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Sunday Train: Northeastern HSR Alignments & The Move to Tuesdays

by BruceMcF Wed Oct 13th, 2010 at 06:49:37 PM EST

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

For the Daily Kos edition of this essay, I wrote:

This is a fairly short Sunday Train, but I thought I better get something posted, so I had somewhere to put this scheduling announcement:
  • Due to a new prep on Monday Morning this coming Fall term, the Sunday Train is temporarily moving to Tuesday Evenings until the end of year Holidays, starting next week (19 October)
... but, hell, given the haphazard scheduling of the crossposts (eg, posting on Sunday and crossposting on Wednesday evening), y'all likely won't notice the change.

The actual Sunday Train portion is about one element of the Amtrak proposal for a High Speed Rail corridor for the Northeast: the alignment. At the preliminary proposal stage, an alignment must be selected for study so that preliminary cost and patronage estimates can be performed. However, if the decision is made to go ahead, a range of alignments will be (and, indeed, must be) studied.

So tonight I take a brief look at the alignment options from the report.

Amtrak in the NEC: The Next Generation

For those who missed last week's Sunday Train, the "Next Generation" proposal aims to build on the NEC Master Plan to provide Express High Speed Rail service in the Northeastern region, from DC to Boston via NYC.

The Master Plan aims to bring travel times on the highest speed Acela services down by a noticeable amount, but the main priority is on increasing service reliability. The NG-HSR plan aims to bring:

  • NYC/DC times down from 2:42 to 1:55 on the Express and 1:36 on the Flyer;
  • NYC/Boston times down from 3:31 to 1:46 on the Express and 1:23 on the Flyer; and
  • DC/Boston times down from 6:33 on the Acela to 4:06 on the Express and 3:23 on the Flyer.

The Northern Alignments

In the Northern alignments, there are three strategies for getting out of New York City:

  • the Long Island alignments, which then tunnel across and arrive in  Connecticut running toward the north by northeast;
  • the New Rochelle alignment, which runs alongside the existing NEC through to New Rochelle, and then either runs along existing NEC shore or along the Air Line (with the modifications required by Express HSR, of course); and
  • Up the Hudson River valley toward Poughkeepsie (forcing me to finally learn to spell Poughkeepsie, Tough Keep Sie except with a P)

There are two basic ways to get into Boston:

  • along the existing NEC, either from Providence or joining the NEC near the boarder at Route 128
  • in from Worcester toward the west by southwest.

And then, depending on the alignment out of New York, there is a wide range of rail and highway alignments to get through Connecticut.

One option that is not in the scope of the preliminary planning is more than one alignment: that is to say, one Regional HSR corridor, similar to the NEC, and focusing on the additional populations connected with Boston on one side and New York City on the other, and one Express HSR corridor, focusing on connecting metro Boston and metro New York.

The Southern Alignments

There are a similar set of southern alignments, but I expect that the alignments to the east of the NEC can be set aside, which leaves the main contenders as being the "Allegheny" alignment and paralleling the existing NEC. Note that for the Allegheny alignment, the Emerging HSR Philadelphia/Harrisburg or "Keystone" corridor takes on added significance, since a Semi-Express could run NYC/Philalphia and then onto the Alleghany Express HSR via the Keystone corridor.

Further, the Keystone corridor could be used to connect the (informal) Appalachian Hub to NYC. Long time readers will recall that one backbone of the Appalachian Hub is a Steel Interstate on the Shenandoah Valley & Tennessee corridor. From the northern end of this backbone at Harrisburg, a service could continue down the Keystone corridor to the Alleghany NG-HSR corridor at Westchester PA (see map) and then on to NYC.

Alignments and Connecting to the Rest of the Country

As already suggested above, the choice of alignment in the Northeast can affect how easy it is to integrate into the Express HSR corridors from outside of the Northeast. And the map of potential emerging Mega-Regions in the United States gives one indication why that is important: the Great Lakes / Midwestern Mega-Region and the Piedmont-Atlantic Mega-Region are immediate neighbors to the Northeast, and at distances where Express HSR is a viable competing transport option under current energy prices ~ and where even 110mph Emerging HSR will be a viable competing transport option at the energy prices that we may well see in the decade ahead.

In my view, the westernmost alignments give the best connections. For New York and Massachusetts, the Hudson to Massachussets Highway alignment provide excellent benefits. For Pennsylvania, there are pluses and minuses to the Allegheny alignment ~ a major plus being the opportunity to split a train from Pittsburgh at Harrisburg, with one service heading to Philadelphia and south to DC and the other service heading express to NYC and beyond.

And of course, the western NY/MA alignment provides a substantial headstart both on an Express HSR corridor from NYC to Montreal via Albany and a Regional HSR corridor from Boston to Albany and the upstate New York region of Syracuse / Rochester / Buffalo.

However, for Connecticut, the westernmost alignment mostly bypasses the places they would most want to connect, and so if the western alignment is adopted for the Northern segment, we would want to be serious about pursuing a Regional HSR connecting the center of the state to both NYC and Boston.

The trick will be working out a system for funding. The 10 cents per gallon tariff on imported crude oil that I have previously suggested, with 1/4 of the proceeds to go to HSR funding, would only be a start toward funding any substantial number of miles of Express HSR corridor. However, if focused on 110mph Emerging HSR and 125mph Regional HSR, it seems like it could certainly support a 110mph or 125mph alignment to extend the Northeastern intercity route matrix.

Midnight Oil ~ King of the Mountain

... grow it into a discussion by adding your own preferred alignment.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Oct 13th, 2010 at 07:02:08 PM EST

  • On the Northern section, I'd prefer an alignment near the coast (Merritt Parkway) until New Haven, then Hartford-Worcester-Boston. More built-up areas/NIMBY risk than on the chosen alignment, but also stops with greater population and at ideal distances.

  • On the Southern section, to serve all the big cities directly, I'd stick with the chosen alignment. This section is hell, continuous urban area like on Japan's eastern coast or Taiwan's western coast, the worst is the 50-60 km from Trenton to Philly which probably has to disappear in tunnels for the most part or put on a viaduct with high noise screens...

As I am partisan to inner-city stations even if it costs much, my options probably cost much. Then again, I'm still amazed at the $117 billion cost estimate. I don't see how they can make it more expensive than Taiwan's THSR, so this being barely twice as long, it should be around $30 billion. (Maybe they calculate with future inflation?)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 12:36:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... and the roll-out in the plan is in two stages, finishing 2030 and 2040, and the DoT has a fairly high inflation rate. Simply proposing the same plan rolled out earlier would reduce the headline cost, though it might actually increase the net present value of the cost.

In NPV terms, its around $40b. And yes, afair with tunnels in New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore at least, and I don't recall what they plan for Trenton.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 03:44:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One factor might be whether certain states are supportive of the proposed alignment. For example, the Boston-Worcester-NYC alignment bypasses RI and CT completely, which could make the politics easier. On the other hand, there's not much out there west of Worcester...

The Cheyenne-Denver-Pueblo route in Colorado is a dead cinch. The population density is high, there is only one decent airport, the highway (I25) is constantly jammed, there are existing right-of-ways going where you need to go, and there's plenty of open space where new ROWs would be easy if needed to achieve speed.

Of course the "Colorado Transportation Problem" is always framed in terms of Interstate 70, which goes west from Denver to the big ski areas. The route could involve some entertaining engineering challenges...

by asdf on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 01:47:18 AM EST
Yes, the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority seems like they are on that same page, with a Regional or Express HSR corridor along the (roughly) I-25 alignment and an Emerging HSR with a tilt train on the I-70 alignment. The northern anchor of the Front Range alignment would be Cheyenne, and they seem to have the southern end dangling at the Colorado border, which suggests that it would be up to New Mexico if they want to connect the rest of the way to Albuquerque.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 03:49:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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