Amtrak is testing 165 MPH trains in the northeast corridor, getting me psyched up about 37-minute trips between NYC and Philly.
Not being a deficit hawk, I’m not really losing sleep over the $151 billion pricetag of Amtrak’s plans for the Northeast corridor, but people should know that we can get a 4-hour Boston-Washington trip for radically cheaper, and mostly without relying on Congress to fund it. Check out Alon Levy’s posts here and here for the details on how to reduce the cost by as much as 90%.
For those of you interested in how to improve the NYC-Philadelphia leg of the trip at a lower cost, I want to point you to Steve Stofka’s blog, where he’s been doing a great job introducing some cheaper fixes. Steve is very persuasive on the point that the Market East tunnel plan is way more expensive than using 30th Street Station, and that bypassing the Zoo should be substantially lower on the priority list.
So, now that we have established how to provide high-speed Airport service and augment the 30th Street approaches; so, now that we have established that the existing alignment is operationally superior and that neither speed nor capacity is an issue south of 30th Street, we must take a look at what is the real crux of Philadelphia’s rail transportation problems: Zoo.
Before we begin this discussion, keep in mind that (a) Zoo has unused capacity and (b) of all the speed restrictions to address between New York and Philadelphia, Zoo has, or should have, the lowest priority. What this means is that we can compromise on Zoo and still get good or very good service before needing to actually address it as a problem. There is no way to solve Zoo as a speed problem without concrete, and organization and electronics need to be optimized before concrete goes in. What this means is that rebuilding Zoo is a project with a long-term outlook: 2045 or later. It is also the final element of my program of improvements for HSR in Philadelphia (see here).
All the improvements Steve identifies are still expensive in absolute terms, but they are definitely within the state’s capacity if people are willing to make this a priority. It should go without saying that spending $100 million on Zoo interlocking improvements is a much higher-impact use of taxpayer dollars than spending $2 billion on the Shell ethane cracker.