How Fast New York Regional Rail Could Be

A few years ago, when I started writing timetables for proposed regional rail lines, I realized how much faster they were than current schedules. This goes beyond the usual issues in Boston with electrification, which can cut the Boston-Providence trip from the current 1:10 or so to around 45 minutes. In New York the trains are already electrified, but trip times are slow, due to a combination of weak rolling stock, low platforms in New Jersey, poor maintenance in Connecticut, and obscene schedule padding in Long Island. This post collects a few before-and-after comparisons of how fast regional rail in New York could be.

Due to time constraints, not all lines are included in this post; by popular demand I can complete this and make it a two-part post. In this post I am going to focus on the New Haven and Harlem Lines and the LIRR’s Ronkonkoma and Hempstead Branches.

The LIRR and Metro-North both have reasonable if conservative equipment. Thus, it is valuable to look at the trip times that current equipment could achieve, that is the M-8s on the New Haven Line and the M-7s on the other lines. Future equipment should be higher-performance, and in particular both railroads should procure modular platforms based on proven European regional rail designs, rather than stick with overweight, overpriced equipment as in the upcoming capital plan. Thus the following tables include trip times with both current equipment and a notional regional electric multiple unit (EMU) with the specs of a Talent 2, FLIRT, Coradia Continental, DBAG Class 425, or similar train.

As a note of caution, these trip times are not achievable at zero cost, only at low cost. No curve needs to be straightened, but some curves need to be superelevated, and in some areas, particularly Connecticut, additional track work is required. All of this is quite cheap based on European maintenance regimes, though perhaps not based on American ones, but it is not literally a day one timetable – figure a few months’ worth of work systemwide. Schedules would also need to be simpler, with fewer creative express patterns, to facilitate low schedule padding, 7% as in Switzerland rather than the LIRR’s current 30% pad.

Much of this work comes from this post about the LIRR and this one about the New Haven Line, but here I’m covering the Harlem and Hudson Lines as well, and using more recent computations for acceleration.

New Haven Line

Locals to Stamford:

Station Current time Future M-8 time Future Euro time
Grand Central 0:00 0:00 0:00
Harlem-125th 0:10 0:06 0:06
Fordham 0:18 0:12 0:11
Mount Vernon East 0:27 0:18 0:16
Pelham 0:30 0:20 0:18
New Rochelle 0:33 0:23 0:21
Larchmont 0:37 0:26 0:24
Mamaroneck 0:40 0:29 0:27
Harrison 0:43 0:32 0:29
Rye 0:48 0:35 0:31
Port Chester 0:51 0:37 0:33
Greenwich 0:55 0:40 0:36
Cos Cob 0:59 0:43 0:39
Riverside 1:02 0:45 0:41
Old Greenwich 1:04 0:47 0:42
Stamford 1:15 0:50 0:45

Some of the numbers are interpolated, but the end-to-end times as well as those to New Rochelle, Port Chester, and Riverside are exact. No curve is straightened, but all non-geometric speed limits, including those on the Cos Cob Bridge, are removed; the Cos Cob Bridge is not straight enough for high-speed rail, but a regional train could squeeze 150 km/h out of it, or 160 if it is replaced.

Expresses to New Haven are faster, as detailed in my older post on the subject:

Station Current time Future M-8 time Future Euro time
Grand Central 0:00 0:00 0:00
Harlem-125th 0:10 0:06 0:06
New Rochelle 0:18 0:17
Stamford 0:51 0:31 0:30
Noroton Heights 0:56 0:35 0:34
Darien 1:00 0:38 0:36
Rowayton 1:03 0:40 0:38
South Norwalk 1:07 0:43 0:41
East Norwalk 1:10 0:46 0:43
Westport 1:14 0:49 0:46
Greens Farms 1:18 0:53 0:49
Southport 1:23 0:56 0:52
Fairfield 1:26 0:58 0:54
Fairfield Metro 1:30 1:01 0:57
Bridgeport 1:38 1:05 1:00
Stratford 1:45 1:10 1:04
Milford 1:52 1:14 1:08
West Haven 1:59 1:20 1:14
New Haven 2:09 1:24 1:18

Numbers differ from my older post by a minute to allow for slightly slower approaches to the Grand Central stub-end, at 50 km/h rather than 100 km/h as with any future through-running. This is still several minutes faster than the current 10 mph speed limit out to a mile out of the station. It doesn’t matter too much; at the end of the day, this is a difference of 1:18 vs. 2:09, with one extra station. I repeat: better track maintenance, less conservative terminal approach speeds, higher superelevation on curves, modern schedule padding, and (on the margin) higher-performance equipment could reduce trip times from 2:09 to 1:18, a cut of 40% in trip time, without straightening a single curve.

Harlem Line

The Harlem Line today runs local and express trains, but this involves a long stretch from north of Mount Vernon West to North White Plains with three and two rather than four tracks; trains just don’t run frequently enough today that it’s a problem, but in the future they will need to. Therefore, my timetable below is all-local. Nonetheless, trip times to White Plains on the local train are comparable to those of today’s express trains.

Station Current time (local) Current time (express) Future M-7 time Future Euro time
Grand Central 0:00 0:00 0:00 0:00
Harlem-125th 0:10 0:10 0:06 0:06
Melrose 0:14 0:09 0:09
Tremont 0:17 0:12 0:11
Fordham 0:20 0:14 0:13
Botanical Gardens 0:22 0:16 0:15
Williams Bridge 0:25 0:18 0:17
Woodlawn 0:28 0:21 0:19
Wakefield 0:30 0:23 0:21
Mount Vernon West 0:32 0:24 0:23
Fleetwood 0:35 0:27 0:25
Bronxville 0:37 0:29 0:27
Tuckahoe 0:39 0:31 0:28
Crestwood 0:42 0:33 0:30
Scarsdale 0:46 0:36 0:33
Hartsdale 0:49 0:38 0:35
White Plains 0:53 0:36 0:41 0:38
North White Plains 1:01 0:41 0:44 0:40
Valhalla 0:45 0:47 0:43
Hawthorne 0:49 0:50 0:46
Pleasantville 0:53 0:53 0:49
Chappaqua 0:56 0:56 0:52
Mount Kisco 1:02 1:00 0:55
Bedford Hills 1:06 1:04 0:59
Katonah 1:09 1:07 1:01
Goldens Bridge 1:13 1:10 1:04
Purdy’s 1:17 1:13 1:08
Croton Falls 1:20 1:16 1:10
Brewster 1:26 1:20 1:15
Southeast 1:37 1:22 1:16

Observe that the current schedule has very long trip times before the end station – 8 minutes from White Plains to North White Plains on the local, 11 from Brewster to Southeast on the express. Southbound, both segments are timetabled to take only 4 minutes each. This is additional padding used to artificially inflate on-time performance, in lieu of the better practice of spacing out the pad throughout the schedule, at 1 minute per 15 minutes.

LIRR Main Line

The LIRR has a highly-branched system, and I’m only going to portray the Main Line to Ronkonkoma among the long express lines. This is because in the long term, the South Side lines shouldn’t be going to Penn Station but to Downtown Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. The Port Jefferson Branch could benefit from a side-by-side comparison of trip times, but that is partly a matter of electrifying the outer part of the line, a project that is perennially on the LIRR’s wishlist.

Station Current time Future M-7 time Future Euro time
Penn Station 0:00 0:00 0:00
Sunnyside Junction 0:05 0:05
Woodside 0:10
Jamaica 0:20 0:12 0:12
Floral Park 0:17 0:17
New Hyde Park 0:20 0:19
Merillon Avenue 0:22 0:21
Mineola 0:37 0:24 0:23
Carle Place 0:28 0:26
Westbury 0:30 0:28
Hicksville 0:45 0:33 0:31
Bethpage 0:51 0:37 0:34
Farmingdale 0:55 0:40 0:37
Pinelawn 1:00 0:43 0:40
Wyandanch 1:02 0:46 0:43
Deer Park 1:06 0:50 0:47
Brentwood 1:11 0:54 0:50
Central Islip 1:15 0:57 0:53
Ronkonkoma 1:22 1:01 0:57

The fastest Main Line train of the day runs between Penn Station and Ronkonkoma stopping only at Hicksville, Brentwood, and Central Islip, not even stopping at Jamaica; it does the trip in 1:08, a few minutes worse than the M7 could with less schedule padding and small speedups at terminal zones (Penn Station throat slowdowns add 1-2 minutes, it’s not the mile-long slog of Grand Central).

Hempstead Branch

Finally, for local service supplementing the rapid Main Line, we can look at the Hempstead Branch, which under my regional rail maps should keep serving Penn Station along today’s alignment, continuing north along the Empire Connection to the Hudson Line. Today, only a handful of peak trains run between Penn Station and Hempstead – off-peak, Hempstead diverts to Atlantic Terminal. Here are side-by-side schedules, using the fastest peak train as a comparison:

Station Current time Future M-7 time Future Euro time
Penn Station 0:00 0:00 0:00
Sunnyside Junction 0:05 0:05
Woodside 0:11 0:08 0:07
Forest Hills 0:12 0:11
Kew Gardens 0:14 0:13
Jamaica 0:20 0:16 0:15
Hollis 0:28 0:19 0:18
Bellerose 0:31 0:22 0:20
Queens Village 0:33 0:24 0:22
Floral Park 0:35 0:26 0:24
Stewart Manor 0:38 0:28 0:26
Nassau Boulevard 0:41 0:30 0:28
Garden City 0:43 0:32 0:30
Country Life Press 0:47 0:34 0:32
Hempstead 0:51 0:36 0:33

Conclusion

Across the four lines examined – New Haven, Harlem, Main, Hempstead – trains could run about 50-66% faster, i.e. taking 33-40% less time. This is despite the fact that the rolling stock today is already EMUs: the vast majority of the speedup does not come from upgrading to higher-end trains, but rather from running faster on curves as all EMUs can, avoiding unnecessary slowdowns in station throats, and reducing schedule padding through more regular timetables.

The speedup is so great that the Harlem Line could achieve the same trip times of present-day nonstop trains on locals making 14 more stops between Manhattan and North White Plains, a distance of 38 km, and the LIRR could achieve substantially faster trip times than today’s nonstops on semi-rapid trains. In fact, the LIRR could even make additional local stops on the Main Line like Forest Hills and Hollis and roughly match the fastest peak trains, but expected traffic volumes are such that it’s best to leave the locals to the Hempstead Branch and put the Main Line on the express tracks.

Good transit activists in and around New York should insist that the managers prioritize such speedups. If locals can match today’s express trip times, there is no need to run creative express stopping patterns that force trains into complex patterns of overtakes. Just run frequent local service, using the maxim that a line deserves express service if and only if it has four tracks, as the New Haven Line and shared Main Line-Hempstead Branch segment do. With the slowest speed zones sped up, curve speeds raised to the capabilities of modern EMUs (including the conservative M-7s and M-8s), and schedule padding shrunk to where it should be, the suburbs could be so much closer to Manhattan at rush hour as well as off-peak, stimulating tighter metropolitan connections.

74 comments

  1. Bobbo

    Wow this is something thanks Alon. I often use Metro North and the LIRR to visit family and the express patterns have always driven me nuts. When I worked in the Bronx and wanted to go from Fordham to Mount Vernon West or Bronxville after work it was such a pain to get a train from Fordham during rush hour. The idea that the trains could stop at these stations and still get to their destinations just as fast is both exciting and maddening.

  2. Lee Ratner

    Very OT but Derek Thompson recently posted on how the Millennial lifestyle is going to become more expensive because of the collapse of companies like WeWork, Uber, and Lyft. The message should be that ride share apps can’t beat a good transit system. The Bay Area has a decent transit system by American standards but is basically still a car oriented place. If you wanted to go out at night in San Francisco but lived in Oakland or Berkeley, a ride share App was a great way to get back home if you didn’t like night driving on freeways. Outside of the Bay Area, its really going to suck more.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/10/say-goodbye-millennial-urban-lifestyle/599839/

    • Alon Levy

      Except that millennials swung to public transit and away from driving even before Uber and Lyft… and WeWork is just a joke, it doesn’t even provide a useful service while losing money the way Uber does.

      • The Economist

        The real problem is at Secaucus Junction, not at the Kearny Junction. For whatever idiotic reasons NJT insists on running many trains express through Secaucus. This creates complex patterns of timed overtakes. These patterns are so complex than one train delayed by 2 minutes due to a stuck door still influences trains 30 minutes later. Additionally NJT insists on all trains stopping at tracks A and B during rush hour which is terrible due to all the speed limits due to the switches which the trains need to traverse. On top of that Amtrak insists on running their trains at higher speeds though the station. The whole schedule is just to complex for its own good!

        The best and simplest pattern for evening rush hour is the following. Every westbound train stops at Secaucus (with one caveat to be explained later). Every other train stop on track B. The rest stop on track 3. Nothing stops on track A. The eastbounds, of course, use track 2. The middle track west of Secaucus is permanently (for the duration of the rush hour) aligned with station track B, so that a train approaching from NYP does not face a stop at the end of the platform and as a result can get into the station at higher speed. The middle track east of Secaucus is also permanently (again for the duration of the rush hour) aligned with station track B, so that a train going to track B can clear the main sooner, so that it can be switched for the next train going on platform track 3. The pattern is first train goes to track 3, as soon as it has cleared Allied interlocking, you switch that to track B. Once next train for track B has cleared Allied, you are ready to switch it back to track 3. Hopefully by that time your first train on track 3 has already completed its stop and has departed clearing the track for the next train. And so on. You can do this easily every 2 minutes, that is one train every 4 minutes on each of tracks B and 3 allowing for a total of 30 tph. Note that it does not matter where these trains are going — Newark Penn or Newark Broad — the split cuts down on the number of trains going down each line, so it is easy to sustain from there onwards. The one caveat is that the Amtrak trains do not need to stop at Secaucus, so they won’t, but they need to slow down and effectively waste the time that otherwise would have been spent at the platform. So there is a penalty for each Amtrak train in terms of total travel time (which might be a good argument for them to start stopping at Secaucus), but this gets you the high throughput westbound during rush hour. Now of course, a bunch of whinies will complain that they need to know in advance which platform their train will be (side or middle platform) in order to board. Well, they need to get a life — people in Europe somehow know which platform to be on to board their trains.

        For the morning rush hour the same needs to be done, but this time it uses tracks 2 and A for the same purpose. The one issue is that a train merging from the Lackawanna lines at Swift might simply not be there when it needs to be and miss its timeslot. The only way to do this is to have some 2 minute slots empty on purpose, so that you have a chance for recovery. If every 6th slot is empty, then you end up with 25thp scheduled, which is about what the peak is claimed to be today, but with none of the complex overtakes which never occur as scheduled anyway given that some train is always late for some reason, even if it is by 30 seconds only.

  3. Russell.FL

    I don’t know how you’ll ever be able to make Grand Central – 125th anything less than 10 minutes, and it frequently takes 11-12 minutes even during lighter travel times. The reasons I’ve heard is that the track 42nd street – 59th street is considered a “yard” and that therefore max yard speeds is 15 mph. I believe it’s an FRA rule?

    • Alon Levy

      It’s not a yard, it’s just a long station throat with 10 mph approach speeds. South Station and North Station in Boston have the same problem for the last half mile or so. The reason is not the FRA, it’s extreme technological conservatism; the existing switches are good for higher speed (see PDF-p. 24 here, the curve radius is 779′, or 237 m, good for 55 km/h), and trains approach bumper tracks here at 40-60 km/h every day. The most recent excuse, at least in Boston, is that the signal system is such trash it doesn’t work in station throats, so they shut it down, forcing a 10 mph restriction.

      The speed zone I’m setting up for the Park Avenue Tunnel is 100 km/h, with a restriction to 50 km/h in the last ~800 meters. This lets trains do Grand Central-125th in about 5.5-6 minutes, including a 30-second Harlem dwell.

      • Tonami Playman

        Alon, how do you calculate maximum track speed from a given curve radius?

        • Alon Levy

          \mbox{speed} = \sqrt{\mbox{lateral acceleration in the horizontal plane} \times \mbox{curve radius}}

          Lateral acceleration and total equivalent cant on a standard-gauge railroads are related through the formula 1 m/s^2 = 150 mm. I’m assuming 150 mm cant and 150 mm cant deficiency, so lateral acceleration is 2 m/s^2.

  4. Steve N

    Not so very long ago (10 years or less, I think, but it could have been longer), scheduled time for MNR from GCT to New Haven was 1:42. I can remember this because trains left GCT at 7 minutes after every hour (more often during the rush) and arrived at NH 10 minutes before the hour. Slower than your 1:24 but quite a bit faster than the current 2:09.

  5. Shaul Picker

    Great post once again Alon! It seems as though extending the Harlem Third Track from Crestwood to North White Plains will be in the 2025-2029 plan. Do you think that the Third Track project from Mount Vernon West to Crestwood in the late 90s/early 2000s was a mistake? I know this is very time-consuming, but I would love to see a Part 2.

      • electricangel

        As a man who gets off at Crestwood, let me just say I think it’s great. MN has recently adapted schedules so that there are as many as 3 trains an hour stopping at Crestwood. We did not have that before.

        As to the rest of the line, I have no idea. Would love to know more on the why of its being a bad idea.

        • Nilo

          Because you should build four tracks. Three tracks means you don’t have the capacity in one direction to match your flow in the other and rely on storage to do the work. City center storage is incredibly expensive as a general rule.

          • JH

            City center storage is expensive you say, isn’t the storage space at Grand Central enough for this?

  6. Martin

    Anytime I take LIRR from Penn Station to Jamaica to get on JFK Airtrain, I really miss my diesel Caltrain over the pokie EMUs. Yeah, it takes longer to accelerate, but it doesn’t stop accelerating until it hits 79mph.

    • Steve

      Isn’t the point of this entire article that the EMUs can go a lot faster than they do? The M7 EMUs on the LIRR have top speeds of 100 MPH and can get there faster than a diesel can. The problem is not the top speed but the service speed, and given the same track and same operating rules the EMUs will beat a diesel easily.

  7. AstoriaBlowin

    Started commuting from Ossining this August and it’s just awful sitting a Hudson line train crawling along knowing it could be so much better if MNR wasn’t so worthless. The best you can do now is 50 minutes to go 48 km. When staring out the window in disbelief at how slow we go through parts of the Bronx I actually turned on strava to see our speed, 17 km per hour for long stretches.

    These bad practices aren’t just a thing for transit aficionados to split hairs over, think about the billions of hours of people’s lives that have been taken from them over the decades on longer than necessary commutes.

    Basically everything that is written here on improved practices I made as comments on the new MNR strategic plan, which of course mentions charging stations on page 2 and running faster trains exactly nowhere.

  8. Tonami Playman

    Great detailed work again Alon. It’s amazing the current time tables are much slower than they were in the past. I wonder if that decline started after the highway building spree of the 50s or much later after that.

    For skip stop express patterns, I just don’t get it. I think it’s just a way for the service operator to check the box that they have a certain service speed without really serving customers.

    Even BART does have one skip stop service during morning and evening rush hour. The 24th street limited service that turns at 24th st. Instead of Daly city or Millbrae. I’ve always wondered why not just hit all the stations and turn at 24th st.

    • Martin

      Skip-stop patterns boost average speed when passing tracks aren’t available for overtakes. It’s not the worst thing in the world, especially when these trains already are running full.
      Caltrain has a massive skip-stop schedule, but enough trains that most people can get where they need to go without transfers and keep up at a pace of 40+mph. Cross fingers that EMUs will increase that further!
      http://www.caltrain.com/schedules/weekdaytimetable.html

      • Alon Levy

        Caltrain’s massive skip-stop schedule is in fact terrible, leading to 40-minute service gaps at rush hour at some stations. It’s designed around something called the push model, in which the limiting factor is parking capacity, and people would only get on at (say) California Avenue if they’re pushed there by full lots at Palo Alto.

        • Martin

          In reality, what Caltrain schedules today is much better now than what they had before. Before, they had baby bullets + locals. So you either get express trains, or a slow train every ~15 mins depending on the station. If you’re not going between two baby-bullet stations, your sentenced to a slow train. The current schedule has a fast train every 30 to 45 mins, so I’m fine adjusting my schedule to that.

          One item that is a big factor is that outside of SF, the offices are beyond walking distance, so most rely on shuttles that run once an hour between station and your office. At least among my friends, they’d rather have less frequent FAST service, than frequent slow service since a fast hourly or bi-hourly train is frequent enough for work commute.

          • Alon Levy

            A fast train every 45 minutes may be fine with you, but it’s not fine with hordes of riders who vote with their feet. And SF’s inability to deal with the last mile is if anything a compounding problem; I will rant on cue about the poor scheduling built into the DTX operating plan.

          • Martin

            I don’t think I understand you. You seem to imply that slow but frequent trains are better less regular faster trains? That would be true if people didn’t have a choice of when to leave or didn’t rely on a shuttle.
            In many stations, nearly half of the passengers use a shuttle to access, so frequent schedule is worse when it adds commute time.

            Also, anyone that I know on Caltrain, looks at the schedule, and picks the “fastest” train home. I would argue that it’s a minority of passengers who don’t have flexibility of timing the fast train or simply don’t look up the the schedule on google maps.

            Since, real estate near stations is the most expensive, few have the luxury of living and working near a station and shuttles are important. I’d be happy to hear your opinions on this. Here’s some data that might be relevant, although it doesn’t seem to do a good job of separating transit from shuttles under station access.

          • Alon Levy

            I’m saying that Caltrain’s weird scheduling requires more padding than a simpler schedule with consistent overtakes (e.g. at a future four-track Hillsdale or RWC) and therefore slows everyone down.

            Re “a minority of passengers,” there’s some literature on the effect of frequency on ridership when initial frequency is low, and it’s really high; see lit review in Totten-Levinson. The paper looks at bus rather than rail frequency, but the mechanism through which there might be a difference is overall trip times, i.e. frequency is more important on short routes than on long routes, and the skip-stop pattern at Caltrain specifically means low frequency for short-distance trips rather than longer ones like SF-PA or SF-SJ.

          • DL

            As a person who frequently uses Caltrain for trips from MV to SJ I can attest that poor service frequency sucks, and is probably the main reason my part of the line is horrendously underused. I’m with Alon.

            Honestly I’d rather have slow and frequent trains. Or At least a @$%©$ Consistent schedule!! Predictability is most important. But it feels like the schedule is designed rather poorly. I would be inclined to say that there is no such thing as service frequency on Caltrain: There is infrequency (weekends/midday), or irregular schedule (peak hour). I should also say that from Caltrain’s perspective, local trains breed more turnover which is better for fare revenue/serving the most people.

            In fact, the only station pair that gets every set of trains is San Jose to San Francisco. For crying out loud, Caltrain could probably increase the usefulness of their service to their riders without more money if they did better scheduling! I’ve heard RWC needs passing tracks to make this happen which I think is a poor excuse but that’s still incredibly minimal capital expenditures. All in vain…

          • Nilo

            Also if skip stop is so wonderful, why is caltrain’s long term vision moving to vastly simplified express local stopping pattern. I think the current plan is locals and two different express types.

          • Martin

            Regular schedule might be great, and Caltrain did have only locals + baby bullets. However, ridership didn’t really take off, until the current “irregular” schedule was deployed. Maybe people in bay area value their time more and Caltrain has no trouble filling the trains during rush hour.

            There’s probably a factor related to how fast driving on the highway is compared to the train which isn’t reflected here.

          • Alon Levy

            Ridership took off when tech employment increased in the current business cycle, esp. in slightly-closer-to-4th-and-King SoMa.

        • DL

          Just looking at an existing track map of the Caltrain corridor.. it looks like there are already multi track segments not used for passing trains, one near RWC and one near South San Francisco. Any reason why they aren’t used? Is UP just that annoying?

  9. Shaul Picker

    What do you think should be done with service to Wassaic? Do you think the directs to GCT should be eliminated in favor of connections at Southeast like most trains to avoid slowing down service?

    • Alon Levy

      Electrify or shuttle-ify it, but please do not put diesels on an electric line, it would mess up the timetable too much.

      There are exceptions to the no-diesels-on-an-electric line rule, but the Wassaic tail is so weak it is definitely not one of them.

      • Shaul Picker

        Croton-Harmon to Poughkeepsie is a strong candidate for electrification. Should directs be maintained until the section gets electrified?

        • Alon Levy

          Yes, absolutely, that’s one example of a strong tail. Moreover, unlike the other two strong diesel tails in the region, Port Jefferson and Raritan Valley, it doesn’t significantly muck up a congested electric line, because only a short segment has fewer than four tracks, and the shared Harlem Line trunk only has one intermediate station, namely Harlem. The flat junction with the trunk line is a much bigger capacity issue than the diesels.

  10. Shaul Picker

    Do your calculations take dwell into account? Euro equipment should significantly reduce dwell, which is a major problem with the cars currently in service.

        • Alon Levy

          I don’t think I’m being conservative. 30-second dwells are pretty normal – the M-7s and M-8s could stand to have better egress capacity but it’s not a big deal except at the busiest stations, i.e. Grand Central and Penn Station.

      • James S

        NJT will never have 30 second dwells because of the car design. Doors are narrow, and theyre right by the stair choke-point. It takes 30 seconds for people to get out and no one can get in during that time. Horrendous.

        • Alon Levy

          Yes, and when I do NJT I’m not even going to bother with figuring out the performance of the current rolling stock, because it sucks on all accounts and should be reefed.

          • A.S.

            Agreed. And after years with the multi-levels, NJT refuses to realise that they’re far too heavy for their own good and instead doubles down with their recent purchase of unproven “Multi-Level EMU” coaches. Really staggering how stubborn they are over purchasing bad rolling stock.

          • adirondacker12800

            they have more capacity. they can move more people on each train. silly them.

          • Martin

            Is there a roadmap to level boarding on NJ Transit in the suburbs? Would it make sense to run dual-locomotives on the longest trainsets?

            While EMU gets you more performance, the capacity goes down since the locomotive pieces DO need to go somewhere. Notice how Caltrain’s 7-car EMUs will have lower capacity than current 6-car Bombardier sets. One might also observe that Bombardier NJ Bi-Levels and Caltrain Bi-Levels have a VERY efficient design that Stadler isn’t going to meet until a future redesign. For example, compare the upper level of Bombardier vs Stadler you can count 60 vs 72 seats.

          • Alon Levy

            If you measure capacity by total seats then yes. If you measure it by how fast people can egress at Penn Station or by whether there’s comfortable standing space then no, bilevels are actually bad.

            At equal train length EMUs have more capacity than locomotive-hauled trains. The entire length of the train can be used for seats and standing space; the electrical and mechanical equipment goes under the floor. For example, a Shinkansen train with 4-abreast seating still has slightly more seats than a bilevel TGV of equal length, since it uses about 95% of the train’s length for seats rather than just 70% (20% go to locomotives, 10% to cafe cars).

            The roadmap to level boarding on NJ Transit is to raise all the platforms for a few million dollars per station.

  11. SB

    “there is no need to run creative express stopping patterns”
    Isn’t the main problem is running creative express stopping patterns than running express?
    If express stop patterns are simplified (say about 2-3 patterns) with timed overtakes wouldn’t that be easier to people to remember and reduce dwell time?

    • Alon Levy

      2-3 patterns is still a lot of express… on long lines with many stops, a single express pattern is appropriate. But on the LIRR Main Line there aren’t actually that many skippable stops – there are 4 local stops west of Hicksville that Ronkonkoma and Port Jefferson trains ever stop at, plus a fifth that they don’t but should (Floral Park).

      On a 2-track line, any express running introduces schedule complexity, in this case timed overtakes. This is not necessary on the LIRR Main Line. This isn’t Caltrain, which has around 15 skippable local stops from San Francisco to San Jose, or the four-track mainlines around New York like the New Haven and Hudson Lines.

      • SB

        Shouldn’t Amtrak be considered as express on New Haven Line?
        Also I feel that people on Hudson Line north of White Plains will demand express trains because their commute remains the same while it gets dramatically reduced in other lines.

        • Alon Levy

          Amtrak doesn’t have the frequency for the volumes required. But it might be a good option for an outer New Haven Line express, i.e. Stamford-New Haven.

          People north of White Plains may demand express service restoration, sure. The correct response is “sorry, no capacity.” It only works today because the frequency isn’t great and there’s so much schedule padding that the express takes about as long as a local would with better operating assumptions. Ultimately, there’s just too much ridership south of White Plains and not enough north of it to justify timed overtakes and express trains on this line. Maybe if there’s money to four-track everything south of White Plains and six-track the trunk in the Bronx, but I don’t think that’s the top spending priority on regional rail in the area.

          • Alon Levy

            Yeah, probably. South Norwalk isn’t terribly important to turn into an express station, though – Amtrak doesn’t stop there, and I don’t think there’s a strong case for Metro-North to skip stations east of Stamford. That situation potentially changes if there’s 100% dedicated track HSR, but I emphasize, “potentially.”

          • adirondacker12800

            The Hudson line exists and will be using capacity south of Mott Haven. Harlem Line in the Bronx doesn’t need six tracks.

  12. Hugh B

    How much do you think it would be worth to make LIRR and Harlem/Hudson Lines a compatible electrification with the rest of the network, or should M8s be a permanent solution to the different electrification systems for through running?

    • Alon Levy

      It would be worth quite a lot. The problem is that one key piece of infrastructure – the tunnel under the East River leading to East Side Access – is only sized for third-rail trains. Dual-voltage trains may or may not fit with the pantograph lowered, I’m not sure, but there’s certainly no room for catenary.

      • Tonami Playman

        What about those furrer and Frey power rails, is there enough room for those pls pantograph?

  13. Christopher D Parker

    Express service to outer districts accomplishes something more than merely providing fast service for riders. By splitting close in and outer suburban service, equipment if better utilized. And equipment maintenance (and depreciation) is the largest expense.

    Consider: A 6 car train from Fitchburg to North Station, Boston (90 minutes). That train might be able to flip back and make a second peak trip, but that’s it. Those six cars don’t start to fill up until Acton, 30 minutes out from Boston. So the overall load factor of that peak hour train that arrives Boston with every seat taken is dismal, maybe 30%. If the service was split with a three car express and three car locals from Acton, the locals could turn and increase the frequency without increasing the fleet size. And you rightly talk about the importance of frequency. That means, given a more or less fixed amount of resources, you’ll get better service by making the long trips express.

    • Alon Levy

      If the problem is that there isn’t much demand beyond South Acton, then just run fewer trains beyond South Acton. You don’t need to introduce schedule complexity by mixing trains of different speeds on the same tracks.

      • adirondacker12800

        There isn’t any demand closer in. If I counted right there 19 trains on weekdays, over the whole day.

        • Alon Levy

          At present fares, yeah. Fare-integrate everything with the subway and ridership from Brandeis in will skyrocket. The Fitchburg Line has this weird pattern of strong potential urban ridership (i.e. from Brandeis in), lolzy suburban ridership, and decent outer-end intercity ridership; it isn’t a great environment for express service. It’s not like the Worcester Line, which has a) a plausible overtake location in Wellesley, b) actually strong outer-suburban ridership around Framingham and such, c) extremely dense skippable inner-suburban stop spacing in Newton and Wellesley, and d) that sweet spot for demand (6-8 peak tph) where express service isn’t wrecking either your frequency or your capacity.

          • adirondacker12800

            The few bus schedules I look at, I doubt anything is going to skyrocket.

  14. Pingback: How Fast New York Regional Rail Could Be Part 2 | Pedestrian Observations
  15. adirondacker12800

    the South Side lines shouldn’t be going to Penn Station but to Downtown Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan.

    It has more demand. Mostly because it’s more densely populated. You want to send those trains to the destination with the highest demand. What are you going to do about eastern Queens? If a westbound train is already full when it gets to Floral Park or Valley Stream, stopping it in Queens. to pick up more passengers, isn’t very useful. It gets even more complicated when you consider that giving every suburban station one seat rides to Grand Central, Penn Station and Wall Street is too much capacity. And that there are twice as many people on Long Island as there are in Connecticut, in nice round numbers. They want to get to New England in addition to Philadelphia and beyond – where do you put two tracks of HSR? Pesky passengers. Get sharper crayons. Juggle more than one concept at a time.

  16. Pingback: How Fast New York Regional Rail Could Be Part 3 | Pedestrian Observations

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