Sunday, January 22, 2012

What's Best Route Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C?

Pittsburgh's air passenger air service has become a shadow of what it once was. In comparison with rail passenger service, at the shadow is perceivable.

Restoration of rail passenger service with enhanced speeds will be competitive with point to point, ultimate trip beginning to end times with air service to Philadelphia and New York City. This could be accomplished in stages.

Pendular suspended equipment such as that manufactured by the Talgo organization could be the first step. It would allow for higher speeds on the existing right of way. The higher speed capable with Talgo equipment on the existing right of way will require adjustments to grade crossings. Either enhanced crossing protection or new overpasses or underpasses will be required for full exploitation without changes to the right of way. Consideration would have to be made for exchanging electric locomotives for diesel locomotives at Harrisburg.

The benefit of higher speeds on the existing right of way from Pittsburgh to Washington via the CSX could be exploited using Talgo on the CSX.  But, the CSX is now a freight railroad. The CSX route supports one train a day each way from Chicago to Washington via Pittsburgh. However, its right of way was never a multiple track right of way as the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg line was. There is no opportunity to add dedicated passenger rail capacity to the right of way. This is particularly true at single track tunnels along the line as the famous Sand Patch grade and tunnel near Hyndman, Pennsylvania.

Options for restored rail passenger service on the CSX line given current and future freight business are limited.

Alternatively, Washington, D.C. can be reached via the PRR line now owned by the NS from Enola on the west side of the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg to Perryville, Maryland. At Perryville connection with Amtrak's Northeast Corridor is made. The towers and overhead cross members built in the 1930's to carry the electrified catenary to provide power to electric locomotives still exists.

The line alongside the Susquehanna River from Enola to Perryville was an electrified freight line. The PRR moved passenger trains between what is now the Northeast Corridor by a line from Baltimore through York to Harrisburg. It was originally the Northern Central Railroad that was later absorbed into the PRR. The line no longer exists. From a 1952 schedule, the PRR was able to operate trains over it's 83 mile length in 120 minutes.

If the Enola, Pennsylvania to Perryville, Maryland line were to be used to connect to the Northeast Corridor, it would add about 26 miles to the trip to Baltimore from Harrisburg.  With higher speeds, the trip could be accomplished in with an 80 minute schedule.

As discussed earlier, an initial restoration of rail service frequency from Harrisburg to Lewistown, Pennsylvania could be facilitated using dual mode locomotives capable of operating beyond the end of electrification. Likewise, dual capable locomotives could be the motive power from Harrisburg to Perryville. At Perryville a seamless transition cold be made to overhead electrical power to Baltimore and Washington. Ideally electrification would be restored using the existing 1930's electrification infrastructure.

A significant percentage of the PSU student body resides in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore metropolitan area. They would be served by restoring rail passenger service at least to Lewsitown.

Returning to Pittsburgh to Washington, as discussed Talgo equipped trains could achieve a 3 hour 50 minute schedule Pittsburgh to Harrisburg. An 80 minute schedule from Harrisburg to Baltimore via Perryville is plausible. The best current time by Amtrak from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. is 30 minutes. There would be an additional 1 hour and 50 minutes from Harrisburg to Washington, D.C.
Total time from Pittsburgh to Washington would be 5 hours 50 minutes.

The Amtrak schedule over CSX for the Capitol Limited from Washington to Pittsburgh is 7 hours 43 minutes. The 1952 schedule for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad over the same route was 7 hours 45 minutes. The difference was that in 1952 the passenger station used the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad station at Smithfield Street.

Mapquest computes a 4 hour 40 minute drive time from Amtrak Station, Pittsburgh to Amtrak Station Washington, D.C.

1 comment:

  1. It's not entirely true that the CSX ROW is inherently non-multi-track. Yes the local conditions you describe on the Sand Patch are accurate, but the B&O IIRC historically operated two tracks over Sand Patch, and the Western Maryland line which closely paralleled it all the way from McKeesport to Cumberland had a single-track mainline. So there are three graded tracks available through Savage Mtn/Sand Patch, in theory. (The WM line curved northeast of the B&O at Cumberland, however, and I can't remember whether or not the B&O's Potomac mainline was ever more than two tracks wide.)

    The reality is that the Great Allegheny Passage rail-trail has taken over the former WM main.

    My $0.02? The Capitol Limited routing is fine by today's infrastructure, but if there was ultimately a true high-speed main between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, the Chicago-D.C. service would best take advantage of that and then dropping straight down the Susquehanna to Baltimore, merging into the NEC to finish the trip to D.C. The much higher speed standards of such a route would cancel out its somewhat more circuitous nature.