Thursday, January 26, 2012

Maybe It's Bigger Than the Keystone State

A true transportation plan for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania should consider the the disproportionate reliance upon rubbers tires, concrete and asphalt. The whole look at Pittsburgh to Harrisburg is part of examining a need for reinventing the steel wheel upon a steel rail.

What becomes clear is that reinventing the steel wheel upon the steel rail is more than just Pittsburgh to Harrisburg. After all, Pittsburgh is the eastern end of the Great Lakes Megaregion.  Restoration of rail passenger service to Pittsburgh does not end at Pittsburgh. Restoration of rail passenger service from Pittsburgh to Cleveland is probably more immediately important for Pittsburgh than Pittsburgh to Harrisburg.

Two rail routes exist to restore rail passenger service from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg. One is the former PRR line from Cleveland, Ohio through Alliance, Ohio to Pittsburgh. It is largely in a rural part of Ohio, missing Youngstown, Ohio and Warren, Ohio. The other route is a combination of Norfolk Southern and CSX from Cleveland to Youngstown to Pittsburgh.

The second rail route from Cleveland to Youngstown to Pittsburgh obviously serves a more populous area. Its grades and distance is less than the Alliance route.

Today for Cleveland-Youngstown-Pittsburgh, the question becomes how to make the transition from the Norfolk Southern to the CSX?  Where should the connections occur to achieve Youngstown and Pittsburgh from Cleveland?  As the line is former PRR owned by NS from Cleveland to Ravenna, Ohio, one logical connection is to simply restore a connection that once existed  there between the PRR and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The connection between the NS and CSX can be made at Ravenna. CSX tracks then serve Youngstown and Pittsburgh. But the problem becomes how to transition back to the NS from the CSX east of Youngstown? The CSX and NS are on opposite sides of the Beaver River from Wampum, Pennsylvania to New Brighton, Pennsylvania. A connection from the CSX to the NS could be constructed in the Beaver River Valley. the most advantageous seems to be in the vicinity of Wampum where the NS crosses over CSX.

The problem with rejoining the NS line from the somewhere in the Beaver River Valley is that it will require passenger operations to pass the Conway yard on the way to Pittsburgh. The Conway yard when built in the early 1950's was the largest classification yard in the USA. It is still a very large operation. It is not unusual to observe freight trains held on the mainline awaiting authority to enter the Conway yard. Getting a passenger train past Conway is a potential bottleneck.

An alternative route to Pittsburgh from Youngstown might be to stay upon CSX through the Beaver Valley and alongside the Ohio River to NS bridge across Brunot Island gaining access on the north shore of the Ohio with the NS mainline into the Pittsburgh Amtrak Station. That route would avoid potential delays passing Conway yard.

Accomplishing Cleveland to Youngstown to Pittsburgh under the current Federal DOT state by state approach would be a very difficult planning effort. Two states will have to be involved. Add to that, two freight railroads most interested in their freight operations and the potential restored rail passenger service might have to interfering with freight operations.

Here is an interesting discussion of the history and operations at Ravenna, Ohio:

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