Amtrak’s high-speed rail stop now Providence, not WoonsocketJuly 13th, 2012 at 10:15 am by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site
This week Amtrak released its updated Next-Generation High-Speed Rail plan for the Northeast Corridor [pdf], and one of the notable changes from its May 2010 master plan is the relocation of the proposed Rhode Island stop from Woonsocket to a station around Providence. Here’s how:
A new dedicated HSR [high-speed rail] platform would be added north of the existing [Providence] station, with station enhancements added to support high-speed services. Some tunneling would be required west of the existing station, given current development around Providence.
The NextGen HSR alignment would then follow the higher-speed, current 150 mph (241 kph), NEC north of Providence, improved as part of the Northeast High-Speed Rail Improvement Program in the 1990s. The NEC capacity improvements planned through NextGen HSR would also benefit both intercity and commuter rail users, such as the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), which presently runs service along this section of the Corridor (Figure 8). Five existing commuter stations would need to be modified to separate local platforms from the NextGen HSR express tracks. While this alteration increased the projected capital costs, it would increase ridership and revenues and strengthen connectivity between services of the new alignment and those on the existing NEC.
The change was made “in order to serve the state’s major population and business center,” Amtrak explained. “While this alteration increased the projected capital costs, it had a positive impact on ridership and revenue and strengthened connectivity between services on the new alignment and existing [Northeast Corridor].”
Amtrak estimates its entire Northeast high-speed rail plan would cost $151 billion to build through 2040. Trains would travel at up to 220 mph, going from Boston to Washington in a little more than three hours.
Not everyone is enthusiastic. Alon Levy, a Providence mathematician who writes the transportation blog Pedestrian Observations, counters that “it is possible to achieve comparable travel times for about one tenth the cost” by undertaking a number of more modest steps such as speeding up MBTA commuter rail service:
In Switzerland, trains run as fast as necessary, not as fast as possible. In this context, this means running just fast enough to meet a good clockface schedule. Boston-Providence travel time on the MBTA today is about 1:10; for a good takt, this should be cut to about 55 minutes, allowing hourly service with two trainsets and half-hourly service with four.
Slate’s Matthew Yglesias agrees: “Projects of the scale Levy is talking about would be expensive, but genuinely within the fiscal capacity of the local jurisdictions to undertake whether or not trains happen to be in vogue in congress next year.”