Railroad capacity tools and methodologies in the U.S. and Europe

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© 2015, The Author(s). A growing demand for passenger and freight transportation, combined with limited capital to expand the United States (U.S.) rail infrastructure, is creating pressure for a more efficient use of the current line capacity. This is further exacerbated by the fact that most passenger rail services operate on corridors that are shared with freight traffic. A capacity analysis is one alternative to address the situation and there are various approaches, tools, and methodologies available for application. As the U.S. continues to develop higher speed passenger services with similar characteristics to those in European shared-use lines, understanding the common methods and tools used on both continents grows in relevance. There has not as yet been a detailed investigation as to how each continent approaches capacity analysis, and whether any benefits could be gained from cross-pollination. This paper utilizes more than 50 past capacity studies from the U.S. and Europe to describe the different railroad capacity definitions and approaches, and then categorizes them, based on each approach. The capacity methods are commonly divided into analytical and simulation methods, but this paper also introduces a third, “combined simulation–analytical” category. The paper concludes that European rail studies are more unified in terms of capacity, concepts, and techniques, while the U.S. studies represent a greater variation in methods, tools, and objectives. The majority of studies on both continents use either simulation or a combined simulation–analytical approach. However, due to the significant differences between operating philosophy and network characteristics of these two rail systems, European studies tend to use timetable-based simulation tools as opposed to the non-timetable-based tools commonly used in the U.S. rail networks. It was also found that validation of studies against actual operations was not typically completed or was limited to comparisons with a base model.

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Journal of Modern Transportation