This is an open thread.

45 Replies to “Rail Roundup: Hi-Railing Sounder”

  1. Hmm. so the operators union in PDX was complaining about bus service cuts as a platform to rail (ha!) against the MAX extension?

  2. Here’s your 25 point toss up question.
    What should take priority: Commitments made in 2008 about service frequency on RapidRide A, or current and Task Force recommendations as to route productivity?
    I don’t have the average weekday daily rider info from the last of the 174’s that ran between FWTC and TIBS, but Metro is claiming a 50% rise in ridership within 5 years on the ‘A’ line (source Metro: 2.5 Mil rider/yr by 2015).
    Here’s the dilemma for Metro and policy makers.
    RapidRide A doubled the number of service hours on the route over the last 174’s that ran. A 50% increase in riders would mean a loss in productivity of the same magnitude in 5 years.
    If ridership remains relatively flat, then productivity is cut in half.
    I’m all for ‘growing routes’ but it seems a logical way to proceed is to incrementally add service to the corridor, as ridership grows. That’s how most of the other routes do it. It will be interesting to see some numbers when Metro reveals their counts at the end of this month (RapidRide Blog query).

  3. Why does it take over 3 hours for Amtrak to run from Austin to San Antonio? and 2.5hrs the other way? It only takes 1h15m to drive it. They should improve that stretch, then extend the Heartland Flyer and offset its time from the Texas Eagle so you have 2 daily trips from Ft. Worth to San Antonio.

    Just dreams I guess, cuz Gov. Perry won’t never go fer more gubmint trains rollin round his state.

    1. Two things. Schedule padding accounts for the north-south difference, while the lengthy run time is due to the fact that 1/4 mile of track is missing just before the San Antonio station, precluding a direct routing. Trains coming into SAT have a lengthy detour and access the station from the other direction.

    2. I believe the problem may lie in a certain company that views itself as a living national treasure and is based in, and dispatched by people who live in Omaha, NE?

      1. I grew up in Omaha, and my brother-in-law is retired from UP. He says, and I concur, that the UP/MP merger changed the company for the worse.

        Their most heinous recent action was abandoning their stately old headquarters building. They palmed it off on the city (par for the course in Omaha) who got sold a bill of goods that a 32 story condo tower could be built there. Then it became a Hyatt. Now it’s a vacant lot.

        Omaha is notorious for abandoning neighborhoods when they get old. Their downtown is a depressing mess of parking garages. Now, the site of one of the west’s most historic buildings will probably become another one,

        Sorry for the OT, but it still annoys me. I hate waste.

    3. You get a speedy trip through the Hill Country and up and down the escarpment but when you hit 1604, things slow to a crawl. At the last leg, a 10 minute trip from the South Presa area to Sunset takes about 40 minutes, no lie.

      Part of the problem is routing trains since the UP-leased tracks either go west and around the city or east through an active military post. The latter isn’t much of an option.

      A few years ago, there was rumblings that in light of the Austin-San Antonio commuter rail idea there would possibly be a new station on the West Side of downtown. That got squashed when certain interests bought up Cattleman Square.

    1. Interesting how numbers can be manipulated. I’m sure the author is correct in quoting 28,000 Amtrak passengers a day in the NE, out of 45 million people – sounds tiny.

      What he doesn’t mention is that Amtrak has more intercity market share in some of the major city pairs than all the airlines combined. He says no one would notice Amtrak’s demise in that market place. Bet he’s wrong.

      1. Consider: how many people make intercity trips at all *on a given day*? Some miniscule proportion. Could we just abandon intercity travel completely? Don’t think so.

        Yeah, it is true what they say — “figures don’t lie but liars can figure”.

    2. Laughable. Same tired arguments thoroughly debunked in the comments. The fact remains, an auto centric transportation will be untenable in the long term. Access to capital by individuals to acquire and maintain cars will become more limited as our economy becomes more on par with the rest of the world. Oil will become more expensive as more economies come online to consume it. Our transportation modes and choices have to change.

      Intercity rail especially for city pairs less than 500 miles apart makes a lot of sense and as the old saying goes “if you build it they will come”.

    3. No it doesn’t. Samuelson’s arguments are easy to debunk. For example, here are just two of his arguments WRT CAHSR:

      the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service examined the 12 corridors of 500 miles or less with the most daily air traffic in 2007. Los Angeles to San Francisco led the list with 13,838 passengers; altogether, daily air passengers in these 12 corridors totaled 52,934. If all of them switched to trains, the number of airline passengers, about 2 million a day, would drop only 2.5 percent.

      I’m not sure if his numbers are only for LAX-SFO or whether it includes other SoCal and Bay area airports. In any case, by moving most of those air travelers to HSR, the need to expand those airports or build new ones can be avoided. In addition, there are a number of cities in between San Francisco and Los Angeles that will benefit from HSR, allowing for several city pairs that you could use to add to the air travel diversion.

      Consider California. Its budget is a shambles; it furloughed state workers to save money. Still, it clings to its high-speed rail project. No one knows the cost. In 2009, the California High-Speed Rail Authority estimated $42.6 billion, up from $33.6 billion in 2008—a huge one-year increase.

      The “price increase” he cited is not an increase at all. It was an accounting change to use inflation-adjusted year of expenditure dollars instead of 2008 dollars. Additionally, if CAHSR is not built, the state would still need to do some infrastucture investments, expanding airports or roads.

      More here:

      1. Samuelson is a case of someone not understanding the paradigm shifting nature of HSR…or rather, maybe they understand it all too well, which is why both sides are hindering it.

        A train that can go 250 mph and charge ticket prices in the range of a standard commuter rail would radically alter America. It would, in my opinion, be the final nail in the coffin of the “Cities” — the central down towns of the 30 metropolitan areas and their claim on primacy.

        It would be ascendancy of a combined city-town-agricultural area of gigantic proportion. In essence each US State would be unified by such projects and perhaps some of the disonnace of East-West Washington, or North-South California would be blended.

        At 250 mph, I could work in Spokane and live in Kent. I could buy a huge home in Richmond, for almost no money compared to Seattle, and work at my Government job in Olympia.

        The effect of 250mph transport is profound, groundbreaking, and life altering. Just thinking about its effect on current, costly and awkward airplane transport (with its delays, high access costs, long waits in terminals) is not appreciating the vision.

      2. The ticket prices for high-speed rail are expected to be comparable to flying, not commuter rail. So $100 or $150 minimum, not $50. The rich will be able to commute every day or every week, but not most people.

    4. Please do not confuse Robert J. Samuelson:

      with Nobel-laureate economist Paul Samuelson:

      as many have since this opinion piece was published in the recently-sold-for-one-dollar Newsweek-soon-to-combine-with-DailyBeast, as many have.

      Robert talks about the impact of having passengers move from air to rail on the L.A. to Bay Area corridor and then compares this number to the total number of air passengers in the United States each day.

      He does not reveal how many air passengers travel each day on the various Southern California to Bay Area airport “city-pairs”, but instead obfuscating the topic by including every air passenger including those who could never travel by rail, such as a Hawaiian inter-island, a Guam to Saipan, Puerto Rico to U.S. Virgins, Alaska bush-flight, San Pedro to Catalina helicopter, or Lower 48 to AK/HI flights. I am also not clear if that 2 million figure includes international travel to the rest of the world, most of which goes by air, since we only have rail links with Canada, and only one remaining trans-Atlantic oceanliner service.

      Robert does not detail what the exiisting aviation system costs to maintain and upgrade, nor does he mention what a completely new airport might cost to build. He also conveniently forgets to point out that while trains can be powered by pretty much anything (via electricity), airplanes have this nagging need to run on fossil fuels.

      Paul would have a hard time writing such an article for many reasons, including the fact that he died last December.

      1. Thank you for pointing out that this is opinion piece, rather than an article. People have a hard time distinguishing between the two anymore.

    5. …and sees its credibility destroyed by being posted to a transit blog by cherry-pickin’ naysayer Sam

  4. I think the Spokane transit game is a great example of engaging the public on policy choices – considering most people don’t have a clue how much the things they take for granted costs.

    I would love to see something similar for the Puget Sound region that takes into account the number of users (commuters) and all funding sources for roads. Done right, this might start to change the incorrect assumption that gas taxes pay for road construction and upkeep.

    Better yet, create the game where the player starts in King County in 1970 and gets to be king of the budget (and try to get everyone to work) during the Forward Thrust debate through now.

    1. Yes, between Washington DC and Boston. The Keystone corridor between Philadelphia and Harrisburg is also electrified.

      1. I’m curious, what happens with long-distance trains on the NE Corridor, e.g. the Palmetto, that use both electrified and non-electrified track? Do they have engines that are both diesel and electric? Or do they switch out the engine at DC? Is it any different for Northeast Regional trains that go to Newport News?

      2. They just run diesel. No need really to change the power. I’m pretty sure that they do not run the P42AC-DM’s on that train.

      3. A locomotive switch is done in DC. I don’t believe diesel-only locomotives are allowed in the Hudson tunnels. Every Amtrak train running south of DC needs diesel power. Every train north of DC is ordinarily powered by an electric locomotive, either an AEM-7 or HHP-8.

        I rode the Keystone back in 2006 before the Harrisburg-Philly segment was operated using electric locomotives. My train was delayed 30 minutes in complete darkness at 30th Street Station in Philly while Amtrak tried to find the electric locomotive we needed to continue to New York.

      4. Alex is corect, Nathan is not. Diesel engines are prohibited in Penn Station New York

        The engines are switched at DC.

        As a detail, trains coming from Albany switch engines at Albany to a dual-mode, then run diesel until they hit the Empire Connection tunnel to Penn Station.

        As a second detail, trains coming from Pittsburgh switch to electric engines at Philadelphia.

    2. Diesel (and Steam) locomotives have been banned from New York City for almost a century.

      Sometimes the switch from Diesel to Electric is done at Philadelphia instead of Washington,D.C. but this may have changed since the Keystone corridor was re-electrified (or more correctly, Amtrak started running electric trains on the Keystone corridor which always had wires, but they were not always in a state-of-good-repair).

      Some of Amtrak’s Genesis locomotives (and F9’s before them) are equipped with third-rail shoes such that they can run on electricity-only into New York’s Pennsylvania Rail-Road Station, but this is used to get to and from the Empire corridor (to Albany and beyond). So if you see such a loco at Penn Sta., this is probably what it is doing there as the NEC itself has no (IIRC) third-rail west/south of Penn Station, and any third-rail you see north/east of the Hells Gate bridge is for the Metro-North service that is running from Grand Central Terminal to New Haven.

      1. Don’t know if it will get to production use, but BNSF has been testing a hydrogen powered locomotive:

        BNSFs Hydrogen Hybrid Train

        The BNSF hydrogen train uses a hydrogen fuel cell combined with hybrid technology, replacing the usual diesel-electric hybrid that makes up most locomotive technology today. While standard diesel-electric locomotives are already, pound-for-pound, more efficient than most heavy hauling tech, a hydrogen fuel-cell locomotive is much more sohaving no emissions from the train at all, except pure water.

      2. OK, yet more detail. Practically all trains which run both on and off corridor do the engine switch at DC, including the Virginia Regionals, Silver Star/Silver Meteor/Palmetto/Carolinian, Crescent, and even Cardinal.

        Keystone trains don’t need to do a switch.

        Trains which don’t reach DC and need to switch:
        The Pennsylvanian switches at Philadelphia.

        The Empire Service runs dual-mode electric/diesels, but runs diesel until the last few blocks of tunnels into Penn Station; I believe the Ethan Allen Express does the same. The Lake Shore Limited does the same but switches at Albany to a straight diesel engine for the trip to Chicago. The Maple Leaf, Adirondack, and Ethan Allen Express do one or the other, and I don’t know which.

        I’m not sure what the Vermonter and the Springfield Shuttles which continue to New York do, I suspect they have engine changes at New Haven, but I’ve never seen it, so maybe they run dual-mode.

    1. As purely-electric cars become more and more prevalent on the roads, the issue may solve itself.

  5. From the Canada Line article in the Sun:

    “It could be a software problem, the sensors could be set too sensitive or there could be too much moisture on the rails.”

    Well, it’s a good thing moisture/rain is not ever an issue in Vancouver, B.C.!

    1. “It could be a software problem, the sensors could be set too sensitive or there could be too much moisture on the rails.”

      Or maybe wet leaves? This is apparantly a big problem in the northeast.

  6. Cascades stations:

    Given the rather tortoise-like speed at which the Cascades meanders down to Portland, I wonder if it would better serve us if they made all the Sounder stops on the way back and forth to Portland.

    A barrier to entry might be having to drive, or taxi, or bus, to one of the hub stops and if a person could park in one of the free lots, or be dropped off, or take a taxi a short distance, they might be more likely to take a “joyride” down to Portland to say, see a Trailblazers game.

    So, I would make Amtrak stop at each of the Sounder stops. Proportionally it would add very little time, but maybe increase the ridership.

    Another idea: Create a NBA package for basketball starved Sounder fans. Take a trainload down to the Rose Garden, and make sure the schedule is such to get them back after the game (a version of the Seahawks Sounder service).

    1. No, it wouldn’t make sense. The state and the feds are putting lots of money into the corridor to make it faster; adding these stops would impact the travel time between Seattle and Tacoma more than you might think.

      However, once we have more frequencies between Seattle and Portland, I wonder if it would make sense to have some trains stop at Auburn or Puyallup instead of Tukwila. And maybe some trains that skip stops to speed the end to end trip.

      1. There need to be intermediate stops – they produce revenue and passenger miles. Once we get to hourly service (in the 2030s?, ahem!) some strains could certainly skip some stops and the stop between SEA and TAC could be moved to Auburn. We’ve learnt over and over again that non-stops, even between NYP and WAS, are not really effective: they save only 5-7 minutes and lose all the intermediate traffic.

      2. All depends on subtle factors. Nonstops work great if there’s a really huge amount of demand, but not otherwise. All-stops can be far too much and slow the train down below the “critical level” where ridership drops, but can also provide needed service and increased ridership.

        Once the main trip between Seattle and Portland picks up speed, I expect communities will be clamoring for added stops. It will probably be wise to add *some* of them…. but add *all* of them and it will slow down way too much.

    2. Tortoise was the speed ten years ago from the Oregon border to Portland, and still now from the Canadian border to Vancouver. The Seattle-Portland segment is fine now, and the ongoing improvements to reduce the travel time to 2:30 (faster than driving) will make it a prominent mode of regional transportation. Cutting it down to 30 minutes is not necessary unless it’s continuing to California, which is decades away.

      I do hope that when California HSR is finished, Amtrak will start marketing through trips on the Cascades to Eugene, a bus to Sacramento, and HSR to SoCal.

  7. I’ve often wished that the Cascades stopped in Auburn. It’s sort of halfway between Tukwilla and Tacoma, and has a downtown with a lot of potential.

    1. In the book _Ecotopia_ by Ernest Callenbach, the Ecotopians had built a high speed rail network in the medians of the Interstate highways at 225 MPH, and used high speed buses in dedicated lanes at 100 MPH as a temporary service to get people used to the idea. Of course it’s fiction, but I wonder if such a thing could work in real life?

      1. In a society without cars, we’d need ten times more trains and buses than we do. In Moscow and St Petersburg, at least when I was there in 1996, most people did not have cars. The Metro, streetcars, and trolleybuses ran every few minutes everywhere throughout the day and evening, with at least one line every few blocks. The autobuses (diesel buses) at the outskirts of the city may have been less often but at least every 15 minutes: there was no such thing as schedules, nor did I ever hear of anybody having to wait a long time for a bus. The elektrichka (commuter rail) ran hourly or so, so it took longer to travel to those suburbs, but once you arrived, again the streetcars and trolleybuses ran every few minutes all day and evening. The elektrichka also extends at least a hundred miles in every direction from the cities, and I heard that you can take a chain of them all the way from Moscow to St Pete (which is 8-10 hours on the regular train, although there’s a fast train now that cuts the time in half).

        Seattle also had streetcars every minute or two when the streetcar network was running.

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