AmeriStarRail and the Grand Junction Railroad

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Tlcooper93

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For those of you who do not know, hsrail.org has frequent free webinars about the rail travel in this country and around the world. I find them to be very fun and informative. The best part is the Q and A portions where you get real, informed answers to any burning questions you have.

One of their webinars back in October featured Scott Spencer from the Delaware LLC AmeriStarRail, a company with ambitious goals in the NE Corridor. From what I gathered, they would like to operate as an Amtrak affiliate, running their own fleet of tri-powered high-speed trains (though ticketed as Amtrak trains).
You can watch it here:

I wanted to discuss their plans that are specific to the Boston area and the Grand Junction Railroad. From what I understand, they want to extend the Springfield portion of the NEC, routing it through the Worcester Line (giving Worcester Union Station much desired additional intercity service) and connect to North Station (and Brunswick, ME) through Grand Junction Railroad. As described in the Webinar, they would back into North Station, and then continue north. Additionally, they would put an intercity station near MIT.

I live a few blocks from the Massachusetts Ave grade crossing of the GJR, and I can safely say no revenue service will be coming down those tracks in the near future. A massive (and expensive) project would have to be undertaken to make this plan a reality, including making the bridge across the Charles usable for revenue service. Another hurdle is electrification, which doesnt exist on much of the proposed route, but could be helped given the MBTA's verified interested in EMU's and electrification.

What do you all think of this proposal? What do you think would take to make this a reality? Do you think something like this is even possible in a reasonable amount of time (10-20 years).
For reference, here is a picture of their proposed map.
2021-03-18.png
 
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SubwayNut

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I do think there is potential, especially with the fact that the North River tubes under the Hudson River being the biggest chokepoint on the Northeast Corridor to offer an "LLC" type product originating at Hoboken (where passengers can make easy connections to Path and ferries to lower and midtown Manhattan) going to Washington, DC and other points south. I think a lot of people would be willing to ride an infrequent train running on a "Megabus" like model with cheap fares maybe using hamidown commuter equipment even if it meant having to cross the Hudson on PATH or the ferry to get to Hoboken.

The current NEC fares are extremely expensive, back with I lived in New York City and wanted to go to Philideliphia for recreation reasons I would always take the bus or SEPTA to NJ Transit, the high cost of Amtrak I could never justify for such a short joruney.
 

jis

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Someone has to shell out a very significant amount of money to build the westbound Reverse Kearny Connection to make a frequent service for the NEC operating out of Hoboken practically possible first. Without that CP Rea and Hudson would be a much much worse bottleneck than the North River Tubes.
 

sttom

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I find their proposed service levels interesting and thing some of them are good ideas, but other than that, eh.... Its not something that is likely to happen and I doubt Amtrak will steal their ideas. So its just more paper as far as I'm concerned.
 

Tlcooper93

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Seems as though the Boston area GJR isn’t the only problem with this proposal.
I don’t think this sort of plan is possible without a massive amount of cash. I can’t imagine this whole thing costing any less than 50 billion (for the whole corridor).

Even if the feds put up half the cash (which would be monumental), states wouldn’t back it. NY just got done with (and is in the middle of) a few large rail investments.
 

MARC Rider

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Do these guys have any kind of business plan? What are the startup costs? Who's going to actually run the trains? What are the operating costs? What kind of fares are they going to charge? How much profit to the expect, and how will this be attractive to investors? Why should Amtrak partner with them when Amtrak could run the trains themselves, as they are already doing, and tolerably well on the NEC? In other words, what does this company bring to the table that would benefit Amtrak?

Alas, there are (too) many people in this country who think that "if it's the 'private sector,' it has to be good." The NEC used to be run by the private sector. I believe it was an company called the Penn Central Railroad. We all know how well that worked out. :)
 

Seaboard92

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The part I don't get is why all of the additional local stops in places like Crystal City, and Suburban Station Philly. The people who live here have already mastered the fact of going somewhere else if they want to get anywhere.

Going back historically I can't think of many historical services that have ran on some of these routes. Suburban Station Philly was used for trains to Harrisburg but that was before most were rerouted to New York-Penn. In the Pennsylvania Railroad days the main line trains from New York west used the subway and didn't touch 30th St.

Hoboken never has had service south the closest equivalent would be the B&O Royal Blue route to Jersey City, NJ and that route ceased to exist in the mid 50s. However it was known for having the better on board services than the Pennsy trains it just couldn't compete.

The only train to Maine from the lower part of the corridor was the State of Maine and it didn't enter Boston. I'm not sure there is a market for Maine south that would be large enough to justify the infrastructure needs. And if we were going to do that we should just connect South and North Station in Boston which is a project they've wanted to do for years to start with.

I believe at some point Amtrak did run some inland route Northeast trains from Boston-Washington via Springfield. But obviously these were removed for a reason. Now just because we didn't do something in the 1950s doesn't mean I think we shouldn't do it I'm not married to that idea at all. But it does provide good initial market research.

I'm all for increasing service, and I'm all for a new operator to compete with Amtrak on the North East Corridor because I think Amtrak really could use some shake up up there. Speed or frequency wouldn't matter as much in competing with Amtrak as much as having a good soft product. That is where Amtrak really is lacking especially in consistency is in the soft product.
 

railiner

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I'm all for increasing service, and I'm all for a new operator to compete with Amtrak on the North East Corridor because I think Amtrak really could use some shake up up there. Speed or frequency wouldn't matter as much in competing with Amtrak as much as having a good soft product. That is where Amtrak really is lacking especially in consistency is in the soft product.
I've always wondered why NJT and SEPTA never pooled their trains, to offer a low-cost competitor between at least New York, and Philly, or even as far as Wilmington or Newark, DE? Perhaps Amtrak has the power to not allow them to do that...not sure...
And the same goes for MARC, VRE, Metro North, MBTA, etc...there are just short gaps separating all of them....🤔
 

jis

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I've always wondered why NJT and SEPTA never pooled their trains, to offer a low-cost competitor between at least New York, and Philly, or even as far as Wilmington or Newark, DE? Perhaps Amtrak has the power to not allow them to do that...not sure...
And the same goes for MARC, VRE, Metro North, MBTA, etc...there are just short gaps separating all of them....🤔
The NJ legislature would have a cow if NJT tried that. They threw a hissy fit when NJT tried to extend service one stop into PA from Trenton to a station near the Morrisville yard. OTOH PA threw a hissyfit for years before allowing NJT to serve PHL from Atlantic City. In neither of those cases Amtrak had any hand in it. These government ahency fiefdoms enabled by state governments are hard to crack.
 

railiner

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The NJ legislature would have a cow if NJT tried that. They threw a hissy fit when NJT tried to extend service one stop into PA from Trenton to a station near the Morrisville yard. OTOH PA threw a hissyfit for years before allowing NJT to serve PHL from Atlantic City. In neither of those cases Amtrak had any hand in it. These government ahency fiefdoms enabled by state governments are hard to crack.
I don't see why the NJ legislature feels that way...why do they allow NJT to cross into New York? To me it's really no different. Besides, the actual responsibility would change at Trenton, as would the crews, unless they arranged a pro-rata share of the mileage on the thru trains....
 

jis

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I don't see why the NJ legislature feels that way...why do they allow NJT to cross into New York? To me it's really no different. Besides, the actual responsibility would change at Trenton, as would the crews, unless they arranged a pro-rata share of the mileage on the thru trains....
I am not a mind reader of single individuals, much less the collective minds of the august legislators. I can only report what happened. I invite you to join the NJ Legislature and fix them. While you are at it you could also join the PA legislature to fix them too. :D

The case in Trenton happened when NJT built the Morrisville Yard in PA where NJT trains are stored and turned. It is ideally located next to a highway that people from PA use to get to Trenton to catch NJT to New York. NJT proposed to build a small station with a big parking lot there to reduce traffic across the Delaware River and capture them onto NJT in PA. The NJ legislature would have none of it unless PA funded it and PA would have none of it unless SEPTA got a cut of the fare collected in PA, even though they would not be spending a penny providing the service. So that was the end of that. We still have platoons of cars with single person from PA clogging up local streets in Trenton and Hamilton trying to get to NJT trains to NY.
 

jis

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I think they might object to a Floridian attempting that....otherwise, sure thing!🤣
I know. We at NJ-ARP back then tried our level best as did DVARP, but we never even managed to get to a point where the Unions would be able to object to something or the other as they inevitably would have in the next step.
 

Tlcooper93

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The only train to Maine from the lower part of the corridor was the State of Maine and it didn't enter Boston. I'm not sure there is a market for Maine south that would be large enough to justify the infrastructure needs. And if we were going to do that we should just connect South and North Station in Boston which is a project they've wanted to do for years to start with.
While in theory a North-South connect is a great idea, it really isn't possible with the current situation in the state and this country for rail infrastructure. Bostonians just finished up the Big Dig, and I doubt they would be on board with another project of the same magnitude. Furthermore, it would be massively expensive, and take a very long time. While a "Boston Central Station" in downtown that would connect the NEC and MBTA lines would be nice, it would also destroy South Station and its purpose, which would be controversial to say the least.

The amount of expensive redundancies that it would create between four major train stations (N, S, Central, and Back Bay) would not really make any sense.

I may be in the minority here, but I'd vote for South Station expansion before a North South Connect. In a perfect world however, I'd vote for none of the above, and just have all MBTA Lines electrified, and have all of the rolling stock swapped for EMU's.

Between N-S Connect and GJR revitalization, I'd pick the latter.
 
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MisterUptempo

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I don't see why the NJ legislature feels that way...why do they allow NJT to cross into New York?
For the same reason that a state like Indiana are skinflints when it comes to subsidizing the Hoosier State, but are willing to help fund the West Lake Extension and double tracking between Gary and Michigan City. If expanding rail service to the single largest jobs center in the region means more people might consider moving from Illinois to Indiana, and, more importantly, pay their taxes in Indiana. they believe it's worth the investment.
 

Palmetto

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The NJ legislature would have a cow if NJT tried that. They threw a hissy fit when NJT tried to extend service one stop into PA from Trenton to a station near the Morrisville yard. OTOH PA threw a hissyfit for years before allowing NJT to serve PHL from Atlantic City. In neither of those cases Amtrak had any hand in it. These government ahency fiefdoms enabled by state governments are hard to crack.
Yet, I know people--college students--who would do the NJT/Septa combo between NYC and Philly because they saved a lot of money by not doing it with Amtrak.
 

jis

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Yet, I know people--college students--who would do the NJT/Septa combo between NYC and Philly because they saved a lot of money by not doing it with Amtrak.
Of course. The so called "Trenton Shuffle" is quite popular. But still it is a relatively small proportion of NJT's NEC ridership. NEC on NJT is currently (pre-COVID) capacity constrained. They could double the number of trains during the daytime, and possibly manage to get rid of the (post COVID restrictions) SRO situation specially in the Mid/Inner zones.

People who really want to save money do NY-Philly by bus too.
 
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west point

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All these grand plans but how can any of them ever be implemented until the new North river tunnels are in service and one of the present tubes is considered reliable ?
 

railiner

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Of course. The so called "Trenton Shuffle" is quite popular. But still it is a relatively small proportion of NJT's NEC ridership. NEC on NJT is currently (pre-COVID) capacity constrained. They could double the number of trains during the daytime, and possibly manage to get rid of the (post COVID restrictions) SRO situation specially in the Mid/Inner zones.

People who really want to save money do NY-Philly by bus too.
For some time, NJT and SEPTA did run a thru train, although only from Newark to Philly...the remains of the former Reading "Crusader" and "Wall Streeter" to Reading Terminal via West Trenton. It ended in 1981, when Reading Terminal was replaced by the Market Street East station. Electric trains ran from Philly to West Trenton, where for another year or so, NJT ran a connecting diesel shuttle train to Newark, then that ended.
 

jis

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NJT and MNRR has run interline trains for Football Games in the Meadowlands. The train, when it runs, uses NJT equipment (ALP-45/46 push pull, usually single level). It is staffed by NJT between Meadowlands and NYP, and by MNRR from NYP to NHV.

Just to facilitate the running of this train additional transponders were installed at the draw bridges in CT to control the pantograph and power changes on the ALP, specially when running in push mode. So at least a small amount of additional Capital was spent to make it happen.

BTW, one of the impediments to running Amtrak or NJT power/cab cars onto LIRR got incidentally removed with the advent of the ACSES II enhancements to the Codes used in the Coded Track Circuit system on the NEC and associated ACSES II controlled segments. The LIRR codes that were absent in the Amtrak, NJT codes apparently got added in as part of the transition to ACSES II.
 

railiner

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NJT and MNRR has run interline trains for Football Games in the Meadowlands. The train, when it runs, uses NJT equipment (ALP-45/46 push pull, usually single level). It is staffed by NJT between Meadowlands and NYP, and by MNRR from NYP to NHV.
Now that is fascinating. I vaguely recall that service, but never delved into the details. Is that the only Metro North train to ever use the Hell Gate Bridge? I imagine that they had to qualify several crews over the Amtrak route from Shell to NYP, as well as the operation of the ALP-45's. I'm guessing there was a road foreman and/or trainmaster aboard those specials, too....
 
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