NEC Future: Moving Sideways

The Northeast Corridor high-speed rail investment studies are moving forward, and four days ago the FRA released an early environmental impact study on the subject, as part of the NEC Future program. The study moves in part in the right direction, in that it considers many different segment-level improvements (for example, specific bypasses of curvy segments), but it still isn’t quite going in the right direction. It’s not a bad study in itself, but it does have a lot of drawbacks, and I would like to discuss the ultimate problems with its approach.

Overview

The EIS studies three alternatives, as well as an obligatory No Build option.

Alternative 1 includes minimal investment: capacity improvements already under consideration, including new Hudson tunnels; grade-separation of at-grade rail junctions, including Shell interlocking between the Metro-North New Haven Line to Grand Central and the NEC, which imposes a severe speed limit (30 mph, the worst outside major city stations) and a capacity constraint; and a limited I-95 bypass of the legacy NEC route in eastern Connecticut, to avoid the existing movable bridges. The bulk of the expense under this alternative, excluding the predominantly commuter-oriented new Hudson tunnels, involves replacing or bypassing obsolete or slow bridges with faster segments. I have advocated such an approach in certain cases for years, such as the Cos Cob Bridge; if anything, Alternative 1 does not do this enough, but I do appreciate that it uses this solution.

Alternative 2 constructs HSR along the NEC route, except for a major deviation to serve Hartford. It is also bundled with various bypasses and new stations elsewhere: under this alternative, Philadelphia and Baltimore get new stations, with extensive urban tunneling to reach those stations. Alternative 3 does the same, but considers more deviations, including a tunnel between Long Island and New Haven, and an inland route through Connecticut, closer to I-84 than to I-95 and the legacy NEC; it also constructs dedicated HSR tracks between New York and Washington.

The EIS does not include cost figures. It includes travel time figures on PDF-p. 51, which seem to be based on unfavorable assumptions: Alternative 2, called Run 5, does New York-Boston in 2:17 for trains making a few major-city intermediate stops; the Alternative 3 proposals vary widely depending on alignment, of which the fastest, the I-84 inland route, takes 1:51, again making intermediate stops.

The Good

First, the EIS includes service plan elements, stating the projected frequency of regional and express trains using the tracks. It also talks about clockface scheduling and proposes a pulse in Philadelphia, allowing timed transfers in all directions between local and express intercity trains as well as trains on the Keystone corridor. It goes further and discusses regional rail on the intercity tracks in the alternatives that include extensive new construction. In these ways, it focuses on regionwide rail integration far more than previous plans.

Second, in general, the correct way to think about NEC investment is component by component. The EIS gets closer to this ideal, by considering many different route combinations north of New York, and advancing several of them under the Alternative 3 umbrella.

And third, the concept of Alternative 1 is solid. In many cases, it is possible to bundle a trip time or capacity improvement into the replacement of an obsolete structure at very low additional cost. The example I keep coming back to is the Cos Cob Bridge, but it is equally true of the movable bridges east of New Haven. I also greatly appreciate that Alternative 1 recognizes the importance of grade-separating railroad junctions.

The Bad

Ultimately, the EIS does not take the three good concepts – integrated service planning, component-by-component thinking, and bundling trip-time improvements when the marginal cost of doing so is low – to their full conclusion. Thus, there is no attempt at running intercity trains at high speed on shared track with commuter rail with timed overtakes, as I have proposed for both the inner New Haven Line and the Providence Line. On the contrary, the plan for capacity investment on the Providence Line includes extensive three-tracking, rather than limited, strategic four-track bypass segments. This cascades to the trip times, which are quite slow between New York and New Haven (1:08, for an average speed of 103 km/h), and a bit slower than they could be between Providence and Boston (24 minutes, whereas about 21 is possible with about zero investment into concrete).

The concepts of Alternatives 1, 2, and 3 represent bundles of levels of investment. This is the wrong approach. Alternatives 2 and 3 include new tunneled city-center stations in Baltimore and Philadelphia; but wouldn’t we want to consider city-center station tunnels in those two cities separately? It’s possible for one to turn out to be cost-effective but not the other. It’s possible for neither to be cost-effective, but for other improvements included in Alternative 2, such as curve modification around Metropark and Metuchen, to pencil out.

There’s far more interaction between different macro-level alignments, by which I mean such questions as “inland route or coastal route?” and “serve Hartford on the mainline or put it on a branch?”, than between such micro-level investments as individual curve modifications and urban tunnels. This means that instead of discrete alternatives, there should be one umbrella, taking in Alternative 2 and 3 variants, proposing all of those options as possibilities. A future study, with detailed cost figures, could then rank those options in terms of trip time saving per unit of cost, or in terms of social and financial ROI. This way, there would be concrete proposals for what a $5 billion plan, a $10 billion plan, a $20 billion plan, and so on would be.

The Ugly

Two elements in the study are inexcusable. First, the service plan description explicitly keeps Amtrak’s current separation of premium-fare Regionals and even-more-premium-fare Acelas. This is not how the rest of the world structures HSR: even when the HSR fares are substantially higher than the legacy rail fares, as in Spain, the fare per passenger-km is not very high, and is not targeted exclusively at business travelers. In France, the intercity fare (including TGVs, which are the bulk of French intercity traffic) was on average €0.112 per passenger-km in 2011. Premium service is provided on the same TGVs as standard service, in first-class cars. In contrast, Amtrak charges about $0.29 per passenger-km on the Regional and $0.53 on the Acela.

And second, the investment alternatives appear to include more tunneling than is necessary. I will focus on the Hartford-Providence-Boston segment in Alternative 2, since it is less sensitive to assumptions on commuter rail track-sharing than the segments overlapping the New Haven Line. It is possible to go all the way from Hartford to the western margin of the Providence built-up area without any tunneling, and without outrageous bridging; see a past post of mine on the subject here, which concludes that it’s better to just go parallel to I-95 for trip time reasons. In Providence, tunnels are unavoidable, but can still be limited to short segments, mixed with elevated routes along pre-impacted freeway corridors. When I looked at it two years ago, I saw an alignment with just 2 km of tunnel, in Providence itself. In contrast, run A in figure 9 on PDF-p. 56 says that tunnels are about 27% of new construction between Hartford and Boston, which consists of, at a minimum, about 100 km of track between Hartford and Providence.

Conclusion

The EIS is a step in the right direction, insofar as it does consider issues of integrated service planning and prioritizing construction based on where it can be cheaply bundled into bridge replacement. However, it fails to consider cost limitations, as seen in the excessive tunneling proposed even in areas where high-speed tracks can run entirely above ground. It’s considering more options, which is good, but, Alternative 1, while representing a golden concept, is not sufficiently developed.

What I would like to see from a study in this direction is a mixture of the following:

  • Discussion of how to avoid tunnels, including various tradeoffs that have to be made (for example, above-ground construction may require more takings). Generally, I want to see much less tunneling than is currently proposed.
  • A well-developed incremental option, similar to Alternative 1 but more extensive, including for example I-95 bypasses all the way from New Haven to Kingston and along strategic segments of the New Haven Line, such as in Port Chester and Greenwich.
  • Greater integration with regional rail; one litmus test is whether the Providence Line is proposed to be three-tracked for long stretches, or four-tracked at a key bypass station (the options are Sharon and the Route 128-Readville segment), and another is discussion of high-acceleration electric multiple units on the Providence Line and the Penn Line.
  • Unbundling of projects within each alignment – there is no need to, for example, consider the Philadelphia and Baltimore tunnels together (I also think neither is a good idea, but that’s a separate discussion). The view should be toward an optimal set of projects within each alignment, since macro-level decisions such as whether to serve Hartford are more political than micro-level ones of which curves to fix. This permits explicit discussions such as “would you be willing to spend $2 billion and slow through-trains by 9 minutes to serve Hartford?”.

Except for the first, all are kind of present in this study, but in insufficient amount for me to view it as truly a step forward. The ultimate goal must be HSR in the Northeast on a reasonable budget – closer to $10 or even $20 billion than to the Amtrak Vision’s proposed $150 billion – and this requires carefully looking at which scope is required and which is not. The EIS has elements that can be used toward that goal, but ultimately it is a step sideways, not forward or in the wrong direction.

35 comments

  1. leviramsey

    I am a little surprised that you didn’t favorably cite the study’s call for through-running (I believe it was in every Alternative) as a means of enhancing capacity, especially at NYP.

    • Alon Levy

      I tried as much as possible to avoid talking about the New York capacity issues in the study – after all, all three Build alternatives include new Hudson tunnels, even though the tunnels are not necessary for HSR.

      • Adirondacker12800

        If NJTransit, SEPTA and NEPTA are running 50 trains an hour at peak, it makes it difficult for the twice an hour service from Cleveland or Charlotte to get to Manhattan. Or the twice an hour from DC to Montreal. Sending 20 of them to Wall Street makes sense but that requires tunnels to Wall Street.

        • Joey

          The Acelas can be lengthed to 12 passenger cars without too much fuss. The regionals can add cars, except during the busiest times. Maybe it’s time for Amtrak to look at bilevels, ideally EMUs.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Long Acelas don’t get people from Suffern or Matawan.Or Pittsburgh or Raleigh.

          • Joey

            The Pennsylvanian is only 6 cars long at present. Not that it’s competitive with anything on the Harrisburg-Pittsburgh segment.

          • Adirondacker12800

            It’s gonna cost a lot of money to make it competitive. But since all of Ohio and a lot of people in Michigan is west of there it makes the cost per passenger a lot lower.

          • Joey

            It’s definitely going to cost money, and it probably makes sense to do it in the long run. My point is that the argument “we need new tunnels because Amtrak sells out today” is invalid. The tunnels are relevant to regional/commuter rail in the short term, and to intercity rail in only in the medium-long term.

          • Adirondacker12800

            NJTransit, SEPTA and the someday NEPTA aren’t Amtrak.
            The day Gateway opens or very soon afterwards NJTransit is going to stop terminating Raritan Valley Line trains in Newark and run them all the way to Manhattan. Which is going to induce demand. I suspect that the bus ridership from RVL train stations will evaporate like it did along the Morris and Essex lines when Midtown Direct opened. Soon after the Bay Head shuttles will turn into Bay Head expresses. They are busy building a station in North Brunswick which will let them make Jersey Avenue a more conventional station and a flyover so the trains can arrive from New York and get to the New York bound platform without crossing over any tracks. South Portal Bridge gives the Morris and Essex lines access without having to merge onto the NEC. Cuts 15 minutes from the trip. Which will induce demand. As soon as they can do it will be 35 trains an hour. Those people in Pennsylvania who don’t like getting stuck in traffic on I-78 and I-80 will have two trains an hour at peak. 39 trains a hour.
            Ya have a set of tunnels that can handle 50 trains an hour ya got a problem if you want 45 commuter trains and 15 intercity trains.

  2. James Sottile Rail Safety Consultant

    Add this side step to the PTC debacle and you have an even more convoluted approach to rail planning in the United States. its structually designed to fail on purpose. Captain Obvious could not have made a better presentation.

  3. Adirondacker12800

    New England is screwed

    The shortest route from New York to Boston goes through expensive suburbs to New Haven and then the middle of nowhere to the outer edges of Boston’s suburbs. You want the one-true-route that passes by the most people it’s Boston-Worcester-Springfield-Hartford-New Haven-Yaphank-Hicksville-Jamaica-New York. There’s some trading of cheaper for longer so a bit slower in that, but not much.

    Do New Haven-Providence instead, Hartford-Springfield-Worcester wouldn’t be on a branch. They’d be on the densely populated alternate to Boston. Enough people that it should be able to scare up at least one train an hour, probably two, that takes a bit longer to get between Boston and New York but gets used by people who want to get to and from Hartford, Springfield and Worcester. New Rochelle, Stamford and Bridgeport should be able to scare up one an hour too. Probably enough people hiding in there that once an hour New Rochelle-Stamford-Bridgeport-New Haven-Hartford-Windsor Locks-Springfield-Palmer-Worcester-Framingham-Boston might make sense.

    The scope is too narrow. There’s more to life than getting people from Boston to New York. And lots of people in New England who aren’t in the catchment of South Station.

    • orulz

      Lower the fares and you would have enough passengers to fill an 8-car train every 15 minutes on both the Providence route AND the Springfield route.

      • Adirondacker12800

        It has to be much faster than the bus. Until it’s faster than the bus people aren’t going to use it. There’s probably once every other hour via Long Island to Montreal and once every other hour to Toronto via Stamford hiding in there too. Or a lot of changing trains in Albany.

  4. Tatil

    > And second, the investment alternatives appear to include more tunneling than is necessary.
    I work in another engineering field, so I don’t know how early cost projections are supposed to be done in pubic transportation. Yet, I wonder if you are selling their efforts short.

    When we are doing a feasibility study, we want to make sure we don’t get a green light for a project that makes financial sense to launch only if the costs stay within a best case scenario. It takes a lot of effort to quantify every possible risk of cost overrun, so we tend to pad the cost estimate based on some expenses for things that are more “nice to have” than “must have”. Similarly, is it possible they are including the cost of a number of tunnels even though they know they will likely turn some of them into above ground structures, so that if the steel prices rise or if a structure needs to be constructed with more expensive materials or if local opposition rules out a bridge or if a new freeway overpass blocks your way, they can still stay within their budget? If tunnels are 27% of the budget and above ground options cost half of that, that would result in only a 13% error margin for a project that takes a decade (more?) to build.

    • Alon Levy

      Usually these considerations are folded into a general contingency umbrella. In the US they pad budgets 20-25%, in Europe they don’t embark on projects with benefit-cost ratios below 1.2 because of cost escalation risk. Turning a 2% tunneled segment into a 27% tunneled segment is really not how this is done, not when the goal is cost-effectiveness. Maybe this is how things are done when the lead is a US government agency that wants to anchor people’s expectations around $100 billion so that a $30 billion project will seem like a reasonable value-engineered compromise, but competent, trustworthy outfits simply do not do this.

  5. Philip Duarte

    Commuter rail service on the Hartford line can feed either to the north or the south regardless of where/how the second spine is built. As always there has been talk for a while for Worcester-Providence service, which (if this service existed) could and would also feed north or south. A big concern for me is resilience of anything that parallels the NEC only along the coast.

    • F-Line to Dudley

      The problem with any alt spine built 1-5 miles inland to avoid the CT movable bridges is Connecticut’s geology full of trap rock outcrops. With the highest concentration of rock quarries situated between Branford and Groton a half-mile to 5 miles from the shore. Pan and zoom on Google Satellite and look at how many gravel pits and Tilcon Connecticut quarries there are showing up as brown splotches amid the greens in the whole area bounded by I-95 and CT 2. They can’t even widen I-95 from 4 to 6 lanes on the 13 miles from Old Saybrook to New London for less than a $1B lower bound because of all the blasting–and abutter mitigation of–they’d have to do to widen out the rock outcrops that flank long stretches of the highway.

      That’s where the Shoreline-ish inland flank is uncapped on upper-bound cost overruns. Once they count up every stick of dynamite they have to use to get a level ROW it’s going to flunk any rational cost/benefit calculation. That Alternative 3 Worcester routing likewise reeks of total un-seriousness on having no upper limit on overruns with how much blasting it entails to climb the steep hills paralleling I-84 in Tolland County.

      The only one that makes sense is the Hartford-Willimantic-Plainfield route that joins together the tangent Hartford-Manchester and Plainfield-Providence sections of the ex- Hartford, Providence, & Fishkill ROW into a line that’s almost fully straight and flat except for 2 discrete geography-constrained slow zones of 1-4 miles each at Bolton Notch, CT and West Warwick, RI. This is because the HSR grading would recycle 50 years worth of I-84 highway routings when they were trying…and trying again and again and again…to build the Hartford-Providence interstate. The most recent such study being only 13 years ago for the Bolton-Willimantic extension of I-384. Where to lay the interstate roadbed has been studied beyond to-death on about 10 different routings they can recycle–fully at-grade–for a 150 MPH HSR roadbed with known-known upper bounds on construction costs. That’s the only one that’s going to make the final cut. Moreover, the powers-that-be KNOW today that the only one that’s going to make the final cut. And yet…”every study has to game out no fewer than 3 alternatives with equal vigor because reasons”, so they’re gonna waste decades of time/money/energy talking hypotheticals on 2 routes where they know the hypothesis will never make the cut to theory. That extra baggage will inhibit by decades anything being advanced to design-build, regardless of whether they KNOW today how it’ll break.

      It’s really hard to take any of this seriously when that much effort is required to waste on a preordained outcome. If they’re going to expend energy quantifying the uncertainty of routings that don’t have upper bounds on overruns…save it for the really, really, really tricky cross-Sound or (extremely flawed as well as physically improbable) Danbury spines where you’ll need all the resources you can muster to quantify the uncertainty and make the risky bets. Don’t waste so much unnecessary energy on some kabuki dance for reaching a preordained answer on the Eastern CT/RI alt spine.

      FWIW…this study also cooks also up a total false dichotomy on Worcester OR Providence routes. Build that Hartford-Plainfield middle spine that’s the only plausible well-studied route with known cost upper bounds and you can shoot up the nearly tangent Providence & Worcester RR Groton mainline 37 miles to Worcester Union Station and mix-and-match your Providence vs. Worcester inland service patterns. It may be more of a 90-110 MPH affair on those 37 northbound miles with several uneliminable grade crossings and not 150 MPH on perfect HSR grading like the majority of the schedule continuing due east to Providence, but the fact that it is 150 MPH from Hartford to Plainfield for all high-speed traffic means that “choose your adventure” Worcester fork would beat by hours ANY permutation of a sped-up Hartford-Springfield-Worcester L-shaped routing via the Boston & Albany. And probably would land within 10-15 minutes par with the Alternative 3 hill-climber along I-84 when all the construction compromises and cost overruns of that boondoggle get tallied up. Study the P&W?…of course not! This whole effort is in the business of inventing new whole-cloth AMTK-owned pork, not about returning one single voicemail from P&W that mentions “Hey guys, you know only run 2 freights per day on that thing and it’s stupidly overbuilt on potential speeds and capacity.”

      I don’t know how they expect to solve all the challenges with the most perilous spines with fewest alternatives if this is the obfuscation that is required to rule everything across the whole degrees-of-difficulty scale in the name of study ‘parity’.

      • Adirondacker12800

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chesapeake_Bay_Bridge-Tunnel

        6 million a lane mile to add more trestle in 1999. Long Island Sound has two and half outlets to the sea and the important naval base is east of a crossing to New Haven. Probably could avoid expensive tunnels and get away with a bridge that’s high enough for the marine traffic. Unlike the tunnels that had to be built for crossing the Chesapeake.

        150 mph is too slow if you want to get from Boston to DC in three hours. It’s too slow if you want people from Richmond and Pittsburgh to use the train to get to Boston. It’s gonna cost a lot of money. So do highways and airports.

        If they need three lanes of Turnpike they could just raise the tolls… Oh wait Connecticut decided that tolls are evil. Since tolls are evil they can sit in traffic.

        • Steven Harrell

          These days they might could have built the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel as a high fixed-span bridge as well. At least some of the plans for the replacements of the Hampton Roads and Monitor-Merrimack Bridge Tunnels involve high bridges, which suggests that VDOT doesn’t think the Navy is quite as paranoid foreign air forces could trap the Atlantic Fleet inside the bay as it was in 1964 (one of the FAQs for the new Hampton Roads Crossing Study is “Does the NAVY know you’re doing this?” ). Part of me thinks that old story is apocryphal, though….

          Personally I’d go for the tunnel option for Long Island Sound. Not because of the Navy or shipping, but because Cuomo would want to add car lanes to a bridge. Then he’ll want to removing the “rail option” from the bridge to “save costs.”

          • Adirondacker12800

            If Amtrak starts right now he’ll be dead by the time the Draft Environmental Impact Statement is issued.

          • Joey

            Adirondacker: If Gateway is anything to go by then Amtrak seems to think that congress will give them money even before they have an EIS.

          • Adirondacker12800

            At the rate East Side Access is going he’ll be dead before Gateway opens.

      • Alon Levy

        About the straightest possible route from Hartford to Providence – not the one via West Warwick – needs a tunnel through Olneyville. Going via West Warwick eliminates the need for a tunnel, but makes the route even longer, because of the curves in West Warwick. In general, you should think more in terms of curves and less in terms of grades. HSR can climb steeper grades than legacy trains; the LGV Sud-Est actually has less tunneling than the legacy Paris-Lyon line (the LGV has none, whereas the legacy line has a few tunnels). In contrast, curves are awful. The optimal alignment for a 110 km/h highway is not the same as the one for a 250 km/h railroad, let alone a 360 km/h railroad. Interstate standards are 350-meter (5-degree) curves as I recall; for a greenfield HSR alignment, start from 4 km and go up from there. I don’t think the inland route requires tooooo much infrastructure even with the wider curves, but it does mean the prior Interstate engineering needs some extra work to be applicable to trains.

        Meanwhile, at least on the level of topography, the segment between the Connecticut and the Thames doesn’t seem to require exceptional cut-and-fill. Immediately east of Old Lyme it’s in the “60′ average depth cut” category, which is around $21 million per km as of 2010 (link, PDF-p. 108); then there’s a curve in the I-95 ROW that the track would have to take by climbing the rock (which requires less cutting, since the trains can climb these grades); then the road is graded on the side of a sloping hill. The cost figures do not include managerial overhead and contingency, but even with them, it’s more like $700 million for the 24 km between the rivers than $1 billion. Ultimately, HSR lines average $20-25 million per km when there are no big topographical challenges, which means that 125 km of New Haven-Kingston should be around $2.5-3.1 billion; having one fifth of the route run up to $30 million per km is par for the course, and even $40 million for a bit isn’t deadly. I’d worry more about crossing the Thames and the Quinnipiac. New Haven-Hartford-Providence is about 170 km, so with the same calculation it’d be $3.4-4.2 billion, ignoring cost raisers like the Olneyville tunnel (which would be maybe $400 million – it’s Olneyville, not Manhattan).

        • Adirondacker12800

          Westerley-New Haven is a lot shorter and the ROW east of Westerley isn’t too bad. It’s unfortunate that Hartord decided to plop itself on the falls halfway between where the main east-west routes would someday be. New Haven-Hartford doesn’t have to compete with air, it has to compete with driving. The same thing with Hartford-Springfield. The reallly really fast trains can go moderately fast between New Haven and Springfield and still provide the same kind of service. Once they get to Springfield or New Haven they can go really fast. Providence-Hartford doesn’t have to compete with flying either. It just has to be faster than driving.

        • Joel N. Weber II

          If you’re going to look at building only part of the proposed I-95 bypass, I think bypassing the Groton and Stonington grade crossings might be more valuable than trying to bypass the Waterford and New London crossings.

          The owners of the New London station building may not be thrilled about a reroute, and the adjacent grade crossings are low speed. The Miner Ln crossing in Waterford seems like it ought to be possible to grade separate, or perhaps close entirely with connecting roads elsewhere in the street grid (though the NIMBYs on Laurel Crest Drive don’t seem to value the lives of Miner Ln residents).

          Meanwhile, some of the Groton and Stonington crossings appear to be near the shoreline and residences in places where constructing grade separations would likely have a substantial negative impact on the views in the neighborhood. And the Mystic Aquarium might benefit from ending up within walking distance of a relocated train station.

          The Thames and Niantic bridges have also had major refurbishment / replacement projects in the recent past.

          • Alon Levy

            It’s pretty hard to segment it this way. There’s a point where the I-95 bypass passes close enough to the legacy Shore Line just west of Old Saybrook, which makes it a natural break point if construction is segmented (but why should it be? 125 km of largely at-grade track is not that expensive). But near New London it’s more difficult. Besides, the movable bridges limit train throughput pretty severely, and if you’re reconstructing them, you might as well also build the cheap at-grade track in between and end up with an entire high-speed segment.

          • Adirondacker12800

            The existing Shoreline has utility as a faster-than-driving alternative to the Turnpike for CDOT commuter trains. It’s where people are. The once every two hours intercity train that toddles through is good enough. The one that stops in Kingston and Westerly. S’kay if the super express from Richmond doesn’t stop there. The people from Richimond, Washington and Baltimore who are using it to get to Boston don’t care. Just like they didn’t care it didn’t stop in Wilmington or Trenton or New Brunswick or Cornwall Heights or….

          • Joel N. Weber II

            If you keep the existing Thames Amtrak bridge and the conventional alignment to its west, there is a direct connection on the east side of the Thames bridge to the Groton & Worcester railroad that passes directly under I-95. There might be a need for a deep cut to get from the existing bridge to new track in the I-95 alignment, though. But the area immediately to the east of the existing Thames railroad bridge is certainly not full of major buildings.

            I am thinking more in terms of what would best meet the transportation needs of this part of Connecticut than how to best build a replacement for Boston to New York City airplanes; if a new spine ends up being built away from I-95, the Groton and Stonington grade crossings might still be worth bypassing.

            And my understanding is that the old Connecticut River bridge is the major capacity bottleneck, and the expectation in the minimal build case is that within a decade or two it will be replaced with a somewhat higher moveable bridge which may improve capacity somewhat.

          • Alon Levy

            The problem is that the minimal build case and the full build case have similar costs, especially once you factor in the plans to replace (or refurbish?) the Thames and Niantic bridges.

            The main benefit to Connecticut here is that it allows regional rail. Between New Haven and Providence, intercity rail is far and away the highest-value use of infrastructure; if there’s any capacity limit, due to two-tracking or movable bridges, then intercity trains should (and do) get priority. Move the intercity trains away from the legacy line and, as Adi notes, there’s room on the tracks for an hourly train that makes the Shore Line East stops, goes to New London, and continues to Kingston, making such stops as Groton, Stonington, Mystic, and Westerly.

            (What happens past Kingston is more complicated, since double-tracking means it’s really hard to mix intercity and regional trains at the expected frequency of intercity trains. At very high intercity frequency, 1-2 intercity trains an hour could stop at Kingston, with a transfer to the regional Shore Line trains. At medium frequency, on the order of 4 tph, it’s harder.)

          • Joel N. Weber II

            Given that the vertical lift span of the Thames bridge was new in 2008 with the rest of that bridge refurbished at that point, and the Niantic bridge was new in 2012, there’s no state of good repair reason to do any major work on those bridges anytime soon, and there is probably room for at least a small increase in trains per hour on these two bridges if the Connecticut River bridge were to become less of a bottleneck.

            However, whatever is done with the Connecticut River bridge replacement will likely either force all service from the Connecticut River to the Thames to take the existing alignment, or to take the I-95 alignment (and throw away the new Niantic bridge). It seems unlikely that Connecticut River crossings for both would make any financial sense.

  6. Andrew in Ezo

    Alon, how common is the practice of timed overtakes on double track lines outside of Japan and some metro systems elswhere? I ask because it requires a degree of timetable discipline that may be hard to attain in most places with dense traffic, especially when a mix of long-distance and commuter trains may result in knock-on delays with considerable frequency. In my last trip to Europe, I only saw it in operation firsthand on the Munich-Nuremberg HSL, and that was as a passenger on a RE service during a relatively long stop in Ingolstadt.

    • Alon Levy

      Amtrak and the MBTA have timed overtakes at Attleboro today. They’re more padded than on the Chuo Line, but they exist.

      I also know that timed overtakes exist in Europe, but I don’t know how widespread they are. Switzerland seems to plan a lot of its network around that concept, but, well, Switzerland is Switzerland. I think there are some timed overtakes involving TGVs on legacy lines, but I don’t know how padded they are. (French railway punctuality is abysmal.)

      • Adirondacker12800

        Three trains meet at Jamaica. People walk through the train loitering on the track with Spanish solution platforms to change trains. The rumors on railroad.net are that will go away in 2032 when East Side Access opens. Just in time for the 60th anniversary of completion of the tunnels under the East River. Some truth to the rumor that service to Brooklyn will be shuttlized because they are building a platform to be able to do that.
        ….. service on the Main Line will be less than anticipated because the people along the Main Line decided that grade crossing elimination would be awful. Has it’s charms because in 2035, when automobile traffic along the Main Line is tied up in knots because of the increased train traffic, we can dig up the whole thing and put in 6 tracks. 4 for the LIRR and two for the HSR line to New Haven. It frees up the Hell Gate Bridge for Triboro, Metro North and all the freight that will be coming through Cross Harbor. I’ll be dead so it doesn’t matter much to me.
        … I really do have to go find the Popular Science/Popular Mechanics articles about how we would all be flitting between Boston and DC in four hours by 1980. It’s a pity the video of the Budd promotional film has evaporated from Youtube. Nice scene with an official from Budd and the PRR about how the next generation of Metroliners would be able to do 160.

  7. Pingback: When There’s Nothing Left To Burn, You Have To Set Money On Fire | Pedestrian Observations

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