Friday, March 16, 2012

How to Operate a Shared Use Railroad System For Higher Speed Passenger Service

The question becomes for the Keystone Corridor West, how can restored passenger rail service be operated within a mix of slower freight trains?  Freight traffic growth has been such that a new dedicated track must be relaid upon the former 4 track mainline space from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg. And freight track capacity addition will be required from the vicinity of Wilmerding, PA on the Port Perry branch to the Monongahela branch returning to the mainline. Even with the addition of track capacity, freight traffic will still be very much part of the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg line. How can there be shared use?

Mixed use railroad systems exist. In Europe the high speed passenger rail operations, 150 mph+, use separate right of ways for high speed operations. Access to urban centers use the existing railroad system and the high speed equipment is operated at higher speed or semi-speed upon the traditional rail network as required.

The most complex shared use railroad system in the world is the the Northeast Corridor from Washington to Baltimore to Philadelphia to New York to Boston and Harrisburg to Philadelphia, the Keystone Corridor East. Owned by Amtrak, the routes described see semi-speed passenger trains operated by different transit agencies, higher speed passenger trains and high speed passenger trains operated by Amtrak and freight trains operated by the Norfolk Southern Railroad and CSX Railroad and to a lesser extent CP Railroad and at east one shortline. There is nothing like it elsewhere in the world.

All the operators of trains on the Northeast Corridor and the Keystone Corridor East are confronted with the absolute necessity for safe operations. Shared use means lessened high speed passenger capacity, a reduced top speed, congestion, reliability problems and fewer options for  high speed vehicle design.

But, shared use means lower costs, lessened economic, environmental and social impacts, and  improved accessibility. Shared use enables high speed trains to go to rail stations in the heart of urban ares. There is a network benefit as lines feed traffic onto the high speed equipment. A shared use railroad can be improved incrementally.

In the case of the Northeast Corridor and its Keystone Corridor East, shared use was not a function of long term public planning. It was the response of the Pennsylvania Railroad to market forces. North of New York it was the new Haven Railroad's response to market forces. By the time Amtrak became the owner of the rail assets, shared used was a continuation of existing freight service together with rail passenger service. Instead of one private railroad company owning the rail infrastructure assets and performing the transportation services of long distance rail passenger, commuter rail passenger and freight service; now Amtrak owns the rail infrastructure and the long distance passenger equipment. Multiple public agencies own commuter passenger equipment. Freight railroads own freight equipment. The commuter agencies operate their equipment on the rail infrastructure owned by Amtrak. The freight railroads operate their equipment on the rail infrastructure owned by Amtrak. Today multiple organizations perform the transportation services once accomplished by a single company. Amtrak controls the infrastructure and its operation. The dominate operations are passenger.

For the Keystone Corridor East, the dominate operations are freight. The infrastructure is owned by a private company Norfolk Southern Corporation (NSC). The planning for restored rail passenger service for the Keystone Corridor West will require the agreement of its owner to anything that might be done to restore and operate rail passenger service. Instead of a public entity owning and controlling the infrastructure asset with separate privately operated freight trains on a publicly owned entity, Keystone corridor is and will be a privately owned railroad infrastructure asset.

The Norfolk Southern Corporation will likely guard against infringement upon its freight business. It will likely guard its fee simple ownership of its right of way. It will likely seek access to a third passenger track whenever it benefits its freight operations. It will likely want to control dispatching and operation of all trains over its right of way.

East of Harrisburg the NSC continues its freight operations to New Jersey by using a combination of the some  former PRR exclusive freight lines, Reading Railroad mainline and Central Railroad of New Jersey mainline.  The NSC across Pennsylvania exceeds 100 million tonmiles a year. The NSC use of Amtrak's Keystone Corridor East tracks is akin to branchline freight operations in terms of tonmiles.

The NSC in planning for operations with restored rail passenger service on the Keystone Corridor West can consider several strategies to operate a shared mixture of trains. Basic rules for scheduling trains based upon the needs of the shared use assets can be developed. Here are some ideas from "Best Practices in Shared-Use high-Speed Rail System." published in 2002.  See:

Make Freight Trains Similar to Passenger Trains—Another option is to change the
characteristics of freight trains so that they operate more like passenger trains by providing for
more power and improve braking ability. This might mean short, fast freight trains during the
day—perhaps a new market for freight operators. Many European railroads now operate
limited amounts of this type of freight service, and U.S. railroads are experimenting with fast
cross-country container trains. Could low horsepower to weight trains like coal be changed to higher horsepower?Can rates be raised to justify higher speed operation of coal trains? Can coal "drags" and other slow moving freight trains become a thing of the past?

• Rerouting Trains—Specific trains might be routed over other vaguely parallel railroad lines.
Although the infrastructure on these lines might need improvements for them to be used, that
might be more cost effective than improving the high-speed route to serve all trains. A good
example would be rerouting freight trains from the high-speed route to another route. this
strategy could be used throughout the day or for trains during a particular time when there was
high passenger train demand for the shared-use route. There is an alternative freight route that avoids the former PRR mainline from Pittsburgh to West of Johnstown. It follows the Conemaugh River to Freeport crossing the Allegheny River there to be joined by the mainline at the Northside of Pittsburgh. It was double tracked but now is single tracked and operated only in one direction. Restoring the second track and upgrading the signal system could be a way to avoid freight operation conflicts. Greater utilization could overcome the inherent freight passenger conflicts from the vicinity of Wilmerding with freight moving onto and off the Port Perry branch there.

• Revised Service Plan—A significant problem on shared-use segments with different types of
passenger service are conflicts between local passenger trains that stop frequently, such as
commuter trains, and higher-speed trains that stop less frequently. Revising the service plan
means developing new schedules that minimize the conflicts between trains. Rail system
planning in Switzerland uses this concept extensively. Among the many strategies used to
achieve this objective are the following:

 * Skip Stop Service—Stopping local trains only at selected stations can speed up service on
 a segment.

 * Break Up Local Service—This means separating routes into segments, providing local
 service on the segments with connecting service at the main stations. This may make it
 possible to schedule local trains to operate on a schedule that does not interfere with the
 higher-speed services on that segment. High-speed trains would pass local trains at
 multiple track stations.

* Speed Scheduling—This sets the fastest trains to start first, followed by slower trains. In
 a version of this called “zone scheduling,” the first train goes a long distance then stops at
 all the stops, the second train goes a shorter distance then stops at all the stops, the third
 train goes a shorter distance then stops at all the stops, and so on. This type of schedule
 works best for a commuter system where most of the ridership originates at one station
 and no special provisions are made for intermediate riders.

* Eliminate Local Station Stops/Trains—Eliminating local stops speeds up local trains,
 reducing conflicts; eliminating trains provides more capacity for high-speed trains. In both
 cases, alternative service should be provided, for example, by bus.

* Bundling Trains—This consists of creating a train schedule with a repeating pattern. For
 example, a fast train leaves every half hour and a regional train leaves five minutes
 afterward, throughout the day. Using bundling, the infrastructure required to allow
 trains to overtake or pass will be located in the same places for each bundle of trains,
 minimizing the amount of infrastructure required. It also provides more convenient service
 for customers, since they can more easily remember a repeating schedule. Switzerland,
 The Netherlands, and Germany all use this type of clockface scheduling to improve
 customer service and reduce infrastructure costs.

* Maintenance Windows—These are times when segments of the track network are set
 aside for maintenance and repairs. Including regular maintenance windows in the
 operating plan for the shared-use sections of track improves the system’s reliability and
 efficiency. One reason for the high efficiency of dedicated high-speed rail systems (and
 shared-use systems with significant shares of dedicated line) is that they have long track availability
 windows during the night when high-speed trains are not operating, during
 which infrastructure can be maintained and improved.

Operations planning consists of developing an optimized schedule in advance, but day-to-day
operations focuses on what happens when things do not work as planned. Train delays or
infrastructure failures are typical examples of things going wrong. Shared-use high-speed rail
systems include different train types and generally high train volumes, creating many
opportunities for problems to occur; furthermore, problems that do occur usually impact many

Given the volume of traffic and need for control that is inherent in a shared-use high-speed rail
system, it has been recommended that all such systems operate with centralized traffic control
(CTC). Although a CTC system enables dispatchers to route trains through the network and
provide instructions to train operators, people must set priorities and make good decisions.
Among the recommendations that can help improve day-to-day operations on a shared-use high speed
rail system are the following:

• Single Dispatching System—The best situation for the high-speed rail operator would be
to control the dispatching on the entire shared-use system (both dedicated track and
shared-use track). The high-speed service could operate in the best possible manner
because high-speed trains would have priority in all cases. It is unlikely that this would be
possible in most shared-use systems because shared-use segments generally are owned by
another railroad. In some cases, the shared-use segments could be purchased to gain
control over dispatching, but this could be expensive and time consuming. However,
purchasing segments would be unnecessary if all the rail service operators could agree on
a common dispatching strategy that minimizes the impacts of problems on all users (see
below). Another strategy that can be used, if it is impossible to adopt a single dispatching
system, is to co-locate dispatching centers from different operators. Amtrak and New
Jersey Transit improved operations on their shared-use line by building a joint dispatching

• Priority System—The most important tool for a dispatcher is a clear priority system,
identifying which train has priority in any given situation. If all trains have equal priority,
a delayed high-speed train might miss its slot in the schedule and be significantly delayed
by an on-time commuter train running just ahead if it; alternatively, if high-speed trains
always have first priority, the dispatcher could instruct the commuter train to wait until the
high-speed train passed it before proceeding, reducing delay to the high-speed train but
increasing delay for the commuter train. There are many ways to set priorities. In The
Netherlands, the Minister of Transportation sets priorities. Different train operators on
the shared-use segment need to negotiate an approach to addressing delays and problems
that minimizes the impacts to all users. Such an approach will likely consist of setting
priorities for various types of trains in different situations.

• Computerized Dispatching Assistance—Not even the best dispatcher can fully optimize
the operations of a complicated segment of shared-use high-speed rail system.
Computerized decision support systems should be developed to help dispatchers route
trains optimally through the system in different situations.For example, the system
could estimate delays for different trains under different alternatives and provide this
information to assist the dispatcher in making the best choice. One type of information that
would help dispatchers in shared-use systems would be knowing in real time when high speed
trains will arrive at the shared-use segment. This is a similar situation to through trains
traveling throughout different European countries, and a software system is being
developed to provide information to train controllers in different countries to minimize the
impacts of delayed trains on the system and on the delayed train itself.


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