Governor Paterson Announces Ambitious New York Rail Push

State will invest more than $10 billion over 20 years to improve connections between New York’s biggest cities

This morning at the Albany/Rensselaer train station, New York Governor David Paterson (D) announced a major new effort by his state to invest in its rail system, though the first phase of the proposal would not provide electrified high-speed trains. That said, it is the largest rail project announced thus far by any state other than California.

In attendance were major rail supporters Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D), from just outside of the capital, as well as Representative Louise Slaughter (D), who also represents upstate New York, and Senator Chuck Schumer (D) and Representative Jerrold Nadler (D), from New York City.

Mr. Paterson’s plan is the first statewide rail plan in decades, though it is in some ways based on the research completed by former State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R), whose report was released in 2005. He has submitted the plan to the Federal Railroad Administration, allowing the state to apply for federal funding. The project will attempt to take advantage of some of the $8 billion in high-speed rail funds being released for competitive grants by the Obama administration as part of the stimulus package.

We are here to take a first step to revitalize our rail system for the new century,” Paterson said. He said that the program’s first phase would attempt to bring trains up to 110 mph from 79 mph today, using diesel trains. 150 mph or faster electric trains, powered by geothermal energy sources, were suggested as the ultimate goal by Congresswoman Slaughter; Representative Nadler also argued that electrification was a major priority, and that it had been proposed as far back as 1978 by Governor Hugh Carey.

The plan calls for $10.8 billion dollars to be spent on the project by 2030, most of it going to a new third track along the CSX-owned corridor between Albany and Niagara Falls, via Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo. It is unclear at this time how much of those funds are expected to come from the state, rather than from competitive federal grants; none of the speakers addressed a specific new source of income for the program.

The project would increase potential freight rail traffic by 25% as well as increasing the capacity of intercity rail passenger service. “We are offering an honest and achievable plan,” Paterson said, and indeed, the proposal is not a fantasy vision as it focuses appropriately on steadily developing and improving an important corridor.

Some of the proposal’s other specific points involve the construction of a second track between Albany and Schenectady, a fourth track at the Albany train station, and improvements beneath the George Washington Bridge in New York City. The initial improvements made possible by the plan will decrease the travel time between Albany and Buffalo by one hour, from five hours today. Future improvements would allow trains between New York and Albany to travel the corridor in one hour, versus two and a half today.

Senator Schumer pointed out that the proposal would save billions compared to other high-speed rail corridors around the nation because the right-of-way already exists, and few property purchases would have to be made as a result. He also suggested that this is a “Great first step” towards European-style 200 mph trains.

Congresswoman Slaughter argued that the proposal would help develop the economy of Upstate New York, which has suffered from decline during the postindustrial era. She also suggested that the project, running with 150 mph electric trains, could eventually connect Albany to Montréal, and Buffalo to Toronto, completely redefining transportation in the state. That is likely a far-off – and unfunded – proposition. It would also require Canadian investment in the Montréal-Toronto corridor.

The formal announcement comes after months of speculation about the potential for improved rail in the Empire State. Upstate leaders had received vocal support from Representative James Oberstar (D-MN), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and from Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.

New York State’s announcement is good news for rail investment, and it suggests that Albany will be successful in receiving stimulus funds, though the lack of secured state funds puts the completion of the full project, including 150 mph trains, in question.

Will other states, equally interested in rail improvements, make similar major announcements? More importantly, how will the Federal Railroad Administration, the moderator of grant distribution, decide to appropriate the money?

The rail plan is now available online.

4 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Great as it is, this doesn’t really seem to be the kind of bold, transformative plan that President Obama envisioned.

    Has anyone come up with a realistic alternative that could be implemented much more quickly and end with a better result?

    My sense is that coordination will be needed beyond the state level. Maybe that’s where Obama’s new office of urban policy comes in.

  • David Galvan

    I think the CA plan is still the only plan on the table that has a chance of bringin true HSR to this country. Everything else sounds like minor, incremental improvements that are nice and all, but not a change in direction. The midwest proposal is to bring the trip duration between St. Louis and Chicago from 5 hours down to 4 hours. Not exactly mind-blowing, is it?

    If this is the type of proposal that is the norm, I predict the American public will get the wrong idea and figure that HSR is not worth the investment because the improvements will be so minor.

  • New rule: No more twenty year plans for problems that are 20 years old.

    If you’re not devoting the resources to building it within 10 years, 9 times out of 10 it’s just political posturing or it won’t get built.

    We’ll have a new set of problems in 2030.

    We really need a 5-year $2 trillion dollar plan – not a stimulus – a plan – to just being bringing America’s infrastructure up to par with rest of the 1st world.

    Give us two years to go through a transparent local and state process to plan appropriately, allow design and construction companies to beef up their businesses, and allow the universities and junior colleges to educate and train the skilled labor and engineers. But we need to get going.

    We need at least 250 miles of new grade separated rail in Los Angeles TODAY.

    New York City needs new lines and upgrade their stations and schools TODAY.

    Chicago, D.C. and Boston need to retrofit their tracks TODAY.

    And we need to get our freight network up to par so we can handle the influx of imports from the new global economy.

    And this is just urban rail. Add the bridges, school, public housing, hospitals and the list is endless.

  • anon.

    Cutting NYC-Albany from 2 1/2 hours to 1 hour is a major improvement. Eliminating the congestion in the Albany area is a startlingly major improvement — currently there’s often a very very long layover scheduled to allow for delays, and that could be eliminated.

    Five hours from NYC to Buffalo would beat driving, even though driving is much more direct — it would also beat flying, by a lot.

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