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The Southeast HSR corridor can be divided between the "real" SEHSR corridor, where there is actual, ongoing work on improving the speed and, even more critically, the capacity of the corridor in support of services that will begin operating within the current decade, and the "notional" SEHSR corridor, the land of feasibility studies and preliminary planning, where even if a pedal to the metal intercity rail investment program were to commence in 2017, any new services entering into operation before the latter half of next decade would be subsidized conventional rail service.

And given the importance of state governments in the current bottom-up process of intercity rail development, it should be unsurprising that the boundary between the two part of the SEHSR runs quite close to a state boundary. As discussed two weeks ago, Georgia lies in the middle of "notional" SEHSR country, with Rapid Rail connections to Birmingham; Columbus, GA; Savanna; Charlotte, NC; and Chattanooga / Nashville / Louisville at various stages of being studied, but without active ongoing investment. By contrast, there is current active investment and planned roll-out of new service throughout Virginia and North Carolina, all the way through to Charlotte, NC.

One reason that Virginia and North Carolina are engaged in ongoing investment is that they are well positioned for incremental development of Rapid Rail passenger service, with a legacy of through Amtrak corridors providing a platform to build upon, urban development taking place along urban arcs in both states, and close enough to the growing major metropolitan center of Washington, DC to use Washington as an anchor for longer distance intercity transport.

The greatest current focus of investment in the "real SEHSR" is the Piedmont Corridor in North Carolina, which is the focus of this week's Sunday Train.

North Carolina Intercity Rail Transport in the Amtrak Era

With the establishment of Amtrak, and the compact between the majority of freight railroads and Amtrak to take over the freight railroad's passenger rail responsibilities in return for priority access to the rail corridors of those railroads, North Carolina retained two long distance passenger trains between New York and Florida, the Silver Meteor and Silver Star. The Silver Meteor is the direct train to Miami, traveling on a more Eastern route through North and South Carolina, while the Silver Star runs through a more central route in the Carolinas, including Raleigh, North Carolina, and in Florida runs between Orlando and Tampa, doubling back to connect Tampa and Miami.

Leading into the 1970's, there were two intercity routes between Atlanta and New Orleans, via Mobile Alabama and Birmingham, Alabama. In 1970, the Southern Railway consolidated service into the Crescent route, which ran via Birmingham. When they entered into the Amtrak compact in 1979, the Crescent was the last privately operated long-distance passenger route east of the Mississippi. The Crescent included service through western North Carolina between Charlotte and Greensboro as a night train with a morning arrival in Atlanta southwest-bound and an evening departure from Atlanta northeast-bound.

In the mid-70's, Amtrak established the Palmetto, which presently runs between New York City and Savanna, Georgia, paralleling the route of the Silver Meteor but making additional stops. At various times in its history it has been extended south into Florida. While it runs to the east of Raleigh, it includes a station in Selma, North Carolina, listed by Google Maps as a thirty three minute drive from Raleigh.

In the mid-80s, with financial support from the State of North Carolina, Amtrak introduced the Carolinian, which ran on the Crescent route from Charlotte to Greensboro, than ran across to Raleigh, then continued through Richmond, Virginia and Washington DC to New York City. While the service met ridership targets, it did not meet revenue / passenger-mile targets as most passengers traveled in-state, and North Carolina discontinued their support. In 1990, they tried again, and this time met their target, providing the fourth intercity train from North Caorlina to Virginia and the Northeast Corridor through to NYC, and the first connecting the major population centers of North Carolina's urban arc. In conjunction with the Palmetta, the Carolinian provides a connection for an Amtrak throughway bus service connecting to Greenville, home of ECU, and through to the coast at Morehead City.

After the successful re-introduction of the Carolinian, the state of North Carolina sought to establish a second Charlotte / Raleigh train, and after some additional work to provide turn-around capacity at Charlotte and a service center in Raleigh, the Piedmont entered into operation in 1995. This was upgraded to two Piedmont Services in 2010.

So this was the intercity passenger rail landscape in North Carolina at the start of the current decade:

  • Raleigh/DC/NYC: 8:54A/3:31P/7:18P; 10:25A/4:37P/8:49; {1:51P*}7:57P/11:47P
  • NYC/DC/Raleigh: 6:15A/9:55A{2:53P*}, 7:05A/10:55A/4:42P, 11:02A/3:05P/9:10P  
    • {* note: station half an hour southeast of Raleigh}

  • Atlanta/Charlotte/DC/NYC: 8:04P/1:46A/9:53A/1:46P, (-)7:00A/4:37P/8:49P
  • NYC/DC/Charlotte/Atlanta: 7:05A/10:55A/8:12P(-), 2:15P/6:30P/2:20A/8:13A
  • Charlotte/Greensboro/Raleigh: 7:00A/8:39A/10:17A, 12:00P/1:34P/3:11P, 5:15P/6:49P/8:26P
  • Raleigh/Greensboro/Charlotte: 6:45A/8:18A/9:55A, 11:45A/1:18P/2:55P, 4:50P/6:32P/8:12P

Note that all of these are conventional rail services, and therefore the timetabled "departure to departure" transit speeds of the services are typically in the range of 45mph-55mph. Given the heavy subsidy to competing public/private road transport at what are often higher transit speeds, these are therefore all subsidized intercity transportation services. Under the current funding rules, which have come into force this year, the multi-day long-distance Amtrak routes -- the Silver Meteor, Silver Star and Crescent -- are federally subsidized, while the medium and short corridors that are under 750 miles long, the Palmetto and Carolinian trains and the Piedmont services, are subsidized by the state or states that they serve.

 
Stimulating Intercity Passenger Rail Frequencies in North Carolina

In 2009, as part of the Stimulus II package, $8b was included to fund a range of intercity passenger rail investment. However, while there had previously been substantial bipartisan support for High Speed Rail and Rapid Rail and, indeed, the Clinton-era HSR legislation was a heavily watered down version of the far more ambitious proposal from George HW Bush, HSR funding was heavily politicized by the radical reactionary fringe that dominated many state Republican primary base electorates in the 2010 midterms, and in 2011, Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio, three of the states that had won competitive grants for HSR funding, turned their grants down.

These funds did not, however, go away. Instead, in combination with an additional round of funding passed in 2010, they went into an additional round of grant funding, which shifted the focus of "bullet train" HSR funding from Florida to California, essentially emptied the State of Washington's shelf of shovel ready Cascade Corridor projects, and shifted what was originally Ohio's Buckeye State Triple C corridor money to accelerating the service speed of the Chicago to Detroit Wolverine.

And then in 2011, under a Republican House majority, new funding explicitly set aside to bullet train and Rapid Rail investment came to a halt. However, that did not mean that already funded projects ground to a halt. Instead, the projects that were already granted and accepted are proceeding, with many of them coming into operation in 2015 through 2017. And that includes North Carolina.

As shown above, right (or in this higher resolution pdf), the federal funding for intercity passenger rail is leading to ongoing investment all across the Piedmont Corridor. There are passing sidings or double tracking taking place between Raleigh and Durham, between Durham and Greensboro, near Lexington, NC, and in two sections between Charlotte and Salisbury, NC. There are 12 highway overpasses over the rail corridor and railway overpasses over highway being built, which substantially simplify upgrades to 110mph service. There are two curves that are being straightened to allow faster rail operations.

The immediate results in terms of transit speed are modest, with the typically 3:10 Charlotte/Raleigh route being reduced by 13 minutes to 2:57.

However, a quick look at the operation of the Piedmont services reveals that it is not speed that is the binding constraint on these services, it is capacity. The State of North Carolina owns two sets of trains (and six locomotives, so two pairs, and two spares), which each make one round trip per day. The train that leaves Raleigh at 6:45am gets to Charlotte at 9:55am, leaving Charlotte at noon to arrive back in Raleigh at 3:11pm. The train that leaves Raleigh at 11:45am gets to Charlotte at 2:55pm, leaving Charlotte at 5:15pm to arrive back in Raleigh at 8:26pm.

Now, consider that a single train on a 3:10 route, with a 0:20 layover between runs, could make the Raleigh/Charlotte/Raleigh round trip  at 6:45am/9:55am|10:15am/1:25pm, then 1:45pm/4:55pm|5:15pm/8:25pm. Sliding that by 2hrs for a second train would support 8:45am/11:55am|12:15pm/3:25pm, then 3:45pm/6:55pm|7:15pm/10:25pm. Including the Carolinian service {} with the four Piedmont services, that would be:

  • Raleigh/Charlotte: 6:45/9:55am, 8:45/11:55am, 1:45/4:55pm, 4:42/8:12pm{}, 7:15/10:25pm
  • Charlotte/Raleigh: 7:00/10:17am{*}, 10:15am/1:25pm, 12:15/3:25pm, 5:15/8:25pm, 7:15/10:25pm

Note that other than the start of the first Piedmont service and the schedule of the Carolinian, this is my own back-of-the-envelope schedule, to demonstrate that what stands between the current three services each way between Charlotte and Raleigh and five services is the capacity of the corridor. The State of North Carolina already owns the trains required to provide those five services.

The majority of the funding for the Piedmont Improvement Program is on the capacity expanding addition of passing sidings and double track sections of corridor. And, indeed, once the project has been completed, in 2017 the Piedmont services will be increased from two services round trip to four services round trip.

 
So, Where's the High Speed Rail?

So, where's the High Speed Rail in all of this?

The HSR story of the Piedmont Corridor begins back before the Stimulus II HSR funding, back when President George HW Bush's more ambitious HSR proposals were pared back under the Clinton administration. In the 90's, ongoing efforts to push the United States into following the lead of Japan and France were successfully quarantined by focusing substantial investments in the Northeast Corridor (NEC), where the high cost of construction in the area combined with the still-dilapidated state of the Northeast Corridor from its takeover by Amtrak in the Penn Central bankruptcy (shockingly, despite promises at the time that Amtrak was establish that the Northeast Corridor was to be restored to a state of good repair well in advance of the 90s).

This was the process that saw the establishment of the Acela service in the NEC. The Acela are tilt trains with a top speed of 150mph however, due to a variety of speed constraints including long stretches of the corridor where track alignment did not permit use of the tilt mechanism, overhead electrical supply between NYC and DC that limited speeds to 135mph, and a number of speed and capacity limited bridges, they have an effective operating speed of 85mph.

Funding for the designated HSR corridors, outside of the NEC, was largely limited to funding planning for some unspecified future time that serious capital support for HSR would become available. And in 2001, part of that process saw planning on Virginia/North Carolina section of the designated South East HSR Corridor proceed from the feasibility study phase to the Tier I National Environment Protection Act environmental impact study. As a result of that process, two alternatives were approved for more detailed "Tier II" study, consisting of the so-called "S-line" rail corridor between Richmond and Raleigh and the current North Carolina Railways Piedmont corridor between Raleigh and Charlotte. The Piedmont corridor does not pass through Winston-Salem, with the High Point station on the corridor 25 minutes drive southeast from central Winston-Salem, so the second alternative is the same as the first except for a diversion into Winston-Salem on a rail corridor connecting with the Piedmont corridor on both sides.  

The appendices to the 2001 Tier I EIS include an analysis of operating revenue and costs for a planned eight round trip SEHSR services between Washington DC and Charlotte, NC. Total revenues for alternatives A & B were projected at $103.3m-$105.4m, with total operating expenses of $80.8m-$83.8m, for an operating ratio of 125%-128%.

Note that these projections are not for a bullet train, but rather for a Rapid Rail service, with total transit speed, Washington DC to Charlotte, NC of 70mph for the current Piedmont Corridor route, 67mph for the version with the Winston-Salem overlay. And these are estimates from the conditions of 2000, so that with current gas prices, the services would likely be even more effective.

Now, the sections of this corridor are not in a position to seek funding for final design and construction until they have completed their detailed Teir II NEPA environmental impact study process. And one of the projects funded with Stimulus II funding was the Tier II funding for the Richmond to Raleigh section of the corridor. The Draft EIS was completed in 2010, and it is currently being revised to address issues that were raised as a result of public comment. So if, as I suggested in November of last year, we may see an "HSR policy unlock" in 2017, the Rapid Rail upgrade of the Raleigh to Richmond section ought to be "shovel ready" while conventional rail service between Raleigh and Richmond will have already been upgraded from three services each way per day to five.

 
The Game of Rapid Rail Leap-Frog

When considering the benefit of a Rapid Rail upgrade to the Raleigh/Richmond segment of the SE HSR corridor, it is important to avoid a tunnel-vision focus on Raleigh/Richmond trips alone. The benefits of the upgrade accrue to:

  • Trips beginning and ending somewhere on the Raleigh/Richmond corridor;
  • Trips extending from somewhere on the corridor to somewhere between Northern Virginia and the NEC;
  • Trips extending from somewhere on the corridor to somewhere between Raleigh and Charlotte
  • Trips entirely north or south of the corridor that have more frequent service due additional to services justified by the above trips
  • Trips entirely north or south of the corridor that have more frequent service due to trains spending less time in the Richmond/Raleigh corridor

Any Amtrak services that already run between Richmond and North Caroline that are switched onto the upgraded Rapid Rail corridor gain both improved speed and, with the passing sidings and sections of double tracking that are part of the upgrade, improved reliability over the corridor. The Silver Meteor and Palmetto would gain the benefit of adding Raleigh station to their route, while the Silver Star would gain both a faster and a shorter alignment through to Raleigh.

Northeast Regional services operating primarily on the Northeast Corridor through to Washington DC extend four services a day through to Richmond, with some services continuing on to Newport News and some to Petersburg/Norfolk, VA. The service center and wye-turnabout at Raleigh offers the option to extend one or more to Raleigh, including the option of a night train that terminates in Raleigh and begin a service through Richmond and DC to NYC or Boston the next day.

The "back of the envelope" Piedmont service upgrades were based on a staggered start from the Raleigh service center to Charlotte. So the second trainset to depart from Raleigh could begin the day from Richmond, while in the evening when the first trainset arrives for the second time in Raleigh from Charlotte, it can continue on to Richmond, which includes trips connecting in Richmond to the NEC.

The capacity upgrades to the Piedmont Corridor presently underway include the opportunity to operate a mix of all-stations and Express services on the corridor, which means an opportunity to operate a new Express service from Charlotte to Washington DC, which would connect with the existing range of Northeast Regional and Rapid Rail Acela services available from Washington to points north.

From there, the existing of the services that run from the Richmond / Raleigh corridor onto the existing Piedmont corridor between Raleigh and Charlotte improve the case -- both technical and political -- for proceeding to upgrade the Piedmont Corridor to a Rapid Rail 110mph corridor. That upgraded could proceed in stages, with incremental benefits at each stage, but when completed it provides the infrastructure for eight Charlotte/DC services each way and additional regional corridor services provided as justified by transport needs in those regions.

This is one of the long term benefits of winning support for a conventional intercity rail service: having the service in place increases the incremental benefit of ongoing improvements, and ongoing improvements decrease the cost of completing a Rapid Rail upgrade for that corridor. This requires looking ahead to be sure that it is an appropriate corridor for a Rapid Rail upgrade, but provided that the corridor can support an economically viable Rapid Rail service, existing conventional rail services provide a target for an incremental upgrade path.

To my mind, this helps illuminate the difference between the "real" SE HSR corridor through Virginia and North Carolina and the "planning" SE HSR corridor through South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi to New Orleans, Louisiana. With a much more substantial range of conventional intercity rail services in place, Virginia and North Carolina offer more fertile ground for serious development of Rapid Rail upgrades to those conventional rail services.

Atlanta is, in many respects, a "planning HSR" Rapid Rail hub, as discussed in the Sunday Train two weeks ago. And when I look at it, a Rapid Rail upgrade between Richmond and Raleigh offers opportunities to extend new conventional rail service to Atlanta.

This is based on the existing Crescent corridor to Charlotte, the existing Piedmont corridor to Raleigh, the proposed Rapid Rail corridor from Raleigh to Richmond, and the existing corridor for Northeastern Regional services from Richmond to DC. I assume upgrades between Washington DC and Raleigh that are equivalent to an effective timetabled transit speed of 70mph, and sufficient investment between Raleigh and Atlanta to ensure effective transit speed of 45mph or better between the major stations. The result is an opportunity for a two-trainset, round trip service between DC and Atlanta:

  • DC / Richmond / Raleigh NC / Charlotte NC / Greenville SC / Atlanta:
    • 7:00A/8:33A/11:22A/3:06P/5:22P/8:42P

  • Atlanta / Greenville SC / Charlotte NC / Raleigh NC / Richmond / DC:
    • 7:30A/10:35A/1:00P/4:40P/7:30P/9:02P

Atlanta presently has a single daily intercity rail service, the Crescent, with substantially stronger demand on the eastern leg of the service toward the Carolinas, Virginia, DC and NYC than on the western leg of the service toward Birmingham and New Orleans, arriving from the east before the beginning of business hours and leaving for the east a little after dinner time. The result of adding this service above would be a second Carolina / Virginia / Washington DC service that comes close to flipping the the clock on the eastern leg Crescent service, arriving from the east a little after dinner time and leaving for the east before the start of the business day.

Indeed, establishing a service along these lines would include Atlanta among the beneficiaries of a Rapid Rail upgrade of the Piedmont Corridor, since with an earlier arrival in Atlanta from the east and a later required departure from Atlanta toward the west, it would become possible to extend the service as an evening service from Atlanta to Birmingham with an early morning return.

Now, the current politics of Georgia might not extend beyond the concessions to supporters of intercity passenger rail of engaging in additional planning activities. However, demographic change is an ongoing process. And as we move into the next decade, its also possible for the current political polarization on intercity passenger rail to fade, with a re-emergence of the "local Chamber of Commerce" type politics that originally made intercity passenger rail less of a polarized policy issue.

If so, a DC/Atlanta service over the Piedmont corridor and the emerging "real" SE HSR could be a useful part of the process of extending the "real" SE HSR corridor from Virginia and North Carolina through to Georgia.

Conclusions

As always, the end of the Sunday Train essay is not the final word, but the invitation to start the conversation. Remember that any aspect of sustainable transport policy is fair game for conversation ~ though having spent some hours writing about this topic, I may tend to force fit some other topic into this one, so please flag that you are raising a different topic when doing so.

Originally posted to Sunday Train on Sun Feb 23, 2014 at 06:00 PM PST.

Also republished by Climate Hawks, North Carolina BLUE, Kos Georgia, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  BTW, if I put in for an Amtrak Writer's Residency (20+ / 0-)

    ... to try to be "literally" Going to Carolina In My Body ...

    ... y'all better back me up.

    Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

    by BruceMcF on Sun Feb 23, 2014 at 06:25:44 PM PST

  •  Great diary, thanks. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BruceMcF

    Tell us when we need to rec you in the contest.

    "Wars of nations are fought to change maps. But wars of poverty are fought to map change." Muhammad Ali

    by blueoregon on Sun Feb 23, 2014 at 06:58:35 PM PST

  •  Is anyone planning on taking Amtrak... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bronte17, BruceMcF, Railfan, davehouck

    ...to Netroots Nation in Detroit? I'm thinking about it.
    Maybe even bring my bike.

    •  I live in the wrong part of the country ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... since, unfortunately, the Toledo to Detroit corridor was a couple of stages past the Quick-Start Triple C corridor that our esteemed Governor cancelled, giving our money to Michigan.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Sun Feb 23, 2014 at 08:54:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Chicago-Detroit on the Wolverine Service. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BruceMcF, Egalitare, redwagon, BYw

      Here's Amtrak's Michigan Services page.

      Be sure to factor in a stop in Kalamzoo for a bit of Bell's Beer.

    •  You can't get there from here (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      redwagon

      Westbound the trains from NYC and DC go Cleveland-Toledo-Chicago. Arrive in Toledo before dawn, transfer to bus to reach Detroit. Ugh.

      Eastbound the Wolverines route from Chicago goes at 110 mph from Indiana to Kalamazoo. Then to Detroit it might still be under reconstruction in June, as the stretch Kalamazoo-Dearborn is being upgraded to 110 mph.

      This route is full of transformative promise soon to come. By the end of 2017, this corridor will be a major success story for passenger rail. But until most of the work is finished, traveler be forewarned of unavoidable delays.

      •  Hijacked! (0+ / 0-)

        This thread will now pivot from discussion of North Carolina passenger rail to California HSR.

      •  Quite ... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        spacecadet1

        ... once the Wolverine corridor has been upgraded, the opportunity opens up of flipping the Ohio Hub sequence, providing the Toledo/Detroit link to close that hole. That could be used by fish-hooking the Detroit Wolverine to Toledo, establishing a DC/NYC service, and Ohio cooperating with PA to extend a Pennsylvanian service through Cleveland, Toledo and Detroit.

        Indeed, since the Pennsylvanian rolling stock, is already 125mph capable to run on the Keystone East, that service could offer a single seat ride from Pittsburgh and Cleveland to Chicago by being dropped off by its eastern train and picked up by a Wolverine service.

        Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

        by BruceMcF on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 01:13:41 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Did I Miss Something? (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bear83, llywrch, MGross, Assaf, redwagon

    There are two primary reasons that rail service has expanded in North Carolina while California High Speed Rail is heading towards the glue factory.

    First, the North Carolina Railroad is state owned - running from Morehead City via Raleigh to Greensboro and then to Charlotte. Norfolk Southern leases it. Big difference from going to Union Pacific hat-in-hand and getting screwed in the process.  The state not only owns the rails - it owns the right-of-way as well.

    http://www.ncrr.com/

    Second, incrementalism does work. North Carolina and Illinois have seen the most effective use of rail stimulus moneys - with moderately increased speeds and frequencies.  In California, there is still only once daily service from LA to Oakland that takes 12 hours is often hours late.  It takes 1 1/2 hours to fly and 6 hours to drive.  Had advocates of HSR chosen to use an incremental approach, California might already have a half dozen daily departures on an 8-hour schedule.

    Instead, California is looking at a lot of nothing for another generation.

    •  It would be simpler for California ... (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      thomask, llywrch, ozsea1, Assaf, BYw

      ... if they were not stuck with California's geography ... the same increments are not available in California, given the cost of building new alignments into both the LA Basin and the Bay area.

      And its not as if the same people who are attempting to politically sabotage the California HSR project would enthusiastically support development of a 5-6 hour Rapid Rail corridor between the Bay and the LA Basin ... had that been the approach that was pursued, they would have opposed it every bit as doggedly as they opposed the current project, while it seems highly likely that a 5-6 hour route between the Bay and the LA Basin would not have attracted sufficient support to gain approval for the required state bond measure.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Sun Feb 23, 2014 at 08:52:34 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I Disagree - (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        redwagon

        North Carolina has used a gradualist approach which is really bearing fruit now.

        California could have put forward a modest plan at a modest price which would have received support, as well. Instead, they opted for a pie-in-the-sky approach which envisioned speeds as fast as the fastest French TGV despite no prior experience, with astonishing passenger levels, and with a route wandering all over the place. Not to mention numbers which could not withstand serious appraisal.

        With Newsom's bailing and with the drought - there is going to be an exodus. And I'm not sure what can be salvaged since there's nothing on the ground, yet, and the project was never designed to be incremental in the first place.

        Occasionally there are dramatic programs like the Apollo Mission which are funded from start to completion, but they are rare and require an overwhelming and bipartisan level of support. California rail was never going to be at that point and required a more circumspect planning from the outset.

        •  I realize that you disagree ... (5+ / 0-)

          ... but you have to realize that I simply have not yet adopted a dogmatic adherence to any given approach, irrespective of the costs and benefits of the various available alternatives, and since I've got past half a century alive on that basis, I'm not likely to flip over to being a dogmatic mode warrior anytime in the coming half century.

          As far as the politics ~ it may well be true that Newsom is bailing out ... he wouldn't be the first American politician to smell political blood in the water and decide he would rather win with the sharks than fight for the long term benefit of his state.

          As far as your critique of the over the top approach of the Governator and the Judge to the corridor, there is a substantial amount to that, and it would look less like dogmatic adherence to your preferred mode if you conceded how dramatically Governor Brown shifted the project away from requiring an "Apollo Mission" approach.

          Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

          by BruceMcF on Sun Feb 23, 2014 at 09:49:41 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  If Anyone Has Been Dogmatic - (0+ / 0-)

            It has been those who pushed for an "everything" approach.

            Of course, as politics is wont to be, in the planning stage everyone attaches his or her pet project until the main goals are hardly recognizable.

            Improved rail service between the two largest metro areas in California should have been framed as precisely that.  Not urban redesign, not employment programs, not carbon reduction, and a whole lot of other nots.

            Newsom is bailing because $68B - reduced from $100B by reducing the extent of the project - is just a whole, whole lot of money at a time when California is struggling. And after the initial federal funding and state authorized borrowing - which is about 25% - where will the other 75% come from?

            I can tell by your tone that you are upset by this. But it was, from my perspective, a near certainty. It has nothing to do with throwing anyone to the sharks. It is just a project that cannot be done - financially and politically.

            •  What you detect in my tone ... (5+ / 0-)

              ... is impatience with people who on one hand criticize the runaway expansion of project specifications that led to the $100b price tag and then implicitly criticize bringing that runaway expansion back under control by saying "reduced from $100b by reducing the extent of the project" as if the project budget had not been increase to $100b by increasing the extent of the project.

              When you call out the project for the runaway specification, that's fine. However, when you then frame the intelligent reaction to that by adopting a more efficient system design as if it were a bad thing, you appear to be arguing to a negative conclusion by whatever means you find at hand.

              I'm sure all readers understand b now that you are more eager to gloat about getting a politician on the side of trying to block the California HSR project than to talk about the details about how to build up a Rapid Rail system in a context quite far removed from the California case.

              Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

              by BruceMcF on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 04:23:53 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  excellent exchange (0+ / 0-)

                Johnny didn't get his gun, rhetorically speaking.

                “Vote for the party closest to you, but work for the movement you love.” ~ Thom Hartmann 6/12/13

                by ozsea1 on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 07:01:19 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

              •  No Bruce - (0+ / 0-)

                Repeatedly in this exchange you have implied motives - pretty sleazy motives - with no proof. That's low.

                I told you years ago that I have seen boodles of Ohio High Speed Rail projects from mag-lev to bullet trains go down not in flames but a whimper. Meanwhile, the last passenger train to travel from Cleveland to Cincinnati was in 1971. You are aware of the outcome of the 3C Corridor, no?

                California was the epitome of this process on steroids. I believe that there is validity in looking at similar past experiences as well as political and economic constraints.

                First, intercity rail constitutes one tenth of one percent of total U.S. passenger miles. Highway is 89%, air is 10.5%. That doesn't give you a large population of constituents to begin with. Sure, your boy scout troop took a trip to Washington, DC back in 1989 on the train - but for most Americans, train travel is peripheral. That's not an opinion.

                Second, in Amtrak's 40-plus years there have been repeated efforts to defund and eliminate it. Certainly every time there is GOP control of the House, Amtrak is on the chopping block. That would suggest that long-term and high-dollar funding is going to be difficult to achieve over multiple political cycles. The past century of presidential and congressional elections suggests that such cycles will continue.

                Third, given the limited size of constituency and shallow political/financial backing, failures have greater impact with a more difficult recovery. SNCF in France can face opposition to a new line, cost overruns, and delays better than CHSRA because it exists within a society that utilizes intercity train services, has strong popular support politically and financially, and has a long track record.

                If you do not recognize this much - - then you will continue to repeat the same mistakes. And you will never see any significant resurgence of passenger rail in the United States.

                This is a political website - - and politics is far more than programs or plans, but implementation. The position of CHSRA and it advocates was marginal from the outset. It's not gloating, it is stating my interpretation of a failed implementation of a policy objective - which at one time I thought we shared. However, you belittled my positions from the beginning as petty and small.

                You were wrong.

                •  But all of this is sweeping generalities ... (0+ / 0-)

                  ... which are not specific enough to support the specific argument that you require, which is that a package of Rapid Rail investments in California would be more likely to jump all of these hurdles.

                  Most of these hurdles do not get any lower for a package of Rapid Rail investments in California, the core opposition would fight that every bit as hard as they would fight an Express HSR program.

                  After all, the three programs to bite the dust were a conventional rail starter service appropriate for later Rapid Rail upgrade, a Rapid Rail corridor, and an Express HSR corridor, so that does not give you any evidence that a Rapid Rail package would have faced less opposition from that quarter.

                  And on the other hand, the peak support available to push a Rapid Rail bond initiative through on the ballot would be substantially lower.

                  I simply do not see you making a persuasive case as to why there would have been a groundswell of support for your preferred alternative.

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                  by BruceMcF on Tue Feb 25, 2014 at 09:43:15 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  There Doesn't NEED to Be a Groundswell of Support (0+ / 0-)

                    If the stakes and the costs are an order of magnitude lower.

                    There is always a significant number of people in the middle/muddle who don't have an opinion one way or the other. Either they don't know or they don't care. If the project is huge and the costs are high, they are likely to express reservations. If the project is small and the costs are moderate, they are likely to give it the benefit of the doubt.

                    That is precisely what has happened in California and North Carolina. Even though California has voted Democratic for the past umpteen presidential elections and has a Dem majority state government, opinion towards CHSR has trended clearly downward - - to the point that another vote for bonding would easily lose. In NC, despite one only bare Dem presidential victory in 2008 and an extremely right-wing, GOP-majority legislature, public support for passenger rail remains strong.

                    Why? Why would California voters - who have supported progressive issues for generations - be lukewarm on their rail project while North Carolina voters - who elected  one of the most reactionary state legislatures in the nation - continue to support their rail project?

                    •  But its not an order of magnitude lower. (0+ / 0-)

                      Getting a 110mph Rapid Rail corridor between SF and LA is still a $15b-$30b project, with substantial tunneling/viaducts.

                      Indeed, the order of magnitude lower investment is already being provided under Prop1a(2008), with the $900m in bond funding for local and Amtrak California rail. In order to make a "we could have got more Rapid Rail funding if we had bypassed the bullet train corridor" argument, you are necessarily talking about a multi-billion dollar statewide bond measure dedicated entirely to intercity Rapid Rail ...

                      ... and that would have required a wave of support similar to that enjoyed by the bullet train system to be passed.

                      Its easy to assume for the counterfactual that all of the things that would have impacted either a big Rapid Rail project or a big bullet train project would simply not hit the Rapid Rail project, but the further you go down that road, the more skeptical I become about your claims.

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                      by BruceMcF on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 01:03:30 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

    •  The state-owned NC Railroad is a big advantage for (10+ / 0-)

      NC, allowing state and local governments a bit of leverage with the freight railroads. The track and crossing improvements made to speed passenger rail have a similar benefit for Norfolk Southern's freight trains.

      http://www.ncrr.com/...

      There is the danger presented by NC's Republican-led legislature, where some members have advocated selling the railroad and it's 223 mile, 200' wide right of way for a one-time infusion of cash into the state treasury. It would be a truly foolish move, but that criteria doesn't seem to matter much any more.

      Election Day is Nov 4th, 2014 It's time for the Undo button on the 2010 Election.

      by bear83 on Sun Feb 23, 2014 at 09:57:50 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Agree (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bear83, spacecadet1, redwagon, BYw

        State ownership makes all the difference.

        Union Pacific and BNSF seem to have forgotten all the millions of acres in free land that the US government gave them - - not to mention the original Amtrak agreement which released them from the legal obligation to offer public transportation.

        It would be nice if there were politicians ready to hold them to it. Since the land grant (A) involved a public obligation (B) and the NRPC agreement transferred that obligation under certain conditions (C) - - then if the railroad fail to perform (C) >>>> they may be subject to losing (A).

      •  That is a danger indeed ... (6+ / 0-)

        ... as it stands, North Carolina only has to face the physical capacity limits of the corridor. They don't have to face the problem of an owner like Union Pacific ... unlike the Western US, there really isn't a Class I Eastern railroad that takes a professional approach to moving passenger trains through their system such as BSNF takes, so if it was bought up to NS or CSX, it would be more likely to see increased problems with passenger movements than fewer.

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        by BruceMcF on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 04:27:27 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I still want the Northeast Corridor fixed first (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BachFan

    It works. It is economic. And parts of it date to the 19th century.

  •  Great diary! (8+ / 0-)

    Thank you for putting all this information together.  I love traveling by train, and would love to have more opportunity to do so!

    I'm a Christian, therefore I'm a liberal.

    by VirginiaJeff on Sun Feb 23, 2014 at 08:45:32 PM PST

  •  So Bruce - (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MGross

    I'm surprised you haven't posted anything about Gavin Newsom's decision to pull support from CHSR. For two years, public support has been eroding - anywhere from 10 to 20 points down. Multiple nonpartisan legislative studies have returned urging  the California Legislature not to fund.

    I have been a student of passenger rail and strong supporter for more than 30 years. I criticized CHSR because it had become both overbloated and unrealistic. I said that such a plan could not work and would set passenger rail back another generation in California.

    I argued for an incremental approach four or five years ago.
    Remember?

    http://www.sfgate.com/...

    •  I'm not an expert on California politics ... (6+ / 0-)

      ... and from the article you link to, this is clearly posturing for political effect. The idea that wasting more resources and money on road and air infrastructure than for the equivalent capacity in rail infrastructure, which will then require ongoing operating subsidies, will somehow make it easier to cope with the water problems is absurd on its face.

      Clearly the same dedication to sabotaging the bullet train proposal would have been even more effective in sabotaging the incremental approach you have championed, given that the incremental approach would have started with lower public support at the outset.

      I am all too familiar with the "I support trains in general, but only if you are talking about supporting my favorite mode / speed / alignment" approach to "supporting" trains.

      The thing about the counterfactual, though, is that its counterfactual. The fact that you argued five to six years ago that an incremental approach would have worked out better, and that over that intervening period of time a number of self-proclaimed "rail supporters" collaborated in trying to undermine the project politically, does not actually establish that it would have been better.

      Indeed, given that the benefit/cost ratio available in California for the best possible Rapid Rail approach is substantially lower than the benefit/cost ratio available in California for the best possible bullet train HSR approach, it would seem to be substantially easier to sabotage a Rapid Rail system from the Bay to the LA Basin, since it would attract less support at its best, and it would have a much narrower margin for error before the benefit/cost ratio dips below 1.0.

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      by BruceMcF on Sun Feb 23, 2014 at 09:42:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Baloney - - (0+ / 0-)

        I disagreed with you from the outset on CHSR.

        The incremental approaches used in North Carolina and Illinois have produced results. The Pacific Northwest has also seen increases in frequency and slight improvements in schedules. Again - gradual.

        It has nothing to to with "My way, my route, etc." and everything to do with the nature of political support and funding.

        •  Wait a minute ... (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Egalitare, ozsea1, RunawayRose, BYw

          ... how does your disagreeing at the outset and supporting incremental Rapid Rail upgrades everywhere and in all circumstances establish that it has nothing to do with having a one sized fits all answer?

          There is nothing in the North Carolina or Illinois experience that provides any evidence that a Rapid Rail system between the Bay and the LA Basin would have either been more likely to attract or more justified in receiving the kind of federal funding that North Carolina, Illinois or the Cascade Corridor attracted.

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          by BruceMcF on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 04:08:46 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Except - (0+ / 0-)

            For the minor fact that the CHSR is never going to be built.

            It would be nice if CHSR advocates would back off of their fixed positions and try to salvage something to expand California passenger rail before it is entirely lost. The current CHSR project has a 0% chance of implementation - given the lack of long-range funding, the legislative studies urging the California legislature not to release funds, and the legal decisions forbidding funding based on current financial plans.

            (BTW, the Sacramento judge who put a hold on funds was a Davis appointee.)

            •  Your argument assumes ... (0+ / 0-)

              ... that your alternative would have been funded in the first place,.

              Obviously given the dysfunctional state of politics in California, there is a substantial political risk in any project big enough to save the state tens of billions of dollars in transport infrastructure costs ...

              ... the problem with your argument is not the side where you argue that trying to get the appropriate Express HSR system built in California is politically risky ...

              ... its the side where you flip the polarity of your argument, switching from the skeptical eye that you use to examine the rival to your preferred option and the negative framing you use for the rival to your preferred option and turn on the rose colored glasses that you use when examining your preferred option, along with the positive framing that you use for it.

              However, many of your allies in attempting to undermine the California HSR project would not use that switch ... they would keep the skeptical eye and the negative framing for your option as well, and would use every trick in the book to kill it as well.

              Heck, local rail transport and the existing Amtrak California corridors likely got a bigger slice out of the $900m complementary rail bond funding from Prop1A(2008) than they would have been likely to get standing alone, given that a Rapid-Rail-only bond issue would have been far less likely to pass.

              So that would have left California among the applicants for Rapid Rail Federal funding. The only reason that California got such a large share of the $10.5b in HSR funding in ARRA and FY09 was because it had an Express HSR project. If it had been competing against other Rapid Rail projects for Rapid Rail projects on Amtrak California routes, you are looking at something in the range of $100m-$500m.

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              by BruceMcF on Tue Feb 25, 2014 at 09:22:32 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  So, where's the High Speed Rail in all of this? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NoMoreLies, redwagon

    Exactly.. and with all due respect, let's use correct terminology: what we are building in the U.S. is more accurately termed rapid rail.

    Late adopters don't get to define the technology/terminology; they don't get to dumb it down.

    Here's what high speed rail actually is/does:

    A TGV test train set the record for the fastest wheeled train, reaching 574.8 km/h (357.2 mph) on 3 April 2007.
    The U.S. is nowhere near investing in and building the HSR that exists in Japan, France, etc.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/...

    "We are beyond law, which is not unusual for an empire; unfortunately, we are also beyond common sense." Gore Vidal

    by Superpole on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 03:06:45 AM PST

    •  The US in California is quite near to ... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ozsea1, redwagon, BYw

      ... investing and building the HSR that exists in Japan, France, etc., but as you can see above, there are voices who argue that that is too fast, and there is an argument that California cannot afford to invest in cheaper rail transport capacity instead of more expensive road and air transport capacity, because water.

      And going on the existing definitions in Europe, if the Acela corridor was upgraded to take full advantage of its top speed, it would quite clearly be "high speed rail", since European 150mph systems are referred to as "high speed rail". So too would have been the 160mph Florida system, with the Orlando to Tampa segment funded, except their Governor handed the money back.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 04:03:30 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  you're more optimistic about CAHSR (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Superpole, MGross, johnnygunn

        than I am. I see that project being quite dead, quite soon.

        Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility

        by terrypinder on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 04:33:47 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Intra State Rail is Fine, However (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        redwagon

        IF we are going to maintain first world nation status, and IF we are interested in creating 1,000's of good paying jobs-- then we need a huge national project: true, dedicated rail HSR from NYC to LA and from Minneapolis to Miami.

        the fact we are not already engaged in this project is disturbing.

        "We are beyond law, which is not unusual for an empire; unfortunately, we are also beyond common sense." Gore Vidal

        by Superpole on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 05:00:36 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I don't see a benefit for a bullet train ... (0+ / 0-)

          ... corridor stretching from NYC to LA. Steel Interstate corridors would be a higher priority for a US intent on regaining economic independence.

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          by BruceMcF on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 11:15:02 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Of Course You Don't see the Benefit (0+ / 0-)

            of real high speed rail-- I doubt you've ever experienced it. I on the other hand, have ridden the Eurostar from London to Paris and back. Next I'll take the new high speed train from Paris to Barcelona-- a trip that takes only six hours and cost 1/5 of what an airline ticket cost.

            the presumption that everyone is happy with the flying cattle cars that now pass as airlines, with zero legroom and never on time schedules is just that: an ignorant assumption.

            BTW, plenty of Luddites back in 1912 didn't see the benefit of the "horseless carriage", either.

            "We are beyond law, which is not unusual for an empire; unfortunately, we are also beyond common sense." Gore Vidal

            by Superpole on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 03:20:26 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  You are projecting quite a lot into my ... (0+ / 0-)

              ... answer that is not there.

              After all, over the past six years I have advocated building bullet train HSR systems in a number of corridors in the United States ...

              ... which makes it quite absurd of you to decide that when I say I do not see that the intrercity transport benefit of a bullet train corridor from NYC to LA would justify the cost, I am saying that I do not see the benefit of a bullet train corridor anywhere.

              Indeed, you can see johnnygunn criticizing me for supporting building the California HSR project as a 220mph rail corridor, which johnnygunn arguing that he foresaw its political troubles, and if we had only listened to him, we would have a successful Rapid Passenger Rail system being built.

              So when you imagine that I am saying that express HSR corridors should not be built anywhere, its just the opposite of reality.

              As far as where Express HSR should be built, here is a much better start than a bullet train corridor from NYC to LA.

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              by BruceMcF on Tue Feb 25, 2014 at 09:09:55 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  Carbon is one benefit (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Woody

            Rail is far lower impact than air.

            Another benefit could be cost.

            Pleasure and ease of travel for Americans who will be increasingly frail with age and are increasingly obese is another. For all the people fragging on fat people on airplanes, imagine how uncomfortable it is to be that person. For the frail, air travel is very difficult. You have to get loaded and unloaded on and off the plane basically.

            It would increase the travel options for many americans. Not to mention, ".. its not as if we have an economy that is straining against limited resources of available labor or equipment."

            •  Those are all benefits ... (0+ / 0-)

              ... but given the substantial costs of building bullet train corridors per mile, the question is whether the benefits per passenger mile justify the investment.

              They clearly do in LA/SF, Houston/Dallas, Chicago/St. Louis and several other midwestern corridors, Miami / Orlando / Tampa, and Boston/NYC/DC. The question raised by the cost to cost proposal is whether they are justified, eg, Dallas / Albuquerque. I do not see strong evidence that we can say that they will be ... certainly not until we have started building out the slam dunks, which will then provide passenger data that will allow more precise determination of whether the margin is.

              Obviously Rapid Rail coast to coast is justified, since electrified Rapid Freight Rail cost to cost is justified, and given the existence of a Rapid Freight Rail corridor, there are a number of coast to coast that could operate on a break-even basis on operating costs.

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              by BruceMcF on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 12:45:33 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  people would probably still fly (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          BruceMcF

          with NYC/LA, unless it's faster than 5-7 hours.

          Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility. uid 52583 lol

          by terrypinder on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 03:54:52 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yes, just like the existing Amtrak ... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Woody

            ... long distance routes, the point of the corridor would not be end-to-end travel but travel between cities lying along the corridor, and trips of 3hrs and below would dominate a bullet train HSR corridor, similar to the way that trips of 6hrs or below dominate Amtrak long distance routes.

            The problem is that once you get into the western Great Plains and Rockies, you start to run out of 3hr and below trips.

            Building from the bottom up, a 4-5hr bullet train corridor between NYC and Chicago might be justifiable, but it would be a much stronger case if the Chicago and Ohio Hub Rapid Rail systems were built out so that there were multiple 3hr and below trips from cities in the middle of that system to both NYC and Chicago, running on a mix of Rapid Rail and bullet train corridors.

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            by BruceMcF on Tue Feb 25, 2014 at 08:59:55 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  Also note that this includes you ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Woody

      ... if you say that latecomers don't get to redefine it, that includes you as well.

      The European Union definition (from DIRECTIVE 96/48/EC APPENDIX 1 is:

      High Speed lines shall comprise:

      Specially built High Speed lines equipped for speeds generally equal to or greater than 250 km/h,

      Specially upgraded High Speed lines equipped for speeds of the order of 200 km/h,

      Specially upgraded High Speed lines which have special features as a result of topographical, relief or town-planning constraints, on which the speed must be adapted to each case.

      So if the 110mph upgraded Rapid Rail lines are further upgraded to 125mph Electric Rapid Rail (which generally involves full grade separation or specially reinforced level crossings and a separate high speed track except for mainline used as passing track), that clearly qualifies as a HSR line under the European Union definitions.

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      by BruceMcF on Tue Feb 25, 2014 at 09:33:47 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The Other Issue: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FishOutofWater, redwagon

    in the U.S., passenger rail shares the rail with freight trains; and freight trains take precedent. I've ridden Amtrak from Chicago to points east in Michigan; on two occasions our train had to pull over onto a side track to let a freight train pass.

    with the enormous amount of freight service we have in the U.S., I don't see how you can truly operate high speed rail service using shared rail. it has to be dedicated rail.

    "We are beyond law, which is not unusual for an empire; unfortunately, we are also beyond common sense." Gore Vidal

    by Superpole on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 03:17:44 AM PST

    •  Don't assume, however, ... (8+ / 0-)

      ... that the system that we have has the passing capacity to allow rapid freight rail to pass through the system, either. its quite possible, for example, that a passenger train heading east has to let a freight train through so that a passenger train heading west can transit.

      We went through a long period of cutting back from two track systems to a large number of single track corridors, and sometime with passing sidings that are shorter than the freight trains operating on the corridor and when running on a single track corridor, there are many times that trains have to be shunted aside to allow other trains to pass.

      While bullet trains have to be on dedicated track, and operations for Rapid Rail corridors are faster when they are on dedicated track, it is quite possible to add sufficient double track capacity to an existing primarily single track corridor to allow faster and slower trains to mix without slowing the faster freight an excessive amount. If that capacity is provided, it equally well serves mixing faster passenger trains with slower freight trains. And that kind of improved capacity is a substantial portion of the capital investment for a Rapid Passenger Rail upgrade, with dedicated passenger track focused on sections of busy double track freight.

      110mph is normally the threshold where express freight and passenger rail can mix comfortable, given an adequate number of double track sections ... to get 125mph electric Rapid Rail typically requires dedicated higher speed track in a conventional or new rail corridor, as well as substantially greater grade separation.

      To get 220mph bullet trains requires dedicated track in a corridor laid out for those speeds.

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 03:59:19 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  gradual improvements (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BruceMcF, redwagon

        On the Charlotte to Raleigh arc are quite real, and pave the way for further improvements and someday for 110 mph speeds. I am disappointed to learn that the Raleigh to Richmond leg is merely being studied. Since the old S line right of way was still there, ready to receive new track to replace the line foolishly ripped up earlier--I had thought that stimulus money would surely be adequate to begin construction. As I live near DC and my relatives in Greensboro, I have a personal interest in saving 30 minutes off the current travel time.
            And, as you so beautifully describe, this corridor is critical to someday electrifying the Charlotte to DC route and turning the rapid Northeast Corridor into essentially an Eastern Seaboard Corridor. Currently there is much discussion here in DC about upgrading the century old twin tunnels that connect the Northeast at Union Station to the mainline to points south AND about extending the electrification out to accelerate VRE (the commuter rail service).  If the line is electrified as far as Fredricksburg, half-way to Richmond, pressure will mount to push it to Richmond. That's why it was my hope that a restored S line (though not yet electrified) was already under construction.  Oh well.  

        "Something has gone very wrong with America, not just its economy, but its ability to function as a democratic nation. And it’s hard to see when or how that wrongness will get fixed." Paul Krugman and Robin Wells

        by Reston history guy on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 08:18:10 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  The problem was that only Tier I EIS had been ... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          redwagon

          ... completed, so Virginia got money for a shovel ready project on the shelf, and some money for preliminary design and for EIS on the Rapid Rail upgrade ~ that is, Virginia got $74m to triple track 11 miles near Quantico, VA, between DC & Richmond (of current double track), $44m for engineering & environmental analysis of the DC to Richmond corridor, and $4m for the Tier II EIS for the Richmond to Raleigh corridor.

          Based on that, if there is a "policy unlock" on HSR in 2017, then Virginia would seek funding to start the Rapid Rail upgrade between DC and Richmond and, assuming they get a record of decision approving the Tier II EIS, the preliminary design work for Richmond to Raleigh.

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          by BruceMcF on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 11:13:04 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  And a new or rebuilt bridge (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Reston history guy, spacecadet1

          The Potomac Bridge is a major bottleneck. Maybe one slot left for another passenger train. Preliminary work for a new bridge is underway. Google up illustrations of alternative versions, some with streetcar tracks, some with more lanes of auto traffic. The bridge will be costly. Half a billion or more, depending on how many lanes of traffic, etc. But essential, already used by about a dozen Amtrak trains, and VRE commuter trains.

          Even the S line right of way will need serious work. A lot of curves need to be smoothed out. Bridges and viaducts built or rebuilt. The short section Petersburg-Richmond is a terrible tangle that will cost big bucks to clear for faster passenger trains. Getting the trains into the downtown Richmond station will be costly. Of course, running six or eight trains a day Richmond-Raleigh suggests more slots on the Potomac Bridge to let them run NEC-D.C.-Richmond-Raleigh.

          Every one of these projects needs more money, and a lot of it. And every one is moving slowly. But they are moving ahead.

          •  Note that the tangling ... (0+ / 0-)

            ... in the Petersburg-Richmond section is why that section is planned for 90mph rather than 110mph ... AFAIU, the curve straightening to allow the trains to actually get up to 110mph is not consider to be worth the investment, given the benefit/cost of 110mph investments elsewhere in the Richmond/Raleigh corridor.

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            by BruceMcF on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 07:46:04 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  Chicago to Michigan points . . . (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      spacecadet1

      Isn't at all simple.

      Break it down:

      One stretch, Porter, IN-Kalamazoo, was the test bed for 110 mph running. Amtrak happened to OWN this segment, a spare piece when Penn Central was carved up between NS and CSX. For years, Amtrak and the Michigan DOT worked with minimum funds to eliminate grade crossings and build the tracks and roadway to top condition. Over two or three years, the top speed on this 100-mile section was raised 5- or 10-mph at a time from 79 mph, reaching 110 mph last year about this time.

      Second stretch, Kalamazoo-Battle Creek-Ann Arbor-Dearborn, was owned by NS until late 2012 (or early 2013) when the State of Michigan used Stimulus funds to buy it. Last year a lot of work was done to upgrade the route, resulting in disruptions and delays due to construction. The rest of this work will be done later this year.

      A third short segment, Dearborn-Detroit, will be rebuilt to save about 20 or 30 minutes where Amtrak trains now have to back up to switch from one freight line to another.

      When these three stretches are all brought up to near 110-mph capability, and new faster locomotives and bi-level cars are ready, the trip time Detroit-Chicago will be cut by an hour or more, from nearly six hours to something over four hours.

      Then the fourth segment, South of the Lake, between Porter (in the middle of coastal Indiana) and Chicago Union Station, oh, baby. Work hasn't begun. In fact, the route has not been chosen. Then bridges will be built, new lines of track put down. We could make book: over or under, a billion.

      South of the Lake was where you got passed by freights.

      Often called the busiest and most congested section of rails in America. This is where Michigan DOT is now concentrating its planning resources. Then can they come up with the money? It's an awkwardness that the route has to pass thru Indiana, when Indiana doesn't give a damn about its Rust Belt, black-majority cities like Gary. So Illinois will spend on its side of the border. Michigan will try to take care of planning, environmental statements, etc. But can Michigan spend its money in Indiana? Politically, no. So it will have to be money from the feds. Let's hold our breaths, right?

      The best part about fixing things South of the Lake is that it will not only benefit the Michigan corridor of the Wolverines to Ann Arbor and Detroit and the Blue Water train to Lansing and Flint. The same tracks also carry the long distance trains Lake Shore Limited and the Capitol Limited.

      Taking half an hour out of the long distance schedules could have an unexpectedly large impact. It might be possible for the Lake Shore to leave NYC half an hour later. It now departs at 3:40 p.m., a bit early for someone trying to put in a day's work in the City. Then it gets into Chicago at 9:45 a.m., a bit late for someone trying to make the morning meeting at headquarters.

      Anyway, this is another good example of why it should not be EITHER corridor trains OR long distance trains. The long distance trains benefit from the improvements on the corridors.

      But I digressed. ;-)

      •  Yes, the Indiana Problem in the ... (0+ / 0-)

        ... Chicago & Ohio hubs is similar to the South Carolina Problem in the Southeast HSR corridor.

        So, yes, I agree that the current Amtrak route south of the Lake is problematic. Note that the Columbus OH / Northern Indiana / Chicago Rapid Rail proposal sidesteps the problem by using the Fort Wayne alignment instead of the current corridor used by Amtrak through South Bend.

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        by BruceMcF on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 07:44:03 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Exactly. This is the difference between a corridor (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BachFan, BruceMcF, redwagon

    and a shuttle.

    Where you have a string of population centres along the line like you have between Atlanta and Charlotte or Louisville or Birmingham then every small reduction in journey time or increase in frequency leads to an increase in ridership, even if only between the intermediate stops, making the next round of minor improvements easier to justify.

    Look at those changes between Raleigh and Charlotte. A grade separation here, a passing loop there, a new agreement for line sharing with freight. Little by little it all adds up. This is the model to follow for Charlotte/Atlanta/Birmingham and for Atlanta/Chattanooga/Nashville/Louisville/Chicago.

    Note that this doesn't work for Atlanta/Columbus GA as there doesn't seem to be anything in between.

    Note also that for California this works in the Bay area and in the Los Angeles basin but between them is 400 miles of not very much and incremental improvements are not going to change much - a classic case where anything less than going straight to real High Speed rail is not going to compete with the plane.

    •  The way could work for Columbus GA as ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... part of the corridor is to have Columbus GA be the extension for some corridors coming into Atlanta from the east.

      Indeed, given the opportunity for express service on the Piedmont able to pass a local at Charlotte ... so that eastbound the existing Piedmont is a distributor for connections in Charlotte, you could conceivably have five trips each way without any "Columbus GA corridor" trains at all ... you could have:

      Daily: (from Crescent) Atlanta / Columbus GA / Atlanta / Columbus GA / Atlanta / Columbus GA / Atlanta (to Crescent)

      Daily (two trains):
      DC / Richmond / Raleigh / Charlotte / Atlanta / Columbus GA
      Columbus GA / Atlanta / Charlotte / Raleigh / Richmond / DC

      Daily (one train): Raleigh / Charlotte / Atlanta / Columbus GA / Atlanta / Charlotte / Raleigh

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      by BruceMcF on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 11:02:46 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Presently long delays are very common (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    spacecadet1

    in southern Virginia where there's just one track and no place to pass for a long stretch. Improvements being made are important to travelers because the scheduled times don't reflect the frequent long delays in this corridor.

    “Industry does everything they can and gets away with it almost all the time, whether it’s the coal industry, not the subject of this hearing, or water or whatever. They will cut corners, and they will get away with it. " Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D, WVa

    by FishOutofWater on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 08:42:23 AM PST

    •  Loss of Double Track Mainline (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      spacecadet1, redwagon

      Railroads are taxed on their  improvements. Since the advent of Amtrak - which only owns the tracks in the Northeast Corridor - the private freight-only railroads have little incentive to maintain double tracking. The needed speeds for passenger and freight, especially bulk freight, are polar opposites. So the private railroads have reduced the double-track mileage significantly not only to reduce tax liability but also maintenance costs. The net result is long delays for passenger service - - which, quite honestly, the private railroads don't give a ratzass about.

      North Carolina is working with Virginia to restore service to the Seaboard Air Line "Southside Line" - which basically is the route of I-85 between Petersburg and Norlina. Even though the is the far better and more direct link between Richmond and Raleigh, the Virginia segment was abandoned after the Seaboard merger with the Atlantic Coast Line and the ACL mainline through Rocky Mount used.  

      If this route is restored, it will be primarily for passenger use AND be 30 miles shorter.  That would produce a 30 minute saving on a 3 1/2 hour trip from Raleigh to Richmond and points north based on earlier Amtrak timetables. 50 minutes based on earlier Seaboard timetables. With only moderate upgrades, the current bast Raleigh-Richmond schedule could be reduced from 3 1/2 hours to 2 1/2 hours - - without HSR technology.

      http://members.trainorders.com/...

      •  And that's the critical question ... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        redwagon

        ... what system gets the target transport corridor within the 2hr-3hr range. Its not drag racing with trains ... the target is not being the fastest, its being fast enough to grab a sufficiently large share of the intercity transport market to justify the capital investment.

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        by BruceMcF on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 10:43:06 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  How about airport stops? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          BruceMcF

          Will there be a link to CLT or RDU? Particularly with the merger it would be great to have a CLT link with the rail system.

          •  Including the Columbus GA corridor ... (0+ / 0-)

            ... as an extension for services terminating in Atlanta (which could include, under a proposal to increase ridership and increase the operating ratio of the Crescent, dropping off cars from the westbound Crescent in the morning in Atlanta and picking them up again in the eastbound Crescent in the evening), which I've mentioned elsewhere in the comment thread, would include Atlanta airport. Otherwise it would be a MARTA transfer between the airport and the downtown multi-modal (assuming they go ahead and build the downtown multi-modal, given the way that transport development in Atlanta is bogged down by suburban free rider syndrome).

            The Atlanta/Charlotte rail corridor for a Rapid Rail upgrade has not even been selected yet, with that corridor just starting its Tier I EIS, where it will look at all the available corridors (including a greenfield corridor) and narrow down the choices. So it is not clear whether the corridor will actually run past Charlotte's main air hub.

            Given the way that airport facilities funding works in this country, if it does go on the line that runs on the edge of the airport, the likely connection would be a station on the rail corridor with a people mover to the air terminal.

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            by BruceMcF on Tue Feb 25, 2014 at 08:38:16 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  Does the new route mean Rocky Mount loses... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        redwagon, BruceMcF

        ...the Carolinian? I'd hate for eastern NC to have to rely on the always late Silver Service trains.

        “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” Lyndon Baines Johnson

        by spacecadet1 on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 02:56:00 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Actually - (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          spacecadet1

          If the former SAL mainline is reopened from Richmond to Raleigh and improved for higher speeds - I suspect that the main corridor for passenger trains will be switched to Raleigh-Hamlet-Columbia-Savannah since it serves both state capitals - - and passenger rail is political, after all.

          Even though the ACL route is straighter and a bit shorter, SCX will prefer to retain it for it freight mainline and delegate passenger to the SAL.

          Not necessarily good for Rocky Mount, Fayetteville, and Charleston.

        •  It's likely that that hasn't been settled yet ... (0+ / 0-)

          ... but it seems to me that of the trains connecting Richmond to eastern NC ~ the Palmetto, the Carolinian, the Silver Star and Silver Meteor ~ the Carolinian is the train most likely to stay on its current route, given that its the one that connects the urban arc to the ECU/Atlantic Coast bus connection at Wilson NC, and its the one where there won't be anyone from Georgia or Florida lobbying for a faster & more reliable route to DC/NYC.

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          by BruceMcF on Tue Feb 25, 2014 at 08:53:29 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  By the time (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            spacecadet1

            By the time the shortcut is finished, Amtrak may finally have new cars being delivered, 100 new coaches a year by the Fleet Management Plan That would be enuff to equip another, new long distance or medium distance train along one of these corridors.

            So you might lose one train from the Rocky Mount-Fayetteville route, but likely keep one or two, and possibly change none, just add a new train on the Raleigh route.

            And you shouldn't worry too much about Florida agitating for more direct service thru the Carolinas. The NEC-Florida is simply not that big a market. On the Silver Star, only 11% of all passengers took trips of NYC-Orlando/Tampa or greater distances. A cool 45% of the riders were aboard for less than 300 miles. (Figures from NARP, click Resources, click Ridership Statistics, click train of interest.)

            btw. Beware of Columbia, SC. You look at the map and think, 'Oh, sure, Charlotte-Columbia-Charleston, that's a natural'. No, Amtrak's PRIIA study explained why that won't happen. Back in the day, one railroad, coming from Charlotte and heading west toward Augusta, was built on one side of town, another coming from Raleigh and heading southeast toward Charleston, on the other side of town. The closest they come is about two miles, not cheap to link up with newly built tracks on acquired-by-eminent-domain right of way. Not gonna happen. And without a link you'd have to have two Amtrak stations serving trains on different routes, not a nice situation for us confusable passengers.

            •  Its not actually the ... (0+ / 0-)

              ... Miami / NYC market so much as the greater reliability of the in-state trips along the corridor. Indeed, once the Orlando/Miami train starts running, I would not be surprised to see an uptick in Jax/Orlando trips on Amtrak.

              Note that the Columbia SC corridor in the federally designated SE HSR corridor is Raleigh / Columbia SC and south toward Savanah GA ... there is no cross-cut. Given the alignment issues you mention, it seems more likely that the Charlotte NC / Columbia SC cross-cut would be via quality bus, instead.

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              by BruceMcF on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 07:38:38 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  Just wanted to let you know... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BruceMcF

    I've started bookmarking the Sunday Train series.  Always a great post accompanied by a great conversation that I want to settle down with when I have free time.  Thanks for doing these.

  •  I would like to see a grander plan (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    redwagon, spacecadet1

    in a ideal world I would like to see hub airports connected with rail service.  For instance, Atlanta would be a hub and then the routes within 4 hours by rail be serviced by train.  You pretty much spend 4 hours in time waiting in Atlanta for a connecting flights along with the amount of time getting to your destination.

    •  Have you ever flown into Amsterdam? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Woody

      There is a train station directly under the main terminal of the airport with direct trains to Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris.

      “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” Lyndon Baines Johnson

      by spacecadet1 on Tue Feb 25, 2014 at 07:28:31 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  That is included as part of the ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Woody

      ... Columbus GA Rapid Rail corridor proposal I looked at two weeks ago ... both proposed alignments meet south of the airport, connect to the airport MARTA station which is immediately outside the baggage claim area of the airport, and then proceed to the proposed downtown multi-modal train station.

      We have a rule in the US were airport infrastructure money can only go to rail systems that are terminating at the airport, which in many cases eliminates useful through stations connecting directly at airport terminals.

      When I flew into or out of NSW, I went via Sydney's international airport, and then took the escalator to catch the Cityrail train that went underneath the international and domestic airports.

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      by BruceMcF on Tue Feb 25, 2014 at 08:43:58 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Nitpick (0+ / 0-)

    The Palmetto is not state supported. It's one of Amtrak's network of long distance trains. Except it's "medium distance" and a day train, with no sleepers or diner. So it acts more like the Carolinian or the Pennsylvanian, etc, but it's an Amtrak national system train with a route length over 750 miles. Yeah, it's different from the other long distance trains, but then, so is the Auto-Train. The Palmetto may even make a little operating surplus, according to Joe Boardman's Congressional testimony last year. That makes it quite different from the others!

    •  Thanks ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... I wasn't looking at the Palmetto very closely, and I must have been looking at the mileage of the Carolinian while thinking I was looking at the mileage of the Palmetto. But the Palmetto is indeed ~830 miles.

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      by BruceMcF on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 07:31:20 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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