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.
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.
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