Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Beating Highway Time on the Railroad

The distance between Pittsburgh's Amtrak station and Harrisburg's Amtrak station is 204 miles according to Mapquest. Mapquest gives a drive time of 3 hours 44 minutes using the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I76.

The railroad distance is 244.7 miles between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. 184 miles is sufficiently straight to allow maximum track speed. There are 60 miles of curves restricting speed. That means that 24.5 per cent of the route is a speed restricting curve of kind.

The problem to be solved is how to transit the Keystone Corridor West from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg time competitive with the highway.

While Mapquest gives a 3 hour 44 minute travel time, it is a best case scenario. Just the time consumed exiting the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Monroeville, PA for the trip to downtown Pittsburgh through the Squirrel Hill Tunnels is a typical Pennsylvania quagmire. The real highway travel time is more like 4 hour 30 minutes just because of the congestion on the Parkway East and the Squirrel Hill tunnel quagmire.

How can the time for the railroad be improved?

One solution might be to apply pendular suspended railroad passenger equipment designed to enter and leave curves faster than conventional railroad passenger equipment. Amtrak operates such equipment in the Pacific Northwest between Seattle, WA and Portland, OR. The equipment is manufactured by the Talgo Company. Using a copy of the track chart for the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg line, one is able to learn by mile the curvature and gradient with speed limit for the railroad. Reviewing the track charts, a "back of the envelope" schedule estimate is 3 hours 50 minutes using Talgo equipment. The Talgo organization in an unofficial and courtesy review of the track charts by them resulted in an estimate that the schedule could be 4 hours 10 minutes with the caveat that a 30 minute cushion is part of the schedule.

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