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.

State of Mind -- Mens Reas -- Amtrak 188 -- Bostian

While Pennsylvania law provides for private criminal complaints, it will be instructive as to how the complaint might go to trial. Perhaps more evidence than what was collected by the NTSB National Transportation Safety Board will be brought forward?

Here is the link to the Philadephia Inquirer story about developments against Engineer Bostian:

http://www.philly.com/philly/business/law/Judge-orders-DA-to-charge-Amtrak-engineer.html

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

"Economics and Politics of High-Speed Rail"

I recently read The Economics and Politics of High Speed Rail by Dr. Daniel Albalate and Dr. Germa Bel. Both the authors hold PhD’s in economics. Their findings were quite informative.

The authors indicate that only Tokyo to Osaka and Paris Lyon are the sole profiable routes in the high speed rail category - 124 mph plus.

So, it seems that the opportunities lie in the higher speed rail category of 90 to 110 mph. But, whether higher speed or high speed rail the rationale is to either compete with other passenger modes in order to lessen capacity pressures for that mode or to encourage and enhance railroad freight capacity by increasing speed for both passnger and freight on existing freight railroads.

As a Pennsylvanian it would be a pleasure to have greater cross state passenger rail options. But the former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg is essentially a line built to civil engineering and construction standards of the 1850’s. Yes, the Horseshoe Curve is remarkable but it is a historical curiosity. If John Edgar Thompson, the civil engineer largely responsible, were alive today he would use modern mapping and survey tools together with dynamite and diesel powered machinery to design and build the line. Confronted with the Allegheny frontal, rather than a Horseshoe Curve, he would likely follow a straight diagonal line from Tyrone to Gallitzin. That would be a one per cent grade.

Having looked at the existing line from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg it appears that construction of 90 mph curves where required is theoretically possible together with the Tyrone to Gallitzin diagonal for a higher speed line. But notwithstanding doing such, might a entirely new line, not adjustments to alignments make sense?

It is informative that a .03 percent line was proposed at the beginning of the Twentieth Century to have been called the New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh Railroad. It was surveyed from Easton, PA to North Bessemer, PA and the route identified. An easier grade is possible. Famed Pennsylvania Railroad President Samuel Rea, after he retired, did a study for what would have been a higher speed railroad across Pennsylvania leaving the Pennsylvania Railroad mainline at Lewistown and going west being a 1% railroad. But both routes required lengthy tunnels. So, if favorable routes across the Alleghenies were found years ago with transit, theodilite and chain, is there a way to identify a better route  with modern technology? Would it be cost effective to make a freight railroad faster  with its higher speed capability (90 to 110mph) making a practical integration of passnger and freight operations?

An enhanced freight railroad across Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh to Harrisburg, would be designed to attract traffic from highway to rail. The higher freight speed would allow for increased passenger service not currently practical on the existing line.

Studies by both the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Norfolk Southern concluded that adding an additional passenger train let alone trains on the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg line would require substantial investment into an allignment designed and built essentially in the 1850’s. The required investment would do nothing for passenger train speed. It would remain as it has been for decades. The only purpose would be to NOT have passenger train interference with the large volume of freight trains.

Is it time to build a modern higher speed railroad across Pennsylvania? Perhaps yes. Simply based upon projections for highway capacity and railroad capacity say to 2035, significant bottlenecks are likely both nationally and in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. An engineering study is required.

While the focus is upon Pittsburgh to Harrisburg, given the peculiar problems of the Allegheny Mountains; the engineering study should consider where the higher speed line should be located first from the ideal location of a 1% or less grade. The end point and beginning point might be outside the bounds of Pennsylvania - Ohio / New Jersey?

More than one line might be considered. As the Norfolk and Western owns the current Pittsburgh to Harrisburg line, the CSX operates a line across western Pennsylvania through Pittsburgh to Baltimore that was once the line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Can freight operations of the CSX be combined with a new higher speed line to benefit that freight railroad’s efficiency and competitiveness as well?

Assuming that an engineering study finds a new higher speed railroad line to be feasible, then the study should address. how it might be financed. Might is be a publicly owned and financed Pennsylvania corporation for its entire length even if its end points were out of state? This would be as if Pennsylvania bought the Ohio Turnpike and folded it into the Turnpike Commission. Or, could the proposed line be a private company? What government guarantees and inducements might be considered?

Surely the need for greater railroad capacity for the future argues for the study to be undertaken.

As Abelate and Bel note, high speed rail (HSR 124 mph plus) practical costs are narrow, unique and specific. Higher speed rail (HrSR 90 to 110 mph) should be the focus.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Unsecured Northeast Corridor RIght of Way

The May 12, 2015, derailment of Amtrak Train 188 northbound at Frankford Junction north of Philadelphia was caused in part by a projectile hitting a SEPTA train, fracturing glass and injuring the SEPTA engineer. The Engineer on Amtrak 188 was listening to transmissions from the SEPTA engineer shortly before entering the curve at Frankford Junction. It is a 50 mile per hour curve. 188 was doing 106 mph. The NTSB said that he Amtrak engineer lost "situational awareness."

But for the Vandalism done to the SEPTA train there would not have been a loss of "situational awareness.

Vandalism along the Northeast Corridor is a perennial problem.

At the Railroad Museum of Pennsylania at Strasburg, PA, an original 1968 high speed Metroliner is on display. Its decades of service clearly show the number of times it suffered vandalism.

The Northeast Corridor right of way should be secured in order to minimize what is on display in the railroad museum.



Sunday, May 7, 2017

More Thoughts on Coming and Going



Here is a little research into the right to come and go, the right to travel. It is a right that we seldom think about or consider.

Where is the right to travel here and about for whatever reason expressed in the Constitution?

No where is the right expressed.

Now, the Articles of Confederation in Article IV provide that “the people of each State shall have free ingress and regress to and from any other State.” That’s it. That’s the last time the right was enumerated. But, of course, it is an imputed right as its denial abridges, harms other rights. The right is so elementary that it was conceived and is from the beginning understood to naturally accompanying the U.S. Constitution. The right follows from the Constitution. “The right to travel is self-evident and no force of expression adds to its truth.” (Note: paraphased from Chief Justice Marshall).

So this right to travel is a privilege and immunity. It is first addressed first in Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution. “The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens of the several States.”

A strong motivation to form the United States was to facilitate commercial intercourse and with it intellectual, cultural, scientific, social and political interests are served by free movement.

If a State obstructs the free intercourse of people, goods or ideas, then the forces, the bonds of the country, the union, are impaired or perhaps threatened. A liberty interest cannot be taken away without due process of law includes liberty of speech, press, assembly, religion, and also liberty of movement.