Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pennsylvania Plodding - Keystone Corridor West

The Woodside Consulting study of 2005 reported upon a seven day window on operations across the Keystone Corridor West from December 7, 2003, through December 13, 2003.

By 2003, Pittsburgh to Harrisburg was seeing over 100 million ton miles a year.  690 freight trains and 42 passenger  trains were reviewed.

Here were the train types, the number of trains and average speed:

Train Type:      Number of Trains:        Average MPH:
Amtrak                                      42                        37.8
Intermodal                                 69                        32.7

Intermodal                               123                        27.9
Crown                                        18                        34.6
Level                                          24                        26.8

Auto Parts                                    6                         31.1
Merchandise                             199                         21.7

Coal                                          139                         18.8

Unit                                             10                         22.9

Locals                                          85                         11.8
Trains                                             7                         23.5
AVERAGE                                732                          24.3

Using a week in December to review somewhat under reports normal operations as carloadings decline in the 4th quarter of a year. The average daily train count was 104. In 2003 there were three Amtrak trains scheduled meaning 6 trains total per day. Except for fewer Amtrak trains a day, the 2003 freight train count is probably representative of today's circumstances. Admittedly, 104 trains in a 24 hour period is one train every 14 minutes seems on its face as not being a difficult transportation  task to accomplish. The problem is that trains of different weights, lengths and speeds create a multitude of operational variables. And, trains are not spaced in an even 14 minute sequence throughout the day.

Woodside concluded that additional trackage was required at key points in order to add additional rail passenger service and NOT interfere with freight operations. One pinch point are the fueling racks between Harrisburg and Rockville Bridge. Additional track would be required in the vicinity of Gallitzin to avoid delays over the Allegheny frontal. The Pittsburgh Amtrak station requires additional trackage to allow freight trains to pass stopped passenger trains. And, in order to lessen the number of freight trains dispatched through downtown Pittsburgh, additional trackage would be required to increase the capacity of the freight bypass that leaves the mainline near Wilmerding, PA known as the Port Perry branch. The Port Perry branch in turn connects with the Monongahela Branch which returns to the mainline crossing Brunot Island in the Ohio River connecting to the mainline in the vicinity of California Avenue and Superior Avenue on the Northside of Pittsburgh.

The Woodside study did not consider the operational requirement to weigh eastbound coal trains at Denholm, Pennsylvania. There a coal train is operated at 5 mile per hour across a weigh in motion scale. The siding that is integrated into the signalling system where weighing happens is at milepost 155.8. ( See: http://www.parailfan.com/Guides/Altoona_East/altoonaeast_denholm.html ). The location of the scale may require a dispatcher to move a slow moving coal train across a track causing a loss of full operational speed to the track being crossed. Obviously such a contingency can be managed by good dispatching decisions.


Monday, February 20, 2012


There is a major  problem facing the restoration of passenger rail service in the United States, let alone Pennsylvania and the Keystone Corridor West. Simply put, how can passenger service be plotted amidst plodding freight trains?

The experience of the BNSF and CSX railroads on March 5, 2002 is instructive. Cross the United States from Los Angeles to New York in 65 hours!  On that day, a demonstration intermodal train was operated across the country. The operation achieved an average 48 miles per hour for the whole 3154 mile trip.

Nothing like it had been done since June  8, 1967 when the Santa Fe Railroad (Predecessor to the BNSF) and the New York Central Railroad (Predecessor to the CSX) initiated a 54 hour Super C trailer on flatcar freight service. It lasted until 1976. At that time, passenger speed capability was still part of the freight railroad system.

On March 5, 2002, the train could not operate over 70 mph. The BNSF had run simulation models to see what could be accomplished with a peak 80 mph speed. For the BNSF part of the operation 80 mph came out as 36 hours and some minutes. The 70 mph simulation came out at 38 hours.

The train on March 5, 2002, required that opposition trains be placed in passing sidings or held in yards.

Mixing a faster operation within a slower freight operation imposes burdens upon the whole freight enterprise.

(See: TRAINS MAGAZINE, February 2003, "Fastest Freight in AMerica - We Ride It Coast to Coast," page 32.  See:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_C_%28freight_train%29   - information about 1967 - 1976 fast freight. )

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Harrisburg Bottleneck

Today's Norfolk Southern is a freight carrying showcase. The long history from the Pennsylvania to the Penn central to the Conrail to the Norfolk Southern has created a railroad capable of dramatic freight operations. But, for restored rail passenger service, bottlenecks exist that by operating more passenger trains will interfere with freight operations.

Anyone with the memory of 24 trains a day between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg will find it remarkable that a locomotive fueling station is now in the former passenger mainline near Harrisburg. The location of the fueling station is logical for freight operations.

Clicking on the posted photographs on this blog will enlarge them.

In the upper right hand corner Norfolk Southern mainline tracks 1 and 2 are identified. The light colored area between the tracks are the fuel racks. Below them in the center of the photograph is another pair of tracks with fuel racks. There are a total of 12 freight locomotives in the photo. This is milepost 107.5

"The total annual million gross tons of traffic on tracks number 1 and number 2 .... is about 90 million gross tons...a substantial number of the movements is of expedited "double stack" container and trailer type intermodal service. Harrisburg is centrally located on the Norfolk Southern system where expedited  intermodal trains are refueled while stopped at a fueling station on tracks number one and number two....Some trains are over a mile long. Studies show that added passenger service at this location will delay intermodal trains as well as passenger trains." (See:  Page 272 of KEYSTONE WEST PASSENGER TRAIN STUDY, Volume 2 of 2, Prepared for: Norfolk Southern Corporation and PennDOT. Prepared by The Woodside Consulting Group, Inc. February 2005)

Should this be the first bottleneck eliminated in the process of  enabling restored passenger rail service Pittsburgh to Harrisburg? Adding a dedicated passenger track that bypasses the fuel racks is probably an important first step. What follows is a proposal from the 2005 Woodside study to add a track from the vicinity of milepost 105 to the vicinity of milepost 110.

This is the west end of the Harrisburg Amtrak Station. Seen is a passenger train positioned to be pushed to Philadelphia. The passenger service between Harrisburg and Philadelphia on the Keystone Corridor East is done by applying electrified push - pull equipment. Note the electric locomotive to the right edge of the photograph. Seen also is the opening for the Market Street underpass at Harrisburg.

Here the end of the electric locomotive is now seen at the left of the photograph. This photograph clearly shows the overhead wires that electric locomotives contact with using a folding arm called a pantograph. The pantograph makes contact with the overhead wire in order to collect electric power for propulsion. The wires end a few feet to right of what is pictured in the photograph above.

The red brick building shown above designated as CP Harris is a preserved structure as its usefulness was for the historic signal and communications system installed by the PRR. The Woodside study proposed installing a number 15 turnout in this area to begin the passenger bypass track. Norfolk Southern tracks one and two are indicated by NS1 and NS2. The overhead viaduct is State Street in Harrisburg.
This photograph shows the convergence of the Amtrak ( yellow ) owned track with the Norfolk Southern ( blue ) owned track number 1 north of the State Street Overpass. Adequate room exists for a new passenger by pass track to the right.

On the ground north of the State Street Overpass, milepost 105 is shown at the white X. The Norfolk Southern is in blue, Amtrak is in yellow.

Here the Harrisburg Amtrak  Station is at the bottom of the photograph. 15 identifies the approximate location of a new turnout in the vicinity of CP Harris. 15 denotes where the passenger bypass track would begin.

Adequate space exists for the passenger bypass to the left or west of the Norfolk Southern track one as shown.
The top of the photograph is north. The proposed passenger bypass track is shown in yellow. Adequate room for the track exists. The industrial building designated with 1 is to give refernence to the next historical photograph. The building designated with a 2 is the Bertolino Building. Employees in the building have one of the best locations in Harrisburg to observe Norfolk Southern freight operations and Amtrak's daily Pennsylvanian passenger train.

This low level oblique aerial photograph is looking south. It was made circa 1950 - 1952.  The industrial building on the preceding photograph is on the left and again designated with a number 1. The location of today's Bertolino building is designated with a 2. Where 3 is shown, the edge of a steam locomotive roundhouse is located. The rectangular light surfaced building in the lower right was a newly constructed diesel locomotive  maintenance facility.
A similar view as to the 1950-1952 photograph above, looking south, this contemporary view courtesy of http://www.bing.com/maps/ shows that the industrial building continues to exist at number 1.
Today's Berolino Building is at number 2. The steam locomotive roundhouse and diesel locomotive maintenance no longer exist. They have been replaced by a staging area for intermodal freight containers and truck trailers designed  to be lifted onto freight rolling stock designed to carry the.
Returning to the orientation of an aerial photograph with the top being north, the industrial building is now in the lower right of the photograph designated with 1. The edge of the now demolished roundhouse is identified with a 3. Maclay Street is identified in the upper  left of the photograph. Adequate space exists for the passenger bypass track shown in yellow.

Insufficient right of way at Maclay Street ( Milepost 106.1) to the left requires Norfolk Southern track one to become the passenger bypass track shown in yellow. Norfolk Southern track two will become Norfolk Southern one. A new Norfolk Southern track two will be constructed as shown by the dotted blue line.

From Maclay Street north after the track shift required by the close clearance with the Maclay Street overpass, adequate space exists for the passenger track bypass. The construction of the passenger bypass will avoid interference with the fueling racks. Note the nearby storage tanks for diesel fuel. At I 81, another track shift is required to meet clearances. Then likewise at Linglestown Road, Route 38 overpass another track shit will be required.

Here is another view of the Norfolk Southern fueling racks that are astride mainline Norfolk Southern tracks one and two. It makes sense, supposedly, for freight operations. The proposed passenger bypass would be as shown by the dotted yellow line. Fueling racks are at milepost 107.5.

Another view of the fueling racks.

 The passenger bypass track would end at milepost 109.6 south of the Rockville Bridge crossing the Susquehanna River
Here is a detailed photograph of the end of the passenger bypass track  ( yellow) at milepost 109.6. The other two tracks not in blue are also owned by the Norfolk Southern. Those tracks follow the Susquehanna River north to Northumberland, Pennsylvania. There connections are made via another railroad to Binghamton, New York to the Northeast of Northumberland. To the Northwest of Northumberland the Norfolk and Southern continues to Emporium, Pennsylvania where a connection is made with another railroad to Buffalo, New York. Of course, NS1 and NS2 are the east - west tracks to Pittsburgh across the Keystone Corridor West.
Looking southerly on NS1 toward the signal located at milepost 109.4. The passenger bypass track would be  to the right. The bridge supporting the signals would have to be widened. The bypass track would end behind the photographers position in the vicinity of milepost 109.6. The view is looking towards the Linglestown Road Route 38 overpass in the distance.