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jiml

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The “cheapest” solution might be a second Windsor VIA station after the tunnel exit near the site of the (burned down) Windsor Michigan Central Station. That site is still clear.

Far from ideal, but maybe more practical than a slow trek from the current station to the tunnel through industrial yards.
The "cheapest" solution from an Amtrak perspective would be running a sealed train all the way from Michigan Central to Toronto on CP, without any stops on the Canadian side. Amtrak and CP seem to have a good relationship and very little construction would be required.
 

MisterUptempo

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I wish they'd extend the Quincy train to St. Louis, not even on a wish list outside of a small group in that region. That would have been awesome for weekend trips while I was at school in Macomb years ago.
Extending the Illinois Zephyr/Carl Sandburg, first to Hannibal, then to St. Louis, was included in Missouri's state rail plan for years. Other future corridors envisioned by the state were St. Louis-Springfield, and KC-Springfield, KC-St. Joe-Omaha, as well as upgrading the River Runner to 110mph.

But that's as far as it ever went.
 

JontyMort

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Well, the train makes a number of stops, which reduces the time you can run a higher speeds. And 79 mph is faster than most drivers, so if they pay attention to clearing bottlenecks and keep station dwell time at a minimum, they can have end-to-end run times that are competitive with driving, and that's all they really need to do. Fixating on the maximum speed is sort of pointless testosterone posturing that costs a lot of money and doesn't always provide much benefit to the service. This is especially true for a relatively short run, like Chicago - Milwaukee. Electrification is a good goal for all of these corridors if you're interested in GHG emissions, as diesel trains emit a lot more than electric trains, and even buses (which are surprisingly low-emission per passenger mile.)
Agreed about the short run, when viewing Milwaukee in isolation, but the proposal to make an effort to serve Madison and the Twin Cities enhances the case for improving the core section of the route - because more trains benefit. As to stops, that is another benefit of electrification, because the acceleration is noticeably better.

Still, I wouldn’t want to underestimate the potential difficulties.
 

jis

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Frankly, now that there is PTC available everywhere Amtrak should set a goal to upgrade all its routes to 100mph as is the case with almost all technologically advanced countries with credible rail systems on their standard or broad gauge classical networks.

Heck, even India has set that as a goal for their major classical trunk routes. Of course, India does have the huge advantage of already having a mostly electrified railroad system, and its rolling stock is already capable. The issue there is upgradinng the permanent way, eliminating many grade crossings and installing fencing. Indian RDSO (Research Design and Standards Organization has decreed that any track carrying traffic above 90mph (or some such) through populated ares must be fenced preventing pedestrian access to the tracks.
 

neroden

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Things could change but my observation has been that the BNSF treats the state improvements and proposed long distance routes in a businesslike manner and the UP thinks they are ridiculous. The BNSF is descended from companies that treated passengers with respect (Menk didn't have time enough to change the culture). The UP includes companies that were leaders in their antagonism toward passengers.

In the end things can be worked out with both companies, but as the Pioneer and Sunset/Texas Eagle studies showed we need to expect time to be wasted getting past the UP's political views and down to business.
Meanwhile, CSX's culture doesn't even really want to carry freight, let alone passengers. It's all about financial manipulations to boost the stock price and the CEO's bonuses in the short term. Which means the best way to deal with CSX is to set up a financial deal where the states or Amtrak buy the tracks from them.

Frankly, CN seems about the same, and at this point, so does NS.
 

Burns651

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As @jiml says, if a Chicago Toronto service happens in the near future, it will be via Port Huron, not via Detroit. The capital investment needed to do it via Detroit is quite daunting at present.
Then you'd better inform Amtrak that it has it all wrong. Amtrak indicates Detroit-Toronto through Windsor on its map, not Port Huron-Toronto.
 

jiml

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Then you'd better inform Amtrak that it has it all wrong. Amtrak indicates Detroit-Toronto through Windsor on its map, not Port Huron-Toronto.
All that shows is that Amtrak's planners can dream too. The Ontario government has proposed the same thing. Several people here have studied this and even participated in focus groups on the subject. There are ways to make it happen, but it involves either "outside-the-box" thinking or money that neither national passenger carrier has available to spend - especially in another country.
 

Burns651

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...involves either "outside-the-box" thinking or money that neither national passenger carrier has available to spend - especially in another country.
As of now, Amtrak doesn't have the money available to spend on ANY of its wish map trains, so we don't need to single out Detroit-Toronto as unfeasible. Who's to say Amtrak hasn't envisioned a sealed train from Dearborn to Toronto over CP?
 

jis

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All that shows is that Amtrak's planners can dream too. The Ontario government has proposed the same thing. Several people here have studied this and even participated in focus groups on the subject. There are ways to make it happen, but it involves either "outside-the-box" thinking or money that neither national passenger carrier has available to spend - especially in another country.
Well put. So let us brainstorm a bit..As I see it, there are several possibilities:

1. Detroit/Dearborn to Toronto via CN on the VIA Windsor Toronto route operated as a VIA train in Canada similar to the Maple Leaf. This will involve some significant amount of capital work to get the train from the Detroit Tunnel to Windsor station, and will involve a backup move. Canadian C&I could happen at Windsor.

2. Detroit to Toronto via CP to Chatham and then CN/VIA route to Toronto. This could possibly be done quickly if a few agreements can be put in place. One is to figure out whether CP crew operates on CP or if they could allow VIA to operate it ex-Detroit, or even Amtrak to Chatham. There will be weird union and other issues involved, but if there is a will there should be a way feasible I suppose. In the former case a crew change could happen at Chatham and it could operate as a VIA train ex Chatham Canadian C&I happens in Detroit. Amtrak would just have to fund Windsor (CP) to Chatham operation in Canada and all the Canadian ridership except Windsor would still be captured.

3. Sealed operation Detroit to Toronto. Serves the fewest customers and involves the largest amount of US funding in Canada. Canadian C&I would probably still be in Detroit.

4. via Port Huron - not ideal since it misses the huge Detroit market, but can be instituted almost instantaneously using the template of the past operation of The International. Canadian C&I at Sarnia, US at Port Huron. For reason mentioned by @Burns651 this would be unlikely.

5. Just for completeness - Detroit - Toledo - Cleveland - Buffalo - Niagara Falls - Toronto - significantly longer running time. Adds tremendous number of city pairs providing direct connectivity to Toronto from several Ohio and upstate New York areas. Easy to do, but less likely IMHO.

Of these (@jiml correct me if I am wrong), #2 in balance probably has the best cost/benefit ratio overall with most benefits to most potential customers, if the operating agreements can be worked out. The Canadians may be less than happy for missing Windsor, so some compensation may have to be worked out for that. Maybe this can be piggybacked into a Windsor Toronto service just patching this train onto the rear of a Windsor Toronto service. Afterall Canadians are know to do such thing with the Montreal to Fallowfield/Toronto joint train that splits into two en route.

Did I miss any?

Incidentally Amtrak ballpark estimates of capital cost is around $30M to $40M and annual operating cost ballpark is $3.75M, with annual new ridership of 100K to 200K according to their document. This suggests they may be contemplating the #1 rather than the #2, unless they are including the cost of the two train sets too, in which case I am not sure, maybe #2 which has low capital cost for infrastructure or even #3.
 
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jiml

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Well put. So let us brainstorm a bit..As I see it, there are several possibilities:

1. Detroit/Dearborn to Toronto via CN on the VIA Windsor Toronto route operated as a VIA train in Canada similar to the Maple Leaf. This will involve some significant amount of capital work to get the train from the Detroit Tunnel to Windsor station, and will involve a backup move. Canadian C&I could happen at Windsor.

2. Detroit to Toronto via CP to Chatham and then CN/VIA route to Toronto. This could possibly be done quickly if a few agreements can be put in place. One is to figure out whether CP crew operates on CP or if they could allow VIA to operate it ex-Detroit, or even Amtrak to Chatham. There will be weird union and other issues involved, but if there is a will there should be a way feasible I suppose. In the former case a crew change could happen at Chatham and it could operate as a VIA train ex Chatham Canadian C&I happens in Detroit. Amtrak would just have to fund Windsor (CP) to Chatham operation in Canada and all the Canadian ridership except Windsor would still be captured.

3. Sealed operation Detroit to Toronto. Serves the fewest customers and involves the largest amount of US funding in Canada. Canadian C&I would probably still be in Detroit.

4. via Port Huron - not ideal since it misses the huge Detroit market, but can be instituted almost instantaneously using the template of the past operation of The International. Canadian C&I at Sarnia, US at Port Huron. For reason mentioned by @Burns651 this would be unlikely.

5. Just for completeness - Detroit - Toledo - Cleveland - Buffalo Niagara Falls - Toronto - significantly longer running time. Adds tremendous number of city pairs providing direct connectivity to Toronto from several Ohio and upstate New York areas. Easy to do, but less likely IMHO.

Of these (@jiml correct me if I am wrong), #2 in balance is probably has the best cost/benefit ratio overall with most benefits to most potential customers, if the operating agreements can be worked out. The Canadians may be less than happy for missing Windsor, so some compensation may have to worked out for that. Maybe this can be piggybacked into a Windsor Toronto service just patching this train onto the rear of a Windsor Toronto service. Afterall Canadians are know to do such thing with the Montreal to Fallowfield/Toronto joint train that splits into two en route.

Did I miss any?

Incidentally Amtrak ballpark estimates of capital cost is around $30M to $40M and annual operating cost ballpark is $3.75M, with annual new ridership of 100K to 200K according to their document. This suggests they may be contemplating the #1 rather than the #2, unless they are including the cost of the two train sets too, in which case I am not sure, maybe #2 which has low capital cost for infrastructure or even #3.
That's a very succinct summary. I had worried about hijacking this thread with too much information, however if there continues to be interest there's a lot more information that could be added. I participated in a study in 2018 that continues to yield data points on this subject.
 

AmtrakBlue

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sttom

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I personally see this plan as incredibly underwhelming. There are a lot of other routes that should be on the map that aren’t (Oklahoma City to Tulsa being one of the biggest misses), the planned frequencies are pretty crap on most of the routes and this comes off as an NEC bailout with some line tacked on for the rest of us to get it through the senate. Doing the math, with $50 billion going to the Northeast, if the rest of us got the same money per capita, we’d be getting $469 billion. The 2035 plan might have been good in 2010 if it was supposed to finished by now, but as a 15 year plan it’s complete crap. I saw some discourse on Twitter about this and someone pointed out that Wisconsin was able to plan and build a road for FoxCon in 9 months, but this is the best Amtrak could do in 15 years with the force of a supposedly supportive president and congress behind them, even if it’s only till 2024.
 

west point

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I still do not the like the idea of going Windsor = Toronto. However going from Detroit = Toledo = Buffalo= Niagara =Toronto serves 2 purposes. Provides another service Detroit = Buffalo with connections on east . Saves the delays possible with instituting another customs screw up location. Niagara would get to be more customs efficient.
 
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IndyLions

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I personally see this plan as incredibly underwhelming. There are a lot of other routes that should be on the map that aren’t (Oklahoma City to Tulsa being one of the biggest misses), the planned frequencies are pretty crap on most of the routes and this comes off as an NEC bailout with some line tacked on for the rest of us to get it through the senate. Doing the math, with $50 billion going to the Northeast, if the rest of us got the same money per capita, we’d be getting $469 billion. The 2035 plan might have been good in 2010 if it was supposed to finished by now, but as a 15 year plan it’s complete crap. I saw some discourse on Twitter about this and someone pointed out that Wisconsin was able to plan and build a road for FoxCon in 9 months, but this is the best Amtrak could do in 15 years with the force of a supposedly supportive president and congress behind them, even if it’s only till 2024.
I’m no Amtrak apologist, but I think this classifies as a good start. Underwhelming - ok. Calling it “crap” sounds like hyperbole or sour grapes. Going from 0 to 3 or 4 daily round trips in a bunch of new corridors over 15 years is more than all the progress combined of the last 50 years.

Your example of the WI road is definitely apples and oranges. While I guess it qualifies as impressive - it’s not like dozens of train sets had to be constructed out of thin air in 9 months before it could go into service.

And while Biden is a big supporter, a more exotic first step would draw a Republican reaction of ridicule and opposition analogous to the Democrats’ reaction to Trump’s wall.

My wish? That Biden would announce the immediate government acquisition of all railroad infrastructure. How do you think that would go? 🙂
 

IndyLions

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2. Detroit to Toronto via CP to Chatham and then CN/VIA route to Toronto. This could possibly be done quickly if a few agreements can be put in place. One is to figure out whether CP crew operates on CP or if they could allow VIA to operate it ex-Detroit, or even Amtrak to Chatham. There will be weird union and other issues involved, but if there is a will there should be a way feasible I suppose. In the former case a crew change could happen at Chatham and it could operate as a VIA train ex Chatham Canadian C&I happens in Detroit. Amtrak would just have to fund Windsor (CP) to Chatham operation in Canada and all the Canadian ridership except Windsor would still be captured.
I still think the equivalent of a suburban platform with a modest number of parking spaces could be built in Windsor at (or near) the site of the old Windsor station.

There could even be an airport-like shuttle service between the new VIA station to the platform if they can’t afford a parking lot. It’s only a couple of miles.

Lots of medium sized cities have multiple stations (Buffalo, Richmond, etc) and I’m only talking about a suburban platform.
 

neroden

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Well put. So let us brainstorm a bit..As I see it, there are several possibilities:

1. Detroit/Dearborn to Toronto via CN on the VIA Windsor Toronto route operated as a VIA train in Canada similar to the Maple Leaf. This will involve some significant amount of capital work to get the train from the Detroit Tunnel to Windsor station, and will involve a backup move. Canadian C&I could happen at Windsor.

2. Detroit to Toronto via CP to Chatham and then CN/VIA route to Toronto. This could possibly be done quickly if a few agreements can be put in place. One is to figure out whether CP crew operates on CP or if they could allow VIA to operate it ex-Detroit, or even Amtrak to Chatham. There will be weird union and other issues involved, but if there is a will there should be a way feasible I suppose. In the former case a crew change could happen at Chatham and it could operate as a VIA train ex Chatham Canadian C&I happens in Detroit. Amtrak would just have to fund Windsor (CP) to Chatham operation in Canada and all the Canadian ridership except Windsor would still be captured.

3. Sealed operation Detroit to Toronto. Serves the fewest customers and involves the largest amount of US funding in Canada. Canadian C&I would probably still be in Detroit.

4. via Port Huron - not ideal since it misses the huge Detroit market, but can be instituted almost instantaneously using the template of the past operation of The International. Canadian C&I at Sarnia, US at Port Huron. For reason mentioned by @Burns651 this would be unlikely.

5. Just for completeness - Detroit - Toledo - Cleveland - Buffalo - Niagara Falls - Toronto - significantly longer running time. Adds tremendous number of city pairs providing direct connectivity to Toronto from several Ohio and upstate New York areas. Easy to do, but less likely IMHO.

Of these (@jiml correct me if I am wrong), #2 in balance probably has the best cost/benefit ratio overall with most benefits to most potential customers, if the operating agreements can be worked out. The Canadians may be less than happy for missing Windsor, so some compensation may have to be worked out for that. Maybe this can be piggybacked into a Windsor Toronto service just patching this train onto the rear of a Windsor Toronto service. Afterall Canadians are know to do such thing with the Montreal to Fallowfield/Toronto joint train that splits into two en route.

Did I miss any?

Incidentally Amtrak ballpark estimates of capital cost is around $30M to $40M and annual operating cost ballpark is $3.75M, with annual new ridership of 100K to 200K according to their document. This suggests they may be contemplating the #1 rather than the #2, unless they are including the cost of the two train sets too, in which case I am not sure, maybe #2 which has low capital cost for infrastructure or even #3.
#2 is the one I was thinking of, at least for initial service. I figure people who live in Windsor and aren't right next to the station are perfectly likely to consider driving to the Detroit station just as reasonable as driving to the Windsor station, so skipping Windsor station mainly loses the benefit of having another Windsor-Toronto frequency. If the train actually splits into a "Windsor section" and a "Detroit Section", then even that isn't an issue. Customs at Detroit, and then passengers to Chicago continue on an Amtrak train... of course that means some Amtrak trains from Chicago go to Detroit New Center and some to Detroit Michigan Central, but they were already planning that.

I suspect Amtrak is including the cost of trainsets in its capital estimates, since that has become standard practice in transit planning in the US for whatever reason, and it's how they estimated Rockford, Dubuque, Moline, and Iowa City service.

Of course in the slightly longer run the Windsor station could be moved onto the CP route; there is room, and there's even room for a pair of VIA-exclusive tracks in that massive ROW.
 

dlagrua

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The eastern PA routes intrigue me. Basically commuter runs into Philly and/or New York. I can't help thinking that bridging the gap Harrisburg - Reading - Allentown is an obvious next step.
I believe those cities will get better service but the question is will the state of PA put their money behind Amtrak or SEPTA for new routes? PA runs several commuter routes around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. As for PHL I can see Amtrak adding another Harrisburg -Philadelphia train but Allentown and Reading might be more attractive for the state to put their money into SEPTA.
 

jiml

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There really could be a small book or at least a series of articles written about Detroit - Toronto service. Disregarding trains like the Amtrak International, which as mentioned used a different route for all of its existence, there is a long history of trains crossing between Windsor and Detroit - including other Amtrak trains in its early days. It sounds like a natural market and a great fit for restored/new service - until it isn't. Here's some background which I hope is at least informative:

Windsor and Detroit are about 40 minutes by air from Toronto with frequent, if overpriced, service. (Yes Windsor actually has an airport with significant service despite its proximity to DTW. There was a plan to actually cede their ATC to Detroit, but that proved very political for the federal government and was withdrawn in April.) There is also a major interstate-style highway (401) between Windsor and Toronto - a major trucking route that actually carries US I-75 branding near Windsor. There are few major cities on the route, with the westernmost (closest to Windsor) being London - a major university city with some industry. CN (and VIA) have two routes between Toronto and London - the more southerly is a fairly straight line used by the majority of CN freight and most of VIA's passenger trains. Once outside the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) it does not have a major passenger-generating stop until London, but is well-maintained and faster than the northern route. The northern route between Toronto and London hits a number of of major centers, but is significantly more circuitous and hosts only a couple of VIA trains - usually continuing to Sarnia, ON. (It always seemed like a curious choice for the International, but that's another chapter.) West of London, CN's tracks fork with the heavy double-tracked main heading north to their tunnel under the St. Clair River at Sarnia to Port Huron, MI. The main customer on the mostly single southern track to Windsor is VIA Rail. Having traversed this part of the route many times, it is not a fast trip. CP has its own tracks between Toronto and Windsor that host passenger service (GO) as far west as Milton, ON, with plans to extend to Cambridge - the site of a major Toyota plant. Beyond that CP is freight-only.

In 2017 the Government of Ontario announced with great fanfare the establishment of a High Speed rail link between Toronto and Windsor. While the proposal had a lot of people scratching their heads and a price tag in the stratosphere, it did address two problems which I alluded to above - connecting the major centers (including a developing high-tech corridor) on the north route between Toronto and London that had infrequent and slower VIA service and the route between London and Windsor, which had decent VIA service slowed by a lack of TLC by CN. I won't detail the whole proposal here, but here's a link for those interested: High speed rail. The included map may be especially useful in understanding the connections. That government was defeated in the 2018 election, being replaced by one from the opposite end of the political spectrum. However, despite the suggestion of more fiscal responsibility, the new government preserved the plan with several changes. Most notably high-speed electric was downgraded to "higher speed" diesel, the route was extended to Detroit and CP joined the discussion as a participant. The newly-created transit oversight agency Metrolinx also became involved. (They are the "parent" of heavy rail GO services, as well as other regional transit services.) Due to some prior involvement with the Ministry of Transportation, I was invited to participate in a study which consisted of a tea-and-cookies presentation, reading through a detailed booklet and completing a 20+ page questionnaire. (That is why I have some limited knowledge of the proposal.) Of course the pandemic came along and other than a generic (and infrequent) newsletter I have no idea what is happening. It may be dead, since all levels of government that had an interest have depleted finances due to Covid.

Southwestern Ontario has always been the poor stepchild of VIA's Ontario/Quebec corridor. There likely isn't a pressing need to increase service in the foreseeable future. Whether they'd like to get rid of the route I don't know, but there are some similarities between it and Toronto - Niagara Falls for example. The latter saw less and less service until the joint Maple Leaf was the only remaining train. If there had been a market for more service VIA certainly could have continued with at least one train that offset the Maple Leaf in the opposite direction. Such a service did exist, but a number of factors that have been covered elsewhere led to its discontinuance. GO had seen an opportunity pre-Covid and had expanded service on the route significantly, so even when the Maple Leaf was suspended (first for bridge repairs, then the pandemic) there was a way to get to Niagara from Toronto. As has been discussed previously, GO had long-term plans to actually cross the bridge to connect with up to 3 Amtrak trains daily - ideally across the platform (required track work). The new Niagara Falls, NY, station was even built with provision for Canadian authorities to do pre-screening and the Ontario government had sought to purchase the entire route from CN. All pre-Covid of course.

Back to the Toronto - Windsor route, there have been some recent positive developments. The north route between Toronto and London has seen financial investment by the province, as it is a key route for GO expansion and all-day service - including the first electrified test section of the GO network. The CP line out of Toronto has also seen a lot of attention, including double track, increased passenger frequencies and planned expansion. Without these investments neither would really have been a desirable route for long-distance, but for various reasons both have improved potential.

In conclusion, a partnership between Amtrak and the Ontario Government is a possibility not mentioned in @jis' comprehensive list, and it could work with more than one of his suggestions. If VIA is a participant that's great too, but I sense there might be room for both serving different markets. Maybe the Amtrak service doesn't have to serve Windsor at all or a platform on the CP route with a connecting shuttle would work. There would always be an option for connections at Chatham or London. Only time will tell.
 
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jebr

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I saw some discourse on Twitter about this and someone pointed out that Wisconsin was able to plan and build a road for FoxCon in 9 months, but this is the best Amtrak could do in 15 years with the force of a supposedly supportive president and congress behind them, even if it’s only till 2024.
Is it this project? Because, if so, I'm not sure that's the best model to use. I'd prefer to have something that's sustainable and will be here for the long haul, rather than throwing money places and hoping things work out okay in the end.
 

MARC Rider

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I believe those cities will get better service but the question is will the state of PA put their money behind Amtrak or SEPTA for new routes? PA runs several commuter routes around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. As for PHL I can see Amtrak adding another Harrisburg -Philadelphia train but Allentown and Reading might be more attractive for the state to put their money into SEPTA.
I thought that the reason SEPTA dropped the Philadelphia - Reading and Philadelphia- Bethlehem service in the early 1980s was that they had just completed the Center City tunnel connecting the old PRR and Reading lines. In the tunnel, of course, you can't run diesel equipment, therefore SEPTA now had no interest in running diesel powered trains. Philadelphia to Reading and Philadelphia to Allentown/Bethlehem involves running over the old Reading lines, and I'm not sure there are any convenient connections between 30th St. Station and the former Reading lines that don't involve the Center City tunnel. The PRR used to run a commuter train to Manayunk, where an interchange could be made, but the line beyond Cynwyd has been abandoned since the 1980s.

If SEPTA was going to run this service, they'd have to operate over a host railroad (Norfolk Southern Harrisburg line), which is something I don't think SEPTA has any experience with. (I'm not sure about who owns the tracks between Lansdale and Bethlehem.) They'd also have to get Dual mode locomotives so they could run under the wire to Norristown or Lansdale and then diesel up to Reading and Bethlehem. I'm not sure whether this is something that would interest SEPTA, so I think that it's more likely that this is a job for Amtrak. They would have to figure out some way to interchange diesel-operated trains from the NEC to the old Reading lines, or maybe with Tier IV engines, diesels could actually operate in the tunnel.
 

MisterUptempo

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Is it this project? Because, if so, I'm not sure that's the best model to use. I'd prefer to have something that's sustainable and will be here for the long haul, rather than throwing money places and hoping things work out okay in the end.
That's the one. Only goes to show how quickly things can go awry when a hard core BS artist (Wisconsin's Walker) does business with a world class BS artist (Foxconn's Gou).

On the bright side, just think of all the Wisconsinites who won't be leaping from windows out of desperation while in Foxconn's employ.
 
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