Speed Zones on Railroads

I refined my train performance calculator to automatically compute trip times from speed zones. Open it in Python 3 IDLE and play with the functions for speed zones – so far it can’t input stations, only speed zones on running track, with stations assumed at the beginning and end of the line.

I’ve applied this to a Northeast Corridor alignment between New York and Boston. The technical trip times based on the code and the alignment I drew are 0:36:21 New York-New Haven, 0:34:17 New Haven-Providence, 0:20:40 Providence-Boston; with 1-minute dwell times, this is 1:33 New York-Boston, rising to maybe 1:40 with schedule contingency. This is noticeably longer than I got in previous attempts to draw alignments, where I had around 1:28 without pad or 1:35 with; the difference is mainly in New York State, where I am less aggressive about rebuilding entire curves than I was before.

I’m not uploading this alignment yet because I want to fiddle with some 10 meter-scale questions. The most difficult part of this is between New Rochelle and New Haven. Demolitions of high-price residential properties are unavoidable, especially in Darien, where there is no alternative to carving a new right-of-way through Noroton Heights.

The importance of speeding up the slowest segments

The above trip times are computed based on the assumption that trains depart Penn Station at 60 km/h as they go through the interlocking, and then speed up to 160 km/h across the East River, using the aerodynamic noses designed for 360 km/h to achieve medium speed through tunnels with very little free air. This require redoing the switches at the interlocking; this is fine, switches in the United States are literally 19th-century technology, and upgrading them to Germany’s 1925 technology would create extra speed on the slowest segment.

Another important place to speed up is Shell Interlocking. The current version of the alignment shaves it completely, demolishing some low-rise commercial property in the process, to allow for 220 km/h speeds through the city. Grade separation is obligatory – the interlocking today is at-grade, which imposes unreasonable dependency between northbound and southbound schedules on a busy commuter railroad (about 20 Metro-North trains per hour in the peak direction).

In general, bypasses west of New Haven prioritize the slowest segments of the Northeast Corridor: the curves around the New York/Connecticut state line, Darien, Bridgeport. East of New Haven the entire line should be bypassed until Kingston, even the somewhat less curvy segment between East Haven and Old Saybrook, just because it’s a relatively easy segment where the railroad can mostly twin with I-95 and not have any complex viaducts.

The maximum speed is set at 360 km/h, but even though trains can cruise at such speed on two segments totaling 130 km, the difference in trip time with 300 km/h is only about 3 minutes. Similarly, in southwestern Connecticut, the maximum speed on parts of the line, mostly bypasses, is 250 km/h, and if trains could run at 280 km/h on those segments, which isn’t even always possible given curvature, it would save just 1 minute. The big savings come from turning a 10 miles per hour interlocking into a modern 60 km/h (or, ideally, 90+ km/h) one, eliminating the blanket 120 km/h speed limit between the NY/CT state line and New Haven, and speeding up throats around intermediate stations.

Curve easements

Bypasses are easier to draw than curve modifications. Curves on the Northeast Corridor don’t always have consistent radii – for example, the curves flanking Pawtucket look like they have radius 600 meters, but no, they have a few radii of which the tightest are about 400 meters, constraining speed further. Modifying such curves mostly within right-of-way should be a priority.

Going outside the right-of-way is also plausible, at a few locations. The area just west of Green’s Farms is a good candidate; so is Boston Switch, a tight curve somewhat northeast of Pawtucket whose inside is mostly water. A few more speculative places could get some noticeable trip time improvements, especially in the Bronx, but the benefit-cost ratio is unlikely to be good.

Bush consulting on takings

In some situations, there’s a choice of which route to take – for example, which side of I-95 to go on east of New Haven (my alignment mostly stays on the north side). Some right-of-way deviations from I-95 offer additional choice about what to demolish in the way.

In that case, it’s useful to look for less valuable commercial properties, and try to avoid extensive residential takings if it’s possible (and often it isn’t). This leads to some bush consulting estimates of how valuable a strip mall or hotel or bank branch is. It’s especially valuable when there are many options, because then it’s harder for one holdout to demand unreasonable compensation or make political threats – the railroad can go around them and pay slightly more for an easier takings process.

How fast should trains run?

Swiss planners run trains as fast as necessary, not as fast as possible. This plan does the opposite, first in order to establish a baseline for what can be done on a significant but not insane budget, and second because the expected frequency is high enough that hourly knots are not really feasible.

At most, some local high-speed trains could be designated as knot trains, reaching major stations on the hour or half-hour for regional train connections to inland cities. For example, such a local train could do New York-Boston in 2 hours rather than 1:40, with such additional stops as New Rochelle, Stamford, New London (at I-95, slightly north of the current stop), and Route 128 or Back Bay.

But for the most part, the regional rail connections are minor. New York and Boston are both huge cities, so a train that connects them in 1:40 is mostly an end-to-end train, beefed up by onward connections to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington. Intermediate stops at New Haven and Providence supply some ridership too, much more so than any outlying regional connections like Danbury and Westerly, first because those outlying regional connections are much smaller towns and second much of the trip to those towns is at low speed so the trip time is not as convenient as on an all-high-speed route.

This does not mean Swiss planning maxims can be abandoned. Internal traffic in New England, or in Pennsylvania and South Jersey, or other such regions outside the immediate suburbs of big cities, must hew to these principles. Even big-city regional trains often have tails where half-hourly frequency is all that is justified. However, the high-speed line between Boston and New York (and Washington) specifically should run fast and rely on trips between the big cities to fill trains.

How much does it cost?

My estimate remains unchanged – maybe $7 billion in infrastructure costs, closer to $9-10 billion with rolling stock. Only one tunnel is included, under Bridgeport; everywhere else I’ve made an effort to use viaducts and commercial takings to avoid tunneling to limit costs. The 120 km of greenfield track between New Haven and Kingston include three major viaducts, crossing the Quinnipiac, Connecticut, and Thames; otherwise there are barely any environmentally or topographically sensitive areas and not many areas with delicate balance of eminent domain versus civil infrastructure.

I repeat, in case it is somehow unclear: for $7 billion in infrastructure investment, maybe $8 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars deflated to the early 2020s rather than early 2010s, trains could connect New York and Boston in 1:40. A similar project producing similar trip times between New York and Washington should cost less, my guess is around $3 billion, consisting mostly of resurrecting the old two-track B&P replacement in lieu of the current scope creep hell, building a few at-grade bypasses in Delaware and Maryland, and replacing the variable-tension catenary with constant-tension catenary.

None of this has to be expensive. Other parts of the world profitably build high-speed rail between cities of which the largest is about the size of Boston or Philadelphia rather than the smallest; Sweden is seriously thinking about high-speed trains between cities all of which combined still have fewer people than metropolitan Boston. Better things are possible, on a budget, and not just in theory – it’s demonstrated every few years when a new high-speed rail line opens in a medium-size European or Asian country.


  1. Gok (@Gok)

    > closer to $9-10 billion with rolling stock

    What would be lost using the Avelia trainsets that are almost ready to go into service?

    • Alon Levy

      I don’t know. I don’t think I have precise enough performance figures for them; best I can do is make intelligent guesses.

      • F-Line to Dudley

        TGV’s purchased Alstom Aveila Horizons developed off the same source design as the U.S.-adapted Aveila Liberty. Not scheduled to enter service until 2023, a year-plus after the Liberty on the NEC, with last of the contract options for 100 total trainsets stretching to 2033. SCNF procured it from the same family design that was producing the Liberty in order to meet the desired 20% reduction in life-of-procurement costs. They are supposed to be roughly equivalent in performance to their predecessor-lineage Alstom Euroduplexes, so that make pegs a reference metric in the absence of any Aveila-specific documentation for the U.S. or Euro versions.

        • Alon Levy

          They also have meh performance specs by 2020s standards (and even 2000s ones in Japan). France is nearly the last holdout in a high-speed world that’s otherwise either all-EMU or converting to it.

          • Herbert

            Are there sensible opposition arguments to EMUs that aren’t nostalgia?

          • Mikel

            The only manufacturers currently still building the power car + articulated trailers + power car type are Alstom and Talgo, right? The main advantages are smoother running (because there aren’t motors under the passenger seats) and easier to have step-free access from the platform (idem). Apparently they also have better aerodynamics at high speed.

            In particular, the Talgo system with its bogeyless cars is cool (and runs butter-smooth, in my experience) but it does have a more specific set of advantages and drawbacks than Alstom’s more conventional designs.

          • Alon Levy

            The Shinkansen has excellent aerodynamics, and level boarding with 1,250 mm platforms, and I believe this is also true of CRH.

            Over here the platforms are 550 and 760 mm, so it’s a different situation. Powerful EMUs exist with level boarding from 550 mm platforms, like the FLIRT, the Coradia, and the Class 425, but right now these are limited to 160-200 km/h. There’s a 249 km/h Stadler EMU that IIRC has level boarding from 760 mm, and I expect that the 300 km/h market in Europe will follow as accessibility laws tighten. The TGV Duplex frustratingly has no level boarding, in line with France’s general indifference to people with disabilities – the trains are one step down from a 550 mm platform.

          • Mikel

            The Shinkansen also have looong noses, which negates the capacity advantage of EMUs. In any case, I guess the accessibility problems of 300 km/h EMUs on European platforms are just an engineering problem, not an inherent limitation (unlike electric braking on trailer cars).

            I didn’t know the TGV Duplex has no level boarding, which is baffling since the earlier TGV Atlantique does have it. I guess the lower passenger deck forces to move to the bogies part of the equipment that otherwise would be under the car?

          • Tonami Playman

            Looking at the capacity of the Shinkansen rolling stock, the E5 series used on the Tohoku Shinkansen has 731 seats in a 10 car set. If we extrapolate using the passenger distribution of alternating between 100 and 85 pax per car and assigning 2 as extra green cars with 55 seats each, we get 1226 seats in a 402m 16 car set. The N700 series used on the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen has 1323 seats in a 404m 16 car set. Both are capable of 320km/hr but the longer nose of the E7 results in reduced capacity of 29 standard seats at the nose ends compared to 65 seats for the N700.

            The new Chinese CR400AF and CR400BF both have 1193 seats in 414m long 16 car sets. The older Seimens Velaro derived CRH3 has 1053 seats in a 399m long 16 car set. Both Chinese sets dedicate one full car as a Cafe car, so if we add the lost 80 seats in the CRH3 and the 85 in the CR400AF, we get 1133 seats and 1278 seats respectively to match the Zero cafe car configuration of the Japanese trainsets.

            The 400m long TGV duplex has a capacity of 1016 seats in InOui with cafe car and 1200 seats in Ouigo configuration with no cafe car. Compared to the EMUs, the E7 in 16 car configuration has 23 more seats that than a Ouigo set and the N700 has 123 more seats, while the CRH3 has 67 less seats and the CR400AF has 78 more seats. The EMUs also have level boarding and the tractor pulled TGV sets have none of that not to mention the lack of overhead storage.

            Looking at those numbers, I don’t see any capacity disadvantage to the TGVs in regards to long noses. the disadvantage of the long noses in the Japanese sets is negated by the fact that the TGV has to install 2 additional space consuming tractor units in the middle to make a 400m long unit. The long 12m nose of the E7 consumes only 24m total train length on a 400m long unit while the TGV power cars consume a total of 20* 4 = 80m.

            Of course we cannot forget the wide loading gauge of the Japanese and Chinese EMUs (3.35m to 2.9m) that allow them to carry more passengers on a single level.

          • michaelrjames

            Of course we cannot forget the wide loading gauge of the Japanese and Chinese EMUs (3.35m to 2.9m) that allow them to carry more passengers on a single level.

            Except that you didn’t adjust for it. Shouldn’t there be a 25% (or 20%?) fewer seats normalisation factor applied (to those Japanese and Chinese trains), ie. if you want to try to assign relevance or not of EMU or not-EMU? Europe (even Spain for HSR) or US are not going to change to broad gauge so the comparisons as given seem to me to be very misleading.

          • Tonami Playman

            For what it’s worth. The European loading guage ICE 3 in 16 car 400m configuration has 960 seats with the cafe cars and 1048 seats without. The 390m long Eurostar e320 has 902 seats with cafe cars and 990 without so 152 and 210 less seats compared to the Ouigo TGV. Surprisingly for the ICE 3 compared to it’s wider CRH3 counterpart with 1133 seats, it’s only an 8% reduction. I think the Chinese version is more generous with seat space compared to the ICE 3 and not as optimized as say the N700 which is packed to the gills with seats.

          • michaelrjames

            Herbert: no, I assumed TP was referring to the greater train width which allows 3+2 seating which is a 25% increase (in the ‘cheap’ carriages). Like the Eurostar Velaro e320s which are 300mm wider than the TGVs and also squeeze that extra seat in; same standard 1435mm track gauge though these trains cannot use much of the TGV or other Euro network. The N700s have another 9cm on the Velaro, thus a whole 460mm wider than TGVs.
            I’m no train geek but isn’t that included in the term “loading gauge”?

            Also, re the EMU v locomotive, isn’t this why the French have gone duplex, and in turn the sole reason why they can’t/don’t do level boarding? However I think the handicapped inconvenience complaint is a bit overblown–easy to say for an able-bodied type but Seat61 says every TGV in France has one carriage with wheelchair compatibility in boarding, seating (removed) and handicap toilet. Like life, these things are a compromise and these are done to try to achieve the same thing without altering clearances (loading gauge?) of all 10,000km or whatever of the network.

          • adirondacker12800

            If you are talking about the North American market it’s going to be “Amtrak” loading gauge east of the Rockies. It’s not awful and there is too much legacy infrastructure in the Northeast to make it anything else.

          • Herbert

            It would appear you’re confusing loading gauge and the distance between each rail again…

          • Herbert

            You said “switching to broad gauge”.

            Also, the French loading gauge is the narrowest in continental Europe, due in no small part to the “Berne gauge” which was set in the early 20th century as the de facto standard being based on France slightly increasing theirs…

            As for making the loading gauge greater, this might be an unthinkable expense for over 30 000 km of the entire network (such as in Germany) but it isn’t as much as a challenge for the conversion of only the purpose built high speed network. ETCS will require expensive redesigns anyway and the marginal costs of building to bigger loading gauge on new lines isn’t all that high compared to the cost of conversion.

            One last thing re loco hauled vs EMU: you can’t have EMUs continue onto a non electrified line (e.g. Hamburg-Sylt where the catenary stops in Itzehoe) and having individual carriages coupled and decoupled to go to different destinations (as was done for night trains in the olden days) is more difficult…

          • michaelrjames

            I claim, milord, that use of broad gauge was perfectly consistent with the intent of the discussion TP & I were having: about width of trains, either implicitly or explicitly. Moreover it was TP who somewhat misused the term loading gauge, non? TP’s next comment discussed it more explicitly. The defence rests (and doesn’t want to hear anymore about it, or JM will send you to the dock for contempt of court for trolling).

            Re Europe etc, that may be true but (correct me if I’m wrong), with the peculiar exception of Eurostar (and that because of the Brits) most networks would prefer their HSR trains to be able to use the same platforms as their regular trains. Don’t those wider trains (Velaro, Shinkansen, Chinese versions thereof) require changes to existing platforms which would then have a gap with other trains? (Can Velaro e0320s use any track and any platform in Germany?) Isn’t it not so much cost as compatibility issues?

            Re EMUs, I am neutral on the issue. But I can understand why the French and Spanish stick with their different systems for which there are benefits as well as disadvantages. Most of the contrary arguments tend to highlight advantages of those trains that can’t actually run on most European (or US) networks. Oh, and I would be quite certain that most of the long-suffering British rail users would welcome a TGV duplex (without EMU!) because it would greatly relieve their congestion; and I understand that someone claims to have a new design to squeeze a duplex into the existing Brit loading gauge? The point being that it certainly couldn’t be one of these other trains including the arguably superior Velaro e320 …

            Re EMUs #2:

            One last thing re loco hauled vs EMU: you can’t have EMUs continue onto a non electrified line (e.g. Hamburg-Sylt where the catenary stops in Itzehoe) and having individual carriages coupled and decoupled to go to different destinations (as was done for night trains in the olden days) is more difficult…

            Got your point, but: 1. how much is this done in the real world, today? 2. a double-set TGV can be decoupled into its separate two trains easy peasy, non? (I don’t know if they do it, but both trains in the twinset don’t have to be the same length. One could imagine this would be workable for pushing further into provincial non-TGV lines as is a SNCF strategy?)

          • michaelrjames

            At the risk of seeming to troll, but following on from previous post: isn’t one of the advantages of the Jacob bogies (French or Spanish implementation) that the overall train can be lower (the floorpan is lower), and though modern tech can probably do it, at first this didn’t allow the motors for EMU? Likewise that it allows the French trains to be optimally duplex and to use existing tunnels etc, ie. without broaching legacy loading gauge?
            Or have I got this wrong?

          • Herbert

            TSI mandates (and Germany is mostly building) 400 m platforms for HSR. As one can see by being “outside the roof” in stations like Leipzig Hbf, those 400 m platforms were mostly retrofits anyway… If you’re retrofitting that, might as well build it to a bigger loading gauge to begin with…

          • Herbert

            Of course coupling and splitting by two or three parts is trivial with MUs. In fact it’s often done both with DB class 612 (diesel) and with Bombardier Talent 2 (electric) and even in high speed service there are 400 m trains that consist of two 200 m trains going together for much of the way and later separately…

            But you can’t split an EMU five different ways. Or couple the Paris-Pyongyang car onto the Irkutsk Pyongyang train after it had been coupled to the Moscow Paris and the Moscow Irkutsk train…

          • michaelrjames


            even in high speed service there are 400 m trains that consist of two 200 m trains going together for much of the way and later separately…

            Isn’t that what I said? 400m TGV trains -> 2x200m.

            The Moscow-Irkutsk-Beijing train does something much more elaborate than decoupling a few carriages. It lifts the entire train off the bogies and swaps to the different track gauge bogies. I was locked inside the train when they did it (somewhere on the Chinese-Mongolian border). They shoulda gone with Talgos:-)

          • Alon Levy

            The FLIRT (with articulated bogies) and KISS (with standard ones) both have level boarding to 550 mm. And no, Spain is not purely sticking with power cars, a big chunk of recent AVE sets are Velaros.

          • Herbert

            How many different types of train operate AVE services in Spain?

            To me it seems they have much more diversity in that regard than the ICE or TGV fleet…

          • Mikel

            @Alon: yep, for what it’s worth Renfe specifically chose the Velaro for the nonstop Madrid-Barcelona services, thanks to its high capacity and acceleration (at the time they were the only trainset capable of doing the trip in 2h30′). However Renfe is currently betting big on the Talgo system: they have placed an order for 30 AVRIL trainsets, there’s an open tender to build power cars for currently loco-hauled Talgos, and they also chose the Talgo 350 for their HSR operations in Saudi Arabia.

            @Herbert: specifically AVE, there are basically 3 models: the S-100/S-100F (modified TGV Atlantique), the S-102/S-112 (Talgo 350) and the S-103 (Velaro). But for all HSR services, there’s indeed an insane variety of rolling stock. Quoting myself from a previous discussion:

            There are currently TWELVE* different classes of trains running on the high-speed network, from four different manufacturers and each with different limitations.
            *Those are classes 100/100F/102/103/112 (fixed gauge intercity, the 100F can also run in France), 104/114 (fixed gauge regional), 120/120.05/130/730 (variable gauge intercity, the 730 can also run in diesel mode), and 121 (variable gauge regional). Crazy.

            As far as I know the TGV fleet also has many models, but they are more similar to each other because they’re all Alstom-built.

  2. Hugh B

    Would it be feasible (politically and technically) to ask Darien to pay to tunnel the Noroton Heights? Also, are there any examples of this happening and how much would this tunnel (I think about a mile bored under a not-very-dense, but wealthy area) cost?

    • adirondacker12800

      You don’t have to tear down things in Fairfield County if the high speed trains go through Nassau County. Where there is nice straight ROW owned by the government in one form or another. And serves twice as many people. And it gives Wall Street high speed service when Wall Street gets commuter service in 2237.

          • jcranmer

            The Chesapeake Bay is quite shallow–even at the outlet where it’s located, it’s largely ~25 feet deep (it’s only where you hit the flooded Susquehanna basin that it’s really deep). Long Island Sound is rather deeper, with the bulk of the shores being closer to 60 feet deep and the central basin routine running well in excess of 100 feet deep.

          • adirondacker12800

            and they went and built bridges across it anyway, in queens. it doesn’t have to be in a tunnel

          • adirondacker12800

            and if for some reason you want 200 foot post Panamax clearances for container ports that are never going to be built in Cos Cob there can be one in the middle so they can get there. It doesn’t have be in a tunnel. Not having to drive to Whitestone to get from Oyster Bay to New Haven would be worth a high toll, it could be rail and road.

          • jcranmer

            Look at actual bathymetry maps: https://maps.ngdc.noaa.gov/viewers/bathymetry/. Where you have to cross the Long Island Sound to bypass Fairfield County is a broad, not-shallow sound. Comparing to both the Chesapeake and San Francisco Bay, it’s clearly deeper than both, although the west span of the Oakland Bay Bridge is getting close to the depth.

            The Whitestone and Throgs Neck Bridges are short suspension bridges crossing the East River, and are not indicative of the feasibility of building a long, deep viaduct.

          • adirondacker12800

            165 feet/50 meters isn’t particularly deep. Is it cheaper than burrowing under Fairfeild county where there are far less people than there are in Queens? There are almost as many people in Queens as there are in all of Connecticut. Or in Brooklyn. Or in Nassau and Suffolk combined.

          • adirondacker12800

            It’s in the realm of possibility. If you think tearing down wide swaths of Fairfield county is possible or building elevated anything over the historic significance within sight of the parking lot of Walmart on Ye Olde Boston Post Road is going to happen I want your dealer’s number, he’d got good shit.

          • SB

            And NIMBYs on both sides of Long Island Sound won’t cause an uproar over a bridge?
            A Bridge (or tunnel) over Long Island Sound will require construction in land and not just over water.
            Avoiding one group of NIMBYs to go against even more NIMBYs isn’t the solution.
            (And don’t bring up how useful hypothetical bridge will be, NIMBYs don’t care about that)

          • adirondacker12800

            The government owns the straight ROW on Long Island. East of Jamaica any way. It’s bit curvy west of there but everything will be stopping in Manhattan anyway and it matters less. it might have to be all sunk into a trench but the government already owns it. Did I mention it’s straight and the government already owns it?

          • Onux

            It is in no way near the realm of possibility. The Hangzhou bridge is comparible: ~35.6km, mostly viaduct, over an ocean estuary. Cost is given as $1.5B, which would be $940M for 22.37 km from Old Field to Bridgeport. The main bridge portion of the Hong Kong-Macau link is given as $7.56B for 29.6km, or $5.7B. The Chesapeake Bridge added 19km for $197M in 1999, or $230M, but this is not comparable because max clearance is 75′ (see below). The median sale price in Darien is $1.5M. This means you would need to take between 600 and 3,800 homes to equal a bridge, far more than necessary.

            But the cost is not just the cost of the bridge. You have to upgrade ~41+mi of track to 300kph (new switches, cant, Class 9 track), plus 25kV catenary and electrical infrastructure, plus build ~11 mi of new track to get to the crossing. Since you don’t give a route I assume Main Line to Deer Park, new track to Smithtown, Pt. Jefferson Branch to Stony Point, to the coast at Old Field. At $30M/km for new build and $5M/km for upgrade/electrification (more if you factor US cost escalation) this adds $0.86B at least. Plus there are 30 something grade crossings on those parts of the Main Line and tPort Jefferson Br., with Herricks Road built in 1999 for $85M add another $2.5B.

            But there’s more. In Bridgeport tracks are 1/2mi to the water across parking lots, but the LI coast is developed. That means your new route to the coast (plus from the Main Line to Pt. Jeff. Br.) will require hundreds if not thousands of takings for the ROW. Home prices in Old Field are ~1M, in Smithtown $500k. Less than Darien? Yes, but new ROW takes far more than 2-3x as many houses as a curve straightening.

            Hence the fatal flaw in a LI bypass. You are not trading X dollars in takings for Y dollars of bridge, you are adding $3.5B to $10B in bridge and track cost to the cost of takings, because takings are still required on LI. In fact the cost of takings there is probably more than the cost in CT.

            Going farther out LI doesn’t help. You can get a shorter crossing Greenpoint-Old Saybrook, but what you save on a bridge you more than lose upgrading 95mi of the Mainline to 300kph (half of which past Ronkonkoma is single tracked, so taking it to HSR will be closer to new build cost, it is also not as straight). With 118 grade crossings on the Main Line, upgrading just half of them (closing the other half) will be around $5B alone.

            Other issues:

            The lack of naval bases does not mean you can get away with a viaduct. The naval base drove the Chesapeake Bridge to have *tunnels* so a collapsed bridge couldn’t block the shipping channels. LI Sound is an active seaway so there is no way anyone (Coast Guard, Maritime Admin./DoT, etc.) will let you build a bridge without at least one way under it at least the clearance of the East River bridges (135′) and probably more, with a couple of other bridges for recreational boating as well. This means longer span cable stayed portions or similar, at cost similar to the Chinese examples, not the Chesapeake expansion example. Since average sailboats have masts of 25’+, a simple viaduct will block free sailing across the heart of LI Sound, earning you the ire of not just a few Fairfield County residents, but every boat owning resident in Fairfield County, New Haven County, Nassau County, etc. The NIMBY solution, giving 60′-90′ (or more) of clearance to the whole bridge, would drive up cost more.

            What’s more, you are probably not serving twice as many people. Bypassing Fairfield and Weschester counties skips 1.9M. For a LI bypass you shouldn’t count Brooklyn, which is closer to Penn Sta. than any LI station, or Queens, where again most residents are already closer to Penn. Nassau/Suffolk have 2.8M, less than 50% more than Fairfield/Westchester, but many of them live 40mi (or more) from any future intercity station. LI is so big you do not serve its entire population with a line somewhere on the island. In Fairfield/Westchester the population is densest along the NEC and the served population is similar or close to what would be served on LI.

            Incidentally, I think intercity service on LI to Ronkonkoma as a branch of the NEC is a good idea. There are still millions of people to access. If LI Sound were a lake, then yes bring HSR to Boston that way. But you can’t ignore geography, and HSR to Bos via LI is a non-starter when just the LI portion would equal or exceed the cost of the entire NY-Bos route.

          • adirondacker12800

            Current LIRR to Floral Park-ish out what is now called the Hempstead Branch and the former ROW to Farmingdale to Yaphank, through Brookhaven Labs to the straight parts of the parkway to where the abandoned nuclear reactor is and across the Sound to New Haven. 100 houses in Darien fixes 100 houses worth. Ya got the rest of it fix too. Not cheap or easy because ya ain’t building elevated nothing in Fairfield county unless perhaps it’s hugging the Turnpike and maybe not even then. Which is why Amtrak wants to build a tunnel to North White Plains. Deep bored tunnels through Westchester cost more than cut and cover-ish under the LIRR. You get rebuilding all the inadequate grade separations out of the deal. Work it hard, re-imagining the LIRR and giving Suffolk super express service to Jamaica. Change for Grand Central or Wall Street with one or no-stops. Every four minutes to Wall Street means you could finagle two intercity trains to Wall Street.

          • adirondacker12800

            The people in Westchester and Fairfield can use the Kodama that will still be using the existing New Haven line. Though most people in Westchester aren’t on the New Haven line.
            Atlantic Avenue is in Brooklyn which is closer to most of Brooklyn than Penn Station. Some people in Brooklyn might still want to go to Penn Station. Or perhaps Jamaica if they are in East New York. But then since it will all be the same loading gauge etc. if there is demand an hourly Kodama could stop in East New York.

          • Onux

            So your route uses a former ROW part of which is not contiguous (cut by Eisenhower Park) and the rest of which is occupied by a high voltage transmission line. Setting aside the cost of buying out part of the the park and the utility, and moving the high voltage line (any takings necessary to relocate it?), and the objections to putting HSR through a park (“the government already owns it” conveniently leaves out which government), this route involves 25km of upgrades to the track from Sunnyside to Garden City, about 30km of greenfield HSR (included the former ROW), 50 km of near greenfield from Ronkonkoma to Yaphank (currently single track and only good for 45(!)mph), and 32 grade crossings.

            At the (very generous) figures of $5M/km to electrify/speed up, $15M/km to take single track Class 3 to double track Class 9, $30M/km greenfield and $85M/grade crossing, this is ~$4.5B. You then get to build the fifth longest bridge over water in the world (third longest over ocean) at a cost of $1B to $6B (at least, comparable bridges are road bridges with no 25kV overhead). You then have to to build another km of new track to reach the existing line (I assume you are landing at the yards east of City Point to avoid takings in West Haven). You then get to spend the majority of Alon’s $7-8B cost building the new route from New Haven to Kingston to get HSR speed to Boston.

            I commend you on finding a route that does not involve major takings on Long Island, but doing so by doubling the length (and cost) of the bridge is backwards to your argument since cost per unit of bridge is more expensive than the cost per unit of takings and curve realignments. There is no possible way that Alon’s suggested route through Fairfield County could cost more than $6B-$10B, or even one tenth that much. And these are low cost estimates for your route, it could be that the cost to build HSR east of Ronkonkoma is the same as greenfield cost, given that the existing infrastructure is essentially useless (45mph track, zero grade separation, etc.) Plus, although it is not clear from your comment, if you are suggesting any underground track (“cut and coverish under the LIRR”) then the cost balloons accordingly, and the the LI route is far more expensive.

            More plainly, absolutely nowhere is it considered cost effective to build a bridge at the absolutely widest crossing point, since bridges are more expensive than anything on land but tunnels. Well, anywhere except for NY and the Tappan Zee bridge over the Hudson, so maybe you’re on the right track for the location.

          • adirondacker12800

            You don’t to “buy” the park. New York State owns it and while I’m sure some bookkeeping will occur it’s bookkeeping entries. It’s unclear who owns LIPA but trading a high voltage transmission tower corridor for one underground isn’t going to have much opposition. Put a thin layer of biking and walking trail on top of the whole mess. When I’m in the mood I’ll go see if the constitutional amendment that exempts transportation from some park regulations is just inside Adirondack State Park or statewide. The DOT wants some parkland, DOT gets it.

          • Onux

            Actually, Nassau County has owned the park ever since the Salisbury Country Club defaulted on their taxes during the Depression. Even if you get them to provide the ROW or easement for free, you will get opposition from people in the community who use the park to a brand new 300kph rail line right through it. Probably more opposition than to changes to the existing NEC alignment from the comparatively people who would have takings or live right by it.

            You may not have opposition to burying the high voltage lines, but you will have cost, 5x the cost of overhead installation.

            In any event, I showed how building 140 km of effectively new intercity high speed route over land and water would be far more expensive than any of the new construction needed for the existing line in CT, even accounting for opposition. Even if costs for the park and power lines are not high, they are still adding to an already bad economic case, not making a bad case good.

          • adirondacker12800

            You showed you were innumerate when you couldn’t figure out that 7,869,820, the population of the four counties on Long Island isn’t more than twice 1,910,838 people in Westchester and Fairfield. Most of them in Westchester won’t be using something along the New Haven line. Or figure out that someplace in Brooklyn is closer to other places in Brooklyn in most cases compared to places in Manhattan. Amtrak looked at Long Island and the New Haven as alternatives and comes up with a tunnel all the way to North White Plains. Somebody is looking at things differently.

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            First off, speeding up track through Fairfield county and is far from impossible. It’s absurd to say building a bridge from Long Island to New Haven would be more politically difficult than knocking down a few hundred homes in Southwest Connecticut. Second, including Brooklyn and Queens in the figures for a Long Island stop is disingenuous because for all but a small handful in Eastern Queens, boarding the train in Manhattan is easier. Third, the vast majority of traffic out of NY will be heading south and west which makes a crossing of the Long Island Sound just to serve trips from Boston to Nassau and Suffolk Counties even more ridiculous. Fourth, just because Amtrak is incompetent and proposed a tunnel from Bronx to White Plains doesn’t mean that’s the only option that will ever be considered for HSR north of NYC. It just isn’t a good idea.

          • adirondacker12800

            Most of Brooklyn passes through Atlantic Avenue to get to Manhattan

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            So now you want to trade serving Midtown with HSR to serve Wall Street and therefore Atlantic Avenue? Even if cutting 10 minutes on the subway off the trip of every person in Brooklyn and Queens is worthwhile, you could just serve them at Sunnyside Yards–which would be silly given the proximity to Midtown, but still… I assumed with your proposal, trains would go Newark-NY Penn-Jamaica-Nassau County-New Haven instead of Newark-NY Penn-New Rochelle-New Haven. What are you even suggesting? And besides, most of Queens and Brooklyn is closer to NY Penn than Jamaica, so that still wouldn’t be a good idea.

          • adirondacker12800

            They are all the same loading gauge and platform height etc They send two trains an hour to Wall Street instead of Penn Station. Though Wall Street is a bigger business destination than any thing not Midtown and two trains may not be enough. And one of them an hour at East New York just like one of them an hour or perhaps every other hour can toddle along the old Shore Line. Or go to Hartford instead of Providence. It’s a pity all of you seem to have a problem with conceiving of something that has more than one line. One of them an hour can go to Philadelphia via West Trenton instead of Trenton and sending a differnent one once an hour to Harrisburg via Trenton without stopping in Philadelphia would probably make your brains melt.

  3. Benjamin Turon

    Interesting post, yup, eliminating slower running saves more time than even faster running on the fastest bits of track. The wide spread of High Speed Rail to “developing nations” and between “medium size cities” shows the true folly of American vision, planning, design, and execution. The NEC is a farce in terms of the improvements made to date, compare to its potential.

    Be curious on what changes could reduce costs of HS2 in Britain without sacrificing quality, for example the approaches to Euston Station, or a other London terminus. How effective would using a modern tilting Shinkansen trainset be on reaching Scotland on the WCML segment beyond (as currently planned) the new tracks of HS2? I have read in ‘Modern Railways’ that using non-tilting trainsets would result in longer travel times to Scotland for some city pairs, even with super high-speed running on parts of HS2. And, what about the plans for HS3?

    • Herbert

      Are there capacity issues beyond the northern end of HS2?

      I’ve heard a big reason to build HS2 – much like most German hsr – is capacity

      • fjod

        Yes, the section from Northallerton to Newcastle is in significant need of more capacity (as well as speed, due to the curves between Darlington and Durham). The area around Edinburgh is also at capacity.

    • Washington

      A big part of the cost of HS2 is a significant expansion to Euston, tunneled urban approach to London, new Birmingham Station, etc. When your existing urban rail approaches are full costs go up very quickly.

      Compare HS1/2 to LGV Est for example. Limiting new line construction to ~20km from Paris and Strasbourg has huge cost benefits but isn’t always possible.

      • Alon Levy

        It’s 100% possible in Britain, but that would require learning from Japan how fast trains can turn at a constrained terminal. However, as we’re amply seeing now, euros do not like learning from Asians.

        • Tonami Playman

          China also hasn’t learned from Japan in building HSR stations. China still builds oversized stations with umpteen platforms yet none of it’s lines is at Passenger km density of Tokaido Shinkansen.

          At least they copied the fixed metro-like pricing policy instead of the airline inspired demand management pricing policy prevalent in Europe.

          • Herbert

            It’s easier to build a big station now than to add platforms to one that’s too small later on…

          • yuuka

            The answer to that is probably two things:

            1) Chinese local governments love their vanity megaprojects, HSR stations count as such in a big enough city.

            2) Because Winnie the Pooh doesn’t want people going around starting revolutions, China Railways boarding and platform access practices are similar to airlines, with identity checks and all at the “boarding gate” before you approach the platform. This means they probably struggle to keep boarding times down, unlike in Japan where all passengers can be on the platform waiting for the train, instead of the opposite.

        • First Class Duck (@FirstClassDuck)

          *Japan how fast trains can turn at a constrained terminal*

          I remember seeing that PDF by JR East showing how they throw labour at trying to clean the train as quickly as possible for a fast turn around. The West would argue that paying labour to clean the train quickly for that fast turn around is a waste. They would also argue that Western workers would never work so diligently, and the few that would are immigrants…

          • Alon Levy

            Japanese workers weren’t that diligent until the mid-2000s, either. JR East had to do a shakeup, transfer a safety division manager to run the train cleaning program, and reboot the cleaning operations in a no-idea-is-stupid mode to get to the 7-minute miracle. But yes, the fact that the managerial class in the Anglosphere (and probably also Continental Europe) thinks the workers are all lazy makes it hard to actually invest in the workers to ensure they’re more productive.

          • Herbert

            Ironically enough the richest Germans (until their death) got rich by assuming the opposite. The Albrecht brothers could never have achieved their wealth without the high productivity of their workers…

          • yuuka

            JR East had no choice but to do that.

            The initial plan was to have the Tohoku and Joetsu Shinkansen lines only intersect instead of merging at Omiya, with the Joetsu Shinkansen getting its own underground terminal at Shinjuku. NIMBYs along the proposed route put paid to that and thus forced then-JNR to share the Tohoku Shinkansen tracks down to Tokyo, and at that time I believe there were only 2 northbound shinkansen platforms there.

            With the opening of more Shinkansen lines, JR East needed more terminal capacity and thus converted 2 of the narrow-gauge platforms to shinkansen platforms. There are today only 4 left for the commuter Ueno-Tokyo Line trains, and converting any more means that the commuter line capacity will suffer.

            If they can gather the political support and funding to build out the Joetsu Shinkansen to Shinjuku (the provisions are still there), they would probably prefer to do it. Though even that would be up in the air with depopulation and thus reduction in demand for Shinkansen service.

            For what it is worth, the Tokyo-Omiya stretch of shinkansen is also limited to 130kph or so because of NIMBYs and noise issues. (along with Tokyo-Shinyokohama on the Tokaido Shinkansen)

      • Car(e)-Free LA

        It isn’t even a good plan. They would be better off either terminating at Paddington or running all trains through onto HS1 with either a new station in Camden or stopping only at Old Oak Common and Stratford International. A massive new high speed rail terminus less than a kilometer from another high speed terminus is just absurd.

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            Yep. In my fantasies, I’d tear down the Barbican and tunnel a London Bridge-Kings Cross Mainline and a Stratford-Paddington mainline intersecting there, although it would obviously be ruinously expensive and probably not worth it, especially since services into Paddington, Marylebone, Euston, St Pancras, Kings Cross, and Liverpool Street could be consolidated with something up in Camden pretty easily for billions less, leaving Victoria, Waterloo, and Charing Cross/London Bridge stranded. Although perhaps getting rid of the Barbican makes it all worth it?

          • adirondacker12800

            Tearing down Grade II listed buildings is difficult.

          • Herbert

            Tearing down a performance venue to build a railway station…

            Known among aficionados as the “Reverse Penn”…

        • fjod

          Terminating at Paddington: it’s the worst located of the London termini but is well-connected to the others via the Tube (although these connections are quite slow). I think with the combination of Crossrail and speeding up turning times as Alon mentioned, you have the platform capacity to terminate HS2 there. The unfortunate thing is that the platforms’ lengths are constrained by the abrupt westwards turn at the northern end of the station, limiting trains to 10 carriages on most platforms, which is highly undesirable considering the foreseen demand levels.

          Stopping at OOC and Stratford only: bad idea. Even discounting security theatre, there’s a demand mismatch between the northbound routes and the ones to continental Europe; you’d have to start/terminate most northbound trains in London anyway. Better to terminate them somewhere people actually want to go than Stratford or OOC, the latter of which is a complete wasteland and only useful for connections.

          London Hbf: iirc there was talk in the mid-2000s of something like this (I think it was referred to as a ‘superstation’) at King’s Cross St Pancras, which is clearly the best location as it’s well-connected by Tube, and has connections to some of the poorly connected areas which would really benefit from a Hauptbahnhof: South London and Sussex (via Thameslink), and Kent (slash Stratford and points east) via Southeastern high-speed. The only missing connection is to points west of London (trains terminating at Paddington and Waterloo), while connections to East Anglia are meh (but not awful). But in a city the size of London, I’m not sure you can make every connection without having a station that is too unwieldy to be of actual use to passengers. Infuriatingly, the land that this putative station could’ve been built on was developed with high-value offices about 10 years ago.

          London Barbican Hbf: you already have a London Bridge to King’s Cross mainline (Thameslink) so that’s a start. But the east-west tunnel is a 13km 4-or-6-track mainline under some of the most obstacle-filled underground terrain on the planet; I can’t imagine you can find a good route to bore it let alone the money to spend on it. If you’d propose through-running, there’s a demand mismatch to contend with between services to the south, which are predominantly urban and regional rail, and services northwards, which skew more towards intercity rail. This poses a number of obvious rolling stock and timetabling issues.

          • Herbert

            Even if Brexit proves to be more far reaching and permanent than initially assumed, it’d be dumb for England to build major hsr stations that violate European TSI more than necessary. One of the TSI specifications is that major stations need 400 m platforms. So sooner or later European railroads will optimize their high speed rolling stock to that length. Having 390 meter platforms will most likely require expensive bespoke stuff like the pre HS1 Eurostars…

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            Re Barbican Hbf: I have no idea if it’s worth it, given it would cost tens of billions, but it would be definitely possible to get the tunnels in and through run everything. This of course assumes all regional rail across Metropolitan London gets the Crossrail treatment in the first place, leaving only intercity services in termini stations. The core infrastructure would be the station itself, fitting into the Barbican complex in a cross shape. It would need 4 intercity east-west platforms, 4 intercity north-south platforms, and 3 high speed east-west platforms. From the south, you’d need a 2 track tunnel running 2.6 km from Waterloo and a 2 track tunnel running 2.1 km from London Bridge. From the north, you’d need a 4 track tunnel running 3.6 km from Drayton Park. From the east, you’d need a 4 track tunnel running 0.8 km from Liverpool street. From the west, you’d need a 4 track tunnel running 3.2 km from Euston. Finally, for the HSR alignment, you’d need 6.2 km of tunnel from Stratford International and 6.4 km of tunnel from Paddington.

            The core tunneling would have to look like this: https://postimg.cc/WdS14VnR

            To get the service patterns to work out, you’d need an easy 2 track, 9.8 km connection from Potters Bar to St. Albans and a bit of work cleaning up Willesden Junction. This allows you to through run services from the Midlands Mainline to the Southwestern Mainline, from the East Coast Mainline to the South Coast, from the West Coast and Chiltern Mainlines to the Great Eastern and West Anglia Mainlines, and from the Great Western Mainline through to Ebbsfleet and Kent.

            Service patterns would look something like this: https://postimg.cc/zbhNTYnG

            If a London hbf with through-running services is to ever occur, I do think this would be the best option even if it requires 11.4 km more tunneling than bringing all services to Kings Cross/St Pancras given the optimal location in the City.

          • Herbert

            Notably Berlin Hbf. Is well located, but not perfectly. When it was still “Lehrter Bahnhof” in the nineteenth century, newspapers even noted the absence of residents in the vicinity who could use the station as the closest neighbor was a prison…

          • fjod

            This is an interesting plan and costs aside could mostly work, though the motivation for locating it at the poorly-connected Barbican is still lacking I think. Most people riding medium-distance trains (or short-distance or intercity, for that matter) into London are not City commuters, it’s worth noting – so their range of destinations within London is very wide. That’s why optimising the location for connectivity trumps optimising it for final destination. Central London is huge, just like ‘central’ Berlin, so most people are going to need to transfer and doing so at the (poorly-connected) Barbican is very hard. As an aside, I’m not sure if you’ve visited it; the Barbican is a very pleasant place to be unlike some of its Brutalist siblings.

            My main sticking point is that the “all regional rail across Metropolitan London gets the Crossrail treatment” is quite a big a priori, purely due to how much rail into London falls outside your proposed ‘intercity’ network. For example, non-intercity rail into Waterloo alone will need 2 to 3 separate Crossrails (34 non-intercity trains per hour, plus induced demand from Crossrail-ification). At that point, the ground under central London starts getting too full to put a reasonable mainline rail alignment, especially a four-track one. Perhaps London is just too big for a comprehensive Hauptbahnhof.

            Furthermore, there’s quite a wide variation in the frequency and type of intercity services into different London terminals; I hinted at this above with ‘demand mismatch’. The biggest issue is the trains into Paddington, 8 of which are higher-speed intercity services to Wales and western England; these are long, infrequently-stopping trains that many passengers stay on for 2 hours or more. By your plan, it seems there are 13 hourly intercity trains into Paddington that wouldn’t be Crossrailed (the 8 I mentioned, plus 5 shorter ones to Newbury and Oxford). Through-running them with the five glorified commuter/regional services on the high-speed line out of St Pancras (with end-to-end journeys of around an hour) poses three big issues: firstly that these different kinds of trip warrant different kinds of train (food provision, end vs middle doors, power supply etc.), secondly that squeezing this many delay-prone, slow-egress intercity trains alongside regional rail type services onto one track/platform is very tough to do reliably, and thirdly (and most importantly) the fact that there just isn’t enough stuff in Kent to run trains to. Similar issues arise from through-running fast northbound Lincoln/York/Hull services with southbound Brighton/Hastings services.

          • Herbert

            You don’t have to Throughrun to Kent alone if you can get Transmanche metro off the ground…

          • fjod

            That doesn’t actually solve the problem though. In fact it makes it worse – it means fewer routes to Kent and thus more demand mismatch.

          • Herbert

            Why would there be fewer routes to Kent? You could put routes that stop in Kent into the tunnel and onto the continent…

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            Thanks for your response. A few thoughts:

            I think Barbican is the best location for a few reasons. First, it’s pretty hard to find a parcel of land in Central London big enough to put a hbf station. The only options are Barbican, Kings Cross/St. Pancras, or something in Tower Hamlets or south of the Thames. The issue with King Cross/St. Pancras is that you’d have to tear down the whole project and build something underground, forcing you to relocate all rail services for years. Moreover, taking into account the aforementioned “crossrailization” of London’s regional rail, Barbican would be much better connected than Kings Cross/St. Pancras, even with Crossrail 2 and Thameslink.

            Regarding your sticking point about the difficulty of cross-London regional rail and the consequences this would impose on underground intercity mainlines, I think this is again much less complicated thank one might initially expect. First off, you have to define what should use these services. I think broadly, the area from Basingstoke to Letchworth Garden City to Southend to Crawley makes the most sense. It’s important to remember however, that we have to exclude much of Greater London itself from these services to maintain services competitive with the regional trains that skip stops between Central London and the M-25. This is Crossrail’s problem: trying to serve every station from Acton to Reading when other trains do this nonstop. National rail routes inside Greater London, particularly in South London are fundamentally different markets and should be replaced with Underground extensions or Overground services, rather than regional rail. Anyway, that aside, I think the area that should be served by regional rail (in blue) and the underground (in gold) is shown pretty well in this map: https://i.postimg.cc/fLgW3Jq9/London-Commuter.png

            With that established, you have to see where you can run the core lines under London. As it happens, a lot of them are already established, in planning, or under construction. You have Crossrail, Crossrail 2, Thameslink, the line from London Bridge to Charing Cross, and the spur from Drayton Park to Moorgate. If you connect Moorgate south to something, Charing Cross north to something, and get just one more core line into Central London, you should have enough capacity to through-run all of these suburban services. In the case of Moorgate, you just need a short tunnel over to Fenchurch Street which should be able to dive under the whole Bank Station complex without too much difficulty. In the case of Charing Cross, a new tunnel from Waterloo East to Tottenham Court Road, Baker Street, and Paddington should solve the problem nicely. For the new alignment, I’d take over the Shenfield branch of Crossrail 1 with a tunnel from Mile End-Whitechapel-Fenchurch Street-London Bridge-Southwark-Waterloo.

            With this core capacity established, you’re serving Barbican with Thameslink, Crossrail 1, Thameslink, and the Moorgate-Fenchurch Street regional lines. Anyhow, if this core infrastructure is built: https://postimg.cc/mt0sB5bp the bones for the regional system are clear. This system could be implemented fairly easily and provide exceptional cross-regional mobility: https://i.postimg.cc/6QBdrS3V/TFL-Regional-Rail.png (most stations are excluded for simplicity). Anyhow, with this, a London hbf, and some work on the National Rail services inside M-25, London’s terminus stations are completely emptied.

            Regarding the mismatch of demand, I think you’re forgetting a key component: High Speed 2. Once it’s built, nobody will use conventional intercity trains to get anywhere past Coventry or Peterborough. People going to places like Hull and Worcester, for example, would just take HS2 to Leeds or Birmingham, respectively, and transfer. This leaves you with these parings of destinations by line:
            1. Leicester/Corby/Kettering/Bedford to Portsmouth/Southampton/Salisbury/Bournemouth/Exeter
            2. Boston/Peterborough/Cambridge/Norwich to Bognor Regis/Brighton/Hastings/Ashford
            3. Coventry/Banbury/Northampton/Milton Keynes to Cambridge/Colchester/Ipswich/Norwich
            4. Oxford/Bristol/Swindon/Cardiff to Ashford/Canterbury/Dover.

            All except #4 are pretty balanced and demand similar mixes of trains. This means you might have to turn some Cardiff/Bristol trains at Ebbsfleet but on the whole, I think it works out as well as one could hope.

            @Hebert. This could make a lot of sense. You could drop serving Ashford and Calais with Eurostar services and run all trains nonstop from Ebbsfleet-Lille while running some conventional intercity trains from Ashford on to Calais and clearing customs there. Not sure that would mitigate the entire mismatch, but it could definitely help.

          • adirondacker12800

            First, it’s pretty hard to find a parcel of land in Central London big enough to put a hbf station.

            The garden at the Palace is big one. And you wouldn’t have to take down any Grade II listed skyscrapers to use that.

          • michaelrjames

            That’s silly … but maybe not totally silly!
            My republican sympathies have always led me to various schemes returning some of that incredible London real-estate back to the people. Some London local councils* have forced some large private land to be opened to the public during this lockdown. The thing is that I’m not sure any of the royals have much affection for Buck House. Charlie always preferred where he lives now, Clarence House (just down the road a bit, between Green Park, The Mall and St James’ Park–I wouldn’t mind its location myself, and I hate London!) which is where the Queen Mother resided. So maybe a grand scheme–the grander the better–for repurposing Buck House to some people’s house might even appeal to him (after mummy’s demise). The way Marie de Medici’s Luxembourg palace was turned into the Senate and fabulous Jardin for the people. Keep the palace as the main station (and shopping mall of course) and the gardens above the (underground) platforms –come to think of it, the whole thing could be comparable to Madrid Atocha, and quite fab.

            Trouble is that it isn’t really a good location for a Hbf? Though it could be linked to Victoria Station (and thus District, Circle & Victoria lines) by a ≈300m underground travellator (the kind of thing Alon loves) …

            Private schools’ land targeted for families without gardens
            Key adviser calls for government to requisition playing fields for daily exercise during lockdown
            Mark Townsend, 13 Apr 2020

            There are 130 independent private schools in Greater London alone and some have huge grounds, such as Harrow school, which has 300 acres – bigger than east London’s Victoria Park, which reopened on Saturday to large crowds and strict stewarding.

  4. Nilo

    Two questions. First, have you ever looked at the Philadelphia Harrisburg segment? Feels like the cost of speed up there must be even lower given the relatively easy geography and not a whole of hell lot between the two besides Lancaster.

    Second, does it matter whether the fast tracks continue to be on the inside or should they be on the outside? Clem has argued pretty strongly that Caltrain should be FSSF and I’m wondering if you think the same for the NEC?

      • Nilo

        I thought about engaging in the fun exercise of what Amtrak stations would have to be rebuilt for this, (I figured to first order most of the commuter ones outside MetroNorth territory would be), but then I realized what’s the point. Let us pretend we take what Alon writes here seriously for a minute, and that the savings he projects are really achievable. So instead of 290 billion dollars being lit on fire it costs 10 billion. Now let us pretend all current stations are optimal for Amtrak service (this is false because there are still like three low track stations and Amtrak stops at stations with only local platforms or one side and one island platform). We know from Philadelphia you can raise the platforms for SEPTA for around 10 million excluding parking. Let us say doing the whole switching from FSSF to SFFS costs extra because of land and other stuff and costs 20 million a station. This means Amtrak could rebuild all its own stations for 600 million, and could pitch in and do the commuter rail stations for a little over 2 billion. This is of course a high end estimate, first since we’re assuming every station is rebuilt even those that already have plenty of high level platforms, and second we doubled the cost of station rebuilds even at those stations that don’t necessarily require two island platforms.

        Of course maybe FSSF is worse for the NEC than SFFS or simply is too marginal a benefit. But it is not particularly expensive in Amtrak land.

    • Eric

      Seems to me the advantage of FSSF is that slow trains can reverse at the route end without crossing fast tracks.

      Is the projected train frequency high enough that this is a problem? I am guessing not.

      If the frequency is high enough – is switching to FSSF (rebuilding most of the stations along the route) less expensive than building a flyover at each reversal point? Also questionable.

      • Nilo

        He finds land impacts, infill stations, and freight service advantage SFFS. You can weigh those however you feel like, but those don’t seem to be particularly salient on the NEC, especially given how wide the ROW is at most points near stations.

        • Herbert

          For what it’s worth, where Nuremberg-Bamberg is four tracked, the fast tracks are on the outside.

          This is even a potential issue, because the “dead but not yet buried” local line (single track not electrified) from Erlangen-Bruck to Herzogenaurach would – if reactivated – put local trains on that outer track which would take a couple hundred meters at least until the next switch.

          This in addition to the line bypassing most population centers is cited as justification for shutting this line down completely and building http://www.stadtumlandbahn.de a streetcar instead…

    • Alon Levy

      1. Not really.

      2. There’s too much SFFS infrastructure on the NEC. The advantage of FSSF is that it allows local trains to short-turn. This is an issue on the New Haven Line at Stamford, where this can be resolved with a flying junction, which HSR needs anyway; the flying junction costs money, but probably less than redoing every single station on the line for FSSF. Caltrain is different, because it’s two-track and low-platform, so starting from scratch the cost of four tracks with FSSF and SFFS is the same.

      • Herbert

        I’d assume unless there’s some path dependency, there’s really no good reason to prefer one over the other, is there?

      • ckrueger99

        One area to be considered is the NEC around Philadelphia-30th, from which we have SSFF in both directions before decaying into SFFS at 54th St to the south and just past Zoo to the north. It would make sense to extend that SSFF south to Crum Lynne before building center high-level platforms at all the stations and the same north to Holmesburg Jct or beyond, perhaps in combination with straightening the NEC around Frankford Jct.

  5. Hugh B

    Do you have a map with the NY-Boston alignment that you talk about in this article?

  6. FDW

    Alon, I’m currently in the process of trying to crayon a R-Bahn/S-Bahn in the Seattle area, using the ST3 proposals as a baseline, and looking to cut costs from that. I’ve been trying to use some of the takt principles that you’ve been talking about, like I’m trying to aim for about 1:00 between Everett-Tacoma. But do have any tips/strategies about what to aim for, based on what you’ve proposed for other regions?

    • Alon Levy

      Are Everett and Tacoma both good places for timed bus connections? On a regional train that presumably runs way more frequently than every half hour, you don’t reeeeeeally need to hit a multiple of the hour, unless it’s for onward connections. In Boston we’re proposing such connections to buses at key town centers like Lowell, Haverhill, Worcester, Framingham, and Brockton, but maybe the situation in Seattle is different, I don’t know.

      • FDW

        Yeah, they already host the biggest transit centers for miles around, though some connections would be rail-to-rail. My proposal is going to involve a Downtown alignment along the I-5 express lanes rather than a deep 5th Ave subway. The justification here is that I-5 is already going to be torn up sometime in the 10-15 years anyways for rebuilding, and it’s actually superior to the 5th Ave route in terms of acess to the surrounding areas. My presumption for service in this proposal is for about 20ish services per day for SEA-POR and SEA-VAN (Basically, baseline hourly plus extra trains that would add up to half-hourly in greater Seattle).

          • FDW

            I’m running on a budget, and it’s meant to be a first phase to upgraded. However, This crayon was the result of ideas that were being traded around over on Seattle Transit Blog. With the current situation, many of the projects that were apart of the Sound Transit 3 vote back in 2016 are in serious jeporady. Many of user were trying to string together ways to economize on the project. One user brought up the idea of using DMU’s on some sections, which led to my inspiration of just converting all of it to regional-rail.

            There’s also going to be local S-Bahn style service underlying it. For example, my map would have 8 tph off-peak between Seattle Union Station and Tacoma Dome Station. Of 2 would come from the extisting Sounder corridor, and 6 would come from the I-5 corridor, with 2 being intercity services, and the rest being locals.

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            If Seattle really wants to save money and deliver better service, they should just drop plans for LINK south of Federal Way and north of Lynnwood and get Sounder to RER-status, with the added bonus of a much better intercity corridor. An along this route, electrification is definitely worth the extra cost with all the other investment happening. West Seattle and Ballard are more important anyway.

          • FDW

            That’s exactly what I’m doing, except I’m not abandoning Lynwood-Everett, and SeaTac-Tacoma, but turning them into RER. This is especially for Lynwood-Everett, as Sounder North is on a garbage route. West Seattle Link is, and always been a political project that would be better as BRT (as Ross Bleakley as repeadedly argued over on STB). Yet, with the High Bridge in a pinch, there’s no good reason for me to criticize it now. With the ST3 process, I’ve continually been paranoid that Ballard was going to thrown under the bus, and the push by the Port to move the station farther away from Ballard has contributed majorly to that. With the cuts to coming to ST3, I feel that it finally maybe coming to pass. But I’m not forgetting Ballard or W. Seattle either. I’m trying to follow the letter of ST3, but not it’s spirit.

  7. michaelrjames

    Do you think this global shutdown, particularly of almost all air routes, will change the balance between air versus HSR, ie. the sentiment? The disaster for the airline industry is only just beginning and is going to go on for a long time, almost no matter what happens in the near future re the pandemic.

    Yesterday, Virgin Australia put itself into voluntary administration (like Chapter 11) and the main Australian ground support company says it is days away from doing the same (that may be a ploy to get aid because if it goes down, Qantas will also be unable to restart). Many of the world’s airlines hold big debts and most can only support them with their normal high cash flow. The average Debt-To-Equity Ratio of US airlines is 115.6 (1.5 is considered ok). Virgin Atlantic is in trouble too. Virgin Australia is a minnow but it holds $5bn debt with $1.8bn unsecured (which means this could help). Virgin Aust. is owned by 4 foreign companies each with about 20% each, Singapore Airlines, Etihad and two Chinese companies (Branson still owns 10% and about 8% is public shareholders). None of these are willing (or allowed to by their state owners) to help Virgin Aust. One of the Chinese companies is HNA Group which has stakes in 11 Chinese airlines and 7 foreign airlines but has a US$93bn debt mountain so it is in no shape to help anyone. Virgin is the only domestic competition to Qantas and these other international operators have interests in it for their onward domestic connections and also to weaken Qantas international ops.

    Of course I mean to put this in the Australian context where the Melbourne-Sydney air route is the third busiest in the world. Does it make strategic sense to be so dependent on one means of transport? The same can be said of the NEC and some other busy city-pairs throughout the US.

    • Alon Levy

      I don’t know. I saw a headline on Railway Gazette for a paywalled analysis suggesting that it would shift intercity travel away from air and toward HSR, but I haven’t delved into it.

      [The Northeast Corridor is dominated by cars. The top airline routes in the US are longer-distance than that, like NY-Miami or NY-LA; the only ones in the top 10 that are in HSR range are LA-SF and Boston-Washington.]

      • michaelrjames

        Even WordPress is mocking us! The bottom of the email window has “Thanks for flying with WordPress.com”.
        You should have a word (sic) with them.

        • Herbert

          New Zealand may be in the financial shape after this (they are one of a few countries which seem to be headed towards zero new cases) that they could afford a sweetheart deal from some highly tempest tossed hsr provider (China and France love doing such things, but others aren’t unthinkable) on the obvious corridor on the north island…

      • michaelrjames

        What should drop into my in-tray a few minutes ago:

        Unife and CER call for rail to be included in EU recovery plan
        David Briginshaw, Apr 21, 2020

        THE European Railway Industry Association (Unife) and the Community of European Railways and Infrastructure Managers (CER) call for rail to be included in the EU’s post-Covid-19 recovery plan.
        In an open letter to Mr Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president for the European Green Deal, EU transport commissioner Mrs Adina Vălean, EU cohesion and reforms commissioner Ms Elisa Ferreira and EU transport ministers, the two associations want policy actions to be geared towards rail to ensure that low-emission transport options are supported over less environmentally friendly modes.

        Of course that is Europe so no surprise. It’s the dumb Anglosphere I was talking about.

        • Herbert

          The EU has some limited cash resources and what amounts to crayon maps…

          What it should have is Eurobonds used to build a truly European hsr network…

          • Herbert

            Damn puritanical Germans and their association of debt (Schulden) with guilt (Schuld)….

      • michaelrjames

        Apparently the airline industry believes it will take a long time to recover operational normality. That is not considering the financial storm many will go thru due to their huge indebtedness. (There is panic over Virgin Australia because we only have two domestic airlines and are such a big country that we are very dependent on them. Remember Qantas grew from the Flying Doctor service in Queensland a state about 3 times the size of Texas.)
        By comparison trains are relatively simple logistically and whether city transit (which never shut down) or HSR, can restart pretty much overnight. Have a look at the boggling array of HSR trains marshalled to begin service the day the lockdown was released in Wuhan: (I count about 40 trains.)

        Aerial view of high-speed trains standing in line at Wuhan railway station, 7th April. Wuhan railway office estimates 55 thousands people will depart Wuhan by train on 8th April, and after tomorrow, the external traffic from Wuhan will restart step by step.

        • Herbert

          Ironically in the case of DB it was the union that wanted to reduce hsr frequencies while the management was adamant of keeping trains running for essential workers…

          • Herbert

            France even famously used a TGV to transport infected people from a region with full hospitals to one with emptier wards…

          • michaelrjames

            France even famously used a TGV to transport infected people from a region with full hospitals to one with emptier wards…

            Yes. If that was done by the SNCF management it was a brilliant bit of PR. It made it to primetime Oz tv news.
            In an earlier post (article) I suggested the French offer the service to the Brits to relieve their overburdened hospitals; could run direct to Hôpital Lariboisière (built to handle the plague) which abuts up against the Eurostar tracks at Gare du Nord.

    • SB

      Most likely that planes will fly in the future with new owners.
      Most likely that Oil price will be low in the near future.
      Building useful lines and improving service will increase rail modal share.

    • Tonami Playman

      The meat of the UBS report in Railway Gazette on shift from air to rail.

      The report found that consumers and governments were becoming ‘more climate aware’, with the Covid-19 outbreak revealing in industrialised countries ‘what clean air means’. Using data from the European Union, aviation represented about 2∙5% to 3% of global emissions, but around 15% of transport-related emissions, the authors said. In 2017, transport generated 4 483 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, with road transport responsible for 73% of greenhouse gas emissions, aviation generating 14%, maritime 13∙5% and rail about 0∙5%. Noting that most governments in developed countries had set targets for net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 or 2050, the authors ‘therefore expect an acceleration in the shift from planes to high speed rail in both Europe and China’.

      UBS analysts found that governments would ‘pursue the expansion of high speed rail’, with more than €100bn being invested in the European Union and more than 800bn yuan spent in China, generating ‘incremental demand for new equipment to boost speeds and density’. They estimated that there would be ‘revenue opportunities’ worth €40bn to €60bn in Spain, France, Germany and Italy over the next 10 years. This could slow global air traffic growth to 4∙6% a year over the 2018-28 period, they believed, although ‘every player is exposed in the air travel, rail and auto sectors’.

      Data from a UBS Evidence Lab survey of 1 000 people in four European countries and China suggested that leisure travellers would tolerate 5 to 6 h on a train and that business travellers in the EU would accept up to 4 h compared with a general consensus of 2 to 3 h . ‘In China, high speed rail has taken more travellers off the roads than away from airlines, although that could change’, UBS said. Service and frequency are key drivers of demand for longer train journeys, and ‘both can be improved when competition among operators is introduced’.

      The low cost airlines have had a good run for the last decade. I don’t know if governments would continue their policies of direct and indirect subsidies to the airline industry. Nonetheless, I always take what people say in surveys with a grain of salt. Europe and China have a huge opportunity with their existing HSR networks, the US and Australia has no alternative but to keep flying. Let’s see if Europeans will run back to the cheap airlines if they somehow find a way to keep offering bottom basement pricing.

      • Herbert

        An interesting question in many European countries will be the fate of airports beneath 5 million pax p.a. It’s hard to make consistent profits at that size in good times…

    • yuuka

      If they can get it done fast enough, it should be possible to sell HSR development as an economic rejuvenation and jobs creation program. Green New Deal, anyone?

      And once these HSR lines are up, the airlines are going to have to compete with them.

      • Luke

        I think the further loss of confidence of the American public about U.S. governance–justifiable though it circumstantially is–throws a bit of a wrench in that scenario. What it ought to do is rejuvinate the urge for GOOD governance, but instead it seems as liable to promote the desire for LESS goverrnance…because we all know how much we can trust the private sector to care about us….What a world.

          • Luke

            Ah, yes, but looking elsewhere would require admitting that we’re not the best country in the world (somehow still a soundly-held belief among many), admitting that not all countries that do things better are European, and realizing that you can learn things from anywhere, because nowhere is “too different”. America: a nation nominally founded on the notion of universal equality, determined to act in every way opposed to that possibility.

            I’d be thrilled to see us take the meager first step of redesigning and expanding municipal bus services to show people that public transit CAN work, as long as it’s designed to.

          • Herbert

            I never understood why of myriad mayors never once did they hire someone to explain them why city or country x does public transit better. I mean, mayors are among those who travel abroad or read books, right?

  8. Eric

    Offtopic here, but on-topic to your twitter:
    What do you think about running trains from Washington terminating at Hoboken? If the Hudson tunnels are capacity limited, and there is more NY-Washington than NY-Boston demand, this could be a way of adding more capacity to the corridor at a lower ticket price. Possibly even run by an “open access” operator rather than Amtrak.

    • adirondacker12800

      It’s great if you want to go to Hoboken or perhaps somewhere in New Jersey. But those pesky pesky locals are using PATH to capacity. And change from the NEC to the Hoboken tracks isn’t particularly fast. And clogs the NEC.

      • Eric

        Yes it’s great for going to New Jersey, but also to Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.

        PATH is only full at rush hour. Plenty of room for more passengers at other hours. And even at rush hours, it’s a short ride, people can squeeze a bit.

        • adirondacker12800

          Rush hours. It’s beyond “squeezing a bit” it’s “I hope I can get on the next train ” crowded. Wanna give running BMT/IND loading gauge trains on IRT lines a whirl next?

    • Alon Levy

      It causes more problems than it solves. Amtrak runs 4 peak tph into New York already – just lengthen the trains, use EMUs rather than power cars, get rid of the cafe car, and eliminate the Regional vs. Acela distinction (the Acela is at capacity, the Regional isn’t). Additional train paths that go to Hoboken have to interface with most long-range regional trains just the same, since a large majority of NJT traffic to Penn Station goes to Newark Penn anyway.

      • SB

        Regarding Regional vs. Acela distinction, regional makes more stops than Acela.
        So should all trains make the same stops?
        Or removing distinction is about the removing price difference?

      • adirondacker12800

        They need more cars to lengthen the trains. Empty seats on the noon time Regional aren’t very useful when you have 6 train loads of demand between 5 and 6 in the evening.

  9. adirondacker12800

    because then it’s harder for one holdout to demand unreasonable compensation or make political threats – the railroad can go around them and pay slightly more for an easier takings process.

    Eminent domain doesn’t work that way. You’d have to check with lawyers in each state and then figure out if it’s the Federal government which has different rules than the state and it’s localities. And environmental rules are environmental rules. For instance 125MPH/200KPH proposal for New York; from a few years ago, that suggested a new ROW through metro Albany in “wetlands”, they aren’t wetlands and they are host to an endangered species and building much of anything in the “pine bush” between Albany and Schenectady would be very difficult. It’s irreplaceable very rare inland pine barren.

  10. Pingback: Some Notes About Northeast Corridor High-Speed Rail | Pedestrian Observations
  11. bruce hain

    Hi, Alon, I was just here trying to find out about the Swiss practice of putting switches on curves of pretty substantial radius and speed like 450m and bigger. There is nothing anywhere. I will have to hover over Zurich in Google Earth and trace some and then measure them.. But in reading this I see we’re back to the Future NEC again. For Pawtucket (the facing reverse curves are 1500′ on center I think, result of a quick look.) yes, that segment is awful slow and you don’t wanna introduce property disputes, but it would be a fantastic passenger draw if you built a Seekonk R. tunnel, and just bypassed it. Then just turn it over to MBTA. There’s quite a few dormant and no longer existent station possibilities. Improve the neighborhood(s) and pick up the revenue. There’s a drawing of the tunnel alignment that works with or without my Connecticut Shortcut and nicely as to the given elevation constraints – brings you out on the long tangent through Athol, which could be pretty speedy given the will – under “NEC FUture? or Backwardation”, at rail-nyc-access.com – but their’s no node in the page to put someone right there, so I’ll spare you that. Best, Bruce

    • Alon Levy

      The standards say you should not have curved turnouts except in special circumstances, but constrained city stations are a special circumstance. Germany has tons of these at even lower radius, e.g. in Cologne IIRC. But it’s not universal and Finland has a handful nationwide.

      • Richard Mlynarik

        Not even really “exceptional”, the langauge used is generally “avoided when possible”.

        Transition spirals/ramps starting *within* a curved turnout are even allowed (Vertical curves are a bigger no-no, but still not outlawed.)

        The point is that it is competently-evaluated operational needs which determine whether the minor extra cost of non-standard turnouts are warranted — and even here simple curved turnouts are created by bending standard designs, which means many components are reused unchanged, with the major difference being custom placement of bearers on ties/sleepers. Prehistoric “rules” which outlaw free flow of train traffic can’t be primary.

        PS Just to even glance at this piece of shit USA-USA-USA unspeakable horror on the Caltrain line without derailing!
        (Also the insane-making noise, good god. Also, the fucked-up USA-USA-USA years-late budget-busted electrification stanchions. Arrrrrrrrrgggh.)

        To recover, first bleach your eyeballs, wait for the ringing in your ears to clear, and then contemplate

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