Crescent route infrastructure improvement ideas

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west point

Engineer
Joined
Jun 9, 2015
Messages
4,831
Location
SW ATL airport
The Crescent's on time performance is terrible south of ATL. This idea will never happen but with the DFW <> Meridian <> ATL proposal being started in a few years something has to be done to keep trains on time. Just putting in a siding parallel to present track where the track has many curves is IMO a losing proposition. What if the FRA built a few 12 - 15 mile sidings for only Amtrak?. These siding would be 110 - 125 MPH sidings which would allow trains to pass any 35 MPH slow freights on the original route. Mainly these sidings would have very limited curves but can have significant grades eliminating any heavy freight traffic.

Where IMO would be good places for these sidings for the Crescent route.? The route between ATL & BHM has many miles of 35 MPH tracks.
1. Somewhere west of Austell, GA or west of Bremen. Example: that would probably eliminate at least 16 miles of present 35 MPH track mileage for a 12 mile 125 MPH siding. Changes almost 1/2 hour into ~8 minutes easily passing any 35 MPH freight.
2. Between Anniston and BHM. Again, Siding eliminates many curve 35 MPH running & reduces track mileage
3. Now a parallel 125 MPH from BHM - MEI siding could be possible. As well a siding south of MEI to get Meridian arrivals back on time as what delays happened to today's #20
4. One more location to get Both direction Crescents back to close on time would be one or 2 sidings NE of the GA - SC border to Spartanburg mitigating any delay from CLT for #19 or ATL for #20.

Now if by the time AIROs were operating on Crescent route maybe electrify the sidings for more HP?
 
The NS alignment between Atlanta and Birmingham is very curvy and circuitous. Rather than making a major investment in these sidings for passenger trains it might make more sense to build a new passenger railroad in the I-20 alignment, which is much straighter. For much of the distance there is enough space in the median. Given the volumes, it could be single-track, with some short (passenger train length) sidings. I believe that Georgia DOT did a feasibility study for this a number of years ago.
 
The point is that at least 2 12 - 15 mile 110 mph sidings would do a long way to keeping Crescents and future DFW - ATL trains on time. That is for the ATL - BHM route. The sidings would be built to passenger train grades (2 - 3%) but very gentle curves, Too steep for freights. A 12 - 15 mile section could eliminate 15 - 17 miles of 35 MPH tracks/ A 110 siding traversed in 2-1/2 to 3 minutes VS 26 - 30 minutes freight route.

If HSR is ever instituted on this route or any other with similar sidings they would be a start. Just start eliminating the slow sections. The slower a section of freight the more one of these sidings would speed up a train. Now would the FRA ever consider these as a way to really improve OTP and / or cut schedule time??
 
For starts, you do not build a track parallel to a track good for 35 to 40 mph and it somehow become magically a 110 mph track. There is this thing called the laws of physics that limit speeds on curves due to comfort and safety. If you want a high speed track you need a new alignment. Likewise, the "just build it in the Interstate Median" is also almost invariably a non-starter. It is not as simple as you may think. Highway overpass inadequate vertical clearance usually means rebuild all the bridges and approach roadways to roads going over the highway. The Interstate Highway design speed by law is 70 mph, although much of the milage is quite comfortable at higher speeds. Again the laws of physics come to bite you. A curve comfortable at 80 mph on the highway will not be comfortable at a higher speed just because you are on rails. To state in simply, if you want to double the speed on a curve, you must increase the radius by a factor of four, because the relationship is V^2. I will not discuss the very real grade issues for now. Then economically, it makes absolutely no sense to build a new railway for only a few trains per day. By the way, if you build a single track railway, in order to be reliable, the sidings must be long with high speed turnouts. Short sidings increase delays, plus psychologically, from both the highway drivers/passengers and the railroad passengers, you do not want to have a passenger train sitting in a siding for a meet with highway traffic blasting by.
 
Never said build parallel to present track. Find a stretch that will connect at both ends to present track. Then go straight hill and dale with grades that preclude freight. The Crescent suffers the most of any train in the east with many sections of 35 - 40 MPH running. Just pull up location history both BHM - ATL and GA/ SC border thru Clemson, Greenville , & past Spartanburg .
The idea of somewhere of bypassing 15 - 17 miles of 35 MPH track allows a passenger train ability to pass a slower freight without delaying the freight waiting for passenger train to clear far CP.

Now do I believe FRA would consider this an intermediate solution.?? Highly unlikely. !!
 
The NS alignment between Atlanta and Birmingham is very curvy and circuitous. Rather than making a major investment in these sidings for passenger trains it might make more sense to build a new passenger railroad in the I-20 alignment, which is much straighter. For much of the distance there is enough space in the median. Given the volumes, it could be single-track, with some short (passenger train length) sidings. I believe that Georgia DOT did a feasibility study for this a number of years ago.
The 2012 study had two major alternatives, upgrading the Crescent route, or all-electric high-speed rail on the I-20. Shoehorned in is the "hybrid" approach of 125 mph diesel, requiring further study. The hybrid approach seems to come down to phasing in the construction to save costs.

There is little detail about the I-20 route, since this is preliminary stuff, not Tier 1. The authors did summarize the curve radiuses on I-20 (some are excessive), and note the steep descent into BHM, and places where rail would have to be on the shoulder instead of in the median: the 6-lane places. The Crescent route and another similar freight route are more fully described. The study has some components of a future Tier 1: demographics, equity, historic resources, market studies, cost studies, travel time compared. Not too much on the natural environment, based on a quick read.

It's 2012, so maglev is mentioned! Though maglev is not part of the three plans (freight alignment, I-20 dedicated, hybrid), the document does say this:
Maglev technology has the best operating ratios of any technology, but the worst benefit-cost performance.

Sources:
With all of these, the ATL-BHM content lies within two or three areas of the document, starting with the Executive Summary.

As an addedum, it's worth quoting the 2021 State Rail Plan on cooperation with Birmingham, as opposed to with Alabama:
The 2012 GDOT study High-speed Rail Planning Services, Final Report evaluates the feasibility of high-speed rail service between Atlanta and Birmingham, in partnership with the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham (RPCGB). The report considered two types of service for the corridor: emerging high-speed rail on the NS ROW that currently hosts the Amtrak Crescent service and express high-speed rail primarily on dedicated ROW on I-20. The study recommends including a hybrid alternative in future studies. The study determined that high-speed rail is feasible in the Atlanta to Birmingham corridor. The study recommends a Tier 1 NEPA analysis as the next step of this project. A project sponsor has not been identified for a Tier 1 NEPA analysis. GDOT will continue to explore opportunities with potential project sponsors or public-private partnerships to advance the projects.
 
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It is ~~ `160 rail miles between ATL & BHM. with schedule ~~ 4:35. Air miles ~~140 and I-20 ~~ 146 miles. So, 3 or 4 10 - 12 mile 125 MPH sidings owned by Amtrak could easily reduce the enroute time to under 3 hours. These siding would not even parallel the NS tracks. Also, if one was on the hill descending into BHM much higher speed passenger trains would eliminate that very slow section. Today 7/2 #19 crawled at ~~30 MPH or slower from the BHM station to past I-465.
 
It is ~~ `160 rail miles between ATL & BHM. with schedule ~~ 4:35. Air miles ~~140 and I-20 ~~ 146 miles. So, 3 or 4 10 - 12 mile 125 MPH sidings owned by Amtrak could easily reduce the enroute time to under 3 hours. These siding would not even parallel the NS tracks. Also, if one was on the hill descending into BHM much higher speed passenger trains would eliminate that very slow section. Today 7/2 #19 crawled at ~~30 MPH or slower from the BHM station to past I-465.
To call these segments sidings is a misnomer, particularly because you are saying they would be on a new alignment. What you are describing are actually segments of new railroad mainline. You will have all the same issues for each of these segments that you would have for a completely new alignment throughout. Also, check your arithmetic. 36 miles at 110 mph is 20 minutes. Even if you have saved 5 miles of distance, which seems somewhat unlikely, if that 41 miles were at 40 mph it would be 62 minutes, so you save 42 minutes, but the reality would be less due to acceleration/braking at the ends of the high speed segments. You would therefore still be over 3 hours.
 
These new "sidings" would be on an entirely different alignment. IIRC, the reason there are curves and slow running between Atlanta and Birmingham is that the tracks cross the Appalachian mountains. Building tracks on a straighter alignment would likely require tunnels, earthworks, environmental studies, and acquiring land from private property owners who own the land the new sidings would pass through. IMHO, using the median of Interstate 20 might be a better idea. I suspect the grades through the Appalachian mountains on I-20 would be too steep even for a conventional passenger train.
 
Nobody is going to build a track along a new alignment for one or even five trains a day. Atlanta to Birmingham is not exactly a premium corridor with huge potential traffic. Ask yourself if Brightline would take such a thing on. I don;t think they would.
 
JIS; I suppose you have not driven that section on I-20. The amount of traffic on that section have observed IMO about 70% local Alabama cars. That is cars from the Tuscaloosa and BHM areas. Often traffic is so heavy that we get as lot of accordion type jams. Alabama is adding another lane as well,
 
JIS; I suppose you have not driven that section on I-20. The amount of traffic on that section have observed IMO about 70% local Alabama cars. That is cars from the Tuscaloosa and BHM areas. Often traffic is so heavy that we get as lot of accordion type jams. Alabama is adding another lane as well,
That may be true, but given how car dependent that whole area is, the hundreds of millions required to achieve what amounts to a slightly more on-time crescent, and maybe an additional corridor train, is a non-starter.

I'm of the belief that induced demand applies to railways too, but thats not the political landscape we're in.
 
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