Streaming the Biden Infrastructure Plan

I streamed my thoughts about the Biden infrastructure plan, and unlike previous streams, I uploaded this to YouTube. I go into more details (and more tangents) on video, but, some key points:

  • Out of the nearly $600 billion in the current proposal that is to be spent on transportation, public transportation is only $190 billion: $80 billion for intercity rail, $85 billion for (other) public transit, $25 billion for zero-emissions buses. This 2:1 split between cars and transit is a change from the typical American 4:1, but in Germany it’s 55:42 and that’s with right-wing ministers of transport.
  • Some of the spending on the car bucket is about electric vehicles, including $100 billion in consumer subsidies, but that’s still car spending. People who don’t drive don’t qualify for these subsidies. It’s an attempt to create political consensus by still spending on roads and not just public transit while saying that it’s green, but encouraging people to buy more cars is not particularly green, and there’s no alternative to sticks like fuel taxes in addition to carrots.
  • The $25 billion for zero-emissions buses is likely to go to battery-electric buses, which are still in growing pains and don’t function well in winter. In California, in fact, trolleybuses are funded from the fixed infrastructure bucket alongside light rail and subways and are ineligible for the bucket of funding for zero-emissions buses. It is unknown whether in-motion charging qualifies for this bucket; it should, as superior technology that functions well even in places with harsh winters.
  • The $85 billion for public transit splits as $55 billion for state of good repair (SOGR) and only $30 billion for expansion (including $5 billion for accessibility). This is a terrible idea: SOGR is carte blanche for agencies that aim to avoid public embarrassment rather than provide useful service to spend money without having to promise anything to show for it, and Amtrak in particular cycles between deferring maintenance and then crying poverty when money becomes available. Federal money should go to expansion alone; a state or local agency that doesn’t set aside money for maintenance now isn’t going to do so in the future, and periodic infusions of SOGR money create moral hazard by encouraging maintenance deferral in good times.
  • The Amtrak money is a total waste; in particular, Amtrak wants $39 billion for the Northeast Corridor while having very little to show for it, preferring SOGR, climate resilience, and agency turf battles over the Gateway project over noticeable improvements in trip times, reliability, or capacity.
  • The expansion money is not by itself bad, and in fact should grow by $55 billion at the expense of SOGR, but I worry about cost control. I’m just not sure how to express it in Washington policy language, as opposed to agency-level language regarding in-house design, more flexible procurement, civil service independence, adoption of foreign best practice and not just domestic practices, keeping station footprints small, using cut-and-cover more, and so on.

You should go watch the whole thing, which has some on-screen links to the breakdowns above, but it’s a 1:45 video.

72 comments

  1. Martin

    Amtrak and NEC has many reasonable projects on the list like Baltimore tunnels. Getting new cars isn’t a bad way to spend money when many are over 40 years old.

    • jcranmer

      A replacement for the B&P Tunnel in Baltimore could be good. The scrope-creeped mixed freight/passenger tunnel that’s on the cards is not a good replacement.

    • Alon Levy

      It is a bad way to spend money when the Avelia Liberty costs double what it should.

      The Baltimore tunnels, likewise, have scope-crept from 2 tracks sized for passenger trains to 4 tracks sized for double-stacked freight with mechanical ventilation of diesel exhaust, on a line with 1 diesel train per day thanks to an already-existing parallel freight line. Costs have risen from $750 million in the late 2000s before the scope creep to $4 billion now. No thanks.

      • adirondacker12800

        The study to get the money for the initial study solicited suggestions from the freight companies, I seem to remember they suggested a much shorter cross harbor tunnel that would connect their yards on either side. More or less where the I-895 tunnel is. Where they will have plenty of land to rearrange non-coal freight as the market for coal collapses.
        Double stack freight is wonderful thing. It means you don’t have to widen I-95 or alternates at 30 million a lane mile. All the way to Boston.

        • john

          I was supportive of a 4-track tunnel–2 for dedicated passenger, 2 for freight to both accommodate double-stack trains (less truck VMT!) and reroute that parallel corridor so we can free up and rebuild the Howard St. tunnel for local transit; and the existing B&P tunnel could be refurbished, electrified, and repurposed for dedicated regional rail or even S-bahn (I think Gerald Neilly had a proposal a while back.)

          But I read that dEIS, written by parasite consultants whose cost-estimate included half-a-billion $$$ for a vague, completely undefined “Engineering and Design” category, and another half-billion for “Design & Engineering”, for basic tunnels and ventilation of standard design in a location with well-known & surveyed geology. And after defending the idea on here of a 4 track tunnel ($4b ridiculous, $2b not good but better than waiting another 20 years for cost-control battles to be fought and won), I skimmed it again and thought some more.

          Now? We still need a new passenger tunnel. We still need a double-stack freight tunnel that doesn’t go through downtown or inhabited neighborhoods. And in exchange we should get the Howard St and old B&P tunnels for local transit. But the project as currently proposed is probably not reformable with the people who developed and approved it still involved and likely to defend indefensible decisions that probably benefit them and theirs somehow. Kill it dead, push out-of-office/out-of-contract/out-of-current-job everyone involved (or wait for their term to end, or bypass them), and restart with all-new people making the decisions. There’re operational ways, I’m sure, to increase throughput in the existing tunnels and maintain/shore them up in the meantime. And I’m leaning toward the cross-harbor option for the freight tunnel, with public ownership/control and freights paying user fees if tax dollars are going to substantially pay for it, and we get some freight-line infrastructure (for free) and other concessions if we build it for them.

          • df1982

            Can the Baltimore tunnel not be “value engineered” a la Boston’s Green line extension? At least there’s been no actual construction on the project yet.

  2. Herbert

    Trolley buses deftly combine the disadvantages of buses and streetcars.

    Frankly if you’re stringing wires anyway, add a few Bucks for rails and you’ll end up cheaper in the long run.

    Not only do streetcars have longer service lives than buses, they also have the cheaper to replace running surface (steel is cheap)

    • Eric2

      Trolley buses with batteries (aka “in-motion charging”) combine all the advantages of buses with one of the main advantages of streetcars.

      Installing rails in an American city is expensive and extremely time-consuming, and it actually makes service worse unless the streetcars have separate lanes, which is generally politically impossible.

      • Herbert

        Nonsense. Taking lanes away from cars is absolutely doable. You just need to do it. In fact, why not do it “on a trial basis”? We know, because the science is on the side of moving space away from cars, that the doomsday scenarios do not, in fact, occur in the real world. So after the trial period the benefits are known and the supposed drawbacks never occurred, so who in their right mind would reverse it?

        • RossB

          The point is, streetcars are slower in mixed traffic situations. They can’t avoid obstacles. Streetcars make sense if:

          1) You need the capacity.
          2) You have the money to tear up the street.
          3) The street is flat.
          4) The entire corridor never encounters traffic, even a car stuck a few inches into the streetcars right of way.
          5) It doesn’t make sense to enhance or build a new subway system.

          Its a niche system. It doesn’t make sense for most American cities. Most cities have very infrequent bus service.Essentially what you are proposing is this:

          “I’ve been waiting a half hour for my bus, when is it going to get here?”

          “In another 15 minutes. But the cool thing is, its not a bus, its a streetcar!”

          Oh, and running wire is a lot cheaper than adding rail. Ask Seattle. They move around wire all the time — they also add plenty of transit lanes. But running a streetcar is expensive, and since not that many people use the two that exist now, an expansion is extremely controversial. The general consensus is that people would much rather spend money on the buses. Most consider the streetcar silly.

          • barbarian2000

            Herbert’s point is that mixed traffic situations can and should be avoided.

            wrt the numbered points:

            1) Lots of places do need the capacity of a light rail system, yes
            2) Saying that the US doesn’t have enough money to tear up a few streets is absurd, it’s not exactly a poor country
            3) Most US cities are flat, and the ones that aren’t have hills that can be avoided
            4) Cars should be banned from running on the same space as light rail, yes.
            5) If you’re building in a city large enough for a metro system, then the light rail just performs a different function, distributing the demand of said metro system over a wider area

            Most cities only have infrequent bus service because the people in local positions of power don’t *want* bus service. That’s basically the only hurdle, meaning that once you’ve got political will out of the way, then you can pretty much instantly run frequent bus service to the entirety of your city.

            *Maintaining* trolleybus wires is difficult and expensive, which is why they were discontinued in so many places in the first place.

            Modern streetcar systems in the US also only really suck because they’re underbuilt, circuitous routes in mixed-traffic that were built more as amenities for new developments than as legitimate transit systems. Fix those problems and those streetcars suddenly become useful.

          • Herbert

            I think in Lisboa or Stuttgart they got among the steepest adhesion rail tracks of any kind which are regularly climbed by streetcars…

            Let’s just say: Any substantial city will have at most one hill of relevance that even gets close to “problematic” and then you can still do stuff like Dresden (with a suspension railway up a hill) or ask Doppelmayr for their offers in cable cars.

            At any rate: ceteris paribus any rail system will have better ridership than any bus system – and of course light rail systems usually outperform bus systems in frequency, capacity, speed and other factors which further improve ridership….

    • Fbfree

      Trolley buses have one major advantage over other surface transport: acceleration. Trolley buses have a reduced stop penalty which can be quite advantageous, especially on dense urban routes.

      • Eric2

        In my city they have recently started using battery buses. I have noticed one negative about them: they accelerate faster which makes the ride noticeably more nauseating. I would rather have a more comfortable ride even at the expense of a few seconds. In any case I think most stop penalty for urban buses is loading/unloading time, not acceleration.

        I think trains in general accelerate slowly because rails have low resistance. Not coincidentally people find trains more comfortable than buses. Some of that is because trains have super-low side to side acceleration, but I think some is also the lower forward/back acceleration.

      • Alon Levy

        Yes, and also hill climbing, as I mention in the video. But as Eric notes below, the high acceleration also reduces ride comfort, the greater sway canceling out with the effect of less diesel noise in my experience in Vancouver.

        • Phake Nick

          Wait if they’re good at hill climbing then why those electric bus keep failing in their trial in Hong Kong? Just because those buses are M.I.C.?

          • Frederick

            Hong Kong is difficult. As bus maker Alexander Dennis’s boss has said, “If you can sell into Hong Kong – with the heat, the humidity, the gradients and general topography, with all those passengers and the 20-hour days – you can pretty much sell anywhere. These vehicles are carrying up to 130 people at peak times.”

      • Herbert

        Acceleration and deceleration are in practice limited by passenger comfort. In principle you could launch a rail vehicle with a linear induction motor at nigh arbitrary acceleration – roller coasters already do that…

    • Lee Ratner

      San Francisco has many trolley buses. I don’t find them superior or inferior to regular buses but just about the same. I think the issue with buses is that they are something that wonk-technocrats and activists like but that nearly everybody else hates. Generally most people who use transit or would use transit would prefer the generally smoother heavy and light rail lines as being more comfortable as a ride even if it’s packed to the gills. Rail is also seen as something associated with wealth more than buses in the United States at least.

      • df1982

        There is a genuine rails effect on patronage, the reason for which is hard to pin down because it doesn’t appear very rational, but it is some combination of:
        1. superior ride quality,
        2. the presence of rails effectively serving as a visible advertisement for the service (which is most likely going to be frequent and direct),
        3. the permanence of the infrastructure enabling land use to evolve around it (e.g. densification around stations), and
        4. the controversial one, which is only applicable in certain places: so-called bus stigma (the sentiment among middle-class residents that only poor/black people ride the bus, which trains have often avoided through discriminatory fares, etc.)

        Is there any literature establishing a “wires effect” for trolley buses? Overhead cables have at least some of the same permanence and visibility that rails in the ground have, and while the ride is not quite the same as a tram/train, it is appreciably quieter and smoother than a diesel bus.

        • Lee Ratner

          A reason 5, but related to reason 3, is that it’s harder to mess with rail routes than bus routes. Once the track is down, especially if in tunnel or at least a separate right of way, it’s going to remain unless the track is torn up. Bus routes are easier for civil servants or private business interests to change fast because their own intuition, politics, or an algorithm told them to so. Bus advocates love the flexibility of buses because of this but a lot of ordinary people hate buses don’t like something suddenly changing.

          • df1982

            Yep, the inflexibility of rails is a feature not a bug. It means a city has to plan around its transit, not go laissez-faire and then try to retro-fit a bus network into an urban layout not designed for transit. You can theoretically achieve the same kind of effect with bus routes but it requires a lot of discipline and probably things like bus lanes, bus stop infrastructure, etc.

          • Eric2

            It’s a bug if your mixed-traffic streetcar is slower than a bus would be.

            In any case, a city shouldn’t plan for only one corridor to be “urban”. It should plan for the entire city, or at least the entire core/inner city, to be “urban”.

          • Onux

            In San Francisco, there were cable cars on California Street across most of the city for 72 years from 1879 to 1951. There has been a trollybus on California street (that goes farther than the cable car did) for 71 years from 1950 to today, with no signs of it going anywhere.

            Geary Blvd had street cars for 44 years from 1912-1956. There has been a regular diesel bus on that street for the 65 years since, again with no sign of it going anywhere (although there are always plans to convert Geary to surface light rail or subway).

            Can we please dispense with the idea that service on rails is somehow more permanent?

          • Lee Ratner

            Rail tracks can be ripped up but if you have track down, especially in a tunnel or some separate right of way, you can’t really mess up with a rail line the way that you can do with a bus line.

          • Paul

            @Onux Same in Minneapolis. Streetcar service ended in 1954. The bus routes today are largely the same as the streetcar routes they replaced, with a few minor diversions due to changes in the street network (thanks to urban renewal/freeway construction).

      • Bobson Dugnutt

        @Lee Ratner, the San Francisco trolleybuses are literally the same. They are New Flyer 40- or 60-foot buses with different motors but otherwise look and feel the same as the Xcelsiors that are about half of the U.S. transit market share. They have a backup battery to allow for limited off-wire running.

    • Oreg

      Zurich and other Swiss cities have both trolleybuses and trams. The trolleybuses fill in gaps where it’s not worth running a tram. Apparently, the infrastructure is actually significantly cheaper: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolleybus#Comparison_to_trams

      Trolleybuses offer a different trade-off between buses and streetcars, as the Wikipedia article discusses. Notably, they offer electric propulsion for buses without all the disadvantages of batteries.

      • Herbert

        What the “trolleybus infrastructure” costs depends entirely on which bucket covers the cost of asphalt… If asphalt is always the “road” and never the “public transit” budget and rails are always the “public transit” and never the “road” budget, then replacing all the roads the trolleybuses run on every five years is of course cheaper on the “public transit” budget than replacing the rails every ten years…

        • Henry Miller

          That is misleading though true. Roads are much more likely to be reused for other local needs – delivery trucks. So the road will be built and replaced anyway, perhaps not as often, but still often enough so that it is cheaper than road and rail.

          The above assumes mixed use. If you running a bus-only road, then the budget better come from the transport budget

        • wiesmann

          Swiss Trolleybuses can be pretty heavy compared to regular trucks, some have two articulations, and typically require special road accommodations, for instance the roadbed where they accelerate is typically a concrete slate and not asphalt – and they have their own signalling at the red-light, not to mention dedicated lanes. So the public transport bucket is certainly not empty.
          Also note that the trend in Zürich is to have partial trolley-busses, with batteries, this avoids complicated wiring at junctions and crossing (with other trolley-lines, or tram-lines).

          • wiesmann

            I don’t think they are heavier per se, just that the heavy duty lines get trolley buses.
            But you are right, heavy urban buses also have the concrete slab stop.
            As far as I know, the two articulation model only exists in trolley variant (Hess lightTram trolley).

          • Max Wyss

            @Eric2: buses are potentially heavy, even the 12m standard buses. The current maximum weight for 2-axle buses is 19.5 t, leading to an axle load of more than 10 t. The maximum weight of single articulated buses is 28 t (plus 1 t for electric drive); the legal document about road vehicles has no number for bi-articulated (trolley)buses (yet); looks to me as if they need a special waiver. Just extrapolating, their maximum weight will not be too far away from the 40 t limit.

            And when the bus runs in sardine can mode, its weight will most likely surpass the maximum…

            A bus stop with decent service (2 or more per hour) will develop tracks from the tyres, if made of asphalt, because the wheels will always be at the same position. For denser operation, it is, as stated, highly recommended to use concrete.

  3. adirondacker12800

    $100 billion in consumer subsidies, but that’s still car spending.
    The executive branch asks for the moon. And submits it the House because spending originates in the House. It then goes to committee, becomes unrecognizable, gets amended, may pass, gets sent to the Senate. Where it gets amended. Who knows what is going to come out the other side. At least they will be discussing things instead of waiting for the plan that is going to be announced “in a few weeks” that never gets scheduled.
    You aren’t going to stuff the automobile genie back in the lamp. It’s hard to get people to ride the bus where there isn’t one and never will be. That it’s only 100 billion is good.

  4. adirondacker12800

    SOGR is carte blanche for agencies that aim to avoid public embarrassment rather than provide useful service to spend money without having to promise anything to show for it, and Amtrak in particular cycles between deferring maintenance and then crying poverty when money becomes available.

    There is thing called “time”. It passes. And stuff isn’t made of Reardon Metal. It wears out. The stuff that wasn’t worn out ten years ago, wears out and needs to be replaced. Next year the stuff that wasn’t worn out nine years ago will need to be replaced. It happens every year. State of good repair is a never ending struggle against time and wear.

    Amtrak doesn’t levy taxes or set budgets for the people who do collect taxes. They estimate they have … 100 things that need fixing. They only get enough money for 90 of them. Time passes and next year there are 100 things that need replacing. But there are still ten things from last year that need replacing. So they have 110 things. The Republicans blow the economy again and money drops out of the sky, about once every ten years. This cycle instead of voodoo economics doing the economy in we had a pandemic for a change of pace. When that happens all the stuff from past years that they never got funding for haven’t had the urge to self heal and still need to be replaced. Rinse repeat since at least the High Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965.

  5. adirondacker12800

    agency turf battles over the Gateway project over noticeable improvements in trip times, reliability, or capacity.

    You’ve figured Heisenberg compesators so they can have two trains in the same tunnel in the same place at the same time under the Hudson River? Or instead of warping time are you gonna go for warping space and have the eastbound trains shrink just east of the tunnel portals, so they can have two of them side by side, and re-expand under the Post Office? It may just be me and my simplistic second grade arithmetic view of things but going from two tunnels under the Hudson River to four tunnels under the Hudson river is “double”. Or 100 percent but I didn’t get to the fancy stuff like percentages until fourth grade. A 100 percent capacity upgrade seems quite good to me. Especially since having a train come all the way up from Washington DC to have people get on a bus in Newark New Jersey is the alternative.

    You getting these tales of agency turf battles from railroad.net? Or perhaps subchat? Or you just sticking with the lone whack job at IRUM?

  6. Lee Ratner

    A big problem with increased transit spending is transit construction times. We have more technology to build rail transit than we did in the early 20th century but everything takes longer because of real and weaponized environmental impact studies and other things. Current commuters or really anybody aren’t going to be interested in a transit project that will only be ready to be used decades latter, when they are retired, dead, or at least towards the end of work life and the regular commute. We need to find ways to speed up construction times.

    • ericson2314

      For subways, cut & cover speeds up because all nimbies are extra irate between the cutting and the convering.

    • Alon Levy

      1. The First Subway took 40 years from conception to opening. The Dual Contracts were planned in 1906-11, signed in 1913, and mostly completed by 1924.
      2. Repealing NEPA is useful, yes. But let’s not exaggerate the impact of the NIMBYs. In California, the lawsuits added a few years of delay even when a) CEQA is very pro-NIMBY, b) the NIMBYs were wealthy and powerful, c) the project was not universally popular (Prop 1A barely won), d) the lawsuit had considerable technical merit, and ) the lawsuit specifically found a smoking gun a judge could understand regarding the frequency weighting. The state still won with cosmetic changes to the EIR.

      • Lee Ratner

        1. Eleven years is kind of still pretty fast by modern standards.

        2. The impact of NIMBYs is why I wrote about weaponized environmental impact reports.

        • Eric2

          I think the bigger question is 11 years FOR WHAT. Coincidentally, the SAS in NYC took 11 years from bond issue passage (2005) to opening (2016). The problem is, in those 11 years they only got 3 new stations. Now they are working on Stage 2, which would add another 3 stations. So 11 years might be a good OK time for one stage, but 44 years is a terrible time for the entire line. Other countries build entire subway lines at one time – look at any Chinese city, or Paris – so they get much more built even if each line follows the same timeline.

          • adirondacker12800

            The bond passed in 1955 which was 25 years after the the first first round of agreed on plans. They spent the money from the 1955 bond plan on something else. And tore the Third Avenue El down anyway. After tearing down the Second Avenue El, in 1940, because that would make building the subway, that was coming real soon, easier.

  7. df1982

    So what would be a realistic best case scenario for how the $39b on the NEC would be spent? Maybe something like: $20b on Gateway + the remainder on Alon’s NEC 90% cheaper plan, with cost excess in the order of a 2:1 rather than 10:1 margin.

    That would mean the Baltimore tunnel with a pared back scope, constant tension catenary, Metuchen and Elizabeth curve easings, a few bridge replacements and a new alignment between New Haven and Providence following I-95. Maybe a Bridgeport tunnel too? I’m skeptical about the possibility of anything being done around Stamford-Darien. This would probably have to be the sacrificial lamb to NIMBYs. But the rest would still get you to a ca. 4h journey for BOS-DC, and this would be enough to be a game-changer for patronage on the line, as well as producing considerable wider economic benefits.

    More likely Gateway’s budget will blow out to swallow nearly the whole amount, with a few scraps for cosmetic changes to the rest of the line, and travel times on the corridor will remain 6h+. But we can dream.

    • adirondacker12800

      Apparently the program at the University of Pennsylvania that came up with boinking the maximum amount of co-eds, a few years ago, have given up on SUNY Stony Brook but not UConn. They confected something recently that has “a 16 mile tunnel from New Haven to Shoreham Long Island” The owners of the ROW will be much more willing because it’s all government owned on Long Island. And it straight. Or could be. And it doesn’t have to be a tunnel. Something like the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel without the tunnels would do.
      Connecticuteras east of New Haven have already organized loud indignant meetings about how running high speed trains next to the Turnpike will ruin it’s bucolic charms and destroy downtown miles away.

      To “fix” Elizabeth you have to tear down wide swaths of downtown Elizabeth. The trains NOT stopping don’t have to view the platforms. Tunnel under it. From the nice straight tracks just north of it to the nice straight tracks jsut south of it. Arranged so that when demand increases enough to need six tracks through Elizabeth there can be a second set of tunnels not viewing the platforms they aren’t stopping at. Then you only need two, perhaps three tracks teetering over downtown and the curve can be eased a bit. Three, one for the peak direction rush hour trains from Bay Head that have their own tracks, right now, next to the four for the NEC.
      Squint a bit at MetroPark they have reserved space to bypass it and the curves just south of it someday. It’s not that awful, compared to Frankford or Elizabeth. Bypassing it might not be worth until there is a need for 6 tracks to North Brunswick.

      • df1982

        I don’t see much of an issue with the existing NY-NH line. West of Stamford the Metro-North locals can use the outer tracks, with Metro-North expresses and Amtrak on the inners. East of Stamford Metro-North trains to New Haven switch to the outer tracks and Amtrak has the inners all to itself. 1h to New Haven as in the Lamont plan is achievable with a few grade separated junctions and a different maintenance regime, and this is fine if a new NH-Providence stretch can also get NH-Boston down to an hour.

        If that fills up then you can start thinking about a tunnel under the Long Island sound, but you’d need to be approaching 48tph for that to be the case (the pre-Covid MN timetable had 20 trains from Stamford/NH arriving at GC between 8am and 9am).

        • adirondacker12800

          The trains to Washington don’t go to Grand Central. Two hours to Boston means NY-DC has to be an hour to make it three. New Haven is roughly one third of the way from New York to Boston and the Rhode Island/Connecticut border give or take a few, two thirds. You have to cover two thirds of the two hour trip in an hour.

          • df1982

            The assumption in my previous post was that a 4h trip for the whole corridor was satisfactory, as per Alon’s 90% cheaper plan. At least initially. Even 4h would be so profitable it could probably pay for getting down to 3h by itself. And I was still assuming Amtrak diverging after New Rochelle obviously, which gives space for the Harlem line trains to join the NH line.

      • Alon Levy

        The wide swaths of Elizabeth that need to be torn down consist of one parking garage and one university building that cost $50 million to construct.

        • adirondacker12800

          You have an antigravity machine to go with the time-space continuum machine that gets 60 trains an hour through the single tunnel? So that all six tracks, platforms etc hover weightlessly over the viaduct? I’m going to assume the local passengers aren’t going to take to hurling themselves at moving trains from the top of ladders they climbed so there will need to be platforms, elevators, tvms, benches etc. If you have this machine that bends space and time why are we using trains?
          You will need six tracks through Elizabeth some day. 12 intercity trains entering Trenton from the south/west, 6 Trenton expresses and locals, 4 North Brunswick expresses all have to use the express tracks between Rahway and New York.
          12+6+4 is 22. They all stop at Newark Airport and Secaucus or none of them do.
          They use the express tracks because at Rahway the 4 Matawan locals, 4 Long Branch expresses and 2 Bay Head expresses use ten trains of capacity until the border between Newark and Elizabeth where 4 Bound Brook locals, 2 High Bridge expresses, an Allentown train or two and a West Trenton train or two merge in. Two on the West Trenton line might be a bit low because masochists think they save money by living in Pennsylvania and working in Manhattan. There are lot of people along the line who want to go to places beyond Philadelphia or New York too.
          4+4+3+2=10. 4+2+1+1=8. 10+8=18 plus the other 22 is 40 passing through Penn Station Newark. You will need six tracks through Elizabeth. I suppose you ease the curve a bit, stick with four tracks so people not stopping there can gaze fondly at the platforms passing by and then rip it all out again in 30 or 40 years. Not really my problem because I’ll be dead by then.

          • Alon Levy

            It doesn’t matter how many tracks you put in there. The parking garage is the one constraint and it probably needs to go if you widen the S-curve anyway.

          • adirondacker12800

            Put more tracks in you aren’t going to ease it as much.
            You are going to spend a lot of money and still have a curve? One that is fast enough for the southbound peak hour NY-Philadelphia-Baltimore-DC-only train to go through at whatever speed it can get up to after passing the platforms in Newark at a gracious speed? They are aiming for an average speed or 150 mph/240kph

          • Alon Levy

            Yeah, getting above 200-250 km/h in that area is just not worth it. You ease to maybe 200, maybe a bit more (IIRC 240 requires knocking down the housing project), and it’s not 300 but it’s fine, there are cheaper minutes elsewhere.

          • Onux

            1) The Bound Brook, High Bridge, and hypothetical Allentown/West Trenton trains don’t pass through Elizabeth station because they join the line AFTER Elizabeth and Newark Intl Airport. So even if there are 40 tph through Newark Penn, in your scenario there are only 32 trains through Elizabeth station, and 32 tph does not require six tracks. (There are already sort-of five tracks through Elizabeth the city, three on the NEC and two on the Raritan Valley Line just over the border in Union with those Bound Brook / High Bridge trains).

            2) Even if there was 40 tph through Elizabeth, you still don’t need six tracks. Four tracks should be able to handle 48 tph (24 tph per track). This happens all over the world. 40 tph (20 tph per track, or a train every 3 min) is not an unachievable use.

            3) Since there are only two tracks across the Hudson, with two more planned, it is silly to even suggest six tracks farther out than this bottle neck. Even if there were two tracks from Hoboken to Wall St / Brooklyn, the existence of all of the other NJT lines means you could not fill all six tunnel tracks from the NEC alone.

          • adirondacker12800

            The intercity trains will be filling two of the six. What part of that is hard to understand?
            This ain’t Toonervile trolley toddling along. NJTransit trains go 100 mph on the local tracks. You can’t mix 12 intercity trains that don’t stop with 12 suburban expresses that do stop. Not over the 50 miles between Newark and Trenton. It needs 6 tracks To Rahway because some trains will be stopping at every station and some trains will make a few and some none at all. Amtrak’s and Transit’s wish list is for 6 to North Brunswick.
            Squint at Secaucus or Metropark. The side platforms stay where they are and become islands
            Most if not all of the Wall Street trains must go to Newark because that ain’t the Toonerville trolley either. It needs the capacity. That goes through Journal Square not Hoboken. It won’t stop there but it goes through there.

          • Onux

            “You can’t mix 12 intercity trains that don’t stop with 12 suburban expresses that do stop. Not over the 50 miles between Newark and Trenton. It needs 6 tracks To Rahway”

            A cursory look at a NJT schedule (https://content.njtransit.com/sites/default/files/pdfs/rail/R0070.pdf) shows that the suburban expresses DO NOT STOP between Newark Penn and Metropark (past Rahway) – otherwise they wouldn’t be *expresses.* So they can share tracks with intercity trains because they both won’t be stopping. Close in locals don’t begin until Rahway so NJT trains that were on the local tracks from Trenton-Metropark can switch to the express/intercity tracks to make room for the locals and trains from the North Coast line on the local tracks.

            You can fit 32 tph on four tracks even with different stopping patterns. In Japan they fit 17 tph on two tracks of the Shinkansen even with the Nozomi/Hikari/Kodama service patterns. Four tracks only increases flexibility. Even if you have to add extra tracks at a station or for a short distance to facilitate passing, that does not mean you have to six-track for 10 miles.

            If the traffic ever gets heavy enough, there are still options that don’t involve six tracks through downtown Elizabeth, such as shifting traffic from before Metropark or from the North Coast line to the tracks that parallel the NJ Turnpike through Carteret. Once you are past Newark there is room to six or eight track and sort out or squeeze everything in prior to the bottleneck at the tunnels.

          • adirondacker12800

            Without looking the Long Branch and Bay Head expresses don’t do a lot of stopping either. Even way back when the South Amboy local was MPwhatevers and the expresses were hauled by GG1s. The private commuter-club car survived well into the NJTransit era. Something like a hundred bucks extra, a month, that you had to buy a year at time, to be assured a space on a car with nicer seats.
            The former CNJ route to South Amboy is a very busy freight line. Among the other things it does is serve the distribution centers, there is more than one, for the biggest supermarket chain in the area. People like to eat and have a penchant for toilet paper etc. It’s a good thing whole carloads of that kind of stuff gets there by rail. And grain in and beer out at the enormous InBev brewery… that is on the NEC. Along with unit trains of orange juice to the Tropicana plant in Jersey city. Though that is on the former Lehigh perpendicular to the NEC and the Chemical Coast. Which is pointed at the proposed freight tunnel to Brooklyn. 7 million people on Long Island drink a lot of beer, use a lot of toilet paper and want to replace the Formica countertops with stone. And then want to ship the garbage and sewage sludge to landfills. In Ohio. Dang tree huggers, they don’t let people dump untreated sewage into the river anymore or fill swamps with garbage. They spent a lot of money to raise the Bayonne Bridge so Post-Panamax container ships could make it to Newark Bay. There are a lot of of containers going out too.
            You’d be building miles of separate track, likely a lot of it elevated to avoid two very short tunnels in Elizabeth. Doing it when the tank farms along the route go obsolete in 2035 might make sense. I’m sure they could come up with all sorts of New Urbanist wet dream TOD-y villages where the CNJ stations used to be.
            You wanna use excess capacity the Staten Island Rapid transit ROW looks to be four tracks wide. You can almost spit from Tottenville to Perth Amboy. The foamer boyz can plotz that formerly New York Central trains – Harlem Line Metro North trains for instance – are using the former B&O tracks to get to the former PRR and CNJ.
            And those people in Monmouth county, pesky people, have been agitating for another line for decades. I didn’t try to figure out how that will fit in because they haven’t decided where it’s going to be yet. Reality sucks, sharpen your crayons.

      • Phake Nick

        A 16 mile long tunnel that run parallel to the main city – I fear it would see similar fate as to Tokyo Aqua Bay Line tunnel/bridge, with very limited usage, although that one is an expressway instead of rail tunnel/bridge

      • john

        “Apparently the program at the University of Pennsylvania that came up with boinking the maximum amount of co-eds”

        Ok, I’ll bite. Please elaborate.

        • adirondacker12800

          The first one they came out with a few years ago went to the maximum number of campuses they could find. Airly routed over the Port Jefferson branch that squiggles all over the place. To get to SUNY Stonybrook !! !! !! One of the reasons given to go that way. And sorority girls who might like to get a look at a UPenn man. They are still going through dense expensive suburbs to get to Hartford and thence to Providence. UConn with it’s sorority girls is along the way. Over hills and across valleys instead down on the flatter parts near Long Island Sound. They can change in Hartford for Smith and do the Ivy-Sisters thing. Or go slumming at Amherst or UMass Amherst.

      • Onux

        All the ROW in Connecticut to New Haven is government owned. In contrast there is no intact rail ROW leading from existing LIRR tracks to the coast where the bridge would be. I believe you identified a possible ROW that passed through only government owned parcels, but that was across multiple agencies, and assuming that Brookhaven National Lab will willingly provide whatever is required is a big assumption. Plus there are the small takings in New Haven where the bridge lands and connects to the existing line.

        As was sufficiently explained last time, it could not be like the Chesapeake Bay Bridge without the tunnels, because all of the current boat traffic will not allow Long Island Sound to be permanently cut in half with nothing taller than a cabin cruiser able to pass. Add the tunnels (or bridges with sufficient clearance) and the very long bridge (longer than the Chesapeake) becomes much more expensive.

        As noted last time, going via Long Island makes the trip from NY and everywhere south of it LONGER than the current route, and thus SLOWER for a given design speed. Spending more money for worse performance is not a good plan.

        If people in Connecticut EAST of New Haven are against an I-95 route for HSR, that doesn’t argue for a LI Sound crossing, since after arriving in New Haven on the bridge trains would need to get to Boston by going . . . east . . . .

          • Onux

            It is 90+ mi Penn to New Haven via your route. 40 minutes is 135mph average. It is 75 mi Penn to NH on the currently, only 75mph to do an hour, 112mph to do 40 min. I have estimated your route as $6B-$10B (at least). For that cost you could spend $80M-$130M per mile on NY-Stamford-NH, which would easily get it to 112mph average. Either your route takes longer, or is much more expensive (maybe both, bridge costs could push your route to $12-13B, you could do NY-Stam-NH in 30 min for much less. A lot of the LIRR Mainline is single track east of Pinelawn, even if you double track how will intercity trains at 135-180 mph pass Ronkonkoma branch trains? The route is double track east of Floral Park, again how will HSR get around Ronkonkoma/Port Jefferson/Hempstead branch traffic? Quad track everything to give intercity and commuter traffic their own tracks? Your cost went up a lot, again).

            Brookhaven may be aware of trains that run on the tracks near them, but that does not mean they will give up land to build HSR on it. Much more likely they would oppose it so vibration from trains at high speed doesn’t upset their experiments (a generally false argument, but raised by Universities and labs everywhere). As a National Laboratory, they can ignore whatever NY State, or Amtrak, or the US DOT wants.

            Nassau County will not give up land in Eisenhower Park for free, LIPA will not bury or move their high voltage lines for free either. Both will oppose any changes because the status quo is easier for them.

          • adirondacker12800

            They built the LIRR 180 years ago because the craggy coast of Connecticut was full of fjords separated by rocky hills that would be impossible to cross. It still is. So they went across Long Island which is one big terminal moraine and relatively flat. Of sand, gravel and the occasional glacial erratic.
            Real estate isn’t cheap in Connecticut. The tunnel to New Haven to make that 30 minutes is why Amtrak in one of their many iterations of what to do about New England comes up with a 35 mile tunnel to White Plains Airport. … 35 mile tunnels get you Jersey Avenue just south of New Brunswick. The one from Colonia, in Woodbridge, east of the Garden State Parkway under what looks like it may have been deliberately reserved with a road to just south of New Brunswick would be a lot shorter. Something they can contemplate if they ever need 8 tracks. I digress. Digging up the express tracks to sink it under the road in the underpasses will be cheaper than boring tunnels in the rocky coast of Connecticut. I digress. The underpasses are functionally obsolete and by the time they are contemplating this, would be 200 years old. I digress.
            Going through curves that are good for 80 or maybe perhaps 90 at 125 doesn’t work out well. Real estate isn’t cheap in Connecticut.
            It’s LIRR to the Meadowbrook Parkway. Even still has cars on it in satellite views. Likely on the books as out of service because Wikipedia says the primary use for it was the circus train and the circus disbanded a few years ago.
            The golf cart track between the two golf courses……….. golf courses, the epitome of broad public support of multiple uses for everyone, aren’t they?.. may have been sold off to the County. Or the LIRR graciously allows them to use it for golf cart tracks.
            I don’t know or care what the agreement was between LILCO and the LIRR when they put high voltage pylons on it. LILCO went bankrupt a long time ago and the State picked up the debris. The State still owns LIPA or whatever name they call it and contracts with other utilities to operate it. Using it would be bookkeeping entries on the state’s books. LIPA and PSE&G, the current contractor operating could integrate the shiny new HVDC line into the HVDC lines to Connecticut and New Jersey that bring power to the Island now. It is one of the reasons electricity is so expensive on the Island. Undersea HVDC cables.Which are cheaper than the nuclear power plant they abandoned. At the northern end of the William Floyd Parkway. Which made them go bankrupt. LIPA likely still owns that.
            The LIRR owns the ROW again, a very very straight one that is sitting on top of a lot of sand and gravel well past Yaphank.
            The delicate scientific instruments at the Labs are the rings of concrete you can see in the satellite views. They don’t vibrate easily. They get some shiny new LEED platinum or even net neutral office buildings out of the deal. With lots of solar on the roof because electricity supplied by undersea HVDC cables is expensive. The DOE can work a deal with their other lab in Illinois to put some exotic storage technology there.
            I suspect there is a lot of to’ing and fro’ing from the Labs. Meetings in D.C. at the DOE. Testimony at Congressional subcommittees. Conferences, symposia and bull sessions at Princeton and MIT. … and Yale. Instead of 122 miles of really bad traffic it would a 15, 20 minute train ride. Less than an hour and a half to South Station and Boston for Harvard or MIT. Princeton on the Inland route Kodama that stops at Newark Airport, New Brunswick and Rutgers and one seat ride through Suburban and Jefferson to Temple.,,,,, Pity that they’d have to change trains or take a cab for University of Pennsylvania, wouldn’t it? Renssalear Polytechnic on trains with cushioned seat instead of an LIRR train from the parking desert in Ronkonkoma.
            The mayor of the mighty Village of Floral Park was on the news bleating that he was promised the third track project was dead dead dead. Before the story about the opening ceremony for another grade separation for the third track project. I know people at NYSDOT, They don’t work in property acquisition but they agree that the state can alienate parkland for transportation. One of the reasons why HSR to Montreal will be in New York. The state owns half the land it will be on. Acquiring it be bookkeeping entries on the state’s books.

          • adirondacker12800

            After working in Manhattan for years I know people from Lawn Guyland. They twitch harder at the thought of driving to New Haven than I do at the thought of driving there from New Jersey. The new Tappan Zee Bridge cost 1.3 billion dollars a mile. Something across Long Island Sound might be a bit cheaper in 2020 dollars than that. 16 miles, the number UPenn came up with for crossing the Sound, at 1.3 billion a mile is 20.8 billion. Railroad and three lanes instead of four lanes. 25 dollar toll isn’t as high as it might seem because there are tolls to get from Queens to the Bronx. On roads that make people twitch at the thought of using them. One of the reasons why there is a Port Jefferson to Bridgeport ferry. $59 off peak and $62 peak. $3 fee if you don’t reserve. $20 for each additional passenger. And they have monthly passenger rates. There are a few people using it daily-ish. 40 dollar toll might be within reason. The two car owners I know in Brooklyn say “it depends on the time of day” and “why would I want to go to New Haven?”

  8. Phake Nick

    – I don’t think in-motion charging should qualify as trolleybus since they’re literally battery electric bus just that they use a power line to charge when it’s running. I don’t think that would completely solve the winter problem either since it still depends on battery technology which would still die when it get too cold.
    – It might also be more cost effective to have charging spot at all bus stations for quick capacitor charging when loading and unloading than having long trolley lines for in-motion charging
    – What about using induction wireless charging panel installed on road surface instead of using trolley line for in motion charging?
    – Speak of BYD I am surprised governments around the world didn’t reject them out of gross meaning of their brand name in Mandarin
    – Which sort of expansion do Amtrak need the most now?

    • Autolycus

      Many problems with induction charging:
      1) Induction charging is much less efficient than wired charging. At least 10% less efficient, and potentially more depending on the specific application.
      2) To get induction panels in the road surface, you have to bury the power. That’s far more expensive than just having overhead wires.
      3) Induction panels are also significantly more complicated than basic catenary wires, if it’s even technologically possible to charge a battery through induction while the bus is constantly in motion.

      Charging only in station via induction chargers might be a more viable concept, but I still think hardwired is preferred wherever possible because of the efficiency gap.

      You’d probably spend at least 10x as much for the privilege of throwing away electricity. But it would look a lot nicer, I guess.

  9. Bobson Dugnutt

    I’m ambivalent about the Amtrak money.

    It’s a waste, but it’s money well wasted. Amtrak is what I point out when I want to dissuade Americans from pursuing socialism as a viable economic organizing principle. If you want socialism, you get something that looks and functions like Amtrak.

    When passenger rail became a ward of the state in the 1970s, Congress didn’t just agree to fund passenger train service. It took on the day-to-day management of passenger rail. One of the most unsavory aspects of socialism is the politicization of management. Elected officials issue mandates, managers implement them. But we are dealing with complex organizations, and the systems become embedded with contradictory goals or serving mutually hostile constituencies. Politics doesn’t consider systematic consequences, and managers don’t have the authority to set or overrule political goals. (Yes, there’s a very good reason for this politics-management firewall: the military. However, the last major innovation in public management was the civil service — and that was the late 19th/early 20th century. All US government expansion post-World War II was made in the image of the modern professional military and its constituency, the civilian-oriented industrial complex.)

    So today, we are stuck with two possibilities for Amtrak: pay a lot to maintain subpar service with antiquated labor rules and obsolete railroading practices, or the death of passenger rail in America that is quick and painful (elimination of service and liquidation of the organization) or slow and agonizing (Thatcherization, a think tank’s white paper, or put a Louis DeJoy or Betsy DeVos-type person to sabotage the organization from within).

    • Oreg

      Many of the most efficient passenger railways in the world are government-run. Railways need to be tightly regulated in any case.

      The Amtrak mess is the result of the notoriously dysfunctional political system and incompetent civil service in the U.S. One way to deal with this problem is to not let the government run anything. An alternative would be to try and fix the flaws in the system which harm the population in innumerable ways.

    • df1982

      Amtrak just proves what happens when you have a utility owned and run by a government that is hostile to the very idea of socialism (and half the time psychotically so). SBB is also state-owned and is a model of operational efficiency.

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