First link between Buffalo and Albany would not be true high-speed rail
Just as California’s high-speed rail planners have announced that the first leg of that system to be built will be between Merced and Bakersfield in the state’s Central Valley, New York State politicians are making it clear that they’re going to fight for some of Washington’s $8 billion in fast rail funds included in the stimulus.
Like in California, the state’s biggest metro area will not be included in the first section to be constructed, which will be between Albany and Buffalo, via Syracuse and Rochester. The cities would be connected by a new third track, running parallel to existing freight tracks, that would allow service for trains running between 110 and 150 mph. A trip from Rochester to Albany would take two hours after the completion of track construction, down from 4 to 5 hours today on Amtrak’s Empire, Lake Shore Limited, and Maple Leaf trains.
The project would cost roughly $4 billion, though that cost doesn’t include the likely right-of-way acquisition that will be necessary for the new track. It is unclear how much of that funding the state plans to ask from the U.S. Department of Transportation; it’s also worth pointing out that the design for this new third track is not yet completed, and stimulus funds for high-speed rail are supposed to be spent before 2012, so New York will not be able to complete this line with stimulus money alone.
New York City would later receive fast service to Albany with the support of other funds.
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports that Representative Louise Slaughter, who has been pushing for an upstate line for more than a month now, has convinced Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood that her pet project makes a lot of sense. Because the criteria for the distribution of the funds nationwide has yet to be established, however, this is no guarantee that New York will receive a large amount – if any – of the $8 billion. Competition will be fierce.
What’s good about this news, even given the tenuous nature of this project, is that it demonstrates strong support in upstate New York for better rail service. If the state can find the funds either through its own tax revenue or through federal government outlays, it will be able to dramatically improve the likelihood of people choosing to take the train between upstate destinations. An investment there, too, will inevitably lead to an effort to speed up trains between New York and Albany.
Let’s not be too optimistic, however: this remains less-than-full high-speed rail and will rely on diesel locomotives, which aren’t particularly generous to the environment. An electric system between Buffalo and New York City, running at 200 mph and costing more than $40 $10 billion, is a great concept, but it’s completely out of the question at least in the next decade.