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Amtrak passenger train speeds

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Amtrak passenger train speeds
Posted by Roadrunner on Thursday, January 8, 2009 12:05 PM

I've been wondering for a while now how fast the speeds are for most Amtrak trains.  Do the speeds differ between the summer and the winter?  Do average speeds change across the country?

Lots of thanks to anybody that knows anything, and sorry if there is another post about the same topic, I can't find any.

sure, i'm going to college for engineering. but it all leads back to trains
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Posted by Phoebe Vet on Thursday, January 8, 2009 1:12 PM

Outside the Northeast corridor, most Amtrak trains run 79 MPH where track conditions and such permit.  It's not always possible.  The NEC has some 150 MPH track, some 110 MPH track and some 79MPH track.

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Posted by Falcon48 on Thursday, January 8, 2009 2:03 PM

Under FRA signal rules, 79 mph is the fastest a passenger train can legally run on signalized track, unless the signal system has additional features such as "Automatic Train Stop" (ATS) or "Automatic Train Control" (ATC).  This speed restriction would be applicable to most of the track Amtrak uses outside of the NEC.   There's a string called "ICC and speed" (or something like that) in the General Discussion Forum that has more information 

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Thursday, January 8, 2009 3:06 PM

Speed may well increase above on some routes as PTC in implemented and track is upgraded to class 5 or class 6. However I do not see that really happening until 2012 or even later. Right now it is much more important to eliminate slow orders because a 1 mile slow order to 60 requires 4 miles or more of 90 MPH track and a 1 mile slow order to 30 requires 12+ miles to make up the lost time.

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Posted by henry6 on Thursday, January 8, 2009 4:14 PM

I was recently told that Amtrak likes to seek a minimum allowable maximum speed of 65mph.

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Posted by oltmannd on Thursday, January 8, 2009 4:22 PM

Phoebe Vet

Outside the Northeast corridor, most Amtrak trains run 79 MPH where track conditions and such permit.  It's not always possible.  The NEC has some 150 MPH track, some 110 MPH track and some 79MPH track.

The whole NEC is equipped with cab siganlling, so no 79 mph track - it would be 80 mph.  Also, there's a lot of 125/135 mph on the south end.

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Posted by oltmannd on Thursday, January 8, 2009 4:24 PM

henry6

I was recently told that Amtrak likes to seek a minimum allowable maximum speed of 65mph.

By an Amtrak employee?  Amtrak might want to reduce speed to save fuel when ahead of schedule.  I have no idea if they are doing this or not, but there's been no reduction in max authorized speeds anywhere that I know of.

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Posted by Anonymous on Thursday, January 8, 2009 5:53 PM

Roadrunner

I've been wondering for a while now how fast the speeds are for most Amtrak trains.  Do the speeds differ between the summer and the winter?  Do average speeds change across the country?

Lots of thanks to anybody that knows anything, and sorry if there is another post about the same topic, I can't find any.

I was told by a former UP engineer who worked out of  Mineola that when the temperature tops 100 degrees for days on end, as it does frequently in Texas during the summer, the UP will require Amtrak to slow down to 60 or 65 mph.  This was a decade ago, and it may not be true today.

Perhaps someone else in Texas with operating experience can confirm or refute this information.

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Posted by henry6 on Thursday, January 8, 2009 7:11 PM

oltmannd

henry6

I was recently told that Amtrak likes to seek a minimum allowable maximum speed of 65mph.

By an Amtrak employee?  Amtrak might want to reduce speed to save fuel when ahead of schedule.  I have no idea if they are doing this or not, but there's been no reduction in max authorized speeds anywhere that I know of.

 Actually it was.  It was in reference in looking at new routes for passenger service.

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Posted by oltmannd on Thursday, January 8, 2009 8:48 PM

Oh, as a minimum for new routes.  That makes sense.  That keeps everything on decent, signalled track and on routes where grades and curves give you a fighting chance at a reasonable trip time.

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Posted by HarveyK400 on Friday, January 9, 2009 11:38 AM

Do the math yourself.  Start with the system tinetable and pocket calculator or enter the distance and times on a computer spreadsheet.

I don't know if Amtrak publishes information on late or annulled trains to get a more realistic picture of reliability.

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Posted by HarveyK400 on Friday, January 9, 2009 12:51 PM

If you're looking for possible new routes, you need 1) some idea (a model) for ridership based on populations served, special travel generators (colleges, tourist destinations, etc), and distances to ascertain potential viability (acceptable subsidy) of revenue to cost; and 2) track charts showing curvature and resulting speed limitations to estimate time for various cost scenarios for track, signalling, and equipment enhancements. 

For viability, you may take a look at California, Illinois, Empire, Keystone and Carolina services for populations served, travel time, and ridership and compare that to a corridor of interest.  The NEC is complicated by road congestion and parking and toll costs.  Most models I've seen were proprietary - this is how consultants make money and holds true for Amtrak as well - so I doubt if there would be publications available.

Railroad lines were built at under varying circumstances that significantly affected the engineering. Builders understood that curves and grades were to be avoided.  Unless you go to new construction, there is no US alignment between two cities that is suitable for true high speed service.  A few lines today reflect the era when competition came from animal-drawn wagons, barges and steamships where 20 mph over mountains and along river valleys was breathtaking.  In the 19th Century, 40 mph was as fast as a racehorse and sustainable over many more miles.  60 mph represented the magical mile-a-minute. Paved highways and automobiles came after most railroads were built.  Of course, bringing a heavy train down a mountain grade under control is still breathtaking. 

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Posted by Falcon48 on Saturday, January 10, 2009 10:25 PM

blue streak 1

Speed may well increase above on some routes as PTC in implemented and track is upgraded to class 5 or class 6. However I do not see that really happening until 2012 or even later. Right now it is much more important to eliminate slow orders because a 1 mile slow order to 60 requires 4 miles or more of 90 MPH track and a 1 mile slow order to 30 requires 12+ miles to make up the lost time.

  The extent to which PTC will result in an increase in maximun permissible speeds on lines where the current signalling permits a 79 mph maximum remains to be seen.  FRA will probably address the subject when it issues revised signal rules which cover PTC (something it's going to have to do pretty soon, if the railroads are to have any chance of meeting the government deadline for installation).  In principle, at least, PTC is an enhanced automoatic train control (ATC) system so, in theory, maximum speed for PTC should be at least as fast as permitted for ATC.  But there are some other issues which may effect this.  For example, will PTC be a "vital" system, or will it be a non-vital backstop for existing signal systems?  The answer to that question may effect how fast FRA will allow trains to go on PTC equipped lines. 
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Posted by HarveyK400 on Saturday, January 10, 2009 11:55 PM

Slow orders are just part of the problem.  A more insidious part of the problem is alighting and boarding at stations.  Loading a carfull of passengers destined for one station where other passengers will board and fill the vacated seats can cost up over ten minutes checking tickets and photo IDs with Homeland Security procedures and 2-person train crew.

It can take more than PTC and upgraded track to go faster than 79. 

  • An alignment is needed with gentle curves broader than two degrees with tilt equipment and broader than one degree with non-tilting trains.
  • Long stretches without at-grade crossings are needed to accelerate and sustain speeds substantially higher than 110 mph just to save a minute.
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Posted by jpwoodruff on Sunday, January 11, 2009 11:50 PM

Roadrunner

I've been wondering for a while now how fast the speeds are for most Amtrak trains.  Do the speeds differ between the summer and the winter?  Do average speeds change across the country?

Lots of thanks to anybody that knows anything, and sorry if there is another post about the same topic, I can't find any.

I took my GPS on the California Zephyr from Emeryville to Denver, and
recorded a track each day-time.

There were extended periods at 30 and at 40 mph.  Shorter time at 50.

Only about 25 miles were covered at 80 mph.

John

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Posted by Phoebe Vet on Monday, January 12, 2009 6:17 AM

I, too, have taken a laptop computer with GPS on the Carolinian between Charlotte and Baltimore.  Most,but not all, of the trip in NC on NS track, we maintained 80 MPH.  Much slower in VA on CSX track. 40 minutes stopped on CSX in VA watching freight trains go by.  110 MPH between DC & Baltimore after they replaced the Diesel with electric in DC.

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Posted by aegrotatio on Monday, January 12, 2009 2:07 PM
I don't want to sound like a CSX hater, but it sounds as if the author of "The Men Who Loved Trains" was "on the mark" when describing the differences between Norfolk Southern and CSX.
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Posted by Deggesty on Monday, January 12, 2009 10:07 PM

Phoebe Vet

I, too, have taken a laptop computer with GPS on the Carolinian between Charlotte and Baltimore.  Most,but not all, of the trip in NC on NS track, we maintained 80 MPH.  Much slower in VA on CSX track. 40 minutes stopped on CSX in VA watching freight trains go by.  110 MPH between DC & Baltimore after they replaced the Diesel with electric in DC.

If you can see the mileposts and have a watch with a second hand, you can get a good idea as to your speed, especially if you have a card that shows the speed from the time taken to traverse a mile. This does not work at night, though. This system worked long before GPS, much less laptop computers was devised.

Johnny

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Posted by KCSfan on Tuesday, January 13, 2009 2:59 AM

Roadrunner

I've been wondering for a while now how fast the speeds are for most Amtrak trains.  Do the speeds differ between the summer and the winter?  Do average speeds change across the country?

Lots of thanks to anybody that knows anything, and sorry if there is another post about the same topic, I can't find any.

RR,

The speed of any Amtrak train during the course of its run varies from a crawl to track speed which usually is 79mph (higher on the NEC). Any number of factors can result in slower than track speed but the most common causes are slow orders, timing of meets and following slower running trains. Average train speed is more meaningful than is the top speed attained. Average speeds are easily determined using the time and mileage info contained in the train schedules shown on the Amtrak web site. Just be sure to adjust run times when time zones are crossed.Summer schedules may differ from winter ones. For example when major summer track work is planned, train run times may be lengthened in anticipation of delays and slower speeds.

Mark

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Posted by CG9602 on Thursday, January 15, 2009 9:22 AM
One issue to consider is that the private RRs can also turn around and set / dictate lower speed limits than what is allowed by law. When the ATS / ATC / Cab signal system rule was first promulgated the private RRs just set lower speed limits instead of investing in the signal systems. Harvey is correct when he types that speed increases resulting from the use of PTC remain to be seen, and are not guaranteed.

I also seriously think that one should invest in increasing the average speed of each train route (go through the route and eliminate slow orders and other speed restrictions, and make the hills and curves much more gentle), as one may receive better value from that investment than simply increasing the top speed over one segment of track on a route.
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Posted by gardendance on Thursday, January 15, 2009 3:53 PM

HarveyK400

Slow orders are just part of the problem.  A more insidious part of the problem is alighting and boarding at stations.  Loading a carfull of passengers destined for one station where other passengers will board and fill the vacated seats can cost up over ten minutes checking tickets and photo IDs with Homeland Security procedures and 2-person train crew.

I hope you mean that it's insidious because one cannot effectively run a train without alighting and boarding passengers. Otherwise it sounds a little like your saying you could run faster if you didn't have to contend with passengers.

Running non-stop trains is one remedy, but that's not possible in all cases.

With lots of coordination my imaginary railroad marshalls departing passengers into the last car, drops it on the fly before the station, picks up a new carload after the station, again on the fly, so the train itself never stops.

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Posted by Phoebe Vet on Thursday, January 15, 2009 3:59 PM

Gardendance:

Somewhere on youtube I saw a video of exactly that idea proposed somewhere in Japan.

http://technabob.com/blog/2008/06/17/trains-that-pick-you-up-without-stopping/ 

 

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Posted by henry6 on Thursday, January 15, 2009 6:46 PM

Several things can shorten the length of time a train is stopped in a station, or dwell time.  Having long enough station platforms is one, especially so at very busy stations; also busy stations with high platforms help move people on and off more quickly than low platforms.  While keeping all people for one particular station in one or two cars may or may not be the answer because you have limited the number of doors which can be used for detraining. Another important factor is to have enough crew members available to open and monitor more doors.  Its a matter of trainmasters or other supervisory people plus a knowlegable train crew to make it happen right.  And cooperative passengers,

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Friday, January 16, 2009 6:36 PM

Henry6: Feel that you are right about station dwell times. Would add that high platforms need to be track separated from the main tracks which give flexibility for high wide traffic to be maintained on the mains and also more locations for passenger trains and freights to pass.

Most important to passenger speeds is the elimination of slow orders + slow terrain and curve speeds. Example: Auto train's 855 miles is covered in a scheduled 17-1/2 hours including a service and crew change in Florence, SC of a duration I do not know. This results in a average speed of 50MPH assuming a 30 minute service stop. If all CSX's bridges upgraded and curves( reduced to 1 degree or less)  were upgraded along with the 2nd track added back then with a scheduled average speed of 70 MPH then total time would be 12-1/4 to 12-1/2 hours.This only assumes a 79 MPH max speed and when PTC is installed and if track is upgraded to class 5 or class 6 under the CSX proposal for the I-95 corridor then time could be reduced even further to cut times to 8 - 10 hours negating the need for a stop in Florence.

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Posted by HarveyK400 on Saturday, January 17, 2009 12:25 AM

As for high level platforms, and I may be repeating myself:

  • Railroads avoid mainline turnouts because of the maintenance and risk of derailment.
  • The costs of platform, track, and signaling cannot be justified with the volumes of boarding and alighting passengers typical for most medium distance corridor stations.

Slow orders should be temporary and quickly fixed.  Track should be programmed for maintenance on a cycle that ensures degradation does not fall below the agreed service level.  The contract for service should stipulate the level of maintenance standard.

I cannot imagine bridges on a mainline railroad that are not maintained to appropriate standards or have not been upgraded for 286,000-pound cars by this time.

Reducing curves is no easy matter.  Most lines are locked in by geography and development. 

  • The former requires substantial engineering improvements, even relocation and bypass.
  • The latter entails costly acquisition of property with relocation of buildings and facilities.
  • The combination of costs makes extensive upgrading to a maximum curvature of 1-degree impractical for the benefits that can be achieved. 
  • The cost of upgrading the Auto Train route would go a long way toward a separate new high speed line.  How much more successful would the Auto Train be; and would it pay for the investment?
  • 1-degree curves may allow Auto train to run at 79 mph (3"SE, 1.37"UE); but this is the practical limit that would not benefit further with PTC.  The balance speed for such a curve is 66 mph, so slower coal trains, for example, would be over-balanced and wear the inner rail.
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Posted by henry6 on Saturday, January 17, 2009 10:10 AM

The sum total of all the above posts can be boiled down to one word: commitment.  And that word is the bane of Amtrak overall, too.  A mental or stated comittment to operate a viable passenger train system by all participants followed by the dollar commitment to achieve the goal.  If the commitment is to achieve that goal, then the dollar commitment is justified so.  If the committment is parsed by the needs of one party over another (freight taking precidence over passenger for instance) then the commitment is null and void and will not be achieved. Politics and business are the arguements that ensue which are done quite well on other threads, so please don't answer here...I am just making the observation for this thread, let the philosophical and political arguements be conducted on such other threads.

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Posted by gardendance on Monday, January 19, 2009 12:05 PM

Phoebe Vet

Somewhere on youtube I saw a video of exactly that idea proposed somewhere in Japan.

http://technabob.com/blog/2008/06/17/trains-that-pick-you-up-without-stopping/ 

I had also seen that video, I just couldn't work up enough effort to track it down and include when I could just let you guys assume I though of the idea first. Actually I remember seeing something quite similar in a Popular Mechanics type magazine in the 1960's.

I also remember a science fiction short story that involved a skyport, a giant airplane that circled the earth, only landed once a month or so for maintenance. Regular sized jets would ferry passengers, fuel and supplies.

henry6

And cooperative passengers,

In that story when the shuttle planes docked with the mother ship there was a conveyor system that moved passengers and their seats into and out of the skyport.

Also talking about cooperative, does anybody remember Amfleet once upon a time had entrance front and exit rear doors? I never noticed the system observed or enforced.

As for high level platforms, in the northeast we have enough of them that it's impractical to have multi-level passenger cars with doors in the low level, instead we put the doors over the trucks in the transition level. Meanwhile Chicago, etc... hotdog shaped multi levels, gallery and Superduper liners can have station platforms at or very near the cars' low level.

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Monday, January 19, 2009 7:52 PM

Harvey:  CSX has several bridges on its A&WP sub that have speed restrictions. Don't know why but it does. I'm sure Mudchicken can give us many reasons like the present Kate Shelly Bridge.

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