Tuesday, November 30, 2010

AVR Commuter Rail Operations Part 2


First off, in a different post I used the traffic light analogy when describing a railroad signaling system.  That’s partially right.  For a much better and in depth description of railroad signaling, and different types of railroad signal, check this out. 

As it stands right now, none of the current AVR line mentioned in this proposal is signaled.  Signals were removed from this route back in the PRR days.  This means not only that all the signals and associated relay equipment will have to be re-installed, but any other remotely controlled switches/derails*/automatic stops** etc.  and their associated relay equipment would have to be installed.  This is a normal cost associated with setting up a commuter operation. 

Additionally, special signaling would have to be supplied for the portion that runs at-grade on 26th street and on the Busway. 

Here’s the good news.  A local business getting the business.  Union Switch and Signal (a part of Ansaldo) has their headquarters in the city.  This sounds like a match made in heaven to me. 

The signaling concept is pretty easy and straightforward.  A light rail operation can use similar rules and signaling with a few modifications (mainly derails and Automatic train control devices).  Aside from cost, there is little that would be more challenging than a heavy commuter line, or any other light rail for that matter.

*Apparently derails are required at controlled points where a heavy rail operation interlocks with a light rail operation.  These devices will prevent an improperly directed train from entering  prohibited territory.

**  Automatic train control devices would be required at all interlockings.  If a train does not have permission to proceed through the interlocking (by the signal protecting the interlocking), then an automatic train control device would kick in and stop the train.  These devices require both rail vehicle modification and additional lineside equipment.  

Monday, November 29, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It’s Done Done

With a mere 50 people there to mark it’s passing, the Port Authority inked the largest fare hike and service cut in Port Authority history. 

I wonder how long it takes the other 1 million people in Allegheny County to notice that their lives have been negatively impacted by not giving a damn about transit funding. 

A big shout out to the Pennsylvania State Government for having a funding plan that wasn’t secure, and then showing the political fortitude to do absolutely nothing about it when that funding plan fell through. 

Also a big shout out to Pat McMahon of ATU 85 for threatening to strike over a 6% raise in health care costs and a 3% salary raise in 2008 and then having the gall to scold anyone but the ATU leaders and members of the last 20-30 years who have plenty of culpability in this whole situation. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

While We're on the Subject...

Been doing a lot of writing about the FRA regulations dealing with light rail.  While searching for the regulations themselves, I found this interesting blog post.  It's a few years old, but informative and interesting nonetheless.


Could the issues raised in the post indeed have something to do with how expensive/troublesome it has been to get our national passenger rail network off the ground?  I can't say for sure, but there are some interesting points brought up that would support that notion.

I found the portion on TOD and silent crossings to be particularly interesting (that's how you know if you're a transit nerd)

Monday, November 22, 2010

AVR Commuter Rail Operations Part 1

Ok,  I’m FINALLY getting to this.  I know there’s a lot going on, and a lot of it is negative.  I’d like to focus on something that is moving forward, at least for the time being.  I was going to do this in one post, but it got a little O.O.C. so it’ll be broken up into three. 


Before I get into the whole light rail/freight separation thing, we can get the “easy stuff” out of the way.  Dispatching of this operation would be vary very little from dispatching a “heavy rail” operation.  A dispatcher would oversee operation, line signals and manage the movement and protection of the trains.  The bigger question is who would run it.  I can’t say for sure if AVR has dispatching factored into its annual operating cost in its study of this service.  I do know that they will be on the hook for it.  I would be very surprised if CSX would take on this responsibility, and there’s no way the NS would get involved.  Additionally, as The Trib so wonderfully put it, they wouldn’t want to burden the Port Authority with any further responsibility, so the AVR looks to be on the hook for all operations including dispatching.  A cost issue, which must be taken into account is night-time operations.  If a signal system is installed (it would have to be) it can’t just be shut off at night.  It takes written FRA approval to shut down a signaling system.  That means that the lone night time train would require a third shift dispatcher.  Hardly an effective use of money. 

The next question is what operating rules they would use.  NORAC would make the most obvious choice, and is used by NJT on their RiverLine.  Most other rulebooks are railroad specific, but NORAC provides rules which are used by multiple railroads, especially in the Northeast/Mid Atlantic region. 

Time Seperations

I’ve talked a lot about light rail intermixed with freight traffic and I’m not a big fan of these types of operations, except in cases where the freight operating window is very narrow (think a few hours) because of the FRA requirement of a “temporal separation” between freight traffic and light-rail passenger operations.  If you’re going to run a commuter service, then in my mind it should be heavy rail, but that’s another discussion for another post. 

If this operation is envisioned to be a purely commuter style operation, then the separation called for by the FRA isn’t a big problem.  Passenger trains would operate mostly into the city during the day and out of the city at night.  Operations would end probably somewhere around 8 or 9 PM, allowing the AVR to serve its customers, and would then begin early in the morning. 

The problem with this is, however, it limits the operation’s effectiveness for TOD and also in getting people out of their cars on nights and weekends.  What’s the attraction to living close to transit that doesn’t operate when you need it (outside of work)?

If this operation is to be, as some have painted it, as an intra-city link to move people from downtown to the Strip/Lawrenceville area, then this could be a challenge (not to mention I question this operation’s value in that capacity).  A subsequent separation or several separations would have to occur on a daily basis for this to work.  For example, a certain portion of the line (say above Oakmont) could be made available for freight operation after a given time (10 PM for example), while the southern portion could remain off-limits to freight until a later time (1 AM, for example).  One problem with this, however, is that the northern portion of the line is isolated.  AVR trains must enter at one of two spots, the first around 33rd St. which uses their own rails, or via NS’s Brilliant Branch, which would require further trackage rights and an extended back-up move. 

To accomplish this, another window would have to be established, earlier, say after rush hour but before the “nightlife” kicks in.  Passenger operations would have to be banned entirely during this period and all passenger equipment clear of the line and properly secured.  The AVR could then enter the line and travel north towards New Kensington.  Once the train cleared a certain point (say a controlled point in or around Oakmont) AND a certain time was reached, passenger operations could then resume on the southern portion of the line until later that evening, when passenger operations would be suspended for the evening and the AVR could service customers south of Oakmont.  See the list below for a (hopefully) better explanation.

6AM to 7 PM-Passenger only operation.  No freight operation allowed*
7 PM to 8 PM-Freight only operation, no passenger operation allowed**
8PM to 1 AM-North of Oakmont:  Freight only operation, no passenger operation allowed. 
8PM to 1 AM-South of Oakmont:  Passenger only operation, no passenger operation allowed.
1 AM to 6 AM Freight only, no passenger operations   

Clearly it’s doable but complicated.  I’ve heard of an FRA waiver that could be applied for to allow simultaneous operation, but I don’t know how practical this is considering NJT’s RiverLine was supposed to be operated in this manner but could is still operated with the time separation after 6+ years of operation. 

I did a little more digging and found out that the RiverLine is operating under waivers.  However, it's not as straightforward as I thought.  Apparently a waiver is required just to let freight trains use an interlocking or controlled point that has a physical connection to the RiverLine (ridiculous).  Additionally, it appears that a waiver is required for a freight train to even operate on a separate but parallel track to an active light rail track (also ridiculous).  New Jersey Transit and Conrail were approved for these waivers and are operating under them, but these waivers do NOT allow for freight traffic to operate on the same track at the same time as passenger traffic.

These waivers would certainly have an effect on AVR's operation.  The freight would have to enter at a controlled point, remotely controlled by a dispatcher.

View AVR Freight Connection in a larger map

 The AVR also has a track that continues over the Allegheny River and interchanges with the Buffalo and Pittsburgh at Bakerstown, PA.  Because this line (the former B&O Railroad P&W sub) sees freight traffic on an as needed basis and because there is a physical connection between this line and AVR's proposed service, a waiver would be required.

The whole issue of temporal separation could be avoided by dedicating one track to freight and one to passenger.  The line was at one time double track so it is possible, but again, some sort of waiver would be required.  

*This means that no heavy freight cars, engines or trains can move on or occupy any main track, and must be secured against movement

**This means that no passenger trains can move on or occupy any main track, and must be secured against movement.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

High Speed Fallout

There’s been a ton of talk about the changes in the political winds and how it’s going to affect transportation Western Pennsylvania.  Those winds have also been felt on the national level.  The shift to the right in other states has brought some potentially huge impacts to Obama’s national HSR plan and will impact the Pittsburgh region.

There’s a really interesting battle going on in Wisconsin right now.  The Governor-elect has pledged to end the HSR project and has asked the DOT to allow the state to re-appropriate the funds.  Additionally, TALGO had set up a manufacturing plant to build HSR equipment for Wisconsin and other states.  It appears that they stand to lose the manufacturer and the money ($810 million) if the governor follows through with his plans.  

Of a more immediate impact to the Pittsburgh region is the election of a new Governor in Ohio, John Kasich.  Part of his platform from the start was to kill the 3C Corridor.  He has pledged to keep this promise and end the project.  This is a much bigger blow to Western Pennsylvania than other HSR developments, as the next step after completion of the primary corridor was a connection from Pittsburgh to both Cleveland and to Columbus, creating a triangle of passenger service in Ohio.  For the last few years, Ohio has seemed more intent on getting better rail service to Pittsburgh than Pennsylvania was, and now that seems to have flown out the window as well.  As with Wisconsin, DOT Secretary Ray LaHood has vowed to take back all funding given to Ohio, to the tune of $400 million and put it back in the national HSR pot. 

This is immediately bad for Western Pennsylvania.  Our local transit system appears to be taking a huge nosedive, and it looks like our regional connections will remain status quo, at best for the foreseeable future.  Pennsylvania’s HSR grant this summer in relation to Pittsburgh was miniscule ($800K) and was only to do some very preliminary studies on the NS’s route from Harrisburg west to Pittsburgh. 

With our emerging ally to the west seemingly switching sides, and a further shift in our state government to the right (a traditionally un-friendly group towards transportation other than the automobile) it’s not looking good for the home team. 

Our one bright spot, at this point, is that the money appears to be going back into the pot.  It will take time to re-receive applications for appropriations and to go through the approval process.  While Pennsylvania does not have any “shovel ready” projects, perhaps we can use this bought time to advance our cause. 

Knowing our state government, I’m not holding my breath, but it’s a chance.  

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It's Done


Not good, not good at all...

Bad to Worse

Everyone knew about the transit cuts coming in March.  First off, it looks like those are a done deal, unless something drastic happens in Harrisburg in the next few days (I’m not holding my breath).  Now it looks like they are trying to plan ahead for 2012.  With the new sheriff in town who has pledged not to raise taxes, no matter what (I’m very interested to see how that is supposed to work given the horrid state of our infrastructure, and massive budget shortfalls). 

The Port Authority said it was too early to discuss the scope of a second round of cuts (right now slated for July 2011), but it’s on the horizon unless something changes. 

Depressing, that’s all I can say about this whole situation.  After the optimism of two years ago, all we hear about are landmark cuts and the bad news we already knew about.  What is most frustrating is that it’s easy and politically attractive to say cut cut cut spending.  Meanwhile, we are sitting on an infrastructure time bomb that is ticking away.  Further cuts will only cause the timer to speed up, as increased automobile traffic resulting from further transit cuts on the roads of Western Pennsylvania will only increase the wear and tear on our already worn out roads and bridges.  

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

AVR Commuter News

Fisrt things first, I am really going to finish my “expert” analysis of the AVR’s Commuter line, I swear.

In the meantinme…

The AVR Rail proposal has popped up again.  The city got a grant for redevelopment or greening of a ribbon of land heading from the Strip through Lawrenceville. 

Check out the article here.

.The total funding was $1.5 million.  It isn’t explicitly stated, but the most of the amount seems to be going to building the greenway.  Relocating sidings and industries is noted, but that seems to allow for the greenway, not to facilitate commuter rail.

Still, the fact remains that AVR’s commuter service was mentioned hand in hand with this.  Questions of funding still remain un-answered, and because there is currently no public money involved, there is no study or project plan available to the public. 

This is all well and good, but again, I see limited value in integrating this into the greenway.  I am not questioning the greenway or the value of building up our transit infrastructure, I am merely questioning the value of AVR’s proposal to making transportation better IN Pittsburgh.  A commuter style route to the suburbs is fine for, well, commuters, but not to bring residents to another neighborhood in the city.  What you'll most likely end up with is residents of the city using buses, driving or biking to reach this new development when all is said and done.