Thursday, June 3, 2010

Back from the Dead

Ok, I wasn’t really dead, just consumed with life outside of blogging.
A lot has happened in a short amount of time with the planned commuter rail plan for Arnold/Greensburg.

The story first appeared here and has become significantly more complex in the mean time. Apparently, not only has AVR secured financing for the Arnold to Pittsburgh line, but they intend to move forward with it, and are at least exploring other options for its operation. i.e. potentially pursuing a River Line style (light) of operation vs. a WES or Tri Rail operation. (heavy).

I’m not sure what to think of this. If you read the AVR proposal they have their own ideas on implementation, and basically don’t care what Allegheny or Westmoreland County think.

I can see two perspectives on this:

-AVR is trying to grease the skids so to speak. They (as I am) are not impressed with the pace of the overall project while costs escalate and the Rte 28 project progresses. Because this news is so out of left field I would not be surprised if this is in fact the case. This is what I hope is really happening. In fact, I hope it works. We’re on our tenth year of talking about this, and I see this having the potential to go the way of every other transit project in Pittsburgh if action is not taken.  (That place is no where)

- AVR is serious about this propsal.  I REALLY hope that they aren't serious about their proposal. I say that because a light rail style of operation, whether diesel or electric severely limits its interaction with either a Greensburg line operation or Bill Peduto’s shuttle, or any other standard rail line for that matter. Currently, operations such as the River Line must be segregated, by time from heavy operations. Meaning, if light operations occur from 5 AM to 7PM for example, then no heavy trains can operate on that trackage during that time and visa verse. This is fine for the AVR tracks, but not good for tying in with the NS (Greensburg) or Amtrak/CSX (Peduto Limited). If the AVR gets their way, then their operation will be forced to be a stand alone operation, even if some other commuter operation would come to fruition. Basically, you would have yet another mode of operation that does not tie in well with any other operation. That greatly decreases the operation’s effectiveness and chances it could operate successfully. No word on whether they expect to receive operating subsidies, or whether they expect to be able to operate at a profit.


Cullen said...

Perhaps we can look to the waiver Caltrain recently received permitting mixed operation of european style EMUs along with their existing diesel rail fleet. Hopefully that could be extended to full on freight assuming positive train control is implemented.

East Busway Blogger said...

That certainly is an option.

The issue with PTC here is the fact that installing such a system on the proposed Greensburg portion of the system would be a massive investment in and of itself. There's no way Norfolk Southern would go for it if they had to foot the bill, and I'm not so sure they would even if the State or Federal Gov't kicked in part of the money.

Installing such a system not only requires the lineside infrastructure, but also the apparatus within the locomotives. This limits what locomotives can be used on this extremely busy route and adds additional maintenance costs that NS doesn't want to pay for. Let's not forget, this is all in addition to the fact that they probably don't want additional passenger trains on their tracks to begin with.

While no safe bet, at least using FRA compliant vehicles on the entire system would take away SOME of NS's heartache about the whole thing.

It just makes more sense, instead of having two different types of operation in one "system" to have a single type of operation using compatible vehicles.

Cullen said...

I believe the PTC mandate will require Norfolk Southern to install PTC since Amtrak runs passenger trains from Greensburg to Pittsburgh. So, there's no marginal cost for the commuter rail.

The other nice thing about European style DMU's is that they are cheaper than locomotive plus coach combos.

East Busway Blogger said...

If it would be implemented nationally, then absolutely, it would solve the problem. To be honest with you, I'm not up on PTC implementation and if there is a legal push for it.

If it were implemented, then the FRA would simply have to repeal its current rule which precludes simultaneous "light" and "heavy" operation.

I'm still a little hesitant to have one segment of an overall larger project veer off in its own direction with little input from the group that would be operating it.

There's really still two sides to this: AVR could be giving us all we're going to get in Pittsburgh as far as commuter rail goes. If history is any indication, there's been a whole lot of nothing done with this project over the last ten years and I can't even tell at this point if the project is moving forward outside of AVR's cage rattling.

The other side of the coin is that they could be throwing a wrench in the whole works which could give Pittsburgh a single line system that doesn't conect to anything else, and is not sustainable to operate.