Commentary by Ralph James, RailPAC contributor
On October 2, 2012, the Railway Age “blog” contained an article by Lyndon Henry, “Texas Eagle highlights passenger train success,” which was included in the October 8 RailPAC weekly e-newsletter. In that article a statement is made that the Chicago-St. Louis upgrades on the Union Pacific will not affect the Eagle’s schedule or connection problems at Chicago. I do not see how the upgrade cannot but help the Eagle and improve at least some of the Chicago connections, although it is evident that not ALL connections in both directions could be made without making a few fairly major adjustments to the Chicago departure and/or the E/B schedules of the Builder and Zephyr.
The current schedule time of just under six hours N/B for 284 miles calculates out to just over 47 mph including stops and recovery time of approximately 30 minutes. The S/B schedule has less recovery time and calculates out to about 51 mph including stops. Similar distances for the San Joaquins with maximum track speed of 79 mph between Stockton and Bakersfield range between 56 and 59 mph including stops, with variations affected by time of day and number of meets on single track.
Making some rough assumptions that the CHI-STL upgrade includes not only 110 mph track speed for the local service equipment but also significantly improves the slowest segments in congested areas for all trains (approach to St. Louis for example), the Eagle should be able to run at 90 mph (or possibly slightly higher depending on Superliner design speed) between stations. Making another rough assumption that the longer dwell time and slower acceleration of the Eagle will offset the time gained through higher track speed it would be reasonable to expect the Eagle to maintain an average speed including stops at 90 mph track speed similar to the San Joaquins at 79 mph track speed. The Chicago-St. Louis route is approximately 50 miles longer and has one less intermediate stop than Stockton-Bakersfield so there will be less starion dwell and more time at full track speed vs.the San Joaquins.
If the above assumptions are anywhere close to accurate, an average speed N/B CHI-STL of 56 mph vs. 47 mph over 284 miles translates to a time saving of approximately one hour. If 59 mph average can be achieved the time saving is approximately an hour and a quarter. With less recovery time the S/B run presently done at 51 mph would be approximately one half to three quarters of an hour faster.
There are six connections mentioned to/from the Empire Builder, California Zephyr and Southwest Chief. A look at each shows the following:
Conclusions: Upgrade can add two Western connections from N/B Eagle and makes one Western connection from Zephyr to S/B Eagle reasonable to consider. Builder W/B to Eagle S/B is the only connection that cannot reasonably be made or considered after upgrade.
Connections N/B from the Eagle to all three Western trains should be possible after CHI-STL upgrade without any additional schedule adjustments.
Connections S/B from Builder would require an approximate three hour combined schedule adjustment, probably not reasonable under current conditions.
Connections S/B from Zephyr would require an approximate hour and a half combined schedule adjustment, REASONABLE to consider.
Connections S/B from Chief would require an approximate two hour combined schedule adjustment, probably not reasonable, but connection to Eagle and all intermediate points CHI-STL can be made using Missouri Service from Kansas City as at present.
The above analysis is a high-level overview only, but shows that it is reasonable to expect some measurable benefits to the Eagle from the CHI-STL upgrade.