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.