Providence Line Electrification

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Providence Line Electrification

Postby GP40 6694 » Thu Nov 11, 2010 10:05 am

Since a few people don't want this discussion in the MPI-HSP46 thread, I thought I'd give it it's own topic. If there's a recent thread on this topic, please let me know, but I couldn't find anything post 2005 by searching.

We all know the MBTA should electrify the Providence line, but the question is, why don't they? Not only would it be much cheaper to operate, but it would be cleaner, quieter, and much faster. They could also offer more weekend service, as they wouldn't be burning up gallon after gallon of diesel fuel with relatively light ridership. During the week, heavily used trains could run faster, with much better acceleration.

Two other big questions come to my mind:

1. What is the actual top speed of the various cars in use on MBTA?
2. Is there enough clearance over the top of the P&W autorack track to put wire up and still clear the autoracks?

And then of course, there's the question of what locomotive? Used ALP-44's or AEM-7's? ACS-64's? ALP-46a's? Something else?
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Re: Providence Line Electrification

Postby octr202 » Thu Nov 11, 2010 10:26 am

With regard to #2, yes, catenary can clear autoracks and intermodal. It happens further south on the NEC (well, probably less than it used to since the auto assembly plants in NJ and DE have shut down).

The big question everyone forgets in these discussions is that the electric power system is Amtrak's. The MBTA would be purchasing power from Amtrak, just as they purchase diesel fuel now, except that there's only one supplier. I don't know any numbers, but I've read on several occasions that what Amtrak charges MARC in Maryland for electric power is enough that it makes it cost-effective for MARC to use diesel sets laying over from other lines at off-peak times on their Penn Line over the NEC (probably when combined with train length savings, as the diesel sets are shorter). The operational cost savings on a per trip basis are likely not enough to offset the increased cost of electrifying yards, shops, and other tracks that currently aren't, buying new and different motive power, and the resulting loss of efficiencies with a dedicated Providence line equipment pool. Unless the state is ever going to look at wiring up more of the southside, you're not going to economically justify those costs in the current political & financial climate. Maybe some day down the road.
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Re: Providence Line Electrification

Postby jbvb » Thu Nov 11, 2010 11:16 am

If you add Stoughton, Needham and the Indigo Line (Readville via Dorchester on the old NY&NE) to the project, you get more operational flexibility, Amtrak gets a routing alternative in the event of construction (the SW Corridor is 25 years old and will start to show age at some point) and you can put off major capital improvements (ventilation) at Back Bay. Also, air quality at South Station would be much better if they ever build on the air rights over the inner part of the platform, and the MBTA would improve their position vs. likely oil price increases. But that would require capital and forward thinking.

More likely, this will happen as part of the North-South connector, when we finallly finish paying off the Big Dig and some plutocrat developer sets his sights on BET or Dover St.
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Re: Providence Line Electrification

Postby boblothrope » Thu Nov 11, 2010 12:26 pm

GP40 6694 wrote:And then of course, there's the question of what locomotive? Used ALP-44's or AEM-7's? ACS-64's? ALP-46a's? Something else?


EMUs. [cue sound of raucous laughter]
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Re: Providence Line Electrification

Postby sery2831 » Thu Nov 11, 2010 12:34 pm

Right now it's not economical to purchase electric trains to use only on one line. The T has no way of maintaining the equipment or a place to do it. But a good example of expansion of electrification is Montreal. They are buying dual mode locomotives that run off of overhead. They plan to electrify the entire system there in sections over a long period of time. That is a smart plan! But we are not going to discuss Montreal here... Just pointing it out :-D
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Re: Providence Line Electrification

Postby GP40 6694 » Thu Nov 11, 2010 2:06 pm

On the clearances, I don't think they could possibly be cleared for double stack? Maybe TOFC? Single stack isn't even as tall as a normal train, so that's not even in the picture. My question is where there is enough vertical separation between bridges or whatever other obstacles there are to put in catenary and still clear whatever P&W wants to run there. I know in other places catenary clears double-stacks, but that requires another foot or three above regular doublestack clearance.

The idea of an alternate route for Amtrak is quite attractive, although they could use that now, albeit with an extra 30 minutes in there for an engine change at NHV.

My thoughts, looking from an equipment perspective is that in the future, all lines running more than four cars regularly will need to be electrified, while lines running less than that will be better served by DMU's like the ones US Railcar makes. I guess by this criteria, most or all of the MBTA would sit squarely in the electric area.

I can't quite get behind the EMU thing. People mention equipment commonality, and running loco-hauled would at least allow a decent subset of the current equipment to run on Providence, and all of it, except some non ACSES cab cars to run with a somewhat restricted train speed. EMU's are way more expensive than loco-hauled, and would be a maintenance nightmare, since they can't get to BET.

On the maintenance aspect of things, if they were running electric locos with a push-pull set, they would be able to swap off locos at South Station and send a set up to BET or back into the rotation if those needs arose. Yes, they would need to add a potty pumping station somewhere on the Providence Line, but that's a rather minor improvement, all things considered. This would leave only the requirement of a small electric shop on the Providence, and major maintenance could be outsourced to Amtrak. It would be easy enough to deadhead a unit on an Amtrak train from South Station.

On the cost of electric power, doesn't MBTA have a lot more bargaining rights since they own the trackage that Amtrak operates on north of the state border? Also, Amtrak really has the incentive to get MBTA onto electric, since the electric trains would be able to get out of the way of Amtrak trains more quickly, making it easier on the dispatchers, whereas diesel push-pull sets can't get out of their own way.

For operational efficiency, not only would an electric set be able to be loco switched for movement for another line, but the restriction on equipment is only one-way. If I were the MBTA, I would get enough electric gear to cover just shceduled maintenance, making sure that I didn't have a lot of extra electrics sitting around. This way, diesels might have to occasionally fill in on less-busy Providence trains, but there wouldn't be a ton of electrics sitting around with nothing to do since there's only one line they can run on.

How on EARTH can dual-mode locomotives possibly make any sense for anything other than NJT's absolute need to run electric in the tunnel? As much as I am a fan of running electric wherever possible, those things are like $10M+ a pop!!! Even in NJT's case, I should think they would be better off just putting wire up wherever they want trains to connect to NYC (or not, since their tunnel died a harsh political death, long live the water taxis I guess).
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Re: Providence Line Electrification

Postby diburning » Thu Nov 11, 2010 2:20 pm

Unless Amtrak gets rid of their current electric fleet dirt cheap, there won't even be a remote chance of this happening due to the extra costs involved. However, it is very possible that Amtrak will get rid of their current fleet because they just announced an order for ACS-64s from Siemens (Amtrak City Sprinter - 6400HP)
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Re: Providence Line Electrification

Postby madcrow » Thu Nov 11, 2010 3:45 pm

Frankly, while the Providence line would be the easiest one to electrify (just buy electric locomotives and do a deal to use Amtrak power), it would be the least useful one to do so on, given the fairly long distance between stops and the like.
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Re: Providence Line Electrification

Postby GP40 6694 » Thu Nov 11, 2010 4:39 pm

diburning wrote:Unless Amtrak gets rid of their current electric fleet dirt cheap, there won't even be a remote chance of this happening due to the extra costs involved. However, it is very possible that Amtrak will get rid of their current fleet because they just announced an order for ACS-64s from Siemens (Amtrak City Sprinter - 6400HP)


NJT also has ALP-44's that are getting retired, those are fairly similar to the AEM-7's, but a bit newer.

madcrow wrote:Frankly, while the Providence line would be the easiest one to electrify (just buy electric locomotives and do a deal to use Amtrak power), it would be the least useful one to do so on, given the fairly long distance between stops and the like.


Well, there are parts that are not electrified, plus the yards, but the whole point of this line of thought is that the Providence line has wire for the most part, so it should be electrified, regardless of the various arguments over whether it makes any sense to electrify lines that aren't currently.

I'd disagree. It covers a LOT of distance, and trains could do 100 if they were electrified (limited only by the cars and distances between stops, since the locos are all good for 125). The big deal is acceleration, and on a run that long, electrifying it might bring more stations within the magic hour that is commutable to Boston, and make service more competitive to driving into Providence. It also would make it easier to mesh with Amtrak's schedules, as the slots could be tighter. Lastly, electric is just a lot cleaner, and since one of the main points behind mass transit and commuter rail is reducing pollution, use of foreign oil, and greenhouse gas emissions, it makes a lot more sense to do it with an electrified train, where possible.

Another side benefit is that trains could potentially be longer, as an ALP-46a can handle 10 double deckers easily, good luck getting a screamer or a Geep to do THAT. The population density is generally the highest around the NEC/ Providence Line, since that's where the towns sprung up on the railroad a century and a half ago, and they still remain relatively densely populated today.
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Re: Providence Line Electrification

Postby Eliphaz » Thu Nov 11, 2010 5:09 pm

thats right. While we can argue the relative merits of electric vs diesel propulsion, that point is in fact secondary, because dependence on fuel oil, for transport and for heat, especially here in New England, is a huge Sword of Damocles hanging above us.
we got a little glimpse of the potential in the summer and fall of '08 when the fuel oil futures markets bubbled up way beyond any previous experience. it was amazing to see the effects ripple out into the goods and services sectors. At that time I was managing about $12M/year industrial O&M budgets and we were tracking actual inflation of 50-80% for chemicals, steel, all types of finished goods, not to mention lubricants and of course fuel. that meant that a very large lump of money travelled out of the New England economy by way of oil pipelines and into the pockets of NYMEX traders, for no good reason, except that they were able to do it ! and they can and will do it again, whenever conditions are favorable. The wholesale price of electricity did not respond the same way, since there is almost no oil fired generation anymore.
getting especially our municipally owned energy needs off of that roller coaster is vital to our economic future.
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Re: Providence Line Electrification

Postby Arborwayfan » Thu Nov 11, 2010 5:16 pm

Does regenerative braking make electrics more energy efficient than diesels? I seem to remember that when the GN had electric traction over one mountain range, something like half the electricity required to pull trains up was generated by braking trains rolling down. Granted, the NEC is basically flat, but is electric operation more efficient?

On the other side, notice that electricity is generated by something -- oil, coal, nuclear, tiny bit of wind -- so an electric train is not necessarily cleaner as such. But Eliphaz's argument about electricity prices being more stable is good.

To electrify the Providence line with a minimum of equipment, the T could buy locomotives and contribute them to Amtrak's power supply, with Amtrak in turn providing electric locomotives as needed for T trains. Bigger total pool, better total reliability, smaller number number of units needed in reserve? The politics of doing that while contracting a third entity to run the trains might be complicated, but in terms of equipment usage, wouldn't that be the most efficient?

Amtrak's marginal generating cost per kwh would also make a difference. If they already operate near capacity and would have to purchase expensive power to give to T trains, then they would have to charge a lot whatever they wanted to do. If they have excess capacity, they might be convinced to sell it cheaply. It's the same basic idea they use for selling tickets on reserved routes--pricing buckets based on demand.
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Re: Providence Line Electrification

Postby MBTA3247 » Thu Nov 11, 2010 5:57 pm

jbvb wrote:Also, air quality at South Station would be much better if they ever build on the air rights over the inner part of the platform

I don't see how that makes any difference. The only diesels that go to the inner part of the platforms are the ones on the eastbound Lake Shore Limited, and perhaps the occasional switcher pulling an Amtrak train over from Southampton St. Electrifying the commuter rail would have no effect on those operations, and a few air vents should handle the exhaust without any trouble.

Arborwayfan wrote:Does regenerative braking make electrics more energy efficient than diesels?

It certainly helps, though I have no idea how much it offsets the massive short-term current draw electrics use when accelerating. I believe the big efficiency gain is in having a large central generator producing power, rather than a couple dozen mobile ones.

Amtrak's marginal generating cost per kwh would also make a difference. If they already operate near capacity and would have to purchase expensive power to give to T trains, then they would have to charge a lot whatever they wanted to do. If they have excess capacity, they might be convinced to sell it cheaply. It's the same basic idea they use for selling tickets on reserved routes--pricing buckets based on demand.

I believe Amtrak purchases all or most of its power from the commercial grid nowadays. They certainly do on the section east of New Haven.

GP40 6694 wrote:2. Is there enough clearance over the top of the P&W autorack track to put wire up and still clear the autoracks?

Where exactly would new catenary have to be put up that would potentially interfere with P&W operations?
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Re: Providence Line Electrification

Postby GP40 6694 » Thu Nov 11, 2010 7:16 pm

That's true, our dependence on fuel oil is a huge vulnerability for us. There could, and likely will, also be legitimate price increases because of rising demand in other parts of the world. While we don't generate a lot of electricity from oil, and could likely replace some of that generating capacity, there is a massive 450MWe oil plant at New Haven harbor, ironically, for the sake of discussion here, some of what powers the far end of the LIRR's electrified third rail system, since the vast majority (about 350MWe) of it's power goes to the cross-sound cable.

Biodiesel is theoretically a way to get away from foreign oil, but it too will price spike with diesel fuel if oil spikes, since it is a potential substitute for some uses of diesel fuel.

Amtrak claims 7% for regen braking on Acela. Relaize, however, that they are losing 9% off the top south of NYC since they are converting 60hz to 25hz. Of course this loss doesn't apply to MBTA, which operates in 25kV/60 territory, the most efficient of the systems.

This has been discussed for electric cars, but even with coal electricity, which we don't have that much of in the northeast, an efficient central power plant will put out something like 1/3 the CO2 and an order of magnitude less of other pollutants than the equivalent fossil fueled method of transport. Natural gas is half that, and puts out virtually no non-CO2 pollution. It's largely due to efficiency, but also due to a central place where, for non CO2 pollutants, they are discharged away from people.

Electric trains also save a lot from not sitting around and idling, they just use what they need.

Amtrak does not generate electricity for the Shore Line, it is all grid-bought. They generate roughly 27% of the electricity for the PRR main and Hell Gate Line/NYP from NYP to WAS at the Safe Harbor generation plant, and rotary or statically convert the rest to 25hz.

P&W has that line around Providence along the NEC that would presumably be impacted for MBTA operations on it.
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Re: Providence Line Electrification

Postby jamesinclair » Thu Nov 11, 2010 7:23 pm

sery2831 wrote:Right now it's not economical to purchase electric trains to use only on one line. The T has no way of maintaining the equipment or a place to do it. But a good example of expansion of electrification is Montreal. They are buying dual mode locomotives that run off of overhead. They plan to electrify the entire system there in sections over a long period of time. That is a smart plan! But we are not going to discuss Montreal here... Just pointing it out :-D


Thats a good idea. The T even has experience with dual-mode bus vehicles. Unless of course it costs too much. Perhaps a better way would be to start by purchasing just 2 used electric locos for the providence line while they get the indigo line wired up.

While one line may not be enough, the indigo line really should be electrified. As should stoughton. Worcester would also be good, but that's a long line, so maybe Needham.

Oil is nearing $90 again, and as projects like these take 3+ years to complete, I worry that the MBTA has been putting it off for way too long. Trains are more efficient than cars of course, but a 50% jump in fuel prices, like 2008 could mean chaos.
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Re: Providence Line Electrification

Postby DutchRailnut » Thu Nov 11, 2010 8:35 pm

diburning wrote: ACS-64s from Siemens (Amtrak City Sprinter - 6400HP)


thats 6,400 kW (8,600 hp)
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