High Speed Rail Hearings Start in New York State

Monday, March 03, 2014 - 12:06 PM

New York State's high-speed rail vision (New York State Department of Transportation)

The first public hearings on a proposed high-speed rail line linking New York City to Niagara Falls will begin this week.

According to the New York State Department of Transportation, the route would travel from NYC north to Albany, then turn west to Schenectady, passing through Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo before terminating at Niagara Falls, a distance of 463 miles.

Boosting speeds on New York's so-called Empire Corridor service is an idea that's been percolating for some time. But in order to be eligible for federal funding, the state Department of Transportation had to complete an Environmental Impact Statement. Public hearings are a requirement of that process.

The state is studying five alternatives for high-speed rail, ranging from trains traveling 79, 90, and 110 miles per hour; a plan for 125 miles per hour service is also under review, although it would require new, as opposed to existing, track.

The current top allowed speed for trains west of Schenectady is 79 mph, although the actual average speed is slightly lower than 50mph.

Cost estimates for the plan range from $1.7 to $6.2 billion.

The first public hearing will be held Tuesday night in Albany. For the calendar, go here.



Comments [3]

Colm from Port Chester

Mr. Shape makes some excellent points that I have seen echoed in other blogs and publications. As a railroad professional who works on many capital bridge improvements, including those that exist on the NY to Albany corridor. I can agree that although thinking big is a worthy aspiration, the state of our current infrastructure is such that it needs further improvement before we start to look at more fancy alternatives like HSR. Personally I would love to see a true HSR connection between NY and Albany and perhaps Montreal as well but we are talking serious investment here and unless the federal government can help out, I do not think this will become a reality. Nor do I advocate it's progression if it is to the detriment of other maintenance obligations. There have been many, often incredibly large sums of money invested in rail projects (example East Side Access) that could have been better spent on existing updating existing infrastructure before expanding it. I think a more worthy endeavor would be work with CSX, Amtrak and Metro-North to identify those capital projects that could increase capacity and on time performance along the route ( such a study was performed for the NY to Albany corridor). Call this alternate investment "Higher Speed Rail" service. It's not as lofty a goal as HSR but one that would seem more achievable in this age of limited public funds.

Apr. 04 2014 11:57 PM
John Fratelli from Brooklyn, NY

About time we caught up with the rest of the developed world!

Mar. 04 2014 11:41 AM
Mark Shapp from Lenox, Massachusetts

Interestingly, Ms. Hinds makes no mention of the existing track owners on the route, one of which is one of the two big eastern freight railroads. Nor does she mention that Amtrak already runs this route and has since the agency was formed in 1971. Current service has four trains in each direction, one pair being the Lake Shore to/from CHI and another pair being the Maple Leaf to/from Toronto.

For those who are not familiar, Metro North owns NY to Poughkeepsie (Amtrak owns Penn Station to Spuyten Duyvil where their trains enter/exit MNR territory). CSX owns but Amtrak leases, with operational and maintenance control, Poughkeepsie-Albany/Rensselaer-Hoffmans. The latter is some 10 miles west of Schenectady where Amtrak trains join the freight line coming out of Selkirk Yard.

There is a sad history behind this suddenly re-surfacing higher speed rail initiative. As I remember it, NYStateDOT originally called for maximum speeds of 110mph and the restoration of a third main track most of the way between Hoffmans and Buffalo. (That third main would expand capacity so the freights and the passengers could operate with much reduced potential conflicts. At present, if CSX takes a section of track out of service for maintenance, single-tracking around the out of service limits can result in lots of delay.)

But right from the beginning, CSX told NYStateDOT that 90mph would be the best they would allow for passenger trains in mixed traffic. NYStateDOT backed off the 110mph demands and agreed to the 90mph limitation. Then, at some point, NYStateDOT did a 180 and came back with the demand for 110. At that point CSX walked.

So we have a property tax-paying freight railroad who is battling the truckers out on the publically supported interstates across far-flung traffic lanes that stretch all the way from Boston and north Jersey to Midwestern gateways of the western railroads. No new capacity was ever put down across NYState and CSX is probably none to keen to re-visit this passenger rail stuff.

Has NYStateDOT finally made their peace with a 90mph maximum speed for passengers? They better have. Since 1984 I've been a fairly frequent rider on the Lake Shore to/from CHI. Hell, I'd be happy if these Amtraks could operate reliably all the way across at 79 with all the interlockings and other chokepoints re-configured for faster speeds, crossovers between the main tracks re-engineered for 60mph crossover movements instead of the 45mph maximum at present, and a re-built bridge at Mile Post 320 (between Syracuse and Rochester). Max speed across that bridge over the Seneca River dry bed has been 40mph for decades.

My opinion? As much as I'd like to see more service between ALB and BUF I don't think this will ever see the light of day. Where is the money going to come from, especially now that the Obama administration lent NYStateDOT 1.6 billion for the transit-less (at Gov. Cuomo's insistence) new Tappan Zee Bridge?

Mar. 04 2014 09:56 AM

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