Monday, December 29, 2008

Now We're Thinkin'

An article in today's Post Gazette talks about a proposal study to, what else, study. More specifically to study the feasibility of a heavy rail shuttle (for lack of a better term) that would run from Hazelwood through Oakland, on existing tracks (owned by CSXT but operated by Allegheny Valley Railroad (AVR)), and then run to Lawrenceville (on tracks owned and operated by the AVR).

The concept is designed to link areas of high tech concentration, almost creating a high tech corridor. The second part of the idea is to spur growth in Hazelwood, which I'm not sure if you have driven through there lately, but it's near death, and moving towards the "light", and by light, I don't mean economic revival.

(I wonder if this whole study has anything to do with the loss of D'Imperio's market. A market that has closed because of increased crime and lost business, and whose closing has caused quite a bit of controversy. It may sound crazy, but this could be an overture to show residents of Hazelwood, that hey, someone gives a crap about this neighborhood. Thus meaning that it's chances of completion are slim to none. I am going to put my cynicism aside for a moment and assume the proposal is genuine.)

If the proposal was truly made in good faith, it's an encouraging sign and overall, a good idea. It shows that local leadership (government) is willing to think about alternatives to expanding transportation, aside from building more highways. It could also act to attract high-tech businesses to Pittsburgh, in a continued effort to re-make its image as a High Tech oasis amid a rust belt dessert.

However, there are a couple of ideas to keep in mind before we all get too giddy about the idea:

#1. Even if this idea does come to fruition, this would be study #1 of approximately 100,000 yet to come. Translation, this idea is a looooooong way from being anywhere close to reality.

#2. Is this the most cost effective way to do things? Granted, it's great that the infrastructure is already there, and the fact that it's in relatively good shape (Good enough that Amtrak runs 2 trains a day over CSX owned portions of it. The AVR owned portion may need some work). However, Heavy Rail is not cheap to operate, especially over short distances, and for a (at most) 5 mile shuttle, that seems like it could be expensive. You would need high ridership to make it cost effective, and I'm not exactly sure running a frequent shuttle between the locations would justify the operating costs.

That's not to say it couldn't work. I think if you incorporate it as part of a larger system, and slightly re-designed it, you would have a hell of an idea. You've already got talk of a Heavy Rail system using self propelled rail cars* with one line going from Arnold to Pittsburgh, and the other from Greensburg to Pittsburgh, why not integrate it?

Food for thought, and since I'm such a dork, who finds dreaming up transportation systems in my head fun, I will be creating a post soon that will discuss such a system, that already exists...IN MY HEAD.

*As an interesting side note, a company called Colorado Rail Car, built a self propelled rail car called the "DMU" or Diesel Multiple Unit. These were the proposed vehicle for a heavy commuter system in Pittsburgh. (they actually ran a demonstration train from Oakmont in 2004) While doing a little research for this post, I found an interesting message on their website, it looks like the DMU isn't the answer. I wonder what potential impacts this could have on a commuter system in Pittsburgh?

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