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  #1  
Old Posted Jan 29, 2022, 2:33 PM
SFBruin SFBruin is offline
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Higher Speed Rail as Commuter Rail

This post is going to be a little underdeveloped, but bear with me.

I was wondering about the possibility of using higher speed rail (e.g. trains going about 110 mph) as commuter rail, rather than intercity rail.

I once (actually twice) had the luxury of riding high speed rail in a foreign country, and, what shocked me most about it was how slow it was.

The first time, I was able to clock the speed of the train on my phone, and it appeared to be about 120 mph.

The second time, I... well, I won't bore you with the details haha.

I'm somewhat skeptical about the use of high speed trains for distances of greater than 200 miles.

I was wondering if higher-speed, basically slightly slower than I experienced, rail could be used to attract riders to commuter rail.

For example, Caltrain in the Bay Area between Millbrae and San Francisco could operate at speeds of close to 120 mph, and this could shave several minutes off of the travel time.

The same thing could probably be done in Boston and other places.

I was wondering what people's thoughts were on that.

Edit: I wrote this on my phone. I'm sorry for the disastrous formatting.
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Last edited by SFBruin; Jan 30, 2022 at 10:19 AM.
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  #2  
Old Posted Jan 31, 2022, 12:20 AM
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I've heard, and it could be false, that most commuters in the western world will tolerate a commute up to about an hour. Anymore is too long and they won't see it as ideal. The same is likely true for HSR.

This could still lead to really long commute distances. If and when CAHSR gets built, people in Bakersfield could work in LA and still meet that criteria. I've wondered in the past if CAHSR could actually increase sprawl within the state. Most of the state along the rail line will be within an hour of LA or the Bay.
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  #3  
Old Posted Jan 31, 2022, 8:24 PM
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ardecila ardecila is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SFBruin View Post
I was wondering if higher-speed, basically slightly slower than I experienced, rail could be used to attract riders to commuter rail.

For example, Caltrain in the Bay Area between Millbrae and San Francisco could operate at speeds of close to 120 mph, and this could shave several minutes off of the travel time.
There's the technology question, and then the economic/business question.

On the tech side, you may run into problems with sheer acceleration. The station spacing on the Peninsula or other "commuter" routes is too close together - if trains depart from one station, they don't have time to accelerate up to maximum speed before they need to start slowing down for the next station. It might be technically possible, but the rates of acceleration you need would be very uncomfortable for riders. Vomit comet, anyone?

You can maintain the tracks to a 125mph standard for intercity trains, and run commuter trains at that speed where the station spacing allows, especially on limited-stop trains. MARC already does this on the Northeast Corridor, and NJTransit sorta does it but they have an artificial 100mph limit for commuter service. MBTA does not, because the diesel equipment they use for commuter service can't go that fast.

Then there's the economic question - if an HSR line is built, would people use it to commute from one faraway city to another (i.e. Bakersfield to LA)? The answer is yes, but the appeal is limited because it's costly and the fares often change over time like airfares so it's hard to budget. A fare on Acela between Philly and NYC on a random weekday next month is $51 each way. Most people can't afford to spend that much every day, but maybe they can afford to go into the office one day a week and work remotely the rest of the time. The fares are a political decision so you could always set them lower, but most HSR lines are supposed to be operationally profitable so you'd have to abandon that goal.
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Last edited by ardecila; Jan 31, 2022 at 8:45 PM.
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  #4  
Old Posted Jan 31, 2022, 10:19 PM
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If Milwaukee-Chicago was sped up to 1 hour (doesn't seem impossible... it's only 90 miles...) I bet there would be a good number of commuters on it, though it would probably be better for Milwaukee than for Chicago.
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  #5  
Old Posted Feb 23, 2022, 9:25 PM
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Originally Posted by SIGSEGV View Post
If Milwaukee-Chicago was sped up to 1 hour (doesn't seem impossible... it's only 90 miles...) I bet there would be a good number of commuters on it, though it would probably be better for Milwaukee than for Chicago.
Do the math, 90 miles / 1 hour = 90 mph average speeds.
How many stations do you wish to service between Milwaukee and Chicago?
For each stop, add a minute or two to stop the train and get it back to max speed. 5 stops, 20 minutes.
So 60 minutes is now 80 minutes, and the average speed will now have to be for faster commuter trains;
To get that 20 minutes back, your 60 minutes of travel is now 40 minutes.
90 miles /40 minutes = 225 mph average speed.
Of course, I assumed 5 stops, it could be less or more.
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  #6  
Old Posted Feb 26, 2022, 12:48 PM
chisouthsider chisouthsider is offline
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Originally Posted by electricron View Post
Do the math, 90 miles / 1 hour = 90 mph average speeds.
How many stations do you wish to service between Milwaukee and Chicago?
For each stop, add a minute or two to stop the train and get it back to max speed. 5 stops, 20 minutes.
So 60 minutes is now 80 minutes, and the average speed will now have to be for faster commuter trains;
To get that 20 minutes back, your 60 minutes of travel is now 40 minutes.
90 miles /40 minutes = 225 mph average speed.
Of course, I assumed 5 stops, it could be less or more.
There’s 3 stops now, and no real reason to add any so it’ll probably stay there. Also, I’m not sure on your math, I think 90 miles in 40 minutes is about 135 MPH. You also should be able to get a high running speed without too many issues since most of the route is very straight.

With that, I’m not sure an hour from from downtown to downtown is feasible anytime soon, especially at rush hour. The biggest issue is Metra’s territory. Amtrak is routinely caught behind a Metra train making all stops, and it’s a 2 track line so I don’t know if you can punch a hole is the schedule big enough for Amtrak to sail through.

An hour from Milwaukee Airport to Chicago would be huge though. I think that’s doable, especially off peak. It’s only about 5 miles shorter, but the station is on the mainline outside the city so you’re saving the slow curvy run out of downtown Milwaukee. It’s also in a convenient spot - almost everyone in Milwaukee and Eastern Wisconsin has to drive right past the station on their way to Chicago anyway. Sub-hour trips would break a phycological barrier and help convince more people to take the train to Chicago (and possibly from Chicago to fly out of Milwaukee), and the downtown to downtown trip would still be under 70 minutes.
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  #7  
Old Posted Feb 28, 2022, 7:47 AM
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Originally Posted by chisouthsider View Post
There’s 3 stops now, and no real reason to add any so it’ll probably stay there. Also, I’m not sure on your math, I think 90 miles in 40 minutes is about 135 MPH. You also should be able to get a high running speed without too many issues since most of the route is very straight.

With that, I’m not sure an hour from from downtown to downtown is feasible anytime soon, especially at rush hour. The biggest issue is Metra’s territory. Amtrak is routinely caught behind a Metra train making all stops, and it’s a 2 track line so I don’t know if you can punch a hole is the schedule big enough for Amtrak to sail through.

An hour from Milwaukee Airport to Chicago would be huge though. I think that’s doable, especially off peak. It’s only about 5 miles shorter, but the station is on the mainline outside the city so you’re saving the slow curvy run out of downtown Milwaukee. It’s also in a convenient spot - almost everyone in Milwaukee and Eastern Wisconsin has to drive right past the station on their way to Chicago anyway. Sub-hour trips would break a phycological barrier and help convince more people to take the train to Chicago (and possibly from Chicago to fly out of Milwaukee), and the downtown to downtown trip would still be under 70 minutes.
Thanks for the math correction, your numbers look correct. Still trying to figure out how I thought 40 minutes was 60 minutes?

But the existing 3 stop Hiawatha is intercity rail ran by Amtrak, not commuter rail run by a local transit agency. I do not think local taxpayers would be happy with just 3 stops.
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  #8  
Old Posted Mar 2, 2022, 3:36 AM
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What about a program for local travel on the Amtrak lines that would have subsidized tickets for travel between the "Commuter" distance stations in an area?
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  #9  
Old Posted Mar 2, 2022, 9:24 AM
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Originally Posted by TowerDude View Post
What about a program for local travel on the Amtrak lines that would have subsidized tickets for travel between the "Commuter" distance stations in an area?
That would be cool.

I think that my point was more about speed than cost, though, though I don't quite remember now. :/
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Old Posted Mar 7, 2022, 1:02 PM
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The WSJ has an article about the future of commuter rail.

Commuter Railroads Face Murky Future After Pandemic
https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-pri...ra-11646575383
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  #11  
Old Posted Apr 12, 2022, 12:18 PM
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Proposed commuter rail part of the plan to avoid the Triangle’s ‘heart attack’ traffic

By Anna Johnson
News & Observer
Apr. 11, 2022


"Commuter rail won’t solve the area’s traffic congestion, but transit leaders believe it’s a critical step in the right direction.

That’s because nearly half of the area’s new jobs will be near a proposed commuter rail connecting much of the Triangle, said GoTriangle President and CEO Charles Lattuca.

“There is a crying need for more mobility in this region,” he told Wake County commissioners Monday afternoon. “It is stunning. And it just builds the case and shows you how the jobs are coming..."

https://amp.newsobserver.com/article260317700.html
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  #12  
Old Posted Apr 21, 2022, 2:29 AM
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For commuter rail to be successful and a viable option for current drivers, getting data on the number of commuters going to each destination in a metro area would be crucial. Where do people already drive to? Once you know the top spots, building stations for HSR or commuter rail in those places would be the first step of ensuring that people can take the train over the car.
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  #13  
Old Posted Apr 21, 2022, 11:53 PM
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The concept can also be about putting HSR stations in greenfield locations where future growth can occur.

I'm a skeptic though. We can fit growth in existing areas via infill, if we allow it. And the HSR concept suggest very few stations, so it's either part of a multi-leg trip (possibly at each end) or you've very limited to a few walking radii.
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  #14  
Old Posted Apr 22, 2022, 3:15 PM
Gantz Gantz is offline
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HSR doesn't work well on short legs, as others mentioned the issue is acceleration/deceleration. You want the train running at constant speed for at least roughly 50 mile segments between stops to get most of the benefits of high speeds.
You can have sort of "commuter" stops with ~15-20 mile segments, this what Japan has with their local HSR routes, but those trains are no where near as fast as "true" HSR, and travel at much slower average speeds.
Express Shinkansen between major cities over medium distances is where HSR truly shines and is probably the best mode of transport over a car or a plane. The sweet spot is somewhere at 200-400 mile distances. Somewhere like Boswash corridor would be ideal distance for HSR, or even connecting various Midwest/Southern cities with limited in between stops.
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