Metro-North-Everything Compatibility

The Regional Plan Association has a new study warning that Metro-North’s infrastructure is falling apart, and demands $3.6 billion in immediate spending on state of good repair. In general, my line on deferred maintenance is “you mean the agency deferred maintenance all those years and didn’t tell us?”. But in this case, despite the language, most of the proposed spending is improvements, namely rehabilitation or replacement of old movable bridges with low speed limits, rather than ongoing maintenance folded into long-term capital spending.

$2.8 billion of the proposed program is for replacing five bridges: Pelham Bay, Cos Cob (over the Mianus), Walk (over the Norwalk River), Saga (over the Saugatuck), and Devon (over the Housatonic). I believe all five should be replaced in the medium term, but the cost proposed is much higher than it should be. $560 million per bridge is quite high, and out of line with Amtrak found on PDF-pp. 29 and 56 of the Northeast Corridor Master Plan. Amtrak cites the cost of replacing the Pelham Bay Bridge alone at $100 million, and the cost of both replacing it and modifying curves on the Hell Gate Line at $500 million. It cites the cost of replacing both the Saga and Walk Bridges at $600 million.

Now, the RPA lists Saga as the easiest bridge to replace since it’s two two-track bridges, so work can be done one bridge at a time with less disruption to ongoing service, but conversely Pelham Bay is also quite cheap according to Amtrak.

But there’s a more serious problem, which is the avoidance of talking about service plans for commuter and intercity rail. If there is serious effort at adding Metro-North service to Penn Station or at raising intercity rail speeds, then the worst speed and capacity restrictions should get priority, and the infrastructure construction should be based on what promotes the desired service plans. It is very expensive and probably cost-ineffective to six-track everything from New Rochelle to Stamford, to allow three speed regimes: local, express, and intercity. I have argued before that it’s better to leave it at four tracks and bypass bad curves, around Port Chester, and make this the six-track segment. This is of course independent of maintenance issues, but suggests which bridge replacements are necessary to support these bypasses (Cos Cob) and which aren’t (the rest are less critical, especially Walk, which intercity trains should bypass on a straighter I-95 segment).

Likewise, there’s a capacity crunch west of Stamford but not one east of Stamford, and this again suggests Cos Cob as the most important priority. Finally, the slowest segment of the NEC away from immediate station areas is the western corner of Connecticut, from the state line to Stamford; Stamford’s curves are mild, while those heading out of Port Chester all the way across the Mianus are quite bad, and straightening the segment would also require straightening the bridge, which can be done easily if it’s replaced. Despite all this, the RPA and Amtrak are saying Cos Cob needs rehabilitation and not replacement, which misses opportunities to both improve reliability and speed up a slow segment.

Moreover, there is no mention of grade-separating Shell Interlocking, just south of New Rochelle. While not a state of good repair issue even in theory, the interlocking’s tight curves impose a limit of either 30 or 45 mph (so, 50-70 km/h), depending on source, in an area that could otherwise support 200 km/h or more. It is very difficult to straighten New Rochelle to sufficient curve radius for that, but 150 requires only minor takings. This may be necessary, independent of speed issues, to raise capacity enough to allow Metro-North service to both Grand Central and Penn Station. It’s possible to schedule trains through the flat junction, but this imposes an additional constraint on the schedule, on top of track-sharing with Amtrak and, in the East River Tunnels, the LIRR.

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40 Responses to Metro-North-Everything Compatibility

  1. anonymouse says:

    I always thought that the Cos Cob bridge would be the first in line for replacement, mostly because it has the most service over it and would thus give the biggest benefit in travel time improvements in terms of passenger-minutes. It’s also another point of incompatibility between Metro North and everything else, because of the way the overhead wires are currently arranged, with a gap across the bridge. This means that anything that runs over that bridge needs to have height limiters on the pantographs so that they won’t overextend and break.

    As for service and capacity, I suspect that part of the reason that Shell works now is precisely because of the speed limit, which means a shorter time that the track has to be clear for conflicting moves in the opposite direction. I suppose the ultimate workability of an at-grade Shell junction depends on just how much service MNR wants to run to both GCT and NYP, and on the speed of the trains going through the area.

    • Ryan says:

      The ultimate workability of an at-grade Shell junction is irrelevant – it’s knowledge in the same vein as “exactly how many times can I bang my head against this wall before suffering permanent damage?”

      Who cares how long that takes? Stop banging your head against the wall!

  2. Patrice says:

    In my view, those 100 year old CT bridges are the biggest liabilities on the NEC north of NYC, especially since the New Haven north section is basically a 20 year old railroad. Those movable bridges need to be replaced as a failure could jam the corridor and lead to finger pointing. Eg. the ConEd debacle a few months ago. Can CTDOT be dropped from the equation? They seem to be the slowest DOT in the region in terms of completing projects quickly.
    As for Shell, an Acela slowing to 45 mph speed limit to cross multiple tracks at grade is a joke in the modern passenger railroading world. But then again I live in France, and the French view flyover construction as an art form and build flyovers for the sake of flyovers.

    • Eric says:

      France probably builds flyovers for less money that the US builds grade crossings.

    • Adirondacker12800 says:

      Amtrak proposed a flyover but that cost too much money so they realigned the grade crossing.

      • Alon Levy says:

        Harold’s $300 million. Is Shell really more expensive than that?

        • Adirondacker12800 says:

          I’m sure one of the alternatives they examined when they rebuilt Shell interlocking a few years ago was building a flyover. Cost too much in the sense that Amtrak couldn’t come up with the money, not that it was overpriced. I’m sure once East Side Access opens they, along with NYSDOT and CDOT will come up with it. ( Once East Side Access opens they’ll have the “slots” in Penn Station to start running Metro North trains across the Hell’s Gate Bridge to Penn Station. )

        • Nathanael says:

          Nasty issues at “Shell”:
          (1) I-95 obstructs the best right-of-way.
          (2) Centre Ave/Grove Ave bridge over the railroad (also Division St., Memorial Hwy, North Ave); railroad bridges over Webster Ave (also Beech Ave). The resulting grades cause problems. A flyover or diveunder will probably have to completely reroute one or more of these roads.
          (3) Land acquisition: probably necessary.

          I’d expect it to cost a lot more than Harold.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            North Ave and Memorial Hwy appear to be over the platforms. Division seems to be a few feet from the platforms. Wouldn’t putting a flyover or a duckunder at the platforms make getting on and off the trains a bit difficult?

          • Ryan says:

            Not if you move the platforms.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            To where? Larchmont?

          • Ryan says:

            I don’t think you need to rework North Ave under any reasonable build-out option, so “moving the platforms” is here defined as “about 200 feet up the line” which should probably give you enough breathing room to start playing with a flyover/duckunder immediately south of the (adjusted) platform ends and doesn’t require you to pick up and move the station itself.

          • johndmuller says:

            The track/platform configuration in the New Rochelle station is a little odd. There is a platform on the north side of the tracks (by the station) and there is another platform between the two southernmost tracks; this leaves one track (2nd from the north – the NYC bound ‘express’ track) without platform access. There is some additional space available in the trackbed, between the ‘express’ tracks, but it is probably not enough for another track or a reasonable width platform. (In any case, there is a bridge support for the road bridge on the Connecticut bound side in that gap, not that the bridge couldn’t be rebuilt.)

            On the other (Conn. bound) side of that bridge there appears to be plenty of track-maneuvering room, a bit of a mini-yard, in fact. Actually, it seems that the trains do indeed sort themselves onto appropriate tracks there as the preferred solution so that the track switching mostly takes place east of New Rochelle station, instead of between the station and Shell interlocking. In other words, the Amtrak trains use the platform between the two tracks on the side opposite the station and only the outbound Metro North trains need to (sometimes) do-si-do or otherwise interact with interweaving Amtrak traffic in that section. I assume that peak direction MN traffic not stopping at New Rochelle uses the track without platforms.

            Chances are that should Hell Gate bound business get heavy enough to overload this method, a flyover could be built in the open area east of the aforementioned bridge, instead of having to be built on the more constricted side between the station and the interlocking.

            I think that the space in the station could be reworked a bit also, so that it could be possible to have all four tracks with platform access. As the ROW is in a cut, it should be possible to hollow out space beneath the street on the south side (opposite the station) in order to provide for a new side platform location. Then, the island platform could be moved into the space between the ‘express’ tracks, giving each track platform access, and somewhat wider platforms to boot.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            The track/platform configuration in the New Rochelle station is a little odd.

            It was the cheap compromise when they rebuilt things. It’s the problem when they want to run more trains in 2021 because East Side Access has been in service for two years and the LIRR has adjusted it service into Penn Station. That frees up “slots” for Metro North and Amtrak to go to Penn Station. The trains headed to Penn Station use the express track to Connecticut. To get to the Hells Gate line and Penn Station they have to cross over the local track to Connecticut. It’s especially fun in the evening rush hour.

          • Gorski says:

            There used to be five tracks at New Rochelle–two express tracks that didn’t platform (with one of the tracks running through where that support is now), one Manhattan bound track stopping at the platform, and the two tracks that are on the North/East bound platform. So there’s room for a new non-stopping track on the ground.

            Meanwhile, New Rochelle is talking about replacing the North Av bridge over I-95 in the next few years (which I *swear* they did 20 years ago, but maybe that was the bridge over the tracks). So you could theoretically replace the bridge over the tracks at the same time, since you’re already going to be causing traffic issues.

            Also, apparently the city rejected Amtrak’s plans to build a new station south of the interchange back in the ’80s: http://www.nytimes.com/1987/04/26/nyregion/new-rochelle-resists-amtrak-s-plan-for-station.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm. That station would have been built by the Boston Post Road–roughly where the Home Depot is now (I-95 Exit 7 in the article was renumbered to Exit 15 a few years after that article was written).

    • anonymouse says:

      It’s not slowing to cross the tracks, it’s slowing because of the sharp reverse curve on the Hell Gate Line. They can and do install 80 mph turnouts in areas where trains are otherwise going that fast and they don’t want to slow them down. For example, north of New Rochelle where northbound Amtrak trains cross from the local to the express track.

  3. Steve S. says:

    I did some heavy lifting and found some interesting things out:
    -Any natural bypass of Walk bridge via the I-95 corridor will, by definition, also bypass Saga bridge.
    -Sharp reverse curves on both Bridgeport approaches also mandate a bypass of Devon bridge. Interestingly enough, excess curvature on the 95 corridor in the area demands a new fixed-link alignment over (or under) the estuary.
    -Any bypass of the sharp reverse and double-reverse curves on the New London station approach via 95 will also, conveniently enough, bypass the Connecticut, Niantic, Thames, and Mystic river bridges (as well as a wealth of sharp curvature between Old Saybrook and Westerly).
    -To the west of Norwalk, a bypass of Noroton also functions as a bypass of sharp curvature and a flat junction (=crossovers) at Glenbrook.
    -Some sharp curvature around East Haven would require a new easement to be bypassed.
    -The 95-395 interchange has some sharper-than-expected curvature associated with it as well, which may require a virgin alignment under the interchange.
    -There’s some moderate curvature in rural western Rhode Island.
    -Providence has some very sharp curvature around the (way underbuilt) station. Some info on possible ways of easing here.

    Each of these can be added incrementally; even on the long bypass in eastern CT, a new fixed-link Thames bridge can be built before anything else. But, the catch is–to add them incrementally, we need to know where their additions have the most “bang for the buck”.

    • Ryan says:

      I-95 has not been designed, built, or provisioned for running rail in any part of its ROW; and in the places where running along I-95 is most badly needed, there’s nowhere near enough available space to avoid the kind of significant property takings in well-to-do areas that are certainly the kiss of death for any reasonable plan.

      East of New Haven that doesn’t really matter, since following I-95 or the existing Shore Line east of New Haven are the worst possible options; a greenfield alignment between Providence and Hartford gives you a much stronger city pair for intercity connections and provides a wealth of options for regional rail that don’t exist otherwise, and if we somehow manage to figure out how to fight through what appears to me to be an insurmountable obstacle in retrofitting interstates to become shared rail+road ROWs, 90-84-91-95 is the best option because it’s the lowest mileage for a non-stop run between Boston and New York.

      West of New Haven is where the functional inability to bypass on I-95 really hurts us. Even assuming we build greenfield between Providence and Hartford (which we should do), there’s no good way to proceed west out of Hartford (as awful and unlikely as 95 is for HSR, 84 is worse) and going south to New Haven just puts us right back where we started.

      • Adirondacker12800 says:

        Going to Hartford doesn’t get people from Boston to Albany. Or Syracuse or Rochester or Montreal or Buffalo or Toronto or Cleveland. Or people in Worcester or Springfield anywhere.

        Go south from New Haven across the sound to Shoreham. Down the wide expansive no one lives near it Robert Moses extravaganza of a parkway to the Main Line of LIRR which is straight except for a few curves, which would be expensive to bypass but there’s a lot less of them than there are in Connecticut.

        • Ryan says:

          I don’t know if you can actually do this, Alon, but if at all possible could you move the comment I made just before this one so that it’s a reply to Adirondacker12800’s comment (and then delete this one?) I don’t know how it failed to get attached as a proper reply, but it happened.

      • Steve S. says:

        The level of misinformation in this post is positively epic. Let me clear up multiple misconceptions:

        1. Claiming that freeway alignments cannot also host HSR easements is bullshit to the max. Not only does it reflect a complete failure of comprehension of geometry demands, but is also reflects a complete ignorance of international best practices. I speak, of course, of the Nürnberg-Ingolstadt HSL, paralleling A9 for significant stretches.

        2. Take a better look at the materials I provided. We often focus west of New Haven because capacity is as significant an issue there as curvature; in fact, the worst curvature in the state occurs between Old Saybrook and Westerly. I think this is because the terrain is “fjord-y”, with long deep inlets and estuaries into hilly and rugged terrain. I-95 avoids this problem entirely by running inland and up-plateau; the rural country also aids the carving-out of new high-speed easement alongside the roadway.

        3. Between (1) and Alon’s own previous work, this just fell flat. I-95 is the bypass alignment.

        Quit deluding yourself and misinforming others.

        • Steve S. says:

          I’d like to add a comment (4) to further show the depths of Ryan’s self-delusion.

          4. As–again–Alon has pointed out previously, an alignment Boston-Hartford-NY via the alignment you suggested is inferior for ridership purposes. Providence is the largest city between New York and Boston, and so needs to be considered as an all-stops facility. The particular flaw here is corridor thinking (beyond his woeful understanding of how Mode A can parallel Mode B in an easement without having integrated running ways.)

          • Ryan says:

            Which is why I didn’t call for Boston-Hartford-NY. I called for Boston-Providence-Hartford-NY, and every train would make those four stops at minimum.

            I only suggested an alternative four-freeways alignment as the potential end result of overcoming the natural obstacles to using highways for HSR (obstacles which you chose to ignore in favor of rebuking an argument that wasn’t mine and hasn’t been mine for a long time, at least as far as I-95 is concerned) and then further executing on Amtrak’s ridiculous Vision of a nonstop between Boston and New York. I even qualified it by saying it only made sense as a non-stop routing! And I would have even understood if you’d jumped on me for that because I don’t think my sarcasm was properly communicated. And yet… you didn’t. You ignored the important qualifier and read into an argument that wasn’t being made seriously a different argument that wasn’t being made at all.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            Fairfeild County has more people in it than Hartford County, New Haven county has more people in it than Hartford County. So everyone from Boston who wants to go to New Haven or Bridgeport or Stamford or New Rochelle or New York City or Newark or Trenton or Philadelphia or Wilmington or Baltimore or Washington DC should take more time doing it. Everyone in Providence too. It won’t matter to people in Boston who want to go to Hartford if the train goes through Worcester or Providence. They’ll get there in the same amount of time. If current Amtrak ridership is indicative of future ridership everyone in Back Bay or Route 128 should take more time getting to all those place that aren’t Hartford too. More people use Back Bay and Route 128 than use Providence.
            If New York to Boston gets down to 90 minutes it means their trips to Allentown and Harrisburg are longer too. Maybe Scranton. Boston to Scranton with a 90 minute trip to NY and Phoebe Snow speed trip to Scranton is slightly faster than driving.

          • Ryan says:

            It’ll sure as hell matter to people in Providence who want to go to Hartford, or vice versa; a trip which isn’t possible today. Creating such a trip connects two of the three most disconnected metro regions in the country going by any mode of transportation whatsoever and the last of those three is Long Island, which has the excuse of being an actual island.

            But it won’t matter to the people in Boston who want to go to New York or anywhere else, and it won’t matter to the people in New York who want to go to Boston or anywhere else, because those people aren’t going to notice or care that “it took them longer” versus a replicated-infrastructure alignment that never got built. They might have noticed if “longer” quantified out to 30 minutes. It doesn’t. It quantifies out to less than 10.

            The only people who are going to notice or care that their HSR train doesn’t take the absolute fastest possible routing are people who are commenting here and elsewhere and/or otherwise an active participant in the public process, or people who were looking for an excuse to not take the train to begin with.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            It most certainly is possible to do it today. Amtrak.com offers a departure at 6:50, 10:11. 2:21, 4:01 and 7:25. It may not be to your tastes but it can be done.

            If they aren’t going to notice it takes ten minutes longer to get to New York they aren’t going to notice that it takes ten minutes longer to get to Hartford. After all if this is the mostest important thing New England has to do there’s going to be train with a one seat ride between Providence and Hartford via Worcester or New Haven isn’t there? On one of the

            TWO

            HSR lines emanating from Boston?

          • Ryan says:

            It most certainly is possible to do it today. Amtrak.com offers a departure at 6:50, 10:11. 2:21, 4:01 and 7:25. It may not be to your tastes but it can be done.

            If they aren’t going to notice it takes ten minutes longer to get to New York they aren’t going to notice that it takes ten minutes longer to get to Hartford.

            With a non-coordinated transfer in New Haven taking more than an hour, sure, it’s possible; you’re also basically going 30 miles out of your way and then doubling back.

            So, no, people wouldn’t notice if it took them ten minutes longer to get to Hartford. Unfortunately, it’s going to take them 30 minutes longer to get to Hartford plus whatever amount of time is spent waiting for a connecting train moving in the opposite direction relative to New York.

            After all if this is the mostest important thing New England has to do there’s going to be train with a one seat ride between Providence and Hartford via Worcester or New Haven isn’t there? On one of the

            TWO

            HSR lines emanating from Boston?

            The two HSR lines emanating from Boston are:
            West on a mostly straight line following I-90 to Worcester with no deviations, then onto Springfield with no deviations, then onto Albany maybe deviating for Pittsfield, then onto Montreal.
            South on a mostly straight line following the existing high-speed tracks to Providence, then due west along a greenfield alignment through to Hartford (maybe featuring a minor deviation to pick up UConn but otherwise a straight shot), then south again to New Haven, then onto NYC.

            The line to Montreal doesn’t serve Providence, but that’s okay because Providence-Worcester is a lower-speed regional train market.

            The line to NYC is New Haven via Hartford, not the other way around. So, yes, this is the most important thing New England has to do and there is going to be a one-seat ride between Providence and Hartford.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            What destination in Hartford is more compelling than the destinations in New Haven to someone in Providence? What compelling destination is there in Providence for someone in Hartford? One that makes them want to drive versus taking an HSR train to Worcester and changing trains. Unless they have access to a helicopter flying isn’t an option. People in Boston won’t care because they’ll be able to get on a train that goes through Worcester and Springfield to get to Hartford.

            The shortest route between New York and Boston goes through New Haven but doesn’t go through Hartford, Providence, Springfield or Worcester, I dragged out an old official guide, It’s shorter, by 5 miles, to go through Springfield than it is to go through Providence.

            http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/70/Boswash.png

            Montreal is going to be the least popular destination for New England. Crossing the border depresses demand. There are more people within HSR range going west to Cleveland. Going west to Cleveland makes it possible to get to the 9 million people in the urban sprawl between Niagara Falls and Toronto. Compared to the 3.8 million in metro Montreal.

            New England to Cleveland is going to be popular,. According to Expedia there are two non-stops a day from Hartford and three from Boston. None from Providence. All of the other options take almost as long as “twice as fast as driving” because they involve a hub airport along the way. Add in an hour to get from the curb to the time the door on the plane closes and HSR looks very very good for someone in New England who wants to go to Cleveland. Just like it looks very very good for someone in New England who wants to go to Scranton, Harrisburg, Lynchburg or Richmond. And all the points in between.

            The few people who want to go between Hartford and Providence need something that’s faster than driving. They get that with Providence-Worcester-Springfield-Hartford.

          • Ryan says:

            What destination in Hartford is more compelling than the destinations in New Haven to someone in Providence? What compelling destination is there in Providence for someone in Hartford? One that makes them want to drive versus taking an HSR train to Worcester and changing trains. Unless they have access to a helicopter flying isn’t an option. People in Boston won’t care because they’ll be able to get on a train that goes through Worcester and Springfield to get to Hartford.

            Several hundred years of history, the seat of government power in each respective state, Hartford has Bushnell Park, the Mark Twain House, the Wadsworth Atheneum, is being artificially depressed by how cut off it is from the east and west and has far greater growth potential than New Haven does; Providence has already grown to be the third-largest city in the region and is only going to keep growing no matter what happens.

            Montreal is going to be the least popular destination for New England. Crossing the border depresses demand. There are more people within HSR range going west to Cleveland. Going west to Cleveland makes it possible to get to the 9 million people in the urban sprawl between Niagara Falls and Toronto. Compared to the 3.8 million in metro Montreal.

            9 million people who we’re picking up anyway because NYC – Toronto is the New York State HSR routing and they really don’t need New England’s help to get it done. The only part of this that affects New England is making sure that an HSR connection is built between Boston and Albany and that doesn’t need to instruct the creation of the HSR route between Boston and NYC.

            New England to Cleveland is going to be popular,. According to Expedia there are two non-stops a day from Hartford and three from Boston. None from Providence. All of the other options take almost as long as “twice as fast as driving” because they involve a hub airport along the way.

            If we’re using non-stop flights as the metric by which we determine whether or not HSR trips to anywhere are going to be successful, then HSR to Montreal (with five daily nonstops from BOS and three more from BDL) will be a little bit under twice as successful as HSR to Cleveland.

            Add in an hour to get from the curb to the time the door on the plane closes and HSR looks very very good for someone in New England who wants to go to Cleveland. Just like it looks very very good for someone in New England who wants to go to Scranton, Harrisburg, Lynchburg or Richmond. And all the points in between.

            The few people who want to go between Hartford and Providence need something that’s faster than driving. They get that with Providence-Worcester-Springfield-Hartford.

            No they don’t, they need something that’s better than driving. Cars aren’t going to be banned any time soon, and so people need to be attracted to rail travel because it’s providing them something better than taking their cars.

            Providence to Worcester is probably 40 minutes (maybe 35), Worcester – Springfield – Hartford is probably another 35 minutes (maybe 30), milling around in Worcester waiting for the HSR train is best-case-scenario a five minute connection but potentially as much as another 15 minutes. The best case scenario is 20 minutes faster than the 90 minute drive, and the worst case scenario is a wash – but once the last mile* enters the picture, “even more transferring around on the local network” versus “the same amount of time (or slightly less) spent driving and I don’t have to worry about the last mile* between rail and where I’m going, and I don’t have to deal with a transfer in Worcester…”

            Well, suddenly, the train looks a lot less attractive. People will keep driving.

            By the way, eliminate the transfer and they’ll probably take the train even if it ends up being slower than driving. Of course… it makes far more sense to start this project as HSR even if it doesn’t end up as an HSR corridor.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            If it so so very very important and so very very popular they can run trains from Providence to New Haven via Worcester.

            I give up. Anything anybody has to say is trumped by the overwhelming importance of connecting two metro areas of just over a million people 70 miles away from each other. It doesn’t matter that it increases travel time for anybody else. It doesn’t matter that it will cost more to build. The only thing that matters is getting people from Providence to Hartford.

          • Ryan says:

            Yes, it is. This is the most important thing we can do as a region. It’s fine if we agree to disagree about that.

            It reverses several decades of disenfranchisement and poor decision-making on every level, it reconnects the two state capitals of RI and CT, the medium-speed path for connecting them goes a long way towards establishing a proper regional rail network for each metro region and the high-speed path is less than ten minutes slower than the option that bypasses Hartford, which is barely noticeable at average travel speeds competitive with flight at the 70~600 mile range. Most of the greenfield alignment either follows trails and bike paths or cuts through the rolling hills and valleys of extreme-rural sections of the region, meaning that we have a lower cost of land acquisition in both monetary cost and political capital of the attendant eminent domain battles.

            You keep providing different variations of the same argument that ultimately boils down to “this isn’t the fastest routing, so we shouldn’t do it” – I keep providing different variations of the same argument that ultimately boils down to “the needs of the region outweigh the needs of other regions and the benefits to the region of doing this outweigh the costs to those other regions” and it should be abundantly clear at this point that neither of us are going to convince the other that we’re right. That’s fine. We can hold differing opinions.

            I’ll agree to disagree.

        • Ryan says:

          Hey, Steve, thanks for writing a bullshit (you used this word first) take-down of an argument that I wasn’t actually making! I really appreciate the open hostility and am glad our relationship has gotten off on this foot.

          So let me in turn clear up some of your misconceptions.

          Curvature geometry is not the problem. The problem is the amount of space immediately on either side of I-95. Had you bothered to follow up on the argument I was actually making, you would have even taken a cursory glance at satellite imagery of the I-95 corridor along every single bypass line you drew on a terrain map and you would’ve noticed that there’s quite a lot of development encroaching right up against the ROW – neighborhoods and parks on either side of the highway (practically on top of it, really) in Port Chester and Greenwich, not a whole lot of buffer space between the highway and abutting properties in Stamford or Noroton or Darien or Norwalk either. You then would have, perhaps, decided on an arbitrary amount of ROW width you would need for HSR tracks plus buffer space, and would have done some basic measurements around your bypasses to determine how many immediately apparent properties need to be taken in order to fit HSR into the ROW. Your worst-case-scenario estimations should assume every single one of those landowners is going to put up a fight – and I’ll be honest with you, I stopped counting somewhere in Stamford but boy howdy are there are a lot of potential lawsuits sitting on or close to your geometrically-perfect bypass.

          Oh, and did I mention that there’s absolutely no median on I-95 in any of those places? Because there’s no median on I-95 in any of those places, as I’m sure you already knew, and… well, that takes away the best shot you otherwise had at getting out of this thing without having to engage ‘the neighbors.’ It also means each of the many exits along I-95 each become a new and happy little challenge to jump over or dive under.

          But, hey, I’m sure every single one of those property takes is someone who secretly despises living in the shadows of a freeway and all of them just cannot wait for the government to offer them “fair market value” so that they can move somewhere else. Right?

          East of New Haven, there’s less people to go through around I-95, and more space to work with! Hell, parts of this road even have a median! Oh, but… I’d still be quite skeptical of the inclines on some of the steep hills along this stretch of the highway. And you’re still crossing several rivers that you either don’t have to cross at all going father inland or that you can cross over far narrower segments as you go inland. And once you try to swing from I-95 onto a straight approach back to the mainline via RI-78, you’re right back to that problem of having a lot of occupied property, potentially high-value property, all of which you’re going to need to take… the easy way, or the hard way.

          Or, you know, you could go even farther inland, like I’ve been arguing this whole time. You could understand that the reason why I wrote off I-95 east of New Haven as the worst possible HSR option is because it’s an awful lot of new construction to replicate infrastructure with far, far, far lower demands than anything ever west of New Haven. You could accept that I’m arguing for greenfield between Providence and Hartford, which Alon has agreed is possible, and you could then refute me based on the merits of a connection between Providence and Hartford. I welcome disagreement, in fact! Come at me.

          Just argue against what I’m actually saying and not what you’re putting in my mouth in between insulting me.

          • Steve S. says:

            1. I am unafraid to call a pig a pig, or bullshit bullshit, for that matter. It is. Your defense of it doesn’t stop it from being so.

            2. There are multiple reasons it’s bullshit. If you had bothered to read anything in my post at all (and not just look at pictures) you would have noticed that all I was really doing was mapping this post The new information I was adding was really quite marginal and based on the nitty-gritty of some bridge crossings. And yes, your original complaint about road and rail sharing easements did, in fact, make you sound like a moron.

            3. I followed the route you recommended. It didn’t go through Providence. It didn’t even enter Rhode Island, for that matter.

            4. The approach I am advocating for is incrementalist. Somethings things built incrementally have a higher overall cost than if they were built all in one go, and that’s fine. And you want to know why it’s okay? Because at each increment, the maximum value relative to the cost is (should be) attained.

            While your approach definitely has its advantages, it does have a major disadvantage: It would have to be built all in one go. By contrast, my approach–especially in eastern CT–can be built in three distinct phases. This might cost more as an apples-to-apples comparison with your proposal, but it also costs less at each increment, yields better ROI per increment (my step function has more steps than yours), and is more feasible at smaller and more medium scales, as each element is more self-supporting, yet able to coalesce into a greater whole.

            The difference is huge when one ceases to be interested in the “best” project but is rather interested in the project one can most feasibly go out and get money for. And your reply shows total ignorance of that…which makes it utterly nonsensical for the kind of argument I am making…making it bullshit.

          • Ryan says:

            1. We can disagree about my argument without resorting to juvenile name-calling, thanks.

            2. That you mostly built upon an argument that was made eighteen months ago doesn’t make it any less wrong, and that you’re falling back on “but someone else proposed it first” isn’t doing a whole hell of a lot with regards to inspiring confidence in it. (Also, the argument you’re building upon is one that I’ve come to disagree vehemently with in the eighteen months between then and now. I am, in fact, capable of changing my position when exposed to new information.)

            My original complaint about road and rail sharing easements remains valid because my original complaint was that roads in this country (I don’t know about Germany or Europe or Japan) typically aren’t and weren’t engineered with future additions in mind because the earliest interstates got built in an era where we could roll over anyone and anything in our way and the government was too strong to be scared of some uppity activists who didn’t like what they were doing – and the interstates built in later times were built in the context of the revolts that resulted, built where the most expedient routing often had to be forgone because of little things like neighborhood activism or environmental protection and it was no longer easy or cheap to just grab what we needed and worry about expansion later. As a result, there are a lot of places where development runs right up against the boundaries of the freeway (and only in precious few places is there any kind of reserved buffer space) and a lot of places where the road is engineered to the minimum possible compliance with highway safety standards – which, as you may or may not know, happen to be lower then international best standards for rail.

            Does that mean that you can never, ever, ever add an easement onto any part of what’s there today? No, of course it doesn’t. This can work in plenty of places – there’s no technical obstacle to expanding I-95 in the wilds of eastern Connecticut whether that’s for more lanes or HSR tracks; there’s plenty of freeway mileage in the region and in the nation built to a standard that can technically support both road and rail and where there’s little to no development “in the way” of such expansions.

            But, again, there’s also lots of places where this can’t work. Some of those places, it can’t work because the terrain or activists or surrounding communities or any number of mitigating circumstances ended up interfering with our ability to alter the landscape and pave wide flat straightaways – leaving us with roads like I-84 between Hartford and Danbury. Other places, it can’t work because we either didn’t depress property values around the freeway enough or living/building near a freeway became attractive enough that active development sprung up around the freeway – creating roads like I-95 in Stamford and Greenwich, where there’s no technical barrier to adding to the existing ROW but there are plenty of political and legal barriers to simply ignoring the reality that there’s not enough empty space in the shadows of the roadway to build a whole lot of anything and therefore you must start destroying before you can create. You didn’t address that at all, not even to say “I don’t think the surrounding landowners are going to pose a problem.”

            For the record, I do. And having read some of your other postings on your blog, I think you’re heavily underestimating the ability and motivation of “the neighbors” to mobilize against you in a lot of places, not just here.

            3. You followed the route I “recommended” as the shortest route-mileage for a non-stop train between Boston and New York, which is a terrible idea on the merits of bypassing everyone between Boston and New York and represents the logical conclusion of treating HSR like surface-running airplanes. I haven’t actually outlined a route for Providence – Hartford in this comment chain yet.

            4. Providence – Hartford can be done incrementally, actually. Most of the legacy ROW for a medium-speed regional rail is intact as various trails or greenways. Phases 1 and 2 are building medium-speed (could conceivably support average speeds of 90 MPH) regional rail in Rhode Island to Coventry and in Connecticut between Hartford and Willimantic via Storrs (UConn), and these can happen in either order or at the same time, Phase 3 is connecting Willimantic to Coventry via Danielson with a high-speed ROW and forming a complete medium-speed ROW between Providence and Hartford (and you know what? This is all I really want. If we get this far on an incremental build-out and then the whole thing gets shitcanned in favor of starting over along I-95, I’ll still be happy), Phase 4 is building a high-speed bypass of the regional Hartford-Manchester-Storrs-Willimantic ROW by using I-384 (if extended to Willimantic) or a combination of I-384 and a greenfield alignment (if it isn’t extended), and Phase 5 is either straightening and retrofitting the Providence-Warwick-Coventry ROW as needed for 185+ MPH operation or building a bypass via the existing US-6 ROW east of 295 and a greenfield ROW west of it to connect Providence to the existing high-speed ROW from Phase 3 in Danielson.

            Every single one of those five phases can stand on its own merits and leaves us with something of inherent value even if the subsequent phases are canceled. Unlike your plan, it also provides us with something we wouldn’t have otherwise – a brand new direct routing through central RI and central CT, which doesn’t parallel anything already in existence. It’s brand new. “New” is sexy. “New” captures the hearts and minds of the public that we need to support these kinds of projects in a way that “incremental improvements” does not.

            And here’s where I think the argument that you and others are making falls apart, because it relies on two assumptions that I believe are bullshit:

            #1) That the attitudes expressed by the majority of people within the echo chamber universe of transit advocacy blogs are instructive of the attitudes held by the majority of average people in this country. They’re not, really. Average people don’t spend nearly as much time on the small details as we do. They don’t decide to drive or fly instead because their HSR train follows a route that’s six or nine or even twelve minutes slower than it could have been (if only for…) The average person, at least in this country, cares far more about sweeping reforms and grand plans and big ideas. Those are exciting, and get talked about, and drum up far more support and opposition from the general public than small steps or incremental improvements do. That’s why the Amtrak Vision generates massive buzz every time they release some new iteration or version of it and why the release of their infrastructure master plan goes unnoticed by everyone except for people like us.

            Unfortunately, this leads into the other big assumption that I think is false…

            #2) That the project we’re most feasibly going to get funded is the lowest-cost-possible project. My opinion, at least, is that this mentality is informed strongly by the current political climate, which prides “fiscal prudence” even when that turns out to be an oxymoron and cost-shaving attempts end up creating unmitigated disasters like East Side Access and is all to eager to “stop waste” even when the amount of money being “wasted” is trivial in comparison to the cost of the waste-fighting measures. Fortunately, this political climate is not likely to exist forever – which is a good thing, because this is also a political climate in which infrastructure projects either don’t get approved at all, or get run through the wringer of fictional “cost saving” and compromising and other means of value reduction and then get approved in a state where we truly would have been better off doing nothing (see: the billion dollar Hartford busway, the MBTA’s “Silver Line” bus routes). Realistically, neither of our plans, none of Alon’s suggestions, nothing anyone has proposed in our own little corner of the universe stands a chance of getting done in this political environment and nothing is likely going to be done until the political climate changes. We can help with that by fighting for Big Projects, Big Ideas, coming out with things that are exciting for the average person and drumming up a great deal of support for forward progress. “Incremental improvements” don’t do that – all they really do is get shot down and shut down by other groups that don’t represent the attitudes or best interests of most people (i.e., the anti-spending crowd, the anti-transit crowd.)

            You’re welcome to think I’m wrong. We clearly have very different opinions.

          • Ryan says:

            And yes, I know Germany is part of Europe. I had meant to type England. Oops.

  4. Ryan says:

    Going to Hartford doesn’t get people from Boston to Albany. Or Syracuse or Rochester or Montreal or Buffalo or Toronto or Cleveland. Or people in Worcester or Springfield anywhere.

    Wow, you’re absolutely right! What was I thinking? The needs of all 25 guys who would ride HSR from Boston to Buffalo or Syracuse or Rochester or Cleveland or Toronto surely outweigh the needs of the 2500 people who would ride it between Providence and Hartford! Gosh, I’m so sorry, I was so wrong to even suggest otherwise.

    But… oops… going to New Haven via the Shore Line doesn’t get people from Boston to any of those places either. And going over the Boston – Springfield – New Haven route doesn’t get people from Providence or New London to anywhere.

    So, let’s just build nothing at all because there’s no One Route Above All Others that connects everyone to everyone else, and waiting for that magic bullet to materialize surely makes more sense than… wait for it… I hope you’re sitting down for this.. building TWO ROUTES!! Whoa! What a renegade concept! How shocking! I hope your heart didn’t skip too many beats there!

    • Adirondacker12800 says:

      Yes two routes because Boston is big enough and close enough to other places big enough to make two routes worthwhile.

      • Ryan says:

        You’re right! It is!

        Boston is a part of the 10th largest metro region in the USA, is growing faster than every other city and region northeast of NYC, and the city of Boston itself has more than double the population of Buffalo and 62% more than Cleveland. Not to mention, it has a larger population than Albany, Rochester, and Syracuse combined.

        Albany, in fact, is shrinking and shrinking badly – it’s dropped below 100,000 citizens.

        Boston-Providence-Hartford-NYC is around 250 miles, give or take 20.
        Boston-Worcester-Springfield-Albany is around 180 miles, also give or take 20.
        NYC-Albany-Buffalo… is happening anyway, as part of New York State’s long-range HSR plans.

        The argument that those places can only be served by a high-speed route out of Boston (and therefore the needs of Boston’s own metro and own region and the needs of the cities in MA and RI and CT should all just take a back seat to the needs of far-flung towns in upstate NY) is downright silly, especially since we just established that the cities which don’t merit two HSR routes are all the ones you listed as good reasons to make routing decisions in southern New England based on the pursuit of the One Route To Rule Them All.

        That leaves the two international border crossings.

        Albany-Montreal is another 225 miles, give or take 25. Springfield-Montreal is 300, but not worth considering as it’s the same distance from NYC to Springfield as it is NYC to Albany – unless you want to argue that on top of MA’s needs being trumped by upstate NY, NYC’s needs are trumped by western MA, the HSR route to Montreal goes through Albany.

        We established that Albany-Buffalo is happening anyway because New York State wants it and needs it far more than Boston does or ever could. Well, Buffalo to Toronto’s just about 100 miles further – plus the ~300 miles from Buffalo to Albany – plus the ~180 miles from Albany to Boston – you’re looking at 580 miles Boston -> Toronto, which means that at anticipated average (not top) speeds for HSR (~135 MPH) it still takes you 4 hours and 17 minutes to go the full distance… not counting stop times (there’s another minute multiplied by stops at Worcester, Springfield, Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, and Niagara Falls) …or crew changes… (at least one at Albany, there’s another 5 minutes; if Canada wants Canadians running trains inside their borders it’s another 5 minutes for the crew change in Niagara Falls) …or border control… (if you decide to do customs on the train at Niagara Falls instead of pre-clearance before boarding, there’s at least another 15 minutes on top of the 5 for the crew change) …and with all those things it’s pushing a 5 hour trip.

        How many people do you think are flying between BOS and YYZ today? Figure two-thirds of them switch to the train based on modal share of today’s 6.5 hour medium-speed rail trip relative to flying and adjusting up for the time difference. That’s not a huge number… those guys can change trains in Albany. (OR NYC! Options! Yeah!)

        Boston rates for two HSR routes, and those routes are: Boston-Providence-Hartford-NYC and Boston-Springfield-Albany-Montreal. Between those and the New York State HSR project which is now and forever disconnected from New England’s project, you get every major city pair in southern New England and most of New York either as a direct HSR ride, a one-transfer HSR ride, or a direct HSR ride to a city <60 miles away, where the difference between HSR speeds and lower-speed regional rail is a rounding error; such as between Hartford and Springfield or New Haven and New London.

  5. Adirondacker12800 says:

    I finally got around to reading the report. Take things the RPA says with a grain of salt. About the size of a bowling ball. These are the same people who came up with “real estate prices will increase by 80 billion dollars if ARC is built” and want to use the Rockaway Branch to have trains go from Wall Street to JFK and never mention that one could then run trains from Jamaica and all the points east, to Wall Street. And somehow think changing to the people mover at Federal Circle, which is where the super duper express train from Penn Station or Wall Street will terminate, is much much better than changing to the people mover in Jamaica. The two car train from Penn Station or Wall Street.

    There aren’t capacity problems on the New Haven Line. It’s four tracked between Mount Vernon and Devon. There’s enough room to four track it to New Haven. What’s running on it now, that’s not an Amtrak train, during rush hours all merges with the Harlem Line in Woodlawn and all of that merges with the Hudson line in Mott Haven. To hit capacity they would have to close down the Harlem and the Hudson line. More Amtrak trains and Metro North service to Penn Station isn’t going to equal the traffic on the Harlem and Hudson lines. It’s gonna make scheduling more interesting.

    It is very expensive and probably cost-ineffective to six-track everything from New Rochelle to Stamford, to allow three speed regimes: local, express, and intercity.

    You only need two, local and express. The expresses will have MTA or Amtrak logos on them.

    Split the line into three. Mount Vernon to New Rochelle, New Rochelle to Stamford and Stamford to New Haven. Buying Metro North trains that can keep up with Amtrak trains is cheaper than carving out new ROW. If they even have to bother. M8s can do 90MPH. It makes intraregional trips faster.

    … the express from New Haven to Manhattan, either Grand Central or Penn Station, makes it’s next to the last suburban stop in Stamford, it then expresses to New Rochelle, blending in with the Amtrak trains. The express from Harrison to Grand Central just has to wedge itself in between the locals running between New Rochelle and Stamford – on the local tracks. Change at New Rochelle for the express to Penn Station. Reconfiguring New Rochelle will be pricey but cheaper than carving out new ROW all the way to Stamford. Or some iteration of that, the express from New Haven makes local stops between Stamford and New Haven and expresses to Penn Station meeting the local between Stamford and New Rochelle in New Rochelle where everybody swaps places and both trains express to Manhattan.

    It is very difficult to straighten New Rochelle to sufficient curve radius for that, but 150 requires only minor takings.

    I don’t have the skills to do that for myself. There may be more space than you think – if you are looking at satellite images. The New Haven had delusions of grandeur when they electrified and the ROW is quite wide. Westchester County has put the New Rochelle tax maps online, …. it’s wide. Unfortunately I can’t find a layer for dimensions. There’s a big chunk of land east of the curve to the Hells Gate line that is apparently owned by a quasi government development agency. They shouldn’t be all that hard to convince to sell off some of their land. .

    … NYC tax maps have dimension on them, The Hells Gate line is extraordinarily wide in the Bronx. 200, 300 feet wide.

    …. on the other hand Amtrak’s wish list includes six tracking between Newark and Rahway…

    • Nathanael says:

      ” There may be more space than you think – if you are looking at satellite images. The New Haven had delusions of grandeur when they electrified and the ROW is quite wide.”
      I-95 stole hunks of it from New Rochelle north, unfortunately.

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