wildly successful with speeds well below 350kph.
            -Big gains come from making slow parts faster not fast parts faster. Taking the NEC from an average of 113 kph to 185kph is huge, saving almost 3hr. Going to an average of 245kph only saves an hour. There needs to be a cost-benefit. There are HSR corridors where 350kph is a good idea because it is flat/cheap (Texas), required for the distance between core cities (SF-LA) or both (Chicago/Midwest, esp. to Minneapolis and Cleveland). The NEC is not one of those corridors.

            “Charlotte to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh to Boston, Cleveland to NY”
            537mi, 611mi, 525mi. These are simply outside the distance where you will get substantial HSR ridership.
            Charlotte/Phila/Cleve combined are only about the size of DC, and yet farther to the destinations given than from DC to Boston. They will not generate high ridership, and designing HSR for the entire NEC to chase those markets is not cost effective. You can certainly through-route the trains for efficiency or to capture intermediate markets; Japan does this between the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansens, but they don’t market them as a single route, because as I pointed out above almost everyone going from Tokyo to Fukuoka is flying. In one of the top train riding countries on earth.
            I also note that only Pitts-Boston is affected by a Hartford alignment at 250kph, You can build 350kph from DC to NY for the others if desired.

          • Onux

            Alon, should you ever trackback and catch this:

            NY-Hartford can be done on your alignment, but not Bos-Hartford, and not Springfield-NY or Worcester-NY (Worcester is the same distance from NY as Providence). You get Spring-Bos on the Bos-Albany line, but this line will never be built at the same time as the NEC, any project this size is phased, and Bos-Albany is a much weaker phase than others. Hartford is not a large city, but Hartford-Springfield-Worcester MSAs combined are 2.78M, which is significant. Why not gain all three markets with the start of HSR service on the NEC?

            However, your comments about delaying NY-Bos did make me check my assumptions. The three Bos stations have a combined ridership of 2,623,763, with apparently 56% mode share vs air. So a percent of lost ridership is 46,853 passengers. Different sources give different equations or charts for mode share versus time:
            1h40 2h10 Lost Pass
            86.8% 80.3% 302k
            88.8% 78.7% 473k
            95% 88% 328k
            88% 80% 375k
            95% 85% 468k

            Providence had 745k pass in 2017 with an MSA of 1.62M; Hartford at the same service should have 556k pass with 1.21M. Since Hartford’s actual ridership last year was 147k, the ridership gain from *Acela level service* should be 409k. This is more than some of the losses above; adding ridership from Springfield would absolutely exceed losses to slower Boston service. Again, that is with current service, HSR would have a higher mode share than Providence now, making Hartford-Springfield even better performing. The Lorenz curve for HSR mode share seems to flatten below 2 hr and above 4 hr; while the riders lost to 2h10 vs 1h40 here is made up by new riders, it may not be the case if the 30 min difference was 3h30 to 3h.

            The above analysis is crude and does not account for mode share vs driving, the economic cost of delayed NY-Bos travellers, the economic cost of delayed Hart-NY travellers (time in traffic if HSR goes to Providence), etc. Perhaps a good idea for a future post of yours would be a discussion of when you can accept a slower routing to serve a destination. It is a question that seems to come up in issues large (Tejon vs Tehachapi) and small (the detours on the 1 line in Providence).

            Finally, regarding some of my comments to Adi above, do you really think that all of your red lines can be 350kph? Beijing to Shanghai is the only in-service 350kph line, and even across flat terrain it is 87% elevated. Can a 350kph line be built up the Hudson Valley (to Albany?, to Montreal?), across the Berkshires, across the Appalachians? In a recent post it was noted that CAHSR cannot do 350kph down the mountains due to braking requirements – Tejon is only 75 km, Harrisburg through the Appalachians towards Pitsburgh is 150km. If you tunnel, the Shiziyang operates at 250kph despite a 350 design, but is only 11km long; Gotthard is 200kph, and Seikan only 140 with plans for 260.

          • adirondacker12800

            We get that you think Hartford is the navel of the universe.

          • Matthew

            Pittsburgh’s airport being inconveniently located west almost an hour away by bus tilts the balance somewhat back towards train service if it serves the existing station or near enough. Especially since much of the new tech business and existing educational institutions are predominantly in the east side.

    • Michael Whelan

      “If there is a market for a faster route to Bos from Phila/DC, then the system will have so many riders it will make enough profit for a 350kph route through Providence.”

      I’m from Connecticut and initially I really wanted HSR to serve Hartford. But this is why it can’t. You are dramatically underestimating the need to keep the overall trip times from Boston to Philly and Boston to DC within a reasonable range. Those are huge markets. They must be served by the first phase generation of NEC HSR. It can’t wait till there is money and willpower for a second route. Even now, lots of New England kids go to college in Philly and DC and take the train, but most fly. Lots of Philly businessmen have meetings in Boston and take the Acela, but most still fly. I’ve taken the Northeast Regional from Bridgeport to DC more times than I can count. About a quarter and sometimes even a third of passengers stay on the train at Penn Station. Those passengers are coming from New Haven and Hartford and New London and Stamford but few are coming from Boston because it’s too far. HSR makes it doable and replaces a bunch of inefficient short-hop flights.

      Hartford needs good rail service to be revitalized, but Hartford line speed-ups, electrification, and through-running on the New Haven Line HSR bypasses will give it a much better NYC connection than it has now. As for Hartford-Boston, a 15 minute trip to Springfield with through-running onto the Albany-Boston HSR mainline will beat I-84 if there’s traffic (so, all the time). No need to spend billions tunneling through the hills of Tolland County when you could spend those billions on Berkshire tunnels for Albany-Boston instead.

      Besides, even if HSR did go through Hartford, it would be FAR more useful to send it to Providence rather than Worcester since it would open up a whole new market, but even there, I doubt it’s worth it.

      • adirondacker12800

        Hartford-Providence is 75 miles. If I own a car the total trip time becomes very important. Half an hour to get to the station and half an hour to get from the station it doesn’t compete well with driving for an hour and half. Day trip to Boston, New York or Philadelphia the half hour bus ride is much more tolerable.

        • Michael Whelan

          Right, this is why I think, even if you route it through Providence, putting Hartford on the HSR line is more trouble that it’s worth. Hartford-Providence is the only new city pair unlocked since all the other cities will have a connection to both of them regardless of which alignment is chosen.

          I suppose a Hartford-Providence HSR line could also suck in some Springfield-Providence and Brattleboro-Providence traffic, but when you start worrying about Brattleboro-Providence traffic, your analysis of New England rail needs is seriously flawed. Even then, I’m not sure if a Hartford alignment would be much quicker than just taking the HSR to Worcester and transferring to the Blackstone Valley regional rail that presumably will be built any decade now.

  24. Michael Noda

    This is a nitpick based on local knowledge which I wouldn’t have expected you to know, but for Cincinnati, a lot less of its traffic is going to Chicago than you’d expect. The commercial and personal ties are much more heavily weighted towards the rest of Ohio and to the Northeast Corridor. The favored quarter is along the connections (once railroads, now I-71 and US-22/OH-3) northeast towards Columbus. Connecting Cincinnati to the national HSR network might be ~cheap as a branch from Indianapolis (which clearly needs a Chicago connection), but I worry about the commercial viability even so (and the terrain on the I-74 approach to Cincinnati is formidable).

    Far better for Cincinnati is to build the 3C corridor as HSR and let the connection west be a (legacy) branch.

    • Alon Levy

      One possible compromise route, if the 3C route isn’t HSR (which I increasingly think it shouldn’t be), is to have HSR from Indy land at Dayton and not Cincinnati. This can come equipped with a Dayton-Cincy HSR line, bypassing the curvy legacy line. Dayton-Columbus-Cleveland is straight and medium-speed rail can average 120 km/h there and maybe even more, approaching 140 km/h if it’s a 200 km/h line.

    • Aaron M. Renn

      I believe there’s a high quality legacy rail alignment between Indy in Cincinnati through Shelbyville. IIRC the NYC used to run 125 MPH trains on it. It’s not grade separated, but I believe has little to no freight either. It may be technically abandoned but I was just in Shelbyville and the track is still there. (So is the old train depot too). If this ROW could be repurposed it might help bring the cost of that segment down.

  25. adirondacker12800

    The Midwest is dead flat. The difference between building a 111 MPH ROW and 222 MPH one would not be all that much. Go for it. One of the options the MIdwest HSR advocates explore is grade separating freight along with it. That has a lot of value.

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, fair, I mean using the legacy 3C line, at least north of Dayton. If it’s hard to do a top speed higher than 110 mph without full grade separation then don’t, top speed is not the most important thing.

      • adirondacker12800

        The proposal Ohio turned down was for 79, if I remember correctly. Real Americans(tm) drive everywhere. And traveling is faintly immoral, something those icky people on the coasts do. It might mean using mass transit once they get to Cleveland. Might as well suggest Communism.

        • Alon Levy

          Yeah, and with diesel locomotives, because Real People, French or American, breathe diesel fumes and find what (((globalists))) call clean air toxic.

        • emjayay

          I was working at Castle Clinton in Battery Park. It’s where you get on a boat to go to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, at the bottom tip of Manhattan. A couple asked me how to get to Times Square. I started thinking subways or cabs and they said they were driving. From place to place, and presumably parking. In Manhattan.

          Look at a transit map of a European city. It’s like NYC – a complex web of local above, below, and ground level rail transit. Most Americans live in places that grew up after WWII when everyone had a car and the places they live were based on that. Mass transit is for the poors.

  26. Pingback: The California HSR Bombshell, Redux | Pedestrian Observations
  27. Dan

    I live in Maine, why should we spend $1 billion plus for ICE? You would not be able to get to destinations without a car. Could you use that money to build a statewide bus network that serves the I95 and Route 1 corridors to help the elderly who can’t drive and poor who can’t own more than two cars?

    • adirondacker12800

      Because one of the major industries in Maine is fishing cash out of tourist’s wallets. You want them to be able to get there easily. You may not want to get to Boston or beyond but some people in Maine like to go other places now and then. If they are on a train they aren’t on I-95 or on a flight to a hub airport.

    • emjayay

      Because you are a citizen of the United States and you spend a lot of tax money on stuff for the good of the country and/or the world. Like for example the $2,000 per capita you spent on “defense” last year.

  28. Ethan Simon

    Late to the party here, but I wanted to ask for more detail on your thoughts about mutlicore metropolitan centers. You mention that Newark and New York ought to have separate stops. What are your thoughts on including additional New York stops in the outer boroughs? As a Brooklynite, any trip I take to visit family in DC starts with 45 minutes on the subway—definitely makes driving more competitive.

    Brooklyn alone is as populated as Philly—shouldn’t I be able to catch an intercity train from Atlantic Terminal? Jamaica/JFK?

    I would guess the vast majority of existing Acela trips are either beginning or ending in New York. Do you have a model for assessing the relative passenger minutes saved on last-mile vs. stop penalty per passenger?

    In my mind, the ideal is that four tracks diverge at Newark—two headed through Midtown and on to Connecticut, and two headed Downtown and out long island/Brooklyn—and converge again at New Haven. It seems that with trip times this fast, last-mile becomes an ever-greater percentage of the trip, no?

    • Alon Levy

      The problem with this is that it requires building a new tunneled path dedicated to intercity trains underneath much of New York. The cost of such a tunnel from just west of the Palisades to wherever in Long Island it can emerge above-ground is most likely comparable to that of turning Boston-Washington to a high-speed rail line with trains doing the trip in 3:30, 1:45 on each side of Penn Station.

      This problem is a big deal in other countries too. This is why TGVs use the traditional Parisian rail terminals rather than a new central station somewhere between Les Halles and Saint-Lazare, and why the Shinkansen doesn’t have a stop at Shinjuku and never will and serves Osaka not quite in the CBD but a short distance away at Shin-Osaka.

      A better way of improving intercity rail service to Brooklyn and Queens would be to improve local and regional transit to feed Penn Station better. For example, increasing speed and frequency on various subway lines like the 2/3, A/C, and E/F could get people to Penn Station faster. Reopening the passageway from Penn Station to Herald Square would make taking the N/Q and B/D from Southern Brooklyn more reasonable. Investing in better regional rail would make it easier for people in Queens to take the LIRR to Penn Station and connect there.

      One thing I’ve gotten criticized over from time to time with my regional rail proposal is the lack of direct service from Newark Penn to either Jamaica or Downtown Brooklyn. Potentially that could be fixed with an additional tunnel, to be used not by intercity trains but by fast, frequent regional trains.

  29. Pingback: I Tried Drawing a High-Speed Rail Map for the US – Koji's Posts

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