30-30-30 is Feasible

This piece first appeared as a study attached to an article in the Connecticut Mirror by SE Coast’s Gregory Stroud.

Fresh off the election, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont has proposed an ambitious infrastructure plan, dubbed 30-30-30, in which train travel between New York and Stamford, Stamford and New Haven, and New Haven and Hartford would be cut to 30 minutes. With an average speed of about 110 km/h, this is only about half the average speed typical of high-speed rail, but still slightly higher than that of the Northeast Regional between New York and Washington, which is competitive with cars and buses provided there is enough capacity.

For 30-30-30 to truly be cost-effective, the plan needs to speed up trains with relatively little infrastructure investment, at a cost measured in hundreds of millions of dollars. Is that feasible? The topline answer is yes. All three segments can be done in the specified amount of time. North of New Haven, there are generous margins, but 30-minute travel times will rely on electrifying the Shuttle and running high-quality electric trains. South of New Haven, each segment has just seconds to spare to achieve the governor’s goal, and no big-ticket capital investment would be needed, but the plan will require a complete overhaul in Metro-North operations.

Some additional repairs are needed on tracks straight enough to allow trains to run at 160 km/h, which are today only maintained to allow 75 mph, or 120 km/h. The state may also need to procure lighter trains, able to accelerate faster than the current equipment. On a fast schedule, with few intermediate stops, the difference with the current M8 trains is small, but in practice north of Stamford, where trains are likely to make many stops, the difference would be noticeable.

Most of all, reliability must improve enough that is possible to remove the extensive schedule padding in the timetable today. Metro-North is in a perpetual maintenance cycle. At any time there is a slow zone somewhere on the tracks, with generous schedule padding on top of it. Maintenance must be switched to the nighttime, as is practiced on high-speed lines in Japan and France and on subways everywhere in the world outside New York, in order to improve daytime reliability.

The simulation of train performance

In order to figure out the best possible trip times, I made a table of speed zones on the New Haven Line, from Grand Central to New Haven. But instead of using current speed zones, which are very conservative, I looked for the maximum speed that is feasible within the current right-of-way.

The most important rule I followed is no curve modifications, even modifications that are likely to happen under any high-speed rail scenario. While some capital investment may still be required, it is entirely within existing rights-of-way.

In the simulation, I used code outputting slow penalties for trains based on prescribed performance characteristics. For this, I used two sets of characteristics. The first, is for the M8 trains used by Metro-North today. The second is an average of modern European regional trains, such as the Stadler FLIRT, the Alstom Coradia, the Bombardier Talent 2, the CAF Civity, and the Siemens Mireo. Because they are much lighter-weight, all have about 50% better acceleration than the M8 at any speed. Both sets of trains can reach the same top speed, 160 km/h, but when the M8 slows down from top speed to make a station stop, the extra acceleration and deceleration time add another 69 seconds to the trip, compared with only 46 seconds on the European regional trains.

That said, the proposed schedule has few intermediate stops, and even with frequent slowdowns due to curves, the total difference in time between the two sets of trains is about two minutes. So, while I would urge Connecticut to buy modern trains at its next procurement, based on the latest revision in FRA regulations permitting lightly-modified European trains, the present-day rolling stock is good enough, it’s just much heavier than it needs to be.

While I did not assume any curve modifications, I did assume that trains could run faster on curves than they do today. The New Haven Line has conservative values for the permitted centrifugal force acting on trains. I explain more about this in a previous post about trains in Connecticut, but the relevant figures are about 8” of total equivalent cant on the New Haven Line today, or about 200 mm, whereas light trackwork increasing total cant and already-existing regulatory changes above the rails could raise this to 12” on existing trains, about 300 mm, and even more on tilting trains like the Acela. The difference between 200 and 300 mm of total equivalent cant corresponds to a 22% increase in speed; the formula is \sqrt{1.5} = 1.22.

Moreover, in some areas the maximum speeds are even lower than one might assume based on curve radius and current permitted curve speeds. These include the movable bridges over the waterways, which have very low speed limits even when the tracks are mostly straight; if the bridges physically cannot accommodate faster trains then they should be replaced, a capital investment already on the state and the region’s official wishlist.

In addition to speed limits imposed by curves and bridges, there is a uniform speed limit of 90 mph (145 km/h) on the New York segment of the line and 75 mph on the Connecticut segment. This is entirely a matter of poor maintenance: the right-of-way geometry could support higher speed today in some places, even without curve modifications.

Finally, trains today go at excruciatingly slow speed in the throat heading into the bumper tracks at Grand Central, 10 miles per hour. This is bad practice: even with bumper tracks, German train throats with complex switches are capable of 70 km/h. This change alone would save about 4 minutes. Overall, trains today are scheduled to take about 11-12 minutes between Grand Central and Harlem, and the proposed schedule cuts this down to 5-6.

The proposed schedule

I am attaching a spreadsheet with exact speed zones, rounded down in 5 km/h increments. People who wish to see what’s behind the timetable I’m proposing can go look there for intermediate times. These may be especially useful to people who want to see what happens if more stops on the Lower New Haven Line are included. For example, one might notice that all technical travel times are padded 7%, as is standard practice in Switzerland, and that trains dwell exactly 30 seconds at each station, which is observed on busy commuter lines in Zurich as well as Paris.

I am including two stopping patterns: regional and intercity. Regional trains make the same stops as the Upper New Haven Line trains do today, plus New Rochelle. Intercity trains only make a few stops beyond Stamford, with a stopping pattern close to that of Amtrak. In addition, I am including two different sets of rolling stock: the current M8, and lighter, faster-accelerating European trainsets. The difference in the regional train pattern is noticeable, while that in the intercity one is less so.

Finally, at stations, it’s possible to state the scheduled the time the train arrives at the station or the one it departs. At all intermediate stations, the timetable below states the arrival time, unlike the attached spreadsheet, which uses departure times to permit calculating exact average speeds.

Stop Regional, M8 Regional, euro Intercity, M8 Intercity, euro
Grand Central 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00
Harlem-125th 0:05 0:05 0:05 0:05
New Rochelle 0:17 0:16 0:17 0:16
Stamford 0:30 0:29 0:30 0:29
Noroton Heights 0:34 0:33
Darien 0:37 0:35
Rowayton 0:39 0:37
South Norwalk 0:42 0:40 0:37 0:36
East Norwalk 0:45 0:42
Westport 0:48 0:45
Greens Farms 0:52 0:48
Southport 0:55 0:51
Fairfield 0:57 0:53
Fairfield Metro 1:00 0:56
Bridgeport 1:04 0:59 0:49 0:47
Stratford 1:09 1:03
Milford 1:13 1:07
West Haven 1:19 1:13
New Haven 1:23 1:17 1:03 1:01

New Haven-Hartford-Springfield

In theory, achieving the governor’s proposed timetable is easier north of New Haven. The Hartford Line is a straight route. Most of it has a top speed of 80 mph, and outside the approaches to New Haven and Hartford, the speed restrictions are caused by arbitrarily slowdowns for grade crossings rather than by constrained geometry.

However, in practice, the line is in poor state of repair. Grade crossings are unprotected. The entire line is not electrified, and there are no plans to electrify it, for reasons that can only be explained as an allergy that North American railroaders have to electrification. The stations have low platforms, which are not accessible to people in wheelchairs without labor-intensive, time-consuming lift operations—and even if there are no riders with disabilities, it just takes longer for passengers to board from low platforms.

The above schedule assumes 7% padding and 30-second dwell times at stations, but such assumptions only work when the equipment is reliable, and when there are wide doors letting passengers on the train with level boarding or at worst short steps. Traditional commuter lines pulled by diesel locomotives, serving low-platform stations with narrow doors, have to be much slower. Clem Tillier‘s example timetable for Caltrain requires 15% padding and 45-second dwell times with today’s diesel operations—and at rush hour some station dwells stretch over minutes due to the railroad’s uniquely high number of passengers with bicycles.

The good news is that electrification and high platforms are, in the grand scheme of things, cheap. Amtrak electrified the Northeast Corridor between New Haven and Boston at $3.5 million per kilometer in the 1990s, adjusted for inflation; at that cost, wiring the entire New Haven-Springfield shuttle would run up to $350 million. Moreover, Boston has been equipping a number of commuter rail stations with high platforms in order to provide wheelchair accessibility, and in ordinary circumstances, the costs have been on the order of $6-10 million per station. This entire package on the Hartford Line would be cheaper than replacing any of the movable bridges on the New Haven Line.

Moreover, upgrading grade crossings with four-quadrant gates, which make it impossible for cars to drive around the gates while they are closed, is affordable as well—and would permit the towns along the route to institute quiet zones, eliminating the loud train horns. In Boulder, the same installation costs about $500,000 per grade crossing for quad gates and another $300,000 for an alternative to horns; in federal regulations, quad gates are good up to 110 mph. There are 23 level crossings between New Haven and Hartford and another 11 between Hartford and Springfield; $30 million would upgrade them all.

The importance of a good maintenance regime

In Switzerland, schedules are padded by 7% over the technical travel time, to permit trains to recover from delays. By American standards, this is a low figure: the LIRR’s schedules are padded by 20-30%, and I have personally seen an express New Haven Line train do Stamford-Grand Central in about 15% less than the scheduled trip time.

Switzerland achieves high punctuality with relatively tight scheduling by making sure delays do not propagate. Railroad junctions are grade-separated when possible, and if not then they are equipped with pocket tracks to allow trains to wait without delaying crossing traffic. To achieve comparable reliability, Metro-North should grade-separate its most important junctions: Shell, where the line joins with the Northeast Corridor tracks carrying Amtrak (and soon Penn Station Access); and Stam, where the New Canaan Branch joins. It could potentially also grade-separate Berk, where the Danbury Branch joins, and Devon, where the Waterbury Branch joins, but the traffic at these junctions is lighter and delayed branch trains can wait without disturbing mainline trains.

Moreover, like the rest of Europe as well as Japan, Switzerland conducts maintenance at night. The daytime maintenance with work zones that are a common sight on American passenger railroads are unknown on most European railroads. Only mixed lines running high-speed passenger trains in the day and freight at night have to schedule trains next to active work zones, and those are indeed much harder to maintain.

The laws of physics are the same on both sides of the Atlantic. If it’s possible to maintain tracks adequately during four-hour nighttime windows in Europe, it’s possible to do the same in the United States. Freight traffic on the Northeast Corridor is lighter than on many Swiss mainlines, and while passenger traffic at rush hour is very heavy, in the off-peak it is considerably lighter than on the urban commuter rail line trunks of Zurich. While four Metro-North trains run between New York and Stamford every off-peak hour, as does a single Amtrak train, ten Zurich S-Bahn trains run per hour between Zurich and Winterthur, as do six interregional and intercity trains.

The importance of maintenance was underscored in a recent article describing an independent plan to drastically cut travel times through better track standards, spearheaded by Joe McGee of the Business Council of Fairfield County and authored by San Francisco consultant Ty Lin and former Metro-North president Joseph Giulietti. In response to their plan, CDOT said it was not possible—and to emphasize this fact, the article notes that an upcoming schedule revision will slow down the trains by 6 to 10 minutes due to trackwork delays.

The one thing that the state must avoid is funneling any money into State of Good Repair (SOGR) programs. SOGR is a black hole permitting incompetent officials to spend capital money without anything to show for it: agencies around the country have SOGR programs decade after decade and somehow their stated maintenance backlogs never shrink.

Instead, 30-30-30 is the closest thing to a true program for what SOGR is supposed to be. Were the tracks in good shape, and were speeds on curves in line with modern railroading practices in other developed countries, express trains would take exactly half an hour to travel between Grand Central and Stamford and between Stamford and New Haven. So 30-30-30 is really setting a standard for a program that, up until now, has only served as an excuse for CDOT to do nothing.

It’s not yet clear what CDOT and Metro-North’s reaction to 30-30-30 will be. Is the governor’s goal achievable? Absolutely, give or take a few minutes. Is it achievable on a reasonable budget? Definitely. Are the managers who have let train schedules slip over the years, as their counterparts in New York have, capable of running the trains punctually enough in order to meet the timetable? That is the big question mark.

45 comments

  1. NHLHL

    Is the 75mph speed limit in Connecticut due to current maintenance practices or due to track center spacing being too small per FRA?

    • F-Line to Dudley

      NHLHL,

      Nothing FRA. New Haven Line has >4 miles of 90 MPH running near New Rochelle, so the whole thing isn’t limited.

      It’s mostly a matter of there being speed restrictions slapped on nearly every curve regardless of geometry, and every movable bridge. The spot restrictions end up so numerous that it becomes pointless to uprate an entire speed limit zone when it’s so chopped up. Some of that is deferred maintenance; none of the bridges had such incredibly punitive slow zones until they started malingering years past replacement age. But it’s also a matter (as per Alon’s SOGR point in the article) of being in purely reactive mode for so long that no thought has ever been given to targeting speeds on the improvable curves. Whacking a few localized restrictions does add up, because then a speed zone gets unbroken enough that you can lengthen the zone, attempt to raise the speed limit if it gives meaningful boost to anyone’s schedule, or both.

      Amtrak did exactly that on the Shoreline in CT, which is hardly a racetrack for how curvy it gets in spots. On a track chart there are way fewer curve restrictions despite being much curvier than the New Haven Line, and higher speed zones have fewer interruptions. Pre-Acela the Shoreline was dogged by a lot of the same legacy cruft slapping speedos on curves that modern equipment did not need and which the couple remaining road freights on the schedule did not need. While they did install the most pristine high-speed track on the continent during those upgrades, a lot of those restrictions took minimal work to eliminate because they were so excessive-to-task to begin with.

      Yeah, on a few New Haven Line curves you might have to do some minor realignment, and on a tight budget that might put some achievable gains out-of-reach for now if the costs at a particular site run kinda high. But if it just involves a track machine lifting up and rearranging the sets of rails on the night shift, and doing a modicum of landscaping and ballast-spreading to the side…sure, they need to be proactively auditing those places and see where it whacks a localized speedo. 30-30-30 not only depends on it, but if cash-poor and historically mismanaged/maligned ConnDOT can do it other agencies–both the open- and closed-minded variety–will take notice that they should try chasing this kind of low-hanging fruit performance optimization.

  2. mdfinfer

    Two things:

    The first, Amtrak’s Acela high speed train sets are not permitted to tilt in Metro-North territory, limiting them to the same speeds as conventional equipment.

    Second, most stations between New Haven and Hartford were rebuilt with high platforms recently when the line was re-double tracked. Much of the track is new or recently rebuilt. It should not be terribly difficult to get the trip times down there.

      • adirondacker12800

        If nobody wants to spend the money to maintain the track to Class 5 or 6, you are going to have Class 4 speed limits.

      • F-Line to Dudley

        The tilt ban on the New Haven Line was because of the old variable tension catenary and risk of a pantograph getting snagged during tilt on overhead that was well past useful component life. Tilt got reinstated once the sections of highest risk had gone through full overhead replacement to the new constant tension cat. The action got misinterpreted as a jurisdictional spat between MNRR and Amtrak (because they’ve had a lot of those over the years), but the intention was always to lift the ban the second the cat replacement project was in closeout.

        Tilt never had anything to do with speeds in that particular territory. It’s strictly a comfort thing on the curves. What achievable speed increases there are on the New Haven Line amidst all that traffic are wholly agnostic to tilt or attempting to optimize the effects of tilt. Amtrak only goes faster through CT if MNRR goes faster, so managing New Haven Line speeds for all ends up being more consequential to fortifying reliability of schedules and making sure all that 160 MPH territory in the Jersey swamps or RI/MA straightaways holds up on the Acela schedule without being eroded away by congestion in CT. It’s like rush hour traffic on a highway where you see nothing but close-packed taillights on every lane ahead of you. You might not be able to floor it in that traffic density…but at least it’s all moving at orderly pace and not turning into a sea of brake lights instead.

        • adirondacker12800

          But “they had techincal issues” isn’t very interesting. Nothing about the eViL Metro North foiling the valiant struggle of an Acela …. or the incompetence of Amtrak…or if the Erie and DL&W had merged in 1950 and the hurricanes of 1955 had only affected the New Haven and not all three of them theEl would have been in such great shape when the Penn Central failed they woulda shown everyone how it shoulda been done….

        • adirondacker12800

          60 minutes between Manhattan and New Haven isn’t good enough if you want to make it to Boston in 90. It’s great if you are starting out in New Rochelle, Stamford or Bridgeport, even Grand Central instead of Penn Station but not good enough if you are starting out in Philadelphia and beyond.

    • bruce hain

      That’s because the NH Line is so, so old. The tracks are mostly spaced less than 12.5′ apart – extremely close. I think this may be what the CT DOT knows that (could it be?) even Giulietti doesn’t

  3. Marc

    As I remember it, FRA rules allow up to 80 MPH on non-grade separated track. Implementation of quad-quadrant gates and specific PTC-related equipment allows a waiver up to 125 MPH. Anything above that has to be fully grade separated.

    • Alon Levy

      The FRA allows 90 mph with some grade crossing protections, and 110 mph with quad gates. Going above 110 mph requires an impenetrable barrier, which doesn’t exist in practice, and going above 125 requires full grade separation. Taking 110 as the real limit for grade separation since there’s no impenetrable barrier is fine; the European standards I’ve seen for the maximum speed at a grade crossing range between 160 and 200 km/h, so 110 mph is in the middle.

      • Max Wyss

        In Germany, it is 200 km/h (as implemented, for example between Hamburg and Hannover). The same applies to France (example between Strasbourg and Mulhouse). Both lines have frequent 200 km/h operation (3 or more trains per direction and hour).

        With “impenetrable barrier”, would something used in Russia (videos occasionally plopping up on Twitter) be suitable? (I guess so, and that would even be very useful for half-gates…).

  4. F-Line to Dudley

    All low platforms on the Hartford Line have been raised to full-high with 2 lagging exceptions that are both in-process for completion:

    — Windsor. Final design underway. ConnDOT advertisement for construction bids for new full-high platforms scheduled for August 2019.
    — Windsor Locks. Current station to be abandoned, new station to be built at site of historic depot half-mile up the street. Design underway, ConnDOT advertisement for construction bids scheduled for December 2019.

    Those should both be done by 2021. With Merrit 7 on the Danbury Branch and Naugatuck on the Waterbury Branch also scheduled for rebuilds with full-highs in the same 2+ year timeframe, the only lows remaining to settle up in all of Connecticut are: 4 stops on the Waterbury Branch (Derby/Shelton, Ansonia, Seymour, Beacon Falls); Mystic on the NEC (seldom-served Amtrak stop; not a priority until Shore Line East extends east of New London); and New London (partial; Shore Line East will be getting a new full-high that the quarter-point doors on M8’s can platform at, but Amtrak will still be stuck much of the time using the long low platform).

  5. Jacob Manaker

    “SOGR is a black hole permitting incompetent officials to spend capital money without anything to show for it: agencies around the country have SOGR programs decade after decade and somehow their stated maintenance backlogs never shrink.”

    Have you done any in-depth analyses of SOGR programs, or are you just assuming that SOGR money goes primarily to waste because SOG never ends?

    • Alon Levy

      I haven’t done in-depth analysis, I’m basing this on a combination of Amtrak’s behavior in the 2000s, the fact that backlogs do not actually shrink, and the occasional finding in New York of some deferred maintenance from the last few decades, in the SOGR fix-it-first era.

      • adirondacker12800

        Things wear out, if they didn’t wear out they wouldn’t need to be replaced.
        They have to spend money faster than things wear out
        They don’t.

      • Richard Mlynarik

        Pretty much every transit and “commuter railroading” outfit in the USA jumped aboard the “State of Good Repair” badwagon in the mid-1990s, and is still riding riding riding along along.

        And why not? Billions of sweet, sweet cash for staff/contractors/unions, ready-made excuses for no improvements in service (safety first!) ever, and ready-made excuses (safety first!) for hugely disruptive customer-hostile service interruptions whose end result is … the same shit level of service as before the SOGR-fest.

        Mistakes Were Made — in the past — but SOGR is here to do nothing. And then … repeat!

        It’s the transit-industrial complex’s version of “9/11! First Responders! Terrorists! Ask no questions! Spend!”.
        Works every time. Works for everybody except the riding public and taxpaying public.

  6. Tim Smyth

    Is their anything in the governors plan that specifies what type of service this is contingent on? For example the Amtrak Acela is already scheduled at 45 minutes between New Haven and Stamford? Is Lamont promising Acela service at 30 minutes between HVN and STM or more express non stop Metro North service? I will note it has long been suggested to re-install the fourth track between Bridgeport and New Haven in order to improve Amtrak and Acela trip times. Don’t know if this in it of itself is enough to close the gap to 30 minutes.

    • Alon Levy

      The fourth track can marginally improve reliability, but it’s not that important, to be honest. It’s the lowest-traffic part of Metro-North, with just one station in the three-track narrows, Milford, where the tracks are undulating so that Amtrak can’t go much faster than an express regional train anyway.

      There is nothing in the governor’s plan so far except the trip time targets. Nothing about frequency, which I assume is to be half-hourly off-peak but might be higher if faster trains induce a lot of extra traffic. Nothing about stopping pattern, even – I had to make up one for the express trains based on where the connection points with the branch lines are.

  7. SCC

    Considering that Metro-North hosts multiple service types (local, zoned express, intercity, etc.) are these speeds achievable with such an infrastructure improvement, without delaying or reducing service on trains of slower service types? Or will this infrastructure improvement improve speeds on all service types (so to speak, a rising tide that lifts all boats)?

    Also, the opinion piece, which you cite as a source regarding the unreleased study to cut travel times through better track standards, is sloppy. The engineering consultant isn’t “Ty Lin”, but the firm T. Y. Lin International.

    • Alon Levy

      Ugh, yeah, I was relying on the secondary source, I didn’t see the Lin study :(. That said, in my writeup I just used a primary source, i.e. track geometry measurements.

      Metro-North has a bunch of different service types, but nearly the entire New Haven Line has four tracks, and right now there’s no speed difference between intercity and express regional trains sharing the express tracks. Track sharing only gets complicated once intercity trains need to run faster than regional trains on the express track, i.e. when it’s time to boost intercity train speed from an hour to 35 minutes.

      That said, even local trains benefit, not so much from the increase in top speed as from cutting 5 minutes from the Grand Central approach through higher throat speed.

      • adirondacker12800

        i.e. when it’s time to boost intercity train speed from an hour to 35 minutes.

        You can’t get to Philadelphia from Grand Central. Probably never will.

        Send them to Long Island. The potential ROW is owned by the government or it’s minions and is flat and straight. It serves more people and likely gets more traffic off the New England Thruway and Connecticut Turnpike. If a Nozomi makes it from New Haven to D.C. in two hours, taking a Hikari from Stamford to D.C. that takes 2:15 doesn’t have any competition.

  8. Max Wyss

    A note to the Swiss-style padding: In many cases, the padding is not applied at once to reach the final stop, but the route has several sections of 2 to 4 stops. The published timetable shows the earliest technically possible departure time for the intermediate stops, and the slightly padded times for the reference stops (German term: Zeitabgleichs-Station). The reference stops are usually some kind of centers with connecting bus lines. This system allows to keep operation at a tight schedule (something which is an absolute necessity with a highly loaded system).

    About rail junctions: Grade separations are not cheap, so they are only built where really necessary. Adding some creative planning also helps reducing cost (an example, the most loaded segment out of Zürich HB is four-tracked, primarily a double track line for S-Bahn (and freight), and a double track line for mainline service. At the end point, the tracks for the same direction have to be joined. By running the mainline service on the right hand track (Swiss standard is left hand), they could do that with one single viaduct. Also, because of the node system, both tracks can be used to get trains out of Zürich HB at short intervals, and then “sort out” the situation further down the line. This is another method to keep schedules tight.

    Note that these are strategies for high loads of lines (I believe remember reading that the average number of scheduled trains on all lines of the standard gauge network is more than 100 per day; and that includes secondary lines with only hourly intervals).

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, so this is harder without grade-separation at Metro-North’s two most important junctions, Mo (between the Hudson Line and the rest) and Shell (between the Amtrak Northeast Corridor/Penn Station Access route and the Grand Central-bound mainline). Mo is flat and somehow manages 50 peak tph southbound, and I’m not really touching it here because it only becomes a real problem if Metro-North cares about frequency on the Harlem Line, which it doesn’t. Today the trains are so express that they can be resorted pretty easily.

      Shell is a bigger problem – part of it is that on Amtrak it imposes a 30 mph speed limit, the single lowest on the Northeast Corridor outside big station areas. The switches are not fast, and it’s on a tight S-curve, so if they straighten the curve they might as well grade-separate. I don’t know if grade-separating this is strictly necessary for cutting padding from the mainline provided service stays as is, i.e. only about a train every hour on the Amtrak route to Penn Station, but New York State is spending a lot of money on running regional trains on that route too, with a peak of 6-8 tph. New Rochelle is only a 4-track station and one of the tracks doesn’t have platform access, so there’s no room to resort trains there on a very busy line. A single viaduct is needed to let northbound trains from Grand Central and southbound trains to Penn Station cross without conflict.

      The other junctions are easier, and to some extent they already have pocket tracks. There isn’t a lot of traffic on the New Canaan, Danbury, and Waterbury Branches, and there’s room for northbound branch trains to wait at the junction waiting for a southbound mainline train to pass if there’s a conflict.

      • adirondacker12800

        Amtrak proposed something when they upgraded it. Doing more than the upgrade they did would have cost too much money. There are 1,000 entry threads on railroad.net about it. Island platforms, swooping over or diving under, doesn’t have to happen at New Rochelle, the interchange station could be Larchmont where there is a lot more space. Larchmont to Port Chester used to be six tracks wide back when the mighty New York Westchester and Boston was gonna make gobs of money serving E, 180th Street in the Bronx.

      • Robert Hale

        What prevents the flying junction for the NYP and GCT branches from being built east of New Rochelle station so that by NRO the northern two tracks go to GCT and the southern two go to NYP? Two hundred-odd trains to/from GCT can’t be that hard to squeeze through on two tracks, and there seems to be room for each pairs of tracks to have parallel island platforms. That way the NYP tracks, no longer having to cross the existing tracks 2/4 at grade nor having to worry about approaches to a proximal viaduct, can be lightly realigned in the existing ROW. The S to the Hell Gate line can always be straightened later. The southern portion of the S has a 400 m curve, and the northern portion has a 600 m curve. Is the transition so short that taking the buildings inside the southern curve is the only way to get decent speeds?

        • adirondacker12800

          Or put the islands in Larchmont. Stuff like that happens when you put the parking garage right at the edge of the ROW.

        • Alon Levy

          Squeezing the entire New Haven Line to 2 tracks at New Rochelle, even with the Penn Station Access trains removed, is too much of a schedule constraint, esp. since there are multiple stopping patterns even south of New Rochelle (namely, Pelham and Mount Vernon East locals). Just grade-separate Shell, with the required takings (it’s industrial buildings, I don’t think any of that is residential).

          • adirondacker12800

            There are the 1,000 entry threads on railroad.net. It’s fairly lousy with bridges overpassing the railroad and the New England Thruway. There might not be vertical clearance. I think they came up with a duckunder instead of a flyover. Duckunder versus rebuilding local roadway overpasses may be cheaper. And will have less impact on the suburban charm of the ambiance between a busy highway and busy railroad. When I looked for tax maps, back when I was following it, they were a state secret. They are online now, some of the land you have in mind might already be railroad property.

  9. Max Wyss

    While “light maintenance”, such as tamping and rail grinding, are done overnight, the trend (at least in Switzerland) is now going towards a complete shut down of a line for “heavy maintenance” (that’s something done maybe every 30 years or so), and do as much as possible within 8 to 12 weeks time, sometimes even running 3 shifts, 7 days a week; normally 2 shifts, 5 days a week. This may apply to main lines as well as to secondary lines.

    An current example is described in https://www.sob.ch/cluster2019.html (German language, but the map speaks for itself), where a secondary line is concerned. The works include the complete replacement of a bridge, complete replacement of the track of most of the part, and so on.

  10. Josh

    The linked article mentions FRA speed restrictions due to safety issues resulting from recent crashed. Do you have more detailed info on what those restrictions are and how they could be lifted?

  11. Dan

    A Japanese-compliant all cars powered Pendolino? There is only so much that he can control; I think that if Cuomo, Trump, or De Blasio try to ruin it, then he can’t do it. What sort of state and federal funds could he draw from for this?

    • Alon Levy

      He doesn’t need Trump or de Blasio; the cost is well within the state’s spending power. He needs Cuomo for speeding up the GCT approach, but Cuomo has every incentive to cooperate and make it a joint project:

      1. It speeds up commutes within New York State by 5 minutes as well, letting him say “I did that” to voters in Westchester.
      2. There is zero chance an insider at Metro-North can claim credit, unlike with NYCT reforms, making it easier for the politicians to get kudos.
      3. Lamont’s history with fighting Joe Lieberman gives him progressive cred among Democrats of the correct age, roughly born 1970s and 80s, and thus a joint project helps Cuomo position himself as a pan-Democratic leader rather than a moderate or a DINO, without scaring the business community.

  12. bruce hain

    Sorry about SOGR… typical. That grade crossing gates cost half a million per crossing is astonishing – also, typical. The problem south of New Haven with tilt and cant is the tracks are spaced less than 12.5′ apart in many places. That’s extremely close. (Could this be what CTDOT knows that others don’t?) There’s a place in Penn Station where there are six tracks spaced 12′ apart, just east of 10th Avenue emerging from the tunnel. (only place I know where this occurs) That runs right into Interlocking A and allows for fast movements (which never occur) with reduced curve and increased compactness length-wise – so trains don’t have to jog suddenly in either direction. They would never do that today. Why? [nevermind] The most widely used (or formerly used – in effect, used) standard in the US is 13′ 4″ (x 3 = 40′) where I’d say (not knowing a lot about it) it’d be possible to increase cant slightly and have tilt with pretty desirable results. Of course newer trains are not as tall, and have curved sections sometimes to deal with that – but I’d say a big realignment is in order – and to do that you have to know what parts you’re going to scrap and what to keep, which hasn’t been decided yet. (Hint – it’s NOT NEC Future.)

    • bruce hain

      Also – think the insistence on min. 15′ spacing is designed to increase cost and reduce speed of special trackwork – as a bulk commodity sort of thing it adds up.

      • Alon Levy

        Over here, the standard is 4 meters of spacing between two tracks of which one permits speeds above 160 km/h and one doesn’t, or 4.5 if both tracks permit speeds above 160 km/h. In Japan the standard is tighter – the Shinkansen has tracks spaced 4.3 meters apart, permitting 360 km/h with 2 degrees of tilt, with trains that are 10 centimeters wider than the American loading gauge and 20 than the de jure European one (and 40 cm wider than de facto European trains).

        • bruce hain

          Meant to say thanks for posting the track spacing. Nice to have it all in one location. I’ve included it in my library of quotes from experts and it came in handy the other day as I was trying to add a parallel track to the current Mexico City-Queretaro line – which is Shinkansen Standard 4.3, it turns out.

          Something about this line you may not know – it is entirely two-track for the appox.150 route miles between the two cities consisting of all concrete ties and newly ballasted pristine roadbed, and all electrified. (The catenary supports were convenient for adding lateral line measures to align the short distance of parallel track. It’s comically laborious but I’m weary of measuring and placing circles in my current obsession of NY Central Upgrade: if you wanna get to Chicago it’ll likely be sooner (if not faster) on the NY Central.) Nevertheless, while the occasional short cut of cars is visible around intersections along the line in Mexico there is not a train visible on the entire thing that I could find. and no passenger stations whatsoever. Most of the imagery is from 2018.

          I am shocked but not surprised they decided at one point to build an entirely new line for passenger service, when most of this one is quite direct, and goes through significant heroics of high bridges and a few tunnels to achieve it, all with extremely broad curves everywhere. It has had big sections of like 20mi relocated recently, and altogether I would say is state-of-the-art. It is a Rolls Royce of a line, and the grade development actually brings it closer to populated places. Am not able to find when the line or the speedy realignments were built. I know the replacement for the Maltrata Grade on the Mexico City-Vera Cruz route, the Linea SC, was built in the Eighties. That one lengthens the old line by 19mi over the original 28. It reduces the ruling grade to what is said to be 2.7, though the steepest I could find is 2.1. Maltrata has a ruling grade of 4.3, but that could be easily reduced by eliminating the flat spots at stations so steam engines didn’t have to start out on an incline. It was electrified in 1921. I think Maltrata would be superior for passenger service, with shorter cars, linear induction, some superelevation. The minimum radius is 300′ vs. Linea SC at 14 degrees (410.275′) not all that much difference. (I did do an 8.75mi express tunnel running under Maltrata, but that has a 7% grade.) I would be surprised if the tunnel-intensiveness and extreme cuts and fills of the Linea SC – probably prone to washouts and slides – is not a maintenance headache. Rather than cling to the land it tends to chop through it, unlike Maltrata.

          This all came up as a result of my reading about the Monex scandal affecting US expats living in San Miguel, near Queretaro – and I wanted to find out where this haven was and ended up looking at the Mexico-Queretaro route. The Mexico-Queretaro line is less prone to the Linea SC kind violent heroics, partly because the terrain is more accommodating – but I think it was a different engineer. The only place I found I didn’t like is a kind of a mini-Linea SC, quite elongated, running from El Desierto to San Juan del Rio – 17 miles as the crow flies …which is exactly what my tunnel express shortcut does, taking 11 miles off the route and emerging at a place in San Juan that is several miles closer to Queretaro than the other line, which still has additional miles of extreme grade development to traverse before it can even get to that point. The tunnel does this by making use of the old narrow gauge route which is a lot shorter and straighter than the newer line. The tunnel, with 2.5% grade, encounters a low spot near a town along the route of the existing line, so the third track project was a part of a surface shuttle to serve a subterranean station there. That tunnel would take an hour off the Mexico-Queretaro route – which is only 150 miles long anyway – so what are they tryin-na-do?

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