Is New York Giving Up on HSR?

Feb 3rd, 2014 | Posted by

New York City is the centerpiece of America’s only high speed rail route. The Amtrak Acela has a top speed of 150 mph, though it has to often go slower on older tracks, and is profitable. Upgrading the Acela corridor to handle higher speeds is a priority that even Republicans agree on.

But New York State includes more than just NYC. Millions of people live “upstate,” which includes major metro areas like Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo. For the state as a whole, connecting them with high speed rail is also an important priority – just as connecting the state with a canal was an important priority 200 years ago.

New York State has plans to provide a high speed rail connection linking everything from Niagara Falls to Manhattan. But those plans appear to have become a very low priority in recent years:

On Tuesday, following months of delays, the Federal Railroad Administration quietly posted to its website a New York State study study outlining five different options for “high speed rail” connecting New York City to Niagara Falls.

The study was supposed to have been released in June, after it was reviewed by the federal government, and as recently as this morning, New York State’s transportation commissioner was apparently still unaware that the review was complete.

The issue, as Capital New York explains, is that political leaders in New York State appear to have lost interest in high speed rail. Andrew Cuomo pledged to make it a priority when he ran for governor in 2010, but in office he has done hardly anything to advance efforts.

It’s not for lack of need:

The state’s existing passenger rail service has “inadequate service levels,” according to the study.

“For example, 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.”

Trains too often run late and infrequently.

Nevertheless, ridership continues to increase and congestion is expected to worsen “as demand for intercity passenger, commuter, and freight rail services all continue to grow.”

The goal of the state’s High Speed Rail Empire State Corridor Program is to transform the Empire Corridor from a lumbering, inadequate system into one that is frequent, punctual and fast.

But the five options proposed in the study fall short of what was intended back in 2009 when the plans were initially launched:

The first option is the no-build one. Two options would allow speeds of up to 90 miles per hour, and the final two would in some sections allows speeds along the corridor of up to 110 mph and 125 mph, respectively….

The state, working with the federal government, has whittled down ten initial options to the aforementioned five, and discarded every option that would entail maximum speeds of 160 mph and 220 mph—in other words, high-speed rail of the sort they have in countries that care more about infrastructure.

The “very high speed” alternatives “were rejected for their extremely high cost—nearly triple the next most costly alternative—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,” the report reads.

The article goes into some detail on those plans, but the point isn’t really about the specific options. It’s unclear whether there is any interest in New York State in actually building anything at all, no matter the speed. And the fastest options were already taken off the table.

It’s possible that one of the two higher speed options could be adopted, funded, and built. But the lack of political support would suggest that’s unlikely. It isn’t that New York leaders balked at the cost or at the need. It’s that they’ve lost a sense of urgency.

That story can be seen across the country, in a variety of ways, whether it’s HSR, climate action, fossil fuel reduction, or lasting economic prosperity. In 2008 and 2009 it looked like our country was going to address the serious problems that had arisen – high fuel prices, the climate crisis, financial crises, inequality, and job loss. But in 2009 a reaction began, determined to block any efforts to address those issues in defense of those who benefited from the status quo.

Slowly but surely, the promising solutions of the late ’00s were scaled back. Here in the mid-teens, America struggles to sustain those efforts while the radicals in Congress and in many state governments are working to dismantle the basic pieces of modern society.

California’s high speed rail project has suffered from this counterattack as well. But at least it’s far enough along to where it just might survive. New York State now has some HSR plans. But whether the political will to build them has survived is a very open question.

  1. Alon Levy
    Feb 3rd, 2014 at 23:11

    Governor Cuomo (R-NY) is strongly pro-car and anti-transit. See for example his indifference to the transit lockbox bill compared with his shilling for a convention center in an auto-oriented part of Queens and for the Tappan Zee boondoggle. The Tappan Zee he’s willing to sink $8 billion or so into, but not to add bus lanes. In a country with sane construction costs – certainly nothing like New York – $8 billion is enough to build HSR from New York to somewhere between Albany and Utica. He also buried an HSR report 1.5 years ago, saying that in a recession the state had no money to spend on HSR (link).

    Adam Tauno Williams Reply:

    I know, it hurts to watch some of this. For “$8 billion” Michigan could complete even the wishlist items on its rail master plan; we’d have frequent service connecting Holland, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Kalamazoo, and Detroit [5 cities!]. The economic payoff would be *awesome*.

    In New York “$8 billion” gets you a bridge!

    Of course, the US military just launched a new aircraft carrier the cost of which could also have restored my state’s rail network and purchased all new trains – trains that would server metroplitan areas of millions of people.

    When someone tells me “the money just isn’t there” I just want to punch them in the nose.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Cuomo is absoutely awful. Thankfully, the people of New York really do want better passenger rail… but we’re going to have to wait until people as a whole wise up to what a fraud Cuomo is.

    In case people didn’t get Alon’s joke, Cuomo is officially registered as, and running as, a member of the Democratic Party. But on almost every issue (fracking, public transportation, transparency in government, even stop-and-frisk) *you’d think he was a Republican*.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    He’s a Rockefeller/country club Republican. But since the Republicans nominate the bat shit insane he’s able to get away with it.

    Nathanael Reply:

    (FWIW, it was actually the *upstate NY Republicans* who backed the last set of HSR studies and the failed “TurboTrain” attempt. We have had a lot of corrupt pork-barrel Republicans here, not so many Tea Party ideologues. Cuomo is corrupt pork-barrel, not Tea Party.)

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    So that they could brag about how many jobs they brought to Super Steel and how they are working very very very hard to bring Turboliner service back. The Turboliners were faster than today’s service. The ones out in the wilds or the Southern Tier support rail because it means jobs.

    Observer Reply:

    You would think that a state like New York would want faster and more efficient passenger rail service; it makes sense.

    On a bit of good news Michigan will have 110mph service from Chicago, IL. across the state to Detroit, then to Pontiac. And they have a republican governor. Give Michigan credit.

    Adam Tauno Williams Reply:

    > On a bit of good news Michigan will have 110mph service from Chicago, I

    As a Michiganer I say “Yay!”. Thanks for the mention as very little that happens here seems to get any attention at all. We have the first 100+ MPH corridor outside of the north-east. And it was a very bipartisan accomplishment – yet on all the rail/transit BLOGs…. you can hear the crickets over any mention of Michigan.

    Here in GR we have a new group of investors and community leaders working towards a new streetcar system (in a city with no streetcars or light rail). The interview of the organizers gets covered on a local radio station…. silence. I even had to pester the supposedly Michigan oriented transit advocacy groups – who mostly cannot see passed the borders of Detroit – to publish the link Detroit is not Michigan, we are an entire state.

    Speaking as a Michigander, and I believe much of the Midwest feels this way, it is frustating.

    Dear Tier 1 cities,
    Real on the ground developements are being accomplished elsewhere (and at amazingly lower costs).

    Donk Reply:

    Just curious, is there any traffic in Michigan? I just picture a place with great freeways and roads with few cars on them. I imagine it would be hard to justify expanded rail service if there is no traffic.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    there is traffic in Chicago and it costs a lot to park

    Eric Reply:

    There is traffic in rush hour. Not all day long like in NYC or LA.

    Intercity freeways have many semi-trailers as well as cars.

    Adam Tauno Williams Reply:

    We have traffic, especially during commuting peaks. We also have a lot of people who commute long distances. Holland->Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids->Lansing is very common. The commuting is made less pleasent by lots of semi-truck traffic.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    There’s a lot of reasons to shill for a convention center in Howard Beach
    It means the Javits Center in Manhattan can be redeveloped
    The New York Racing Authority would get some money for the land or rent.
    The Javits Center could be redeveloped.
    More people wandering around out by the track with a racino in it. Yet more money for NYRA.
    The Javits Center could be redeveloped.
    Less whining from conventioneers about Manhattan hotel rates because they’d be staying in hotels in Queens. Which is good for the hotels in Queens. Frees up space in Manhattan hotels for people who spend more money than conventioneers.
    The Javits Center could be redeveloped.
    More reason to run trains from Manhattan to JFK though I don’t see why changing to the people mover at Federal Circle or Howard Beach is much different than changing to the people mover in Jamaica.
    The Javits Center could be redeveloped.
    It keeps those uncouth conventioneers out of Manhattan. Though for things like the Auto Show and the Boat Show it’s locals who are going to it and having the convention center a long walk from Penn Station is a good thing.
    The Javits Center could be redeveloped.
    And it will make Hudson Yards even bigger when they redevelop the Javits Center. There are fantasies of putting another Battery Park City on the site.

    This study will have a few things done and sit on a shelf just like the last study done. And the study for HSR between Albany and Montreal. And the study done before the debacle with the Turboliners. And the study done for the Turboliners. And the study done when Penn Central wanted to abandon service. And the study done when the NYC wanted to abandon service. And the study done when the NYC welded a jet engine to a Budd RDC. And the study done when….

    Trains between Albany and New York City are slightly faster than they were in the heyday. Not by much but faster. Peak schedule speeds were when the Turboliners were running, on an express. It should get better when the new locomotives come on line. There are places they can do 125 now but can’t because the locomotive can’t can run at 125. It won’t save much time but a few minutes here and a few minutes there adds up. Bump the 90 MPH sections south of Albany to 110 or 125 where possible and the trip is down to under two. ( rumor on the foamer boards is that the late night trains are making it in 2:15 – arriving ten minutes early – and would make it in 2:05 if they weren’t loitering around at intermediate stops because the train is early and they can’t leave until the time on the schedule. )

    They have been chipping away at this and that. There’s an alert if you try to book a train for sometime in the next few days: “Please be advised that select Empire Service trains will operate according to new schedules, effective January 13. As a result, travel times between Niagara Falls and New York Penn Station have been shortened by up to 30 minutes.”.

    The second track between Albany and Schenectady isn’t in service yet, that should make some more padding disappear. Fourth track at Rensselaer is supposed to speed things up – cut the dwell time on everything except the Late For Sure Limited – they are working on that too. It might get down to 2:45 from Saratoga Springs before I’m dead. … That should be under 90 minutes but I’m never gonna see that.

    Nathanael Reply:

    We actually may see some results from this study. Remember, everything is done in back rooms and you have to read the tea leaves… it’s Kremlinology out here…

    I was positively surprised when NYS decided to actually buy (well, lease long-term, but anyway) the Poughkeepsie-Schenectady line. Rail advocates had been saying for, literally, *DECADES* that this was the first step if the state wanted to get serious about passenger rail upstate.

    And now, quite suddenly and frankly without much advance warning, it’s actually been done.

    This indicates that there is some decision among the money-allocators that it’s actually worth spending money on passenger rail. How this was decided? I have no idea. It’s completely opaque to me.

    Remember, the states just had to pick up the costs of most of the <750 mi. Amtrak routes. In most states, this was done with some sort of public process, discussion in the legislature, appropriations, etc.

    NY is the state where we heard absolutely nothing. But insiders assured the local passenger rail organization that the state was going to fund the Amtrak trains. And sure enough, they were funded.

    NY has a very opaque, back-room-deal kind of government. At the moment this government seems to actually be mildly positive towards passenger rail improvements.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Traffic in the Bronx keeps getting worse and worse. It makes it difficult for downstate legislators, their staff, their mistresses and the lobbyists who buy lunch, to get to Albany? It’s why a few Republicans, very few, support improving the NEC, the NEC makes it easy to get to Manhattan and fund raisers. And for Wall Street influence seekers to get to DC. And everyone can flaunt their Club Acela cards.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    With Democrats like Cuomo, who needs Republicans?

    joe Reply:

    Steve Israel needs Republicans so he can recruit and run conservatives as Democrats.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    At least the mayor isn’t a total assholes. We’ll see how stop-and-frisk evolves, but he just defunded charter schools to help pay for universal pre-K.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    *total asshole.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    De Blasio may not be perfect but I suspect he will be an excellent progressive mayor for NYC.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Indeed. Cuomo actually chose to sign the State Senate’s Republican gerrymander of the State Senate.

    He didn’t have to. If he’d thrown it to the courts, we would have had a lot more Democratic seats in the State Senate. But he actually went to bat for the Republicans.

    Cuomo is disgusting.

  2. Adam Tauno Williams
    Feb 4th, 2014 at 03:39

    I am an advocate of rail, a member of both NARP and my state chapter. But sometimes rail advocates feel like rails worst enemies – we make the perfect the enemy of the good.

    I would be thrilled with consistent frequent 110MPH service between urban centers. And the reality is that for most trips – that is fast enough. Most people are going to the-next-city-over. At 110MPH rail beats the automobile and for many trips is equivalent to the airplane (Detroit to Chicago for one example, or Grand Rapids to Chicago… sadly there is no train from Grand Rapids to Detroit [the two major urbans areas of Michigan. Ugh!]). A corridor once built and used and [possibly] self-sustaining can be upgraded when demand is demonstrable. The $$$ of highER speed rail is much more palatable than the $$$$ of true HSR (which its issue of a thousand and one grade crossings to rebuild). So the conclusion is nothing gets built.

    There is also a chicken and egg problem – I can’t take a train [or airplane] to an urban center than has no local mass-transit. Every street car and rapid bus system strengthens the case for inter-urban transit, and inter-urban transit makes the case for intra-urban transit.

    These two things seem to get chronically overlooked.

    Aside is the sad fact that Amtrak is not permitted to capitalize on the value it creates. Passenger rail is self-sustaning and even profitable in many places. But they follow Transit Oriented Development practices and recapture the value they create – building stations with leasable space or owning the land adjacent to their corridors. There needs to be a push to clarify Amtrak’s charter – is it a public service or is it a corporation? Rather than build stupid piddly little platform stations Amtrak should be building revenue generating facilities; then higher frequency trains brings a monetary benefit beyond additional fares.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    I’m all for the 110mph consistent service you describe. The point I’m making here is that nobody in NYS seems interested in even building that.

    I will say that I’m not so sure that higher speed rail is more politically palatable than true HSR. We’ve seen other states, like Wisconsin and Ohio, reject funding for the types of HSR you describe.

    As to Amtrak, it should be a public service and should not be expected to cover its own costs. I have long believed that transit advocates are undermining their own cause when they embrace the right-wing claim that transit needs to pay for itself. The right doesn’t say those things because they want self-sustaining transit, they say it because it’s the most useful argument they can find to cover their basic hatred of rail under any circumstances.

    joe Reply:

    ” I have long believed that transit advocates are undermining their own cause when they embrace the right-wing claim that transit needs to pay for itself.”

    It does – just not at the fare box. I agree with your argument and provocative comment that we are not all for profit but transit does make economic sense. The mistake is arguing over the ride, not the whole picture.

    Certainly we see the value of timely service in the peninsula where companies provide basically bus service to bring people to work on time.

    Service is worth the investment and takes cars off the roads, is more efficient and suitable for the elderly who should not have to be driving.

    swing hanger Reply:

    I think there needs to be a distinction made between HSR/intercity rail and local transit (buses and metros)- they serve different markets (at least in N. America), though they of course complement each other closely. The poor and disadvantaged need efficient local transit much, much more than HSR or “higher speed rail”, and this is where the argument for a public service is more persuasive.

    joe Reply:

    How does my father in law get to visit via train? A 10 train marathon from LA to Salinas.

    Older, disadvantaged and poor. They need to get around CA too.

    HSR isn’t high cost travel. It’s not first class or extravagant.

    Bill Reply:

    To Repubs the glass is half empty; systems should pay for themselves therefore we should not build or improve since that’s not happening. A more pragmatic solution would be to say that existing transportation systems SHOULD fund themselves…now what can we do to make that feasible?

    Adam Tauno Williams Reply:

    > As to Amtrak, it should be a public service and should not be expected to cover its own costs

    I do not believe Amtrak should be required to “cover its own costs”, but there is certainly value there to be collected that could be use to cover both operations and fund improvements. Not collecting the values cooks-the-books for the arguments that critics make; it makes it very difficult to present the value which the system creates. And I believe focusing on value-capture would help focus Amtrak – Chicago’s Union Station, for example, is a critical piece of infrastructure that has been languishing in unguided limbo for ages.

    I’m a Socialist; I am completely supportive of public services. But leaving money on the table is just bad practice. Amtrak’s wierd hybrid status and vague mandate do not help anyone.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Robert: there are a lot of people in NY interested in building it.

    They just don’t have any *power*. Our legislature runs on backroom deals and has an abomination called “empty seat voting” (look it up). It’s called the “three men in a room” system. It’s also gerrymandered to hell.

    If we don’t manage to get an HSR advocate for Governor — and remember, Cuomo ran on a fraudulent platform saying he’d support HSR — we’re screwed until we get a new Governor.

    You have something a lot closer to actual democracy in California.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    He supports HSR like Paterson supported HSR and Spitzer supported HSR and Pataki supported HSR and his father supported HSR and Carey supported HSR and Wilson supported HSR. The last governor to do something significant about rail travel in the state was Nelson Rockefeller back in the 70s. The tunnel Rockefeller had built under the East River might actually be carrying trains after Cuomo leaves office. The other major project completed since then is the Empire Connection.

    Nathanael Reply:

    On the other hand, as I say below, reading the tea leaves, the state government may actually decide to fund the 110mph version of the study. They have been putting in money where I wouldn’t have expected them to five years ago.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    they were able to dust off the studies, that were done to show how concerned they were but were never funded, and the state was able to tell the FRA that the projects were shovel ready when money dropped down out of the sky. What sane politician is going to turn down free money?

  3. David Hochman
    Feb 4th, 2014 at 04:44
  4. Novacek
    Feb 4th, 2014 at 06:05

    “Millions of people live “upstate,” which includes major metro areas like Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo. For the state as a whole, connecting them with high speed rail is also an important priority”

    Why? These metros are shrinking, or at least not growing. There are areas of far higher priority for investment, especially for federal monies.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Because Syracuse + Rochester + Buffalo = 3 million people, and connecting 3 million people to 20+ million people in New York is useful.

    Albany of course adds more, although the Albany-New York distance is such that tilting trains on upgraded legacy lines may be a decent compromise. The Rochester- or Buffalo-New York distance requires full HSR.

    Novacek Reply:

    But is it as useful as other infrastructure projects that could also be funded? Especially since by the time it’s constructed, that 3 million people will be 2.9 million. then 2.8 million…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    These are small changes, whereas what’s important is absolute levels.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    the meme is that the Upstate is emptying out. The big cities might have lost a lot of population. The county level and metro area populations are stable. All the deindustrialization has been wrung out of them. Bring high speed rail to them and when Lehman Brothers is looking for a place to put the back office Syracuse looks better than Brewster. Or when Pan Am wants to open a call center Utica looks better than Scranton.
    If running HSR through Fresno and Bakersfield is good for their economies so will running HSR through Syracuse and Rochester. Or Springfield or Worcester or Lancaster or Akron or…

    Nathanael Reply:

    It is correct that the county level and metro level populations are stable — along the “Erie Canal” route, and also through the Finger Lakes and in Western NY.

    The Binghamton area is still shrinking. Poor Binghamton. One reason for this is the crappy crappy transportation links there.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    There aren’t very many people in Broome County and the population decline isn’t all that severe. It peaked in 1970 and has lost roughly ten percent since then.
    …what crappy crappy transportation? Automobiles are a good solution for places few people want to go to at times when few people want to go there. Binghamton has I-81 and I-88. I’ve been on I-81 and I-88, they have fabulous transportation options.

    Nathanael Reply:

    HSR is much more useful than most other infrastructure projects in NY.

    And don’t forget, it’s not just the directly-connected metro areas. People already drive to the Syracuse train station from Watertown and Ithaca.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    they drive from Whitehall to Rensselaer because the service in Whitehall sucks. I suspect they drive from Schenectady to Rensselaer because the service from Schenectady sucks. Partly because parking in downtown Schenectady is scarce and there’s plenty of parking in Rensselaer. Relatively cheap parking. They drive from Saratoga Springs, which has better service than Whitehall, because service from Saratoga Springs sucks. Pity that they ripped out the rail infrastructure in downtown Albany for I-787, the station for Albany is going to be across the river for a long time.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    …and a pity they ripped it out of Syracuse for i-690…

  5. therealist
    Feb 4th, 2014 at 06:59

    if u build it, they will ride !

    joe Reply:

    If we built it, they all will want it. That’s why it’s so important CA be stopped before we start construction. Even with the first segment, it will be called a boondoggle until it reaches LA.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Always and forever a boondoggle like the LV Monorail.

    Hey, and I don’t think Amalgamated has the Monorail. Unlike TehaVegaSkyRail, which would have a huge payroll like BART, its godfather.

    Paul H. Reply:

    Syn, every electric rail line will be very popular once gasoline starts its march forever up into the eternity of diminishing supply of oil… The US is gonna do A LOT of electrification in the next two decades and for one simple reason: We’ll have to.

    So all the LV Monorails and TehaVegaSkyRails, and DogLegExpresses and AMBARTs… they all probably get to get built! You’ll be enjoying yourself in the 2030s with new exciting, witty names for the new streetcar lines built in cities like Fresno and Bakersfield!

    It’s very rare to see a transportation revolution in your lifetime. It’s very clear to me, and I’m sure to many of you, that the next one is right around the corner. Even if CA HSR doesn’t get funded this year, the planning and engineering will be done and eventually we’ll start to tax oil to build something that doesn’t need it. There’s always a threshold at the point where the costs to sustain are too high, and for our current transportation system that day is coming very soon.

    synonymouse Reply:

    And they’ll be ripping down the catenary because the new owner does not want it, as at Queretaro. If there is a new owner, otherwise the scrapper.

    JB in PA Reply:

    Ripping down a catenary is a sinh.

    Joey Reply:

    I see what you did there.

    therealist Reply:


    synonymouse Reply:

    PB will be supervising the dismantling.

    Adam Tauno Williams Reply:

    > Even if CA HSR doesn’t get funded this year, the planning and engineering will
    > be done and eventually we’ll start to tax oil to build something that doesn’t need it.

    Dream on! That is not how government project and policies work. They will start over from ground zero. There will be more studies, and analysis, and environmental impact studies… and dear God the money we pour down the study hole…

    If the project stops it is dead for the forseable future. I just wish we [as a nation] had not decided to build our first HSR line in California, but in aless litigious less bureaucratic state with a history of building things on-time. Then we could say “See there, it works!” and proceeded to tackle boondogle states like California. Maybe Texas will rescue us and proceed with thier couple of conceptual projects [that Texas could go from concept to operational faster than California can go from designed to operation…. I do not believe that would suprise anyone].

    swing hanger Reply:

    Agree 100%. There needs to be a true high speed line done ASAP to provide “proof of concept” to the peeps- of course this is really quite sad given the proven success of HSR in other countries, but hey, it’s the USA. And…it’s likely not going to be done in California anytime within the next couple of decades with the endless bickering and hyperpolitical climate.

    Nathanael Reply:

    It might be more accurate to say “If the project is stopped it will be delayed for 20 years”. By that time the urgency will be very clear and something will be built. But we can’t really afford to get 20 years further behind China.

  6. Derek
    Feb 4th, 2014 at 09:17

    The “very high speed” alternatives “were rejected for their extremely high cost—nearly triple the next most costly alternative…

    The initial outlay of an investment doesn’t make that investment good or bad. The report is flawed or at least incomplete.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Completely agreed.

    Nathanael Reply:

    NY is run by backroom politics. The people doing the studies are directly hooked into the “three men in a room”. What that means is that the “three men in a room” won’t fund the expensive options.

    I sometimes wish we had a different form of government, but our cobbled-together scheme seems to work for NY.

    Adam Tauno Williams Reply:

    It makes them politically impossible; and thus a bad investment.

    Derek Reply:

    Politically impossible makes it a non-investment, not a bad investment.

  7. blankslate
    Feb 4th, 2014 at 09:32

    Completely OT. I hope the readers of this blog appreciated the depiction of California HSR in Her. The protagonist rides CAHSR from a near-future LA to a remote cabin up in the Sierras somewhere. Looks like a pleasant trip.

    This version of LA also has a subway to the sea, and a lot more skyscrapers (courtesy of Shanghai).

    Jerry Reply:

    The “movie” Her. Modern movies with train scenes include HSR. The 2010 Depp/Julie move, The Tourist, included a very long segment of the Italian HSR. The HSR segment was also used in its previews.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Really? Damn, now I have to go see it. (Not that I mind, just a bit tricky with a baby.)

    Donk Reply:

    Well if he could take HSR directly to a remote cabin, then it probably isn’t too remote anymore.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    the trick is to take HSR to the station 20 miles away from the cabin, the one where you have your car parked.

    blankslate Reply:

    The film is a bit vague on the specifics of the journey. In one scene he is riding a high speed train with a view of granite peaks out the window, drinking coffee (in a ceramic cup) and chatting with his “girlfriend.” The scene cuts and then we see him snowshoeing in the wilderness and making tea in a cabin. In between, he may have picked up a Zipcar, taken a cab (maybe a self driving cab?), ridden some kind of shuttle bus, walked or used bikeshare for all we know.

    Transit planning realism is not one of the film’s strong points. For example, the in the subway-to-the-sea scene, he literally ascends the stairs from the subway platform straight onto beach sand.

    Most ground-level views of LA in the film show an urban landscape completely devoid of cars. No character is ever depicted driving, and if I remember correctly, the only time any character is even shown entering a car is when one minor character rides away in a taxi.

    Donk Reply:

    Self driving cab? You mean a Johnny Cab?

  8. Gianny
    Feb 4th, 2014 at 13:02

    “Kawasaki sees high-speed opportunity”
    Kawasaki’s train-car manufacturing division in Lincoln has an eye on new opportunities: combined requests for cars from Amtrak and California’s High-Speed Rail Authority.

  9. Reedman
    Feb 4th, 2014 at 13:39

    NJ Transit appears to have underestimated the number of people who would take the train to the Super Bowl by a significant amount. Don’t know if there was anything that could have been done differently, but the nationally televised two hour wait to leave wasn’t the best advertisement for train travel in the New York vicinity. I hope the VTA was watching and learning about what to do in Santa Clara.

    Joey Reply:

    It’s funny because you put “VTA” and “learning” in the same sentence.

    joe Reply:

    Did milk shoot up your nose?

    “We’re confident we can pull it off,” said Colleen Valles, a spokeswoman for the Valley Transportation Authority. “We’re pretty much throwing everything we can at it.” That includes a full compliment of trains and buses, tons of parking and freeway lanes dedicated to shuttles.

    The Bay Area Super Bowl Host Committee is still a long way from locking down its transportation plan for the big game but has hinted at launching special trains and designating highway lanes for large tech company-style shuttle buses.

    For the 2016 Super Bowl and 49ers games, fans will be able to ride Caltrain down to the Mountain View station and transfer to VTA light-rail trains and buses to Levi’s Stadium. Fans can also take BART around from the East Bay to the Fremont station and ride a VTA express bus the rest of the way.

    VTA expects to send out enough three-car trains to carry as many as 12,000 fans on game days.

    Reedman Reply:

    The Santa Clara Super Bowl is scheduled for Feb 7, 2016. According to BART, the Warm Springs Extension is going to be open for service in the fall of 2015. So, folks using BART to get to Santa Clara in 2016 from the East Bay should be using the closer Warm Springs Station, not the Fremont Station.

    Joe Reply:

    VTA will double track to MtView which increases train frequency and improves connects with Caltrain.
    Also adding track to idle trains near the stadium.

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    I remember back in 2010 (IIRC) seeing signs at the Mt View light rail station saying that the VTA would not be running late night trains on New Years Eve, despite Caltrain running late trains, and NYE being a night where you want to get people off of the roads. I think the following year they started to run late night trains on NYE, but that kind of incompetency doesn’t make me think highly of their ability to learn. Or think. Or construct decent transportation.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    NJ Transit exists to make the LIRR look good, the LIRR exists to make Metro-North look good, and Metro-North exists to make Italian trains look good.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They can wedge 2000 people onto a train of multilevels. They can get 6 of them an hour out of the Meadowlands. How much better could they do?

    One of the iterations studied was a five platform station on a loop. That would have cost too much money. What they have is good enough for events except the one that happens every few decades.

    NJTransit exists to make SEPTic look okay.

    joe Reply:

    Start sooner.

    Only dumb-asses think people will sit in NJ during the middle of harsh winter to watch the bitter end of football game.

    Start the service sooner. Don’t hold charter buses until 60 minute after the game ends

    Nathanael Reply:

    Most of the transit geeks said: use the single-levels because *they’ll load faster*.

    It was also suggested that more connecting trains needed to be running. Secaucus was jammed with people waiting for too-few connecting trains. Indeed, they might even have run direct trains to places other than Secaucus.

    They could certainly have made it legal to walk away from the stadium. (Security theater again.) Given the waits, a bunch of people would have walked out and hailed the next city bus.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Well, they could do something revolutionary like build stadiums where the transit is, the way they built Yankee Stadium next to the Jerome Avenue Line, the 9th Avenue El branch, and the then-planned Grand Concourse Line.

    Or, if not, then realize the trains have limited capacity and not just blithely assume all the charter buses will fill.

    I don’t want to sound like Derek, but for an event that happens once every many years, it’s fine to do surge pricing. The tickets to the Superbowl cost a ton of money anyway, they wouldn’t be keeping out the working class or something.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They’ve tossed around building a football stadium in Manhattan more than once. Last iteration they decided that building Hudson Yards would be a better idea. It was the last remaining site in Manhattan that was large enough. The Giants played at Yankee Stadium until 1973 but moved out to the Meadowlands because Yankee Stadium wasn’t good enough and there was plenty of space for parking. The jets played in Shea Stadium until 1984 but that wasn’t good enough for them so they moved to Giants Stadium. Now that they are out there there isn’t anyplace to put them. And it’s not bad for everything except events that happen once every few decades.
    I don’t know why people drive to events. The parking costs a lot, it takes forever to get out of the lots and traffic is awful once you do get out of the lots. It’s why they built 153rd Street and why they run trains from Connecticut for Sunday afternoon games. And someday there will be one seat rides from the Meadowlands. Could have happened for this Super Bowl but the 1980s plans to expand Penn Station fell through and the 1990s plans to expand Penn Station fell through and the 2000s plans to expand Penn Station fell through. Might be able to get a one seat ride by 2030. Just in time for the teams to decide that the stadium isn’t good enough and move to the Sunbelt.

    Donk Reply:

    I sure wish I didn’t have to drive to Dodger games. The Guggenheim group could probably bankroll a gold-plated subway under Chavez Ravine with a 1000 ft tall escalator directly into the stadium if they wanted to.

    Eric Reply:

    Just the other day I was thinking, “why don’t they build a short spur off the Gold Line to Dodger Stadium?” It would probably be better to elevate it over the freeway though. After completion of the Regional Connector, it could through-run to downtown and the Blue/Expo lines.

    Currently Dodger Stadium is the only major-sport facility in the LA-Orange County without rail access. (Honda Center needs better pedestrian access, but it should be a 5 minute walk to Metrolink)

    Eric Reply:

    In fact, it’s the only major-sport facility in California without rail access, except for the Sleep Train Arena (Sacramento Kings)

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    Just barely, though-until recently you could add Candlestick Park to that list.

    Eric Reply:

    And the Kings are moving to a downtown stadium with streetcar (and light rail) nearby…

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    A funicular, Eric?

    Eric Reply:

    That would cause capacity issues and require an annoying transfer.

    I was thinking more of a bridge over the freeway and a tunnel under the stadium parking lot. The elevation difference is about 50m, and most of that could be accounted for between Chinatown station and the stadium.

    Eric Reply:

    Although, thinking about it more, it would probably be simpler and cheaper to build a single platform next to the current Gold Line at Bishops Road, and build a pedestrian overpass to the stadium, and make the whole route pedestrian-friendly (would probably mean closing Bishops Road to cars on game evenings).

    400m horizontal+50m vertical walk should be acceptable to most pedestrians, I’d hope.

    Donk Reply:

    Eric – the Bishops Road idea is viable. Back when I was broke and still wanted to tailgate before the games, we would park the car on Bishops Road right adjacent to the 110 freeway (they have free street parking there). We would then grab a bunch of beers and walk across the freeway right there and trek up the hill through the forest. The forest was a great place to slam beers and take a piss if you needed to after you had slammed a few beers. There is a little trail where you have to duck under a couple fences, and it dumps you out right at the parking ticket booths are.

    The problem was that you had to hike through those fences, avoid stepping in dog/human doo, and that several homeless people were living there, and one of them had a white pitt bull that scared the hell out of you. Girls definitely found it pretty sketchy.

    If they were to clean this trail up, it is a pretty nice direct path that really isn’t too bad a walk. The Gold Line is just a block or two further south. The steepest part is really once you get near the ticket booths, or maybe it just felt that way because I was usually pretty tanked by the time I got to that point.

    Donk Reply:

    If you look at a map, the whole point is that if you cross the 110 at Stadium Way, you don’t need to follow Stadium Way to the left – you can cut straight up the hill to “Downtown Gate Rd”. I am not sure how long a walk this would be since it is sort of hard to map it. Probably under 3/4 mile. I don’t know if this is any shorter than the trek from the Coliseum BART station to Oakland Coliseum (also a long trek).

    Donk Reply:

    Maybe a couple escalators would do the trick – one between Stadium Way/110 and Downtown Gate Rd, and another between Downtown Gate Rd and the top of the parking lot, straight up the hill. This part, I believe was not possible to hike up, and you had to go up the street. If you can cut straight across with these escalators and the whole thing is converted to a pedestrian friendly route, it could be pretty quick and easy. As long as the escalators don’t break down.

    Donk Reply:

    Oh one last point – when we used to walk back down that path thru the forest after night games, it was pretty frickkin scary.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Forget Manhattan. Secaucus Junction is adjacent to storage warehouses and railyards. PATH passes through railyards between Journal Square and Harrison. If for some reason the stadium has to be in the Garden State there are places to put it in that aren’t total boondoggles.

    By the way, all of this is retro-fantasy, not a proposal to spend any additional amount of money on stadiums in the future.

  10. Joe
    Feb 4th, 2014 at 13:53

    $50 bus rides is what happened.

    The organizers banned dropoffs and wanted fans to buy a 50 bus ride. That’s a nice racket isn’t it?

    Outside lands in SF did the same thing this summer. $38 bus ride from civic center to golden gate park or take a chance with a MUNI bus and “too many people reaching for that piece of cake. “. Groom civic center we took BART to Daley City and Free parking for the drive home.

    NJ transit could have activated service, it was a Sunday, but the powers to be wanted to really push the 10 times more expensive solution. Charter bus.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The station has a capacity of 10,000 people an hour. If 25,000 people all decide to use it at once it’s going to take two and half hours to move them all out.

    Joey Reply:

    And who could have predicted, when the station was being designed, that everyone at a sporting event might want to leave right after the game?

    Joe Reply:

    Riders waited hours – the station can support the event if the people who wanted to sell $50 bus rides decided wanted to compete with augmented train service and 5 dollar fares.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    8,000 of them show up after a regular game. Sometimes 12,000 of them when it’s a concert at the arena across the road. It takes a while to get out of the stadium or the arena and some of them walk faster and some of them walk slower. Some of them decide to leave early and some of them decide to chew the fat with people who drove. 25,000 people deciding to do it happens once every few decades. How many millions of dollars should we spend to accommodate once every few decades demand?

    Joe Reply:

    I was not clear.
    Waiting a hour afterwards is okay, the station had capacity if planned correctly.
    Run train elevated service starting at half time. Don’t stick to a Sunday schedule until thegame ends.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The capacity of the station is 10,000 people an hour. 25,000 people at 10,000 an hour is two and half hours. There is no schedule for the station. The only time is has service is when there is an event.

    joe Reply:

    The newspaper reported the event had 1 train per hour service during the event – is that incorrect? They ran 6 trains per hour when the event ended. Since it was a blow out, I see a correctable problem.

    I suggest, from personal experiences with events and learning from this event, that they run more frequent service before the event ends.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    If the capacity of terminal, it’s a three platform terminal off a low use branch line, is 6 trains an hour, they were running as many trains as they could. What more could they have done?

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Longer trains.

    joe Reply:

    Run buses before the event ends. Outside Lands SF did this.
    “But those who took buses, including 6,000 who bought $51 Fan Express passes, were told the buses wouldn’t leave until an hour after the game. many of them just got on line for shuttle trains back to Secaucus Junction, adding to the backup.”

    Run trains > 1 per hour before the event ends.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They ran trains as long as the platforms.

    joe Reply:

    …as soon as the game ended. They did what they could when they started BUT it was a blow out and winter. People wanted to beat the crowd home – oblige them.

    And who wants to sit on a bus for an hour? Ship off fans as soon as one bus/train fills up. Lead people to a head bus and when it fills, send them home.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    When they bought the bus tickets they were told that the buses wouldn’t be leaving until after the game. They had to buy the tickets in advance.

    Eric Reply:

    “If the capacity of terminal, it’s a three platform terminal off a low use branch line, is 6 trains an hour, they were running as many trains as they could. What more could they have done?”

    Seems to me you’re being sarcastic and nobody here recognizes it.

    joe Reply:

    “When they bought the bus tickets they were told that the buses wouldn’t be leaving until after the game. They had to buy the tickets in advance.”

    The people were rational. The event planners failed. They have a responsibility to transport people from the game. They instead failed that responsibility and passengers left for trains.

    The NFL was awful. They stuck to the game plan and lost 58-0. Your Super Bowl sucked guys. People leave early.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    apparently it’s NJTransit’s fault that the NFL screwed up.

    Joe Reply:

    I doubt their Lessons Learned will be a blank page.

    Running only one train per hour until game ended was a decision they own.
    I look forward to thier analysis of what they did and what mistakes were made and what could have be done better.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They were announcing that they would run one train an hour until the game ended. Which is better than “the buses don’t leave until after the game”. Are you suggesting that instead of running one train an hour during the first quarter with ten people on it they should have run two trains with five people aboard every half hour?
    Game service doesn’t run on a schedule. They stage trains so that as they expect ridership to increase they can increase service. If the game is rained out halfway through they start running the extra trains then. If it goes two hours overtime they start running the extra trains then. If it runs two hours overtime they probably park a train in the station and when it fills up, it leaves and the next one comes in and sits in the station until it fills up and then leaves etc. I’m sure during the game there were at least two trains sitting in the station and sometime three, when one filled it up, it left. And someone somewhere called the coooridinator who authorized the train leaving who then dispatched a replacement.

    They can get 10,000 people an hour out of the station and apparently managed to do more. What else should they do? Arrange for limo service for people who want to leave early or make them wait an hour or until the train is full, whichever comes first?

    They handle more people than they were told to expect faster than they could be expected with that many people. They did a very good job.

    joe Reply:

    “They were announcing that they would run one train an hour until the game ended. Which is better than “the buses don’t leave until after the game”. Are you suggesting that instead of running one train an hour during the first quarter with ten people on it they should have run two trains with five people aboard every half hour?”

    Five people? That’s an interesting assertion. It’s wrong – we know from hindsight what you suggest wouldn’t have happened.

    I don’t know that they did let trains run when they filled or how they filled the trains. The articles suggest they did’t do what you speculate – they simply stuck to a schedule that was not adjusted for people UNTIL after a massive problem developed. The schedule was base don a fantastic finish where no one leaves until after the game. We know Officials eventually asked people to stay at the stadium at their seats.

    They promise to not repeat what they did and I am looking forward to some of their lessons learned. Snark isn’t going to be one of the lessons.

    Arrives with a Poisson Distribution with L=1 is what they assumed.
    I suggest they could have used, say 2 or 4.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    How full should the train be before it leaves? If 45 minutes into the game they have 100 people on the train should it leave even though there are 1200 empty seats? If an hour into the game there’s 950 people on the train what did they do wrong?

    If at the beginning of the fourth quarter they’ve taken 2000 people out of the stadium because they’ve been sending partially filled trains out every hour, what did they do wrong? How full should the train be before they send it out? Half? Quarter? Every 100 people? Every half hour instead of every hour? They can send out a train every 6 minutes. Should the first train leave 6 minutes after the game starts even though it’s empty? How ’bout the one at 18 minutes after the game starts and it’s empty because the two people who left the game that early were on the one that left at 12 minutes after the game starts?
    How often should they send out mostly empty trains? Sending one out once an hour, during most of the game, means it wasn’t full. How full should it be? How often should it run even though it’s almost empty?

    If a train is full halfway through the fourth quarter and they send it out even though it’s only been 22 minutes since the last train left, what did they do wrong? And when the next train is full 15 minutes later and they send it out what’s wrong with that? Thats 2,500 of the 33,000 people they carried away by train on those two trains, all of them sitting in seats. If ten minutes before the end of the game they’ve hauled away 10,000 people, the last two trains having a few standees because they were running trains as fast as they could that leaves 23,000 people to be hauled away. It’s gonna take 2.3 hours until they hauled away 33,000 people.

    What part of 10,000 people an hour are you having difficulty understanding? What part of “as fast as they could” did they do wrong? Should they have spent a few hundred million building tracks flying over the Turnpike so that the terminal becomes a station on a loop back to the main line? How many years before it was decided to send the Super Bowl to town do they have to start the environmental review etc?

    How much station should they have for an event that happens once every 30 years? How much railroad? Just how much should they have spent, per Super Bowl passenger, to get them out faster?

    …. I have little sympathy for people who spend hundreds of dollars for airplane tickets, thousands of dollars for tickets to the event, hundreds of dollars a night for a hotel room in Manhattan, who then decide to take the train because the bus fare is 51 bucks or the parking fee is 150.

    joe Reply:

    NFL officials estimated 8,000 fans would use the train, the NFL Giants attract 12,000 riders. That’s 50% more than the NZFL estimated.

    Parking cost $150 per car 2,000 spaces went unsold. Many Giants game parking spaces were deleted to increase the security perimeter.


    Because the game turned out to be a 43-8 blowout, many fans left the stadium before the game was over. But those who took buses, including 6,000 who bought $51 Fan Express passes, were told the buses wouldn’t leave until an hour after the game. Instead of waiting around, many of them just got on line for shuttle trains back to Secaucus Junction, adding to the backup.

    Derek Reply:

    Parking cost $150 per car 2,000 spaces went unsold.

    So they overcharged for parking and didn’t sell all of the spaces. An online auction would have neatly solved both problems. That might have relieved transit of around 8,000 riders.

    And apparently, tailgate parties were effectively banned at the Superbowl. So when the game let out, everyone just went straight home.

    With all these problems, no wonder transit was overloaded.

    Joe Reply:

    The service before the game ended was only one per hour and since it was a blow out in the cold of winter they blew it there too.

    2000 of the 8500 parking passes at 150 per sold.
    The NFL wanted yo bus people at 50 each

  11. Jos Callinet
    Feb 4th, 2014 at 16:29

    To be blunt, I would not be surprised to see all train service in New York State west of Albany entirely abandoned, with the possible exception of Amtrak’s “Late Shore Limited” from Chicago to Albany, where it splits, one section going to New York City, and the other to Boston, via Pittsfield, Springfield and Worcester.

    As others on this page have pointed out, flying, driving (New York State Thruway) and the bus are faster and better options. Governor Cuomo surely will not protest at not having to pony up state subsidies for the few remaining, often very tardy, trains that now “serve” that poorly-patronized Buffalo-Albany stretch. Abandonment of passenger service is very likely.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    I think the bigger issue is that there is no chance whatsoever for any extension into Canada. Steven Harper and the Alberta Party want no part of diminishing the need for tar sand petroleum.

    The only prime HSR route from NYC other than DC is Boston, and the State would be foolish to spend money upgrading that track.

    Nathanael Reply:

    The situation for VIA Rail in Canada is, indeed, frighteningly bad. At this point, most people are hoping that the government of Ontario will step in to provide service where VIA has stepped out. The government of Ontario has been uninterested in serving anything but the “greater Toronto area”. However, that extends practically to Niagara Falls, so there might be a chance.

    Woody Reply:

    The three corridor trains running all or part of
    Albany-Syracuse-Rochester-Buffalo-Niagara Falls-Toronto
    carried more than 400,000 passengers Fiscal 2013.
    That’s more than twice the riders back in 2001.
    Plus the Lake Shore Limited, the one and only train
    continuing to Chicago, up from 307,000 in 2007 to
    387,000 last year.

    But as everyone should understand by now, very few
    riders on any long distance trains go end city to end city.
    They ride between city pairs that are fairly short,
    overlapping corridors within the LD route.

    So on the Lake Shore Ltd, only 15% of the 387,000 pax
    rode between the New York/Boston areas and Chicago.

    The average Lake Shore Ltd trip was 504 miles in 2013,

    and the top city pairs by ridership were
    1. NYC-Chicago
    2. Buffalo-Chicago
    3. Syracuse-Chicago
    4. Rochester-Chicago
    5. Albany-Chicago
    6. Boston-Chicago
    7. Toledo-Chicago
    8. Cleveland-Chicago
    9. Syracuse-Chicago

    So talking about flight times LaGuardia-Midway is
    only about 15% relevant, and 85% irrelevant.

    The reason faster trains keep getting studied here is
    that the current trains are running full and most of
    the tracks are full of CSX freights. To add more trains
    means adding more tracks. How to get the best return
    on such an investment is the subject of the latest study.
    It will likely be put on the shelf with the others. But
    sooner or later New York State — and the feds — will
    have to invest in more capacity and faster trains.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Woody, do we know how many of those Chicago passengers were connected to other ATK trains?

    Woody Reply:

    I don’t know.

    If I got it right, it used to be Amtrak didn’t know
    in the old days of paper tickets, but now, with
    e-ticketing it can get a good count. But if that
    info is published, I don’t know where.

    I can try to wrestle toward a better feeling for it.

    I got the Lake Shore Limited info off NARP’s site,
    that has recently been updated with 2013 figures
    by member Matt Fels. Thank you, thank you!
    The previous set of data was 2007 or 2008 iirc.

    Looking at current info about Chicago Union Station,
    3,427,100 total passengers.
    Of those, long distance train passengers came
    to 1,108,581.
    Then 1,885,126 were riders on state-supported trains.
    And 443,378 were from Medium Distance including only
    the Hoosier State (4 x week) and “Michigan trains”,
    by which they mean Wolverines (3 x daily), since the
    Blue Water and Pere Marquette are included among
    the state-supported trains above. Wolverine total
    passengers last fiscal year were 509,100 of which,
    if I’m doing this right, about 400,000 arrived or left
    Chicago. (That’s 443,378 for Chicago minus 36,678
    total pax on the Hoosier State. Did they throw those
    different trains into one pot just to confuse us?)
    That tells us that 4 out of 5 passengers on the
    Wolverines were going to/from Chicago (with
    Chi-Ann Arbor and CHI-Kalamazoo the biggest
    city pairs, btw.) It does not tell us how many
    transferred to other corridor or LD trains.

    Let’s look at Chicago station Trips by length, 2013.
    Well, 75% of Amtrak’s customers were going
    less than 300 miles. We don’t know how many of
    them were going from one LD train to another,
    or from an LD train to a corridor, Toledo-Chicago-
    Galesburg or St Paul-Chicago-Ann Arbor. But note
    again how very few go end city to end city: Only
    3.3% went 2,000 miles or more (that is, within
    hundreds of miles of L.A., Emeryville, Seattle).

    When we look at the NARP Fact Sheet for the
    Lake Shore Limited route, we see total ridership
    of 387,300 in 2013. We see trips of less than
    200 miles make up 32% of the passengers.
    That includes #7 among the top city pairs,
    Toledo-Chicago. (Toledo happens to have
    a good departure to Chicago around 6 a.m.,
    arrive (more or less) 9:45. (The Lake Shore
    seems to have the WORST OTP in the system.
    Does NARP include OTP on its Fact Sheet? No,
    you didn’t think so.) Taking the Lake Shore home
    dumps you in exciting downtown Toledo around
    3 a.m. Take the Capitol Limited instead and get
    back in Toledo around 11:45 p.m. Not good, but
    almost tolerable. And an excellent example of how
    more frequencies on long or medium distance
    routes would mean a better Amtrak with more
    passengers. But I digress.

    Another city pair among the top 9 listed
    is Syracuse-NYC. Note my ERROR. In my
    post I gave this as #9 Syracuse-Chicago.
    (NARP lists the city pairs in alphabetical
    order, so #3 Buffalo-Chicago comes before
    #4 Syracuse-Chicago. This flip-flopping
    drives me nuts, and I was trying to get
    the various cities-Chicago, but stumbled
    over Syracuse-NYC.)

    On this page we do see Activity by station,
    giving Syracuse third place with 54,198,
    NYC second with 100,591, and Chicago
    with 194,548. The much larger number of
    Lake Shore riders using the Chicago station,
    as compared to NYC, strongly suggest to me
    that probably 100,000 of them are transferring
    to other trains in Chicago. But I can’t even
    make a wild guess if they are getting on the
    Lincoln Trains to Normal, Springfield, or
    St Louis, or to the Texas Eagle to Little Rock,
    Dallas, or San Antonio.

    Worked up a sweat trying to get a grip, but
    we still don’t know. Sorry.

    Nathanael Reply:

    There is no chance in hell of your fears coming true, Jos. Thankfully.
    (1) The usage of the Empire Corridor from Buffalo to Albany is massive, one of the busiest of all of Amtrak’s corridors. Despite the anemic frequencies, it beats out the Springfield MA line.

    (2) The state and federal representatives for Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Utica fight for it consistently. Within NY politics, cutting the main upstate train service would be a non-starter, because the Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Utica delegations would then join the Republicans and defund the MTA trains in retaliation. Seriously. This is part of the “some trains for everyone who wants them” sort of politics which happens in so many places.

    (3) The state has been funding a train NORTH to Montreal through really empty territory. As long as that’s running, nobody would tolerate the removal of the busy trains to Buffalo while funding the train through the empty North Country.

    Flying from upstate to NYC is god-awful. Add an hour to get from the airport to NY, by the way. Driving on the Thruway…. means that you have to park in New York City, which is extremely expensive.

    The markets are upstate-Chicago and upstate-NYC, mostly. These are big markets — they’re too far to drive comfortably, and you don’t want to have a car when you get to NY. (Maybe not when you get to Chicago, either, frankly.) The air routes are usually expensive, they’re miserable experiences, and they’re not particularly quick, either.

    Judging by my anecdotal experience, most of the people taking the LSL from Syracuse to Chicago were connecting to *something*. In many cases it was Metra. A fair number were catching buses to random locations in the Midwest.

    Nathanael Reply:

    (Might be better from some airports, but I remember being in propjets. Bad for the ears.)

  12. therealist
    Feb 4th, 2014 at 17:55


    Paul Druce Reply:

    You mean a piss poor bit of vaporware designed to nauseate all its passengers and possessing completely unrealistic cost estimates, extremely low throughputs, multiple fail-deadly modes, lacking basic engineering, and doesn’t even get to Los Angeles or San Francisco? That hyper loop?

    You know what, how about you first?

    therealist Reply:

    I’M ON IT !!

    Jos Callinet Reply:

    I think Musk’s invention will soon earn the name “Vomit Comet”.

  13. Jos Callinet
    Feb 4th, 2014 at 18:40

    Interesting, isn’t it, that an integral part of the name Elon Musk has given his loop is HYPE! lol

  14. Donk
    Feb 4th, 2014 at 23:00

    Lets face it, back in 2008 we had sky high gas prices. Today they are down 25% or so from their peak. People just don’t care when there isn’t a crisis. That crisis was key to getting Prop 1A and LA’s Measure R passed on the November 2008 ballot.

    This is the same problem with climate change. Now that smog isn’t as bad as it used to be, there is no longer a bipartisan effort to combat pollution. Again – crisis averted.

    Unfortunately, the people that will be the first to really feel the pain of climate change will be in the developing world. Sure we will have more extreme weather, but until the sky is literally falling, there won’t be any serious progress in the USA or in the rest of the world.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Hurricane Sandy….

  15. Alan Robinson
    Feb 5th, 2014 at 09:24

    I’m somewhat surprised at how few sections are upgradeable to 110mph on the existing Empire corridor. Reading closely, there seems to be a 30 foot track separation requirement for 110mph service. What is the reasoning for this, and what would the travel time be without this requirement?

    Michael Reply:

    I’ve heard US railways are widening their track centers to allow maintenance on one track to take place without imposing speed restrictions on the other. I assume this is the case here, taking an educated guess.

    Joey Reply:

    Is this for separation between adjacent 110 mph tracks, or between 110 mph tracks and slower tracks? Not that both aren’t ridiculous, but the latter might have something to do with freight carriers not wanting liability. The overgenerous CHSRA requirement is 16.5 feet between adjacent 200+mph tracks.

    Alan Robinson Reply:

    This is for separation of 110mph tracks and freight tracks. At 90mph, they allow 15ft separation between track centers.

    Brian_FL Reply:

    I think it is just CSX being their good old anti-passenger train selves. FEC Railway has no problem running 110 mph trains for the AAF service on existing track centers per the documents I have seen. Even their new 125 mph tracks will be <20 ft separation if I recall correctly. And CSX has built new double track sections on the S Line here in Florida that appear to meet the old standards – no where near 30 ft separation. And that's on a strictly freight route through Ocala.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It’s unclear whether or not CSX is insisting on wide separation or not. I speculate that someone, from the tax assessors association of New York, had a little chat about what their property tax assessments would be if they did.

    Nathanael Reply:

    This may be why CSX is now only asking for the separation when next to 110 mph lines. That way CSX can raise spurious safety arguments; but they’re hard to disprove when there aren’t many 110 mph tracks out there. Once some stuff is up and running, I think the paranoia from CSX will eventually go away.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Alan: the reasoning for the 30-foot separation is very clear — it is 100% CSX.

    CSX is demanding it for no good reason at all. That’s all there is to it. Just good old anti-passenger attitudes from CSX.

    Nathanael Reply:

    However, it’s worth noting that it’s not important to pick a fight about that with CSX right now.

    What’s important is for the state government to build the passenger-exclusive tracks, even on CSX’s terms. A future CSX management will probably relax the stupid speed restrictions. The bigger problem on the route has been congestion: it’s actually quite competitive even at 90 mph, if you don’t get stuck behind a freight train.

  16. Nathanael
    Feb 7th, 2014 at 20:23

    ” It isn’t that New York leaders balked at the cost or at the need. It’s that they’ve lost a sense of urgency.”

    They never had a sense of urgency.

    You have to realize that New York State did nothing, nothing, NOTHING for intercity rail between the funding of Amtrak’s Adirondack and the passage of ARRA. Studies, stupid experiments with rebuilding failed gas turbine trains, but nothing else.

    Oh, we got a new Syracuse station in 1991 (which is too small ALREADY) — an achievement which caused the politician who got funding for it to get it *named* after him — but Buffalo and Rochester and Schenectady are still in their 1970s “Amshack” state following the NY Central’s demolition of most of the passenger stations on the line. Albany was rebuilt without money from the state by the locality! When Conrail and CSX abandoned vital lines, Amtrak bought them *because the state wouldn’t*!

    When the PRIIA and ARRA bills came through, it was not at all clear that New York would have any shovel-ready projects at all. But somehow, they scrambled together and actually made some successful applications. That’s not the impressive part, though; the impressive part is that New York finally did what rail advocates have been asking for it to do for decades and took over the Schenectady-Poughkeepsie line from CSX (which was barely using it). And it did so with *state money*.

    This indicates to me that, in fact, there is more attention being paid now to intercity rail in the corridors of power in Albany than there has been in my lifetime.

    Nathanael Reply:

    To put it another way, NY state has spent more of its own money on upstate NY passenger rail in the last 5 years than it spent in the previous 40 years — at least.

    Nathanael Reply:

    (Well, for suitable definitions of upstate. I suppose you could include the setting-up of Metro-North as “upstate”, though those of us further west tend not to consider those areas upstate.)

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