Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor


Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
Michelle Oswald
University of Delaware
Department of Civil Engineering
Fall 2007
Abstract: Megalopolis, defined by Jean Gottmann, refers to the interconnected “string of cities”
from Boston to Washington D.C. resulting from overlapping suburban areas that connected to
form one metropolitan corridor. This paper explores the relationship between the
development/decline of the passenger rail system and the establishment of the BosWash
Megalopolis corridor. In contrast to Gottmann, the regional structure and transportation spine of
Megalopolis can be seen as a result of the strategically developed passenger rail system.
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
In 1961, Jean Gottmann recognized the importance of the string of cities including
Boston, Providence, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C., and named the
corridor “Megalopolis” (Gottmann, 1961). The northeastern United States had become an area
of political, economic, and social supremacy (Gottmann, 1961). Characteristics such as high
density, increased infrastructure, population growth, technological advancements, and intricate
transportation systems enabled the northeastern corridor, specifically from Boston to
Washington, to become a significant geographical region (Gottmann, 1961).
Gottmann (1961) defined the Megalopolis corridor based on the overlapping suburban
areas that connected to form one metropolitan corridor. The northeastern suburbanization was
predominantly a result of the increase in automobile ownership and highway construction, after
World War II. However, although Gottmann emphasized the role of the automobile in the
development of Megalopolis, this paper argues that the initial regional structure and
transportation “spine” of Megalopolis was established by the passenger rail system that dates
back to the late nineteenth century. The Megalopolis corridor’s growth patterns were based on
the transportation “skeleton” provided by the development of the passenger rail system.
Moreover, the development of the passenger rail system in the northeast was a strategic decision
made by the railroads to provide mobility to the public. As such, it also served as the backbone
for the future development of the highway system.
The growth of the Megalopolis corridor relied heavily on mobility and interconnectivity
between the cities which was provided by the mid-nineteenth century development of passenger
rail. Passenger rail was a success at first, providing opportunities for travel and expansion;
however, by the 1920’s, the automobile and development of the highway system quickly
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
overshadowed the rail system and decline was imminent (Von Eckardt, 1964). The development
and regression of the passenger rail system in the northeastern United States greatly influenced
the growth of the BosWash Megalopolis corridor and has allowed it to become one of the most
productive regions on earth (Von Eckardt, 1964).
Megalopolis, meaning “large city”, describes the 455-mile region stretching from
northern Boston to southern Washington D.C. crossing the boundaries of ten states (Miller,
1975). It represents a chain of northeastern metropolitan areas, that each grew around a
substantial urban nucleus (DeCerreno, 2007). Figure 1 displays the six major cities that were
defined as the urban nuclei for the Megalopolis corridor (Hanlon et al., 2007).
Figure 1- Six major cities in the Megalopolis corridor (Hanlon et al., 2007)
As the metropolitan areas grew around the urban nuclei, overlapping and expansion
occurred leading to a continuous megapolitan region incorporating the following states: New
Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania,
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia (Miller, 1975). Figure 2 is a map depicting the BosWash
Megalopolis corridor.
Figure 2- Map of BosWash Megalopolis corridor (University of Tampere, 2007)
As shown in green, the corridor extends beyond the centralized cities and incorporates the
surrounding suburbs. This coupled expansion and urbanization throughout the corridor was
initially made possible via the development of the passenger rail system.
Development of Passenger Rail in the Megalopolis Corridor Prior to 1920
The development of the northeastern passenger rail system was a major contributor to
establishing the initial “skeleton” of the BosWash Megalopolis corridor (Ward, 1986).
Analogous to the development of a mammal, prior to the development of an entire skeleton, a
spine must first be developed. As early as the 1830’s, a strategic transportation “spine” was
developed as the backbone of the Megalopolis “skeleton” when individual states such as
Massachusetts, Maryland, and Delaware constructed their first horse drawn rail lines (Houk,
2006). Technological advances such as steam locomotives, steel wheel treads, headlights, and
automatic air brake systems enabled the first American-built steam engine to go into an
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
automated scheduled passenger service (Houk, 2006). In 1833, the Boston and Albany Railroad
was developed as the first continuous track with automated signals, replacing the old-fashioned
handwritten train orders (Condit, 1977). As the rail system continued to advance, the
government began to implement regulations such as The Federal Railway Safety Appliances Act
of 1893 which required automatic air brakes, automatic couplers, and standardization of the
location/specifications for employee-used appliances (Houk, 2006). In 1903, the state of New
York prohibited the operation of steam locomotives on Manhattan Island forcing the rail
companies to switch to diesel engines (Houk, 2006). Diesel powered locomotives enabled the
trains to travel at maximum speeds of approximately sixty miles per hour providing passengers a
safe yet efficient travel option (Houk, 2006). By the 1920’s the northeastern United States
passenger rail service reached its peak as a fast, comfortable, and feasible mode for travel to and
from the cities (Von Eckardt, 1964).
As rail owners continued to build rail lines, the passenger train companies, separate from
the owners, began to emerge within the Megalopolis corridor. The passenger train companies
owned right-of-ways to the track, meaning their trains were allowed to travel on the designated
rail lines. The American Locomotive Company (ALCO) was formed when eight individual
locomotive companies merged to build an electric locomotive which offered scheduled
transportation services from New Jersey to New York (Houk, 2006). The Pennsylvania Railroad
Company connected the state of Pennsylvania to New York and built the Pennsylvania Station in
New York City. The New York Central Railroad added the largest train station in the world,
Grand Central Station, located in Manhattan serving New York City and Connecticut as well as
its western lines (Houk, 2006). These companies provided not only safe and comfortable rail
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
services to the public, but also provided mobility and the opportunity for urbanization to emerge
throughout the northeastern United States.
In order to connect multiple centralized nuclei and achieve the goal of providing mobility
to the public, the rail companies strategically constructed rail lines throughout the corridor from
Boston to Washington D.C. (Ward, 1986). The train stations were built in regions where the
majority of people either lived or worked and typically provided service to regions of similar
characteristics. For instance in the 1934, the two most prominent cities in the nation, New York
City and Washington D.C. were connected by the Pennsylvania railroad’s streamline electric
locomotive GG-1 (Houk, 2006). In addition to providing service to these two cities, passengers
also had the option of accessing cities such as Newark, Trenton, Philadelphia, Wilmington, and
Baltimore along the route. These stops geographically “strung together like beads” by the rail
lines were chosen based on demand for travel within the BosWash corridor (Miller, 1975). This
rail connection between major cities formed the transportation “spine” from Boston to
Washington D.C. and allowed for the Megalopolis corridor to flourish.
Influence of the Development of Passenger Rail on Megalopolis Corridor
The development and construction of the passenger rail service had a direct impact on the
characteristics of the Megalopolis corridor (Gottmann, 1961). Passenger rail stimulated
population growth, increased employment rates, and provided opportunities for mobility and
interconnectivity throughout the BosWash corridor. These benefits spurred by the rail system
began around the 1830’s and continued until the 1920’s when the passenger rail service peaked.
Throughout this time, passenger rail allowed the corridor to advance politically, economically,
and socially into one of the most dominant regions in the country (Gottmann, 1961).
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
The implementation of the passenger rail service in the Megalopolis corridor was a
major contributor to the continuous population growth within the BosWash region. As railroad
services such as the New York Railway Company and the Pennsylvania Railroad Company
began to emerge in the northeast, accessibility to and from the major cities increased (Gottmann,
1961). This accessibility encouraged people to reside near the railroad lines and stations which
led to a clustered population growth. On a global level, the clustered urbanized areas, strung
together by the rail lines, essentially formed one continuous “large city”. Figure 3 and Figure 4
show the population density from 1880 to 1910 and the development of the “large city.”
Figure 3- Population Density by Counties in 1880 (Gottmann, 1961)
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
Figure 4- Population Density by Counties in 1910 (Gottmann, 1961)
Figure 3 (1880) shows that individual cities, as represented by counties, began to grow and join
together, but the interconnection between cities to form one “large city” didn’t develop until
around 1910, as shown in Figure 4. In 1920, the most populated city in Megalopolis was New
York City with a total population of approximately 5 million residents, followed by Philadelphia
with approximately 1.5 million residents. Figure 5 compares the population of major cities of
Megalopolis to the United States. New York City is not only the most populated within the
Megalopolis corridor, but also, throughout the entire United States. The city with the second
highest population in Megalopolis, Philadelphia, ranks third in the United States behind Chicago.
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
Figure 5- Rate of Growth of Major Central Cities in 1790-1950 (Gottmann, 1961)
In addition to population growth, the passenger rail service increased the Megalopolis job
market. Prior to the 1830’s, northeastern urbanized areas were suffering from periodic
unemployment, poverty, and continuous depression (Ward, 1986). The railroad improved the
morale of the growing urban poor. Rail enthusiasts promised that railways would raise the level
of national confidence and bring urbanized areas out of depression (Ward, 1986). Their promise
held true when employment rates rose due to the increased opportunities for jobs within the
railroad business. Careers ranging from railroad managers to construction workers helped to
decrease the unemployment rates and dispel the depressed regions (Sussman, 2000). Figure 6
displays the employment and economic characteristics of the Megalopolis corridor after the
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
development of the passenger rail service. As shown, New York City is the most populated
central city with the largest percent of white collar male employed residents (Gottmann, 1961).
Figure 6- Economic Characteristics based on Data and Classification (Gottmann, 1961)
The population growth and increased employment rates in the BosWash corridor were
promoted by increased passenger mobility provided by the rail service. Passenger rail systems
provided the opportunity for efficient, comfortable, and convenient accessibility to and from
major cities. No longer did residents rely on horses to reach their work destinations located in
the centralized business districts (Houk, 2006). They were able to take advantage of the
transportation technology by living near the rail stations, and having the capability of regularly
riding the train into nearby cites. This increased mobility encouraged people to live away from
the poverty-stricken urban areas and, in turn, pay a small fee to travel by train to access the
workplace. Travel capabilities improved through intermodal (train to train) and intramodal (train
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
to alternative modes i.e. ship) transfers allowing for complete mobility throughout the northeast
corridor (Sussman, 2000). The passenger rail system not only provided access into and out of
the cities, but also provided mobility between cities which was the key to the growth of the
Megalopolis transportation corridor.
Causes of Decline in Passenger Rail in the Megalopolis Corridor Post 1920
The passenger rail service was steadily increasing until the 1920’s when the number of
passengers started declining due to a variety of factors. Generally, it was the inability of the rail
service to adapt to the new conditions and attract the necessary investment needed to retain
passenger traffic (Von Eckardt, 1964). However, the specific factors that led to the decline of
passenger rail include, but are not limited to, the development of the automobile, shifts in
residential patterns, modal competition, and changes in rail management.
The passenger rail lines provided the initial transportation “spine” of the Megalopolis
corridor which then expanded with the development of the automobile. Starting as early as the
1920’s the development of the automobile began to alter the Megalopolis corridor by reducing
passenger rail ridership. The automobile was more than a technological advancement; it was a
means for personal travel, an agent of suburbanization, a motivation for highway construction,
and a stimulant of modal competition with the passenger rail service. During the 1930’s and
1940’s, the automobile became present in almost every household across America (Gottmann,
1961). In 1940, there were approximately 27.4 million passenger cars registered in the United
States and by 1957 there were approximately 55 million privately owned automobiles
(Gottmann, 1961). The increase in motor transportation led to a high demand for a sufficient
nationwide highway network (Gottmann, 1961). Figure 7 displays the average daily highway
traffic in the United States in 1952 based on the established highway network (Gottmann, 1961).
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
The thickness of the individual routes is representative of the traffic density on that particular
Figure 7- Highway Traffic Flow in United States in 1952 (Gottmann, 1961)
The automobile is responsible for influencing transportation infrastructure which is
coupled with shifts in residential patterns. It provided mobility and opportunity for Americans to
live farther from the workplace causing population density rates to shift away from urbanized
areas and into the suburbs (Van Eckardt, 1964). Unfortunately, the railroad service suffered
because it was a restricted fixed route service which typically did not extend into the suburbs.
The passenger rail service was no longer the most convenient, efficient, and popular means for
travel throughout the Megalopolis corridor.
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
After the 1920’s, the automobile, along with alternative modes (i.e. air travel), caused
modal competition with the passenger rail service. The automobile was preferred for short
intercity commutes while air travel began to dominate long distance travels, causing passenger
rail ridership to decrease (Miller, 1975). Travel time, comfort, cost, and convenience caused the
passenger rail service to be less desirable than other modes and there was little ability for the rail
to compete with these modes (Sussman, 2000). For example in 1969, a trip from Boston to New
York City takes fifty minutes by air versus four and a half hours by rail. The time differences (in
hours) for rail versus air travel between five major cities in the northeast corridor can be seen in
Table 1 (Miller, 1975). Air transportation is a more efficient travel mode when compared to rail
in terms of trip duration (Miller, 1975).
Table 1- Train and Air Travel Time between Megalopolis Cities in 1969 (Miller, 1975)
Another factor that led to the decline of the passenger rail service was the economic
organization of rail management (Hilton, 1975). Weaknesses within the management services
such as a lack of accountability and transparency, financial and institutional instability, and the
need for balance in governance forced the federal government to analyze the current rail
structure (Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center, No Date). In 1976, the initiation of the
Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act formed the Northeast Corridor Improvement
Project (Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center, No Date). The regulation declared Amtrak as
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
the dominant owner of passenger rail throughout the northeast corridor with the purpose of
renewing the existing rail infrastructure (Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center, No Date).
Figure 8 displays the proposed track and rail ownership from the Northeast Corridor
Improvement Project.
Figure 8- Ownership and Operations in Northeast Corridor Post 1976 (DeCerreno, 2007)
Amtrak was granted the majority of track ownership with the exclusion of the MTA, CDOT, and
MBTA owned track. This quasi-private monopoly management system was the result of the
federal government’s goal to revive the rail system and prevent further decline in ridership (Alan
M. Voorhees Transportation Center, No Date).
Influence of Passenger Rail Decline on Megalopolis Corridor
The causes of decline in passenger rail previously discussed have directly influenced the
current and future state of the Megalopolis corridor. The Megalopolis corridor, as a result of the
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
declining rail service, has become a region that is a victim of congestion, urban decentralization,
and socioeconomic inequity. From 1920 to the present, these issues have compounded, causing
the Northeast Rail Corridor (NEC) to focus on ways to address these issues throughout the entire
corridor from Boston to Washington D.C. (DeCerreno, 2007).
The declining passenger rail system, which was brought on by the development of the
automobile, has shifted riders from rail onto the road causing significant congestion. The typical
trips that were once by train slowly turned into more convenient, accessible, yet congested
automobile trips (DeCerreno, 2007). The passenger rail system’s inability to provide effective
and reliable service continued to reduce ridership. Lack of funding also led Amtrak and the
other owners to defer necessary maintenance, again decreasing ridership (Todorovich and
Vallabhajosyula, 2007). Figure 9 shows changes in transportation modes based on US vehicle
miles from 1994 to 2004.
Figure 9- Index of U.S. Vehicle Miles 1994-2004 (DeCerreno, 2007)
The two major travel modes that outpaced rail were air and highway (DeCerreno, 2007). Due to
the increase in automobile trips, the highway system was being constructed at a rapid rate to
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
accommodate growth. This highway growth was based on the pre-existing transportation
skeleton provided by the rail lines. The highways began to extend in a radial pattern outward
from the rail lines to accommodate the demand for suburbanization. Figure 10 is a map
displaying the Megalopolis highway network in 1947.
Figure 10- Megalopolis Highway System in 1947
(Source data from Rand McNally and Company, 1947)
This figure displays the interconnection between the major cities and when compared to Figure
11, a highway map from 2006, implies the vast amount of growth that has occurred from 1947 to
the present. Figure 11 displays the Megalopolis highway system in 2006, representative of the
present growth in automobile travel.
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
Figure 11- Megalopolis Highway System in 2006
(Source data from BTS National Transportation Atlas Database, 2006)
Although the highway system continues to expand, highway construction is always a reactive
approach to congestion. Congestion is more than a traffic problem; it is a land use and
environmental issue as well. Therefore the Megalopolis corridor will have to take an active
approach in addressing this issue through improving the declining passenger rail service
(Todorovich and Vallabhajosyula, 2007).
As a result of the rapid highway development, population density shifted away from the
centralized city and expanded into the suburbs triggering urban sprawl (Todorovich and
Vallabhajosyula, 2007). No longer did people have to live near the train station for accessible
mobility; in fact, they preferred to live away from the rail lines to avoid city life. As a result, the
northeast corridor has become a mega-region that consists of continuous urban decentralization,
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
long commutes, and a lowered quality of life (Todorovich and Vallabhajosyula, 2007). Figure
12 displays the commutersheds that developed by 1975 due to suburbanization and the desire to
live outside of the city, away from rail lines.
Figure 12- Commutersheds of Megalopolis in 1975 (Miller, 1975)
As shown in light gray, many people in 1975 were living in the suburbs and relying on their
personal vehicles to access their workplace located within the centralized city (shown in dark
grey) (Miller, 1975). These commutersheds are reflective of the highway system which grew as
an extension of the corridor’s original railroad “spine”. Figure 13 shows a diagram of an
interstate linking two commutersheds and the regions that develop due to this interconnectivity
(Lang, 2006).
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
Figure 13- Interconnectivity between Metropolitan Areas (Lang, 2006)
As shown, the highways link the two central cities forming mid-metropolitan realms and
extended urban areas (i.e. suburbs).
As the metropolitan regions continued to expand based on the highway development, the
definition of Gottmann’s original megalopolis region became outdated. Therefore, in 2006,
Richard Morrill updated the megalopolis corridor based on suburban growth in his “Classic Map
Revisited” shown in Figure 14 (Morrill, 2006).
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
Figure 14- Revisited Megalopolis Map (Morrill, 2006)
As depicted on the revisited map, the growth of the Megalopolis corridor continued to be based
on the highway mobility in and around the centralized cities rather than limited by the original
fixed passenger rail lines.
In addition to congestion and urban sprawl, the decline of the passenger rail system in
Megalopolis affected the social and economic structure of the corridor. Once the automobile
was established as the new form of mobility, those that could afford a vehicle were able to live
outside the city. However, those that couldn’t afford to buy a car were forced to remain within a
close distance of their workplace, typically located in the urban districts, and relied heavily on
the passenger train for mobility between cities (Hanlon et al., 2006). This relationship is still
apparent today where the suffering passenger rail system provides service (mass transit) to riders
that simply cannot afford personal vehicles (Todorovich and Vallabhajosyula, 2007). Due to the
economic influence on transportation mobility, a formation of urban clusters within the
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
Megalopolis corridor developed. Figures 15 and 16, shown below, display the current
arrangement of urban clusters throughout the Megalopolis corridor.
Figure 15- Urban Clusters in Southern Megalopolis (Hanlon et al., 2006)
Figure 16- Urban Clusters in Northern Megalopolis (Hanlon et al., 2006)
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
Based on these maps it is apparent that there is a trend relating poverty stricken regions to
centralized cities, such as Baltimore, Wilmington, and Camden. This socioeconomic issue is
going to be a challenge for the future of the corridor along with the related problems of
congestion and sprawl.
The passenger rail system has influenced the Megalopolis corridor since its development
in the 1830’s to its decline starting in the 1920’s. The influence of the passenger rail system
challenges Gottmann’s initial assumption that overlapping suburban areas formed the
Megalopolis corridor. In contrast, it was the rail system that was responsible for strategically
developing the corridor’s transportation “skeleton.” Megalopolis is a “transportation corridor”
rather than a corridor that formed as a function of urban decentralization.
The development of the passenger rail system provided mobility, interconnectivity, and
encouraged growth within the major cities of Boston, Providence, New York, Philadelphia,
Baltimore, and Washington D.C. It was the strategic placement of the rail lines that provided a
transportation “spine” for which the future highway system developed. Since its decline,
alternative modes such as the automobile and air travel have drastically increased. This caused
the passenger rail system to continue to suffer from lack of funding and decreased ridership
(Todorovich and Vallabhajosyula, 2007). Unfortunately, it is the reliance on these alternative
modes that cause congestion, sprawl, global warming, socioeconomic clustering, and other
Megalopolis corridor challenges for the future.
These challenges of the Megalopolis corridor must be addressed to maintain an
acceptable quality of life for its residents. In the future, the passenger rail system would be a
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
viable service in order to reduce drivers on the road, promote infill development, and reduce fuel
emissions. With adequate funding and increased ridership, the railroad “spine” could re-develop
and influence the corridor as it did over a century ago.
Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
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Influence of Passenger Rail on the BosWash Megalopolis Corridor
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