Saturday, November 04, 2006

Getting commuter rail on track

Leveraging Railroad Potentials in Western PA
Guyasuta Fellowship
Bud Paulding 10-13-06

PRIORITY: To use existing rail corridors in the Metro and Regional areas to provide efficient mass commuter transit.

RECOMMENDATION: The just-released (9/06) Eastern Corridor Transit Study Transitional Analysis (say that 3x fast) FINAL REPORT concludes that there are three-to-four uses of existing rail which performed well in public support and projected costs and benefits. These possibilities are “underknown” and need widespread publicity in public, commercial, governmental, and political circles to generate support and action.

CURRENT STATUS: The concept seems to be gaining screen-space on the Local Radar. I have as yet not talked to the Influentials and Planners who know what’s shaking and what’s possible in the short and mid-term. (The Eastern Corridor Study has a target of 2025).

PROBLEMS: Let’s See: Cost; Conceptual Acceptance; Co-Operation (Railroads, Municipalities, Existing Transit Lines, PennDOT, US Govt.); Construction. Oh, and Cost.

SOLUTION: Locate and enlist Influentials and Players willing to work across turf lines to educate different audiences and expedite the planning process. Heavy use of Telling the Story and Media, including Ads, PSAs, articles (newspaper, mags, web, prestigious pubs, TV roundtables, etc.) Short videos, cool animated artwork: actually, a marketing campaign (!).

EXPECTED IMPACTS OF PROPOSED SOLUTION: Even in the short run, the heavy traffic on Carson Street, 2nd Avenue, Parkway East, and Route 28 could be considerably reduced, with savings in time, frustration, air pollution, parking space downtown, energy use, and maintenance.
The best things about this approach: The tremendous cost of right-of-way acquisition and infrastructure construction is…Done! Park-and-Ride lots and simple station facilities and storage for railcars would be doable and not expensive. The rail lines already run to important parts of town; and in the future, shuttle links and walking connections to bus and T lines would not be difficult.

FLASH!: a US company, Colorado Railcar, is manufacturing the DMU cars (Diesel Multiple Units) designed and perfect for commuter and intercity service: each car is independently powered by up-to-date efficient diesel engines, and they can be run

Leveraging Railroad Potentials in Western PA
Guyasuta Fellowship
Bud Paulding 10-13-06

singly or in multiples, as traffic requires. They are already in service in several US
cities, and are already approved for use on American freight lines by the Federal Government!

Funding: Raise the Car Registration cost and shift some PennDOT money to
support these projects. Get in line for Federal $ and work Harrisburg for some
money. Use pub-private, and “velvet hammer” approaches with the railroads for operational and infrastructural changes. I keep hearing that they may be more ready to play than Mr. Roddey suggested.

Very Cool: Once the RR issues are settled, a demo-project could be done; and since the cars and the stations are “modular,” the concept could be tested, find acceptance, and implemented gradually, stretching/saving many $$: Remember, the infrastructure is 95% built.

RESPONSES TO NEGATIVE CRITICISM: Competing transit lines may complain. PAT would be able to lighten some lines, however. The RRs will have issues about scheduling conflicts with freight; however, commuter traffic would only need to run from 6-9AM and 4-7PM. Modern electronic track/traffic controls and GPS can handle things once schedules are settled. The cost issues I have sketched out above but more detail needs to be done.

1. I envision a stop in Panther Hollow near CMU, with shuttle busses running to CMU and Oakland and connecting to PAT.
2. I envision a series of stops from the Waterfront to Station Square, where folks can connect to busses and the T.
3. Other RR Lines exist to the North and South Hills which might be suitable.
4. That’s the thing: this concept is relatively inexpensive and simple to implement. Basically it only requires as few as one DMU, RR Track, Park&Ride, and RR co-operation.


Focus: Improving Metro and Regional Passenger and Freight Transportation

This is a complex subject, bearing on several aspects of transportation in both the immediate Pittsburgh Metro and wider County and Regional areas. It appears we feel as a Fellowship that it is rather a matter of underutilization, rather than a “broken link” in our transportation system. Personally I suspect there may be some “stealth solutions” available, but it will take detailed study and interviewing to see what steps may be taken in the short and mid-term.

Focus: Opportunities to Leverage existing rail corridors.
This could benefit commuters, relieve some rush-hour pressure on local arteries, improve air quality and save fuel, and add some additional jobs to construct a few facilities and operate new services and facilities.
Focus: What we might do.
I begin with recognizing that Pittsburgh is at the center of some high-quality, and some moderate quality, railroad lines. Some of these could quite possibly be used for mass transit concurrently with freight service, thus providing efficient commuter access to Downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland without exceptionally large capital outlays. Doing so would have the benefit of taking that many more cars off the daily auto rush-hour-routes. With intermodal freight growing strongly, the State and region could possibly leverage its Keystone position to create more revenue and jobs by investing in upgrading intermodal terminal facilities.

For example: Park-and-Rides at the Waterfront, and at nodes along Carson Street, give access to quick transit to the South Side and connect to the T.

Similar approach at Fox Chapel, Aspinwall, Etna-- service to North Shore, connecting to the T when it gets there.

The heart of the idea would be independently-powered, couplable, passenger cars like the Rail Diesel Cars (RDCs) of the 50’s-70’s. More efficient and green versions may be available on the world market. GE is phasing in a Hybrid deisel-electric locomotive.

Several of our guests indicated they saw potential to leverage existing rail corridors, and indicated the railroads might well co-operate if plans were practical and reflected their freight-moving priorities.


At 12:57 PM, November 10, 2006, Blogger jtp said...

The implementation of a regional commuter rail system sounds great. Can you comment a little bit more on the 2020 Transit Vision Study (May 2006)that was assigned to be read for session 3 with Steve Bland. Many of your ideas seem to coincide with that document.


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