Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My Idea for Heavy Rail Service in the East End Part 4

Well, I'm getting close to the end, I figure one more post after this one, and we can put this topic to bed (at least until it goes through its ridiculous transformation or bastardization during the political approval process).

I'll talk about the "shuttle", the idea that led to this whole mini-blog series. Keep in mind, I don't know how keen I am on the shuttle, and if there is one portion of the service that should get the axe if you can't make it work, it should be this "shuttle". Heavy rail's advantage over other forms of transportation come from its ability to efficiently and cost effectively move lots of people over (relatively) longer distances. Heavy rail is not ideal for "intra-city" movement. If a shuttle can be integrated into a larger heavy rail system relatively seamlessly, then fine, but if it cannot, service on the other routes should not be sacrificed to make the shuttle work.

Key Changes

The biggest change for my version of the shuttle vs. the version proposed in the Post Gazette is the deletion of the Lawrenceville stop. My reasoning for deleting this stop was, once again the K.I.S.S. principle. The way the current infrastructure is set up, a shuttle train coming from Downtown, and headed to Lawrenceville would have to either: #1 Back up to Lawrenceville ( reverse moves are not easy to make, someone has to physically ride the back of the train, and they must travel at slow speed) or, #2 if they would use a train with engineer controls at both ends, the train would have to sit, occupying the tracks while the engineer changes ends of the train.

Either backing up or sitting occupying space on the busiest portions of the proposed system could very easily throw a wrench into the works.

Hazelwood to Downtown Shuttle (Red)

The Shuttle would operate from Hazelwood sharing rails with the Blue Line (New Ken/Arnold to Hazelwood). It will stop in Oakland, and continue to CP Bloom, where it will merge with the Black and Gold (Get it???) Lines, and terminate downtown at the Grant Street Multimodal Terminal.

This train would operate more frequently than its longer distance brothers, and would continue to to operate when the other services are laying over between Rush hours. Because they operate more frequently, and for more hours, these trains would be low man on the totem poll. The longer distance trains would have priority.

Maybe you could even extend them across the river to serve Steeler/Pitt Football/and Pirates games? More food for thought...

4 Down, 1 To go: I'll wrap it up next time by discussing operations in detail (as best I can with all the technical and engineering knowledge of a history major), route schedules, meets between trains, etc.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Great Tunnel Bailout of 2009

Just when you thought the North Shore Extension might go away for a while, the much maligned light rail extension rears its ugly head again. Apparently, the Port Authority is faced with a pretty significant decision come March of this year.

If the Port Authority doesn't receive another $117.8 million cash infusion, the North Shore Extension will be brought to a grinding halt.


The project, originally estimated around $435 million, has seen its costs sore to around $552 million. If the Port Authority is not able to make up the funding shortfall by March, they may need to mothball the entire project, according to Steve Bland.

I don't even know where to start my rant! You have a large cost project, that nets you next to nothing in stops, and population served, and now this high cost low gain project is in financial jeopardy.

As much as I think the North Shore Connector has given mass transit in Pittsburgh a black eye, I think stopping now would be incredibly foolish. From reading the article in the Post Gazette, it would cost an additional $21.3 million to stop work, and an addition $3 million each month that no work goes on. The longer this thing drags on unfinished, the less chance some intellegent mass transit plans of the future would have of coming to fruition.

The Port Authority needs to take one for the team, and lobby aggresively to get the needed funding. The one silver lining to this dark cloud is that there's a new sheriff in town, who has already stated that infrastructure and transportation are going to be major focuses during his term. As much as I hate to say it, this project needs to get done, or a better project of the future may not get the same chance the North Shore Connector did.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

My Idea For Heavy Rail Serivce in the East End Part 3

In this compelling installment, I'll talk about changes between my idea and the current proposal, and more importantly, how to integrate passenger service with the heavy freight train density (50 to 60 trains a day). And again, check out a the visual representation of my ideas here. I also created a google map (I'm getting into this google map thing, can you tell?) depicting the NS freight lines that would be used to divert freight traffic here.
Greensburg (NS)

Key Changes

Stations According to the current plan, station stops are planned at Greensburg, Jeanette, Irwin, Trafford, Wilmerding, Braddock, Wilkinsburg, and Downtown. This is too many stops in too short a space. This is not light rail or rapid transit (subway). It's heavy rail. It takes longer to decelerate to a station stop, longer to load, and longer to accelerate to track speed (the max allowable speed). The more stops, and the closer together they are, the more time the trip will take.

Many stops are only 1 to 2 miles apart. If you are going to have stops close together, it would pay to have those in higher population density areas (i.e. Wilkinsburg and west towards Downtown). Also, with the exception of the Wilkinsburg and East Liberty stations, I think it's a safe bet that most commuters that use the stations would be suburban residents that work downtown. Most communities near the other stations are primarily blue collar and shrinking, meaning few commuters would walk to the station, get on a train and go to work. If most commuters would drive the first leg of their journey anyway, it would not be a major difference to them to drive the extra mile or two to a slightly further station. This does not mean I don't want to spur on T.O.D. in the area immediately surrounding the stations, but I want to find the maximum efficiency without significantly hurting ridership, and I think that reducing the number of stations in more suburban/rural areas will not hurt.

So my plan, would do away with stops in Jeanette, Trafford, and Wilmerding. I would add a station in Pitcairn (to allow more immediate access to Monroeville), and East Liberty*, .

* I added this stop because East Liberty is becoming a destination. Target is building a store here, and several new higher end hotels are planned for the area. Given the current growth, and the potential for future growth, it would be wise to give ready access to East Liberty for suburbanites.

Greensburg to Pittsburgh (Black): This line would use the NS Pittsburgh Line for its entire length, starting in Greensburg, with stops in Irwin, Pitcairn(Monroeville), Braddock, Wilkinsburg, E. Liberty, and Downtown. This part is fairly straight foward. However, the devil's in the details. This line is extremely busy, and sees two Amtrak passenger trains a day, and upwards of 50 freight trains (including UPS intermodal trains, that might as well be passenger trains for the schedule they follow, and the deference they are given)

Integrating with Freight Service: The saving grace for this situation consists of two magical words: exsisting infrastructure. There's a ton of it. When manufacturing at steel were at their peaks in Pittsburgh, there was an extensive network of railroads to serve their needs. As manufacturing, the steel industry, and railroads all declined, that network contracted. Railroads lowered capacity on their lines by tearing out un-used or under-used rails, thus reducing capacity and infrastructure cost. Sometimes they went so far as to completely abandon a line, and scrap all parts of it. They did however leave some lines at least partially intact, with room to grow. That's good news for us, because it means other routes have the ability to expand their capacity to take the strain off of the NS Pittsburgh Line. I'll discuss how to re-route trains and integrate freight and passenger traffic by line.

NS Pittsburgh Line- This line was originally 3 to 4 tracks for its entire length. As traffic declined in the 70's and 80's, 1 track was torn out, leaving two to three tracks in most locations. Unfortunately, from the station downtown to Swissvale, the busway now occupies two former tracks, leaving no room to grow. However, east of Swissvale, room remains for an extra track. My idea is to add a track east of Wilmerding. This will give passenger trains an exclusive track that will minimize mixing them. Most freights would be eliminated west of Wilmerding, but could be run during off peak hours and at night.

NS Conemaugh Line-This line starts on the North side of Pittsburgh, and traces the Allegheny River north east to Freeport. There it hangs a right crosses the Allegheny River, and follows the Kiskiminetas River through such places as Vandergrift, Saltsburg, and Blairsville, and then joins back up with the NS Pittsburgh Line at a place called CP Conpit (New Florence, PA, not too far west of Johnstown).

At one point in its life, this line had 2 tracks. In the 1980's it was made single track (for most of its length) as traffic decreased. Today it is still useful because it traces rivers for most of its length and is therefore much more flat. This is the prefered route for heavy freight trains that would have trouble on the hills and mountains east of Pittsburgh on the Pittsburgh Line. Because it was formerly double track, and not operating at capacity, this would be an ideal re-route for freight trains. The second track could be re-installed to increase capacity.

Unfortunately, there is one drawback. It is a longer route compared to the more direct Pittsburgh Line, so it wouldn't be preferable for high priority intermodal trains (there are also height restrictions), but would be ideal for lower priority freights.

NS Port Perry Branch/NS Mon Line- The answer for higher priority trains, and trains that would have height restrictions is the use of these two lines. The Port Perry Branch leaves the Pittsburgh Line at Wilmerding (CP Wing), and travels south, across the Mon River and meets with the NS Mon Line at CP 16 (Right below Kennywood Amusement Park). The line then travels up the Mon Valley through Homestead, and the South Side, underneath the Ft. Pitt Bridge, and then it crosses the Ohio River west of Downtown and rejoins the Main Line (Called the Ft. Wayne Line West of the Allegheny River).

The Mon Line has two tracks and The Port Perry Branch currently has one track, but I believe the NS has already requested federal money to re-build the second track, again to increase capacity.

I think with these solutions, the plan for a Commuter line to Greensburg could work. The biggest question mark is $$$$$. Who's going to pay for it? The Port Perry Extension seems like its on its way, but relaying track, and then signaling that track from Wilmerding to Greensburg, and on the Conemaugh Line would be VERY expensive. NS is a large publicly traded corporation, and like any large pubilicly traded corporation, they are worried about approximately one thing, PROFIT! I doubt they would give up operations on tracks that they own willingly unless it directly benefits them and their bottom line. They would have to either be forced, or enticed by a government agency for them to give up operations on their own track (forcing them could get ugly, just imagine long court battles, injunctions, and nasty things like that).

Bottom line, if this thing is really going to happen, the Port Authority, PENNDOT, USDOT, and the Federal Government are going to have to come together to make NS happy with this plan. That could be rough, but at least there are options that, if presented properly, can be a logical solution to route sharing issues facing this project.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

My Idea For Heavy Rail Service in the East End Part 2.

First off, prior to this, I was cutting and pasting maps into PowerPoint, and then putting lines and labels on the maps, printing the maps, scanning them back in, and then posting them here. Thanks to Chris Schultz from Green is Good for introducing me to Google Maps. Check out the link here to see a visual representation of my idea on Google Maps.

Grant Street Multi-Modal Transportation Center

All trains that enter Downtown would use the former Pennsylvania Railroad station in Downtown. They built a brand new transportation center on the site of the old Greyhound Station. The problem is, it's not a transportation center, it's a...you guessed it...a Greyhound Station. I say make it a true transportation center! The infrastructure is there, on both sides. All it needs is a physical connection. (I will talk about how to deal with freight traffic through the station later.). Additionally, I am a firm believer in the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle. To me it just doesn't make sense to have two terminal stops within blocks of each other. In my mind it is better to centralize all downtown service in one spot.

Arnold/New Kensington (AVR):

Key Changes

The current plan which is under study has the Arnold/New Kensington line traveling from Arnold and New Ken. to the Strip with stops in Oakmont, Verona, and Lawrenceville. My plan consists of two lines that would share trackage. One line (Gold) would travel to Downtown, and the other line (Blue) would travel to Oakland and Hazelwood.

I would also do away with the Verona stop, and put a stop/park and ride at Washington Blvd. In my mind, Verona is too close to Oakmont, and doesn't have the commuting population to support its own stop. People who would commute from Verona could easily drive the extra mile (or so) to a stop at Oakmont. I think you could get more bang for your buck by putting a park and ride at Washignton Blvd and Allegheny River Blvd. That way, you could tap in on commuters from across the river in Aspinwall, Sharpsburg, and Fox Chapel, and other nearby areas that don't want to deal with the worst of route 28.

Arnold/New Ken. to Downtown (Gold): This line would share the rails with the Arnold to Oakland line (Blue) from the first station in Arnold through Oakmont. At the Washington Blvd Park and Ride, the Gold line would split from the AVR and use an intact connection to the Brilliant Branch. This branch is currently sparsely used, and trains would face no opposition. The line would enter the current Norfolk Southern (NS) Pittsburgh Line at CP Home (Homewood). (I will discuss route sharing with NS when I talk about the Greensburg to Pittsburgh Line (Black). The train would make a stop (one I proposed) in East Liberty, and then would make its final stop at the old Pennsylvania Railroad Station in Downtown.

Arnold/New Ken. to Oakland and Hazelwood (Blue): As stated earlier, this line would share the rails with the Gold Line up until Washington Blvd. Park and Ride stop, and at that point would continue on AVR track into the city. The train would stop in Lawrenceville and then move on the CSX/AVR tracks, across the top of the strip continuing underneath Neville Ave. to the Oakland stop*. From there it would continue to Hazelwood, which would make an excellent spot for some Transit Oriented Development along with High Tech industry. This line would have very little interference from freight traffic. CSX no longer regularly operates freights over this track, AVR operates one regular freight train, which runs at night, and Amtrak operates one train just after midnight, and one train just after 6 AM, which would not interfere with the peak direction of train traffic.

* The reason this train does not operate to downtown eventhough it travels a mere 1 to 2 miles north of downtown is simplicity of operation. With the way the current rail infrastructure is set up, a train coming from Lawrenceville would have to make a reverse move at CP Bloom (next to the Pittsburgh Brewing Company). By utilizing this route directly to Oakland, it avoids a reverse move. People who want to travel to Downtown have the Gold line at their disposal, and I will talk about integrating a shuttle that would travel between Downtown and Oakland.

Stay tuned for Part 3 where I'll talk about the Greensburg to Pittsburgh Line. This line sees a HUGE amount of freight traffic, and it will take more to make it work (but it is possible).