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How much would it cost for Amtrak to build their own tracks nationwide?

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Nick Farr

Lead Service Attendant
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Dec 25, 2019
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264
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Michigan
The fact of the matter though is that the LD network will just futz along as is unless we are able to significantly improve timeliness, reliability and speed. I am not suggesting 320kph (200mph), but it would sure be nice to get to a 160kph (100mph) norm as a starter.
I'm fine with them just making their scheduled arrival times. I don't really think the CZ would be improved much if it turned into a 1 Day trip.

That being said, the DOJ has to enforce the law when it comes to freight railroads, as well as targeted improvement of the ROW so passenger trains can bypass freight more easily.

I think Brightline in Florida is following an approach in terms of speed and dispatch reliability that should be repeatable elsewhere if unused real estate in existing ROWs were utilized to build passenger exclusive, or at least predominant passenger use, tracks to 160-200kph (100-125mph) standard of track quality and safety gear.
I think once Texas HSR comes on line it will start to inspire similar projects elsewhere. As far as redevelopment goes, building a comprehensive public transit system or leveraging existing public transit systems together is the way to rebuilding a national network.

Right now our LD trains are--as you said--limping along like it's 1970.
 

west point

Conductor
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Jun 9, 2015
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This poster really wants to see these improvements for HrSR. How ever there is the real problem of grade crossing excursions. One solution is eliminate all grade crossings but that is very expensive on top of the expense of getting the tracks to those speeds. Until drivers have the fear of major fines and time in the pokey these speeds might mean the quick reduction of operative equipment until not enough to maintain schedules.
 

joelkfla

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Oct 16, 2018
Messages
179
I think Brightline in Florida is following an approach in terms of speed and dispatch reliability that should be repeatable elsewhere if unused real estate in existing ROWs were utilized to build passenger exclusive, or at least predominant passenger use, tracks to 160-200kph (100-125mph) standard of track quality and safety gear.
And they wouldn't even need to string overhead.
How ever there is the real problem of grade crossing excursions.
Don't quiet-zone type improvements eliminate a lot of those? Can the gates be timed to come down when a train is sufficiently far from the crossing to stop safely, and incursion detection equipment initiate an automatic emergency stop if a vehicle is on the tracks at that time?
 
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Qapla

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Jul 15, 2019
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Gator Country Florida
Can the gates be timed to come down when a train is sufficiently far from the crossing to stop safely,
A long timespan between the arms coming down and the train arriving is one of the reasons impatient drivers go around the arms. To be effective the arms need to completely block all lanes in all directions from all sides - even then, some would rush in when they see them coming down and get trapped in between the arms
 

joelkfla

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Oct 16, 2018
Messages
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A long timespan between the arms coming down and the train arriving is one of the reasons impatient drivers go around the arms. To be effective the arms need to completely block all lanes in all directions from all sides - even then, some would rush in when they see them coming down and get trapped in between the arms
Yes, you would need to have four-quadrant gates blocking all lanes in both directions. I've seen crossings where the gates on the outward side close a few seconds after the ones on the inward side, to reduce the chance of entrapment.

A means of detecting a car on the tracks when the gates close, and triggering an emergency stop, would take care of the last minute racers who don't make it thru. It can also cause the outward gate to raise so the trapped vehicle can escape. The technology exists, and has been tested at some crossings on the NEC in Connecticut.
 
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caravanman

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Mar 22, 2004
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Nottingham, England.
I think one has to view Amtrak long distance trains from the freight railroads perspective too, to get an idea of what improvements could be made to the timeliness and reliability of services on existing tracks.
I assume none of us know how much income the freight trains generate, and how much that depends on "On time" pickup and delivery?
Unless the costs to the freight railroad are more when they impede the passage of Amtrak, than the costs of their late freight trains, I guess things will not change much.
Amtrak has a part to play too, by ensuring their trains arrive at mutually agreed times at mutually agreed locations to fit in with the traffic flow.
I appreciate that my interest in the long distance trains does not coincide with the wish for high speed rail that others have mentioned. For me the fun of rail travel is the slow pace, seeing the scenery outside. I have ridden the TGV trains in France, and to be honest, they are quick, but not much fun along the way!
 

Trogdor

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Aug 3, 2004
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Here
I assume none of us know how much income the freight trains generate, and how much that depends on "On time" pickup and delivery?
A decade ago, a BNSF manager once told me that some of the higher revenue trains will pull in $250,000 revenue (not profit/net income, just sales revenue) per departure.

I did some digging a while back (and shame on me, I keep forgetting to bookmark the links where I find this info because I’d love to go back to it and get more information) that gave sample rates of freight train revenues. I want to say that the revenue is in the neighborhood of a couple hundred dollars per car-mile. Basically, they take in a ton of revenue. I seem to recall my calculations that if a long-distance Amtrak train were to match the revenue of a freight train on a per-mile basis, it would require several hundred passengers paying higher-bucket sleeper fares.

They money they get from Amtrak in track access charges is a drop in the bucket, in comparison. Even if delays (and associated penalties) brought their Amtrak income to zero, it still wouldn’t be more painful, financially, than having to reduce freight traffic to let Amtrak through on time. This, right here, is the crux of the issue for why freight railroads don’t like Amtrak. An Amtrak train can take up more than one freight train slot (because of higher speeds, plus, sometimes, the need to accommodate a train going the “wrong way” on a long, single-track railroad when the freights could otherwise fleet their trains), yet brings them very little revenue to do so. Amtrak OTP does okay when the railroad is not full, but when freight traffic picks up to the point where they need every possible slot, OTP goes down the toilet. And it doesn’t matter how “friendly” the railroad supposedly is, either.

Remember when the Empire Builder, running on “passenger-friendly” BNSF had the best OTP of any long-distance train (early to mid 2000s)? Then, suddenly, BNSF realized that their little-used freight line in northern North Dakota (so little used that they were ready to abandon a part of it through Devil’s Lake, and Amtrak was drafting up plans for a reroute) was useful for all of the oil fracking going on in North Dakota, and almost overnight, the Builder’s OTP dropped to nearly zero. It got to the point where Amtrak had to add an extra consist to the Seattle & Portland end because otherwise trains had no chance of departing the west coast on time.

Take a freight train pulling in $250,000 on a route half the length of the Empire Builder, and then try to see what a passenger train would have to earn in fares to even come close to that, and the math becomes very difficult to pencil out in favor of the passenger train in any scenario where both share the same tracks and you are facing potential traffic that is meeting or exceeding those capacity limits.
 

jiml

Conductor
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Feb 27, 2019
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Toronto area
This poster really wants to see these improvements for HrSR. How ever there is the real problem of grade crossing excursions. One solution is eliminate all grade crossings but that is very expensive on top of the expense of getting the tracks to those speeds. Until drivers have the fear of major fines and time in the pokey these speeds might mean the quick reduction of operative equipment until not enough to maintain schedules.
Any time spent watching railcams across the continent will illustrate the number of near-misses, since most are positioned in sight of crossings.
 

20th Century Rider

OBS Chief
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Jan 26, 2020
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Oregon Coast
Beyond what priorities American tax dollars go towards. But OMG... we are so far behind other developed nations. China can average high speed rail construction at a draw dropping pace... roadbed and all. Watch this!

 

Qapla

Conductor
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Jul 15, 2019
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Gator Country Florida
Nice!

... but where is the piano on the equipment?



Did you also watch the videos of them laying the track ... very efficient! (and they had an entire orchestra with them)
 

joelkfla

Service Attendant
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Oct 16, 2018
Messages
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But the people in power in China can do whatever they darn well please -- no pesky voters or corporations trying to maximize profits to worry about. Not really a fair comparison to the USA.
 

railiner

Conductor
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Mar 20, 2009
Messages
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South Florida
So ... which would overpass style cost more
  • Build the tracks to go over the roads
  • Build the roads to go over the tracks
Assuming they are crossing on flat land, with no other geographical or structural limitations, I would think that it would cost more to elevate the tracks. My reasoning is because trains would need a much longer overpass, due to their need for a more gradual grade. Again assuming that the roadway was roughly the same width as the railway. If a multi lane freeway was crossing a single track, that would alter the calculation....
 

20th Century Rider

OBS Chief
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Jan 26, 2020
Messages
706
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Oregon Coast
Assuming they are crossing on flat land, with no other geographical or structural limitations, I would think that it would cost more to elevate the tracks. My reasoning is because trains would need a much longer overpass, due to their need for a more gradual grade. Again assuming that the roadway was roughly the same width as the railway. If a multi lane freeway was crossing a single track, that would alter the calculation....
With high speed rail... the right of way predominates as can be seen in Europe and Asia... the trackage is straight and true regardless of mountains, roads, even rivers.
 

toddinde

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Apr 23, 2015
Messages
130
Location
Sierra Vista, AZ
But the people in power in China can do whatever they darn well please -- no pesky voters or corporations trying to maximize profits to worry about. Not really a fair comparison to the USA.
But all polls repeatedly show that people want rail. The maximizing profit thing is the problem. People have a right to have the kind of society they want. China is a repressive society, and that’s bad. But what they’ve done to create synergy between national policies and priorities and corporate action is impressive. Thus the fact that China’s economic growth rate has blown America’s away. It’s not only authoritarian regimes that get to have nice things. Europe as well. When you travel overseas, you realize that the US is teetering on the edge of the first world, with trains that run at speeds common in the 1930s, a homeless problem out of control, and a large percentage of Americans with a living standard that isn’t even close to the poor in other countries. We can go on celebrating corporate greed, worship profits over people, watch as the US continues to decline and have its lunch eaten by China, and become a country that’s backward, dirty, and poor, or we can demand better. We’re Americans, and it’s time we quit making excuses and did something, like have a respectable, national, passenger railroad.
 

MARC Rider

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Apr 5, 2011
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Baltimore. MD
They should have sidings long enough for a super long freight train on all the lines.
For these corridors, especially if you want to run "dozens of trains per day," the extra track capacity is not just to bypass "super long freight trains," but also to allow room for the "dozens of [passenger] trains per day," which might not all be Amtrak trains.
 

MARC Rider

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Apr 5, 2011
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Baltimore. MD
1. The North American rail system is so Third World that expecting to build 320 km/hr (200 mph) high speed rail is perhaps too much of a stretch for any known method of financing it. After all, you need to crawl before you can walk, and you need to walk before you can run marathons. If you can build a system that has 100 - 130 km/hr (60-80 mph) end to end average speed, it can be perfectly competitive with driving, and a lot less expensive to build. Most of this can probably be done by relatively minor expansion of existing infrastructure and additional track maintenance. In the real hinterlands where there are only one or two long-distance trains a day, what is mainly needed are more and longer sidings.

2. That said, there are a few places where the existing rail routes are either so curvy and have such high grades or have out of the way routes that bypass current population centers that some new tracks would be in order. I'm thinking mostly of the routes that cross the central Appalachians, particularly the old B&O main the Capitol Ltd. uses and the old PRR main used by the Pennsylvanian. The slow running over the mountains limits the potential for Baltimore/Washington - Pittsburgh corridor service and Philadelphia - Pittsburgh corridor service, and the old PRR route completely bypasses State College, PA, about the largest population concentration between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh and full of potentially train-riding students. Again, we don't need 160+ km/hr (100 mph) running, it just needs to be as fast or faster than driving.
 

west point

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Jun 9, 2015
Messages
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Assuming they are crossing on flat land, with no other geographical or structural limitations, I would think that it would cost more to elevate the tracks. My reasoning is because trains would need a much longer overpass, due to their need for a more gradual grade. Again assuming that the roadway was roughly the same width as the railway. If a multi lane freeway was crossing a single track, that would alter the calculation....
A problem this poster did not realize is there is a requirement to notchange the grade of a HSR very quickly. That is a track climbing a 2% grade to cross over a highway and then immediately go to 2% down hill is verboten. Grade changes have to be changed slowly other wise a HSR train would fly off the tracks over a road.. Road bridge over a rail line is less expensive and operating expenses for the train is less.
 

railiner

Conductor
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Mar 20, 2009
Messages
8,153
Location
South Florida
Assuming they are crossing on flat land, with no other geographical or structural limitations, I would think that it would cost more to elevate the tracks. My reasoning is because trains would need a much longer overpass, due to their need for a more gradual grade. Again assuming that the roadway was roughly the same width as the railway. If a multi lane freeway was crossing a single track, that would alter the calculation....
A problem this poster did not realize is there is a requirement to notchange the grade of a HSR very quickly. That is a track climbing a 2% grade to cross over a highway and then immediately go to 2% down hill is verboten. Grade changes have to be changed slowly other wise a HSR train would fly off the tracks over a road.. Road bridge over a rail line is less expensive and operating expenses for the train is less.
I believe that is what I have said...if you are referring to me as "this poster".....?
 
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