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The Economist: US railways over HSR

by DoDo Sat Jul 24th, 2010 at 07:17:30 AM EST

From time to time, opponents of passenger rail transport in the USA bring up comparisons between US and European railfreight, noting the priority of passenger trains in Europe but ignoring all other factors, to conclude that passenger rail would bring problems to efficient freight rail. Now the European elite weekly with a US libertarian soul, The Economist, did it.

American railways: High-speed railroading | The Economist

High-speed railroading
America's system of rail freight is the world's best. High-speed passenger trains could ruin it

The title and subtitle are already highly misleading. Then there is this chart:

Does this chart tell that the US is best and HSR or passenger rail in general would be bad for railfreight? No, what shouts at me from that diagram is something quite different... for details, follow me below the fold.


First, let's get down to basics:

  • High-speed rail (HSR), as used around the world, usually includes newly-built dedicated lines (for 250–350 km/h) – in which case long-distance passenger traffic is moved off the conventional line, freeing up capacity. Which obviously benefits railfreight. In fact increasing railfreight capacity (either by freeing up the capacity on old lines or letting fast freight share with HSR the new tracks that bypass cities and old slow sections curving along rivers) is often an explicit part of the motivation to build HSR lines. (You have to read deep down in the article to find a recognition of this.)

  • They should be honest. If a line's capacity is scarce, it's not just intercity rail that freight railroads don't want a priority for, but any kind of passenger rail: an all-stopper local train, especially if running every hour as customary in Europe, will be a constraint, too, even if the speed difference is less. Especially on a single-track line on which passenger trains in opposed directions have to meet, too.

Second, how narrow-minded is it to declare US railways the best merely on price criteria? This ignores the often desolate state of infrastructure, maintained just at the level required for traffic (or speeds are reduced to maintain operation without track renewal); and unwillingness for significant investments into it.

Bare-bones infrastructure maintained just on the level needed for current traffic volumes to roll was an obvious problem in the most recent time of economic boom: lack of capacity reserves meant that a lot of track sections turned into bottlenecks, creating a traffic jam of freight trains (above all for UP).

The lack of electrification is also noteworthy. This maintains fuel dependence, prevents higher speeds, and a higher energy efficiency of braking (electric locomotives can feed braking energy back into the catenary).

If US and European railfreight is compared, the much lower market share and the higher prices in the EU are noted. But, what is the point to compare these? There are some basic differences here:

  • US railfreight benefits from the geography of US transports: production, population, and import/export points are relatively concentrated and at greater distances from each other, thus transport is concentrated into relatively few, long corridors (in particular the "transcontinental" routes), ideal for concentrated bulk transport. In the EU, production, population, and ports are much more dispersed, so transports over the same distances have to distribute between much more departure/destination points.

  • The biggest difficulty for European railfreight is not priority behind passenger trains but borders. The ideal distance for railfreight transport begins somewhere in the 700–1,500 km region, which in Europe would typically cross borders. However, as a legacy of nation states, borders mean a lot of technology and rule changes: track gauge, rail inclination, platform heights, electrification system, signalling, traffic rules, vehicle approval, rules for and rights of staff. Not to mention the instrumentation of these by incumbents for market share protection. The EU-supported standardisation process is a herculean task, and only getting up to gear now.

  • The legacy of 19th century rail construction that included more superstructure than in the USA, and the close integration in often historical built-up areas, make efficiency-boosting by significant increases in loading gauge (cross section; as was done by US railways when they adopted the practise of double-stacking containers) or axleload (the weight falling on a single pair of wheels; exceeds 22.5 t on a very few lines in the EU but normally above 30 t in the US) economically infeasible and politically impossible.

Now, what the article in The Economist really argues against is upgrading existing lines for faster intercity rail. The Obama administration defined new categories like "Emerging HSR" and "Regional HSR", which include lines upgraded for speeds as low as 90 mph. However, it isn't necessary at all that railfreight would not benefit, too.

  • If the upgrade includes a capacity increase (double-, triple- or quadruple-tracking), that of course benefits railfreight, too.

  • If, however, no extra tracks are added, the potential that a freight train is banished to a siding to let a late express train pass is counterbalanced by the elimination of speed restrictions (where trains have to slow down and then accelerate again, wasting time and fuel and brakes just like in sidings).

  • Not to mention the free-of-charge possibility of electric traction if the upgrade includes electrification.

These points get me back to that chart:

Forget the top, look at the bottom. Which countries are listed there alongside the USA? Canada, India, China, Russia – right, all countries that, like the USA,

  1. are big without problematic internal borders,
  2. have freight transport flows concentrated into relatively few long corridors.

It is true that as colonial heritage, India's railways have been built with two different track gauges (a broad gauge of Scottish origin and the Capemetre narrow gauge), however, there is an on-going gauge conversion program (from narrow to broad), which already affected most main corridors with heavy freight traffic. In Russia, there are two electrification systems in a patchwork pattern (one DC the other AC), however, that problem has been long addressed with multi-system locos.

Now, while cheap railfreight countries India, China and Russia are similar to the USA in the above points, in others, they are similar to Europe:

  1. lots of passenger transport run on the same tracks – in fact, in each of those countries, the share of passenger rail in passenger transport is higher than in Western Europe;
  2. most main corridors are electrified (in China, even freight-only railways connecting mines and ports);
  3. there is strong state investment into infrastructure and vehicles...

China in particular is noteworthy. While China already has the world's longest HSR network, on long stretches of track, freight trains share tracks with expresses running at up to 250 km/h. (Also see The new high-speed superpower.) Furthermore, as most new rolling stock both in the freight and long-distance passenger sector, and indeed even tracks, has a significant European (or Japanese) import component, cheap domestic production is less of a price factor than one would think from the situation in other sectors of industry.

If you want to see the world's best freight railways, depending on what you focus at, look at China or Switzerland.

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This was a rush job, maybe (but unlikely as I will be offline for most of the weekend) I will add more deconstruction of the article's text itself. Or maybe others will.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Jul 23rd, 2010 at 06:16:24 AM EST
Great post.  The real reason the usual suspects are against the higher speed IC trains in the States is the same reason the Obama Administration is pushing it.  They know that if even moderately decent passenger train service is restored in population centers of the US it will be very successful and popular.  They seek to protect the dependence on cars and planes in the US for a long list of reasons, most of them having to do with money and power.

One cannot simply launch a massive bajillion-dollar HSR program in the States because the population isn't yet clamoring for it.  This will change if we can get 90mph (140kph) trains leaving enough cities to attract attention.  Naturally the airlines such as Southwest are opposed.  A car-free lifestyle is possible in many US cities until you try to leave the city.  The proposed improvements seek to change that.

by paving on Fri Jul 23rd, 2010 at 01:47:48 PM EST
Further evidence that the only reason to subscribe to The Economist is to keep an eye on the systematic lies and misrepresentations that they promulgate on behalf of the financial elites. What a crock.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Jul 23rd, 2010 at 07:13:03 PM EST
A recently completed study of Colorado front range passenger rail options includes both mixed freight-passenger traffic and various separated route options.

The economics appears to favor a 150 mph conventional system, with a connection between Colorado Springs and Denver at the top of the priority list. This is really lucky for me, because Colorado Springs itself is not going to lift a finger to help this sort of socialist enterprise--even though the city was founded entirely as a railroad resort town in the first place. Unfortunately for me, they're proposing to put the two stations at the airport and near the center of post-1990 residential development, avoiding the original downtown area.

I'm not holding my breath for this to happen, though. More likely is a relocation of freight traffic off--which would cost almost nothing--and then conventional low-speed passenger service on the existing right of way, which would mean a station a few blocks from my house.

by asdf on Fri Jul 23rd, 2010 at 07:53:12 PM EST
Interesting that you should mention this proposed connection. I lived in the Springs back during the 60s (haven't returned since), but for the past 10 years or so have had strange, recurring dreams about a new rail system running northward along the front range from CS. Hope it comes to pass, the ride is great!

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sat Jul 24th, 2010 at 08:38:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One small correction: it's metre gauge, not Cape gauge in India. (There are a few Cape gauge industrial lines, according to the Indian Railways Fanclub, but that's all.)
by Gag Halfrunt on Sat Jul 24th, 2010 at 07:14:19 AM EST
My bad... corrected. From the source:
[IRFCA] Indian Railways FAQ: Gauges in India
About 14,500 route km of IR's network are meter-gauge [2/09] (the figure was about 17,000 route km in 2000). By 2014, MG route-kilometerage is expected to drop to 5,000km or less. ...MG's share of freight was never very large (about 12% before the Unigauge project started)...


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jul 24th, 2010 at 07:24:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That 14,500 km is probably a mix-up.

Project Unigauge - Wikipedia

On 31 March 2008, 96,851 km of track length (86.8% of entire track length of all the gauges) and 51,082 km of route-kilometre (80.7% of entire route-kilometre of all the gauges) was broad gauge; 11,676 km of track length (10.5% of entire track length of all the gauges) and 9,442 km of route-kilometre (14.9% of entire route-kilometre of all the gauges) was metre gauge and 2,749 route-kilometre was narrow gauge.

As a result of Project Unigauge, the share of broad gauge in the total route-kilometre has been steadily rising, increasing from 47% (25,258 route-km) in 1951 to more than 83% (more than 52,500 route-km) in 2010 whereas the share of metre gauge has declined from 45% (24,185 route-km) to less than 13% (less than 9,000 route-km) in the same period and the share of narrow gauges has decreased from 8% to 3% (less than 2,500 route-km) in 2010.



*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jul 24th, 2010 at 07:29:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This issue is going more play than most imagine in the states right now. DoDo is entirely correct that new lines would need to be built for HSR. In fact, one reason there hasn't been much infrastructure build out in the past is that the private railroads own the rights to the railways. Not only are these not state-run entities, but the gov't doesn't even own the land. Right now, there is a lot of bottlenecking going on and train travel is interminable. The recent negotiations between the gov't and the private entities entails the gov't buying rights of way alongside existing (old) rail lines in order to build new lines. The privates are hesitant. I suppose they expect to build out new lines themselves?

The one question I have is with geography. The US fast freight network is transcontinental, and there is very little population density there relative to Europe. The US is sparsely populated outside the East Coast. This is not only for fast freight but passenger rail as well. This is also why the HSR proposals are centered around clusters of population. For instance, the area where I live has 10 million people within 140 miles of one another (this comprises Rochester, NY (1.2 million), Buffalo, NY (1.3), Niagara (Canada and USA 500k), Hamilton-Burlington, Ontario (1 million), Toronto (6 million). That sort of density within 140 miles screams for HSR, but as of yet, nothing concrete is planned. There would be a lot of demand for such services and a huge increase in travel if it were to go through (for tourism, retail and commerce).

by Upstate NY on Sat Jul 24th, 2010 at 09:19:37 AM EST
Conversely, here in the west there is lots of open space for potential new rail corridors, while in the east, real estate is more expensive and congested...
by asdf on Sat Jul 24th, 2010 at 11:09:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For many freight railroads, there appears to be a quite understandable difference in terms of reaction from Emerging HSR (what I guess would be Express Interurban in most of Europe), Regional HSR and Express HSR.

There is substantial reluctance, especially on the part of Union Pacific, to running freight trains alongside Express HSR. They say that their objection is liability, but we can also infer that they are wary of losing long standing right of way which at present is available should the need for new capacity arise, and which would be permanently lost to conventional freight rail use should an Express HSR line be built.

On the other hand, there has been widespread willingness of freight railroads to work through the issue of developing Emerging HSR corridors, sharing freight track in areas with lower frequency freight traffic, on the basis of an assurance of no loss of freight capacity. Of course, 110mph (~175kph) tilt-trains entails track superelevated for 60mph traffic, and with FRA heavy-rail compliant rolling stock the new track capacity is available to the freight railroad when not in use by the passenger rail service ... in then end, "assurance of no loss" translates into "likely greater capacity on someone else's dime".

The Regional HSR would be a middle ground ... under the current regulatory regime, it is likely that 125mph (~200kph) Regional HSR would be not FRA heavy-freight compliant, and would be elevated for higher speed (70mph if proportional, but I am not a rail engineer and I think there is a square in there somewhere). So, for example, CSX has talked about selling right of way for dedicated passenger track in the Empire corridor between Albany and Buffalo. While use of that track would likely be time-sliced, and under current regulations would still likely require PTC equipped rolling stock, there would still be am option value to the railroad regarding single stack rapid freight rail service.


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 Sat Jul 24th, 2010 at 05:54:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks Bruce. You've explained in detail the interests that one can barely guess from the many articles written on the subject recently.
by Upstate NY on Sun Jul 25th, 2010 at 09:41:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Bruce, you're right that there's a square in there. The standard formula from elementary mechanics is a = (v^2)/r, where a is the acceleration toward the inside of the curve (which then makes the train feel a force toward the outside), v is the speed, and r is the curve radius. In railroading, the maximum value of a is determined by cant and cant deficiency. The important bit is that you need to raise the total equivalent cant by a factor of four just to double speed.

Now, a modern low-speed (v < 250 km/h) non-tilting passenger train is capable of 150 mm cant deficiency (the same as an FRA-compliant tilting Talgo). A modern tilting train is capable of 300, as a limiting value. This means that if you want freight-friendly 100 mm of cant, and you want to avoid cant excess, then the tilting passenger train will have four times the equivalent cant of the freight train, which means it will run twice as quickly. It means you can even superelevate for 100 km/h if you want tilting trains to run at 200 km/h.

Bear in mind that this can't possibly happen under the FRA regime. To achieve high cant deficiency, you need a specially designed train, with among other things a very low axle load. The Pendolino's axle load is 14 tons; the various tilting trains used in Japan are in the 11-12 range.

by Alon (alon_levy1@yahoo.com) on Sun Jul 25th, 2010 at 02:07:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The track-related downside with tilting trains is that you have to increase resistance against lateral track displacement: while passengers won't feel the extra acceleration, the track will suffer the extra forces.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jul 26th, 2010 at 04:04:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Which is an additional reason for construction of express track that is superelevated for higher base operating speed, reducing the cant deficiency, while reforming the FRA heavy freight regulatory regime to allow for lighter weight rolling stock. The lighter weight trains and the reduced cant deficiency is a reduction in the real economic cost of the operation.

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 Mon Jul 26th, 2010 at 12:40:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
For a lightweight passenger train, 150 mm cant deficiency is no big deal. 300 requires the train to be very light, but it's not a huge deal. Pendolinos run at high cant deficiency all over Europe, and KiHa and other tilting models run at high cant deficiency all over Japan.
by Alon (alon_levy1@yahoo.com) on Mon Jul 26th, 2010 at 11:50:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, I submit I was thinking in European terms, where the difference of EMU/DMU axleload (third-generation Pendolino: max 16.5 t loaded) and maximum permitted axleload on state-of-the-art mainlines (22.5 t) is not so great (the latter is 29.8-35.7 [metric] t in the US), and a lot of lines used by tilting trains tend to have lower permitted axleloads by default (say 18, 20 t), and thus the introduction of tilting train service is usually preceded here by track improvements.

Still, even if an active-tilt train were brought to the US and cant deficiency rules were changed, there is no escape of infrastructure works with regards to transition curves and switches.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 27th, 2010 at 02:09:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is a signal distinction between the physical constraints on superelevation and added tilt train cant deficiency, on the one hand, and the constraints of the current FRA regulatory regime, on the other: the current regulatory regime is subject to change, given sufficient political clout, while the physical constraints are not.

The system in which the requirements to operate in the FRA heavy rail network precludes the use of modern lighter weight passenger trains is a result of regulatory capture of the FRA by the Class I's, and that regulatory capture rests in part on the fact that there have been little or no countervailing forces.

For national transport policy, there are benefits on both side of renegotiating the post-WWII regulatory regime for heavy freight rail on both sides ... since there are a wide number of freight markets available to heavy freight rail under current crude oil prices and likely crude oil prices going forward that were not available in the era of ultra cheap crude oil.

None of those prospective changes are likely to affect the Express HSR corridors in any substantial way, but there is every reason to work toward changes that substantially expand the potential range of Express HSR services by allowing Express HSR trains to run from the Express HSR corridors into the express intercity rail system, as they commonly do in France.


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 Mon Jul 26th, 2010 at 12:38:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nowadays it's not so much regulatory capture as plain inertia. Caltrain got a waiver from the most onerous rules. Amtrak believes that the entire rules will be changed once the PTC mandate comes online, allowing it to run lighter trains.

The main issue is making sure those regulations are in line with UIC or Japanese MOR regulations. Ideally, an unmodified Pendolino or Fastech should be legal on US track, aside from changes to the loading gauge. This isn't operationally necessary, but it would make procurement cheaper, avoid the debugging that comes with untested technology, and improve reliability.

If the FRA clings to low cant deficiency at medium speed and even lower at low speed, it's not going to be because of Class I freight regulatory capture. It's going to be that the more sensible rules were invented elsewhere.

by Alon (alon_levy1@yahoo.com) on Tue Jul 27th, 2010 at 12:14:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Caltrain is not a freight mainline: waivers are a relief valve that helps prevent political pressure from building up.

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 Tue Jul 27th, 2010 at 12:04:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The one question I have is with geography.

But what is the question?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jul 25th, 2010 at 05:17:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, my use of question was a bit of American-ese. "Question" in this case equals: quibble.

This is the same sort of academic shorthand that sprouted the word "problematize" and such other hideous coinage.

by Upstate NY on Sun Jul 25th, 2010 at 09:40:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
(now reading "question" to mean quibble :-) )

Population density is an oft-mentioned factor in US-European comparisons, but what does it mean?

  • Check and compare the actual population densities of countries and US states. California's population density is almost identical to EU HSR king Spain's, Ohio's is not much below metropolitan France. No, it is not true that only New England is comparable to Europe; New England compares to Europe's densest parts.

  • Population density is a 2D concept. Railway lines are 1D. Populations along corridors should be considered & compared, not populations spread across large wide areas.

  • For intercity rail of any type, what counts is population concentrated near stations. Thus, say, if a HSR (Obama-US: Express HSR) line connects two metropolitan areas of two million people each with desert in-between and another line of the same length between similar-sized cities cuts across a densely populated agricultural area, there will be little difference in traffic numbers, but a big difference in average population density.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jul 25th, 2010 at 10:16:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I agree. This is why I wrote that HSR in the USA is right now only focused on clusters of population. The point about fast freight though is that it runs far outside those population centers, and thus the comparison between the passenger and freight train system is difficult. The Midwest and Plains states especially so. Detroit to Chicago, Chicago to St. Louis, these are 4 to 5 hour distances with practically nothing but farmland in between. Whereas Chicago to Milwaukee is much more viable.
by Upstate NY on Mon Jul 26th, 2010 at 07:27:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The point about fast freight though is that it runs far outside those population centers

Hm? So does intercity rail. It connects population centers, if the distance is right, what's in-between is secondary. That was my third bullet point.

Detroit to Chicago, Chicago to St. Louis, these are 4 to 5 hour distances with practically nothing but farmland in between.

The first is 381 km air distance, the second 422 km: both should be under 2 hour by "Express HSR" (which won't be built...), and 3.5 hours should be possible with 3-5 stops even with a consequent upgrade for 100 mph. And there are Ann Arbor (just the population of the city proper: 114,000), alternatively Toledo (317,000), and South Bend (108,000); resp. Joliet (153,000), Bloomington (75,000), Springfield (117,000) as potential stops along the way to add significant extra ridership.

Methinks the only mainline corridors presently used by freight that, based on populations along the line, would not justify the investment tag of even an "Emerging HSR" upgrade, are the transcontinental lines and some perpendicular lines across the Rockies and part of the Plains.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jul 26th, 2010 at 08:14:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, air distance doesn't help you when you need to bend down and around a lake. Ann Arbor is basically a suburb of Detroit (30 minutes away). Having lived there, fast trains would have been fantastic, but I can vouch for the fact that you see nothing between there and Gary, Indiana on the drive out. Toledo would be out of the way for that trip. Chicago is due west and Toledo is well south of Detroit.
by Upstate NY on Mon Jul 26th, 2010 at 10:12:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
air distance doesn't help

Given the total distances, there isn't as much of a difference as you think. AMTRAK's current direct Detroit-Chicago rail route is 281 mi (452 km). Chicago to St. Louis is more different: current rail distance is 284 mi (457 km) (and target time for the line
after partial upgrades to up to 110 mph is 4h).

A comparable full HSR line would be France's first, Paris-Lyon: 432.5 km station to station, only two lightly frequented rural intermediate stops, non-stop time 1h57m with top speeds limited to 270 km/h on part of the distance.

Ann Arbor is basically a suburb of Detroit

18 miles is far enough to justify a separate station, could be done in 15 minutes by rail.

you see nothing between there and Gary, Indiana

I mentioned South Bend. But there is no reason to not keep at least half of the other current AMTRAK stops: Jackson (again just the city proper populations: 36,000), Battle Creek (53,000), Kalamazoo (77,000), Michigan City (33,000).

Toledo would be out of the way for that trip

As with the lake bend, that counts for little. By current rail distances, Chicago-Toledo is 234 mi, Toledo-Detroit 58 mi, total 292 mi (470 km). If a proper HSR line would be built, at 300 km/h, the Toledo alignment would mean a loss of just 3 minutes and 36 seconds. Much stronger detours have been justified with the extra demand (for example Madrid-Burgos via Valladolid), and the Toledo route would also mean a great cost saving in sharing tracks with a route to Cleveland and beyond. Indeed if you check the two earlier full HSR proposals for a Chicago-centred network, both route via Toledo.

If there is only an upgrade, however, then, given the significant local demand along the direct route (see above), upgrading both lines would make sense. And indeed that's what you find in the current plans for the Chicago Hub Network.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jul 26th, 2010 at 12:27:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
DoDo:

Ann Arbor is basically a suburb of Detroit

18 miles is far enough to justify a separate station, could be done in 15 minutes by rail.

In addition, Ann Arbor is a major university campus. There is great potential for rail commuting there.

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jul 26th, 2010 at 12:29:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A parallel is Leuven/Louvain near Bruxelles: another university city at almost the same distance from the major city, population 91,000, and a 200 km/h section of the Bruxelles-Cologne route.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jul 26th, 2010 at 12:44:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Or Madrid, where there are university campuses in the periphery served both by Metro (Metrosur serves the various Universidad Carlos III campuses) and commuter rail (Cercanías serves the Universidad de Alcalá de Henares, Universidad Carlos III, and Universidad Autónoma).

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jul 26th, 2010 at 12:48:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, and I forgot the second Universidad Complutense Campus served by light rail in Somosaguas as. There are two universities in the Madrid municipality, served by Metro at various locations, as well as some private universities served by light rail or cercanías both in Madrid and in the periphery.

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jul 26th, 2010 at 12:50:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, Ann Arbor is already served by AMTRAK, so it's not a rail connection itself that is the question. On the other hand, what about Toledo, Spain? Its university is noteworthy too, isn't it?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jul 26th, 2010 at 01:03:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There was no university in Toledo between 1807 and 1982-5.

Toledo is linked to Madrid by AVE (which takes 30 minutes and is too expensive for daily commuting). I doubt many people commute to Toledo from Madrid to study. The Universidad de Castilla La Mancha (decentralised into 4 different provincial capitals like UC3M is decentralised around Metrosur) mostly serves to encourage people to not leave Castilla La Mancha to study in Madrid.

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jul 26th, 2010 at 01:14:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't see it. The type of students paying that U Mich tuition are not interested in commuting. That's a very high tuition. And almost none of them have interest in heading East toward Detroit. if you could somehow connect them to Grosse Pointe directly, then it might work. But there is so little traffic between AA and Detroit. When I lived in AA, I went looking for an apartment in downtown Detroit. Couldn't find a habitable building, never mind a landlord. I took in a twilight baseball game, and got involved in watching the game, didn't notice nightfall. Late in the game I looked up and saw downtown was like a black hole, no lights on in any of the buildings. The town is literally dead.

I would love to see rail though between Detroit and Chicago as anyone who has driven it has to put up with 3 things: horrid flatness for the first 3rd of the trip, the worst of American industrialization (for the middle third) in Gary, and then Chicago traffic for the last third.

by Upstate NY on Tue Jul 27th, 2010 at 10:04:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One other thing that makes this all questionable: we're talking about a state that houses the American automobile industry. In this state, people look askance at you when you drive a Japanese car. In this state, the speed limits for the highways are 10 to 15 mph higher than any other state I have been to. in this state, I'm convinced that the highways are kept in such a serious state of disrepair so as to damage your car and force you to buy a new one.
by Upstate NY on Tue Jul 27th, 2010 at 10:06:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The more serious proposals for HSR from Chicago to Detroit follow go through Toledo, not Ann Arbor. This is to save cost: the existence of Cleveland means that both Detroit-Toledo and Chicago-Toledo would be constructed anyway, so you might as well leverage them for Chicago-Detroit instead of building another line.

For service to Ann Arbor, Michigan should look at modern regional rail, with a target top speed of 130-160 km/h and a target average speed of 60-100 km/h.

by Alon (alon_levy1@yahoo.com) on Tue Jul 27th, 2010 at 12:18:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One more thing: there are two reason I'm putting emphasis on geography and fast freight. One, the article is looking at the USA's seemingly efficient fast freight network. obviously, freight concerns do not revolve around population clusters, so much of the fast freight network has been built ignoring population clusters (I can vouch for this in the area where I live where the trains are quite a distance from the population center). Two, with the proposed build out of HSR, the gov't is looking at building out alongside already extant rail lines. This means that passenger lines will follow the logic behind the building of freight lines.

I've seen a map of the proposed build out, and large swaths of the country are left out for precisely this reason.

by Upstate NY on Mon Jul 26th, 2010 at 10:16:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the fast freight network has been built ignoring population clusters

I don't understand what you mean. The US rail network was built at a time (1) it was the main mode of passenger transported too and (2) population and freight centres were the same, (3) cities were born along the railway. And freight railways today added very few new lines or bypasses. From what I know, most existing AMTRAK stations for major cities aren't away from population centers, either.

I can vouch for this in the area where I live

Could you give a few examples? I'm not sure what size of city and what scale of distance you mean, or if your examples would be representative.

I've seen a map of the proposed build out

The Obama administration is giving out money to existing local initiatives. Earlier "plans" did not much more than collate these same plans. They don't represent the totality of what is posssible. For that, I suggest you check BruceMcF's diaries.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jul 26th, 2010 at 12:37:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The freight network in the US does connect major population clusters, more or less, but everything in between is empty.

By the way, many Amtrak stations are quite far out of the city center. The major ones aren't, but many secondary ones are, for various reasons - freight bottlenecks, avoiding reversing moves, loss of historic ROW. Some of those stations, for example Richmond Staple Mills, are as far away from downtown than Avignon-TGV, Valence-TGV, or Le Creusot-TGV.

by Alon (alon_levy1@yahoo.com) on Mon Jul 26th, 2010 at 11:48:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The existing rail lines in the center of cities in New York are now non-functional. Take Buffalo, for instance. We used to have the Central Terminal. http://buffalocentralterminal.org/pics/

Now, the main station has been moved out to Depew--about 30 minutes away. There's a small station still located on the Eastside of town, but all but one train bypass that station each day. If I want to take a train, I need to drive 30 minutes or more.

by Upstate NY on Tue Jul 27th, 2010 at 10:10:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Now, the main station has been moved out to Depew--about 30 minutes away.

Sigh. Still, checking the map and your link, the rail line still exists through the ruins of Buffalo Central Terminal, and the area is owned by AMTRAK -- only the station would have to be restored. And even closer to the centre (though of the mainline), there is Buffalo Exchange Street Station, which links to the Metro Rail light rail.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 27th, 2010 at 02:28:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It seems like I'm providing one sad story of rail in the USA after another. The problem with Exchange Street is that the regional and national rail lines bypass it for Depew. And yes, the rail still runs through--and bypasses--the Central terminal. As for our subway system--beautiful, and a disaster. When they built the line, the suburbanites (white people) fought hard to stop it in its track halfway through the city, so now it takes you basically to nowhere. Those who ride metro rail hop on downtown, get off 4 miles down the road, then wait for a bus to take them to their destination. It's a huge boondoggle. The same sort of thinking is adopted at the area's best mall. Bus service from all suburbs drops people off at the door of the mall, but city buses are not allowed on the mall's property. They have to drop people off across a busy 6 lane road. This lead to 2 deaths of city teenagers working minimum wage jobs at the mall.

It's really hard to fathom how much race infects American cities, architecture, urban planning, infrastructure. And that's precisely the reason why the Central Terminal in Buffalo is not considered for rail anymore.

by Upstate NY on Fri Jul 30th, 2010 at 09:24:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What was the excuse to close Central?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Jul 30th, 2010 at 10:24:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Probably the same. There's a lot of talk about past boondoggles in this town, but I've only been here 5 years and haven't heard it. Central was in an area that was predominately Polish immigrants (Buffalo celebrates a post-Easter event called Dyngus Day--somehow related to Polish heritage) but once the area became predominately African-American, it closed. The city's race relations are abysmal, which is a shame since historically Buffalo was THE city for the Underground Railroad, and the headquarters for the UG is just down the street from me (Macedonia Baptist Church) and the city doesn't know enough to rehabilitate it and make it into a national landmark.
by Upstate NY on Fri Jul 30th, 2010 at 10:41:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Regarding the population density ... that is a main point of HSR, since the effective corridor population density is population within station cachements per hour of trip.

Chicago/St. Louis as an Express HSR corridor is primarily to connect Chicago to St. Louis ... Chicago/St. Louis as a 200kph corridor is primarily to connect intervening centers to Chicago on the one side and St. Louis on the other, with a one hour plus zone in the middle where debarking passengers from one are replaced by embarking passengers for the other, with Chicago / St. Louis a supplementary task, primarily upgrading existing interstate coach passengers and the reluctant portion of the automotive passengers.

Of course, existence of Regional HSR services Chicago/St. Louis increases the market potential of a Chicago/Cleveland Express HSR service and existence of Regional HSR services Chicago/Cleveland increases the market potential of a Chicago/St. Louis Express HSR service, so they are complementary rather than rival.

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 Mon Jul 26th, 2010 at 12:51:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would like to see a proposed schedule for long distance rail in an American HSR system. The current trains I'm familiar with have schedules that were developed in the late 1930s, and connections to match. Doubling the speed would throw things off--not that they're good now, but they would be differently not good under HSR.
by asdf on Tue Jul 27th, 2010 at 02:01:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Long-distance rail has tiny ridership. Under a robust HSR plan, what would happen to it is that the lines operating out of New York would either get electrified and run partly at high speed and partly at low speed, and the lines in the Western half would remain as they are today.
by Alon (alon_levy1@yahoo.com) on Wed Jul 28th, 2010 at 08:11:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm assuming this is treating the western half of the country as starting with the Appalachian Mountains, if New York city is in the center with all lines radiating outwards from it.

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 Jul 28th, 2010 at 11:33:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nice trolling, but no; I mean the western half as defined by where the freight carriers are UP and BNSF and not CSX and NS.

If you check loading gauges and Amtrak consists, you'll see that the long-distance lines that serve New York run Viewliners instead of Superliners, because of clearance issues on the Northeast Corridor and at Penn Station.

I do know what I'm talking about, Bruce.

by Alon (alon_levy1@yahoo.com) on Thu Jul 29th, 2010 at 03:59:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It would be silly to design that area around New York City as its hub.


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 Jul 29th, 2010 at 01:08:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But there isn't a single long-distance train running in CSX/NS territory that doesn't go to New York. This means that in a large swath of the US, the only level boarding height is NEC height, rather than Superliner height.
by Alon (alon_levy1@yahoo.com) on Sat Jul 31st, 2010 at 05:10:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So the current skeleton system defines the outside envelope of the possible if we build beyond the skeleton system?

This is like the decision not to fix the order of operations of the "*" pointer operator and "." structure operator in the C programming language because of the existing user base ... of some dozens of programmers ... in a programming language that went on to be used by millions.


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 Mon Aug 2nd, 2010 at 01:57:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The City of New Orleans is a long distance train within the freight service area of CSX that never goes to New York.

Chicago is in the eastern third of the US, and the legacy of the infamous Chicago break on the freight side extends to northeastern trains able to navigate NEC restrictions terminating in Chicago.

There is no pressing need for corridor trains in the Great Lakes, Midwest, and Southeast to be designed around NEC loading gauges when they will never enter the NEC ... so the Amtrak skeleton framework, "LA design / NYC design" around the obsolete 19th century state of California regulation against high platforms for railway workers riding on the side of railcars on the one hand and the restrictive NEC loading gauge on the other hand is not a rational starting point for the design of the majority of intercity transport demand that lies outside the range of those two constraints.

Transcontinental trains will remain sufficiently low frequency that a cross platform transfer from high to low or low to high is a quite reasonable solution for connecting transcontinentals that have have to navigate either restriction. Or both, as with NJT combined mezzanine door and lower floor door cars ... for booked seat trips, only one car in a consist would require internal ramping or wheelchair elevator from mezzanine to lower level for Disabilities Act compliance.


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 Mon Aug 2nd, 2010 at 11:43:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The article is actually more true than false. It's unusual for the Economist to do this, I know, but it happens. The bits of the article that are plain wrong - for example, the statement that the Acela runs on freight track - are more due to confusion-sowing excuses for poor performance provided by Amtrak and the US government.

While it's true that freight rates are low in China and Russia, the business model used there is different from that of the US and Canada, and more similar to the European model. In the US and Canada, trains compete on low cost per ton-mile, and therefore move the lowest-value goods. Railroads may carry 35% of US freight ton-miles, but they only carry about 4% of goods by value. It's actually sensible from the point of view of environmental efficiency: you want the bulkiest goods to move on the most efficient mode of transportation.

The examples of China and Russia (and to a lesser extent Switzerland) show that the business model used in North America isn't ordained by geography. However, the model is what it is, and you can't expect the Class I railroads to voluntarily change it. Companies don't like changing their business models: witness the legacy airlines' reluctance to implement the 20-minute turnaround times common on low-cost carriers, Europe and Japan's refusal to adopt each other's passenger rail innovations, and General Motors' decades-long reliance on gas guzzlers as its main profit generators.

What this means is that unlike in other countries, in the US and Canada the freight railroads will not agree to the timed overtakes that are required for mixed passenger and freight operations. They are fighting the PTC mandate, and are in parallel planning to comply with it by implementing a low-cost, low-capacity local invention rather than ETCS, CTCS, or ATC. They prefer demanding 12-meter track separation with concrete barriers over making sure their trains don't derail all the time, which would raise costs. And they don't maintain accurate track geometry databases, which means that the maximum speed permitted is often well below what's allowed by federal regulations, train safety, and the state of the track.

The real disaster isn't this business model. There are ways around it - for one, the US could start by upgrading tracks in the Northeast, where there's relatively little freight traffic and plenty of passenger-primary lines. The problem is that Amtrak and the FRA consider the above issues passenger trains have to deal with as features and not bugs. Thus, even improvements that freight trains might not fight, such as high platforms with level boardings, are out; they're not what trains did in the steam era, so Amtrak isn't going to try them. And if the Acela ran at the maximum speed it could given the curve radius and its allowed cant deficiency, it would shave 10 minutes just from the Newark-Philadelphia segment, which is straight and could be upgraded to any speed at minimal investment.

by Alon (alon_levy1@yahoo.com) on Sun Jul 25th, 2010 at 03:01:17 PM EST
if the Acela ran at the maximum speed it could given the curve radius and its allowed cant deficiency, it would shave 10 minutes just from the Newark-Philadelphia segment

Wouldn't catenaries have to be replaced?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jul 26th, 2010 at 04:00:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The variable tension catenary does indeed constrain operating speeds to 135mph. The current plan seems to be to initially install intervening stanchions to reduce the span of the variable tension catenary, raising the speed limit by 10mph to 15mph, which is the top end of the operating speed of the present Acelas.

This is not instead of the more expensive upgrade to fixed tension catenary, but preliminary to it.


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 Mon Jul 26th, 2010 at 01:09:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, I'm including the catenary's 217 km/h limit in the calculation.

The issue is that the Acela doesn't usually run at 217, even on straight track in New Jersey. Much of the way is restricted to 200, the approach through Trenton is restricted further, and the timetable is padded because Amtrak can't keep to schedule properly.

by Alon (alon_levy1@yahoo.com) on Mon Jul 26th, 2010 at 11:37:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not so sure that the American long-distance rail system could support high platform cars, at least not for a while. It would require the replacement of all the cars, and would require substantial construction work at all the stations. This would be pretty expensive for the existing stations, and would discourage route changes and station additions.

Maybe changes to the platform geometry should be coupled with electrification, as it becomes feasible with traffic density...

by asdf on Tue Jul 27th, 2010 at 01:38:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Rebuilding stations to have high platforms is really not expensive. In Germany they've built high-platform stations from scratch for $200,000 per station.

The train compatibility issue is different. But I wouldn't have a problem with designating the long-distance trains operating in the Western US as heritage corridors with low platforms, while upgrading the rest of the network, which is where most ridership is. Bear in mind, some long-distance trains, such as the ones operating out of New York, are fully compatible with high platforms.

by Alon (alon_levy1@yahoo.com) on Wed Jul 28th, 2010 at 08:05:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And despite of such a low price tag, majority of German platform edges is at 0,21 or 0,38 m ATOR, not at current 0,55 and 0,76 m ATOR. Of course, U.S. is in a kind of better shape for high-platform conversion because of much lower number of station in operational shape in the USA compared to Germany.
by dejv on Sat Jul 31st, 2010 at 09:50:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
However, for the purposes of this discussion: almost all platforms used by long-distance trains are at 0.76 m, with exceptions at 0.55 m in secondary IC stops due to co-use by regional trains. (Platforms on individual S-Bahn networks are pretty standardized, too.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jul 31st, 2010 at 11:27:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
To me, one of the most significant places US freight (and passenger rail) falls short is visibility. The American general public more or less has forgotten rail and are not aware of its benefits. Personally, I think this lack of publicity comes from the decoupling of passenger rail from freight rail. While most Americans are impacted by freight — coal or intermodal — few, unless a rail fan or involved in logistics, outside of railroading are aware of trains other than having their cars stopped at a crossing gate. Unless this visibility changes, I sincerely doubt any significant publicly-funded rail infrastructure will come to pass in the USA.

 

by Magnifico on Tue Jul 27th, 2010 at 01:04:53 PM EST
It doesn't help that in the NY area, at least, AAA maps don't include train lines. Once I noticed that, I cancelled my membership.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Wed Jul 28th, 2010 at 12:43:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ok, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the topic, other than being about railroads.

I just found out about "date nails." These are nails with large heads (~1 cm diameter) with a date number formed on the top, e.g., "32" for 1932. When you're building your bridge or station or railroad car, or especially when laying treated wood ties, you hammer one of these into the woodwork as a record of when it was built. They were used in roughly the first half of the 20th century over here--apparently somewhat earlier in Europe--and people collect them. A random rusty date nail brings about $5 in an antique shop.


http://fantasticprices.com/DateNail/Railroad.htm

by asdf on Thu Aug 5th, 2010 at 09:36:37 PM EST
You still find plenty of them on branchlines here. I think the oldest wooden sleeper I saw walking along the nearest branchline here - near where I made the photo below -- was 1928. Will photograph next time I'm there (assuming it's still there).



*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Aug 6th, 2010 at 01:42:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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