Carolyn Maloney’s International HSR Proposal

Carolyn Maloney, the Congresswoman representing Manhattan’s East Side, gave an interview to the Globe and Mail in which she called for high-speed rail between New York and Canadian cities. She did not specify which cities, but presumably those are Montreal and Toronto. The article quoted Andrew Cuomo as saying that connecting New York to Montreal and Toronto would be “transformative,” though it did not mention that Cuomo killed plans for HSR from New York to Buffalo. It is unclear to me whether Maloney is serious, or merely as serious as Cuomo; for the purposes of this post, let us assume that she is serious. Is it justifiable to build HSR from New York to Montreal and Toronto?

Long-time readers will know that I am skeptical of international HSR lines. But let me explain why I think New York-Toronto could be successful, while New York-Montreal could not.

First, perhaps because of the common language, the travel markets from the US to Montreal underperform those to Toronto. According to Statscan data, Toronto has about three times as many travelers to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and the other top metro areas in the US as Montreal does. The two cities’ metro area population ratio is only about 1.5:1; this is indeed the ratio of their travel markets to leisure destinations such as Las Vegas and Miami. US data generally points to higher numbers, sometimes by a substantial margin; it also points to a ratio of about 2.5-3:1 between Toronto and Montreal travel, this time even to Las Vegas and Miami. (US data excludes planes with up to 60 seats, but these are only about 20% of New York-Toronto departures, and of course a smaller proportion of seats.)

In addition, New York-Toronto may be in a similar situation to New York-London, in which the two cities’ common industry (finance) leads to more business travel. For some evidence of this effect, the Canadian data shows that Calgary and Houston, the two countries’ respective oil capitals, are each other’s top air market on the other side of the border. The same is of course true of financial capitals New York and Toronto, though as the largest cities in their respective countries, this is less surprising. But we should not overinterpret this effect: the New York-Toronto air market is still just 900,000 people a year (according to Canada) or 1.5 million (according to the US), though it far beats New York-Montreal’s 300,000 or 600,000.

Even 1.5 million times an induced demand factor is not enough to build HSR by itself. We could add existing travel volumes from New York to Niagara Falls and from Toronto to Buffalo, but most likely they are not enough by themselves.

The main reason New York-Toronto could be defensible is that a large majority of the New York-Toronto construction would not be done just for New York-Toronto travel. HSR on the Empire Corridor, up to Buffalo, is justifiable entirely based on domestic traffic. At the other end, the Lakeshore West corridor, which already can sustain medium speeds (GO’s top speed is 150 km/h), should be electrified and retrofitted with passing sidings based entirely on local commuter traffic. There are about 100 km between Buffalo and Hamilton, and 160 between Buffalo and Toronto, compared with 850 between New York and Toronto. Since HSR fares and operating profits roughly scale with distance traveled, the operating revenue of the lower-trafficked 100 km between Buffalo and Hamilton should really be multiplied by 8.5. If New York-Toronto traffic is about 3.5 million a year, a similar multiple of preexisting air traffic as Eurostar, then we can expect the construction of the 100 km to add about 3 billion passenger-km a year; 30 million passenger-km of revenue per km of route to be constructed is very good, comparable to the Sanyo Shinkansen. If we need to use New York-Toronto traffic to justify even Toronto-Hamilton upgrades, then we’ll have 18.5 million passenger-km of revenue per km of construction, comparable to the JR East Shinkansen network.

Of course these passenger densities, and hence returns on investment, are not available to the full line; they’re only available to this last link completing New York-Toronto. To enjoy such favorable ratio the preexisting routes must already be in place. We cannot use the 30 million passenger-km/km figure to justify building New York-Buffalo as a first step toward New York-Toronto. If Maloney intends to do that, then she is setting the line up for failure; 3.5 million passenger-km/km is too little. Amtrak has about the same on the Northeast Corridor, from which it squeezes operating profits, but the capital construction was paid by private railroads between 1831 and 1917; building a greenfield line for this performance is unwarranted. At most, we can use it to add to domestic traffic in case the merits of a domestic line are close to good enough but not quite.

New York-Montreal does not have the same advantage as New York-Toronto. Not only is the travel volume much smaller to being with, but also it would require building about 360 km of route, in the rolling hills of Vermont, to create a link of 590 km. Very little of that 360 km is a reasonable commuter rail route by itself – on the line I sketched to measure distance, only 30. So at best this is 330 out of 590. If we attempt the same calculation as for New York-Toronto, we obtain just 2.7 million passenger-km/km. Moreover, the intermediate markets are much weaker than US-Niagara Falls or Buffalo-Toronto. For now, HSR between New York and Montreal should remain an unfulfilled dream of Montreal boosters.

Of course, it’s possible that Maloney just emphasized the possible connections to Canada, and her actual drive is going to be Empire Corridor HSR, which is a welcome change from Cuomo’s opposition. Canadians do not vote in US elections. In that case, a link to Toronto would become stronger, because of the piggybacking on preexisting New York-Buffalo HSR. The line would hinge entirely on constructibility over the river and border control issues then. International links underperform, but sometimes they are short enough relative to the possibility to be worth it.


  1. ant6n

    A medium speed rail link, up to 160~200km/h should be feasible even to Montreal. Of course between Albany and NYC, proper HSR makes sense (Empire corridor). Given the relatively small distance (600km), that could still result in a pretty competitive 4.5 hours travel times. A connection to Montreal via Burlington also includes the possibility to link Boston with Burlington and Montreal. That could result in 130km shared track (Montreal-Burlington), up to possibly 230km (Montreal-Rutland).

    Regarding the economies: the tech sector in Montreal is growing, so Montreal and New York will want to talk to each other more. There’s also often talk in Montreal to connect to Burlington to get access to the airport there (…).

    I’m just being a Montreal booster here (;-), but I think some investment in rail makes sense.

  2. Zach

    I travel NYC-Kitchener on business. Driving is actually a competitive alternative to flying once you add in travel time to JFK, inevitable NYC airspace delays, then travel from Pearson to Toronto Union Station for a connecting VIA train to Kitchener. I’ve considered it, but never pulled the trigger. Hooking this into a Toronto-Detroit/Chicago HSR would presumably allow service at Kitchener, London, and Sarnia, and more through traffic.

    • Tom West

      You could take the train to Malton GO station and bus from there. Not sure if that’s worth it for you, but it is an option.

  3. Eric F

    As a disinterested outside observer, it seems to me that Montreal and Toronto were sort of the Hertz-Avis of Canada historically. Montreal even hosted a summer olympics. However, Quebec cast its lot in with France, decided to assume a more aggressive Francophile posture, and has pretty much stagnated ever since. Montreal is just not the center of commerce it was 30-40 years ago. All the important stuff that is not located based on political considerations has migrated to Toronto.

    In any event, I don’t see rail making any sense as a NY-Toronto mode. An air trip avoids making an inefficient dog leg via Albany and can be accomplished in about one hour. If Porter is too rich for your blood, you can take Jet Blue to Buffalo and drive the rest of the way. Upsatte NY has been dead and buried for 30 years, there are no stops between NYC and Toronto on the U.S. side that would justify the spend.

    Carolyn Maloney is not the brightest bulb in Congress, but she appears to be smart enough to make some pleasant sounding noises to a Canadian reporter. If she cared about rail, she’d be taking a granular interest in the second avenue subway project preceding in her actual district.

    • Richard Mlynarik

      Quebec cast its lot in with France, decided to assume a more aggressive Francophile posture, and has pretty much stagnated ever since.

      It’s just awful. Really, you don’t want to visit. Crayzee agricultural dialects, communistic social services, and poutine, poutine everywhere. It’s Ruritania up there. Pas vaut le voyage

      Stick with the forward-looking dynamism of Toronto.

      • Eric F

        I’ve been to Montreal and Quebec City many times, including this year. I like them both. I have no view on which province is more ‘communistic’ than the other, I sort of figured Ontario and Quebec were roughly the same in that regard. I’m just calling it like I see it. Toronto has become an international center, and Montreal is more of a regional center for Quebec. As a mere tourist, I’d rather spend time in Quebec than Ontario. It looks to me like the language thing has been kneecapping Quebec commercially for 40 years and running. I mean, you guys have a statement of historical grievance on your license plates! What does that convey to a company looking to locate a facility? Can you seriously imagine a Montreal olympic bid now? I can easily imagine a Toronto bid. It may not have been obvious at the time of de Gaulle’s visit that Quebec was picking the wrong horse to ride, but it seems pretty clear in retrospect.

      • Adirondacker12800

        at least they know how to make bagels not the unsweet doughnuts one gets in Toronto.

    • Alon Levy

      Eric, it’s not really about casting its lot with France. Ontario has been growing faster than Quebec since the end of the American Revolution. It was just a matter of time before Toronto became larger than Montreal, and as soon as it did, the finance industry moved from Montreal to Toronto. If Los Angeles were still growing at Sunbelt rates New York would be in danger of losing the biggest-city-in-the-country functions in the same way, but it’s not.

      Upstate New York is indeed in decline, but it still has enough medium-sized cities to make this worthwhile. My “compare product of city populations and ignore everything else” method suggests about 8 million annual riders between New York and the sum of Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo; the comparison is to Madrid-Barcelona and Tokyo-Sendai. Add high-speed commuters from Albany (lots of riders, not too many passenger-km), and some intra-Upstate trips, and you can get decent enough traffic density to justify this.

      • Eric F

        I’ll certainly defer to others regarding assessments of why Toronto has eclipsed Montreal, but I think separatism would be literally the first plce one would look. Montreat has many natural attributes that would make it a good place to center commerce, but these haven’t helped it’s continuing relative decline.

        I like cool HSR trains, and woudln’t mind seeing them run on the plains of upstate NY. That said, upstate NY, seems to lack the critical population mass of a likely HSR corridor. Further, the cities of upstate NY are both small and relatively poor. I’d rather hitch my star to a midsize Oralndo than to a mid-size and perpetually declining Buffalo. I do think that if NY state government was smart (and it pretty much isn’t), it would be directing the economic future of Buffalo to get Buffalo as deep into the more prosperous Toronto orbit as possible. If Buffalo can figure out some way to be the metaphorical Jersey City to Toronto’s Manhattan, it could only help. HSR would be a darn expensive way to do that I suppose.

        • Nathanael

          We really do have the critical population mass for (at least) higher-speed rail here in upstate NY. Yes, all the cities have declined, but Buffalo has declined more than Rochester and Rochester has declined more than Syracuse….

          ….and then there’s the connecting traffic. Getting off of the (completely full) Lake Shore Limited in Syracuse, I was headed to Ithaca, but I met people headed as far as Watertown. People will drive absurd distances to get to a train station if that’s the train which is there.

          The demand for trains is real. We can satisfy it with (a) lots of low-speed lines, or (b) a few high-speed lines, and then possibly some low-speed connecting lines.

          (b) turns out to actually be CHEAPER, according to international results. Perhaps this is because passengers pay per km (and pay more for faster trips) but crew costs accrue per hour, and so do some fuel costs.

          Now, you’ll note I mentioned Chicago. There’s an awful lot of *westbound* demand from upstate NY, for some reason or other. Trains need to continue west.

          As for international routes, Niagara Falls is probably as good as you’ll get for high international cross-border traffic. Buffalo seems to just be a little too far for some reason.

          • Beta Magellan

            Years ago—before I started commenting—there was a discussion in The Transport Politic comments about breaking up the Lake Shore Limited route into regional services (maybe with some through-routing if the schedules worked out), one of which would have been something like Cleveland-Rochester or Cleveland-Syracuse.

            Although I can imagine a number of services, I don’t think it’s a question of having a lot of low-speed or a few high-speed lines—even if there used to be a number of routes going through upstate New York, the big destinations (pace Ithaca) are all in a row and can be served by one piece of infrastructure. If ownership issues and FRA regs can ever be worked out, I think that the Empire Corridor’s an excellent candidate for an incremental build towards 200-250 km/h services along the lines of Sweden’s X trains.

          • Adirondacker12800

            There were trains capable of 125 on the route. They didn’t do it in revenue service. There’s rumor on the foamer boards that Amtrak did some 125 mph tests – had the crossings guarded and closed during the runs.

          • Nathanael

            “If ownership issues and FRA regs can ever be worked out,”
            On this corridor, ownership issues are primary. I suspect nothing short of a change in CSX management will get this done at this point, given CSX’s deliberate obstruction with bogus 50 foot setback requirements.

            Now, NYS could afford to simply buy CSX outright through a hostile takeover, but I don’t think we have candidates with the political will to do so. :sigh:

          • Adirondacker12800

            I thought Senator Chuck was on it. If that 50 foot separation is oh so valuable maybe the Tax Assessor’s Association of New York State should have a little meeting with CSX to discuss how deeply undervalued that land they have been claiming it worthless unused railroad land should be retroactively assessed at.
            Pity that the free market cargo cultists forced the dissolution of Conrail.. The ROW was owned by the government until then…

      • Beta Magellan

        It’s often claimed that the Bank of Montréal, despite retaining its nominal head office in its namesake city, ended up moving of its actual head office operations in Toronto in response to Loi 101, which made French the official language of the Québecois government and commerce (the same’s claimed about other FIRE companies that moved in the seventies). Of course, the fact that so much of BMO’s business was conducted in English is pretty indicative of Anglophone North America’s strength, and it’s hardly inconceivable that they’d end up moving much of their operations to Toronto anyway. I’m pretty sure that in the absence of Loi 101 Montréal would have retained more headquarters, but most of their corporate growth would have still happened in Toronto.

  4. jim

    I doubt any US-Canada HSR route (whether NY-Toronto, NY-Montreal, Chicago-Detroit-Toronto …) can succeed unless we return to the quasi-Schengen border crossing arrangement we used to have. Both sides seem determined to make border crossing difficult and painful these days.

    Merely moving border inspections from the actual border to the Canadian station won’t make them any less time consuming. The volume of travelers that HSR requires (and enables) would surely swamp the inspection facilities.

    • Adirondacker12800

      Do the border inspections on the train. Cursory check at the gate to assure that passengers have a passport and then while the train is traveling between Buffalo and Toronto have customs and immigration come through. Saves an hour or so compared to flying where you do customs and immigration on the ground.

        • Nathanael

          Maybe after the revolution. Indeed, our current federal governments (both of ’em) seem intent on making international travel painful and unpleasant.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Because Real Americans and Real Canadians don’t travel outside of the country. If you want to travel outside of the country you must be punished. It’s one of the reasons the Tea Party isn’t outraged by the TSA. Real Real Americans don’t travel much and wouldn’t travel so far that they need an airplane.

          • Richard Mlynarik

            International travel? How about good old fashioned [your safely distant and historical totalitarian regime of choice] internal passports (Government Issued ID Required to Travel) and Soviet-style tracking of domestic travel?

            Fascism: you’re soaking in it.

          • Nathanael

            Well, of course this is an authoritarian undemocratic regime, has been since at least 2000.

            It lacks the *competence* of many authoritarian regimes however (Hitler got the Berlin subway expanded, and Stalin constructed lots of useful stuff). This is because we are under the rule of upper-class twits who make a point of not understanding what they’re doing — Veblen described the social pressures which create such twits.

            Anyway, until it all comes crashing down under the weight of its own incompetence, I hope we can get *some* useful concrete poured.

          • Alon Levy

            There are many totalitarian regimes that had okay urban planning, but Nazi Germany, with its ideas of building monuments that would leave nice ruins, was not one of them.

            And Speer, who came up with that particular idea, was one of the few competent people there.

          • Alon Levy

            In North Korea they ran out of money. The Nazis built monuments that would leave nice ruins intentionally.

          • Nathanael

            Perhaps this was smart planning, given that many of the monuments were bombed (along with the rest of Germany) quite soon after construction.

      • jim

        while the train is traveling … have customs and immigration come through.

        There are real practical difficulties with that: how does the customs inspector link traveler and baggage? how does the immigration inspector interrogate a traveler while maintaining a reasonable expectation of privacy? The immigration inspector, in particular, needs to maintain contact with her database while checking documents; not every location the train travels through will necessarily have sufficient bandwidth available.

          • Nathanael

            For Jim’s information, customs and immigration was successfully done in motion in the 19th century. There are zero technical problems. The Immigration Inspector’s “database” is just another meaningless boondoggle; it (a) isn’t accurate and (b) contains no real way of telling whether the person he’s talking to is the person he’s looking up in the database.

            (This is actually the generic problem with identity-based “security”. It usually doesn’t work.)

        • ant6n

          For Toronto and Montreal, border checks are currently done at the border, on the train. People have luggage with them; the people from outside Canada/US are moved to the Cafe car where the intterrogations happen.

          • jim

            And they take as long as they take and the train doesn’t move until they’re done.

            To not delay HSR trains between US and Canada would require that it all be done in the time between Buffalo and Toronto or Burlington and Montreal: half an hour?, three-quarters?

          • ant6n

            Burlington-Montreal is 153km, which should take more than an hour at 160km/h, Toronto-Buffalo is a bit longer, so still an hour. You can do a pre-selection where you require non-Canadian/US (and possibly non-visa-waiver) travellers to get pre-clearance in Montreal, and check everybody else on the train. I’d say mostly a political issue, not a practical one.

    • Tom West

      I don’t understand why the current borders checks even exist. There are innumerable places where one can easily cross illegally from one to the other. Taking a boat across one of the Great Lakes is the hardest option – there are many places you can just drive across with no checks! (example: ).

      Talking about it “swamping” is silly – you adjust the service to match the demand.

      • Nathanael

        This is because our current fascist-style security theater is not actually for any security purpose. It serves two functions:
        (1) To allow would-be thugs to harrass people “legally”;
        (2) To create more well-paid sinecures for said thugs

        Kind of like what the Roman Legions degenerated into in the late period of the Roman Empire when they started overthrowing emperors. It’s a dangerous sort of bureaucracy to leave lying around.

        • Adirondacker12800

          at least the TSA stays in particular places, the majority of them anyway. The DEA on the other hand….

  5. Rico

    It is amazing how difficult is seems to be for the concept of on train custums checks between Canada and the US, you would think it has never been done before….oh wait, it has, all over Europe.
    It would be nice to see HSR but I won’t hold my breath. In Canada it does not seem like we are proceeding on a logical Toronto-Montreal HSR corridor so I can’t imagine throwing coordination with American politicians (who also don’t seem to be able to move forward with their own projects) as improving the odds of getting anything done.

    • jim

      Actually, no. The European Union is a Customs Union. There are no customs checks when crossing borders between members of the EU, whether on the ground, in the air or in trains. Most European countries are also signatories to the Schengen Treaty, which provides free migration between them. There are no border checks whatsoever between Schengen countries. On the one HSR train that travels between a Schengen country and a non-Schengen country, the Eurostar between Britain and either Belgium or France, there are no on-train inspections. British border controls are done at St. Pancras. Getting through the crush at immigration there is not a pleasant experience. Fortunately neither Belgium nor France cares about checking travelers from Britain, so the crush is only in the one direction. Since Canada seems to feel the need to imitate (retaliate against?) US border control behaviour, that would not be the case here.

      • Max Wyss

        However, when Switzerland was not part of the Schengen area (and before the Schengen area), inspections were made all the time in the trains, between Freiburg and Basel. No big deal, and there were teams of border police and customs officers. And there were enough staff to handle any train within the 30 minutes available. A similar situation was between Schaffhausen and Singen, where the time was even shorter (but the trains too). Nowadays, Switzerland is part of the Schengen area, but not of the EU, and customs checks can be made in a belt 30 to 50 km wide along the border. That means that there can be customs inspections in the train between Basel and Zürich, for example.

        In general, no big deal. All what prevents it is the political will.

        • jim

          Yes, but, (1) these weren’t HSR and (2) immigration checks used to be cursory. I remember, back in ’69, I used to know an Englishwoman who worked in Rome. She only had three-month residency, though, so every three months, she took the train to Switzerland and back. She claimed she lived in fear that the Italian border guard wouldn’t bother to stamp her passport on the return trip and she’d have no proof that she’d last entered Italy less than three months ago.

          And I remember long stops at Chiasso in the ’60s where the undercarriage of the train would be checked for contraband.

          • Alon Levy

            The immigration checks I saw at the Rainbow Bridge were also cursory. The three Americans in the car showed their passports; I showed my passport, I-20, and I-94. No interrogation required. The customs check was cursory both then and when I moved to Vancouver with 5 pieces of luggage.

            Mind you, it is not a question of time. There is a certain level of passenger throughput, based on travel demand, and a certain amount of time it takes to process each person, based on DHS and CBSA whims. These determine staffing needs, independently of where the checks are done and how long an acceptable queue is. The hitches for adding as many people as required until an entire train can be done in the amount of time it takes to travel between Buffalo and Toronto minus a safety margin are various uncertainty factors, and also differential processing times (if it’s not the same immigration officers going back and forth, you need each group to deadhead half the time).

            The uncertainty can be mitigated somewhat by asking questions when people book. What country are you a citizen of? What is your legal status in the country you’re traveling to? Are you going to be applying for some status on the spot, e.g. is this your first entry into Canada? Canada makes you a visa on the spot the first time you enter in some status; when I entered, I was directed to a side office where they do this, without barriers (I could enter Canada as a tourist without a visa anyway, and I wouldn’t be able to work without their giving me a piece of paper saying I can, so they don’t have to worry about me escaping). It’s still less than perfect, but it lets CBSA/DHS know ahead of time which cars are easy and only need 2 officers and which are hard and need 8, and in principle the booking system could try to steer unrelated passengers who have difficult immigration statuses into different cars.

        • Tom West

          I think the Swiss adopt the attitude that if you want to enter illegally, there’s very little they can do to stop it – so why create hassle for everyone else.

      • Tom West

        The Schengen area allows *travel* (different from migration) between its countries, but only after you have legally entered one country. Non-EU visitors who arrive in France need a visa or similar, but they can then travel into Germany without additional checks or visas. If you travel within the EU from a Schengen country to non-Schengen country (e.g. France to UK), then you still get checked, and still need the same visas as coming from outside the EU. (There is similar arrangement for the UK and Ireland.)

        (The EU allows free migration between its countries for its citizens. As a UK citizen, I can can live and work in Italy or Poland without any visas or paperwork.)

      • dejv

        Jim, you ignore the pre-Schengen history completely. The border checks were done in the moving train even when crossing iron curtain!

        • Nathanael

          Indeed. If the Soviet Bloc could do border checks on board a moving train — and they were *really serious* about not letting people out of the Eastern Bloc, unlike our governments — then any competent government can do border checks on a moving train.

          The border patrol agencies are simply lazy. That’s all there is to it.

  6. Adirondacker12800

    it would require building about 360 km of route, in the rolling hills of Vermont

    Build it in New York. It’s relatively flat between Schenectady and Whitehall and relatively flat between Plattsburgh and Montreal. 100 miles or 160 km of rolling hills. Through land that is predominantly owned by the state. And Vermont is only 260 kilometers long. Unless you are counting the hills in New York and Quebec as “Vermont”

    NYSDOT came up with 4 billion to build the tracks and another billion to electrify – between Albany and the border. Four hour trip time using diesels and not improving NYC-Albany beyond 1:45. Four hour trip time also assumed that Quebec would come up with the money for Montreal to the border. And no major changes between Saratoga Springs and Rensselaer.

    Your browser may complain about expired certificates etc.

    Get NY-Montreal down to 3 hours you are looking at 3:30, 3:45 for Philadelphia-Montreal.

    On the other hand Vermont’s study came up with “too expensive to do Boston-Montreal at high speeds” through New Hampshire.

    If you build HSR from Boston to Albany, Boston-Montreal is less than three hours. Boston to Syracuse is faster than flying or driving. There will be some traffic for Boston-Buffalo and Boston-Toronto.

    So Montreal-NY might not make a whole lot of sense but Albany-Montreal might. You get Montreal-Boston, Montreal-Hartford, Montreal-Philadelphia, Montreal-Albany, Syracuse, Utica and probably Rochester. And some passengers Montreal-Baltimore and even Montreal-DC. Probably New Haven, Stamford and Providence too.

    ….. there are more people in metro Springfield Mass. than there are in Vermont. If you are building through the rolling hills Albany-Springfield makes more sense than Bennington-Burlington. ,,, and you take Hartford along for the ride….

    • Alon Levy

      360 is Albany-Montreal. No offense, but there’s no point in building HSR to Saratoga, let alone Whitehall, just for domestic traffic. And on the Quebec side there’s really no point in building HSR, or even electrified medium-speed rail, to Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, let alone to the border. So it’s really about 360 km of new track. The actual route doesn’t really matter much – even if you’re building 317 km (the straight-line distance) and not 360, the numbers don’t pan out.

      • ant6n

        Well, Montreal-St Jean could be the first quarter of a regional train to the eastern townships (i.e. Sherbrooke), but they don’t like to build those in North America these days.

      • Adirondacker12800

        Being that Saratoga is mostly farmland it would be silly to build HSR to Saratoga. The people in Schuylerville might disagree, that it’s mostly farmland.
        Saratoga Springs on the other hand is tourist destination.There’s 40 million people within three hours of Saratoga Springs. It’s 600km/375miles to Toronto. So throw in the 7 million people in the Golden Horseshoe.

        It’s 19 miles from Schenectady to Saratoga Springs. A few tens of million dollars means the HSR train that would usually be terminating in Albany can go to Saratoga Springs. Schenectady gets increased frequency. And you’d have the traffic from Boston, New Haven, Buffalo and points in between. And Toronto… for 19 miles of trackwork.

    • ant6n

      But why wouldn’t Albany-Montreal not go through Vermont?
      There are some existing right of ways, many owned by the state of Vermont. For example along the right of way of the Ethan Allen Express, and then from near Rutland to Burlington. Instead of building a new line, one would have to do some grade separations, some going round small towns, and some curve straightening – still cheaper than building a new line through the Adirondacks. Plus you catch Burlington, the biggest thing in Vermont. Note that going through Vermont, you’d still go through Whitehall as well (so the Adirondack train still benefits). The distances are as follows, starting from where a Montreal-NYC train would split from the Empire corridor in Schenectady:
      0 Schenectady
      96 Whitehall
      105 border NY-VT
      230 Burlington
      305 border VT-QC
      380 Montreal
      If one builds a new greenfield line between Whitehall and Burlington, you can save 30km or so. This could also go partly through New York i.e. via Ticonderoga.

      (Of course I assume 160~200km top speeds along mostly existing right of ways, rather than a new line to get 3 hours Montreal-NYC).

    • PeakVT

      A new-build HSR line from Albany to Montreal will probably never make sense. But if for some reason the project goes forward, then putting it through Vermont would be the better option. The geography is easier and the population of the Burlington area is over twice that of the Plattsburgh area (though still very small). Map here.

      • jim

        If you’re going to go through Vermont (and I agree it’s the better option) then Albany-Hoosick Junction-North Bennington is better than via Whitehall. The less one has to do with PanAm the better!

      • Adirondacker12800

        Getting the New York State legislature to pay for tracks in Vermont isn’t going to happen.

          • David Alexander

            Wake me up when the Senate isn’t composed of unreliable DNC members and the House isn’t composed to Tea Party types that view any spending on railways as a waste of money.

          • Adirondacker12800

            The Federal government is going to want a state match of some sort. The 19 million people of NY have a better chance of coming up with a state match than the 600 thousand of Vermont.

          • Alon Levy

            Vermont could always try to become a swing state, like Florida.

            (And yeah, the state match is a problem – Vermont had trouble coming up with its 10% state match for the Interstates.)

          • Beta Magellan

            Vermont is willing to come up with money for rail—they tried getting ARRA funds to extend the Ethan Allen to Burlington and are putting a lot into the Vermonter. And I’m sure the NY-Burlington market’s bigger than NY-Plattsburgh.

            Ultimately, though, even medium-speed rail through Vermont is expensive—the tracks are currently in terrible shape. Upgrading the tracks to even to 79 mph was seen as too ambitious even in the short-term and the ARRA application only looked to upgrade the them to 59 mph standards.

          • jim

            The Federal government is going to want a state match of some sort.

            Not necessarily. A quasi-HSR New York-Montreal link could be a US-Canada effort, without specific State participation. Such an effort is more likely to get the bureaucratic issues fixed, too. It’s likely that CBSA was able to throw a hissy fit over the second Seattle-Vancouver train precisely because it was a Washington State initiative, rather than stemming from an entity with a foreign policy.

            even medium-speed rail through Vermont is expensive—the tracks are currently in terrible shape.

            But a quasi-HSR link running through Vermont wouldn’t want the tracks. Just the right of way (and it would want to do quite a bit of smoothing on that). The tracks would end up in the dumpster. An important point about going through Vermont is the State owns the right of way. There’s no private company demanding a payoff for not gumming up the works.

          • Adirondacker12800

            A quasi-HSR New York-Montreal link could be a US-Canada effort

            If pigs had wings they’d fly.
            Canada doesn’t even fund inter-provincial highways and you think they are going to fund a railroad in Vermont?

          • jim

            My thought was that the US and Canada might come to some agreement and as a concrete expression of that agreement agree to build an NYC-Montreal near-HSR link. In that case, there would be high level agreement in principle, then two technical teams would meet to agree on a demarc and the standards that would apply at the demarc. After that Canada would fund and contract for building their side of the demarc and the US would fund and contract for building their side of the demarc. Unless the demarc was some other place than the border, Canada wouldn’t be funding a railroad in Vermont.

            Frankly I have a hard time envisaging any other mechanism for getting an NYC-Montreal link built. NYS-PQ is not going to happen. NYS doesn’t care. It cares about Rochester. And there’s no way that anyone’s going to build an HSR line through the Park. It isn’t just that it would need a NY Constitutional amendment. It wouldn’t survive NEPA. No mitigation would be adequate. Every organization that claims to care about the Park would sue.

            And, as you point out, Vermont can’t afford it.

  7. Nathanael

    “Of course, it’s possible that Maloney just emphasized the possible connections to Canada, and her actual drive is going to be Empire Corridor HSR, which is a welcome change from Cuomo’s opposition.”

    I would expect so, given that she has no direct ability to influence track construction in Canada!

    Andrew Cuomo is a bit of a fraud; Maloney has tended to be a straight shooter.

  8. jon fostik

    Having a public discourse on North American international high speed, or even higher speed rail, is a good as long as it isn’t truly rhetorical…e.g. making nice to a Canadian reporter as was mentioned elsewhere. The fact of the matter is for North America we do passenger rail “things” with glacial speed, the good intent notwithstanding. Politics seems to be the overarching impediment with my example being the painful debate on commuter rail transit for New York’s Tappan Zee Bridge. With respect to Governor Cuomo commuter rail for the bridge seems to have been/ still is a concept he’s not comfortable with. Yes advocacy groups often are ahead of the curve regarding passenger rail but there has to be a ” kernel” of political will, and a funding source, to keep it alive. My thoughts are start with electrification of Albany to Manhattan where the market is proven. To avoid repeating the change locos in New Haven/DC syndrome use dual locomotives like the old New Haven FL9’s. With a high (er) speed on the Empire Corridor, increased frequencies then the ” base line” for further enhancements is set. Making the leap in one step from the 12 hour NY to Toronto Maple Leaf to a true high speed AVE or TGV or even Acela is unrealistic in North America. Here again even an 8 hour Maple Leaf is not going to be the first choice for all discretionary travelers ( forget the business types) but it again is an improvement that with money and political will could, probably not in my lifetime, go down to maybe 6 hours. There are just some routes that the cost benefit for high speed will not make it. Federal dollars might go to a Phoenix-Tucson high speed line but Toronto to New York not so much. Lastly, with no bad intent meant, Canadians as a society also need to address high speed in corridors where there is potential, such as Montreal to Toronto. The recent VIA cuts in Ontario and Quebec paint a completely different picture, sad to say. If there was a domestic Canadian advocacy for some high or higher speed link to a faster Empire Corridor that likewise would be a start.

  9. Tom West

    GO Transit is looking to extend normal operations down to Niagara Falls, Ontario – which is only 30km from Buffalo. The NY-TO corridor has multiple sections that can be upgraded in their own right, all of which will help the whole market.

  10. R. W. Rynerson

    Just to clarify regarding trans-Border US-Canada train travel, it’s not necessary to go back to the 19th century. Until Amtrak was created, the customs checks on the Internationals between Seattle and Van, BC were done mostly underway. When I made a day trip from Seattle in 1968, that system was still in effect. US Customs checked through the baggage in the Van CN Station and then placed tape seals on it. Immigration walked through the rolling train to Blaine. Conductors seated the New West and White Rock passengers separately as they boarded, so they were checked last. When I had delayed check baggage, it went across in bond and was inspected in Portland’s Union Station by a Customs officer who walked over from the Custom House.

    Northbound, Canadian officials boarded at Mt. Vernon and rode too White Rock. On one occasion in October 1966,crossing st Huntingdon, they waved through an entire Northern Pacific Rwy. excursion train. The tour director and his go-fer (me) estimated that all the passengers were U.S. citizens, and that’s what the officer wrote down.

    What happened to this? Even before the drug war and then the immigration war and then the terrorism war, the train service was ended abruptly by the creation of Amtrak, which initially had no legal authoritty to run international service. When the “Pacific International” resumed. border offficials hated it, because they had gotten out of the inefficiencies from their point of view in expediting train travel. Auto travel was their favorite mode, with license numbered travelers and volumes that they could meter/control. U.S. Customs made passengers climb down onto the ballast at Blaine and walk wiith their luggage to a shed where they could be checked against a computer terminal. Even with a fat dwell in the schedule, they were able to delay the train, triggering delays in Train 11 down the coast.

    Eventually, they succeeded in killing the train. When the State of Washiington led reinstatement of the service, the regional Customs head actually got himself quoted as opposing rail service. Only Congressional intervention was able to get cooperation. More recently, the Canadian counterparts demanded that Amtrak pay them for running a second train that would arrive in their country after office hours — ignoring the steady flow of tourist income arriving on those trains. Again, higher level political intervention was needed to obtain services that motorists obtain withour question.

    The only way high-speed rail would work between our two countries is with strong internal traffic, as discussed here, and very high level support for border officials to use modern techniques to solve problems instead of creating them. Otherwise, the line would meet the fate of the Pacific International and the Chicago-Sarnia-Toronto service or the VIA Rail “Atlantic Limited” service. Not to mention the trans-border intercity bus routes that have been killed off over the past two decades.

    • Nathanael

      I would suggest removing funding for Customs. If they don’t want to actually bother to work, why pay them?

  11. David Alexander

    I’m admittedly in that weird pool of people that continually demands higher speed service between New York and Montreal, but I’m biased as I have family in Montreal and Ottawa that I would prefer to see more often. Those of us who pine for the faster run would argue that the high price of a flight between both cities along with the long drawn out schedules on the buses and Amtrak scares off those who don’t want to drive, and in an era of de facto $4 gas and arguably high value Canadian money, drivers are less enticed into going for a cheap day trip or weekend trip given the alternatives. So of course, we’ll argue that real high speed rail will magically lead to high ridership to justify its costs.

    Admittedly, as others have noted, the premise of the pro-Montreal-NYC contingent is rather shaky, and the governments at the state, provincial, and respective federal governments are unlikely to spend money on that line. I suspect that the best we could get is some further upgrades from New York to Albany, but electrification is unlikely in a medium-term time frame given that Amtrak doesn’t own the ROW, and the service levels are sparse. Potentially improving the ROW from Albany to the north to eliminate as many sub-79 mph zones as possible would help eat away at the margins, along with moving the border controls to Gare Centrale to remove the perpetual stop at the frontier. At moments, I do wonder if a lightweight, tilting train would be ideal as a stop gap, but Talgos don’t work at high floors, and I suspect nobody is interested in a small order of push-pull mixed floor compatible trains without massive subsidy to R&D costs, and it remains to be seen if there would be much in the way of time savings to justify the expense.

    Until Amtrak somehow manages to shrink the 11 hour run to 6 or 7 hours minimum, I’ll probably continue to hold out for cheap three day weekend packages last minute flights for $225 from United, or I’ll be a good little roadgeek and rent a car for my trips to Canada while enjoying some of the most beautiful interstates in the country. As much as I like Amtrak, unless it’s winter, I’m probably going to prefer to drive in this case. I suspect most other people won’t bother going at all.

  12. ant6n

    I was looking over your post about triangles (specifically Boston-Albany-New York – and the discussion on chsr blog got me thinking that maybe one could save some construction by building a Y-triangle combination in the North-East.

    Let’s assume a New York-Danbury-Springfield-Boston alignment, which is a bit of a detour, like 10~20Km or so (due to going via Springfield). Then between Albany and New York, one could built a ~50km greenfield connection between Poughkeepsie and Danbury (through some fields and along I84), and re-use the track to New York. That should save about 60km of construction (110km-50km).

    Between Albany and Boston, there’s only another 110Km or so of track needed, for a relatively direct route – 140km of Springfield-Boston could be reused, as well as a bit less than 20km on the Albany-New York leg.

    • Alon Levy

      Wait, what do you mean, Poughkeepsie-Danbury? You still need to get from Poughkeepsie to Albany; that can almost certainly be done entirely above-ground, without too many viaducts, but it’s still a lot of route length.

      Apart from that, the problem is that it looks easier than it is. It’s shorter, but the terrain is much worse. New York-Danbury requires very heavy tunneling, first just to get to I-684 and then to cut off curves on I-684. The Shore Line west of New Haven has some awful parts between Stamford and New Haven, but at least they’re flat; likewise, there are parts of the Hudson Line that are good enough for medium speed, so that you can climb out at Croton-Harmon and avoid part of it. The hard parts, the mountain crossings, have to be done anyway – you need to cross the Berkshires and the Hudson Highlands, both with tunneling. So a Y will lengthen routes slightly, avoid some major secondary cities on the way, have lower capacity because New York-Albany trains would funnel into the Hell Gate Bridge, and not cost any less.

      One hybrid that could work is New York-Albany and Boston-Albany as in a triangle, but New York-Boston via Hartford and Worcester. It frontloads more cost into New York-Boston, but the overall cost is a wash.

  13. mulad

    Some international demand probably gets hidden by strange tricks people pull — my old boss visited Toronto a couple years ago, and was advised to take a VIA train to Niagara Falls, take a taxi across the border, and then rejoin the Amtrak network on the US side.

    • Nathanael

      Given the psycho attitude of the customs & immigration services in both countries, this makes perfect sense. I’ve actually suggested just having everyone from the Maple Leaf *walk* across the Whirlpool bridge and catch the train in Canada, because it would probably be faster given the psychotic customs & immigration procedure (“everyone get off the train with your baggage, and wait in a line, then get back on”)

      • Alon Levy

        Well, in Vancouver they do the checks at the train station. CBSA extorts Amtrak into paying it an extra $1,500 per train for the privilege, but it’s vastly preferable to making people walk across the bridge with luggage.

        • Adirondacker12800

          Have two stations right at the border. The train crosses the border, everybody gets off and goes through customs and immigration. The train reverses and goes back across the border and waits for the people who did the same thing on that side of the border but on a different train. US trains on the west side of both stations and people walk east to their connecting train. Canadian trains on the east side of both stations and people walk west to their connecting train.

          • Jiim


            Didn’t they have something like that at Basel back in the really old days?

          • Henry

            I know that this is currently done at the Lo Wu station between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, but those are two cities literally on top of each other, and the rail services on either side of the border are quite frequent.

            I don’t know how unbearable such a station would be if there were train delays or disruptions due to inclement weather.

          • Adirondacker12800

            I betcha if the departing trains are delayed because of weather the arriving trains will be delayed due to weather also.

        • Nathanael

          I’m not sure it’s preferable to what appears to be the current proposal for Niagara Falls, which is, if I’m not mistaken (and I may be) — to have everyone get *off* the train with their luggage and walk through a line in the station, then get back *on* the train. The extra walk across the bridge is not significant given this garbage.

  14. Henry

    Assuming that security on high speed trains is relaxed (or at least less stringent than airport or road security), NYC-Toronto does have the potential to do to Buffalo what the Oresund did for Malmo, Sweden – with its relatively cheap real estate and (probably) lower wage rates, Buffalo could potentially become a sort of back-office hub for Toronto, or at the very least become a quasi-commuter town.

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