New York high-speed rail

From TrainSpottingWorld, for Rail fans everywhere

High-speed rail in New York State has been a topic that is consistently discussed among legislators, political leaders and in particular, several past governors since the 1990s, but thus far little progress has been made. In his campaign speeches prior to his defeat to Governor George Pataki in 1994, Mario Cuomo promised to bring high speed (maglev) rail up the Hudson Valley and along the Catskill Mountain route[1]. It was not a priority for the subsequent administration.

Currently, Amtrak's Acela service between Washington, D.C., and Boston, Massachusetts, is available to New York City, but the cities in Upstate New York and Western New York remain isolated from high-speed rail service. Further, destinations outside the New York metropolitan area have experienced delayed service for decades. In some areas, New York State has been quietly endorsing and even implementing rail improvements for years.

Frequently cited as a partial solution for Upstate and Western New York's economic stagnation, faster rail transportation between New York City and the rest of the state has been suggested as a way to make rural areas grow into suburban destiantions for daily commuters, and easily accessible for businesses to relocate to cheaper real estate. Many politicians also endorse closer ties with destinations in Canada.


Rail travel in New York has its roots in the early 19th century. The New York Central water-level route roughly followed the path of the Erie Canal, with four tracks along much of the route. For many years the Twentieth Century Limited and Empire State Express services, to Chicago and Buffalo were amongst the fastest trains in the world, with average speeds topping 60 miles per hour and top speeds reportedly well over 100. Rail travel largely stagnated in the post-World War II economic boom, as the New York Thruway was built, and then the rest of the highway transportation and suburban lifestyles burgeoned. Nonetheless, rail culture lived on in the New York metropolitan area. It was kept alive by the subway culture in New York City, as well as suburban routes on Long Island and the northern suburbs of the city. The Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad are the two largest commuter railroads in the United States. New Jersey Transit, which serves New Jersey commuters to Manhattan, Philadelphia, and points within New Jersey, is also a major player in the U.S. commuter rail market.

Interest in updating the state's aging rail infrastructure was sparked in the early 1990s. In the late 1990s, ground was broken on a new Rensselaer rail station, at the time reported as the ninth busiest station in the entire United States; federal funding was secured for the project.[2] In 2001, the state tested a newly rebuilt Turboliner RTL-III diesel locomotive capable of reaching 125 miles per hour.[3] In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, New York Governor George Pataki attempted to secure, among other things, a high-speed rail link to Schenectady using federal emergency aid money.[4]

Notably, federal planners identified New York State's Empire Corridor (Buffalo-Albany-New York City) as one of the best-suited for high-speed rail service.[5] In 2005, New York State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno expressed renewed interest in high-speed rail proposed research into high-speed rail development in New York State as part of a plan to boost Upstate New York's economy.[6]

Current plans

Current plans call for extensive upgrades to current New York State infrastructure. Almost all the proposed high-speed rail corridors have existing rail lines, so it is considered easiest to bring high-speed rail to them by upgrading existing routes. As of 2006, many New York State politicians have taken interest in high-speed rail. New York State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno's interest is notable, along with Governor Elliot Spitzer and New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver - considered the three most powerful politicians in the state.

Senator Caesar Trunzo announced a long-term plan to bring high-speed rail service between Buffalo and New York City, via Albany, to under three hours.[7]

Some improvements are already under way. The Troy Record, a local newspaper in Troy, New York, reported on January 6, 2006, that "[t]he ambitious, decades long, multi-billion dollar plan [for faster rail service] starts with a $22 million investment in 2006 that would shorten trips from Albany to New York City to two hours and from Buffalo to NYC to under three hours."[8] The Times Herald-Record reported, under a plan that had been recently released by the New York State Senate, that "Metro-North trains running all the way to Albany by 2012, emphasized high-speed travel and increased rail service throughout the state in coming years."

The paper further reported that, "[b]y 2009, trips between New York and Albany should be far more frequent and take less than two hours. By 2025, at a cost upwards of $8 billion, maglev or other high-speed trains, traveling 200-300 mph could be traversing the [New York State] Thruway corridor." [9]

Joseph Bruno said that he would even see the federal government's possible break-up of Amtrak as an opportunity to give New York State more say over its rail system.[10]


Other proposals involve extensions of existing corridors or cooperation with agencies in other states or in Canada.

Montreal to New York City

On October 6, 2005, the Albany Times-Union reported that New York Governor George Pataki and Quebec Premier Jean Charest "called for the creation of high-speed rail service between Montreal and New York City as a way to boost the regional economy during the third Quebec-New York Economic Summit on Wednesday," October 4, 2005. The article claimed that New York was Quebec's main trading partner, which perhaps explains some of the interest in linking the two major cities.[11]

According to a report by the New York State Senate High Speed Rail Task Force, such a route would serve Plattsburgh via Albany.[12] There is an existing passenger link between Montreal and Albany served by Amtrak.

Buffalo to Toronto

New York State Assemblyman Sam Hoyt of Buffalo has been active in promoting high-speed cross-border rail service, pointing out that Toronto is a large metropolis nearby Western New York. Buffalo, the largest city on the U.S. side of the border in the region, plays host to many Canadian companies that do business in the United States. Toronto, on the other hand, is a major cultural center for many Western New Yorkers, and high-speed rail service has the potential to increase environmentally-friendly traffic and decrease congestion on the Peace Bridge.[13] The existing passenger rail link is served by Amtrak and VIA Rail.

Other out-of-state connections

New high-speed routes through from Albany to Boston and Buffalo to Chicago through Cleveland are also proposed, most likely along the general corridor of the current Amtrak services. Through service from Washington, D.C. to upstate New York is also proposed.[12] These services would require heavy cooperation with other states and the United States federal government. Many civic and business leaders in New England have recently shown interest in better service to New York City and Boston.[14][15]

See also


  1. For New York, steel-wheel plus maglev is envisioned - New York State passenger rail upgrades Railway Age, Dec, 1993
  2. "Governor Pataki Breaks Ground At New Rensselaer Rail Station." New York State press release: June 2, 1999.
  3. "Governor Announces Successful 125 MPH Run Of NY's High Speed Train." New York State press release: February 23, 2001.
  4. Haberman, Clyde. "Isn't Heartland Still Part of Homeland?" The New York Times: June 9, 2006
  5., Federal Railroad Administration report; October 21, 2003
  6. "Fast Trains in NY: Slashing Travel Time is Key to Accelerating Upstate Economy" by Joseph Bruno
  8. Cristo, Robert. "Plans for rail system detailed," The Record. Troy, New York: January 6, 2006
  9. Milgrim, John. "Senate envisions rapid transit." Times Herald-Record, Middletown, New York: January 6, 2006.
  10. Eisenstadt, Marnie. "All Aboard!" Syracuse Post-Standard, Syracuse, New York: November 18, 2005
  11. 12.0 12.1 See map at end of page: (loaded December 9, 2006)
  12. "Opportunities for Cross-Border High Speed Rail." City of Toronto: October 22, 1999
  13. Holhut, Randolph T. "Time To Put Some Real Money Into Rail Service,", May 9, 2006.
  14. Pierce, Neil, et al. "N.E. states must pull together to re-link region with railroads," Telegraph of Nashua: June 4, 2006.

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