Environmental Research paper help: Could we extend the Auto-Train to Chicago, Boston, Montreal and New York?

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Hi, all, I am not sure this is the right place to post this but, I want to ask for some help...

Long time railfan studying environmental science.

We have to write a research paper on railroad usage, and we picked auto-train extensions.

The thesis is that extending the auto train extension would save money, gas, time, pollution and aggravation.

Is it even physically possible?

But we see double stacked container freights and auto carriers every where.

We want to examine possible yard space, clearance, and routes. Any physical impediment to riding an auto carrier to Sanford, FL. The goal is to calculate the environmental and quality of life savings. Warning, it might be negative!

We are not trying to look at demand, route capacity, timing, safety, funding or Class 1 willingness. Simply, physical infrastructure viability.

We are OK on the real estate, route and location analysis, we are terrible at track and structures.

For example: Would an auto train clear the new tunnels in Baltimore or run under northeast corridor catenary wires? Would motive power be diesel the whole way from Boston? Could I assume any route that has auto carriers (NY west shore railroad to Conway, could also support an auto-train? What are we missing? What are the absolute physical barriers?

I am a totally newbie to railroad structure and operating specifications, so go easy, but we thought this was a great place to post this.

We will post the results later this year.

But, if you could offer some guidance and links, it would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks

Chris
 

Just-Thinking-51

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Can it be done, yes but not with the current equipment. The Bilevel Superliner will not fit the Amtrak tunnels. So if you convert to single level equipment you could of course. The Bilevel auto carrier racks that Amtrak use are a customized to fit under the bridges on the route. They too will not fit into NY. You could use baggage car type of car carriers to fit anywhere in the North East Corridor.
Change of power is currently done in Washington DC, and if your idea train were to travel north of DC than a switch of power units would be the way to go.

So yes it could be done, with different equipment. The train would be very long, but doable.
 

zephyr17

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The key thing here is auto racks, which are handled to the Port of New York and New Jersey, Chicago, and Boston every day. Standard tri-level auto racks are taller than Superliners (19' versus 16' 2") and exceed Plate F. Superliners can clear catenary, they do at WAS, but I do not think such tall cars as tri-level autoracks can. I haven't found dimensions or clearance requirements of Amtrak's bilevel autoracks, but from run by pictures of the train it appears they are at least a foot taller than Superliners and would likewise exceed Plate F. For purposes here, I am treating them as having the same clearance requirements as standard auto racks.

However, there is absolutely no need for an Auto Train to serve Penn Station, or South Station, or Chicago Union Station. There is no room for a loading facility Penn Station, just as there is no room for a loading facility at WAS and the Auto Train terminal is a purpose built facility in Lorton, VA. So there is no need to conform to tunnel clearances for the Hudson River tubes. Nor even any need to conform to catenary clearances (which appear to accommodate Plate F, larger than the tunnel clearances).

The answer is to run on freight railroads north of Virgina that DO have clearance.

CSX System Clearance: Auto Rack map

NS Auto Distribution Locations

The primary issues in extending the service are:
1. Finding locations for purpose-built Auto Train loading facilities on the outskirts of those cities
2. Obtaining trackage rights on the freight railroad, particularly where the needed lines parallel the Amtrak or commuter rail owned lines. CSX paralleling the NEC and the CSX West Shore line paralleling the MetroNorth Hudson line on the east shore are examples.
3. Funding major capital projects to develop additional Auto Train facilities.
 
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At the Transportation Research Board Passenger Rail Committee meeting last January, someone was talking about expanding auto train services, but he wasn't talking about expanding the current service on the east coast, they were talking more about using them as shuttles to avoid dangerous mountain passes and driving through large metropolitan areas. Like say, just west of Denver to Grand Junction, or just west of Reno to just east of Sacramento, or load up in, say Springfield, MA, and unload at Lorton (they already have an auto train station there) or, better, just south of Richmond. This would allow people coming from the north to avoid the traffic Hell of I-95. Maybe another train that would run from somewhere south of New York, allowing New York area customers to avoid the traffic hell of Philadelphia and Washington.

Another alternative would be coastal ferries. Not sure how well that might work on the west coast, but I could see a route loading at, say, New Bedford (for Boston area customers), Port Newark, and somewhere in Tidewater Virgnia, and unloading at Charleston, Savannah, and Jacksonville. I think that would be a relatively short overnight voyage. This would not just be for cars, but they could carry trucks without the drivers and have new drivers pick up the trucks at the destination. It might be a bit slower, but it would avoid the Hell that is I-95 and maybe save the trucking companies some labor costs.
 

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Another alternative would be coastal ferries. Not sure how well that might work on the west coast, but I could see a route loading at, say, New Bedford (for Boston area customers), Port Newark, and somewhere in Tidewater Virgnia, and unloading at Charleston, Savannah, and Jacksonville. I think that would be a relatively short overnight voyage.
The problem with ships is they are sloooooooowwwwwwww. At 20 knots (which is on the faster side), New Bedford to Cape Henry is almost 24 hours, plus at least another 2-3 hours to get into Hampton Roads and tied to a berth somewhere.

Cape Henry to Jacksonville is even worse at closer to 30 hours. One of the worst nights of my life was pounding away at 24 knots (as fast as our diesels would push us) making our way from Little Creek to NS Mayport into the Gulf Stream. Finally got pierside and felt like I had the world's worst hangover.

For something less time sensitive like trucks, this could work. But we already basically have trains for that.

The right answer to the OP is above, just continue to use the freight trackage that already hosts auto racks. Still not sure that it's a winner, come back and show us the results when you're done!
 

caravanman

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I guess you have to write a paper on the chosen subject, but is not the whole idea of "taking your auto on the train" a bit non environmentally sound?
A better concept might be for passengers to ride in the train, and rent an electric vehicle at a sensible cost at the destination?
A national mind change in behaviour might be a better way to go?
 

zephyr17

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I guess you have to write a paper on the chosen subject, but is not the whole idea of "taking your auto on the train" a bit non environmentally sound?
A better concept might be for passengers to ride in the train, and rent an electric vehicle at a sensible cost at the destination?
A national mind change in behaviour might be a better way to go?
That is a wonderful example of the perfect being the enemy of the good.

An Auto Train service doubtless burns much less fuel and emits much less pollution than a couple hundred cars, SUVs, and pickups being driven independently over a thousand miles. The entire base of Auto Train ridership is those wanting their own cars at their destination and not going to the trouble and expense of renting them, electric or otherwise, and not wanting to drive themselves. Unless you want to close the Interstates to private travel (and good luck with that!), the Auto Train represents a pretty good compromise between the environment and consumer convenience. Counting on a "national mind change in 'behaviour'"? 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

For those wanting to ride a train to their Florida and rent a car, even an electric car, they can already do that, no further service or investment needed from New York or Boston. Although adding a direct Chicago-Florida train would be nice, as would resumption of rail service to Montreal.
 
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caravanman

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That is a wonderful example of making the perfect the enemy of the good.

An Auto Train doubtless burns much less fuel and emits much less pollution than a couple hundred cars driven independently over a thousand miles. The entire base of Auto Train ridership is those wanting their own cars at their destination and not going to the trouble and expense of renting them, electric or otherwise,
If folk are desperate to have their own vehicles with them at all costs, then the auto train is better than driving. If it were cheap and easy to rent an electric vehicle, as a national carbon reducing strategy, that would seem to be better?
Of course, improved "joined up" public transport services at all points would be a massive improvement too?
 

zephyr17

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If folk are desperate to have their own vehicles with them at all costs, then the auto train is better than driving. If it were cheap and easy to rent an electric vehicle, as a national carbon reducing strategy, that would seem to be better?
Of course, improved "joined up" public transport services at all points would be a massive improvement too?
Better local transit and seamless integration of local and intercity transportation are undeniably good things.

As to Americans and their cars? Seriously trying to limit private vehicle use here would be virulently resisted by the vast majority of us, many, many more than those supporting unfettered gun rights (of which I am not one). It would make gun control look like an easy slam dunk.

Personally, I support good public transportation alternatives and consistently vote in favor of improving it, like extending our local light rail system here. I also use it when it makes sense. I seldom rent cars any more, but that is mostly because my preferred rail and air travel destinations have good local transit and a car in those places is a burden, not an aid. But when I go skiing to a place within a 2 day drive (call it 800-1,000 miles), I throw my gear in the back of my 4WD compact pickup and drive, despite the fact that doing so is significantly more expensive than flying with gas and en route lodging. I would be outraged at any attempt to restrict my use of my truck and would make it my mission in life to throw those seriously attempting such a thing out of office.

In your words, most of us actually are "desperate" to own our vehicles here. We generally love our vehicles.

Not. Going. To. Happen.

Again, the perfect being the enemy of the good.
 
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Ryan

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Seriously trying to limit private vehicle use here would be virulently resisted by the vast majority of us,

I would be outraged at any attempt to restrict my use of my truck and would make it my mission in life to throw those seriously attempting such a thing out of office.
It's a good thing nobody suggested that here.
 
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Trying to discuss green issues with someone of your mindset is a waste of my time.
I think that one can be "green" and at the same time oppose heavy handed attempts to force us willy-nilly into changes of lifestyle where the infrastructure is not ready to support it. Often that is a strategy for failure that will backfire on those advocating it. This is not the UK with a bus stop around every corner (I realize that is an exaggeration).
 
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Many parts of the world view private vehicle usage very differently than the US. Often, the best videos I can find to explain certain topics to my classes (like Vehicle to Grid or Offshore Wind) are from Europe, because they far ahead of the US on the implementation of such things..

(Retired from electrical/telecommunications industry but teach classes on alternative power for electrical apprentices and journeypersons)
 

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Often, the best videos I can find to explain certain topics to my classes (like Vehicle to Grid or Offshore Wind) are from Europe, because they far ahead of the US on the implementation of such things..
Calling Europe "ahead of" the US implies we are on the same path. We are not on their path and it does not matter anymore anyway.

 
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Trogdor

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The question of environmental benefits overlooks the reality of induced demand. Whenever you increase roadway capacity, traffic just increases to fill it up, negating any benefit to the increase in capacity.

Offering an Auto Train to take cars off the road just opens up that capacity for other drivers to fill, who might currently be avoiding driving because of the traffic levels.

The real answer is to make development and infrastructure decisions that encourage people to not default to the car. It’s not about forcing people out of their cars or forbidding them from driving any moreso than New Yorkers aren’t forbidden from driving stupidly large pickup trucks everywhere. Most folks in Europe aren’t forbidden from owning and driving their own cars either. But the cities are just set up so that they don’t need to, and doing so represents more of an inconvenience than anything else.

If we were going to run a hypothetical Auto Train to New York, because someone supposedly doesn’t want to drive through all the traffic to get there, then what do they expect to do when they’re there?
 

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The real answer is to make development and infrastructure decisions that encourage people to not default to the car. It’s not about forcing people out of their cars or forbidding them from driving any moreso than New Yorkers aren’t forbidden from driving stupidly large pickup trucks everywhere. Most folks in Europe aren’t forbidden from owning and driving their own cars either. But the cities are just set up so that they don’t need to, and doing so represents more of an inconvenience than anything else.
This would have been a great answer as recently as the 1990's but decades of inaction mean a modern solution would need to be relatively drastic. There is a growing disconnect between relatively palatable solutions proposed in public and the increasingly severe changes required to actually move the needle.
 
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caravanman

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I think that one can be "green" and at the same time oppose heavy handed attempts to force us willy-nilly into changes of lifestyle where the infrastructure is not ready to support it.
If the world is wedded to a global warming fuel strategy, for reasons best known to oil and coal producing and consuming countries, so be it.

I just felt that more Auto Trains are reinforcing the present day silly trends.

Why not instead start to create that "missing infrastructure" ?
 

jebr

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In your words, most of us actually are "desperate" to own our vehicles here. We generally love our vehicles.

Many people are only "desperate" to own a vehicle because it's the only reasonable option to be able to participate fully in American society. Not having a car in basically every metro area means having significantly longer commutes, far fewer jobs accessible, long trips to run daily errands, and simply feeling as though you're a second-class citizen. Outside of metro areas? You're basically abandoned. When you've given people no other choice, they're going to be desperate for the only choice that works!

As long as we keep the mindset that owning and operating a large metal vehicle is the best/most desirable way to structure our society, we'll be unable to have effective public transportation in most of the country, we'll continue to barrel down the path to destroying our planet for human use, and we'll be forced to spend hundreds of dollars a month on a piece of machinery that not everyone can even safely operate.

I don't "love" my vehicle. I begrudgingly accept that I basically have to have it in order to do what I want to do. I'd much rather see us focus on making America a country where having a car is the expensive, difficult option - one that people aren't forced to give up, but one that pays for the full cost of its impact on society, and one that we don't cater our society to serve, especially above every other form of transportation. All of that requires that we have effective public transportation, alternative transit options, better land use decisions, etc. - it can't happen in a vacuum. But forcing us to just accept society basically "as is" or just nibbling around the edges to make change happen is simply unworkable to even have a chance of mitigating the worst of climate change on the human race.
 

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Coming back to Auto Trains, I don't think any of them will be viable without significant ongoing cash infusion to subsidize operations if fares are to be kept low enough for anyone to use them. That is leaving aside the very significant amount of capital infusion that will be needed to even get any of them started in the first place. In short, I can think of a dozen other more effective ways of spending that money to reduce greenhouse gases than to try to run Auto Trains.
 
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As I've said before I could see seasonal variations of Auto Trains - like midwest to the SW for snowbirds, to the Rockies for skiers and tourists. But as JIS says there is the subsidy issue. I don't think anywhere else in the country has quite the traffic over a long distance that the eastern seaboard does (maybe California). A lot of the European short hop Auto Trains are over mountains where they are an alternative to road building (and use single-level ride on carriers - like in Switzerland). I think there used to be some (or more) longer distance routes* in Europe, but I don't know much about them - like through Germany to avoid the Autobahns.

*Just looking at Wikipedia it seems to be more common than I realized - I'd thought a lot of them were or had been discontinued a long time ago.
 

jis

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As I've said before I could see seasonal variations of Auto Trains - like midwest to the SW for snowbirds, to the Rockies for skiers and tourists. But as JIS says there is the subsidy issue. I don't think anywhere else in the country has quite the traffic over a long distance that the eastern seaboard does (maybe California). A lot of the European short hop Auto Trains are over mountains where they are an alternative to road building (and use single-level ride on carriers - like in Switzerland). I think there used to be some (or more) longer distance routes* in Europe, but I don't know much about them - like through Germany to avoid the Autobahns.

*Just looking at Wikipedia it seems to be more common than I realized - I'd thought a lot of them were or had been discontinued a long time ago.
European style relatively low cost tag on a couple of auto carriers on a few trains is more possibly viable as an add-on operation than a full fledged AutoTrain operation as seen on the Atlantic Coast Auto Train service. But it won't have anything beyond extremely marginal environmental effect.
 
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Auto carrier facilities exist all over the country but we rarely think about them because they're usually located deep in an industrial area, next to an assembly plant, or inside a multimodal interchange. Maybe some disused facilities could be repurposed and some in-use facilities could be shared with a future auto train. It's a long shot idea but building big and leveraging economies of scale may be the only way to make more auto trains viable under current conditions.
 
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European style relatively low cost tag on a couple of auto carriers on a few trains is more possibly viable as an add-on operation than a full fledged AutoTrain operation as seen on the Atlantic Coast Auto Train service. But it won;t have anything beyond extremely marginal environmental effect.
We're riding the Acela up to Boston and renting a car this summer rather than our usual 14 hour drive up to Maine. The car rental is about $959 for a week and a half. I don't know what the Acela fare is for 2 people, as I booked on points, but I would imagine that it's about $300 or so. Under those circumstances, I wouldn't mind an auto train that would load up me and my car and take us through the horrible traffic of Philadelphia-New York and such.

One puzzle would be where to load and unload, as most of the major NEC stations don't really have space for handling auto-racks. Perhaps they could attach the auto racks to the existing 65/66/67 and adding stops at Lorton, perhaps the Bayview Yard northeast of Baltimore, but I'm still not sure where they could unload in the Boston area. If they have space at South Station, that might work, as driving out of downtown Boston shouldn't involve too much traffic, and once you clear Boston, traffic moves along pretty nicely.

Another puzzle is that perhaps the auto racks don't fit in the Hudson River tunnels -- or the Baltimore tunnels, either. In that case, the auto train would have to run on the CSX route through the Northeast Corridor (assuming they can fit through the Howard Street tunnel in Baltimore and that CSX would even agree to such a thing.) Then they could run up the west shore line along the Hudson and have on-and offloading stops near Albany, Springfield, and Worcester.
 
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