Friday, December 5, 2014

Tax Gas in the Pipelines to Help Solve Transportation Funding Crisis | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

Tax Gas in the Pipelines to Help Solve Transportation Funding Crisis | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

High Speed Rail and Freight

Virtually every discussion for high speed rail (125mph plus) simply addresses passenger service. For that matter it is the same for higher speed rail (110mph limit).

How does the economics of higher and high speed rail change when it might be applied to package and less than truckload business? What are the opportunities? Would a combined service make more sense than exclusively passenger?

OK Where Are We Now?

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has an overwhelmed and aged Interstate highway system.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a railroad system based upon civil engineering design from the 1850's.

The airline system is choked by the national quagmire that it is a part.

The waterborne system is composed of three distinct and unrelated transport types. The Port of Philadelphia accommodates seagoing vessels. The Port of Erie accommodates seagoing and Great Lakes vessels. The Port of Pittsburgh accommodates barge tows on the inland waterway. Each port has a unique economy with which it competes. Each has major upkeep and maintenance issues. And, all of them are creatures of the Army Corps of Engineers.

This blog looks at the railroad mode for the opportunities it might have for restoration of passenger rail service.

There is potential to increase passenger rail service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg despite the line being the product of 1850's civil engineering. How can that be accomplished as the existing railroad from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg is a freight railroad (Norfolk Southern)? How can it be in the interest of the privately owned freight railroad to deal with additional passenger trains on a line now at historic freight train levels? Additional passenger trains will interfere with freight operations.

The acceptable rail passenger service levels between Harrisburg and Philadelphia are delivered using a rail line owned by a passenger railroad (Amtrak). But, even that route has leftover 1850's civil engineering line placement. For example, grade and curvature in the vicinity of Parkesburg, PA requires a speed restriction that otherwise would be avoided if the line were designed today.

Even if a dual purpose electric locomotive convertible to diesel propulsion beyond the reach of overhead electric wires were applied to the freight line east of Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, the passenger train still must face the gauntlet of freight traffic and the curvature and grades of the line.

The Pittsburgh to Harrisburg line could be improved with speed and capacity improvements. Theoretically it can be capable of 110 mile per hour speeds. It would require easing of curvature at a number of points. What is the logic of patching together a series of fixes in comparison with alternatives? Yes, the lift over the Allegheny frontal over the famous Horseshoe curve is obsolete and costly and slow. It could be eliminated by a whole new straight 17 mile line of one per cent gradient from the vicinity of Tyrone, PA to the vicinity of Cresson, PA. Curvature and gradient easing would benefit freight operations.

The alternative for the west to east Pittsburgh line? Complete replacement.

There is a reason that the the American Society of Civil Engineers with boring regularity gives the country a grade of D.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Governor Elect Tom Wolf

Governor elect Tom Wolf in his stump speech running up to election during the last week of the campaign made a general point of Pennsylvania remaining in a keystone position for transportation.
A great deal of commerce originates, terminates or crosses the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The anticipated growth of the American economy by 2035 will see numerous chokepoints on the railroad system and the highway system that do not exist now.

The 1854 civil engineering of the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg Keystone Corridor West is in and by itself a chokepoint.

The key to railroad operation and design is to minimize the grades the railroad has. In 1906 a route was survey for the proposed New York Chicago and Pittsburgh railroad across the length of Pennsylvania. The line as located would not have exceeded 0.04 of 1 per cent. It had great gradients but its curvature would have affected the potential speed. The point is that a route with easy grades across Pennsylvania's Alleghenies is possible.

Could a p3 public private private partnership examine the 1906 proposed location for gradient and in turn identify a low gradient route across the center of Pennsylvania for a true high speed railroad right of way for 230 mph operations? Given that it is possible, then why can't a new high speed railroad  be built connecting New York to Chicago that is controlled by Pennsylvania through a p3?

The proposed high speed railroad right of way would include in its proximity parallel higher speed track that would accommodate freight operations and higher speed passnger operations. It would supplant the 1854 civil engineering of the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg line. The higher speed track could be available for operation of high speed equipment at slower speeds when maintenance is being done on the high speed line. The new line would eliminate the 1854 chokepoint.

The proposed new railroad would be the keystone in a new transportation for the country east of the Mississippi River.

What's Possible Keystone Corridor West

A 2003 study by the Norfolk Southern Railroad determined that the freight frequency on the Keystone Corridor West, in order not to be interfered with required the relaying of rail at chokepoints along the Keystone Corridor West. The study addressed what would happen with four passenger trains a day. Threading more conventional high speed trains through the freight operations required the relaying of the fourth track between Cresson and Altoona, relaying of track in the Pittsburgh station and other key points.

National railroad ton miles have increased 8% from 2003 to 2013. So, the assumptions for freight traffic on the Keystone Corridor West are the same.

The 2003 study indicated that without the additional track, there would be impacts upon timely and efficient freight operations that otherwise would be avoided.

What is possible now on the Keystone Corridor West?

As noted, passenger trains on the Keystone Corridor East are propelled by electric power. Operation over the Keystone Corridor West requires a diesel locomotive west of Harrisburg. There are no more overhead wires west of Harrisburg. Amtrak exchanges electric locomotives fro diesel locmotives at the Thirtieth Street Station at Philadelphia to pull the Pennsylvanian passenger train that originates at Penn Station, New York City. It is not possible to operate diesel locomotives into and out of Penn Station. The change from an electric locomotive to a diesel locomotive at Philadelphia requires 24 minutes.

Suppose a combination straight electric and diesel locomotive were used for the New York to Pittsburgh run. There would be no loss of 24 minutes at Philadelphia. Say an express service was initiated from from New York to Pittsburgh. No intermediate stops. The elapsed schedule would be 6 hours 20 minutes. Obviously that's not an advantage in land speed between New York and Pittsburgh. But, it is a competitive speed. With a combination of amenities and feature, the express would be desirable and competitive for other reasons. First and foremost the traveller is not occupied with driving. The former driver with wi fi and laptop has other options than being occupied with driving.

The locomotive design would be the ALP-45DP manufactured by Bombardier Transporation Company. This locomotive model is currently used by New Jersey Transit.

Keystone West Corridor Study Publication????

The Western Pennsylvanians for Passenger Rail reported a number of weeks ago that In a September 9 letter to Sen. Toomey, Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) administrator Joseph Szabo said the Keystone West Corridor Study received FRA approval on August 22. The study reviews the options for improving passenger rail service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. PennDOT is currently finalizing the document for production and plans to have the study posted on the project's website by October 3.

Pennsylvania HSR continues to await its publication. Pennsylvania HSR has awaited the publication product since 2011.

The likely supposition for the delay in the $750,000.00 study is that it might be incomplete, or poorly done, or not meeting the original standards set by the FRA for the study. Should the FRA pay for an inadequate study? Worse, it was done by McCormick, Taylor and Associates, the prior employer of. current Secretary of PennDOT Barry Schoch. For Schoch's bio see:

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"The Little Prince" Transportation Commentary.

"Good morning," said the little prince. "Good morning," said the railway switchman. "What do you do here?" the little prince asked. "I sort out travelers, in bundles of a thousand," said the switchman. "I send off the trains that carry them: now to the right, now to the left."

And a brilliantly lighted express train shook the switchman's cabin as it rushed by with a roar like thunder.

"They are in a great hurry," said the little prince. "What are they looking for?" "Not even the locomotive engineer knows that," said the switchman.

And a second brilliantly lighted express thundered by, in the opposite direction.

"Are they coming back already?" demanded the little prince. "These are not the same ones," said the switchman. "It is an exchange." "Were they not satisfied where they were?" asked the little prince. "No one is ever satisfied where he is," said the switchman.

And they heard the roaring thunder of a third brilliantly lighted express.

"Are they pursuing the first travelers?" demanded the little prince.

"They are pursuing nothing at all," said the switchman. "They are asleep in there, or if they are not asleep they are yawning. Only children are flattening their noses on the window-panes." "Only the children know what they are looking for," said the little prince. "They waste their time over a rag doll and it becomes very important to them; and if anybody takes it away from them, they cry..." "They are the lucky," the switchman said.

See: Pages 70 and 71, "The Little Prince," by Antoine De Saint-Exupery.

The little prince learned  how time and place utility is created through transportation.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Built In Lack of Reliability and Mobility

Here is the explanation of why and how a flight is canceled. Weather is the major reason. But, among the weather decision are additional variables. Time Agazine report on Morning Joe MSNBC program:

Inmobility and No Reliability
The extent that airline cancellations argues for the restoration of conventional speed passenger rail service.

This New York Times article gives a picture of what happens to the interruption of travel:

Thursday, February 20, 2014

High Speed Rail Route Pennsylvania

On August 21, 1906, the new York Times reported that Joseph Ramsey, former president of the Wabash Railroad announced that a right of way survey had been made across Pennsylvania. The intent of the survey was to build a new railroad across Pennsylvania in order to have the distance from New York to Chicago be 200 miles less than the distance between the two cities covered by the Pennsylvania Railroad. The proposed line was to have no grade more than .04 per cent. And, it was to use electric locomotives rather than steam locomotives.

The route would have crossed the center of Pennsylvania generally about some 20 miles south of today's Interstate 80.

Interstate 80 has 6 per cent gradients. Notable is Snowshoe, PA to Milesburg, PA. Had the I-80 followed the proposed route for Ramsey's Railroad, the savings in fuel would have been remarkable.
Imagine tractor trailers unencumbered by the grades they encounter today. Imagine being a motorist not being held up by tractor trailers.  A .04 grade would have meant smooth flowing streams of tractor trailers rather than the clumps of traffic a motorist contends with today.

The remarkable thing about Ramsey's proposed New York, Pittsburgh and Chicago Railroad was that it was to use electric locomotives. In 1906 electrical engineering had progressed to the point that a high voltage direct current system could have been installed and reliably operated. As the railroad was to require three years for its construction, it would have spanned the period when alternating current systems and locomotives were perfected. In 1906 the development of steam locomotive design had exploited all the mechanical designs for efficiency. This culminated with attempts to apply multiple cylinder designs, three cylinders instead of two cylinders, to fully use the energy of steam. The idea was to use the exhausted steam from the visible high pressure side cylinders channeling it to a center low pressure center cylinder. The center cylinder had a larger cubic capacity and from it the remaining steam was exhausted out the stack. The third cylinder was attached to the drive wheels through a crank mechanism that was part of the drive wheel axle. This was a complex mechanical design that disappeared a few years later when advanced designs were developed for superheated steam. Before superheaters steam was steam saturated with considerable water vapor. Eliminating the water vapor by heating the steam before its energy being applied to the driving cylinders meant there was no need to pursue complex three cylinder designs. Nonetheless, while the steam locomotive using superheated used more of the steam energy and was more efficient; steam locomotive availability for work seldom exceeded 75 per cent. There was so much time preparing, firing, fueling  and maintaining a steam locomotive that their availability for work was so limited.

Had the New York, Pittsburgh and Chicago Railroad had been built, even with all the additional costs to string overhead wires and construct power plants, the electrified railroad would have had significantly lower operating costs. The NYPC Railroad's rates would have been  much less than steam operated railroads.The the whole history of the Pennsylvania Railroad, New York Central Railroad Erie Railroad and Baltimore Railroad, all railroads connecting New York to Chicago, would have been significantly different.

IF a High Speed Rail HSR (150+ mph) were to cross Pennsylvania it might likely generally follow the proposed NYPC route. But, rather than slavishly follow the watershed stream location of the NYPC, placing the route on higher elevations of Pennsylvania's ridges and mountains would take the route away populations. It would lessen the NIMBY (not in my back yard) challenges that would be part of a new right of way and new HSR line.

Current Status High Speed Rail

High Speed Rail (HSR) is defined as speeds higher than 125 mph.

How the political process interferes with mobility:

Current Status American Inmobility

Take a look at

Here is a graphic presentation of Amtrak ridership with comments.


Why do Americans accept an intercity transportation system that fails completely in winter weather?

Why should travelers be faced with total and complete inability to complete interstate travel?

Would a transportation system that might lose some capacity during a winter storm be preferable to one that ceases to exist for days at a time?

Would such a system contribute to economic activity rather than impede it?

The Airline industry has been inmobile and incapable of any travel performance for an inordinate number of days in January and February.