Friday, June 2, 2017

HrSR Pittsburgh to Harrisburg. Why? Better Routes?

The studies for increasing conventional passenger train service from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg realy make little sense beyond how such service might benefit State College, PA and the Pennsylvania State University. In terms of economic need, the real route should be Pittsburgh (Ligonier) west to Youngstown, Akron, Cleveland. Tying together that mega city makes more sense than addressing Pittsburgh to Harrisburg.

But, using dual mode diesel and mode electric power in one locomotive could extend service west from the Keystone Corridor East that is owned by Amtrak and has its western terminus at Harrisburg beyond to the Keystone Corridor West an hour west to Lewistown, PA will make State College a destination from the heavily populated part of the Commonwealth to the east by passenger train. In doing so Amtrak would be operating on Norfolk Southern owned tracks. The eastern portion of the the Keystone Corridor West is less likely to have additional passenger train service interfering with Norfolk Southern freight operations. A highly transient student population that is made up substantially of students whose residence is in the proximity of the Keystone East Amtrak line appears to be a rational expansion of passenger train service.

Connecting Pittsburgh - Youngstown - Akron - Cleveland has a logic in that the population concentration described is a mega city. The problem is that two states are involved. Amtrak has a state by state focus rather than a national focus due to Republican ideology. So, rather than Amtrak, the creation of passenger service perhaps should be pursued along the lines of a transit project. This would require the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority and the Port Authority of Pittsburgh to create a joint interstate  transit authority to implement and operate passenger train service over the freight railroad lines that exist. The Federal Transit Administration which is part of the Federal Department of Transportation would be the oversight agency. There is added complexity in this proposal. There would be more than one freight railroad involved. Both the tracks of the Norfolk Southern and CSX would be used. Dispatching of trains over the two railroads would need to be coordinated.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

2035 Railroad Status - Pittsburgh to Harrisburg

The 2007 study by Cambridge Systematics, Inc., funded by the AAR for the Department of Transportation made some predictions for Pittsburgh to Harrisburg in 2035.

It is projected that Pittsburgh to Harrisburg will see an additional 30 to 80 freight trains a day by 2035. The 2007 study estimates that freight train number per day to be 50 to 100 per cent increase.

The additional traffic described mean that Pittburgh to Harrisburg will be operating at a volume-to capacity ratio of 70 percent of its theoretical maximum capacity. 70 percent is considered to be the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg corridor's practical capacity because a portion of the theoretical maximum capacity is lost to maintenance, weather delays, equipment failures and other factors. In 2035 the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg line will have stable operations under normal conditions, but service will quickly become unstable with unplanned and unanticipated disruptions. As such, it will be close to schedule reliability deterioration. If things worsen beyond what is predicted, any disruption will be longer to recover from. Acceptable and competitive freight service will be close to being sacrifice

Today's annual 100 million ton miles for the line will possibly double to 200 million ton miles.

Today's 60 to 90 trains a day will increase to 90 to 170 trains a day.

As the addition of two conventional speed passenger trains into the existing situation would be expected to interfere with freight operations, attempting to do so in 2035 is unlikely only if conventional passenger train speed is lessened to freight train speed in order for the passenger train to integrate with freight traffic and not compete with it. The opposite of slower service would be faster freight service enabling the integration of additional passenger trains.

So it appears that additional passenger train service, let alone at higher speed levels, requires addressing freight line capacity and freight line speed first.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Decades of Inefficency

As this is being written there is a westbound tractor trailer beginning the ascent up the I80 grade from Milesburg, PA to Snowshoe, PA. Before reaching Snowshoe the tractor trailer will be operating at 8 mph. Another tractor trailer driver will believe that the rig being driven can pass the 8 mph rig. Now there is a line of 3 or 4 rigs moving at 8 mpg in the right lane with 1 rig and 2 following in the left westbound rig lugging at 9 mph. Behind and among the rigs are motorists angry at the civil engineering decisions that created that part of I80. There is no money for a third westbound lane. The described has been part of the driving experience on I80 virtually since the grade was opened in the 1970's.

Did one political party obstruct infrastructure investment because it believed there was political advantage to do so?  Did the other political party point out how doing so harms the economy?

The Milesburg to Snowshoe westbound grade impedes interstate truck traffic. It adds to trucking costs. It adds to driver  hours of service. It causes avoidable wear and tear. I causes avoidable fuel consumption. It is just one of many transportation ineficiencies in the Interstate highway system.

Should a lane be added? Or, should railroad capacity in the form of a higher speed railroad HrSR be an alternative to the highway by operating 100 mph double stack containerized freight trains as being an alternative to the highway. With such freight railroad capacity and service will come the ability to operate HrSR passenger trains.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

2035 - What are the Prospects?

A disproportionate amount of freight tonnage is carried by highway in comparison with the railroad system.

In 2007 two studies were made public by the Federal Department of Transportation. One was funded in part by the Association of American Railroads and done by Cambridge Systematics, Inc.  and it projected railroad capacity to 2035.  The other was completed by the Office of Freight Management and Operations within the Department of Transportation addressing truck highway congestion and capacity to 2035.

Ten years have elapsed. Nothing has been done to address looming gridlock.

The studies were separate and distinct. As such they are mode specific.

The railroad analysis shows that the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg line will be at "near capacity" in 2035.

The highway analysis shows the Pennsylvania Turnpike as being "highly congested" from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg in 2035. "Highly congested" indicates stop and go conditions with reduced traffic speeds and loss of service volume available for rigs.

What can be done? Add lanes? Provide incentives and capacity to change from the highway to the railroad through containerization? If the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg line will be at "near capacity" in 2035, is that an alternative to adding lanes?

If anything, it is an argument to modernize the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg line in order that it will not be at "near capacity" in 2035. Rather, it should be a higher speed railroad HrSR that is a competitive alternative to the highway. When it is, it will have the capacity to operate passenger service where today it would be stressed in doing so.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Increased Ground Transportation Capacity for Pennsylvania

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is made up of distinct geographical sections. The need for increased ground transportation capacity exists wherever the dart is thrown at the map. But, achieving the increased capacity for each section has different anaswers.

The focus upon increased capacity for passenger rail is upon the rail line from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg. But, that line is among the heaviest freight railroad's in the country. There is no incentive for the private corporation that owns the line to accept additional passenger trains for operation. Penalties for passenger train delays is a disincentive. The reimbursement for track use to the freight railroad is a disincentive. The likely adverse impact on freight operations by additional passenger trains is a disincentive.

Now, looking at freight transportation across Pennsylvania to 2035, there are projections for severe bottlenecks on railroads and highways.

So, to increase potential passenger train capacity Pittsburgh to Harrisburg, the first step is to increase railroad fright capacity.

Should the Pittsburgh  to Harrisburg line have a capacity increase. Will positive track control, PTC, add freight capacity? Positive track control is a system that makes the existing signal system of railroad smarter. It does not rely soley upon the engineer operator in the cab of a locomotive. It assures brake application before a collision happens with another train. As such, the space between trains can be shortened.

PTC was authorized by Congress to be installed upon the freight railroad system in 2008 by 2015. The impetus was the collision between a California Metrolink commuter train and an Union Pacific Railroad standing freight train. The accident happened at Chatsworth, CA on September 12, 2008. It caused 25 deaths, 135 injuries with 46 injuries being critical.

The passage of of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 was a classic example of an unfunded mandate. As such, there were legal and technical delays in its implementation. The law said get the PTC done by 2015. Subsequently the date was moved to 2018.

How will PTC affect freight train productivity? It should increase productivity. Given the tonnage from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg it is doubtful that PTC alone will be enough to make it practical to increase passenger train operations.

As the interstate highway system will have significant capacity constraints by 2035, let alone currently, a logical alternative is highway shipping containers on the railroads. That leads back to the existing Pittsburgh to Harrisburg line.

The line is 258 miles long Amtrak to Amtrak station. The Turnpike is 204 miles long. Length alone makes any realignment of existing curves for high speeds not likely to do anything more than make the two modes speed competitive. There is an argument to build 90 mph capable curves for much of its length. That would allow faster freight operations and as such the ability to absorb increased passenger service. Will doing so be cost effective as opposed to other alternatives? The first goal is create more productive freight operations and increase freight capacity. If with that increased passenger operations tag along, so be it.

Perhaps a different solution is to design a new shorter line with lesser grades between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg? The intention would be to provide freight railroad capacity first.

A new line poses some new problems. Who might own it? The Norfolk Southern alone or with the CSX?  A publicly funded new line with private Norfolk Southern and CSX freight train operations?
Might the public entity be the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission as additional railroad capacity will relieve capacity restraints upon the Turnpike.

While population growth for the Commonwealth has been flat for decades, the population surrounding the keystone state has not been static. Controlling the impact of freight tonnage crossing the State ironically may benefit passenger train service.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Pennsylvania Senate Transportation Committee

The Pennsylvania Senate Committee for Transportation passed State Resolution 76 P.N 827 on May 10, 2017. It directs the Budget and Finance Committee to conduct a study of the feasibility of providing two additional passenger rail trips daily between Pittsburgh and its impact on existing rail service. A whole house Senate vote is scheduled for May 22, 2017.

This is puzzling. The Resolution cites The Norfolk Southern Woodside Consulting firm study of 2005 and the 2014 Keystone West High Speed Rail study. Both of them state that additional passenger service would impair Norfolk Southern freight operations. In order to avoid interference with Norfolk Southern freight service, portions of the mainline removed by Conrail before Norfolk Southern ownership in 1999 would have to be restored. Minimally, track lifted through the Amtrak station in Pittsburgh and the fourth track lifted from Gallitzin to Altoona would have to be restored. This would be the minimum to add two 5.5 hour passenger trains NOT interfering with Norfolk Southern freight trains.

The cost to do so would be quite expensive and doing nothing in terms of improved speed. It only would provide the capacity required for the track owner, Norfolk Southern, to be able to operate freight trains without interference.

Freight operations are slower than passenger operations. Without the extra track capacity slower freight trains on the line, some 80 to 100 a day, would have interference as they would be held in order for passenger trains to maintain their schedules and weave through the mass of freight trains. Without the extra capacity, the Norfolk Southern has no logical basis for accepting additional Amtrak passenger trains.

The miles by highway from Amtrak Station at Pittsburgh and the Amtrak Station at Harrisburg is 204 miles. Railroad miles are 258. Highway is 3 hours 14 minutes. Railroad is 5 hours thirty minutes. In order to make the trip time competitive would require major Higher Speed Rail system engineering and construction on the existing Pittsburgh to Harrisburg line. That is, higher speed capability to 110 mph. That would enable an average 80 mph operation for 3 hours 12 minutes.

The likelihood of a legislature that is unable to understand that the Pennsylvania budget is not a spending problem but a revenue problem makes the SR76 a questionable exercise.

The Federal Government policy has been to look at passenger train operations as being a State problem rather than a national commerce issue. So, the cost of any changes to the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg line would be largely born by the Commonwealth. The cost of additional equipment would largely be born by the Commonwealth. The logic of ending a passenger service at Pittsburgh rather than Cleveland speaks to the limited vision of both the Pennsylvania legislature and the Federal government.

The 2014 study looked at the cost of electrification west of Harrisburg. Its expense would be quite high. Electrification of an American railroad should be part of a national effort to electrify the railroad system to increase its capacity and create a transportation system not dependent upon foreign oil imports. As such, electrification is both a national defense concept as well as a conservation project. However, locomotives now exist capable of operation in partial electrified zones. For example, should track capacity be created to support additional passenger trains at some point it my justify partial electrification on the grade from Gallitzin to Altoona.

Given that the two Pennsylvanian passenger trains serve Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Philadelphia and New York and in doing so use a locomotive that collects electric power from overhead lines then has that electric locomotive changed for a diesel locomotive in Philadelphia; the studies did not consider using a locomotive designed to be both a overhead electric type in combination with a diesel in a single locomotive. Such a locomotive is in service by New Jersey Transit. If a dual service locomotive were used about 20 minutes would be saved at Philadelphia. More importantly, service could be built out. First, as electrification ends at Harrisburg, an initial buildout could be to operate passenger service to Lewistown. That would add an hour to the schedule. But, it would provide additional service for nearby State College and the Pennsylvania State University. And, it would attract commuter riders to Harrisburg. As passenger traffic develops there would be justification to extend service in steps eventually to Pittsburgh.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

AMTRAK 188 Explained

Here is a photo of the Amtrak derailment at the Frankford Junction curve in Philadelphia. (Click on photo to see the whole image.)  Numbers 1, 2 and 3 identify parts of the fractured structural steel beam broken by the derailing train colliding with it as it passed. 4 (center of the photo) identifies the crumpled and mangled remains of the first car behind the locomotive. Notation 4 is in the center of the folded car with cranes to the left and right. 5 is the second car of the remaining six car string. The specially designed passenger car couplers did their job for the six cars as the cars did not separate. Had they  been connected with freight couplers the cars would have parted. Since about 1910 USA passenger cars have been designed for the frame to withstand 800,000 pounds of buff force. No other country has such a standard. 6 is the locomotive. Its right side headlight was damaged. 7 is the outside rail on the curve. It is higher than the inside rail opposite. That is referred to as the super elevated curve. Super elevation allows for faster speed through a curve like a race car track. The curve wason an 1850's alignment rated at 50 miles per hour by the original owner and builder, the Pennsylvania Railroad. The current owner, Amtrak also has a 50 mile per hour speed restriction on the curve. The steel beam above and across the tracks at 8 suspends an electric wire above each track. A spring loaded device on the locomotive with a roller at the top contacts the wire and collects electric power to propel the electric motors driving the locomotive. The wires and steel beam supports are called catenary. I think that the locomotive grazed the catenary support enough for the first car to fully collide and fold. The locomotive separated and came to rest at 6. The first car was pushed by the following cars to 4. As soon as the air brake line was severed from the locomotive the string of cars brakes activated explaining why the last two remained upright as the energy of the cars dissipated . Centrifugal force took the equipment to the right on a left curve.