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Thread: Midwest high-speed rail corridor?

  1. #1
    Member simulcra's avatar
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    Midwest high-speed rail corridor?

    A few months ago, I recall seeing proposal/vision for a high-speed rail corridor in the midwest with Chicago as its center and spokes (for lack of a better term, or rather, me not knowing the term) linking up to other major cities like Indianapolis or Milwaukee (i think?) with smaller branches off these spokes going to smaller cities.

    It was suppossed to be high speed, I suppose like the chunnel, in that these trains could go like 120-150 mph. and it was relatively low cost. (compared with, i suppose, adding miles and miles and miles of freeways)

    unfortunatley, i haven't really been able to see much on it except the occasional "we should do it" post or article.

    anyone know on the prospects for this?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Greenescapist's avatar
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    I have read articles about that idea, too, but they all conclude that such a project would be hopelessly expensive.

  3. #3
    Originally posted by Greenescapist
    I have read articles about that idea, too, but they all conclude that such a project would be hopelessly expensive.
    massive track work would be neccessary. huge investment in infrastructure such as tracks, electricity, stations, etc. it would be a huge undertaking in a region lots of people like to call the "Rustbelt"

    Not too long ago Louisville lost their train service as a result of low ridership. in fairness, the train took about eight hours to travel to Chicago. the equipment wasn't the best nor were the scheduling and bumpy ride.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    Indianapolis still has rail service, but only to Chicago (I think), and last I checked, it left Indy around 4 am, left Chicago around 6 pm or so, and usually defaulted to buses instead of trains for some reason. As much as I love trains and want to support their expansion here, right now, it's faster to drive. Plus you get to stay in the big city for more than a few hours.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    They've been studying high speed rail from Chicago-Milwaukee-Twin Cities for over a decade now. Mostly brcause our former governor of 14 years was also on the Amtrak Board, me thinks. Since he left the State to join the Bush administration, and since Amtrakis a financial mess things have not been happening.

    I would never use it. I think its a waste of money.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    Here are the links if you're interested.

    From what i understand, and it's been a while since i read these, that these changes aren't going to happen overnight. Instead they're going to tackle one issue at a time, gradually improving speed in each corridor until it can handle 150-mph service.

    I think the Empire Corridor from Albany to Buffalo is a good example. It offers 100 mph service with diesel technology. The upgrades to the corridor have been gradual but consistent. The coaches are the same as they use in the Northeast Corridor. In fact nothing is different about the service except that the train makes a 15 minute stop in Albany while they change from an electric to diesel locomotive. It would take a clear day and someone with a serious lead foot and a strong bladder to beat the train from Albany to Buffalo - forget about the notoriously bad weather along that stretch of Lake Ontario.

    The economy is in a slump right now and unfortunately no politician is going to have the cajones to say "we need to invest in public works to get the economy moving again"

    http://www.sehsr.org/

    http://www.dot.state.wi.us/projects/...ailmidwest.pdf

    . . .and as far as bumpy rides are concerned - continuously welded rails make all the difference in the world.
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian martini's avatar
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    It's a grand idea. I like the possibility of railing it from Mpls to Mkwe or Chicago. Or Denver for that matter. I have to say though, I am pessimistic about it. I don't think it'll ever be done. Too expensive, what politician would have the balls to sponsor something like this, and how would we ever get Joe and Jane America out of thier love affair with the road trip in thier own car? I'm perfectly capable of riding my bike when I get to a destination, but what about the lazier folks in this world? yeah, there's rentals, but they add cost to a trip.
    You're more boring than you know.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    Originally posted by martini
    It's a grand idea. I like the possibility of railing it from Mpls to Mkwe or Chicago. Or Denver for that matter. I have to say though, I am pessimistic about it. I don't think it'll ever be done. Too expensive, what politician would have the balls to sponsor something like this, and how would we ever get Joe and Jane America out of thier love affair with the road trip in thier own car? I'm perfectly capable of riding my bike when I get to a destination, but what about the lazier folks in this world? yeah, there's rentals, but they add cost to a trip.
    The Keystone Corridor - the 104 miles from Philly to Harrisburg is being upgraded to 120 mph service for about $1 million a mile. It will bring the Philly-Harrisburg trip down to 90 minutes from the 110 minutes that it currently takes (either way is still faster than driving).

    Harrisburg is by no means a big city and the area between the the Philly 'burbs and Harrisburg is the Amish country. Local service is already offered to the Philly 'burbs by SEPTA along the same route. My point is that this route would probably have less traffic than, say, between two bigger cities like Chicago and Milwaukee.

    $1 million a mile isn't expensive. Especially when considering the alternatives. The Keystone Corridor is also electrified and much of the cost is associated with replacing the catenary. 110 mph speeds can still be achieved for a much lower cost with diesel technology. And again, all the improvements don't have to be done at once but continous improvements in speed are important to building ridership.

    I have no reason to go to Harrisburg other than for work. When i do i take the train. At $21 each way it saves my employer $20 on the cost of a rental car (and if i have to spend the night it saves them $80). If i had my own car to drive and they paid me $.25 a mile to drive they'd still save money and so would I because that $.25 is not going to put 200 miles back on my odometer after i pay for gas and tolls.

    When i take the train to visit family or friends in New York, North Jersey, or Northern VA I usually take regional rail/metro/subway to the stop nearest their house and they pick me up. The same as if i had flown to visit them.

    People fly ridiculously short distances all the time. I know PHL recently built a new terminal for regional jet service with flights from places as far away as Atlantic City, Baltimore, and JFK (we're talking a 100 mile radius here). Why would people react differently to taking a train to some central location as opposed to flying to some airport on the edge of a city?
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    I’ve been participating in misc.transport.rail.americas for a few months now, so I feel like a bit of an armchair expert on these things. Congress has designated a number of rail routs as “high speed corridors,” which in theory should make it easier to get funding. However, no corridor has (to my knowledge) gotten any federal funding as a result of the designation. Nearly all progress in implementing the service has come from the states. Because the current administration and key congressmen are very anti-rail (such as Rep Istook), it is unlikely that any serious investment will be made until the political climate in Washington changes.

    At any rate, these are the current corridors:


    I believe someone said the focus was on providing 150mph service on those corridors. While that may be what Congress outlined, I believe that most of the planning has capped speeds at no more than 125mph, many at 110mph. The reason is that the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) has designated 125mph to be the dividing line between Tier I and Tier II safety requirements. The FRA requirements are the most strict crash survivability requirements in the world. As a result, American passenger liners are the heaviest in the world. Tier II raises crash survivability to a ridiculous level. Of course, the heavier a car is, the more energy it needs to accelerate, so it’ll need a bigger plant, be less energy efficient, accelerate more slowly, and so on. Thus, American high speed rail planning assumes speeds that wouldn’t even be considered “high speed” in the rest of the world. One poster on m.t.r.a quipped that, should the corridors be built, the US would have the largest, and slowest, “high speed” rail network in the world.

    Upgrading a line for high speed involves bringing the line to a state of good repair, as many of the railroads in this country are in a deplorable condition. Because they’re mostly privately owned by companies that are slowly being killed by competition with government subsidized trucking, they’re allowed to deteriorate. Rather than fix them, the railroads just put speed restrictions on them, or if they’re not using them as much, abandon them to avoid the property taxes they have to pay. The same problem exists with signaling. It’s been shown that a lot of signaling equipment currently in use dates back to the 1920s. High speed rail corridors would have their signaling equipment replaced with reliable equipment that could handle the fast moving trains. I believe, but don’t quote me on this, that 110mph is the fastest train operation the FRA will allow at grade crossings. Beyond that, the crossings must be separated. The Chicago-St. Louis corridor being planned by the State of Illinois calls for 110mph operation with full width crossing barriers that have sensors to detect if anything is stuck on the tracks. I assume those are required by the FRA for that speed but I don’t know what the lower end cutoff is. Of course, separating crossings is the best solution to the problem but also the most expensive and potentially disruptive. American trains have much higher axle loads than European trains, which means that railroad bridges (such as for grade separation), must be significantly stronger, adding still more to the cost. Finally, curves often should be eased. That is potentially very expensive and may be impossible without condemnation. It is also often one of the most important speed improvement measures, as can be seen by the poor speed of the so-called “high speed” Acela Express service between New York and Boston. One less expensive measure that may help is the increase of superelevation in the curves. Superelevation has been intentionally reduced by freight railroads throughout their networks since they use larger and slower trains to try to stay profitable.

    As mentioned earlier, railroads are dying in this country. They’ve been losing market share (measured in terms of value, not tonnage) to the trucking industry for decades. The inherent energy efficiency of steel-on-steel traction can’t compete with the economic efficiency of rubber-on-taxpayer-subsidized-asphalt. Roads are all tax exempt, being owned by the government, but railroads are not. If I recall correctly, property taxes on their ROW accounts for something like 20% of all the railroads’s expenses. Railroads, as previously mentioned, are therefore keen to get rid of ROW they don’t absolutely need. They’ve been abandoning tracks for decades, and downgrading existing tracks to lower assessments. Now they’re left with heavily congested lines carrying way more traffic than that for which they were designed. Not to mention that some railroads, like UP, have decided not to run Amtrak trains on time as a matter of policy. I think one of Amtrak’s biggest problems is reliability, but that’s largely out of its hands and probably won’t be fixed unless, as another poster here suggested in another thread, the rail infrastructure is nationalized. That would be in the best interest of the railroads because it would eliminate their property tax burden, but it is questionable if they would recognize it as such. Many don’t appear to be run by logical management. Case in point is that many of the railroads use the majority of their lobbying muscle to try to attack Amtrak rather than deal with the problem of unfair, publically subsidized competition from the trucking industry. Amtrak isn’t their problem, the interstate highway system is.

    As far as the Midwest goes, I think the Chicago-St. Louis and the Chicago-Milwaukee are the only two lines that have any chance at all for getting funded. Nether Michigan, Indiana, nor Ohio are very pro-rail states, and as I’ve said most of the funding will have to come from states. The Hiawatha line from Chicago-Milwaukee is one of Amtrak’s most successful lines. It also consistently has one of the best on-time performance records. High speed operation could practically bring it into the commuter rail category. The Chicago-St. Louis plan doesn’t call for any improvement north of Dwight, which will limit the usefulness of such an upgrade as that is already the second slowest section on the line (behind the Alton-St. Louis leg), and nearly all ridership on that line is between Chicago, Normal, and Springfield so most of the work will be done on tracks over which the train normally runs nearly empty.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    according to this guy from the produce terminal here (Philly's port niche is in foodstuffs) it costs him half to ship by rail as compared to shipping by truck.

    http://www.philly.com/mld/philly/business/6556902.htm

    I was the one that said 150 mph service. I wasn't quoting anyone there - i just think that should be the eventual goal. One step at a time. If the ridership isn't there then it shouldn't get that far.

    110 mph service is more than adequate. Current speeds on a DC-Charlotte trip average 60 mph or less. It's pathetic. Getting it up to 90mph would break into the POV market.

    Stepping up to 125mph requires a much bigger investment for sure, if for no other reason than there is nothing non-electric that will go that fast off-the-shelf.

    and that corridors map has some glaringly obvious gaps

    Houston-San Antonio
    Jax-Orlando
    Buffalo/Clevo/Pitts
    Boston-Albany

    these are all current routes.
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    The railroads may be charging him below-cost, or they may have gotten a sweetheart deal from a government to provide the service at the price they're giving, or there may be something that significantly increases the cost of trucking in his situation, or he may be sending particularly large shipments. That dosen't change the fact that the railroads are slowly losing market share (in terms of value), to the trucking industry.

    As far as the map goes, that's the map of corridors designated by congress. I believe it's current as of 2001, the last time they added corridors (IIRC). It's possible that they've recently added more corridors that I don't know about and that the map dosen't reflect, but more likely is that the corridors you mentioned are being pursued by some other organisation (such as a state) without a congressional designation. Since the congressional designation is basically worthless, I wouldn't doubt that that's happening.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian biscuit's avatar
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    From what I've read, the only one of these high-speed rail routes actually getting built now is the Washington to Charlotte line. Although it is slow go considering that it hasn't even hit Richmond yet. And environmental impact studies have started on the prefered route from Charlotte through Greenville/Spartanburg, SC to Atlanta.

    Jordanb's correct about the designated routes not meaning anything. Members of congress are often introducing legislation that moves the proposed routes through every little burg in their districts.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    Originally posted by jordanb

    As far as the map goes, that's the map of corridors designated by congress.
    yeah, i'm just saying it's silly to go all that way and leave out important links in what would otherwise be a (mostly) national high speed network - especially when it's obvious that there's a lot of traffic between the sets of cities.

    as far as the produce guy getting a sweetheart deal - i think it depends on the commodity but from what our freight guy says: "price isn't the issue - the railroad will always win the price game. It's the time that people are concerned about and for the short haul it just doesn't make much sense to use a train."

    Of course that can all change with projects like this -

    "NY/NJ launches PIDN initiative
    The first step in the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey's long-planned modal shift initiative - Port Inland Distribution Network (PIDN) - has been taken with the Port of Albany in upstate New York agreeing to take part in the programme.
    As previously reported in WorldCargo News PIDN is aimed at moving containers by barge or rail between NY/NJ marine terminals and regional ports and terminals in both these states and three other north east states, using trucking only for local collection and delivery.... "

    This is much more urgent for a region like NYC that moves 90% of it's cargo by truck as compared to 25% for Philly.

    I also think, as VMT continues to grow, the negative price factor is going to rise for trucking and the positive time factor is going to fall.
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    Originally posted by jresta
    as far as the produce guy getting a sweetheart deal - i think it depends on the commodity but from what our freight guy says: "price isn't the issue - the railroad will always win the price game. It's the time that people are concerned about and for the short haul it just doesn't make much sense to use a train."
    Yeah, that's right. I wasn't thinking straight. The railroads have decided to compete by being the rock-bottom cheapest way to move freight. That way they can use the energy efficiency of rail to the greatest effect. What that means practically is that they defer maintence on everything from ROW to rolling stock for as long as possible, fight the unions to avoid any benifit or wage increases (I think one railroad worker on m.r.t.a has commented that they hadn't recieved a real pay increase in 10 years), and queue up cargo in massive consists so they can make as few train movements as possible.

    Now, if you want the freight railroads to move something, it'll sit at the rail yard until they have enough shipments to make a very long (1-2mi) train, then that train gets moved to a different rail yard, where it'll be decoupled and the strings get recombined to form new trains. That process continues from yard to yard towards your destination. It's very efficient but also very slow and does not lend itself to a determanilistic time of delivery.

    Their problem is that the amount customers are willing to pay for that sort of service continues to fall, especially since it's incompatable with Just In Time supply chain techniques because they can't guarentee a delievery date. Also, as things deteriorate, the waits get longer and more variable.

    I've gotten this assessment by reading people who seem to know what they're talking about in m.t.r.a. I know there are exceptions to this, with the railroads trying to provide fast shipments and accomadate JIT, but for the most part that appeares to be the state of American railroads.

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