The TransitMatters Rail Electrification Report
At TransitMatters, we’ve just released a report about the costs and benefits of rail electrification. It’s anchored to our proposal to electrify and modernize the commuter rail system in the Boston area, but much of the analysis is broader than that. The non-Bostonian reader may still be interested in the description of construction costs of electrification and the short case studies of Israel, Denmark, Norway, New Zealand, Britain, Canada, and the United States. The latter two, covering Toronto and the Bay Area, are unusually expensive and we go over why that came to be and how it is possible to avoid them. The section on alternatives and why they are all inferior to stringing wire and running EMUs is of general interest as well, and I hope European policymakers read over and take it as a sign they should electrify more lines (ideally, all of them, as is being done right now in South Korea, India, and China).
The Toronto problem
When we came up with the cost range of $800 million to $1.5 billion, there was a lot of skepticism. The Reddit thread‘s two most common kinds of comment are “great, this can’t happen fast enough” and “it will cost billions because of unspecified MBTA problems.” As I said in responding to one of the comments, the higher-cost comparison cases all have specific reasons for their higher costs: Britain has clearance restrictions that do not exist anywhere else in the world, and Caltrain had unusual managerial incompetence regarding the related signaling project where the MBTA is actually doing well. But Toronto still looms large.
As I said on Reddit,
I’m not too worried about Caltrain’s errors, which were truly bespoke. Toronto worries me more, because while the specifics are avoidable, the ultimate cause is reproduced: Toronto and Boston are both huge cities with heavy peak commuter rail traffic and should have electrified generations ago, so now the benefits of electrification are so high that managers can afford to be careless about costs and still have above-water benefit-cost ratios.
So it is important to be careful and avoid Toronto’s problems with cost control. This means baking cost control into the program from the start, and aggressively protecting the budget from use by other actors as OPM:
- The budget should be set at a standard level with standard contingencies. Do not aim for the ceiling; aim for average. Nor should anyone include 100% contingency as used by Toronto; if you budget money for the project it will be used, so optimize for minimizing overall cost rather than for just-in-case funding.
- Designs should be standard, and variations should be accommodated only based on cost minimization. Basically, if it’s good enough for Germany, France, Denmark, Norway, Israel, etc.,, it’s good enough for the United States.
- If NIMBYs push back, the state should fight back. They want noise walls? Nope, EMUs are a lot quieter than diesels, quality of life will improve. They want trenches? Nope, that’s too expensive.
- Under no circumstances should passenger rail electrification money be used for corporate welfare for freight rail companies. They can pay their own way for clearance for double-stacked containers.
The importance of maximum electrification
Based on the observations that the lifecycle costs of DMUs are about twice those of EMUs, and that operating and capital costs are both driven by the peak rather than off-peak, it’s possible to establish financial rates of return on electrification. Not counting the speed and reliability benefits to passengers, the ROI is around 0.3-0.5% per US-size car per hour at the peak. Lines that run 8-car trains every 15 minutes at rush hour run 32 cars per hour and so have an ROI of 10-16%; this is why outside the US and Canada, cities that run such long trains at such frequency have long electrified their tracks.
The problem is that electrification is relatively unfamiliar in North America. It exists, but is sporadic, and there have been very few recent projects, so managers think it’s a Herculean task. In Boston I’ve seen reticence to wire more track due to institutional conservatism, even in plans that spend comparable amounts of money on things the region is more used to, like station platform upgrades and extra tracks. Worse, I’ve seen this in New Jersey, which is largely already electrified but uninterested in finishing the job.
Against such conservatism, it’s important to remember that failure to undertake a high-value investment isn’t any more moral than a large investment that goes to waste. When your ROI hits double digits, you waste public benefits by avoiding or even just delaying the project – and the above calculation comes just from savings on operating, maintenance, and capital acquisition costs, without the large benefits to passengers, the environment, etc.
Can large cities afford not to electrify? Yes. They have money for many kinds of waste, including for forgoing the benefits of commuter rail electrification. But just because they can afford to waste money and social benefits doesn’t mean they should. So, please, no talk of DMUs, or bi-modes, or pilot programs, or batteries – just wire your system already and import some high-quality EMUs.
Doing yeoman work, many thanks for the work of you and others at TransitMatters. 🙂
If the benefits are so large, do you know why private freight companies haven’t electrified their more heavily trafficked freight lines? I recall reading that Norfolk Southern runs 40-60 trains per day on its freight rail line that runs from Altoona to Pittsburgh. This level of traffic has made increasing passenger service more challenging. If you numbers apply to freight as well, I would think it would make sense for Norfolk Southern to electrify at least some of their freight lines. This could potentially benefit passenger rail service that uses those lines as well.
The short answer is that freight is not the same as passenger rail. (But bear in mind: China, Russia, India, and the European countries with functioning freight rail all run the main lines under wire.)
More precisely, there are a couple of important differences between passenger and freight rail.
1. Passenger rail has far more intense usage. Most of the commuter lines in Boston ran 3-4 long trains per hour at the peak before corona. Caltrain ran 5. Freight lines rarely run that much service – 60 trains a day means 30 in each direction, or around 2 per hour, since freight doesn’t have as much peakiness. On the BNSF Metra Line, used by the Southern Transcon to feed BNSF’s Chicago yard, there is more passenger rail than freight rail service per day, let alone per peak hour.
2. The performance benefits of electrification for regional passenger rail are reduced for intercity rail unless the intended speed is fairly high (around 160+ km/h) and are even further reduced for freight rail in flat terrain.
3. The use of very long trains reduces the operating costs of diesel locomotives per car, so the cars/hour metric stops being relevant. The use of long segments of moderate speed rather than the start-stop cycles of passenger rail further reduces the engine stress and costs of diesel; the cost is a sharp limit on the average speed, but North American freight rail has long given up on any but the lowest-end shipments (US freight rail has 30-40% modal split by ton-km and 3-4% modal split by value of goods carried).
Furthermore you’ll always need some amount of wire independent traction for the loading and unloading (especially if you wish to load containers from above) and the US freight railroads are operating under the (erroneous) assumption that double stacking and electrification are in conflict with one another (they are for very limited corridors of height clearance, but then adding more height clearance allows double stacking on flat cars which is even more efficient). As a matter of fact both India and China double stack under wire (and have aggressive plans of extending those networks – China even in countries where Chinese investment is building railroads, including Kenya) and even the Dutch freight dedicated “Betuweroute” has tunnels and bridges (tho not the current catenary height, but raising that is trivial) built with sufficient clearances for future double stacking. Even tho there is just about zero chance of Germany building a double stacking capable line to link to the Betuweroute this century.
There is also the factor that diesel has historically been quite cheap in the US and especially inland there is little to no hydro and nuclear power which are the traditional non-fossil electricity sources for railroads. (Sweden, to some extent Norway, Switzerland and Bavaria were among electrification pioneers because of cheap hydro among other reasons. The tgv of course runs on French nuclear)
By the way, height clearance for freight is an issue in Europe as is length of passing loops and overtaking opportunities (in the US many freight lines would benefit far more from double tracking with frequent crossovers as it is not uncommon that scheduling mishaps or small delays lead to trains (often Amtrak) being caught in a passing loop for half an eternity.
The European “target height” is four meters as that allows trucks to be carried easily and especially Austria and Switzerland are very interested in getting transiting trucks off their choked roads and into their shiny new rail tunnels. (Whatever you hear about faster pax trains, the benefit for freight was the main justification for the Gotthard Base Tunnel).
As for the length increase, Europe wants to enable its principle freight rail network to easily allow 750 meter freight trains. By comparison the practical maximum length of pax trains in Europe is ~400 meters and American, Australian and other freight railroads (particularly those related to mining) routinely run trains in excess of 1km length – then of course with distributed power…
Costs are also very high in an absolute sense compared to freight RRs capital budgets to get an initial starting segment off the ground. BNSF would need to electrify the entire southern Transcon at once for it to be worthwhile according to both their calculations, and what I’ve read from academic simulation. That’s billions of dollars, and thus is just high risk given how large it is compared to the size of the firm. The benefits though are very high calculated at a BCR of 1.52 in the paper I read. (see:https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0954409719867495)
Meanwhile passenger rail can electrify a 20 km line, and see huge benefits immediately to passenger usage.
There are more reasons.
4. Locomotive switching is an expensive process in time and work. Right now the freight companies will run a single train from LA to Chicago, or longer. A few years back, BNSF did an unpublished analysis of electrification; the leaked results said that the costs of switching locomotives between electrified and unelectrified districts was extensive and would exceed the savings from electrification. It did say that electrifying the *whole system* would probably be beneficial,….
5. But no private freight railroad will bite off that large a capital project in one go.
Battery-electric hybrid locomotives might allow them to electrify only a mainline without doing every single branch line and yard, which would improved the benefit cost ratio and lower the upfront cost.
I suspect the problem with freight is that it is expensive to electrify the full network, and changing locomotives at the interface between electrified and non electrified networks is expensive.
Hybrid locomotives like the Stadler Euro9000 are increasingly used for this in Europe, but it’s relatively new.
I don’t think hybrid locomotives are worth it for freight railroads at current fuel and CO2 pricing…
Of course when the only fuels commercially available are power to x that calculus will change…
You also have to keep in mind that for shunting and loading you’ll need catenary independent traction – some industrial plants on Europe actually use(d) a unique type of steam loco for that especially where steam was produced in huge amounts anyway – those are filled with steam as a “fuel” and empty their “tank” as they work before being tanked with steam again…
Paul Druce’s blog has two articles on freight electrification, A cost to benefit analysis of railroad electrification (old) and Why did freight electrification fail in America? (very old). I dug them out now because I remembered them, although they don’t contain as many numbers as I thought I remembered.
Additional points: The money for electrification might be better (i. e. with higher ROI) spent for third and fourth tracks, and changing between electric and diesel locos en route is even more cumbersome if some of them are at the and in the middle of the train.
Ooh, good point about multi-tracking – the relative costs of electronics and concrete change if you’re adding new at-grade tracks in the middle of nowhere rather than rebuilding suburban grade separations.
Plus “half a line” is worth nothing. But “double tracking only where land is cheap” is not as good as double tracking all the way, but it’s still of immense value – as a matter of fact it’s frequently done in Switzerland with their math whizzes figuring out the schedules…
In North America it’s often not a “fourth” track but a “second” one. And especially going from single to double track operation increases capacity by more than just double. (The exact figures depend on usage case, but even if you have perfect temporal separation [“all trains there in the morning, back in the evening”] double tracking will still reduce the time between the “There” and the “back” pulse that you need for the last trains to clear the tracks).
It’s notable that East Germany which started (due to Soviet demontage) with basically no electrification and no double tracking except the Berlin S-Bahn had a U-shaped curve on electrification (doing a lot of it in the 1950s, moving away from it as cheap Soviet oil gave them the illusion of infinite diesel and moving heavily towards it when Soviet oil ceased being cheap – electricity was always sourced from cheap domestic lignite and steam remained in major use almost to the end due to cheap domestic lignite), they never really ceased double tracking. Because while the top had different opinions as to the worth of electric traction, they always recognized the immense value of double tracking (still, some lines that were double tracked before the Soviets took the second track are still single track today)
East Germany also managed to carry about as many ton kilometers of freight as west Germany on a network half the size which started off way weaker and with an (initially at least) much more concentrated (in the South) industrial base than West Germany. That of course was destroyed in astonishing speed by the Treuhand and neoliberalism… You can find quite a few industrial estates on the outskirts of Eastern German cities where the tracks are still visible (or their traces are) but no train has run in three decades…
My understanding is they have run the numbers and it doesn’t make sense at current costs of diesel fuel (they use a low grade of off road fuel, so your pump prices are more than they pay ) if oil goes to 200/barrel they will electrify. (Adjust for inflation )
Electric need expensive wires, and you need it everywhere to make sense. (Or at least all the way to where you are changing the train around anyway. Even if the busy lines would make sense, the total doesn’t.
(They also don’t pay fuel taxes in the US – off-road vehicles are exempt from fuel taxes, which are conceived as a tax on drivers.)
To my knowledge DB does not pay EEG-Umlage but I’m not sure about the tax they pay on diesel…
Not quite accurate. They often pay a fuel tax. It’s just a different one. https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2014/12/9/does-a-state-fuel-tax-unfairly-favor-trucks-over-trains
Or electricity gets cheaper. Batteries are getting cheaper and cheaper too.
Electricity is not the relevant cost for electric trains.
What costs is the infrastructure and later on maintaining that infrastructure. If electricity became “too cheap to meter” in reality, the railroads would still stand before roughly the same calculus on electrification…
The study Nilo pointed to came up with $4 a gallon for North America. BNSF did a study and came up with …. $4 a gallon.
The fantabulists point out that railroad ROW is typically 100 feet/30 meters wide. For thousands of kilometers. Put solar panels over the ROW they can generate their own electricity and use the ROW for the HVDC line to deliver the excess to cities.
Probably a lot of the opposition to electrification comes from people in the suburbs who see the disruption from the project but have no idea of the benefits because the railway people don’t tell them what they are.
See all my previous posts about the importance of engaging with the community and working out what the win-wins are that don’t cost the earth.
Ah but then you get some esoteric bovine manure about “electro smog”…
In my experience the people you need to persuade will be cautious about projects and won’t just oppose everything for the sake of it.
As people who oppose everything for the sake of it end up pissing off everyone else in the community most of whom *do* want to do stuff to make their communities better.
With the Oxford Cambridge expressway for example because the government refused to speak to the villages to establish the win-wins ahead of time you had villages opposing the new road who would have benefited from it as the traffic on the main road that went right through the village would have been diverted onto the new road 1.5-2km from the village.
I’m pretty sure the same happened with the great western electrification and the train people didn’t point out to the villagers on route in advance that the new trains would be much quieter when they were complaining about the visual intrusiveness of the electric wires.
All new highway construction must be assumed to be bad unless convincingly proven otherwise.
This road project would have benefited the villages on route at least between the A34 and M40 (with the exception of Nuneham Courtney who could have been bought onside with a bypass of the A4074 around their village) and yet they were all created a unified organised opposition because the British department of transport didn’t realise that it needed to explicitly market/sell the project to the rich and powerful villagers south of Oxford. And ultimately that opposition has caused the project to be cancelled.
I find it difficult to believe these issues don’t also affect projects in rich and powerful areas of other countries which is why projects are often super cautious or have lots of mitigations.
One specific good thing about this project is that it would have included another crossing of the river Thames and a lot of the current river Thames crossings are very old and only allow one lane of traffic to cross at a time controlled by traffic lights.
Which villages would have benefitted how? Flying the route with Google Maps, most villages already seemed to have road bypasses, and the remaining ones could get one without the expressway. The Wikipedia article mentions fear of suburban sprawl, which (the sprawl in their quaint countryside) is something where you might have to work even harder to convince them.
(Wikipedia also mentions expected cost of £3 billion, which is quite mind-boggling for only 80 miles (128 km), unless the whole route crosses former mining areas riddled with the danger of subsidence and settling.)
3 billion pounds is quite low. The usual figure tossed around for uncomplicated Interstate grade highway is 25 million a lane mile.
In terms of which villages benefit, the new housing in south Kennington probably loses (but they doubtless have little local political power at this point), Nuneham Courtney would benefit with a bypass of the A4074, Toot Baldon would do worse but it’d be below the village and it’s tiny, Chifton Hampden, Chiselhampton, Stadhampton and Little Milton would all benefit however.
North of the M40 you have to go pretty close to the villages to follow the A418 with bypasses of Tiddington and Stone so you’d probably have to go closer to the prison near Bicester and then cut up to the A421.
Now sure it’s a road project which are often noisy, and theres a fair bit of newer housing in various places that makes the routing tougher, and we should value rail more, but for at least the first part the instant objections could have been mollified.
Even from a car-dependent “normie” perspective, a new bypass road can be a bad thing. For example, if stores on Main Street used to be supported by through traffic, but now those drivers zoom by on the bypass road without stopping to buy anything.
That is a zero sum game. Those stores lose, but some other store then wins when people go there.
These villages are pretty small and commutery. If they have shops I’d expect most customers live in that village or the neighbouring ones so the loss of medium distance through traffic wouldn’t be a big deal.
It’s only a zero sum game if all stores are created equal. “Some other store“ is likely located somewhere else, so that the village, whose store loses, might lose its store, which will be considered a great loss by the villagers!
They zoom by on Main Street too. The people who actually stopped for some special item or service will still be able to use Main Street.
Are the challenges claimed by http://www.bahnausbau-nordostbayern.de (run by DB, after all) something you’ve seen often in your research?
Namely they say that due to frequent situations where a tunnel follows a bridge immediately and the tunnels not having enough height clearance to allow for catenary and the bridge not being able to be lowered, they’ll need expensive construction to achieve the required clearances?
Also, shouldn’t there be a cost trend to a certain extent that points upward as the most “lucrative” lines are done first (ceteris paribus) and only later those that are more marginal or more difficult to construct. So that as electrification reaches 100% the benefit cost ratio is “squeezed” on both ends with lines under consideration becoming more marginal and difficulties tending to become greater as the lower hanging fruits were picked earlier…
Now thankfully this is partially mitigated by the benefits of electrifying 100% vs 95% but not always fully…
By the way, the cake for “most difficult electrification still done anyway” is probably taken by the Furka Bergstrecke… Every year (from 1942 to 1981). Eventually the Swiss realized that “tunneling under the snow” was cheaper and abandoned the line… Only for volunteers to take up the job later except for the electrification. (The only justification for steam from an economic standpoint these days is the “ticket revenue” side of the ledger as many railways that run steam as well as diesel actually get away with charging more for steam)… They have an entire bridge that’s removed every year and put back in every year… And the US thinks routine maintenance of sea level lines in temperate climate is a onerous task…
Rebuilding the bridges was something they did on the great western main line when they electrified it.
Every year or once?
And what did that “rebuilding” entail?
Rebuilding sometimes entailed a brand new bridge. Sometimes I guess probably track lowering.
The video link in the German Wikipedia article is dead (404’d). Here’s a YouTube video that shows the rebuilding :
“Aufbau der Steffenbachbrücke im Zeitraffer 2019” .
P.S. “Construction of the Steffenbach Bridge in time lapse 2019” per Google Translate.
On an unrelated issue, apparently there is increasing debate in Andorra about a rail link. Andorra never had a railway and is pretty mountainous. It has a population size of ~77k which would make it the biggest city without rail service if it were a German city and still one of the larger ones in Spain or France. Unfortunately much of the discussion is in Catalan only, including Wikipedia. https://ca.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transport_per_ferrocarril_d%27Andorra I don’t speak Catalan but I had Latin in school and speak Spanish so I can sorta make out the general idea…
I think a rail link to Andorra should certainly be investigated but maybe a gondola lift would be the better option given the terrain and the fact that Andorra is famous for skiing.
Ironically despite its otherwise close cultural ties to Catalonia, the closest town with rail service is on the French side (albeit a Catalan place in many aspects) at L’Hospitalet https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andorre-L%27Hospitalet_station
A more ambitious version of an “Andorra railway” (which would then certainly be outside the budget of Andorra alone) would include a link to https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Seu_d%27Urgell seat of one of the two “co-princes” (The bishop) and site of an airport with “Andorra” in the namehttps://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andorra%E2%80%93La_Seu_d%27Urgell_Airport which is however of very limited use and would ironically be of even more limited use if a (high speed) rail link to Barcelona and/or Madrid became available…
A high-speed line to from Andorra to Figueres? Or to Barcelona, with a shuttle train running back and forth Andorra – Barna? 😉
But seriously, I always wonder about that HSL through Canfranc and whether there is a problem big enough to throw that much money at it; or if this is a solution (the old rail tunnel) in search of a problem. If a third HSL between France and Spain is wanted, it might be useful to route it through Andorra.
The traditional rail route from France to Andorra was by train from Toulouse to L’Hospitalet and on by bus; this bus has ceased operation so you have to take the bus from Toulouse. Onward travel (for the slow travel folks) would be to Latour de Carol and then by train to Barcelona.
This nicely shows which course an Andorran HSL might take—Andorra is almost on the direct line as the crow flies between Toulouse and Barcelona, and as we all know: being on the line is half the battle! The gondola lifts would be a nice add-on for last mile travel from the Andorra high-speed station to the surroundings, making a Porta-Alpina-like shortcut from Paris to Latour de Carol.*
* Hint: The sentence marked thusly might veer into foamer territory.
RE: freight clearances, “freight welfare”, etc. in Greater Boston. . .
There aren’t many such considerations that would have a tangible effect on electrification budgets. Legacy agreements do bind a few line segments to protecting set clearances, but the cost of doing the trackbed undercuts or bridge mods is so far lower than any potential “GO AWAY” payouts to the freights for sunsetting residual agreements that that isn’t worth worrying about.
The state gained control of the entire northside passenger system via a mass asset buy from then-bankrupt Boston & Maine in 1976…hundreds of miles of right-of-way (including all passenger territory), all passenger facilities and equipment, and a horde of landbanked abandoned lines. All at pennies on the dollar with near-total control going to the state. The only things B&M asked for in return for its settlement with the federal bankruptcy court was:
(1) lifetime free trackage rights to B&M and its successors in any of the sold passenger territory;
(2) lifetime dispatch control to B&M and its successors over any passenger-overlap sections of their northern “Freight Main”, which comprises the outermost Fitchburg Line west of Willows Jct. in Ayer and outermost Haverhill Line north of Lowell Jct. in Andover;
(3) lifetime protected freight clearances to B&M and its successors over the Freight Main overlap and on one route–the Lowell Line–to Boston. Currently those clearances are Autorack (19’6″) on the Fitchburg Line overlap, Plate F (17′) on the Lowell and outer Haverhill lines. Lowell ended up being fresh-cleared for Plate F’s with a state-funded undercutting project in 1979 explicitly so the B&M could consolidate routes, thus giving up clearance claims on the other two Boston thru routes (inner Fitchburg + inner Haverhill/Reading) and the Eastern Route.
Pan Am inherited those legal indemnifications from the ’76 sale when it bought B&M, and they are set to pass on to CSX if the feds approve their ongoing buyout of Pan Am. This means that 25 kV electrification must provision for +2.5 ft. of safe wire clearance over the incumbent clearance routes as a cost of doing business.
— The outer Fitchburg Line has only 8 total overhead structures, most of them fairly new and overprovisioned because of a line-wide upgrade blitz in the last 15 years. The few that might need any addressing can all be easily accomplished with trackbed undercuts during weekend outages. Should not add tangible cost.
— The Lowell Line has a total large count of overhead structures, but because of the extensive 1979 clearance project and further provisioning work done in Somerville/Medford for the co-running Green Line Extension project not very many of those structures are problematic. Some incidental cost adds, but nothing that should resemble a blowout.
— The outer Haverhill Line has some particularly tricky ones under the Downtown Lawrence street grid and under the I-495 Merrimack River ramps in North Andover which will add some design complexity (and thus may lengthen out implementation schedules a little), but shouldn’t be blockers. If CSX aims to uprate the Ayer-Portland corridor from Plate F (17′) to double-stack (20’6″) after acquiring Pan Am–as they’ve stated is their intention–they’re going to have to pay up because the ’76 agreement only protects incumbent clearances not future ones. If anything, time is of the essence because the T gets a much more favorable deal the faster they act on total northside electrification. If they can beat CSX to the punch with design standards for running under Haverhill Line wires they’ll net bigger freight $$$ contributions for any future clearance work.
On the southside. . .
— The Worcester Line is no longer any concern. Thanks to the big 2008 line buy from CSX and relocation of major freight yards away from Boston, the Plate F (17′) route from Framingham to Allston was legally sunset in 2019 to total T control and the Autorack (19’6″) route from Westborough to Framingham was legally downgraded to Plate F (17′) in 2012. Both those sunsettings automatically serve up all of the +2.5 ft. of extra 25 kV clearance needed, so zero structural mods are necessary on a majority of the line. The only bridges known to need thorny modding work are both in Downtown Boston in the Mass Pike cut where freights never ran. In double-stack (20’6″) territory from Westborough to Worcester there’s only 6 overhead structures total, some of which are already tall enough for double-stacks under wires. Any that aren’t ready-made are quickie undercuts that should not add cost. CSX retains no booby-trap legalese giving them any say on whether or not the T can electrify…only indemnification that their stacks can continue running to Westborough in the end.
— As part of the 2008 megadeal with CSX, an L-shaped Framingham-Walpole-Readville route was designated for Plate F (17′) protection so there was still at least one way on the southside to get high-and-wides into Boston. This encompasses the inner Franklin Line between Walpole Jct. and Readville Jct., 4 overhead bridges and a short Downtown Walpole tunnel. The Walpole tunnel might be a mildly difficult mod because of its 140-year age and Historic Register designation, but at least half of the bridges are over-provisioned newer structures so the rest of the corridor may get off scot free.
— A zigzagging Framingham-Mansfield-Attleboro-Taunton route has Plate F clearances grandfathered from when the T bought a bunch of southside assets from Penn Central’s bankruptcy liquidation in 1973 (similar in function to the ’76 B&M northside deal). The only passenger territory included here is the Foxboro spur with only 1 overhead bridge, plus the already-electrified Mansfield-Attleboro NEC segment where Amtrak cleared everything accordingly 25 years ago. Probably zero costs here.
In all cases the “welfare” came from long-ago sale agreements that were *heavily* stacked in the state’s favor, and thus whatever incidental costs get accrued for bridge mods are in no way/shape/form going to add up to the kind of proposition where paying CSX or Pan Am a wad of “GO AWAY” money to sunset any more of the legacy provisions is going to make a lick of sense. It’s a way thornier proposition if you ever wanted to electrify the presently CSX-owned Inland Route from Worcester to Springfield, much less the entire corridor through the Berkshires to Albany. There’s 35 overhead structures between WOR-SPG, many of which were maxed out when CSX cleared the line to double-stack a decade ago…countless more through the Berkshires…and CSX will ask the moon from the public because it’s the incumbent owner. But that’s strictly an Inland intercity consideration. All of MBTA territory is largely sitting pretty.
through the Berkshires to Albany.
If they want passenger trains to make it between Albany and Springfield faster than a bus, it’s not going to be on the existing ROW most of the way.
With tilt trains, it can be done in under 3 hours, with somewhat more conservative non-tilting trains, it’s probably under 3.5 hours, compared to the current bus time of 4+ hours that’s really not too bad, though it’s certainly not any kind of HSR.
If it takes three hours to get to Albany nobody wants to take the train to Montreal or Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Cleveland, Toronto or Detroit. If it takes three hours there aren’t going to a whole lot of people who want use it for Metro Albany either. There wouldn’t be enough demand to electrify.
So downtown to downtown would be time-competitive with flying, and maybe as feeder from intermediate points to HSR. Then you simply need something resembling a downtown at both ends and enough traffic between them to fill the trains.