Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

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Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby helsinki » December 12th, 2012, 6:20 am

It need not be an either/or (HSR/110mph improved service) - it could be both.

Imagine the following route: New, dedicated HSR tracks from MSP to Rochester; again, new HSR tracks from Rochester to LaCrosse; at LaCrosse, the HSR line joins the existing Empire Builder. The remainder of the Empire Builder to Chicago is then electrified, and necessary track improvements are made (especially in the city of Chicago itself, I believe this is where a huge amount of time is wasted).

In this scenario, you have a fully electrified line from CHI - MSP. The topography from MSP to Rochester, and Rochester to just before the river is relatively flat - easy to lay new, straight track. Entering LaCrosse is the topographically trickiest part, but after a short difficult segment, the existing line starts. Double-tracking, improved signalling, elimination of grade crossings, etc - tons of little things can massively improve speed on the remainder of the line.

I think any HSR line that neglects Rochester, MN, is missing an important link in the chain. The Mayo Clinic is one of the few reasons MN is known internationally and it is a big draw. Recent studies (admittedly self-serving) argue that there would be net economic benefit: http://postbulletin.com/news/stories/di ... id=1491107. The track along the river is necessarily winding (and, I believe, already double tracked) - it would be difficult to find significant time savings there (in my admittedly amateur opinion). Electrification of the whole route would cut operating costs (and be environmentally friendly). The time savings from building HSR tracks to LaCrosse would be significant. The cost savings from not arranging a new right of way across Wisconsin would be significant.

Ironically, this option has already been quasi-considered (here: http://www.dot.state.mn.us/planning/rai ... 201991.pdf). Not a lot of progress since 1991!

I assume that the new train would terminate at the Saint Paul Union Depot (or, perhaps, continue on to the Interchange). Either way, it stops in St. Paul. In an ideal world, therefore, the Riverview LRT would be built - seamlessly connecting the train with the airport. An HSR stop at MSP International (like Frankfurt, for instance) is probably too fanciful. But a direct LRT connection would still be world class.
Last edited by helsinki on December 12th, 2012, 7:38 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby helsinki » December 12th, 2012, 6:35 am

Continuing with the hybrid approach, if HSR did become politically feasible in WI, you could add Madison in the following way: from Portage, the train could again depart from the current Empire Builder route and head straight down to Madison on new HSR track; the new HSR track would then proceed directly from Madison to Milwaukee. At Milwaukee, the line would rejoin the current Empire Builder alignment as it begins it's approach into downtown.

This would arguably not sacrifice much time (despite increased distance, speeds would be commensurately higher), and it would add the state capitol (and it's gigantic university) to the route. On the flipside, it would add to the cost (although potentially not by that much - between Portage and Madison, and Madison and Waukesha, you're really in the sticks - lower land acquisition costs, fewer impediments to building straight, flat track).

In this scenario, the line would be as follows:

MSP to Lacrosse via Rochester: High Speed Rail
Lacrosse to Portage: improved Empire Builder alignment
Portage to Milwaukee via Madison: High Speed Rail
Milwaukee to Chicago: improved Empire Builder alignment

This would only cut three existing stops out of the current Empire Builder route: Columbus, Winona, and Red Wing (and it would add two, bigger stops: Rochester and Madison). Red Wing may eventually be the terminus of the Red Rock commuter rail line. Columbus is a tiny town in the middle of nowhere that just never lost service from the bygone days of service to remote villages and really doesn't generate much ridership (indeed, I've boarded the Empire Builder at Columbus, and although there were some people there, I suspect that they had been driven from the Madison suburbs, as I had been). And, well, sorry Winona, you probably won't like my plan.

It should be noted that this is what Germany does with the ICE (as opposed to France with the TGV where SNCF builds entirely new, as-the-crow-flies routes) - they take existing tracks and they upgrade sections of them to HSR, leaving the most difficult (and expensive) segments for later, if at all. Indeed, there are relatively few true HSR lines in Germany for the entire length of the line (Munich to Nuernberg is one).

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Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby mattaudio » December 12th, 2012, 8:34 am

There's existing rail between Portage and Madison, and some people have suggested a Yahara Station on the east side of the isthmus as the main Madison stop. I think this would be alright if Madison built a small LRT line connecting the University and Downtown to the station. Either downtown or Yahara station would be better than a station at the Madison airport. I like the rest of the ideas here! MN just needs to get started on serious planning for the Mpls - St. Paul - Rochester segment.

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Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby helsinki » December 12th, 2012, 9:06 am

Humbled by Wikipedia again; I was unaware of the following report until I scoured the footnotes of the "Rochester Rail Link" page. It appears that a detailed study of the Rochester alignment was undertaken in 2009 for the "Southeastern Minnestoa Rail Alliance."

It is here: http://www.semnrail.org/wp-content/uplo ... l.qxd_.pdf

It is super-interesting, but incomplete. And there are odd claims. For instance, "[HSR] is not expected to replace air and auto travel." (Overview 1-1) Why do the good SEMN people write this? Of course HSR is supposed to compete with automobile and airplane traffic - that's the whole point, to offer an alternative transportation mode. Discussions of the merits of Eurostar, or the AVE to Barcelona always point to the capture of Paris-London and Madrid-Barcelona market share by rail. It is a direct competition, as it should be. Perhaps such inanities were grafted on in hopes of mollifying the auto and airline transportation lobbies (or, more importantly, their friends - this could be read as a wink to Oberstar, it was 2009 after all). To many readers, however, I suspect that the proverbial olive branch undermines the credibility of the work. Equivocation isn't going to win PR battles or influence transportation politics.

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Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby mulad » December 12th, 2012, 3:26 pm

Yeah, I wrote the initial version of that page during a somewhat fitful period a while back -- Having a Wikipedia page helps legitimize a topic, and I figured it was necessary to put something together considering that a route to Chicago via Rochester has now been looked at for 22 years (at least) and the idea of a standalone route from the Twin Cities to Rochester is about a decade old, it was about time for something to be done.

I have definitely thought that a hybrid approach could work. It might not be as feasible as one would hope since the corridor will still need to allow freight. At a certain speed, conventional freight trains really need to be separated from passenger trains, though I'm sure there are some opportunities for a "fast freight" service running on HSR lines -- especially in the era of Amazon.com and other online retailers who generate lots of parcel post.

True HSR lines tend to have some sharper curves built with high degrees of camber (superelevation) to combat inertia and prevent trains from tipping over, and lower-speed lines can benefit from it as well. Unfortunately, current regulations only allow a small amount of superelevation on freight lines (less than what was historically allowed), partly because there's a certain point when rail cars can tip over if they stop or slow down too much -- or at least that has been alleged.

I'm a bit dubious that the level of camber historically allowed was really enough to cause rail cars to tip over. The real concern probably has to do with the massive loaded weight of some freight rail cars these days -- 286,000 lbs is a fairly common standard now, and a few lines allow rail cars coming in about 315,000 lbs (though apparently the number of rail cars available is small for now). That puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the lower rail in a curve, and could probably cause it to deform prematurely or work loose from the underlying ties, which could definitely ruin your day.

So I envision building a 110-mph train service along the existing route. A faster service would begin to be built with a first leg between the Twin Cities and Rochester, then extended to La Crosse. Assuming that the entire distance gets electrified at some point, the primary passenger route for MSP-CHI travel would flip to the new line through Rochester, but some trips would continue to go along the river. Over time, new high-speed segments would be built in Wisconsin, and express services would take over those paths as local trains would operate on the historic route -- but with electrification and proper tilt-train technology, even the "slow" route could probably be 125 mph for much of the distance (mostly in Wisconsin -- the river route seems pretty unlikely to ever go above 90-100 except for a few short segments).

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Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby mattaudio » December 12th, 2012, 3:34 pm

I agree, I think we just need to see a change in FRA policy that allows for HSR trainsets to use conventional trackage, but just have slightly different operating constraints when not on their own ROW. This is how Europe does it, right? I've been on ICE and TGV and they both use long distances of dedicated HSR track but then they use older slower track on town-to-town coastal segments.

Anyways, what if there was an alignment that went east from Rochester to Winona, then crossed over the Missisippi at Winona? Following the east side of the river to La Crosse might save some time. No idea.

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Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby min-chi-cbus » December 12th, 2012, 8:20 pm

MNdible wrote:Per Mulad, the 110mph service was estimated to take 5hr 30min. That's a real improvement that's worth the money. Let's not wait.
But I can do the drive in 6.5 hours, downtown to downtown, AND have more mobility.....all for a relatively low cost.

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Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby MNdible » December 12th, 2012, 8:46 pm

Yes, we've had this conversation. I know you can drive really fast and don't need to go to the bathroom.

I don't want to do that drive, and I don't want to deal with a car when I go to Chicago.

Just because the train doesn't make sense for you doesn't mean we shouldn't build it.

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Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby min-chi-cbus » December 13th, 2012, 12:42 pm

MNdible wrote:Yes, we've had this conversation. I know you can drive really fast and don't need to go to the bathroom.

I don't want to do that drive, and I don't want to deal with a car when I go to Chicago.

Just because the train doesn't make sense for you doesn't mean we shouldn't build it.
That's cool....and I just don't want to spend $2billion for somebody's convenience or personal preference. I'd rather spend $4 billion and have a legitimate competitor when it comes to travel options. The fact is that $2 billion for a 1 hour reduction in time vs. a car just doesn't make a very strong business case, especially when air travel offers a 1.5 hour trip for a fairly reasonable price.....and I think that's the viewpoint for people like me who genuinely support HSR but don't necessarily want the 110 mph variety (nor think it's a smart investment).

Now if by not spending the $2 billion today to get HSR up and running means we would have a chance of missing out on any future HSR upgrades/investments, then I would support the 110 mph HSR over nothing, because I believe HSR is something this country needs (in certain places) to be viable and I don't believe that air travel can sustain itself much longer.

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Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby MNdible » December 13th, 2012, 1:04 pm

Now you're just making up numbers. The scheduled Empire Builder time is over 8 hours, but as it's been discussed that number is often much longer, rarely shorter, due to conflicts with freight that the 110mph service would help to reduce. Reducing that to a more predictable 5.5 hours has real value at a modest cost.

$2b vs $4b is just picking numbers out of thin air -- based on California's numbers, you're more likely looking at $30b than $4b (their longer system prices out at $55b - $70b and rising). If it really were just a matter of doubling the price, I'd agree with you. But we both know that that's not how this works -- as the train goes faster, the price rises exponentially.

There are a lot of small, incremental improvements that can be done between as part of 110mph service that will provide immediate benefits at small costs. A bit of added double track here, some additional grade crossings there. With the HSR, it's bit of a leap -- you're basically building a new system from scratch, and you don't get the benefits until big chunks of the system are done.

If I follow your argument out, it seems to me we should just cancel the Empire Builder until we get HSR -- pretty much anywhere Amtrak goes, you can drive cheaper and fly faster.

EDIT: Looks like you added this after I posted, which if I'm reading correctly means we're closer together than your original paragraph suggested.

Now if by not spending the $2 billion today to get HSR up and running means we would have a chance of missing out on any future HSR upgrades/investments, then I would support the 110 mph HSR over nothing, because I believe HSR is something this country needs (in certain places) to be viable and I don't believe that air travel can sustain itself much longer.

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Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby Viktor Vaughn » December 13th, 2012, 1:38 pm

min-chi-cbus wrote: The fact is that $2 billion for a 1 hour reduction in time vs. a car just doesn't make a very strong business case, especially when air travel offers a 1.5 hour trip for a fairly reasonable price.....
For me the train would be worth it now, so to each their own. However, your personal cost/benefit analysis assumes energy prices stay cheap. If the House of Saud collapses in an Arab Spring uprising (or fundamentalist coup d' etat) or Iran torpedoes a few ships in the Strait of Hormuz, energy prices could skyrocket overnight and complete flip your "business case". While nobody knows what's next in world events, I think we could agree the energy status quo is very fragile, and oil prices are extremely volatile.

Many other nations have much more versatile transportation systems than the US. In other words, our demand for oil is a lot less elastic and an increase in price will inflict more economic pain and reduce our competitiveness. We need to make investments now to offer transportation alternatives in the event supply disruptions.

So sure, it hurts my (misguided) nationalism a bit that I was able to ride bullet trains in Japan 24 years ago, and we won't even have one high speed line until LA-SF opens in what, 2035? And best case scenario we could build a new greenfield, true high speed line to Chicago by 2040 or 2050.

Upgrading our existing infrastructure isn't nearly as sexy as a maglev or 280m/hr train, but it's immediately necessary if we are to remain economically competitive. Even if we are graced with a competing developed-world-style high speed Chi-Mpls line in the future, the track and passenger service upgrades we make this decade are still worth it.

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Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby UptownSport » December 13th, 2012, 6:30 pm

We should believe in contingencies, but don't.
I recall watching cars waiting in long lines to get gas as a kid, but that'll never happen again :roll:

Amtrak
8 hr, 5 min
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Airtravel is 1.5 hrs, and looks like under $200 but check me on this please.

My understanding is max for superliners is 100MPH, so it's NOT going 110 unless they have newer Superliners.
I don't believe shorting the ride to 5.5 hrs, or increasing reliability will bring significantly more riders or do anything for jobs/business. It'll be the same demographic riding, but trip will still be too long to capture business from aircraft, or, as Chi pointed out, getting us out of our cars.

My biggest worry is what happened to the St. Cloud line; at this point there's no way it will be completed nor will it ever be upgraded, because 'Commuter rail is a failure' is now so easy to say. Once you have built a non-competitive HrSR line, that is ALL you're getting, period. Making a few, quiet improvements here and there and getting segments faster or more reliable is a good thing, don't get me wrong. Condemning the line by making it another, expensive, uncompetitive laughing stock is another.

Building out in increments would seem to be ideal, but diesel, electric and HSR are somewhat different, not to mention Maglev.

I also see Zip Rail website is still maintained; obviously Rochester is using MSP as the hub. Perhaps Rochester will solve it's own issues.

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Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby mulad » December 13th, 2012, 8:02 pm

MNdible wrote:$2b vs $4b is just picking numbers out of thin air -- based on California's numbers, you're more likely looking at $30b than $4b (their longer system prices out at $55b - $70b and rising). If it really were just a matter of doubling the price, I'd agree with you. But we both know that that's not how this works -- as the train goes faster, the price rises exponentially.
Ditto on this, although I think a lot of the cost escalation has to do with greenfield alignments.

Anyway, we can sort of compare this with things like the whole Saint Paul to Eden Prairie Green Line, which will cost around $2.3 billion for its entire length of ~18 miles. The faster MSP-CHI train would only carry 5-10% as many passengers as the LRT, but they'd be on-board for much longer distances and would pay more for tickets. In terms of capital cost per annual passenger-mile, the two would probably be pretty similar (well, within a factor of two or something like that). Also compare to the cost of widening I-94, which is undoubtedly in the billions as well.

I tend to think of transportation networks as something like electrical circuits -- electrons or people will tend to flow along the easiest path, but some will still take other routes. Right now, Amtrak's service is like a huge resistor due to low frequency and low speed (though sadly enough, the Empire Builder is relatively fast on this corridor compared to a lot of other trains in the U.S.). Simply reducing the pain of using it bit by bit would have some significant impacts.

My best guess is that the Empire Builder currently only accounts for about 0.2% of travel in the corridor, though overall rail mode share might be up to 3% simply due to the CHI-MKE Hiawatha gobbling up a significant chunk of the market there. With the millions upon millions of car travelers in the corridor, and probably only 50,000 people taking the train each year to/from the Twin Cities, simply getting the train to operate in line with expectations would do a lot.

I think the projection of 5.5 hours fits pretty well with what people want for a rail service. In conversations I've had with friends when train service to Chicago has been brought up, they usually say something like, "So how long does that take? Like 6 hours?" -- and six hours has been pretty consistently suggested. When I say that it's currently around 8 hours, they tend to say something like, "Well, that's not too bad, but I'd really like to take the train if it only took 5 or 6 hours."

But speed isn't the only thing keeping people away. A big problem for me whenever I contemplate visiting the Windy City is the fact that it takes 8 prime working hours to get down there -- I'd be much happier if a train left here in the afternoon or evening, even if it still took the same amount of time. That way, I could still get in a full day or half-day of work, and that's something that has real value to people. The planned improvements, as well as the fact that the trains won't be traveling 1,800 miles from the west coast before reaching here, should also make on-time reliability better as well.

I'm not totally sure how big the overall market is in the corridor, but here's an interesting table from page 3-27 in the State Rail Plan:
railplan-travel-demand.png
While Twin Cities to Chicago only comes in at 9.7 million annually in terms of total demand, adding up the various cities on the rail route gives you a total over 20 million -- and that's just based on travel beginning or ending on our side of the corridor. Presumably adding in the missing intermediate cities, midpoint-to-Chicago, and midpoint-to-midpoint travel would get you into the 30-40 million range. So even if the train only captures a few percentage points of market share, it should end up carrying a few million people annually.

We're really not talking about trying to serve all the people all the time with this train -- it only needs to grab some of the people some of the time to be successful.
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Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby Matt » December 13th, 2012, 8:05 pm

For what it's worth, the 1-1.5 hour travel time from Minneapolis to Chicago by airplane is somewhat worthless. If you factor in the time it takes to get from downtown MPLS to MSP and then the time it takes to get from either airport in Chicago to downtown, along with how early you have to get to an airport, it turns that 1.5 hour trip into something more like 4-5. Airplanes also tend to have lots of delays these days which can make that 1.5 hour trip even longer. If we had a 110 mph train that could get travel time in the 5.5 to 6 hour range with downtown to downtown service, that would be extremely competitive with flying. Especially since you don't have all the rules regarding electronics usage on a train like you do with a plane.

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Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby UptownSport » December 13th, 2012, 9:38 pm

Thanks for that, Mulad-

Now apparent why they tried rail to St Cloud [/offtopic]

With these numbers, eau claire has more travelers than Rochester-

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Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby mattaudio » December 13th, 2012, 10:06 pm

My undereducated guess is that Rochester may have likely surpassed Eau Claire for O/D flows in the past 7 years.

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Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby FISHMANPET » December 13th, 2012, 10:53 pm

Matt wrote:For what it's worth, the 1-1.5 hour travel time from Minneapolis to Chicago by airplane is somewhat worthless. If you factor in the time it takes to get from downtown MPLS to MSP and then the time it takes to get from either airport in Chicago to downtown, along with how early you have to get to an airport, it turns that 1.5 hour trip into something more like 4-5. Airplanes also tend to have lots of delays these days which can make that 1.5 hour trip even longer. If we had a 110 mph train that could get travel time in the 5.5 to 6 hour range with downtown to downtown service, that would be extremely competitive with flying. Especially since you don't have all the rules regarding electronics usage on a train like you do with a plane.
Spirit can get you to Chicago pretty cheaply, I went last month with two people and one checked bag for about $200 round trip. They're also a super budget carrier, and only fly out at awful times, early or late, so there's that to consider. I live on the Hiawatha, so round trip door to door from my apartment to the hotel (just north of the loop) was 6 or 7 hours. Keep in mind that O'hare to the loop is about 45 minutes, so add that to your air travel numbers.

Going West the Empire Builder is pretty good, I'm leaving for a trip next Thursday, and I'll be able to work all day, get on the train, and pretty much right away go to sleep. As Mulad says, Eastbound is not so good.

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Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby min-chi-cbus » December 14th, 2012, 8:54 am

Viktor Vaughn wrote:
min-chi-cbus wrote: The fact is that $2 billion for a 1 hour reduction in time vs. a car just doesn't make a very strong business case, especially when air travel offers a 1.5 hour trip for a fairly reasonable price.....
For me the train would be worth it now, so to each their own. However, your personal cost/benefit analysis assumes energy prices stay cheap. If the House of Saud collapses in an Arab Spring uprising (or fundamentalist coup d' etat) or Iran torpedoes a few ships in the Strait of Hormuz, energy prices could skyrocket overnight and complete flip your "business case". While nobody knows what's next in world events, I think we could agree the energy status quo is very fragile, and oil prices are extremely volatile.

Many other nations have much more versatile transportation systems than the US. In other words, our demand for oil is a lot less elastic and an increase in price will inflict more economic pain and reduce our competitiveness. We need to make investments now to offer transportation alternatives in the event supply disruptions.

So sure, it hurts my (misguided) nationalism a bit that I was able to ride bullet trains in Japan 24 years ago, and we won't even have one high speed line until LA-SF opens in what, 2035? And best case scenario we could build a new greenfield, true high speed line to Chicago by 2040 or 2050.
Upgrading our existing infrastructure isn't nearly as sexy as a maglev or 280m/hr train, but it's immediately necessary if we are to remain economically competitive. Even if we are graced with a competing developed-world-style high speed Chi-Mpls line in the future, the track and passenger service upgrades we make this decade are still worth it.
Yes, you're right....I didn't take any "end of the world" scenarios into play. How foolish and short-sighted of me! :oops:

My one and only point is that I think we (the public) need to know what the options are and vet them out appropriately instead of just getting the typical "take it or leave it" we get from the higher-ups (govt. in this case). I just don't want to over-invest in something that has a (rather) incremental impact on time IF a better technology is (again) incrementally (and not exponentially) more expensive and just around the corner. I support HSR very much, otherwise!

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Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby min-chi-cbus » December 14th, 2012, 9:01 am

UptownSport wrote:We should believe in contingencies, but don't.
I recall watching cars waiting in long lines to get gas as a kid, but that'll never happen again :roll:

Amtrak
8 hr, 5 min
$102.00
Airtravel is 1.5 hrs, and looks like under $200 but check me on this please.

My understanding is max for superliners is 100MPH, so it's NOT going 110 unless they have newer Superliners.
I don't believe shorting the ride to 5.5 hrs, or increasing reliability will bring significantly more riders or do anything for jobs/business. It'll be the same demographic riding, but trip will still be too long to capture business from aircraft, or, as Chi pointed out, getting us out of our cars.

My biggest worry is what happened to the St. Cloud line; at this point there's no way it will be completed nor will it ever be upgraded, because 'Commuter rail is a failure' is now so easy to say. Once you have built a non-competitive HrSR line, that is ALL you're getting, period. Making a few, quiet improvements here and there and getting segments faster or more reliable is a good thing, don't get me wrong. Condemning the line by making it another, expensive, uncompetitive laughing stock is another.

Building out in increments would seem to be ideal, but diesel, electric and HSR are somewhat different, not to mention Maglev.

I also see Zip Rail website is still maintained; obviously Rochester is using MSP as the hub. Perhaps Rochester will solve it's own issues.
You say it much more eloquently than I, but yes!

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Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby min-chi-cbus » December 14th, 2012, 9:05 am

mulad wrote:
MNdible wrote:$2b vs $4b is just picking numbers out of thin air -- based on California's numbers, you're more likely looking at $30b than $4b (their longer system prices out at $55b - $70b and rising). If it really were just a matter of doubling the price, I'd agree with you. But we both know that that's not how this works -- as the train goes faster, the price rises exponentially.
Ditto on this, although I think a lot of the cost escalation has to do with greenfield alignments.

Anyway, we can sort of compare this with things like the whole Saint Paul to Eden Prairie Green Line, which will cost around $2.3 billion for its entire length of ~18 miles. The faster MSP-CHI train would only carry 5-10% as many passengers as the LRT, but they'd be on-board for much longer distances and would pay more for tickets. In terms of capital cost per annual passenger-mile, the two would probably be pretty similar (well, within a factor of two or something like that). Also compare to the cost of widening I-94, which is undoubtedly in the billions as well.

I tend to think of transportation networks as something like electrical circuits -- electrons or people will tend to flow along the easiest path, but some will still take other routes. Right now, Amtrak's service is like a huge resistor due to low frequency and low speed (though sadly enough, the Empire Builder is relatively fast on this corridor compared to a lot of other trains in the U.S.). Simply reducing the pain of using it bit by bit would have some significant impacts.

My best guess is that the Empire Builder currently only accounts for about 0.2% of travel in the corridor, though overall rail mode share might be up to 3% simply due to the CHI-MKE Hiawatha gobbling up a significant chunk of the market there. With the millions upon millions of car travelers in the corridor, and probably only 50,000 people taking the train each year to/from the Twin Cities, simply getting the train to operate in line with expectations would do a lot.

I think the projection of 5.5 hours fits pretty well with what people want for a rail service. In conversations I've had with friends when train service to Chicago has been brought up, they usually say something like, "So how long does that take? Like 6 hours?" -- and six hours has been pretty consistently suggested. When I say that it's currently around 8 hours, they tend to say something like, "Well, that's not too bad, but I'd really like to take the train if it only took 5 or 6 hours."

But speed isn't the only thing keeping people away. A big problem for me whenever I contemplate visiting the Windy City is the fact that it takes 8 prime working hours to get down there -- I'd be much happier if a train left here in the afternoon or evening, even if it still took the same amount of time. That way, I could still get in a full day or half-day of work, and that's something that has real value to people. The planned improvements, as well as the fact that the trains won't be traveling 1,800 miles from the west coast before reaching here, should also make on-time reliability better as well.

I'm not totally sure how big the overall market is in the corridor, but here's an interesting table from page 3-27 in the State Rail Plan:
railplan-travel-demand.png
While Twin Cities to Chicago only comes in at 9.7 million annually in terms of total demand, adding up the various cities on the rail route gives you a total over 20 million -- and that's just based on travel beginning or ending on our side of the corridor. Presumably adding in the missing intermediate cities, midpoint-to-Chicago, and midpoint-to-midpoint travel would get you into the 30-40 million range. So even if the train only captures a few percentage points of market share, it should end up carrying a few million people annually.

We're really not talking about trying to serve all the people all the time with this train -- it only needs to grab some of the people some of the time to be successful.
It's funny you mention electrons in a circuit to compare people and traffic in cities.....I use the same analogy (and also am a HUGE believer in the notion that things in the universe repeat themselves and follow similar patterns regardless of where or when they are -- a newer study I think) but instead of electricity I think of water or sand:

Water follows the shortest, clearest path using gravity to get to where it eventually needs to go. Sand also will do pretty much the same thing and is easier to see the individual particles, unlike water. I think transportation engineers use all three methods when trying to predict traffic patterns actually!


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