Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Dual powered diesel-electric locomotive introduced into service at NJ Transit and implications for long range regional railroad planning in DC, Maryland, and Virginia

 A combined diesel-electric locomotive has been introduced by Bombardier, for use in New Jersey and eventually Montreal.  See "NJ Transit unveils dual-powered locomotives" from Metro Magazine.

The ALP-45DP, also known as a Dual Powered Locomotive, is the first locomotive in the U.S. to be powered by the overhead catenary or by its twin diesel engines. Demonstrating its versatility, the first ALP-45DP locomotive to run on NJ Transit arrived at Montclair State University Station in Montclair, N.J., under diesel power, raised its pantograph arm to make contact with the overhead catenary wire and left the station for Hoboken Terminal under electric power.

So at last week's press conference on Union Station (which I do plan to get around to writing about in five installments), I met a high level executive from Parsons Brinckerhoff--an engineering, planning, construction, infrastructure firm.  He lives in Baltimore County and we were aware of each other from my participation in EnvisionBaltimore activities.

We discussed two interesting things, relating to my point (one of the five coming entries), that MARC--the railroad commuter service in Maryland--and VRE--the railroad commuter service in Northern Virginia--both serving DC, and MARC also provides some service to WV, should merge and create a multi-state railroad authority (which I call RACER, for Railroad Authority of the Chesapeake Region).

Basically the point was that MARC and VRE should respond to the vision of the Northeast Corridor as expressed by various Amtrak planning initiatives, and be equally bold.

Map by Gerry Neilly, showing his proposal for connecting Baltimore's fixed rail transit lines at Charles Center.

1.  So we talked about increasing service northward, and the impact of high speed rail, which is accommodated in the planning efforts, but not being planned in detail as part of current initiatives.

He mentioned that separately the Federal Railroad Administration is doing planning related to the capacity and other problems posed by the old Baltimore & Potomac Tunnel, which goes under Baltimore's downtown to serve Penn Station.  (Also see "A 21st Century NEC: The Challenge of Civil War Era Tunnels" from the Business Alliance for Northeast Mobility blog.)

He said the reality is that the best way to serve high speed rail is to avoid the tunnel altogether, and build a new loop, with a station in the vicinity of the soon to be (if not already) demolished Mechanic Theater downtown.  This would have significant impact on Penn Station.  I don't know if it would be abandoned, or re-set differently, somehow functioning as a part of multiple stations serving the city as North and South Stations serve Boston, Penn Station and Grand Central Station serve Manhattan, and Suburban Station, Market Street Station, and 30th Street Station serve Philadelphia, and how Union Station and other stations serve Chicago, etc.

It would also allow for connections--by building a transit hub/terminal in the underground levels of the Charles Center, which would connect the proposed red line, the subway, and the light rail in Baltimore, as has been suggested by Gerry Neilly, in the Baltimore Innerspace blog, in "THE PORTAL TO A RED LINE THAT WOULD ACTUALLY WORK EFFECTIVELY" and "THE FULLY INTEGRATED METRO/LIGHT RAIL/STREETCAR PLAN."

2.  We were talking about how to extend service from Union Station southward to Richmond (and then to Petersburg, Norfolk, and Charlotte, NC).  This is what the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation wants to do--at least to Richmond.  Their idea is that by having higher speed rail "starting" at Richmond, the southern terminus of the "Northeast" corridor is extended and this should help stoke their revitalization capabilities.

 o  Washington, DC/Richmond Rail Improvements (VDRPT)
 o  Southeast High Speed Rail Project (VDRPT)

There are two problems that makes achieving this difficult.  One has to do with needing at least 4 tracks between DC and Richmond, so that passenger rail service can run exclusively on the tracks, or at least more service can be accommodated.  Right now the tracks are owned by Norfolk Southern and their foremost priority is freight service.

Plus, actually, there need to be multiple tracks not just between Arlington County and Richmond, but between Union Station, L'Enfant Plaza, and across Long Bridge.  See "D.C. to study Potomac River rail bridge options" from the Washington Business Journal.

The DC Office of Planning/National Capital Planning Commission recommends four tracks and undergrounding the railroad in Southwest DC, in the Maryland Ave. Small Area Plan (DC) and the Southwest Ecodistrict Plan (NCPC).
Page from the Southwest Ecodistrict plan
Page from the Southwest Ecodistrict plan.

The second problem concerns the cost of electrification, if the service is to be as fast as the Northeast Corridor (or hopefully faster), it would need to run from an overhead electric catenary system.

And the PB guy mentioned that if combined electric-diesel locomotives can work in service, then while not an absolute solution, at least it's an interim solution that means that locomotives and train sets in service from Boston to Washington can continue without having to change locomotive engines (this takes time and lengthens train trips) from electric to diesel to continue southward.

With the introduction of the new dual powered locomotive by Bombardier, maybe some of Virginia's plans to extend and improve railroad service between Richmond and Washington can be achieved sooner than we think.

This video shows the switch on the ALP-45DP from electric to diesel.  (It's a test.)

This video shows the train coming into and leaving the Convent Station on electric power.

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