John Pazmino
 NYSkies Astronomy Inc 
 1996 October 7
    [The electrification of the Amtrak railline between New Haven CT 
and Boston MA is among the most severely neglected weapons against 
luminous graffiti, ignored and even debunked by some darksky 
advocates. Below this piece is a dialog with one debunker.] 
    New England's massive light abatement scheme passed a meterstone 
on 3 July 1996. First catenary pole was placed at Providence station, 
about midway between Boston and New Haven. The work will spread in 
both directions to these two cities, followed by catenary stringing. 
When complete in summer 1999 the project will slash automobile and 
airplane light -- and other! -- pollution in southern New England by 
as much as 1/3! 
    The project is the fulfillment of a generations-old plan to fully 
electrify the railline along the south New England coast from New 
Haven CT to Boston MA via Providence RI. This, the former New York, 
Bew Haven, & Hartford road, is the northern arm of Amtrak's Northeast 
Corridor service. 
    The railroad was electrified in 1914 as part of its link into the 
new Grand Central Terminal. The wires stopped at New Haven with intent 
to finish the job by 1918. Various factors intervened and the line 
from New Haven to Boston was worked until today by coal or Diesel 
trains. Riders from the City must wait in New Haven while the electric 
engine is uncoupled and a Diesel one hooked on. 
    In the late 1980s, as an unrelated exercise, Boston's Logan Airport 
hatched expansion plans. These were vigorously opposed and the airport 
studied its future needs to justify the plans. 
    To its horror it found that fully 1/4 of its customers came from 
New York City! There was no way Massachusetts will enlarge Logan to 
accommodate New York!! If somehow these New Yorkers could be shoved out 
of Logan onto other transport to Boston, Logan could postpone enlarging 
the airport for several decades. 
    Of all the alternative routes into Boston from the City only one 
had any hope of draining off New Yorkers in any substantial numbers. 
This is the Amtrak railline. In its present condition the line does 
convey about a hundred planeloads per day to Boston, but can it carry 
more? Logan and Amtrak got together and conceived the 'Closing the 
Gap' project. 
    Logan would partly support the upgrading of the railline to cut the 
running time from the current 5 hours to 3 or 3-1/2. The rehabbed line 
can carry 30 or 40 daily trains to Boston, up from today's 15. This puts 
Boston within a one-day business or commuter trip from the City. 
    The scheme got underway in 1990 with rebuilt trackbeds, new signals, 
realignments, second-tracking, and refurbished stations. All these 
improvements do make the ride quite comfortable and pleasant. But the 
run still takes at best 4-1/2 hours mainly due to the engine change in 
New Haven and the slower speed of the Diesel trains. This is actually 
the first of a three stage manifesto for the line. 
    The second is the electrification itself. Catenary will soon string 
along the 240Km gap from New Haven to propel trains in one continuous run. 
It is the nation's biggest electric rail project since the 1930s! 
Because there is no more swopping of engines and the electrics get to 
higher speeds, the trip is a welcome alternative to cars or planes. 
    The final step is already is progress. All new supertrains to work 
the City-Boston line are abuilding right now in upstate New York, Vermont, 
and Quebec. These, the American Flyer, are based on the French TGV. They'll 
scoot along at 220Km/h, a mite slower than the TGV yet swift enough for the 
Northeast Corridor. 
    The removal of an other hundred daily airplanes from the skies, and 
thousands of daily cars from the roads, of southern New England is no 
longer some idiotic dream for astronomy. It's happening before the century 
turns over. No more will New England stargazers suffer from turbulence, 
smog, smoke and aerosols, noise, noxious fumes, lights in their sky, In the 
stead they will hear the soft whoosh! of American Flyer. 
 = = = = = 
 1996 October 8 
 From Mon Oct 7 16:56:36 1996 
 Date: Mon, 07 Oct 1996 18:53:15 -0600 
 From: "J. D. McDonald" <> 
 Organization: UIUC SCS To: JOHN PAZMINO <> 
 Subject: Re: Closing the gap 
    I'm posting this publicly because your questions are valued and 
can be the foundation of some good discussion on the betterment of 
astronomy in this country. 
    For starts, let's be honest. The entire Closing the Gap project, 
all $2 billion dollars of it, has no prime motivation for astronomy. 
    There is nothing in the acts of the airport or the railroad that 
says, 'Let's darken the skies so stargazers can have more fun'. The 
benefit for astronomy is a colossal spinoff, a collateral boon, that 
comes embedded with the air-to-rail displacement. What happened is a 
delayed derivative of the Sixties Revolution. It is plain socially 
ridiculous to use planes for the short run of some 400Km. I do grant 
that the situation in New England is peculiar in that the railline 
already exists and is in regular use. It's not like a whole new route 
has to be cut or an abandoned one has to be resusicated. Also the 
traffic density is, by middle American norms, stupendous, swamping the 
airlines but handily digestible by the railline. 
    Apart from the 'obvious' amelioration of the skies, the Closing 
the Gap project overall makes life in the City and southern New 
england more pleasant, enjoyable, and gentler all around. Astronomers 
are, despite what some may think, people. So any program that improves 
the lot for the regular folk will make for better astronomers, too. If 
I were not an astronomer I would welcome this project for the simple 
reason that it makes good horse sense to go to Boston by train than by 
 > The removal of an other hundred daily airplanes from the skies, 
    This is exactly the instigation for the expansion plans. Logan is 
full to the brim with airplanes. I abbreviated the account. The idea 
was that Logan should accommodate more overseas flights being that 
Boston is a major East Coast town. This is impossible in the present 
airport. Either enlarge it into Massachusetts Bay or build an allnew 
airport west of Cambridge. Both options are glatt nonos. The solution 
is in deed to remove the New York flights, these being so huge a 
portion of all flights, so the gates are free to bring in overseas 
flights. The airport may end up just as full but with a new mix of 
 > and 
 > thousands of daily cars from the roads, 
    A car travelling from the City to Boston invariably has but a 
single person, the driver. The portion of multirider cars is obscenely 
small. Hence, a train, with 300 riders, can displace 300 cars. The 
trick is to make the rails as attractive and convenient as the 
automobile. With the circulation between the City and Boston, this is 
a thoroly viable goal. 
 > of southern New England is no 
 > longer some idiotic dream for astronomy. It's happening before the 
 > turns over. No more will New England stargazers suffer from 
    This may be true; the Logan traffic is redistributed. However, the 
present pattern brings planes from the City right over southern New 
England on a line along US1, I95 and the NYNHH railline. They fly 
directly over the fields of Connecticut and Rhode Island, where the 
greater percent of New England stargazers practice. The replacement 
planes would come from across the Atlantic Ocean over water and fly 
into Logan from offshore. Except for some localized circling over 
Logan, they will not impede stargazing over the 400Km reach between 
Boston and the City.
 > smog, smoke and aerosols, 
    Airplanes spew their wastes directly into the sky with no cleanup 
or collection. These ingredients sift thru the air and disrupt 
stargazing, filter into people's lungs and skin, and cut the 
concentration and attention to the observing. The electricity for 
American Flyer will demand no new power plants. The present ones have 
sufficient excess capacity to provide the additional power. And New 
England is a mass purchaser of hydroelectric power from Quebec and 
Canada. Moreover, the pollution from plants in New England is under 
control and can be further reduced. It is vastly easier to stifle 
emissions from a few major sources, the power plants, than from a 
zillion ones, cars and planes. > noise, 
    Go live in an airport motel for a week. I promise to sign out your 
body from the morgue. The noise in and around Logan will probably 
remain the same after American Flyer starts flitting to Boston. The 
noise along that City-Boston route will decrease because the planes 
flying that route are displaced by the trains. 
 > noxious fumes, 
    See above. The combustion gases from planes are dumped into the 
sky over the entire path of the plane. There is utterly no attempt to 
clean or collect them or otherwise neutralize their effects. Power 
plant gases can be, and are, trapped, scrubbed, reduced at the plant 
site. And, yes, New England does have substantial nuclear generation. 
If you speak with any advocate of outer space life, even science 
fiction writers, every alien civilization is presumptively based on 
electricity, however many centuries advanced beyond ours it may be. 
 > lights in their sky, 
    You'll scream other words when your arduously exposed sky photo 
has airplane streaks all over it. There is an intriguing case history 
about the effects of roadbased traffic on stargazing. The Winter Star 
Party, in February in Florida, convenes on a Girl Scout camp alongside 
of US1. The site is simply the one the party's operator can obtain and 
is not at all an ideal site. US1 in this area is the one and only road 
connecting the keys and has very heavy traffic at all hours of the 
night. The highway is litterally adjacent to the grounds with a tree 
row between the two. The upthrow of light, noise, smoke, vibration, 
fumes, turbulence, is awesome. When I go I deliberately pick a viewing 
spot as far from the road as possible (near the breach). While this 
gives an open prospect on the southern skies, it also distances me 
from the assault from the highway. Doug McDonald, you actually enjoy a 
whole nation of company in your doubts about light abatement for 
stargazing. The notion sure as hell looks like some star freak's 
whining and bitching. When you consider that in any town, even quite 
large ones, there may be but a dozen people who really exploit the 
skies for astronomy, the chants for light abatement can be extremely 
annoying. Oh, you want that thirty thousand homeowners should turn 
their lights off so you can go and stare at the stars for an hour a 
week? Boy, have we got a special place for you. It's nice and dark.