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22.03.2015
Amtrak unveils pie-in-the-sky plans for Northeast Corridor high-speed rail route - Second Ave. By 2040, travel along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor could be among the pleasures of rail in this country. In an extensive planning document (linked above), Amtrak talks about the various routings and infrastructure that would be into such a plan.
Despite the price tag, the economics, says Amtrak, would make a Next-Generation High Speed rail line profitable.
Over at The Transport Politic, Yonah Freemark is realistic about this project’s future as anything more than just a snazzy PDF.
The fact that the Congress has thus far only committed $10.5 billion total to high-speed rail projects across the country does not seem to have phased anyone in Amtrak management, though it may have resulted in the decision to propose spreading out spending over a 25-year period, rather than, for instance, building it all in ten years.
Amtrak will need a massive and long-term commitment from the federal government to make this project possible. The biggest problem, besides its overall cost, is that it requires 25 years of appropriations.
Truly high speed trains cannot operate on those tracks both because they are neither straight nor properly banked, and because they share the routes with trains that must stop every few miles.
So, it seems to me that the most sensible thing to do is build the new HSR corridor and let the local rails and stations have all of the capacity that Amtrak currently utilizes. Of course, the thing that gets me more than anything (well, besides the eye-popping price tag, which is crazy) is the failure of cooperative planning between the various agencies. It’s ONE SYSTEM and the overlapping pieces are starting to really constrain each other. A project like this is in my view a necessity, and the first step to making it a reality is Amtrak starting the conversation. And if you consider you can almost always find a bus with wifi for $20 from NYC to any NE city, Amtrak doesn’t have a chance with the nonbusiness traveler. As to the ICE, when I was in Germany three years ago it seemed a little bit expensive, but certainly within reason given the speed and level of service. I came to the realization that taking the train while slightly more expensive, will arrive on time, not take a different route, not smell of feces, and has better leg room.
It sounds like you’ve never traveled on one of the newer bus lines like Bolt or Megabus.
As it happens we also need another $120 billion to bring regional rapid transit systems up to world standards. Thanks to somebody finally, in this case Amtrak, for having a big, positive vision of our future. As I said, you can use the existing inner-city infrastructure, but merging the HSR with the existing system on either side of Penn Station lines you up for bottlnecks when regular Amtrak train, NJT or the LIRR is having problems, while running a dedicated HSR line through the city, including its own Hudson and East River or Harlem River tunnels would add a nickle or two onto the project (and the fact that New York is a city surrounded by deep, wide waterways presents similar cost problems in the 21st Century that the Pennsylvania Railroad ran into at the start of the 19th Century). John, compare the cost of a) building brand new tunnels under Manhattan, and b) maintaining NJT and LIRR trains to reasonable standards, installing moving-block signaling on the approaches to allow 30 tph, and training the drivers and dispatchers to be on time. This would still be a very ambitious plan and would require some eminent domain, but how about increasing the capacity of the current alignment? This is obviously another pie-in-the-sky idea, especially considering the disruptions that would occur on the New Haven line during construction, but imagine all the NIMBYism that would be avoided by modifying an existing ROW as opposed to building a new line through quiet suburbs.
My little personal plan was to make the second avenue subway a double decker all the way through to the northern tip of the Bronx. But even if they get everything they ask for,a passenger from Petersburg (Virginia) to Portland(Maine) would still change trains at least twice and probably wouldn’t even make a faster connection. But the federal stimulus reawakened the possibility of funding the project with national money. Yet, the City of Montreal and the State of New York have a different objective: connecting the French-Canadian city with Gotham.
The map above shows the route of the proposed Boston-Montreal corridor and potential service routing off the line onto existing Amtrak routes. When developing high-speed rail networks, a 3h30 travel time constitutes the upper limit of how far people are willing to choose rail travel over air routes. As the map demonstrates, only one major metro area, Boston, would be within 3h30 distance of Montreal, with several smaller cities such as Burlington also within striking distance.
One major problem with this planned route is that trains would enter North Station, not South Station, where most service from Boston originates. In other words, a New York route would provide service to Montreal in five hours or less for the majority of the Northeastern seaboard, with the visible exception of Boston, which would be more like 6h30 away save for improvements along the Boston-Albany route. Even if the New York corridor were twice as expensive as the Boston route (it wouldn’t be), it would still provide more travel benefits to more people per unit of cost. But the only government-approved national rail map we have suggests that the Boston corridor is the one that deserves high-speed rail. Note: there are several technical problems that would have to be addressed for both potential routes to allow through-running.
In New York, the Empire Connection, the line on the west side of Manhattan that trains would take to enter Penn Station, heads east as it enters the facility.
In Boston, trains arriving at North Station would similarly have to reverse directions to go northeast to Portland. Perhaps the easiest solution to overcoming the political imbalance between the two routes is to make Montreal-Albany and Boston-Albany one project: Montreal-Boston-Albany, allowing passengers to transfer at Albany to Boston, or, if demand was sufficient, to create through-service.
It wouldn’t have the power of three states, but New York and Massachusetts together should be sufficient, especially with the better strategic transportation argument on their side.
A few weeks ago, I took the bus to Montreal from Boston with my roommates and the trip took 7h30m.
This article also seems to completely disregard the benefits of all the Vermont and New Hampshire connections in between.
I believe that connecting the entire New England region and providing a connection to Montreal is extremely important and that forcing New Englanders over to Albany to catch a train to Montreal, not only doesn’t make much sense, it is also a slap in the face to six states.


I’m a daily reader and avid fan of the site, but I think the mark was missed on this article and too much emphasis placed on figures rather than the unique aspects of New England and the need for connections within the entire region. In the immediate near term why not just duck the whole issue and upgrade the busiest sections of the northeast network, Boston – NY and the Empire corridor, ideally with Empire electrification (hopefully all the way to Toronto, which when combined with GO and the NEC would make a very nice start at a national electric system)?
This should be accompanied by an HSR study, but in the long term I really don’t see a way to justify both NY HSR and a parrallel New England route. Kyle called the NY – Montreal route a slap in the face to New England, but his discussion of it as a route for Massachusetts makes a regional service much more sensible.
Sorry to double post, but I cant edit on here, and the link didn’t come out properly. Boston to Montreal restores rail connectivity lost in the 1980’s when the Concord Lebanon section of the NH main line was abandoned. What also needs to be developed is the restoration of some of the historic routes for seasonal and year round use that connect our major tourist destination. Such destinations as Newport, RI, Cape Cod, the NH Seacoast, Bar Harbor, ME historically had great raill connectivity but are now inaccessible except by the automobile. That same sort of rail to trail initiative happened in Newfoundland and Labrador after the Newfoundland Railway was closed in 1988, when I was one year old. By the way, I should add that I believe both the route from Montreal to New York and the one from Montreal to Boston make sense.
Kyle, the problem with what you say about connectivity in Boston is that it’s equally true for New York, which is three times as big.
According to a report released by Amtrak today, if the agency has its druthers, high-speed travel between New York and Washington would take just 96 minutes, and the trip to Boston from New York would last just 84 minutes.
The project would involve new tunnels into and out of New York City, Baltimore and Philadelphia as well as extensive rights of way expansions in Connecticut and new station complexes from Washington to Boston. The rail company would have to build out various rights of ways to ensure that the train route from Washington to Boston is as straight as possible.
The agency anticipates an annual operating surplus of $900 million as rail would overtake air travel as the fatest and most convenient form of travel between Washington and Boston. Under the plan, the sections from Baltimore to Wilmington and from Philadelphia to New Rochelle would be completed by 2030, with the rest done by 2040. It will have to find a way to build a coalition between Republicans and Democrats on the matter, since each party will inevitably be in power at some point over the next thirty years.
Has there ever been a transit project that managed to remain a legislative priority for 25 consecutive years? Its ridiculous already that prices for a regular 3.5-4 hour Amtrak train from NY to Boston midday Sunday can cost over 100 bucks, on a holiday forget it.
Their cost range is competitive with low-cost airlines, and they’re much more convenient.
It’s a pie in the sky plan that Amtrak put up specifically in order to try to shut up people who complain that the Acela is too slow.
I believe it could if its plans were less stupid, but Amtrak’s own plan calls for 3-4 tph. As a result, both American and Canadian politicians have been arguing for the expansion of rail service from the metropolis south into the United States.
This series of lines would include connections between Boston and Portland, Boston and Albany, Springfield and New Haven, and Boston and Montreal. Upgrades of the partially abandoned route could be sponsored by the Department of Transportation.
In the 1970s, hyperactive Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau attempted to connect his city with New York via TGV, a project that was ultimately abandoned due to lack of governmental commitment. The 329-mile route between the two cities would take almost two hours to complete (and about one hour from Montreal to White River Junction, where the existing line branches off). However, I have also included information on travel times of five hours to Montreal with the intention of demonstrating potential future expansions of true high-speed service and the implications for customers willing to travel further. Excluding Montreal, about 5.1 million people live in the metropolitan areas affected by this service, almost all of them in the Boston area. This means that it would be impossible to continue service from Boston to Providence or Springfield, unless the North-South Rail Link connecting the terminals is ever built. That’s because the slightly longer than two hour trip between Montreal and New York would provide a direct connection to the center of the speedy Northeast Corridor. These numbers indicate unambiguously that the route from New York would be vastly more productive than the one from Boston.
To allow trains to continue southwest to Philadelphia and beyond, the driver would have to go to the other end of the train (it would reverse directions).
A direct connection to service emanating from South Station (west to Springfield or southwest to Providence) would not be possible unless Massachusetts built a connection either through the North-South Link or around the city at some location.
That would reduce travel times to Boston from Montreal from 6h30 to something closer to 3.5 hours. This means that connecting Montreal to Albany and thence New York would actually require less new construction than connecting it directly to Boston. There’s only one route from Toronto to Ottawa, as well as a route from Toronto to Montreal bypassing Ottawa. We are marketing to geographic areas such as Europe and the Orient whose populace is conditioned to the availibbility of a balanced muliti-modal transportation system. In many cases the rail to trail initiative has taken over many connecting corridors for use as bicycle corridors preventing their use as rail corridors. I’ve been wanting to go to New York for a long time, but have never gotten around to doing it. Vermont’s population is about one third urban, well below world average and on a par with the third world.
This Next-Generation High Speed Rail would improve speeds of commuter trains from today’s average of 75 miles per hour to 140 with a top velocity of 220 miles per hour, but the project remains unfunded.


The trains, says Amtrak, require approximately 5 miles of acceleration over 16 miles of straight, flat track to reach speeds of 200 miles per hour, and the alignment constraints are tremendous. Construction over 25 years could generate 44,000 jobs and $33 billion in wages, and the line would see ridership increase from 12 million annually to 38 million. It will have to make a strong case for why investing in the system fulfills national objectives.
Plus, it might be something like 15 years of studies and 10 years of actual construction, so major appropriations will occur over only a small number of years.
Even if this is faster than flying, prices for flights are probably gonna be lower or about the same. And you could just as easily find someone else’s trip and cite that example where they got stuck in a major traffic jam, or the bus broke down, but the train was right on time.
They have wi-fi and the on-board service is nice, but let’s not conflate them with coming to the city like kings. If true HSR costs $100 billion, then surely Amtrak’s plan to provide incremental improvements for $10 billion is not that bad. Amtrak has dedicated track, the speed is limited mainly by noise emissions, and it hooks okay to the New Haven Line. All of the existing traffic plus the projected increase in Amtrak traffic could be fit onto the existing tracks plus some extra passing sidings at key stations. The three states began studying a connection with Canada and released a report detailing potential services in April 2003. New York’s state rail plan pushes an improvement of the connection between Albany and Montreal, but only after the link between Buffalo and Albany is substantially accelerated. I produced these maps by calculating existing travel times on Amtrak from Boston, White River Junction, and Montreal; the map assumes no improvement of service on any of the other lines shown here.
Expanding time to 5h would reach 1.2 million more people and allow travel to Springfield and Portland. In addition to New York and Albany, cities within 3h30 of Montreal would include Newark, Trenton, Philadelphia, Stamford, New Haven, and Springfield. It is in the national public interest to ensure that funding go to the former, rather than latter, route. That fact says a lot about the problems with the American political system and our unwillingness to submit national policy to an objective test. To speed things up, there could be another driver ready to assume controls as the train entered New York, to allow for a seamless and potentially stop-free transition. This was also the same in Prince Edward Island, as well as some rail lines in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (for example, Frederiction, NB, the province’s capital, has no rail lines anymore, and neither does in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, west of Halifax).
This was confirmed decades ago when local leaders tried to pitch HSR to New York as a way of competing with Toronto. In the report, it is clear that the agency hopes to portray the Northeast’s strong contribution to the overall U.S. The TGV’s average speed between Paris and Lyon is more than twice that of the Acela between New York and Boston. Of course if we had reasonable wage and labor laws, we could’ve built HSR all over the country for that much, and have a lower unemployment rate as well. The curves on the route cost the train a few seconds of travel time relative to a cruise at 125 mph. The same is true on the New Haven Line, which has four tracks (except one short three-track segment, which needs to be four-tracked) and carries the traffic of two. But with stimulus funds for high-speed rail soon to be distributed, it’s worth considering what routes would be most appropriate for possible service. The study advocated 110 mph top speed service on the 329-mile route, providing a 5h48 trip between Boston and Montreal.
What follows is a comparison of a hypothetical major investment on the two most prominent visions of high-speed routes between the cities, at average speeds of 180 mph. Within five hours: Wilmington, Baltimore, Washington, Hartford, New London, Providence, and Syracuse.
If our high-speed rail dollars are to be well-spent, we have an obligation to compare the benefits of multiple corridors and invest in the most effective option. Otherwise, passengers would have to change stations to transfer to other trains, slowing down connections and making through-routing impossible. If New York-Montreal HSR detours through Burlington instead of paralleling the existing route, then there will be even fewer mountain crossings. Without a significant investment in rail in the northeast, Amtrak’s entire Northeast Corridor will be at 100 percent capacity by 2035. At a time when the public is wary of government investment, financial mechanisms must be identified that will lead to the funding of this integral project. A double-decked SAS would save some time, but it would be less than a minute, for several billion dollars. New Hampshire, more focused on expanding highways into Boston, abandoned interest and the project has laid dormant since. By comparing the routes at high speeds rather than the 70 or 80 mph averages typically proposed by the investment-weary states, the ultimate advantages of the different routes can be more easily discerned. Another time the bus was packed to the gills and standing room only (which I think is illegal), got stuck in bumper to bumper traffic and took well over four hours.
There are better ways to spend the money: there are multiple curves in New Jersey and Connecticut that cost a full minute each.



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