High Speed Rail to New York

Google Maps says it’s 408 miles from Niagara Falls to New York City. It should take about 6.5 hours to drive. Unfortunately, taking the train takes 9 hours – if you’re lucky. Amtrak shares almost all of the railway west of Albany with freight operators, and freight has the right-of-way, so it’s not uncommon for passengers to spend an interminable wait outside of Rome, for instance. 

Paris to Marseilles is 480 miles, and is about a 7 hr drive. The TGV (Train a Grande Vitesse) takes 3 hrs 15 minutes. 

The Acela corridor connecting Washington, New York, and Boston is the only nominally high speed rail line in North America, and only parts of the track are capable of accommodating real high speeds. 

The New York State Department of Transportation is planning a high-speed rail corridor between New York and Niagara Falls, called the “Empire Corridor”. There had been a public comment period that no one knew about, so it’s been extended until April 30th. There are several alternatives being considered: 

Base Alternative – Improvements to the existing right-of-way, new and redeveloped train stations, high-level boarding platforms, and 20 miles of new track, signals, and track improvements, such as grade crossings to enhance safety, security, and convenience.

Alternative 90A – New train sets, locomotives and coaches, and 20 more capacity and station improvement projects in the existing right-of-way.

Alternative 90B – All Alternative 90A features plus station improvements and construction of more than 300 miles of track dedicated to passenger rail.

Alternative 110 – All Alternative 90A features and 325 miles of new dedicated passenger rail track.

Alternative 125 – Entirely new 247-mile corridor connecting Albany and Buffalo, requiring construction of a separate right-of-way for passenger rail service and sections of elevated track to bring passengers to stations or freight to customers and freight yards. New service would stop in Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo, where travelers could change to local trains.

By my way of thinking, if you’re going to do something, do it right. I would prefer 125 or 110 and ensure that passenger rail is efficient and reliable. Alternative 125 would allow for about 15 – 20 trains per day reaching average speeds of 77 MPH and a top speed of 125 MPH. The current top speed is 79 MPH, and that’s what the base alternative would maintain.  Under alternative 110, the travel time would be about 7 hours and would cost about $6.25 billion. Under alternative 125, the time would be 6:02 and would cost $14 billion. 

There had been an earlier alternative that would have allowed average speeds of 120 MPH and top speeds of 220 MPH – TGV speeds – but implementation would have been $40 billion. 

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  • High speed rail is a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money.

    • To think a high speed rail is a waste of tax payer money shows how oblivious you are to its advantages, have never taken the trains and only see them taking up road space. The tickets pay for the maintenance, equipment and operators, making it far less of a waste than the roads you currently drive which almost completely rely on tax payer dollars for repairs and new routes. A good rail system would also reduce DUI incidents by providing alternate methods from the bar to the house, increase tourism to areas where a foreigner or someone from another area is looking for a simple get away. Countries like Japan that use the railway extensively have far less traffic problems, lower income taxes and in my opinion a more enjoyable commute. A high speed rail system would take the stress out of small commutes to out of town but nearby cities and towns, be more cost efficient for college students looking for a quick weekend get away. Granted cross country trips are still better made through the air, but those small flights from a hub to a local airport gets conjested and costly, an alternate method that is less of a hassle than an airport would free up space and time for those in a hurry who need to take air travel. The biggest fear we need to pay attention and prevent is the NSA going over board with secuirty and making getting on a train just as much hassle as the airport.

      • Tickets barely put a dent in operational costs. I must assume your entire comment was sarcasm. DUI reduction from high speed rail transporting people between their home and “the bar” is comedic absurdity at its finest. All aboard the Sake Express.

    • Demolish the interstate, problem solved.

      • Automobile transportation is by far the choice of most Americans. Car ownership is 769 vehicle per 1000 people, the highest in the world. If anything, improve the Thruway, raise the speed limit to 90, and reduce the Buffalo to Albany drive time to just over 3 and half hours.

  • Alt125 probably makes the most sense since the former NY Central water level route (what is currently the run from ALB to BUF) used to be four mainline tracks wide for the express purpose of handling local and express service of both freight and pax traffic. Most of the ROW and bridges built for that traffic are still around, so in theory that should reduce costs since it would not be starting fresh but I’m sure it will be a complete nightmare and be rife with cost overruns.

  • There are a variety of bus services that right now are 1)less money 2) less time 3) more convenient scheduling. If time is an issue, you can fly for little more than it cost to take a train.

    Even cutting the time to NYC-BUF down to 6 hours wouldn’t really strike a good time/cost ratio vs the alternatives. It would be nice however for BUF-AlB or ALB-NYC trips which are really too short to fly, and a nuisance to drive.

    • It takes time to get to the airport, time to get from the airport. Time to go through security. The NYC airports are, more often than not, about an hour from anywhere you really need to be.

      • My experience flying is about 3-4 hours door to door. Arrive at BNIA an hour early, an hour in air, an hour to hotel in Manhattan. At (best case scenario) 6 hours travelling time, I just wouldn’t use the service unless it was comparable price wise to a bus.

        I’m not advocating against it, and think it would be good for the shorter BUF-ALB or NYC-ALB, just putting in my $.02

      • Robert Seemueller

        You forgot the train is fours late and then gets stuck behind a broken down freight train.

    • I used to fly the Delta Shuttle from DC to NYC in college since they used to have amazing student discounts and you could pull a door-to-door in 3hrs or less. That was pre-9/11. Post 9/11 ya needed to be there an hour early, prices went up, service went down and you still had to get to and from. All of a sudden, you were spending three hours either getting to, waiting or getting back from a 30-40min flight and being charged crazy amounts to do so. Amtrak in one fell swoop became the faster, cheaper and far more civilized option.

    • Robert Seemueller

      Sum’s it up nicely.

  • Is it possible to install track that would accommodate TGV speeds in the future?

  • The trackage is already there from yesteryear thus build it and they will come… passengers. I’m ready to move on to the Southern-tier because NYC and Chicago also needs a high speed rail connection.

    Think big, the future is now.

    • Robert Seemueller

      I-90 State property. Never happen on CSX privately owned R/W. You will see something East of Schenectady now that NY State and Amtrak have a long term lease. Best scenario is NY purchases new equipment for the ALB-NYP perhaps up to 20 trainsets at a cost of over $500M. CSX and NYS basicly have 90MPH-A well on the way except I cannot see CSX allowing any more than the existing 4 roundtrips west of Schenectady. To built for the future on a grand scale would require much “social engineering” at the state and local level to steer high density development to stations at Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse. That very development would benefit only a handful of already wealthy real estate developers. You would also have to assume a future energy or terror “crisis” that would make the massive public expense justified. You would also have to assume no break though in car and information technologies that would negate the need for high speed rail. High speed rail would definitely negatively impact air traffic probably taking most of their market share in Rochester and Syracuse. You are still subsidizing every rail alternative $20 to $100 million a year to generate only 2-4 million one way trips annually. Because of poor mass transit in upstate NY you still need a cab or car rental to get from or to your destination. Then remember all that shovel ready high speed rail money already sent to NY with no strings attached and never spent or diverted downstate by the Obama administration since 2009. The current Federal budget just signed by Obama recinded any unspent High speed Rail funds and approved no further funding in the two year budget deal. I say take advantage of all the private money CSX or other for profit operator wants to spend in the corridor.

  • Robert Seemueller

    If you have to do a study it isn’t worth doing. NY State built the Thruway in 5 years and the Erie canal in under 10. We are talking 20 years to build obsolete technology that costs $10-15 Billion and will lose a $100+ million a year to carry 2 million passengers a year. The study shows no matter what is spent 98% of people will drive in the corridor. The 125mph option (the best alternative) using mostly the I-90 has only 3 stations Buffalo-Exchange, Downtown Rochester and an exo-suburb Syracuse station while bypassing Utica and the rest of the Empire corridor west of Albany completely. I’ll take advantage of all the private money CSX is willing to provide in the corridor for PTC (positive train control) and some future additional freight train capacity “enhancements” that maintain the current four round trip daily Amtrak trains at 79MPH. Perhaps the PTC will allow some 90-110MPH operation to make up for lost time behind 50MPH freight trains. That’s the best you are going to get. Small incremental improvements.

  • Robert Seemueller

    Government if it wanted to could spend the money yesterday. You are also going to need a lot of social engineering to force all future develpment in the State around 6 or 7 stations. Taxpayers will also have to heavily subsidize every trip with capital costs of $15 billion and operating costs in the $100’s of million’s annually for 2-4 million trips a year. For what? Inferior transportation to anywhere in the State unless you are going to Midtown Manhattan

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