Montana Rail Authority calling for Amtrak route study

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neroden

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Anyway, those of us who are looking at real numbers know that the stations aren't going to cost a significant amount.

The real question is what will be required in terms of track upgrades. That's generally far more expensive than stations.

Because of the rural nature of the line, I am going to make the assumption that the effort will be made to keep the price down -- no gold-plating, sandbagging, "throw in the kitchen sink" designs. This is perhaps an overly hopeful assumption...

Someone here who used to work in transportation planning (Wilbridge, IIRC?) pointed out specific ways in which the 2009 study was sandbagged by not even considering expert suggestions from him and others on how to keep costs down. I have heard statements from people inside Amtrak that the 2009 study was not done seriously because they didn't like the project. This shows in certain areas where they simply didn't bother to get cost estimates at all (see below).

That said, I just reviewed the 2009 study and it estimated the TOTAL station costs at $17.6 million -- for more stations than the minimal customer-serving number which I assumed. That's lower than my estimates! Amtrak, like me, assumed that only platform and parking was needed; their station cost estimates are in the $1 million range each.

Stations are minimal and can be funded individually by localities; one or two crewbases are minimal; but track upgrades are going to be a *lot*.

It's inevitable that that the project will require a *lot* of track upgrades. And this is going to be the bulk of the construction cost.

- I don't know the speed limits to which the line is currently maintained... but I do know they're too low in some places, lower than they were when this line was running passenger trains.

- I don't know how much of the line is currently double-tracked, but it appears that the answer is "not much". I don't know how many sidings it has, but I believe it's fewer than when it was running many passenger trains. It's not going to be enough and some new sidings will be required for passenger train to pass slow freight trains.

- All the freight operators really prefer station sidings at this point, and while BNSF is cooperative and likely to not demand them at every single station, there are going to be stations where they want an additional track at the station. In single-track territory, this would be to run opposite-direction freights past passenger trains. In places like Mandan, the area next to the station is a yard, and freight trains are using the tracks closest to the station for yard work; to change those tracks to station tracks, they'll require that their yard tracks be replaced.

The situation has probably changed since 2009 and the 2009 study says outright that there's "significant uncertainty" in the costs, *and* it was done in a fairly slapdash manner because Amtrak wasn't really that interested in it, but they *did* ask the host railroads what would be necessary (the host railroads will probably have changed their mind since then) and had specific project lists. At the time, these were the costs:

-- $44 million for equilateral turnouts between Chicago and St. Paul on the entrance and exit to single-track segments. I suspect that today, with higher traffic, this would be replaced with a call for more double-tracking, at higher costs. On the other hand, some of the double-tracking work may have already been done for freight service so some costs may have disappeared.
-- $24 million for more double-tracking between St. Paul and Fargo. To the extent this hasn't been done, this is probably still an accurate estimate. (I know some additional tracks have already been put in between St Cloud and MSP, so again some of the costs may have disappeared)
-- $307.3 million between Fargo and Jones, Montana. This is mostly for new sidings, plus grade crossing upgrades and powered switches and a major upgrade of the connecting track at Fargo. This is the bulk of the entire capital costs, and from some comments in the study, I suspect they've underestimated the needs.
-- $23 million from Jones, Montana to Helena, Montana for sidings and crossovers
-- an undetermined and unknown amount for a passenger track to bypass Laurel Yard, which isn't included in the study numbers because they didn't bother to price it out (they weren't really serious about the study)
-- $6 million from Helena to Sandpoint
-- $24 million from Sandpoint to Spokane
-- $96 million from Spokane to Pasco for double-tracking
-- $95 million from Pasco to Seattle for signalling and upgrading 221 miles of "dark territory", which really sounds like an underestimate to me. I would consider sending the train to Portland and be done with it; I don't know what the ridership difference would be between sending it to Portland vs. sending it to Seattle, but that question would have to be redone with a new study as all the demographics have changed. Seattle is a 4 million person metro area versus Portland's 2.5 million, however -- a factor of 1.6 -- so sending it to Seattle might be worth the $100 million+ in track upgrades. On the other hand, if this is the deciding factor on whether it's "too expensive" for the politicians' taste, just forget it and send the train to Portland.
-- Unknown amounts for installing PTC. At this point, much of the line already has PTC, but of course it would be needed for the parts which don't.

My summary: to a first-order estimate, the cost depends on how much of the line needs to be double-tracked / needs new sidings.

The other capital cost listed was $330 million for new trainsets, but they assumed bilevels, so let's try again. They somewhat pessimistically assume 6 trainsets, but let's go with that, since fewer trainsets would mean more expensive track upgrades which would probably cost more.

Nowadays, I think we can assume they'll be buying Siemens single-level cars and locomotives. Assume 2 locos per train (total 12) with Siemens's efficiency and fuel capacity; they're about $7 million per loco based on the standalone locomotive-only orders I found prices for, or $84 million. If you had to run 3 locos per train (you shouldn't) then it would be $126 million.

It's harder to estimate how many single-level cars will be needed. Approximately 4 sleepers, 5 coaches, diner, lounge, that's 11 cars per train or about 66. The cars appear to cost $3.5 million each based on the VIA order (though 1/5 of the VIA order is cab cars, which are more expensive, so it's a substantial overestimate) so that's $231 million.

So that would be about $315 million, or $357 million with 3 locos per train.
 

Willbridge

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Anyway, those of us who are looking at real numbers know that the stations aren't going to cost a significant amount.

The real question is what will be required in terms of track upgrades. That's generally far more expensive than stations.

Because of the rural nature of the line, I am going to make the assumption that the effort will be made to keep the price down -- no gold-plating, sandbagging, "throw in the kitchen sink" designs. This is perhaps an overly hopeful assumption...

Someone here who used to work in transportation planning (Wilbridge, IIRC?) pointed out specific ways in which the 2009 study was sandbagged by not even considering expert suggestions from him and others on how to keep costs down. I have heard statements from people inside Amtrak that the 2009 study was not done seriously because they didn't like the project. This shows in certain areas where they simply didn't bother to get cost estimates at all (see below).

That said, I just reviewed the 2009 study and it estimated the TOTAL station costs at $17.6 million -- for more stations than the minimal customer-serving number which I assumed. That's lower than my estimates! Amtrak, like me, assumed that only platform and parking was needed; their station cost estimates are in the $1 million range each.

Stations are minimal and can be funded individually by localities; one or two crewbases are minimal; but track upgrades are going to be a *lot*.

It's inevitable that that the project will require a *lot* of track upgrades. And this is going to be the bulk of the construction cost.

- I don't know the speed limits to which the line is currently maintained... but I do know they're too low in some places, lower than they were when this line was running passenger trains.

- I don't know how much of the line is currently double-tracked, but it appears that the answer is "not much". I don't know how many sidings it has, but I believe it's fewer than when it was running many passenger trains. It's not going to be enough and some new sidings will be required for passenger train to pass slow freight trains.

- All the freight operators really prefer station sidings at this point, and while BNSF is cooperative and likely to not demand them at every single station, there are going to be stations where they want an additional track at the station. In single-track territory, this would be to run opposite-direction freights past passenger trains. In places like Mandan, the area next to the station is a yard, and freight trains are using the tracks closest to the station for yard work; to change those tracks to station tracks, they'll require that their yard tracks be replaced.

The situation has probably changed since 2009 and the 2009 study says outright that there's "significant uncertainty" in the costs, *and* it was done in a fairly slapdash manner because Amtrak wasn't really that interested in it, but they *did* ask the host railroads what would be necessary (the host railroads will probably have changed their mind since then) and had specific project lists. At the time, these were the costs:

-- $44 million for equilateral turnouts between Chicago and St. Paul on the entrance and exit to single-track segments. I suspect that today, with higher traffic, this would be replaced with a call for more double-tracking, at higher costs. On the other hand, some of the double-tracking work may have already been done for freight service so some costs may have disappeared.
-- $24 million for more double-tracking between St. Paul and Fargo. To the extent this hasn't been done, this is probably still an accurate estimate. (I know some additional tracks have already been put in between St Cloud and MSP, so again some of the costs may have disappeared)
-- $307.3 million between Fargo and Jones, Montana. This is mostly for new sidings, plus grade crossing upgrades and powered switches and a major upgrade of the connecting track at Fargo. This is the bulk of the entire capital costs, and from some comments in the study, I suspect they've underestimated the needs.
-- $23 million from Jones, Montana to Helena, Montana for sidings and crossovers
-- an undetermined and unknown amount for a passenger track to bypass Laurel Yard, which isn't included in the study numbers because they didn't bother to price it out (they weren't really serious about the study)
-- $6 million from Helena to Sandpoint
-- $24 million from Sandpoint to Spokane
-- $96 million from Spokane to Pasco for double-tracking
-- $95 million from Pasco to Seattle for signalling and upgrading 221 miles of "dark territory", which really sounds like an underestimate to me. I would consider sending the train to Portland and be done with it; I don't know what the ridership difference would be between sending it to Portland vs. sending it to Seattle, but that question would have to be redone with a new study as all the demographics have changed. Seattle is a 4 million person metro area versus Portland's 2.5 million, however -- a factor of 1.6 -- so sending it to Seattle might be worth the $100 million+ in track upgrades. On the other hand, if this is the deciding factor on whether it's "too expensive" for the politicians' taste, just forget it and send the train to Portland.
-- Unknown amounts for installing PTC. At this point, much of the line already has PTC, but of course it would be needed for the parts which don't.

My summary: to a first-order estimate, the cost depends on how much of the line needs to be double-tracked / needs new sidings.

The other capital cost listed was $330 million for new trainsets, but they assumed bilevels, so let's try again. They somewhat pessimistically assume 6 trainsets, but let's go with that, since fewer trainsets would mean more expensive track upgrades which would probably cost more.

Nowadays, I think we can assume they'll be buying Siemens single-level cars and locomotives. Assume 2 locos per train (total 12) with Siemens's efficiency and fuel capacity; they're about $7 million per loco based on the standalone locomotive-only orders I found prices for, or $84 million. If you had to run 3 locos per train (you shouldn't) then it would be $126 million.

It's harder to estimate how many single-level cars will be needed. Approximately 4 sleepers, 5 coaches, diner, lounge, that's 11 cars per train or about 66. The cars appear to cost $3.5 million each based on the VIA order (though 1/5 of the VIA order is cab cars, which are more expensive, so it's a substantial overestimate) so that's $231 million.

So that would be about $315 million, or $357 million with 3 locos per train.
I worked on the 2008-2009 Pioneer study for ColoRail, and we never had a chance to debate its results. And there were lots of questions to ask, but I don't know as much about the two other studies in the same project (the Sunset was the third in the batch).

Here are some of the real-life stations on the Pioneer route where a municipality had not stepped in that might relate to this thread.

Taking this photo almost got me arrested by UP police. Google, the County and I thought I was taking this from the county road right-of-way. UP police thought everything belonged to the UP.
34.jpg

Gateway to Sun Valley.
Shoshone 09A.jpg

One of my favorites... the bars on the wrong side of the tracks in Shoshone attract trespassers, so the UP proposed a long fence here. The slowest trains here would be passenger trains stopping. Freights go blasting through. Looking at the age of the saloons, any pedestrian problem goes back to E. H. Harriman's time, but suddenly it was going to be a cost of restoring the Pioneer.
Shoshone 11A.jpg

Borie, later called "West Cheyenne" ...
A-1228 Amtrak SFZephyr6 Borie WY 26Jan80k.jpg

Keep those passengers out of the [Pendleton] station.
Pendleton093.jpg

"It's just like an airplane!" Amfleet cars in long-distance service.
1978 077.jpg
 

CCC1007

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I worked on the 2008-2009 Pioneer study for ColoRail, and we never had a chance to debate its results. And there were lots of questions to ask, but I don't know as much about the two other studies in the same project (the Sunset was the third in the batch).

Here are some of the real-life stations on the Pioneer route where a municipality had not stepped in that might relate to this thread.

Taking this photo almost got me arrested by UP police. Google, the County and I thought I was taking this from the county road right-of-way. UP police thought everything belonged to the UP.
View attachment 26704

Gateway to Sun Valley.
View attachment 26706

One of my favorites... the bars on the wrong side of the tracks in Shoshone attract trespassers, so the UP proposed a long fence here. The slowest trains here would be passenger trains stopping. Freights go blasting through. Looking at the age of the saloons, any pedestrian problem goes back to E. H. Harriman's time, but suddenly it was going to be a cost of restoring the Pioneer.
View attachment 26707

Borie, later called "West Cheyenne" ...
View attachment 26708

Keep those passengers out of the [Pendleton] station.
View attachment 26709

"It's just like an airplane!" Amfleet cars in long-distance service.
View attachment 26710
Thanks for the images of the stations, and what can qualify as a shelter for a small town unmanned train station.
 

Willbridge

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I checked the original schedule and for the 895-mile PDX<>SLC trip they added two agency stations: Boise and Salt Lake City. Later, Pocatello was added.

I ran across the attached item summarizing our criticism. It was pooh-poohed by Amtrak. This critique does include a few references to the other two studies.
 

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They should have made those pooh-poohers go wait for the train in Borie in January, That would teach them!
There is a great scene in the episode "Great Railway Journeys of the World: episode "Coast to Coast" where the narrator experiences the Borie station 🥶 In general a great series that unfortunately never made it to DVD. I have some episodes that I taped off the TV at the time.
 

jis

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I checked the original schedule and for the 895-mile PDX<>SLC trip they added two agency stations: Boise and Salt Lake City. Later, Pocatello was added.

I ran across the attached item summarizing our criticism. It was pooh-poohed by Amtrak. This critique does include a few references to the other two studies.
Could you provide links to the attachments mentioned in the document? Without them it is hard to figure out some of the arguments presented. Thanks.
 

Willbridge

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Could you provide links to the attachments mentioned in the document? Without them it is hard to figure out some of the arguments presented. Thanks.
My source for the agency stations was the inaugural public timetable. I have a paper copy, but after lunch I'll find it in the online archive or scan it.

My source for the critique of the "study" was the *.pdf attached above. I'm not sure if the Amtrak consultant's report is still online. If not, I hope I still have it on file. I'll look.
 

Willbridge

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My source for the agency stations was the inaugural public timetable. I have a paper copy, but after lunch I'll find it in the online archive or scan it.

My source for the critique of the "study" was the *.pdf attached above. I'm not sure if the Amtrak consultant's report is still online. If not, I hope I still have it on file. I'll look.

Here's the Amtrak consultant's report: Pioneer Route Passenger Rail Study
Note that the NARP comments, reflecting their national obligations, refer to the Cascadia study, assuming that it would be included in the Amtrak document. So, it was available, but was left out of the comments.

Here's the initial timetable: 1977 06 22 original Pioneer schedule with agent info

Sometime before this timetable an agent was added at Pocatello:
1980 10 26 Pioneer schedule with agent info

Trivia: somehow the route grew by a mile between 1977 and 1980.

The Cheyenne<>Denver line that the Amtrak report stated was inadequate.
Near the Boulder/Larimer county line in these photos, installation of welded rail and new ties has continued. The route handles intermodal trains and hazardous commodities.
DEN Spring Summer 2009 026k.jpg

DEN Spring Summer 2009 025k.jpg
 
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jis

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Mailliw

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BNSF has joined the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority. We probably shouldn't assume that they're actually in favor of passenger service; it's just as likely they just want a seat at the table to get the best deal they can.
 

Willbridge

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BNSF has joined the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority. We probably shouldn't assume that they're actually in favor of passenger service; it's just as likely they just want a seat at the table to get the best deal they can.
I've been support staff for various projects involving BNSF and they have a calm and reasoned approach to the issues. They even have a policy statement for commuter rail that outlines their position. It infers the approach they would take with Big Sky.

On my one visit to their office in Fort Worth I found that they were knowledgeable about our needs as well as theirs. D. J. Mitchell, who recently retired as head of their passenger program, reads and speaks German and knows about European approaches. His office library included studies of different systems. His deputy had collected info from us in advance and was able to run schedule alternatives and we kicked around some ideas. The word "businesslike" comes to mind. Other words come to mind when recalling some other companies.

I think some of this goes back to their heritage with the Hill lines and the Santa Fe. Only the Frisco had a negative attitude toward passengers and it gave us Menk. As a Trains magazine article once described, he struggled with employees who wanted to do a good job in an economically efficient manner.
 

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