Amtrak Tracking for My Commute Between New York City and Philadelphia

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Benefits of The Mass Transit Tunnel

The Mass Transit Tunnel is the future railroad tunnel that will allow additional Amtrak and New Jersey Transit commuter trains to reach Midtown Manhattan, New York City.

Why Another Tunnel?

In the past 25 years, the number of people passing through the existing two-track, century-old rail tunnel connecting northern New Jersey to Penn Station has more than quadrupled, soaring from roughly 10 million in 1984 to about 44 million today. Every hour, 23 New Jersey Transit trains pass through the old tunnel during rush hour, and as any regular rider can attest, that's a recipe for delays.

While Metro-North commuters are graced with an on-time performance rate of around 97 percent, their New Jersey bound cohorts on the Northeast Corridor line have a rush hour performance of 85.09 percent, according to the Asbury Park Press.

In addition to nearly doubling capacity, the new tunnel will ease the minds of many safety-minded commuters and elected officials, pull nearly 22,000 vehicles off the road, reduce greenhouse gases emitted by 67,000 tons, and generate and sustain 6,000 jobs through the construction phase and 44,000 jobs when completed.

New Jersey via HSIPR Applies for Money to Replace and Expand the Portal Bridge near Seacacus, a Major NEC Bottleneck

Governor Jon S. Corzine today announced that New Jersey completed its application for federal funding for a project to replace and expand Portal Bridge—a nearly 100-year-old span that carries Northeast Corridor train traffic over the Hackensack River just west of Secaucus. The application is through the federal government’s program to advance high-speed passenger rail service in the United States.

The proposed upgrades will cut trip times between major cities, improve service reliability, extend service to additional communities, and help fulfill President Obama’s vision of making high-speed passenger rail an integral part of America’s transportation system. In New Jersey, replacement of the Portal Bridge will eliminate a major bottleneck and source of delays on the Northeast Corridor that NJ TRANSIT shares with Amtrak, by providing additional capacity and improving reliability. Today, nearly 500 NJ TRANSIT and Amtrak trains—including the high-speed Acela service—use the existing two-track swing bridge. The bridge now operates near capacity during peak periods, carrying 23 trains per hour in the peak direction.

New Jersey is among several Northeast states that applied for funding through the Federal Railroad Administration’s High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) program. Through the Coalition of Northeastern Governors (CONEG), the Northeast states worked collaboratively for months to review proposed improvement projects for the Northeast Corridor and its Connectors serving northern New England, Upstate New York and Pennsylvania.


The Coalition of Northeastern Governors is a non-partisan organization that encourages cooperative action on northeast regional issues. The CONEG Governors include: David Paterson of New York, Chairman; Don Carcieri of Rhode Island, Vice-Chair; Jon Corzine of New Jersey, Transportation Lead Governor; M. Jodi Rell of Connecticut; Deval Patrick of Massachusetts; John Baldacci of Maine; John Lynch of New Hampshire; and Jim Douglas of Vermont.

Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor Facts and Background Information

Want some facts and background information on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor? Put your lips together and click here.

"Why Glaeser Got It Wrong: Re-Running The Numbers On High Speed Rail"

Yonah Freemark writes on the The Infrastructurist "Why Glaeser Got It Wrong: Re-Running The Numbers On High Speed Rail", he disputes Glaeser's analysis in the New York Times that high speed rail is not a worthwhile invesntmet. Good article giving much detail why high speed rail will be economically beneficial.

Paul Krugman also gets some knocks in on Glaeser of the New York Times in his article "More on density and rail". Krugman states that it is "ridiculous to compare the average population density of the United States with that of European countries, and think that this says anything about transportation options."

There's been a lot of activity on the net in regard to Glaeser's analysis on high speed train travel both pro and con. Discussion is needed to ensure the construction of high speed train lines is done properly and money is not wasted on a poor service, so bring it on, but let's get started with high speed rail in the NEC, it'll clearly work.

A Rail Boondoggle, Moving at High Speed

Robert J. Samuelson of the Washington Post states that Obama should not invest in high speed rail. Samuelson states that Amtrak has, since 1971, received almost $35 billion in subsidies, has 78,000 daily passengers and a typical trip is subsidized by the government by about $50. Samuelson says "Given this, you'd think even the dullest politician wouldn't expand rail subsidies, especially considering the almost $11 trillion in projected federal budget deficits between now and 2019...The costs of high-speed rail would be huge, and the public benefits meager."

He goes on to note that high speed trains in Europe and Japan work because they have high population densities. Japan, density is 880 people per square mile; it's 653 in Britain, 611 in Germany and 259 in France. By contrast, US density is 86 people per square mile. Trains can't pick up most people where they live and work and take them to where they want to go.  Where densities are higher, rail with direct connections between heavily populated city centers and business districts is favorable.

True, Amtrak is federally subsidized which is not ideal but $35 billion over nearly 40 years is tit money to fed. Amtrak has nearly 30 millions passengers a year and this number continues to increase. It's good policy to support rail travel since it is being used and very heavily used in some regions. I'm in favor of high speed rail where economically feasible, along the NEC for sure. But along other places I'm not so sure and I'm fine with a feasibility review being performed before going forward and potentially wasting a lot of money on a high speed train line that would be under utilized. But I am for the federal rail stimulus for use across the US, we need to improve the track infrastructure everywhere in this country so as to improve reliability and maybe even boost train speeds by a little bit. This is good and will be benefit to the economy. It may be a small benefit but even small benefits are good. And note the fed stimulus money funding a lot of these rail improvements is targeted to get us out of this recession, I'd rather have the fed spend the money on rail improvement over giving more money to the banks.

Friday, August 21, 2009

High Speed Trains Won't Revitalize Dying Cities, so says Harvard professor Edward Glaeser

In the fourth installment of a series by Harvard professor Edward Glaeser looking at the economics of high speed trains at the Economix blog of the New York Times, Glaeser argues "rail's potential reshaping of the American economy" is overblown. He notes high speed trains will not help cities, not even Philadelphia:

Philadelphia is the more natural beneficiary of high-speed rail access to Manhattan; there are already people who live in Philadelphia and commute to New York. Yet even in this most propitious setting, the coming of Acela seems to have had little impact on the population decline of Philadelphia or growth of Wilmington. Perhaps the absence of any trend break in population growth around 2000 just reflects the incremental nature of the Acela investment, but there is little here to bring confidence that rail lines revitalize cities.

Jay Yarow of the Business Insider disagrees with Glaeser and notes that "he prohibitive cost of the Acela makes it impossible for rationalizing a move to Philadelphia and commuting to New York on economic grounds. If a truly high speed rail line were set up between the two cities, and the commute only took 45 minutes to 1 hour, and the tickets were more reasonably priced, $1,000-$1,200 a month, we think Philadelphia really becomes the sixth borough of New York, as the New York Times called it in 2005 (to the consternation of Philadelphians)."

I agree with Jay, high speed trains will economically benefit US cities serviced by them and Philly would likely be one of the cities to benefit the most with high speed service to NYC and Washington DC. I would've taken the Acela all the time if it were cheaper and did the run in 45 minutes. Don't know if I would have stayed in Philly but I know there is demand for faster service to NYC from the metro Philly area. Will the economic impact of high speed trains be dramatic? Not huge but tangible I think and shortening the time it takes to get between cities by train has been proven to be a good thing in every country that has fast train service. Even the success of Amtrak's Acela has proven high speed trains are a good business in the US and are profitable. So resistance to deploying high speed/higher speed trains in the US where appropriate in the face of proof that it is working now and will be successful is just silly.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Amtrak Extends Fare Promotion on Northeast Regional Service through December 16 2009

Fares for regional trains along the NEC will maintain their 25% reduced price through December 16. Reservations are required and must be made 14 days in advance of travel. Not sure who makes Amtrak reservations 14 days in advance; rarely would I make reservations even the day before, not even for Thanksgiving or XMas travel would I make 14 day advance reservations but nonetheless this is a nice discount.