Populist movements don't build themselves ...

... It doesn't matter what the "horse race" outcome of the campaign is, if we fight the campaign. Fighting it, we learn how to fight. Learning how to fight political battles, we become citizens again. Becoming citizens again, we reclaim the Republic that lies dormant beneath the bread and circuses of modern American society.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

This Blog Isn't Dead, its just Pining for the Fjords.

Between a new prep this quarter, doing a little last minute election volunteering (phonebanking, poll observing), pitching in with the Tram-Train proposal in Newcastle, NSW, and other ins and outs (like the cold I am just recuperating from) ... the blog has been quiet.

But its not dead, its just resting. Regular service will resume sometime after Tuesday's election.

It is not, however, bereft of life, resting in peace, or IOW an EX-blog.

Its just pining for the fjords.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sunday Train: Northeastern HSR Alignments & The Move to Tuesdays

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

For the Daily Kos edition of this essay, I wrote:
This is a fairly short Sunday Train, but I thought I better get something posted, so I had somewhere to put this scheduling announcement:
  • Due to a new prep on Monday Morning this coming Fall term, the Sunday Train is temporarily moving to Tuesday Evenings until the end of year Holidays, starting next week (19 October)
... but, hell, given the haphazard scheduling of the crossposts (eg, posting on Sunday and crossposting on Wednesday evening), y'all likely won't notice the change.

The actual Sunday Train portion is about one element of the Amtrak proposal for a High Speed Rail corridor for the Northeast: the alignment. At the preliminary proposal stage, an alignment must be selected for study so that preliminary cost and patronage estimates can be performed. However, if the decision is made to go ahead, a range of alignments will be (and, indeed, must be) studied.

So tonight I take a brief look at the alignment options from the report.


Amtrak in the NEC: The Next Generation

For those who missed last week's Sunday Train, the "Next Generation" proposal aims to build on the NEC Master Plan to provide Express High Speed Rail service in the Northeastern region, from DC to Boston via NYC.

The Master Plan aims to bring travel times on the highest speed Acela services down by a noticeable amount, but the main priority is on increasing service reliability. The NG-HSR plan aims to bring:
  • NYC/DC times down from 2:42 to 1:55 on the Express and 1:36 on the Flyer;
  • NYC/Boston times down from 3:31 to 1:46 on the Express and 1:23 on the Flyer; and
  • DC/Boston times down from 6:33 on the Acela to 4:06 on the Express and 3:23 on the Flyer.

The Northern Alignments

In the Northern alignments, there are three strategies for getting out of New York City:
  • the Long Island alignments, which then tunnel across and arrive in Connecticut running toward the north by northeast;
  • the New Rochelle alignment, which runs alongside the existing NEC through to New Rochelle, and then either runs along existing NEC shore or along the Air Line (with the modifications required by Express HSR, of course); and
  • Up the Hudson River valley toward Poughkeepsie (forcing me to finally learn to spell Poughkeepsie, Tough Keep Sie except with a P)

There are two basic ways to get into Boston:
  • along the existing NEC, either from Providence or joining the NEC near the boarder at Route 128
  • in from Worcester toward the west by southwest.

And then, depending on the alignment out of New York, there is a wide range of rail and highway alignments to get through Connecticut.

One option that is not in the scope of the preliminary planning is more than one alignment: that is to say, one Regional HSR corridor, similar to the NEC, and focusing on the additional populations connected with Boston on one side and New York City on the other, and one Express HSR corridor, focusing on connecting metro Boston and metro New York.

The Southern Alignments

There are a similar set of southern alignments, but I expect that the alignments to the east of the NEC can be set aside, which leaves the main contenders as being the "Allegheny" alignment and paralleling the existing NEC. Note that for the Allegheny alignment, the Emerging HSR Philadelphia/Harrisburg or "Keystone" corridor takes on added significance, since a Semi-Express could run NYC/Philalphia and then onto the Alleghany Express HSR via the Keystone corridor.

Further, the Keystone corridor could be used to connect the (informal) Appalachian Hub to NYC. Long time readers will recall that one backbone of the Appalachian Hub is a Steel Interstate on the Shenandoah Valley & Tennessee corridor. From the northern end of this backbone at Harrisburg, a service could continue down the Keystone corridor to the Alleghany NG-HSR corridor at Westchester PA (see map) and then on to NYC.

Alignments and Connecting to the Rest of the Country

As already suggested above, the choice of alignment in the Northeast can affect how easy it is to integrate into the Express HSR corridors from outside of the Northeast. And the map of potential emerging Mega-Regions in the United States gives one indication why that is important: the Great Lakes / Midwestern Mega-Region and the Piedmont-Atlantic Mega-Region are immediate neighbors to the Northeast, and at distances where Express HSR is a viable competing transport option under current energy prices ~ and where even 110mph Emerging HSR will be a viable competing transport option at the energy prices that we may well see in the decade ahead.

In my view, the westernmost alignments give the best connections. For New York and Massachusetts, the Hudson to Massachussets Highway alignment provide excellent benefits. For Pennsylvania, there are pluses and minuses to the Allegheny alignment ~ a major plus being the opportunity to split a train from Pittsburgh at Harrisburg, with one service heading to Philadelphia and south to DC and the other service heading express to NYC and beyond.

And of course, the western NY/MA alignment provides a substantial headstart both on an Express HSR corridor from NYC to Montreal via Albany and a Regional HSR corridor from Boston to Albany and the upstate New York region of Syracuse / Rochester / Buffalo.

However, for Connecticut, the westernmost alignment mostly bypasses the places they would most want to connect, and so if the western alignment is adopted for the Northern segment, we would want to be serious about pursuing a Regional HSR connecting the center of the state to both NYC and Boston.

The trick will be working out a system for funding. The 10 cents per gallon tariff on imported crude oil that I have previously suggested, with 1/4 of the proceeds to go to HSR funding, would only be a start toward funding any substantial number of miles of Express HSR corridor. However, if focused on 110mph Emerging HSR and 125mph Regional HSR, it seems like it could certainly support a 110mph or 125mph alignment to extend the Northeastern intercity route matrix.

Midnight Oil ~ King of the Mountain

Monday, October 4, 2010

Sunday Train: 1:36 NYC/Boston, 1:23 NYC/DC, $117b, 30yrs

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

As The Transport Politic reported earlier this week: Amtrak Unveils Ambitious Northeast Corridor Plan, But It Would Take 30 Years to be Realized
After months of sitting on the sidelines as states and regional agencies promoted major new high-speed rail investments, Amtrak has finally announced what it hopes to achieve over the next thirty years: A brand-new, 426-mile, two-track corridor running from Boston to Washington, bringing true [Express] high-speed rail to the Northeast Corridor for the first time.

Some questions and answers, over the fold.

Why HSR for the Northeast?

The argument that the [http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/BlobServer?blobcol=urldata&blobtable=MungoBlobs&blobkey=id&blobwhere=1249215312103&blobheader=application%2Fpdf&blobheadername1=Content-disposition&blobheadervalue1=attachment;filename=Amtrak_NECHSRReport92810LR.pdf report (pdf)] presents for doing this at all can be summarized in three pictures. The one to the right is "Emerging Megaregions" view of US social geography in the century ahead. Connecting together these megaregions is conceived of as a major task that will be facing intercity transport in the coming half century.

The report projects growth trends. Now, as shaky as any projection is, the alternative to doing them is to just wait until stuff happens and then start planning to fix it, and the risk there is what can be done as an emergency response is far inferior to what can be done if we plan ahead. And these projections lead to capacity projections for both Highway and Rail systems. And those two pictures (highway above, rail below) summarize the balance the of rationale:

On highways local trips crowd out intercity trips. So people will want an alternative. Nowhere is it more likely than the Northeast that much of this demand will spillover into demand for rail transport, but the existing Northeast Corridor is projected to have six main congested segments: north DC, Baltimore, North MD / Delaware, urban Philadelphia, Trenton, Newark/NYC/New Rochelle, and Providence/Boston.

When you need new rail capacity, and the existing corridor is approaching its capacity, a new corridor is one solution to that problem. Given the cost of roadbuilding in the Northeast, where most easy road capacity expansion projects have already been done, $117b is likely to be substantially cheaper than trying to provide the same transport capacity by road, even assuming a fantasy world of ongoing cheap oil.

After all, that was the impetus for the first two bullet train systems, in Japan and France: existing mainline passenger rail corridors reaching capacity. When faced with that problem, build an all new Express HSR corridor, pull existing longer distance intercity passengers into the new corridor, and that frees up capacity on the existing corridor.

Why does it take 30 years?

This also explains the "takes 30 years". It could be done in substantially less time, but the planning study looked to provide for two segments to be completed by 2030:
  • Baltimore through Wilmington, in red, and
  • North of Philadelphia through New Rochelle in yellow.

These initial segments are anchored on the existing NEC, so that on completion, they can be used immediately by Acela trains to accelerate Acela services will reducing congestion in these sections. Then the balance of the corridor is finished by 2040.

Indeed, the study assumed completion of the NEC Master Plan over the next ten years, which would lead to a baseline growth in ridership on the NEC from 11.8m in 2010 to 16m in 2020. It is in 2030 that the Master Plan projects to hit new capacity constraints at a ridership of 21.3m, and then grow at a slower rate from then on, reaching 25.3m by 2050. With the HSR corridor included, the baseline projection is 25m by 2030 and 37.5m by 2050.

So within the scope of the planning study, one can say that it is projected to take 30 years because that is when the full system is projected to be required to meet the transport needs of the Northeastern Mega-region. If a quicker completion date were required, it could be accommodated, but this can be seen as a three phase plan:
  • 2020 (or earlier): Complete Amtrak NEC Master Plan
  • 2030: Complete two priority segments of the "Next Gen" HSR corridor
  • Complete the balance of the "Next Gen" HSR Corridor

On other other hand, in a Western Democracy, completing an all new alignment takes time. We might expect to complete a project of this magnitude fifteen to twenty years after we commit to starting, but it still does require substantial planning ahead. So if we were to adopt a "full speed ahead" approach, we might complete work on the NEC Master Plan over the next six years, by 2016, and then roll out a DC/Boston HSR corridor by 2025.

Of course, under the current political climate, we are not going to be doing any such thing.

Why introduce this plan under this political climate?

The way I put it in the comment thread at The Transport Politic is:
If the Master Plan is going to ease immediate capacity bottlenecks by 2017 and capacity is projected to be hit over far more of the corridor by 2030 even in the conservative projections that Amtrak makes, which ignores the effect of Peak Oil, then that would suggest that the Transport Authorization circa 2016/2018 would need to include provision for addressing that capacity constraint, since it takes a decade or more to build an all-new corridor.

That suggests that it would be useful to get a preliminary outline of the shape of that kind of system rolled out in advanced of the preceding Transport Authorization.

Which is now and this.

As shown above, for the section of the corridor that runs the furthest from the NEC, the NEC is an integral part of the transport system, and the Express HSR corridor provides an additional piece for that system.

And of course, I don't expect to get this in the next transport authorization. But I expect that by the time the next transport authorization has expired, if there is a proposal out there, and we have had some experience in various parts of the country with both Regional and Express HSR systems, then we could well see an effort go ahead.

And under that kind of time horizon, if there are is a brand of political propaganda being pushed at the present by an Australian smut merchant and a Saudi Oil Prince, well, so what? With two or more severe oil price shocks highly likely between now and then, the durability of the Texas Tea Party (oil, that is) political strategy is not something to take for granted: we got to keep on planning for the future even if a radical right wing 20% of our population wants to toss this old Republic on the garbage heap of history in service to oil industry interests.

What Can We Do To Help?

There are a number of things we can do to help pursue this. First, completion of any Emerging, Regional, or Express HSR corridor and the launching of services will undermine negative propaganda (being bankrolled in part by oil interests). Second, support for funding of the Amtrak Master Plan for the NEC is a critical element for making this plan possible, since if local rail and shorter-range intercity rail can be made into rivals to Express HSR, it undermines both. Third, go visit the newly established Northeast HSR blog and give it the activity and links that such a site needs to thrive. And, of course, join Transportation for America, to network with people pushing for progressive transportation solutions coast to coast.

Midnight Oil ~ Truganini