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Feds Release New York High-Speed Rail Study; True High Speed Rail Looks Bleak, Near Impossible

By Frank Parlato

An empty railroad station... is what we are likely going to get....
For the 30 or so train travelers per day, do we really need this new station?
The present train station, while not gorgeous, is sufficient to handle the few customers that actually ride trains....
Long ago trains were in vogue...

Last week, the Federal Railroad Administration and New York State released their draft study of alternatives for so-called "high-speed rail service" between New York City and Niagara Falls. The study did not bring good news for those bullish on "high speed rail" connecting New York City to Buffalo and Niagara Falls.

Curiously, the F.R.A. posted the study on its website last Tuesday, but did not issue a press release.

The study lays out five different options for improvements to the 463-mile Empire Corridor, which runs from Penn Station in New York City to Albany (along mainly commuter tracks), veers west (along privately controlled tracks dominated by freight trains) to Buffalo, then heads north (along mostly commuter tracks) to Niagara Falls.

It presently takes eight hours to get to Buffalo and 9 hours to Niagara Falls from New York City by train. One option would save about three hours of travel time.

In Niagara Falls, Mayor Paul Dyster is nearing the completion of a second bidding of a proposed new train station expected to top $30 million. He has cited high speed rail as a part of the reason for building a new train station in a city where less than 40 people per day take trains.

Conversely, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, once bullish on high-speed rail, has tempered his expectations based on the realities of the situation as proven in the newly released study.

Cuomo, who once called high speed rail "critical to building the foundation for future economic growth, especially Upstate," has rejected true high speed because of the costs- which would be in excess of $45 billion.

The state and the federal government have rejected a true high speed rail system, i.e., one with speeds at 160-220 mph used in other countries, because of cost, which is nearly triple that of the next most costly alternative. Also cited as reasons to reject such high speed rails are the "likelihood of significant community and environmental impacts, and significant engineering design difficulties necessary to create a sufficiently straight track alignment to permit those speeds," according to the report.

What's left are four options for a much slower rail but still higher than present rail speeds. A fifth option is to do nothing at all.

Among the remaining options is a $1.66 billion design that would save an hour of travel time by adding 64 miles of new track, allowing speeds of up to 90 miles per hour between Schenectady and Buffalo, with an average speed of 57 mph.

Presently, a trip from New York City to Buffalo and Niagara Falls takes eight and 9 hours respectively with an average train speed of 51 mph.

There's also a $5.58 billion option that would save another half hour and would add a dedicated passenger track for 273 miles between Schenectady and Buffalo, allowing train speeds of up to 90 mph and increasing the average speed to 61 mph.

An additional $6.25 billion option would shave off a couple minutes more by adding a new fourth main track in some locations, allowing maximum speeds of up to 110 mph, with an average speed of 63 mph. The trip to Niagara Falls would take slightly less than seven-and-a-half hours.

A $14.71 billion option would shave off another hour and a half and add a two-track, grade-separated, 283-mile corridor - much of it along new elevated tracks - between Albany and a new Buffalo station. Trains in some places would hit maximum speeds of 125 miles per hour, with the overall average speed hitting 77 mph on the express track (53 on the local).

The travel time to Niagara would, on the express tracks, fall to six hours.

The fifth option is to "do-nothing," and the trains would continue as they are with average speeds of 51 mph.

According to the report, the state's existing passenger rail service has "inadequate service levels, … the trip from Buffalo to New York City can be made in less than two hours by air and under seven hours by car, compared to approximately eight hours by the existing Empire Corridor passenger service provided by Amtrak."

According to the report, ridership is increasing and congestion is expected to worsen "as demand for intercity passenger, commuter, and freight rail services all continue to grow."

Public hearings will be held on these options in March.

"Is high-speed rail really a reality in New York State?" State Sen. George Maziarz (R-Newfane) said in an interview. "I doubt it very much."



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Feb 04, 2014