Friday, December 21, 2007

Passenger trains need their own tracks

When a freight train derails (as they occasionally do), passenger train service should not halt.

That's a symptom of an under-capitalized and thus bad transportation network.

That's the state of affairs for the rail network in the Midwest.

Today a freight train derailed in Northwest Indiana and shut down Amtrak traffic east of Chicago.

What we need is for the government to pay a railroad company to build a new set of tracks that is dedicated exclusively for passenger rail.

We don't have enough track in this country.

7 Comments:

Blogger plaws said...

While I whole-heartedly agree that there is insufficient rail capacity in the US, and also agree that the government can and should chip in to rectify that situation, I don't believe that "a new set of tracks that is dedicated exclusively for passenger rail" is needed.

Dedicating tracks to passenger trains does increase capacity overall at least a little, it leads to a Balkanized system of "freight tracks" and "passenger tracks", neither of which has enough capacity.

We need to focus on adding capacity to the whole system, starting with the choke points (Bright Park junction - DONE!) and then restoring tracks where needed.

Regardless of what Ed Hamberger says.

2:13 PM  
Blogger Don Simkovich said...

This is my first time looking into the issue. My blog deals with business, money and real estate issues and this blog - and issue - plays a role in each of those areas.

Our family rode the rails from LA to Pittsburgh in '95 and would like to do it again.

We're going to be in New York and travel to Pittsburgh - we're driving. We wanted to take the train but I was afraid of delays.

Hmm, should the gov't build new rails. Why not in conjunction with private businesses?

11:11 AM  
Blogger Nathanael said...

The reason passenger trains need separate tracks is simply that *fast trains* need separate tracks from *slow trains*. Fast freights can use passenger tracks, and trains can use any tracks if their regular lines are damaged, but generally an efficient operation requires separation by speed if there are more than a few trains on it.

The Chicago-Porter segment has 14 Amtrak trains per day, already -- and 25 or more freight trains per day. It's an extremely wide right-of-way which used to have eight or more tracks in most places (it carried the four-track mainline of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and next to it the four-track mainline of the New York Central.) Now it's down to two in spots.

Restoring a separate pair of passenger or "fast" tracks along this route *would* be dealing with a major chokepoint. It's one of the top items on Amtrak's wish list.

9:09 AM  
Blogger matt said...

Actually, in some areas, it should be great to have dedicated passenger rail lines. In some other, the investment is not worth the price.

In france, HSR lines are dedicated to High Speed Train, nothing else rolls on it... and it works! Profitable, reliable, 300-320 kph ...

More about HSR in my two articles (more coming):
http://www.matthieudesiderio.com/?p=17
http://www.matthieudesiderio.com/?p=16

11:59 AM  
Blogger Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

New tracks help capacity for freight as well, right? Just like a new highway lane that is only for high-occupancy vehicles helps for the rest of the highway (of presumably single-occupancy vehicles).

5:17 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

I have to disagree with you on this one, Dan. Yes, we need more capacity, and Nathaniel is right about the Chicago-Porter IN segment. But for the most part, we need enough capacity to allow priority for passenger trains, which is an entirely different thing than passenger only tracks. If passenger trains are not running at night (for example) why not schedule the freights for that time. That's what the old New Haven Railroad did. And it's happening now on the Capital Corridor and Gui-I mean Pan-Am's Downeaster route.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

That's a fair point. But 'enough' capacity to allow priority for passenger trains isn't quite clear enough for my taste. I can understand that passenger-only tracks might not make sense (but then again, subways are passenger-only....).

12:37 AM  

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