Empire State High- and Low-Speed Rail

If Swiss planners were hired to design an intercity rail network for New York State, they might propose something that looks like this:

The trip times depicted on the map are a few minutes longer than intended, especially next to a terminus station like Niagara Falls, Watertown, and Ithaca. The depicted times are inclusive of turnaround time: the 45-minute Buffalo-Niagara Falls line is intended to take around 35 minutes in actual service, with 10-minute turnarounds.

Swiss planning is based on hourly and half-hourly timetables repeating all day on a clockface pattern: if a train leaves your station at 8:24 am, a train will leave your station at xx:24 all day, and if the line runs every half hour then also at xx:54. Moreover, at major nodes, trains are timetabled to arrive a few minutes before the hour and depart a few minutes after, letting passengers connect between different trains with minimal wait. To minimize transfer time and turn time, trains run as fast as necessary – that is, the state invests in higher-speed lines to ensure connections between major cities take a few minutes less than an hour. The Bahn 2000 program set up connections between Zurich, Basel, and Bern taking just less than an hour, with a few further connections elsewhere taking just less than an integer number of half-hours; the Bahn 2030 program aims to do the same with more cities all over the country.

The above map is an adaptation of the concept to New York State. I hope the explanation of how to adapt Switzerland to New York will be of interest to rail advocates elsewhere – the differences between the two geographies matter elsewhere, for example in Germany, France, or Sweden, or for that matter in California or New England.

High-speed rail

There is no high-speed rail in Switzerland, unless one counts the mixed passenger and freight rail tunnels through the Alps, which allow 250 km/h passenger trains. The Bahn 2030 planning calls for a 2-hour trip time between Zurich and Lugano, a distance of about 170 km, even with heavy tunneling under all significant mountains; with so much tunneling, 1.5-hour trips are easy and even 1-hour trips are feasible with a bypass around Zug. Clearly, even when higher speeds are allowed, Swiss planning sticks to low- and medium-speed rail, targeting an average speed of about 120 km/h.

This works for Switzerland, a small country in which even Geneva is only 2:45 from Zurich. In New York, it does not. At the speed of upgraded legacy rail, comparable to the Northeast Corridor, the links on the above map along the high-speed spine would take 2 hours each rather than an hour. New York-Buffalo trains would take 6 hours, too long for most travelers, and New York-Rochester would take 5 hours, which is marginal at best. Trains doing New York-Albany in 2 hours could get fairly popular, but even that is long enough that cutting it to just less than an hour is feasible.


Trains are to run every half hour, with the exception of urban lines, namely Buffalo-Niagara Falls, Albany-Troy-Mechanicsville, and Utica-Rome, which run every 15 minutes. The reason for the half-hourly frequency is that all lines need it for either capacity or ridership. The lines either run to New York, which is so big it can easily fill a train every half hour and perhaps even every 15 minutes, or are quite short, so that running only every hour reduces ridership and it’s better to run shorter trains every 30 minutes.

With half-hourly timetables, a stub-end line can take an integer number of quarter-hours and not just half-hours. For example, Syracuse and Albany should have a pulse at :00 and :30 every hour. This in turn means that trains from Albany to Glens Falls can take 1:15, departing Albany just after :00 and :30, arriving at Glens Falls just before :15 and :45, turning back toward Albany just after :15 and :45, and then returning to Albany just before :00 and :30.

The only worry with quarter-hour trip times is that every cycle must sum up to an integer number of half-hours, not quarter-hours. Otherwise, some connections are broken, offset by 15 minutes. Thankfully, the only cycle on this map is New York-Albany-Syracuse-Binghamton-New York, which takes 7 hours.

Syracuse regional rail

Syracuse is depicted as having the most expansive regional rail network in the state, despite being the smallest of Upstate New York’s four major metropolitan areas. The reason is that the goal of the planned network is to provide intercity rather than local service. Rochester has some useful urban lines, for example to Freeport or northwest to the lakefront, but they are so short that they should run every 10 or 15 minutes and not every half hour. However, Rochester has no significant independent towns within an hour or so by rail, and thus there are no timed connections there. In contrast, Syracuse is located right between Watertown, Oswego, Auburn, and Cortland with its connection onward to Ithaca.

The Syracuse system is intended to be fully on the RegionalBahn side of the S-Bahn vs. RegionalBahn divide. The shared segment between Syracuse and the split between the lines to Oswego and Watertown is not meant to overlay to run frequent urban service. Instead, trains should tailgate, followed by a gap of nearly half an hour. Syracuse-bound trains may well call at Liverpool at :20 and :22, arriving at Syracuse at :25 and :27 to exchange passengers with other trains and then continue south, one of Oswego and Watertown paired with Cortland and Binghamton and the other terminating. If north-south S-Bahn service is desired, trains should be slotted in between the intercity trains.

New lines

The map depicts greenfield alignments for the high-speed line except on the approaches to New York and Toronto, and legacy alignments for the low-speed lines.

As in Switzerland, the low-speed lines do not necessarily slavishly adhere to legacy alignments. However, the deviations are not the same. Switzerland uses bypasses and tunnels to speed lines up. In New York, the main mechanisms to speed up lines are electrification, track renewal, and higher superelevation. Tunnels are too expensive for the population density of Upstate New York. I can see some bypasses, potentially getting Syracuse-Cortland and Cortland-Binghamton down to 30 minutes each, but none of the Upstate cities off the high-speed line is big enough to justify major civil works.

The one depicted bypass on a blue-colored line is the use of the Boonton Branch in New Jersey to offer an express bypass around the Morristown Line with its dense station spacing. This requires some additional tracks on busy urban regional lines as well as a short tunnel in Paterson, but New York is big enough that investing in faster service to Dover, Delaware Water Gap, and Scranton is worth it.

Upstate, the important deviations involve restoring old tracks, including between Cortland and Ithaca and within some town centers. Corning and Glens Falls both have disused rail alignments serving their centers better than the existing freight lines. But most importantly, Syracuse has an underused freeway running east-west through its center, which I am assuming replaced with a rail line. This is not a new idea – Syracuse is already removing a branch of the freeway, which should be used for a rail connection toward Binghamton, and even the mainline is a vestige of when midcentury planners thought Upstate cities would keep growing. The current Syracuse station is at an inconvenient location, making rail realignment a good use of the right-of-way.

Onward connections

New York State is much more integrated with its neighbors than Switzerland – it’s all the same country. There is extensive interstate travel, and rail planning must accommodate this. Forget the Deutschlandtakt – an Americatakt would be the most complex rail plan in a developed country out of sheer size. Thankfully, the connections depicted on the New York State plan accommodate interstate travel fairly well.

Going east, there are connections to Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Albany-Boston can be done in around an hour, which makes for a half-hour takt connection between Albany and Springfield and 45 minutes minus turnaround between Springfield and Boston. Springfield-New Haven is 30 minutes by high-speed rail or 45 minutes by fast legacy rail, both with a stop at Hartford and few to no others; Springfield can then get its own small regional rail line toward Northampton (with some urban overlays for an S-Bahn) and Greenfield. Vermont can get a slow line to Rutland, and/or a fast line to Burlington continuing to Montreal; thence New York-Montreal and Boston-Toronto trains can be timed to connect at Albany, with New York-Toronto trains slotted in between, timed to connect only to the more frequent urban lines like Buffalo-Niagara Falls.

Going south, New York is separated from Pennsylvania by the northern reach of the Appalachians, called the Southern Tier in New York and the Northern Tier in Pennsylvania. This area had many coal mines in the 19th century and as a result has many legacy rail lines, but they are curvy and connect villages. But Scranton is a significant city on a nice line with Allentown and Philadelphia; unfortunately, the Philadelphia-Allentown line stretches via Reading and the Allentown-Scranton line is hilly and curvy, justifying some greenfield construction with some tunneling near the northern end.

Finally, going west, the I-90 route serves Erie and the Midwest. But this is a plausible high-speed rail connection toward Chicago, and so no low-speed interface is needed within the state. Erie could get a line to Youngstown and Pittsburgh, but it would be slower than connecting between high-speed trains in Cleveland; the largest city between Erie and Youngstown is Meadsville, population 13,000.


The cost of the high-speed spine is considerable, but if New York can keep it to the level of France (around $25 million/km), or even Germany (around $35 million/km), the benefits should exceed the costs. New York is huge, and even though nothing in Upstate New York is, the combined populations of Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo would add up to a big French or German city. And then there is Toronto at the other end, anchoring everything.

The low-speed lines should be quite cheap. Track renewal in Germany is around $1 million per single-track kilometer; at the frequency envisioned, all the low-speed lines can stay single-track with passing segments. Electrification is maybe $1.5 million per kilometer in Israel, despite a lawsuit that delayed the project by three years.

Is this feasible?

Technically, all of this is feasible. Good transit advocates in the Northeastern United States should push elected officials at the federal and state levels to quickly plan such a system and aim to begin construction early this decade. Bahn 2000 was supposed to take the 1990s to be built, but was delayed to 2004; this is a bigger program but can still happen by 2030 or so.

The trip times, frequencies, and coverage chosen for the map are deliberately conservative. It’s possible to squeeze higher speed at places, and add more branches to smaller towns, like Rochester-Niagara Falls or Buffalo-Jamestown. Bahn 2000 is followed up with Bahn 2030 or Bahn 2035, and likewise rail improvements can accrete in the United States. But as a starter system, this is a solid network connecting all large and nearly all small cities in New York State to one another with maximum convenience and minimum hassle. I hope state planners take heed and plan to invest soon.


  1. samw

    Albany to Boston is feasible in an hour? How much new tunneling are we talking here

    • Alon Levy

      I think that Boston-Springfield can be done zero-tunnel, but delicate timetabling is needed between Boston and Auburndale. Getting out of Springfield requires around 4 km of tunnel in Westfield. Beyond Westfield, my guess is 5-10 km but I don’t know for sure; viaducts bridging over to the better side of the Turnpike, 4% grades, and cutting a few meters from a hill here and there can go a long way.

    • Alon Levy

      [I deleted a duplicate.]

      Because of political unwillingness, not because the costs are too high or because it’s technically infeasible.

      • Jay Roch

        No….b/c costs are way too high. This is just spending money to spend money. It never pays for itself. Put the $ to numbers of passengers and it’s absurd. Absurd if you use the numbers our politicians expect it to cost (which will end up costing more) put it to the figures of how many people will use it and it’s absurd. Everyone knows the passenger numbers they use are inflated by at least 50%. Also if you want to calculate if the investment is worth it….then it should be based on new riders – which will be minimal at best. This is throwing away money.

        • adirondacker12800

          Lets build I-96 or whatever it was called between Watertown and Plattburgh instead. For 6 billion dollars.

        • L White

          Instead shall we throw away our livable climate? We need to maximize utilization and build new rail. It’s a much more worthwhile investment than many big ticket subsidies and bailouts and payouts on which we waste trillions.

    • michaelrjames

      Never is a long time. The thing is to get it onto the drawing boards, to somewhere approaching “shovel ready”, or at least “dream-ready”. Alon’s last article on this was 2014, so maybe he’s going to run a 7-up series, and at some point in his middle-age AOC will be either governor of NY or even president, et voila!

      NYC to Buffalo is 690km which is approaching 100km less than Paris-Marseilles (776km) which takes 3h07m.

      The main issue is how to build it at French costs and not British or US costs. Over the past week a leaked report on the UK-HS2 reveals it has exploded (again) to north of £106bn (€125bn, US$138bn) with the warning that no one is in control and so the cost is anyone’s guess. That is for 530km of new-build HSR track.

      • Matthew Hutton

        The thing is for french costs we could do London to Manchester/Leeds with 4 tracks, 2 tracks north from Manchester to Glasgow and Leeds to Edinburgh, 2 tracks from Liverpool to Leeds and 2 tracks from Bristol to Birmingham – all for €80 billion.

  2. mdfinfer

    The DL&W main line through Paterson was abandoned almost 60 years ago. The trains now run on the Morristown Line to Roseville Ave., then up the old Montclair Branch, and over a new connection onto the former Erie Greenwood Lake Branch to Mountain View where the line turns west onto the old DL&W main line. There are many places between Paterson Jct. and Mountain View where the right of way no longer exists. Boonton Line trains go nowhere near Paterson.

    What exactly were you proposing for this area, and what would be the purpose of the short tunnel you mentioned in Paterson.

    • Alon Levy

      The short tunnel would get to where there’s space to build the line next to I-80 before connecting to the extant portions.

      • adirondacker12800

        It’s a lot cheaper to use the three tracks between Newark and Maplewood to schedule express trains. That is already grade separated to Summit. Rumor has it there is space for three or more all the way to Dover. The Boonton line is single tracked and fairly lousy with grade crossings.

  3. Nilo

    My only suggestion would be if you get Ithaca -> Syracuse to an hour you could run a short spur to the Syracuse airport (though I suppose a bus would suffice). Would probably get quite a bit of ridership given how expensive and limited flying out of Ithaca is

    • Alon Levy

      Wouldn’t passengers mostly prefer to spend the 2 extra hours going to New York? Syracuse doesn’t have direct flights to a lot of destinations, so if you connect, might as well not deal with the extra flight.

      • adirondacker12800

        Going through TSA in Syracuse and an hour, hour and half connection across the concourse at a hub is a lot more attractive than EWR.

        • Mike

          Except when EWR is a hot mess due to thunderstorms and SYR-EWR flights get canned from the resulting ground delay program (short regional flights get axed first). That happens a lot more often than you think in the summer.

          Also, I imagine SYR-EWR flight segments can get expensive, considering how crazy SAN-LAX can be even with three separate operators on the route.

      • Nilo

        First off the obvious place to fly to from Syracuse is Chicago not EWR. If you want a big east coast airport with a ton of connections Ithaca already does that for you at the hefty price EWR-Syracuse is probably gonna be. Second security theater at Syracuse is a joke and takes like ten minutes, making it hella less stressful than EWR.

        I thought about your question Alon, and I personally would prefer Syracuse over going to NYC because I was flying west a lot so the hop to Chicago actually saved time due to moving in the correct direction. I think California, and internationally China are popular with students at Cornell, but you’re right I’m not sure if the demand wouldn’t shift to just doing HSR to EWR.

      • Nathanael

        Syracuse actually *does* have direct flights to a lot of destinations — enough to make sense. (Including Chicago, crucially, but also Atlanta, Orlando, and DC. Chicago’s the big one.)

        Further local knowledge:
        The torn-out Ithaca to Cortland route would need a new Ithaca terminus on the Cornell campus. The final approach from the outskirts of Ithaca to the Cornell campus is a problem which is going to inspire massive NIMBYism (it’s currently a hiking path and there are no alternate routes), but we could probably overcome it.

        The Cortland to Syracuse route could have significant curve straightening with land purchases which would be quite cheap.

        Cortland to Ithaca commuting is already a huge thing so every 15 minute service would be highly popular.

        If there’s some way to get a connection from the Cornell campus to the IC campus it would definitely help. A gondola has been suggested to get over the gorge, which actually isn’t crazy.


        Now, here’s the thing which is going to really amuse Alon — that east-west highway through the middle of Syracuse? It WAS THE RAIL LINE. New York purchased the passenger mainline under Governor Nelson Rockefeller in order to rip it out and put the highway in.

  4. red dog

    Philly has a unused legacy line to Bethlehem. How important is Allentown vs. Bethlehem? If you are bypassing some/much of NJ on your way to Scranton why not consider getting to Scranton through PA where you would pick up the Lehigh Valley and maybe get the state to kick in some of the costs? Scranton can’t be consisted a commuter stop for NYC/NJ at 2 1/2 hours.

    • Alon Levy

      The route through the Lehigh Valley is slow. NY-Allentown is plausibly faster via Philly with HSR than directly via the Raritan Valley Line.

      • jack (@jlichyen)

        If you’re rebuilding the Boonton line as it once stood and upgrading the speed, yeah that’s the fastest way from NYC to Binghamton. It’ll be a real son of a bitch getting through Totowa and Woodland Park where I-80 is hemmed in by suburban development on both sides with the Passaic river down the middle, but it’s a valuable connection.

        I think the line red dog is referring to is more interesting from an interstate-intercity perspective. You reference a Philly-Allentown line through Reading, though SEPTA still owns a straight ROW from Lansdale into Bethlehem via Quakertown. But also looking at the map, a Harrisburg-Reading-Allentown legacy rail continuing onto NYC via Morristown or Raritan Valley looks reasonable.

        Basically, I think a map like this which takes into account PA and NJ would be super interesting. Beyond the scope of this single blog post, of course.

        • Ben She

          Agree, the trunk routes of PA intercity would likely be a “double triangle” of PHL-HBG-Allentown-NYP, with another bisector PHL-RDG. Allentown-Scranton is pretty marginal by comparison.

        • Sean Cunneen

          Could you explain why that is so? Allentown-Philly is 50 miles as the crow flies, and Philly-NY is 80 miles, while Allentown-Manhattan is only 80, so for such an indirect route to make sense either the NEC must be able to reach more than 2.5x the max Raritan Valley Line speed, or the resurrected Allentown-Philly alignment must be made faster than the max RVL speed, and it has some quite twisty portions. Furthermore, a NY-Allentown RVL could serve Easton and Bethlehem, and continue on to Reading as well. I believe this route could make sense.

          Disclaimer: I know absolutely nothing about how railroads work.

      • Sean Cunneen

        Could you explain why that is so? Allentown-Philly is 50 miles as the crow flies, and Philly-NY is 80 miles, while Allentown-Manhattan is only 80, so for such an indirect route to make sense either the NEC must be able to reach more than 2.5x the max Raritan Valley Line speed, or the resurrected Allentown-Philly alignment must be made faster than the max RVL speed, and it has some quite twisty portions. Furthermore, a NY-Allentown RVL could serve Easton and Bethlehem, and continue on to Reading as well. I believe this route could make sense.

        Disclaimer: I know absolutely nothing about how railroads work.

  5. adirondacker12800

    There is no congestion north of Harriman, everyone owns a car or at least has access to one and parking is free. Scale back the fantasies. People who own cars are going use the uncongested highways so they can park for free at their destination. And there aren’t very many of them once you eliminate the big three, Albany, Rochester and Buffalo.


    How many people in the micropolitian area of Cortland are going to get the urge to go to Syracuse? Or Auburn. How much money would have to be spent to make the one car “train” faster than a bus? Scale back the fantasies.

    • Alon Levy

      In Cortland? Probably none. It’s there for the timed connection to Ithaca, which is something like the #3 metro area in the US from the bottom in car commuting (#1 is New York, I think #2 is SF?). And the train is pretty much automatically faster than a highway bus making the same city center stops – it’s around the same speed as a car in the Southern Tier. Probably slower where you are, though, that line is squiggly.

      • adirondacker12800

        I’m sure some people in Cortland want to go to Syracuse if for any other reason to see a medical specialist they can’t get in Cortland. A big percentage of almost nothing is a lot less. But more than none. There’s 100,000 people in Tompkins County where Ithaca is. How many 12 passenger buses a day do they fill? And the quarter of million in metro Binghamton? Google maps says it takes 1:10 to drive on a nice wide uncongested interstate highway from Binghamton to Syracuse. The train took two hours back in the day. How much money has to be spent to make it faster than a 25 passenger bus that will be half filled for many trips? Scale back the fantasies, there aren’t a whole lot of people out there.

        • Nathanael

          Ithaca has so many commuters from Cortland that there’s a morning traffic jam and an evening traffic jam on the road to Cortland every day. And yes, we already have buses. And they are caught in traffic. And it’s a two-lane highway so bus lanes would be just as hard as putting in the train line — harder.

          Tompkins County is also growing in population. More so now that construction of housing has been authorized — before that we generated more and more commuters living further and further out and driving in.

          Train service would actually be highly used. You aren’t local, you don’t know. I know.

          Ithaca-Cortland *is* the correct route. I spent quite a while figuring out how to run a passenger rail line out of Ithaca to the south to Owego so that it wouldn’t be on a branch line but on a through line, but it requires purchasing and demolishing some housing, and a lot of people’s back yards, to restore the correct one of the old rail lines there. Not something which will pass politically before a Cortland connection is made. Afterwards maybe.

          • adirondacker12800

            Same percentage of people get up and go to work every day. There aren’t a lot of people in Cortland county commuting to Tompkins county because there aren’t a lot of people in Cortland county. And if they were commuting to Tompkins county they wouldn’t be in their own micropolitian area they would be in Tompkin county’s metro area. More housing gets built in Ithaca city or town they won’t be commuting from Cortland.

          • Jason Duga

            Growing population? Barely….it grew 1.2% between 2010 and 2018. Let’s stop talking about spending Billions of $ for a few hundred people getting somewhere 3 minutes earlier.

          • adirondacker12800

            It’s going to crater in 2020 because when the Census was taken the dorms had been empty for almost a year.

          • Bobson Dugnutt

            Census numbers in 2020 are going to be very screwy because the date coincides with the start of the pandemic. The biggest cities might see New Orleans post-Katrina levels of population collapse for the census date, but in all likelihood will begin to stabilize with 2-year and 5-year counts to what we saw in the 2000s and 2010s.

            The places that have seen secular declines over decades, i.e. Rust Belt and West Virginia, will continue to stagnate.

          • adirondacker12800

            The opinion writers and social commentators might live in a world where people have a condo in the city, a summer cabin and winter bungalow but there weren’t a whole lot of people escaping to their second home in some rural area. Because there aren’t a lot of them.
            Most of the rust belt finished going through the de-industrialization process a long time ago. It ain’t Ronnie Reagan’s rust belt anymore.

      • Nilo

        Syracuse-Ithaca would get a lot of people who go to Syracuse for medical care and flights. Currently without a car it’s hella inconvenient to get to the Syracuse airport, so a train would be quite nice. In addition there are at least half a dozen buses run by three or four different bus companies running to NYC per day. Make the trip 3 hours by train instead of five+ by bus and you probably get a ton of people on the train to Syracuse.

        • Harald

          Is there even a regular bus from Ithaca to Syracuse at the moment? I remember when I lived there (~2006-2011) it was basically impossible to get to Syracuse without a car. All the buses were headed toward Binghamton/NYC.

          • Nilo

            My understanding is basically no. Much easier to get to Binghamton/NYC

        • adirondacker12800

          There aren’t going to “lot of people” on train or on a bus from Ithaca because there aren’t a lot of people in Ithaca.

          • Alon Levy

            There aren’t a lot of people in New Haven, either… but student travel and such amounts to 4,000 riders per day (not weekday) in each direction on Metro-North. NY-Ithaca is longer, but not by that much (3:15, but with transfers), and Cornell is bigger than Yale. You don’t need long trains or anything, but it’s enough people to fill a 2-car dinky from Cortland to Ithaca.

          • adirondacker12800

            In 2010 there were 862,477 people in what was New Haven County and 101,564 in Tompkins County. I know what it’s like to live in a metro area of 100,000 or so. There’s no congestion and there is free parking everywhere. People who own cars will drive. People who don’t own cars don’t have the money to take long trips on trains, buses, planes, ferries, funiculars…

            If there is so much demand why wouldn’t the train go all the way to Syracuse? Running full trains between Ithaca and Syracuse makes more sense than running almost empty trains between Cortland and Binghamton so people from Ithaca can be annoyed by a transfer. If dozen or so people every half hour can be considered “full”.
            Go ahead, do the arithmetic. A truly astounding number of roundtrips from Tompkins County, 365,000 annually, averages out to 1,000 a day. 16 hour service day is 62.5 an hour. That’s if they all take the bus. And that’s if you want to do it once an hour. If you want to do it every 30 minutes it’s a half empty 25 passenger bus because many people who own cars will just drive to Syracuse. I-81 is not the New England Thruway or the Hutchinson River Parkway, many people who own cars will drive. When it’s to get to the train station. They’ll definitely drive if it’s to do something other than get to the train station because there’s no congestion in Syracuse and parking is free or very cheap.

          • Nathanael

            Yeah, basically wrong, Adirondacker. I live in Ithaca,

            For starters, we have about 50,000 students who leave Ithaca every time term ends and come back every time term starts. Then there’s all the academic visitors to Cornell (and some to IC). Then there’s the tourist traffic, our area’s second-largest business after education. Then there’s all the people from Ithaca trying to get to Syracuse either to catch an airplane flight or to get medical care (our local hospital is sufficiently bad people go to Syracuse routinely). Then there’s the giant mass of commuters who come in from other counties to work at Cornell and IC and then go back out again. (Downtown Cortland, which is currently kind of dead, would be massively revived by a commuter rail route to Ithaca as it would be an instantly attractive bedroom community.)

            Do I need to go on? We can support train service, no question. We’re bigger than most of the cities in Switzerland which have service.

          • Nathanael

            Adirondacker, you’re flat out wrong — you may have lived in a metro area of 100,000 but you’ve never lived in Ithaca, We DO have congestion, and we have parking meters, paid parking garages, and permit-only parking everywhere.

            Perhaps what’s not obvious to you is just how dense the central parts of Ithaca are.

          • Nathanael

            As I mentioned before, Cortland-Binghamton doesn’t have much demand; it would be better to run Syracuse-Cortland-Ithaca-Owego-Binghamton. This was possible, through the “East Ithaca” station, before the rails were ripped out in the 1950s. One section of the route within Ithaca proper has had housing built on it, which is super annoying, but the rest hasn’t (though it does run through people’s backyards within Ithaca proper).

      • Nathanael

        ” Ithaca, which is something like the #3 metro area in the US from the bottom in car commuting (#1 is New York, I think #2 is SF?).”

        Our mayor doesn’t own a car.

        Citylab says that Ithaca is the actual best metro area in the ENTIRE NATION for living with no car.


        (Our main problem for living car-free is lack of intercity rail service. Interestingly, #2, State College PA, has the same problem. Champaign-Urbana, which does have rail service, is #3. Iowa City shows up at #6, showing that the proposed rail line from Chicago-Moline-Cedar Rapids-Iowa City makes a great deal of sense.)

        Yeah, Ithaca is going to “punch above its weight” in terms of intercity rail ridership by a massive massive factor. Extremely high car-free household rate, extremely large number of college students, etc. etc. It’s very hard to park on the Cornell campus during school hours; it’s all restricted permit lots, not great for visitors. We’re also growing in population, and growing *faster* in jobs (which has been inducing commuter traffic from Cortland County, etc.)

        But we need an actual rail connection to somewhere, preferably Cortland & Syracuse. The immense number of shoddy intercity bus services shows that the demand is there. More people would take a train. I would spend more time organizing to promote it if I had not been distracted by medical stuff.

      • adirondacker12800

        I suspect that people in Cortland don’t go to New York City to get to Syracuse. Or from Ithaca or Binghamton or Watertown or anyplace else north of Yonkers.

      • Nathanael

        I’d like to note the
        * 10 to 12 Shortline/CoachUSA buses from Ithaca to NYC each day (via Binghamton and Route 17),
        * 1 Trailways per day between Elmira, Ithaca and Syracuse (extras on certain weekends),
        * 3 Greyhounds per day from Ithaca to Rochester and NYC (via Binghamton and Scranton),
        * an erratic number of OurBus from Ithaca to NYC,
        * 3 Cornell Campus2Campus buses per day from Ithaca to NYC,
        * Scheduled car service from Ithaca to the Syracuse airport and train station several times a day from Ithaca Airline Limousine,
        * Cortland Transit city bus service from Cortland to Ithaca (twice per day, each way), and to Dryden (twice per day, each way) — note that Cortland Transit runs a total of four continuous small circulator loops, a few dial-a-ride services, these two services to Tompkins County, and one other commuter service twice per day, so the Tompkins County runs are a *very large percentage* of their entire service.

        There was also sufficient demand for intercity service to Ithaca that additional startups have attempted to run out of Ithaca more than once, mostly foundering on safety issues. Not to mention the charters which show up every time school starts or ends.

        I realize that a government proposal to provide good train service would probably face objections from this long, long list of bus companies, but it would be better than all of them and would replace most of them with a much more efficient and more popular operation. If you aren’t a private profit fetishist you can see that it makes sense. In orderly, bureaucratic Switzerland they would of course have put in train service here.

        • adirondacker12800

          Assuming they are jammed packed buses… it’s that many cars of train a day. You want to run them all at once, once a day or a single car at a time every hour-ish most of the day? Some of them aren’t jammed packed or they wouldn’t be stopping in Binghamton and Scranton. Wikipedia says the NJTransit Mulitlevel cab cars have 127 seats. Or roughly twice as many seats as a bus. So it would be a half empty car once an hour or ridership would have to double. Quadruple if you want to do every half hour. There isn’t enough demand out there to be spending hundreds of millions of dollars for a single car of “train” once an hour. That would be just as fast as a bus.

  6. Benjamin Turon

    Of course, you know that Gov. Cuomo as plans for a “panel of experts” to examine previous HSR studies?

    Actually, the freeway through downtown Syracuse was the railroad, after street running was eliminated in the 1930s the passenger trains used a grade-separated line to a new Art Deco downtown station while freight traveled north of the city on a bypass, the current mainline. I drove through Syracuse in November, right pass the old station.

    New York to Albany could be done in 2hrs 05mins according to the Empire Corridor HSR DEIS with 24 trains daily for about $550 million. Add electrification and a tilting Pendolino-Avelia Liberty and you can get that down I think to 1hr 55mins. The SNCF did a study for NYSDOT in the 1980s that laid out track improvements to allow the Turboliners to do it in 1hr 58min with several station stops.

    Beyond Albany upgrades to existing track or segments of new high-speed track could bring Utica, Rome, and Syracuse to with 3-4 hours of NYC by my estimates. For Rochester and Buffalo, you would need a new very-high-speed line cutting directly across the Southern Tier, branching off after Binghamton to serve Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo.

    I doubt many – including rail supporters – in New York State think HSR is needed or could be done, response to Cuomo’s proposed HSR panel has been mostly negative or non-existent. I think that it could be done utilizing a “blended plan” using existing and new right-of-way, incrementally built across the state. Yet I’m likely in the minority. Most rail fans car the most about the downgraded dining car on the ‘Lake Shore Limited’.

    • Alon Levy

      Wait, why would you do NY-Rochester via the Southern Tier instead of via Albany and Syracuse? The Southern Tier is mountainous and requires extensive tunneling, whereas there is no need for any tunnel between southern Dutchess County and Buffalo. The Southern Tier also involves branching, whereas paralleling the New York Central route means one line hits all the major Upstate cities; this means there’s more frequency on each city pair, and also no need to burden the tunnels across the Hudson with additional intercity traffic.

      You can get NY-Syracuse down to 4 hours on existing ROW, yeah, but it’s the outer limit of what’s plausible – Albany-Utica is not a fast line and you can’t really incrementally improve it, you can only take it as it is (with higher superelevation, etc.) or bypass it with a high-speed line that climbs the hills rather than hewing to the water level. But then the problem is that Syracuse is by far the smallest of the four main Upstate cities, and Rochester and Buffalo remain way too far.

      • Benjamin Turon

        The main thrust of my idea of HSR through the Southern Tier is that it’s a shorter distance, by about 50 miles. You do however make a good point about branching, and redoing the math with a 125-mph average speed the 437-mile “I-87/90 NYC Route” is about 3.5 hours, compare to 3 hours for the “I-81/I-86/I-390 Erie-Lackawanna”. With a 150-mph average speed the NYC-Albany-Buffalo route is about 3 hours.

        There is still the benefit that an HSR line via the Southern Tier could bring high quality modern rail service to metro areas without it today, specifically Scranton PA and Binghamton NY. Smaller cities like Cortland, Ithaca, Watkins Glen, Geneva, Elmira, Corning, and Hornell could be served by branching a few daily trains a day off the mainline. My thinking is like the TGV, high-speed service could branch of the main NYC-Buffalo trunk line. You could also imagine a NYC-Scranton-Binghamton-Syracuse-Rochester-Buffalo trunk line, a distance of 408 miles. With a 125-mph average a NYC-Buffalo train could cover that distance in 3.25 hours. The existing right-of-way of the current Empire Corridor NYC-Albany-Syracuse could be upgraded with electrification and a third mainline track on the CSX right-of-way west of Schenectady.

        I disagree with your comparison of the difficulty of crossing the mountainous terrain of the Southern Tier compare with the “Water Level Route” of the Hudson and Mohawk valleys. The “Water Level Route” was accomplished by running the tracks directly along the shore of the Hudson and Mohawk rivers – in many locations the riverbank and railway embankment are one in the same. And these river valleys can have very steep rise in terrain in many places, including the tracks being sandwich between the river and sheer cliffs. Along the river shore of course are numerous densely built villages and small cities, with paralleling highways.

        This is likely why the I-87/I-90 NYS Thruway and Taconic State Parkway were built miles inland through the less densely populated rolling uplands. There are some very high bridges on the NYS Thruway south of Albany and one very steep grade on the I-90 at Little Falls. Parts of the I-90 or at river level, but most of it runs along the hill sides to Utica. Building a new HSR line would be complex and expansive with lots of viaducts, fills, and rock cuts – and likely a few tunnels since very high speed would require a gently alignment compared to the twists and turns of interstate highways.

        And then there is the threat of flooding. Hurricane Sandy put the Hudson Line and Croton Yard underwater, leaving boats and other debris on the tracks (unlike NJT, Metro-North sent its trains to “high ground” in GCT and the Park Ave tunnel) while the CSX mainline along the Mohawk River has had suffered serious washouts in the last few years. At Lock E10 east of Amsterdam the Mohawk even changed course with a new channel, its waters flowing south around the lift-gate dam and lock, while several hundred feet of CSX track was gone on the north shore. The state spent a year putting the river back to were it wanted it. Overall, change in rainfall has led to more storm flooding. Less snowmelt and more big drops from tropical storms. In November on my trip to Syracuse, the river was only a few feet below the I-90 grade at Big Nose, with water almost up to the shoulder. Part of the CSX line was washout west of Utica. At one rail bridge in Utica the river flowed over the tracks. With Climate Change, you want to build new tracks on new ROW on high ground.

        The 2014 Empire Corridor HSR DEIS (the EIS is now due for release in May 2020) rejected the 220 and 160 alternatives due the high cost of building a new high-speed line south of Albany, the studied estimated $27-39 billion for NYC-Niagara Falls with a 4.5 to 5 hour travel time, but this included a 10min cross-platform transfer at Buffalo. A new grade-seperated double-track line Albany-Buffalo was $15 billion in ALT 125. The DEIS ALT 220 and 160 chosen route was in order to serve Steward Int. Airport blasted through the suburbs of Westchester County to the 1-84, which it followed across a new Hudson River Bridge to the airport in Newburgh, before following the I-90 to Albany, crossing the river again to Rensselaer. It was 39 miles longer than existing rail route.

        Obviously, I think a better less-expensive route could be found on either side of the river. The former Erie Mainline was once 4-track south of Suffern on the state border, there seems room today with modern track centers for a third track, that with electrification could create the capacity for both commuter and high speed trains to Penn Station through the new Gateway tunnels – a “blended” option like SF-San Jose for the CaHSR line. North of Suffern on a new right-of-way high-speed tracks cold run to Steward Int. Airport and the north to Albany, or alternative west Binghamton and then Syracuse. The DEIS set the capacity for daily intercity trains on an improved Hudson Line to Penn Station as 24 – so you could utilize Metro-North to some point north of NYC where you would diverge to a new HS line north to Rensselaer. You could also possibly have the NYC-Albany HS line diverge from the NEC north of the Bronx, as in the EIS’s rejected ALT 220 and 160.

      • Benjamin Turon

        My HSR idea – which I’m developing – is to make the $550 million in necessary track and signaling improvements to the Hudson Line set out by the DEIS (from previous 2006 Hudson Line Railroad Plan) necessarily to cut travel times to 2hr 05min (from 2hr 20min today) while increasing train frequency to 24 (from 13 today). This would be done along with electrification which could cut travel times further with better acceleration and tilting-body trainsets that would allow for higher speeds through the Hudson Highlands and more 100-110-mph running north of Poughkeepsie. The SNCF did an in-depth study and actual test runs in the 1980s showing that 1hr 58min was commercially possible using the Turboliners over upgraded tracks, while making the current station stops. Electric locomotives and trainsets would be DC third rail and overhead AC compatible, in order to travel south of Croton-Harmon and for some daily trains into GCT.

        West of Albany the existing 26-miles of Amtrak track from Rensselaer through Schenectady to Hoffmans would be electrified. This is opposed to ALT 125 in the DEIS which ignored this existing trackage in favor of all new right-of-way south of Albany along the I-90 and a new bridge across the Hudson River to Rensselaer. ALT 125 also failed to electrify the Hudson Line south of Albany, limiting speeds west of Albany on the entirely new rail line to 125-mph utilizing dual-mode diesel-electric locomotives. From Hoffmans through a new downtown station at Amsterdam the passenger line would merge with the CSX right-of-way, with the current two freight tracks to the south and two new 90-mph tracks on the north side of the former four-track right-of-way. This track plan was laid out in the EIS’s ALT 90B. 90-mph is the top speed that CSX will agree to overall for its system – you see this for example in Virginia’s DC-Richmond HSR project.

        At Tribes Hill just west of Amsterdam the two passenger tracks diverge from the CSX mainline and crossing the Mohawk River run up to 160-mph on a new high-speed segment running south of the Mohawk Valley, as ALT 125 did. Outside of Utica the new segment would parallel Route 5S and then merge back with the CSX mainline, with three tracks at ninety through the existing Utica Union Station to the existing Rome Station. From outside Rome to the Dewitt Yard in East Syracuse a double-track line paralleling the existing CSX mainline at a distance would run at 160-mph. From the yard through the existing Syracuse Station you have four tracks. After Syracuse its another 160-mph segment following the alignment laid out in ALT 125 to the Rochester suburbs were its three tracks at 90-mph to the existing Rochester Station.

        Running out of Rochester you return to two high-speed tracks at 160-mph, paralleling at some distance the existing CSX mainline to a rebuilt and expanded station at Buffalo-Depew. After that it’s a run through the Pioneer Yard to the Niagara Branch, which is double-track and electrified through the new Exchange Street Station to Niagara Falls, and then across the bridge to a new Niagara International Station were passengers could go through border customs and board GO and VIA trains for Toronto.

        Combining the travel times of 1hr 55mins NYC-Rensselaer, EIS ALT 90B Rensselaer-Amsterdam and Utica-Rome, and assuming 125-mph average speeds Amsterdam-Utica, Rome-Syracuse, Syracuse-Rochester, and Rochester-Buffalo; got be NYC-Utica in 3:14, Syracuse in 3:51, Rochester in 4:31, Depew in 5:02, and Buffalo in 5:15, and Niagara Falls 5:46. Now if a new high-speed line was built south of Rensselaer, then travel times west of Albany could be likely cut by 1 hour; so NYC-Buffalo in 4:15.

        In addition to NYC-Niagara high-speed ‘Empire Express’ trains I would also run ‘Empire Regional’ trains Renssealer-Niagara Falls utilizing low-floor Alstom 160km/h bi-mode electric-hydrogen Cordia Liner trainsets along the existing CSX line to serve new stations at Albany-Colonie, Palatine Bridge, Little Falls, Herkimer, Canastota-Oneida, Batavia, and Tonawanda. I figured 24 trains NYC-Albany including locomotive hauled coach-baggage car consists for the ‘Lake Shore Limited’, ‘Maple Leaf’, ‘Adirondack’, and ‘Ethan Allen’, and 18 trains NYC-Niagara Falls, with 4 morning, midday, afternoon, and evening ‘Empire Regional’ trains Albany-Niagara. There would also be local half-hourly Buffalo-Niagara and Rensselaer-Glen Falls shuttle services, making some additional local stops.

        Low-floor trainsets allow for low-level platforms on active freight tracks, unlike high-level platforms that require dedicated side tracks or freight by-pass tracks. There is room west of the two high-level platforms at Albany-Rensselaer for a third low-level platform to service regional and local shuttle trains. The new Schenectady Station has a low-level island platform, Amsterdam existing is a one-side low-level platform, Utica Union Station has two low-level platforms with a overhead bridge, and Rome is island low-level. There is room at Syracuse for a high-level island platform and a low-level side platform. Rochester has space at the new station for a low-level side platform on the station side, same could be done at a rebuilt Buffalo-Depew. The new Buffalo-Exchange Street Station will have a high-level side platform with a freight by-pass track, thus a low-level can be built serviced by that by-pass track. Niagara Falls as room for a low-level on the south side too.

        The EIS priced ALT 125 at $15 billion – my “Blended 160 ALT” would likely cost the same by adding full electrification but sharing more existing infrastructure west of Rensselaer. Spread out over 15 to 20 years as part of an incremental stage program, that comes to about a billion a year.

        • Alon Levy

          First of all, what an EIS written by people who are likely unaware of how to control costs and were probably under political pressure to highball the costs is of no concern.

          There is in fact a way to build a 300+ km/h alignment from New York to Albany with no tunneling north of the Hudson Highlands. Like the Thruway, it has to be somewhat inland in parts, but that’s fine, the Hudson and Mohawk valleys aren’t any hillier than the terrain the tunnel-free LGV Sud-Est has to contend with.

          In contrast, the route to the Southern Tier requires extensive tunneling. It requires suburban tunneling, because even reactivating the Boonton Branch with a short tunnel would create at best a low-to-medium-speed route from New York to the Lackawanna Cutoff – it’s not like the Hudson Line, which allows 160-200 km/h most of the way from Penn Station to Croton-Harmon. Then the Cutoff itself requires some curve modifications, often in deep cuttings, because its design speed is 160 km/h, and modern trains can squeeze maybe 220 km/h out of it. Then in Pennsylvania the legacy route is unusable and a new right-of-way is needed, with tens of kilometers of tunnels until the terrain eases up around Binghamton.

          The freight clearance thing is a non-issue. Oversize freight is a tail wagging the dog and an excuse by Class I-trained engineers to spend more money on gauntlet tracks and other money wasters. In reality, there’s always another way – if nothing else, build the platforms outside the dynamical clearance envelope and get trains with extenders, as is common in Switzerland and parts of France. Then, Syracuse and Rochester already come equipped with freight bypasses; Syracuse’s passenger station is on the bypass, but as I note in the post, it should be moved to the center instead of the freeway, while freight can keep the bypass. Utica has space for a third track if CSX cares, Albany and Buffalo-Exchange Street are off the CSX mainline, and nothing else needs stations anyway.

          • Benjamin Turon

            Well I agree with you about private consultants with little in-depth and practical knowledge of modern passenger rail not knowing (or caring) about what they’re doing while planning out “high speed rail” systems for state DOT clients with little knowledge of modern rail – and who are likely just going through the motions. In the end the consultants get paid and the DOT managers move on to other jobs, and the politicians in office during the study have been elected to higher office, defeated at the polls, retired, indicted, imprisoned, or died.

            The CaHSR Project has done great damage to the image of High Speed Rail in the United States, and with a public and press with little useful knowledge of rail the whole Obama Era “High Speed Rail” program seems a wasted effort. When Gov. Cuomo announced his HSR Study Panel the response seems to have been mostly negative in both the press and general public. Most newspapers editorialized against, public comments where also mostly negative, with a few pro-HSR letters-to-the-editors. The “California Boondoggle” was widely mentioned.

            Of course, in reality most of the $10 billion appropriated by Congress 2009-10 went to worthy much need projects: including in Upstate NY the Albany-Schenectady 2nd Track, 4th platform track and other work at the Albany-Rensselaer Rail Station, upgrading signaling and grade crossings Poughkeepsie-Rensselaer, 2 miles of 2nd mainline track south of Saratoga Springs, effectively providing 6 miles of double-track from Ballston Spa through Saratoga Springs, and other more minor work, like ADA work at Buffalo-Depew. Other states like wise invested the money in their existing Amtrak systems, and a good argument could be made that California might have been better off if it did the same.

            Among members of the rail advocacy organization (ESPA) that I’m involved with, there is great skepticism of true-HSR and most support is for “incremental” upgrading of the existing Amtrak service. The progress being made by Virginia – three tracks at ninety to Richmond on the CSX right-of-way – lends credence to the idea that what ESPA has supported for a decade of “three tracks at ninety” within the existing CSX right-of-way Hoffmans-Buffalo is the most realistic and appropriate option. That was basically ALT 90B in the DEIS, which doubled frequency to 8 daily trains, cut an hour off Albany-Buffalo travel times to 4½hrs, and increased reliability to 95%. Total project cost would be about $6 billion.

            I have supported “three tracks at ninety” for the last decade as the EIS (begun in 2010 with DEIS released in 2014) has languished at NYSDOT and FRA, but the passage of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act by NYS last year got me thinking that electrification and new high-speed tracks deserved a second look. ALT 125 was the only alternative to featured electrification, but it did it inanely by building a entirely new railway – double-track, grade-separated, and electrified – from Albany to Buffalo yet failed to electrify the existing Hudson Line, which is controlled by Amtrak and Metro-North and is primarily utilized by passenger trains.

            When I asked why this was at a DEIS public hearing in March 2014, I was told that electrifying the Hudson Line would too expensive and too complex, that you can’t run overhead catenary over third rail tracks. Both points are of course fallacious; (1) the cost of electrifying the existing railway south of Albany is expensive yet far less than building an entirely railway west of Albany, (2) it forces you to use dual-modes, increasing operating costs while reducing top speed on new tracks, and (3) the third-rail issue can be addressed the same way Metro-North does today for its GCT-NEC “New Haven Line” service and the Eurostar (a TGV derived train) did to reach Waterloo before HS1 opened to St. Pancras. Boom! Problem solved.

            Another flaw of ALT 125 was its failure to make use of existing rail right-of-way and stations west of Albany. ALT 125 utilized 57 miles of elevated track to enter urban centers of Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo; and then would require new stations and platforms instead of using the ones just rebuilt this decade. The cost of ALT 125 included the necessary rebuilding of the LAB Bridge over the Hudson at Albany, yet also built a new bridge south of Albany for a new line that by-passed Schenectady, Amsterdam, Utica, and Rome – leaving them with an inferior service unchanged from today. Travel time NYC-Utica and NYC-Rome would be longer (3:38 and 3:53) than NYC-Syracuse (3:19); and worse they would retain the same 4 trains daily frequency of today.

            A better plan I feel would be building new high-speed segments in the rural countryside while utilizing the existing CSX right-of-way to inner city centers and serve existing downtown stations; instead of building an entirely new high-speed railway. This would be “High Speed Program” that could be incrementally undertaken in stages as funding became available, each stage improving the overall service over the entire Empire Corridor. With a final master plan in place improvements west of Albany could be made, station improvements and track work before electrification or new high-speed segments are built.

            Travel times to New York City from west of Albany would improve for even dual-mode trains as improvements are made starting south of Albany, then as new segments of high-speed track are built first to Utica, then Syracuse, Rochester, and finally Buffalo. And lastly this plan wouldn’t preclude a further travel time reduction for Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo from either building a new “Taconic” high-speed line south of Albany to NYC, or a new “Southern Tier” high-speed line south of Syracuse to Binghamton, Scranton or Steward Int, and NYC.

            High Speed Rail is a very expensive, and the total price scares people off. Finding ways to bring it about at a lower cost than can be undertaken in incremental stages with gradual upgrading in existing train services I think is the solution. Moreover, we should not let the “perfect” be the enemy of the “good enough”. Steady progress is better than no progress in the name of holding out for faster progress.

            Of course, if anything is to be done, then New York State needs to create a robust Rail Division within NYSDOT, well-staffed with experience and dedicated state employees – not private consultants. That is the biggest takeaway from the stumbling failures of the CHSRA and the steady success of Virginia’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT). The state has only 4 employees dedicated to intercity rail with NYSDOT, and there are major short-term issues like the P32 dual-modes passing their 20-year service lives with increasing breakdowns and fires that are seemingly going unaddressed. Seriousness of Gov. Cuomo’s interest in “HSR” (Cuomo has taken active hand in station construction at Schenectady, Rochester, and Penn Station) reportedly spurred on by Virginia will be shown if he creates the necessary administrative team within NYSDOT to overseeing the existing service while planning out and undertaking construction of the future service.

          • Alon Levy

            The big problem with incremental is that it accepts too many American operating assumptions that aren’t true over here: extensive schedule padding, low cant deficiency, slow station throats. There are huge potential improvements in speed coming from better operations that do not involve raising top speed – e.g. NY-New Haven at a top speed of 160 km/h can be done on existing tracks, without straightening a single curve, in about 1:05.

            But of course, going from 1:45 to 1:05 is not viewed as incremental, even if it’s done within ROW. In a country where very few people know the expression “organization before electronics before concrete” and all of them have heard it through me, the idea of improving organization and electronics is weird (just look at all the excuses not to electrify). Incrementalism means spending a bunch of money on small improvements in concrete that yield results that would embarrass Slovakia and Poland, let alone Germany, let alone Switzerland.

            The cost of doing the required upgrades on NY-New Haven is very low, and in that case it’s incremental. But it requires understanding how modern technology works outside the US, and the people in charge at CDOT and Metro-North have no idea. Over here, raising the superelevation angle, washing the ballast, replacing the rails and ties, etc., would all be done by track renewal machines that run on the track at sub-walking speed during nighttime closure windows. Over here, the turnouts don’t throw you from side to side when your train runs on them, because they use technology from the 1920s rather than from the 1800s. The people who are used to Class I and Amtrak and state-owned commuter rail operations have very little to contribute to this discussion, so from a managerial point of view, this is revolutionary, even though the required expenses are small and everything can be done very quickly, within a matter of months to a year.

          • Benjamin Turon

            On the matter of the “Hudson Line being good for 160-200 km/h most of the way from Penn Station to Croton-Harmon” – a 1986 SNCF study set a top speed at 90-mph between MP17 and MP25, the rest of it was 80-mph on Metro-North tracks with some steep drops in the Hudson Highlands. North of Beacon to Poughkeepsie the SNCF set forth an 85-mph speed. From Poughkeepsie to Rhinecliff was 100-mph, then 95-mph to Stuyvesant, and 110-mph to Rensselaer. One place where speeds could be increase is on the Westside Empire Connection, which in the DEIS is 60-mph but the SNCF study had 75-mph for most of its 9-mile length.

            Another issue is top speed for third rail, in Britain its 100-mph (Gatwick Express) which I believe includes the Eurostar so it seems the same could be done if Metro-North upgraded its track. How much time could be saved? The track diagram of the 2014 DEIS showed top authorized speed of 70 to 75-mph from Spuyten Duyvil, yet the 1986 SNCF study had “with works” a top speed as high as 90-mph in one segment.

            Now speeds could likely be further increased over the SNCF study, where “super elevation deficiency” was set at 130mm (5-inches) but the study noted that the Turboliners in France operated normally at 160mm (6-inches). The SNCF study recommended increasing super elevation and the 2006 ‘Hudson Line Railroad Corridor Transportation’ agreed to by NYSDOT, Amtrak, Metro-North, CSX, and CP recommended increasing super-elevation to 6-inches as a “common sense” improvement. Add electrification (faster acceleration) and tilt-body (faster speeds around curves) trainsets and travel times below 2 hours while making the existing 5 intermediate station stops would seem possible, with more 100 to 110-mph running north of the Hudson Highlands, and higher speeds through the Highlands from Croton-Harmon.

            I have been making the educated assumption that at least 10-mins could be cutoff the 2hrs 05mins travel time of the DEIS by tilt and electrification, but it could be more. The SNCF Study had a travel time of 1hr 52mins with 4 stops Penn-Rensselaer with no margin for delay; with a 5% regularity margin it was set at 1hr 58min. Non-stop was 1hr 46min without a margin and 1hr 51min with it. Setting west of Albany aside, the state should proceed with a Tier 2 EIS for the Hudson Line New York City-Schenectady that would complete all the recommend infrastructure works of the past studies, with the addition of electrification.

          • Benjamin Turon

            The elevated expressway that is planned to be torn down in Syracuse is the north-south I-81 and not the east-west I-690 which was built on the former NYC right-of-way. I would question why you would want to replace it with an intercity railroad as opposed to perhaps a broad avenue with dedicated at its center, serving the local community.

            The existing Syracuse Rail Station site is not badly placed – 2.5 miles from downtown – and it could have a local rail shuttle to the former downtown Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad Station and Syracuse University. In the 1994-2008 utilizing Budd RDCs there was the OnTrack Service on this route. The current station site is also the intercity coach station and is served by 15 CENTRO local transit buses.

            The current Amtrak station is “good enough”. For regional rail serving downtown the existing elevated DL&W Station is “good enough” compare to spending billions on replacing elevated freeways with elevated railroads. The I-81 plan is to restore the urban street grid and utilize the freed-up land for development. Seems to me the best plan.

          • Benjamin Turon

            You make a good point about “extender steps” and for a service like Virgin Brightline that makes a lot of sense because they only use one type of equipment on a line utilized by only their own service. Yet for the Empire Corridor with its mix of equipment and station platform heights it’s not practical, this assuming coaches equipped with extender steps can’t be equipped with drop steps. I was curious about how Miami Central was going to handle both high-level Brightline trains and low-level Tri-Rail trains, the solution is separate platforms for each service.

            Looking again at the communities along the Empire Corridor I proposed be served by a regional service, there seems plenty of room (except at Little Falls) to build a passenger siding serving a high-level platform. My idea was using low-floor Alstom Coradia bi-mode electric-hydrogen trainsets to allow switching back and forth between electrified and unelectrified tracks, but considering that there are high-level versions of Coradia line in Great Britain, going with those is best, would allow through service to New York City instead of terminating at Rensselaer.

            On the overall issue of conforming to existing FRA regulations or freight railroad requirements – for example freight car clearances – while pointing out differences with European practice is a useful comparison, you do have to plan projects within the constraints that exist, as opposed to the ideal conditions. You can’t propose a plan to a state DOT and when they point out it doesn’t meet federal requirements or the conditions laid out by the host freight railroad, reply: “Well they’re stupid.”

            In many cases that is true, but failure to accommodate existing constraints leads to the result you see in New York State, where in the EIS process the NYSDOT insisted on 110 for their preferred alternative and CSX stated 90 was as high as they would go on their right-of-way (as in Virginia) – and when NYSDOT failed to agree CSX didn’t care, since nothing could be done without their consent since they owned the railroad. For them, doing nothing was the preferred alternative. Had NYSDOT agreed to 90-mph has the top speed, then the EIS would have likely been released years ago.

            When the SNCF did that 1986 study for NYSDOT, it laid out their own practice in France and the differences with rail regulations and requirements in the US and New York State, and then came out with a plan that fitted conditions of the Hudson Line and could executed.

          • Alon Levy

            Drop steps are bad. The traps are heavy and force compromises on door size (narrow) and location (end of car). Just raise the platforms – there aren’t a lot of them.

            And the existing FRA regulations since the fall of 2018 are only cosmetically different from UIC regulations, so any official who proposes getting stuff that is heavier and less standard should be fired for incompetence.

          • Benjamin Turon

            They just built a new Schenectady Station with a new low-level island platform — the reason given was curvature and (possible) freight traffic. Hudson is on a very sharp curve (the Hudson Line Study recommended a overhead pedestrian bridge to eliminate boarding over active tracks) and Rhinecliff has a constrained site. Utica’s two side platforms on active freight tracks and Rome a island platform served by two freight tracks. All the stations north of Schenectady for the Adirondack and Ethan Allen are low-level platforms, some recently rebuilt to meet ADA regulations. Low-level platforms are not ideal, but the money to replace them all could be better spent on buying new locomotives or coaches. Making accommodations in the rolling-stock is more cost effective than rebuilding otherwise perfectly good stations.

          • adirondacker12800

            Syracuse’s passenger station is on the bypass, but as I note in the post, it should be moved to the center instead of the freeway
            The center of I-690 in Syracuse is a Jersey Barrier in places. If I’m taking the half hourly bus from Ithaca with a half dozen other people it doesn’t really matter where the station is. The bus is going there. Want to make it ten people instead ,having the bus go to the airport too might make that happen. The train station could be at the airport! So that people who took the train from stations along the NEC could rent a car! And it would keep the ginormous parking lots out of downtown. Same thing with Rochester.

          • Benjamin Turon

            I don’t think that incremental improvement is a bad strategy, and it beats doing nothing. I’m thinking of how British Rail upgraded the ECML for 100-mph running by the Deltics in the 1960s and then 125-mph running by the HSTs in the 1970s and then electrifying the route for the Intercity 225 in the 1980s. The WCML was electrified in two stages. The Japanese upgraded their conventional network in the 1950-70s with additional mainline track, some cutoffs, electrification, and new light-weight trainsets.

            The French had a similar program in the 1960s before embarking on the TGV – which was designed to upgrade service over the extensive conventional lines branching from it. You can do HSR in stages, utilizing existing parts on the conventional rail system as you build out the new HSR system out, as South Korea has done with the KTX, including building the Seoul-Pusan line in two stages, with additional service also branching out over upgraded lines.

            The total sticker price for HSR – even well thought-out HSR based on modern best practices overseas – is so high (people are not good at in thinking of billions although we live in a trillion dollar world) that the average citizen, reporter, or public figure will roll their eyes, especially after the CaHSR project. Dividing a project up into stages that can be done one by one, each stage leading to much better rail service, I think has a better chance of winning public and political support.

            And yes, I think that you can include more modern infrastructure standards and operating practices into an incremental program, opposed to let’s build it all at once. Yes, some compromises will have to be made when utilizing existing infrastructure or negotiating with other rail users and infrastructure owners – but you can still come up with a final project that is “good enough”.

            About managerial reform of the planning and operation of North American passenger rail services, perhaps the history of the US Navy might be of some insight. By 1880 after the Civil War the US Navy had sunk low; a proud and competent service having been due to disinvestment, mismanagement, corruption, and reactionary senior officer corps become a third-class force, inferior technologically to several South American navies. While other navies race to keep up with technological progress to steel breech loading guns on ships with steel hulls and ever more efficient steam engines, the US Navy was a fleet of a few dozen wooden ships spending much of the time under canvas and small and mostly laid-up ironclads from the Civil War – all ordnance was muzzle-loading cast-iron cannons from the civil war, most of them smoothbore as opposed to rifles.

            In the eighties a reform group of naval officers came together – with support of civilians including the young Theodore Roosevelt – to right the ship and set a new course. Civil Service reform led to a more professional administration that eliminated the worse of the corruption and mismanagement that had led the navy spending more on rebuilding wooden Civil War vessels than the cost of a new steel ship. However, the Navy needed more than good accounting, it needed to develop and put in place new strategy, tactics, and technology.

            Missions were sent overseas to study in Europe, a Naval War College (think tank and staff school) was founded, curriculum was updated at Annapolis, and a naval trade journal founded and printed monthly — ‘Proceedings’ — where naval matters could be examined and debated. These steps, combined with renewed interest by the Congress and Press in naval matters led to the emergence of the “New Navy” – a modern, innovative, and professional force that in 1898 despite missteps won decisively the Spanish-American War. By the end of WWI the US Navy equaled the Royal Navy – a rise to power and prestige in line with China and High Speed Rail.

            Where do you good to school for passenger rail management and planning in America? I read that there is going to be a “HSR School” in Britain. And there are various educational and academic railway institutions in Japan, including a Tokyo high school, perhaps we need something similar in America. Everything that matters in America has a think tank – what is the think tank for passenger rail? I know there are magazines – Metro, Railway Age, Trains – but are they exposing their readership to foreign practices? I personally subscribe to ‘Modern Railways’ from the UK to find out about modern railways.

            To change a professional culture you need dedicated institutions to examine, discuss, and led such a change.

          • Richard Mlynarik

            There is nothing to show for “incremental improvement” to US rail passenger services or practices in four decades. Nothing. I’ve watched it happen, in real time!

            It doesn’t “beat doing nothing”, not remotely, and hasn’t beaten having done nothing. On the contrary: hundreds of billions of dollars of public dollars have disappeared — literally disappered — on incremental nothing, and on perpetuating the culture of achieving nothing, endlessly. There are huge institutional/economic incentives to keep “incrementally” accomplishing nothing, and “missions sent overseas to study” — it’s always and only England they study, because English, and incompetence, and a comparable culture of contractor capture of policy and agencies — are part of the fun, reaching the conclusion that we can learn incrementally to change overseas practices to be in line with our culture and institutions and practices, and these things take time, and you can’t just rush in and …, and … deliver nothing.

            (Yeah, I know, “but whatabout”? Whatabout military waste? Whatabout farm subsidies? Whatabout freeways? Whatabout whatabout whatabout?)

          • Benjamin Turon

            Mr. Miynarik

            The problem with “incremental improvement” in the USA is that it has been stop and go, you see that in Wisconsin and in my own state of New York.

            From 1975-85 the state made big progress (with little federal money) in upgrading the Empire Corridor. The travel time NYC-Albany was cut from 3 to for 2.25hrs, the frequency was doubled, with result that ridership doubled. The Rail Division had successfully seen this program through, the next step was to be further cuts in NYC-Albany travel times and laying a third track Schenectady-Buffalo on the Conrail (now CSX) Line with a increase in speed to 90-mph. Unfortunately the Rail Division was downsized and the belief that investing father in rail would be wasteful since Maglev was the future — today its Hyperloop.

            Now new stations were built in the 1990s and the Empire Connection was made to Penn Station. A renewed attempt at “HSR” fell flat under Gov. Pataki because of mismanagement by NYSDOT and Amtrak — state controller issued a report stating the DOT lacked the ability to manage rail projects — unlike the 1970-80s when it had a well staffed rail division. Under Obama the state won a great deal of money (about $750m) which when into track, signaling, and new stations. Yet had the same time the state failed miserably with its HSR EIS process.

            So what you have is a three steps forward, standing idle, a step forward, a half step back history of rail improvement. Now had the state continued the steady investment and good management of the 1980s then Empire Corridor would be a well run “HrSR” service like Brightline in Florida, the X2000 in Sweden, or the Intercity 125 in the UK. I think that California’s state supported Amtrak service have shown steady improvement, and now Virginia is following suit. The key is having a dedicated organization to manage and plan your rail service, that was true for the Empire Corridor, and you see that work in Washington State, North Carolina, Maine, and California.

          • Nathanael

            It’s worth noting that the old New York Central right of way (currently being squatted on by CSX) was four tracks the whole damn way — two passenger two freight. Much of it was straighter than the current route (as made clear by the situation with Syracuse) and if it were rebuilt to pretty much the original specs, but electrified, it could run better speeds even than Ben Turon has suggested. It wouldn’t take much in the way of bypasses to make it *much* faster, either; just get rid of some of the worse S-curves.

            The host railroad is not legally allowed to make stupid conditions. The state can seize their tracks by eminent domain if Amtrak assists; it hasn’t been done in a while, but the precedent is pretty clear. The problem with the EIS is not 90 vs. 110. I remember asking the state representatives if the 90-speed route was *geometrically* good for 110 if CSX lifted their idiotic restrictions, since CSX management changes all the time, and they said yes.

            The problem is at least twofold. First, the state wanted to build the passenger tracks on the north side of the ROW — they need to be on the south side where they originally were, and CSX rightly complained about that since nearly all the freight yards are on the north. Second, CSX made outrageous and offensive excuses for not wanting more tracks on their right of way — claiming that a dirt path was so valuable to them that it was more important than reinstating an HSR track. The state should have called CSX’s bluff on that one by instructing county assessors to reassess the property tax on the dirt path to be higher than that of an HSR track in accordance with CSX’s claims, and see how quickly CSX changed its argument.

            I think the fundamental obstruction is unwillingness by the state to spend the money to buy the track from CSX. CSX is in financial trouble, and they WILL sell if the money is offered.

          • Benjamin Turon

            CSX is not squatting, they own the former New York Central by buying half of Conrail, which inherited it from the bankrupt Penn Central. They run – or did before “precision railroading” – 70 trains daily Selkirk to Buffalo to Amtrak’s 8 trains. Yes, the ROW was once 4 tracks, and with modern track centers there is room for a third track on the northside of the right-of-way. As for speeds higher than 79-mph, NYSDOT and CSX signed an agreement for an increase to 90-mph.

            Three tracks at ninety had long been the plan kicking around DOT. But then the politicians wanted 110, and CSX told New York to go build their own railroad on their own ROW. Virginia said at the same time that CSX and NYSDOT fell out that three tracks a ninety was fine DC-Richmond, and thus progress is being made with track going down, speeds and frequency going up, and the state buying a half-share in the rail line for joint-ownership. That wouldn’t be a bad way to go for New York State.

          • Nathanael

            I agree that the way Virginia went would be a good way to go for NYS. I do not agree that talking about 110 was the sticking point for CSX. The difference between 90 and 110 is irrelevant to any actual railroaders, and CSX management’s insistence on 90 was just intransigence and obnoxiousness. Anyone who knows a damn thing about railroading knows it wasn’t a serious complaint, it was an excuse.

            I think the sticking point was talking about putting the passenger tracks on the north side of the line, between the tracks and the freight branches / freight yards. CSX got very unhappy about that, and they were *right* to get unhappy about that — I can’t blame ’em for that.

            NY tried to do that as part of “cheaping out”. The CSX tracks are currently mostly on the south side of the line, so doing it right means shifting the CSX tracks north first. And I think that’s the underlying problem — NY wasn’t willing to spend the money to do it right, and CSX doesn’t want to deal with THAT. And for that, I can’t blame them. I strongly believe that if NY came to the table willing to spend the *right amount of money*, we wouldn’t be hearing any of this fearmongering about 110 mph. In Massachusetts, CSX was refusing to sell and refusing to sell, and in the end it just turned out that they were bickering about the price, and they sold the tracks.

            I still consider CSX a squatter, despite their chain of purchases; they’re not paying property taxes commensurate with their own claims regarding the value of the vacant trackbeds, which is a bogus legal position to take. It doesn’t matter; it’s possible to buy the line from CSX if the money is actually offered. I believe the fundamental problem is that NY is not offering CSX a reasonable amount of money for (a) the south half of the ROW, and (b) relocating CSX tracks to the north half.

          • Nathanael

            This may get back to the lack of expertise at the NYS DOT regarding rail.

            The speculative plan NYSDOT proposed *didn’t make sense* on a number of technical levels; there were overpasses where there shouldn’t be and at-grade crossings of the freight tracks where there shouldn’t be, and the aforementioned attempt to cheap out by putting the passenger tracks on the wrong side of the right-of-way. CSX had every right to complain about a plan which did not make efforts to connect the freight tracks directly to the freight yards without passenger interference.

            Faced with this, CSX responded with a frankly offensive comment on the EIS which made a bunch of blatantly false statements (like claiming that a dirt maintenance track was so irreplaceable that it was more valuable than another railroad track — we all know you have hi-rail trucks, guys — or the aforementioned irrational fearmongering about trains going faster than 90 mph — your liability exposure’s the same if you dump a freight train on 90 mph tracks as if you dump it on 110 mph tracks, guys). This was incredibly offensive behavior by CSX, and they should have been slapped down hard for it (and there were several ways to do so), but most of the people in the NYS DOT seemed to take CSX’s comments at face value, probably because of their ignorance and lack of expertise. CSX probably knew they could get away with making completely unfounded, bogus claims because they knew how un-expert NYSDOT was.

          • adirondacker12800

            They run – or did before “precision railroading” – 70 trains daily Selkirk to Buffalo to Amtrak’s 8 trains.
            WIkipedia says they added bypass tracks in Selkirk for the through trains. There’s MOAR stuff going up and down the West Shore or Hudson line. There’s fun things going on in Mechanicville that doesn’t pass through Selkirk and at least one unit train from the West Coast to Rotterdam most days. Keep the arithmetic simple 72 trains a day evenly spaced is one every 20 minutes. If it’s 48 a day that is one every half hour. The 110 mph train is catching up to one so often the sidings all link up into a third track real fast. You want 126 mph passenger trains it has to be grade separated. There’s long long stretches of almost straight ROW between Utica and the Rockies that can support much higher speeds than 126. Get everybody to go along by grade separating the busy freight too… grade crossings closed every ten minutes or fifteen minutes has to be annoying….

        • michaelrjames

          An awful lot of words (I know, I should talk …) so here is the most important takeout IMO:

          Of course, if anything is to be done, then New York State needs to create a robust Rail Division within NYSDOT, well-staffed with experience and dedicated state employees – not private consultants.

          For it to work, state employees need to be on long contracts (or quasi-permanent)–so they can’t be dismissed by the next administration/politician. And made to sign non-compete clauses, ie. they cannot go and set up as consultants, or work for the big construction companies in the same state for …. forever, really, but say 5 years. I suppose this might be against some constitutional interpretation and if it is then forget it, there is no solution.

          • Nilo

            Civil service protections are a thing? And you don’t have to worry about them going to consultants when you’ve eliminated the work the consultants were paid for by moving the expertise in house.

          • michaelrjames

            nilo, 2020/01/29 – 07:21
            Civil service protections are a thing?

            Not entirely sure what you mean, but the civil service used to have an ethos of public service by its employees for which they get stability of employment in return (and lower pay than in the private sector given the same qualifications etc). The relative impartiality of advice and the continuity of policy and knowledge fund were partly what the western (and perhaps especially the Anglosphere) success came from and depended on. Since the corruption of the Right (Thatcher especially) this has been disrupted. Instead of governance and policy based on evidence and best outcomes it has been perverted to serve political parties and extreme ideologies, and often short-term goals instead of long-term national interest. In the US even the Supreme Court has now been defiled. No accident that it is where this has been most extreme, the Anglosphere of US and UK, that political dysfunction and decline is most obvious.

          • Benjamin Turon

            The card punching state DOT folks I know have been or where employed till retirement by DOT for many decades through several administrations — consulting comes after retirement for them to supplement their pensions and other retirement savings. The big turnover in civil servants is at the very top as mangers move between projects or departments — or between government agencies. It would be better to have long-term leadership and top talent at the top of the civil servants — if you look at past mega-projects and programs there are many examples (Admiral Rickover for the Nuclear Navy, Francis Turner at the US Highway Adminstration, or Wernher von Braun at NASA) where a few individuals saw through a project from beginning to end, or a program for a decade or more. Nowadays it seems like a game of musical chairs. Its like a ship with the same crew year after year, but changing captains and executive officers.

            As for why cite British Rail for examples of intercity rail done better — there is just a lot of indepth material both books and documentaries on the actual “business” of running trains, as apposed to the nostalgic post-card picture books of passenger rail that make up almost the majority of books and documentaries in America. There are a few exceptions, Fred Frailey’s “Twilight of the Great Trains” and the 2016 “The Metroliners: Trains that Changed the Course of American Rail Travel” give you operational details and financial information.

            I got piles of books on British Rail, but one of the best is “The InterCity Story 1964-2012” by Chris Green and Mike Vincent. A great Japanese book is “Japanese Railway Technology Today” from 2002 — which is hard to get online. The best book on HSR I feel is “On the Right Lines?: The Limits of Technological Innovation” by Stephen Potter which covers the development of modern HSR services from the 1950s to the 1980s, with a specific focus on the APT and Intercity 125. “On the Fast Track: French Railway Modernization and the Origins of the TGV, 1944-1983” by Jacob Meunier is an excellent study of the creation of the TGV.

            The one service I wish I could find a good English language book on is the Swedish X2000, I’ll even take a book in Swedish with photographs, graphs, and tables on travel times, ridership, costs, and revenue that I could translate with Google.

          • michaelrjames

            Nowadays it seems like a game of musical chairs. Its like a ship with the same crew year after year, but changing captains and executive officers.

            Exactly this. Changing the head of Department by an incoming government might be fair enough but these days it is appointing a totally politically-partisan operator and flunky of the winning party so as to impose an ideology, even if it is totally anti-scientific etc. that has become the norm. Then the political appointments go on to cleanse the department/organisation of anyone not politically aligned, etc. Of course the kind of mandarin who is willing to do the bidding of this type of politician, is themselves by definition a second- or third-rater. And to top it all off, they have successively criminalised whistleblowing.

            Tx for the book rundown. I am going to get the Jacob Meunier one on TGV, even though it is a $100 book! (Yikes, it is a A$150 book; found on Abe for a lot less.)
            I enjoyed Nicholas Faith’s on HS1: The Right Line: The Politics, Planning and Against-the-odds Gamble Behind Britain’s First High-Speed Railway. The thing that came thru was the failure of successive governments over the entire post-war period to allow any long-term plans, never mind fund them. (Thatcher of course was outright hostile to rail and public transit in general.) It was incrementalism in everything and it shows in their system (which is probably better than it deserves to be). He describes old BR hands who were in despair and depressed when they saw how their French counterparts got to make 5 year plans that were then politically supported etc.

          • fjod

            But the British case shows what’s wrong with incremental upgrades. Repeated incremental upgrades of the WCML, first in the 60s and then in the 2000s, still left it with a wide mix of service patterns and with tight curve radii, both of which limited the utility of these upgrades – such that the UK is spending an additional $100bn on a replacement high speed line.

          • Benjamin Turon

            Incremental upgrading of the existing WCML and ECML means its takes today it takes 4.5 hrs to get from London to Edinburgh and Glasgow by train while it takes Amtrak 6.6 hrs New York City to Rochester, a equivalent distance of about 600km/375mi. Given how HS2 is going, not so sure that it would have been better to wait for the “perfect”, rather than the “good enough”.

            There is a few things I think could improve HS2 — reduce speed to 200-mph to reduce construction costs and utilize tilt trains (like the recent new Shinkansen sets) on existing WCML section beyond new line. Given that HS2 is being built incrementally in stages — its high cost will be spread out over two decades. Britain should be able to afford that.

            michaelrjames, “The Right Line” is a good book, I have the Channel Tunnel/HS1 book “Work” as a companion with lots of glossy photos. St Pancras is such a beautiful station. The TGV book is expensive, but it is worth it.

          • Alon Levy

            Given how expensive and slow British construction is, maybe not learn from it and instead learn from Continental examples?

          • Benjamin Turon

            You can learn from everybody. I have for years wanted more info on Sweden and the X2000, but there are not that many English sources.

            The X2000 famously did a tour of the US in the early 1990s and became a big symbol of High Speed Rail, particularly in Upstate NY where it made several station stops on its national tour. A State HSR plan from 2006 repeatedly referred to the X2000 as a model for the Empire Corridor. I got piles of books on the Intercity 125 and Shinkansen, a few on the TGV, one on China — anything on the X2000 and other Swedish rail projects? Something that goes into the economic, operational, and technological aspects of the service? How much did revenue and ridership increased compare to costs?

            I’m just poor American, and for the most part most serious books (opposed to American puff pieces) on modern passenger rail in the English language available on Amazon and Ebay seem to be written by British writers for British publishers, primarily focus yes on British trains, although they do wander off here and there to Europe and Japan.

            Look — we (Amtrak) imported French Turbo trains to run in America in the 1970s, but what we failed to do was import the French operating philosophy of running at fast and frequent service over well maintained track that is good for 100-mph in many sections, leading to high average speeds competitive with driving or flying over a distance of a few hundred miles. In France, the Turbo trains ran on a clock face schedule with hourly departures and arrivals — Amtrak ran its trains a few times a day with speeds not unchanged from what came before. The one place where the Turboliners took part in a big increase in ridership was where permanent way was upgraded with increase in train frequency and decrease in travel times. That was NYC-Albany. This success could have contuned had the state’s high-speed rail program not been terminated in favor of a possible maglev system.

            The British with their “Inter-City” services and Japanese with their “Limited-Express” services incorporated the same upgrades to infrastructure, new rolling-stock, combined with changes in scheduling to a far more intense service. Look at the Chiltern Railway vs. the Downeaster — why can our Boston-Maine service be like Chiltern’s London-Birmingham service? People need to know what makes Virgin Brightline different from all non-NEC Amtrak services. These basic lessons are what is lost to most Americans and needs to be learned. Broadly speaking the history of Britain’s Intercity service are a good case study for America on what is possible. Its not the only case study, but it is the most accessible through books and documentaries.

            But I do agree with you that when feasible the US should adopt best practices from Western Europe and East Asia on specific operating practices, rolling-stock design, and infrastructure maintenance. If New Zealand can hire non-Anglosphere folks to electrify their railways at European costs, as opposed to far higher British/USA costs, then we need to do so too. Yes, running trains through Penn Station is far better then demolishing a whole block of Manhattan for Penn South. Why does the LIRR lose money when similar Japanese railways are profitable?

            That is why I think that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s HSR panel should include experts from Europe and Asia. Yet even if Cuomo just hired Chris Green from British Rail/Virgin Trains we be far better off than if we hired more American consultants. Of course Cuomo has difficulties with British rail experts…

          • Benjamin Turon

            Of course the British could learn from the British — given that British Rail did a far better job at electrification than Network Rail. The ECML electrification was on budget and ahead of schedule — while Network Rail bungled the Great Western project. From what I read in ‘Modern Railways’ it has been pointed out that if Britain could electrify at European (usually France is cited) costs that far more of the network could be under the wires. Differences in construction practices and design standards are also pointed out — Network Rail rejecting the previous practices by British Rail, which aligned more with Continental practice. Yes, America can learn what not to do from the British as well!

          • adirondacker12800

            The incremental upgrades increased demand enough that they are running out of capacity. Since they have to carve more ROW, it might as well be high speed.

          • Nilo

            Michael I mean it’s literally incredibly difficult to fire civil servants in much of the United States unless you have a very good cause because there are extensive safeguards against political interference.

          • fjod

            hmm – Chiltern is neither typical of British railways (having a much, much longer contract and thus room to invest) nor is it particularly impressive, being unelectrified and really slow from London to Birmingham. It’s also not a successor of an InterCity route so the lessons of InterCity don’t apply (and what’s more, almost every country with a well-developed rail network has already learnt those lessons too). Chiltern is pretty much the only example in the last 30 years where the rail industry has invested in infrastructure without being dragged kicking and screaming by the British government.

            The thing is that even the things Britain does well – e.g. intensive, frequent service and higher-speed conventional rail – are done better by other countries. In the age of the internet it is pretty easy to just look up how they do it in the Netherlands or Germany instead.

          • Benjamin Turon

            Chiltern is a great example for America, with half hourly trains Birmingham Moor Street to London Marylebone and the fastest trips taking 1hr 39min for the 99 miles, that frequency and average speed of 61.9-mph for the hourly direct express trains.

            That is far better service in terms of speed and frequency than all Amtrak services outside the NEC, better than the LA-San Diego ‘Pacific Surfliner’, Seattle-Portland ‘Cascades’, Boston-Portland ‘Downeaster’, and Chicago-Milwaukee ‘Hiawatha’. None of the Obama Era HSR resulted in a service as good as Chiltern. And while Chiltern is a new post-privatization “Intercity” service, it does incorporate the lessons of British Rail Intercity services, it has a high hourly frequency, 100-mph running, and even uses Mk3 coaches.

            The ‘Empire Service’ Albany-NYC is as fast as Chiltern Birmingham-London but its frequency doesn’t match it yet, being less than hourly. The most comparable outside the NEC is Virgin Brightline – which of course is not Amtrak!

            Yes, other nations did the same that British Rail did with Intercity, starting in the 1960s – Japan made the same steps with its Limited Express intercity trains – but fjod Americans aren’t that great with foreign language skills! Yes, they could just look up the timetables of DB vs. Amtrak – lol – but detailed info is harder to come by, and very “High Speed Rail” on new tracks gets most of the focus. Sadly, how to run trains over existing railways better (HrSR) gets less – this despite that is exactly what America has done outside the CaHSR Project.

            Chiltern if was like Amtrak, there be 6 trains a day with a 45-mph average speed – at best!

  7. Allen Dylan

    I think what you are talking about is called “timed-transfer-scheduling”. It’s a concept used by many local transit companies and many airlines. What’s really important isn’t “how fast can I get to my station”, it’s…”can I get to my station before my transfer train arrives”. “What happens next if I miss my transfer?”

    Faster is not necessarily better…what makes people use transit is the systemic regularity and reliability of the scheduling, and the convenience of the schedule in terms of memorization. “Oh, my train always leaves at thirty mins past the hour…I can get to Zurich by the top of the hour… where all trains leave every hour on the hour…then my train will leave and I can get to my destination by half past the following hour”. I wish I were Swiss, I could memorise the nation’s whole train schedule in a week!
    Passengers don’t necessarily need high speed, we need higher speed coupled with reliability and some kind of systemic regularity built into our scheduling system…which necessarily includes consideration of the entire door to door trip! (Uhhh…how do I get to the station…uhhh how do I get from the station to my final destination…uhhhh, what do I do at the station if I miss my connection…hope there’s a restroom unlocked!”

  8. SB

    Unless the gas price and the population doubles, I don’t think there is demand for half hour frequencies for legacy service in Upstate NY.
    Even 2 hour frequencies would be good enough for some of the lines.
    For High Speed segments should be hourly NYC-Albany (with 1 train every two hour to Montreal and/or Vermont) and hourly NYC-Albany-Buffalo-Toronto.

    • Alon Levy

      Don’t forget that this legacy service is also high-speed service to other cities via the timed connection. This way Switzerland offers hourly and half-hourly service to very small places. Biel, population 55,000, is part of the Bahn 2000 takt, and gets 4 direct trains per hour to Bern, departing at :22, :24, :52, :54, with 2 extra rush hour trains departing :15 and :45; this isn’t just about connecting Biel to Bern, but also about connecting it with the rest of Switzerland, with timed connections to Lausanne, Geneva, Luzern, etc. Likewise, Biel has a direct train to Zurich every half hour, departing :17 and :46, connecting not just to Zurich but also St. Gallen, Luzern (again), Zug, etc.

      The New York equivalent is that Watertown-Syracuse in around 1:05 is not just about Watertown-Syracuse. Some carless people in both cities might use it to travel on that line alone – Syracuse has a hefty share of carless households – but many more would use it to connect with the rest of the state. A train departs Watertown at 10:20, reaches Syracuse at 11:25. Passengers have 6 minutes to transfer to a high-speed train departing to New York at 11:31, arriving Albany at 12:29, departing Albany at 12:31, arriving at Penn Station at 1:24. Simultaneously, a train departs Syracuse at 11:31 going west, reaching Rochester at 11:59 and Buffalo at 12:24. The train can then maybe even depart Buffalo westbound early, at 12:25 rather than 12:30 – the only connecting low-speed line is from Niagara Falls – and then hit Niagara Falls, Ontario around 12:38 and Toronto at 1:10.

      • SB

        According to wikipedia Biel is a major railway junction and has a public transit modal share is 31.2%.
        I guessing a lot of the careless population in Syracuse are college students and probably has no reason to visit Watertown.
        And transit at Watertown looks like this https://www.watertown-ny.gov/DocumentView.asp?DID=1082
        5 Loops lines, 2 trips on each line on Saturday and no service on Sunday or Holidays,

      • Max Wyss

        And don’t forget that it is not only rail-based connections, but many local and regional centers have several bus lines with timed connections to the trains and between each other. So, the “Bahn 2000” goes down to the capillares.

        A well connected local and regional feeder network can be crucial for the success of the system.

  9. SJ1

    Alon, I think travel demand for the city-pair NYC / Montreal might be more than is currently indicated by existing patterns. It’s a fair characterization to say that continuing HSR north of Albany might benefit Quebec more than New York, but there are resort areas (i.e. Saratoga Springs, Lake George) that could become realistic alternatives as year-round residential locations for NYC commuters by virtue of the travel time reductions that true HSR would provide. Although Plattsburg and the Lake Champlain eastern shore communities in Vermont would benefit by proximity, the primary justification for HSR in these areas is economic development, not travel demand.

    • Alon Levy

      NY-Montreal is useful, yes. I just think it is likely to underperform relative to city populations, because of the language difference. To me, the markets served are,

      1. NY-Montreal end-to-end (and Montreal-Upstate NY).
      2. NY-Burlington (and Burlington-Upstate NY).
      3. Montreal-Boston with a timed connection at Rensselaer.

      NY-Saratoga Springs is not a huge market, I don’t think. The reason is that Saratoga Springs has the same fundamental NIMBYism problem of Long Island and Westchester. If it’s possible to put up new housing in Saratoga Springs and Glens Falls for commuters to Manhattan, it’s possible to put up new housing in Great Neck, Mineola, Scarsdale, and Tarrytown, where the commutes are shorter and cheaper to provide.

      • sajohnston

        NY-Saratoga may be a bigger market than you think, especially during the summer (race season!). But there are also tons of people who retire to Saratoga (city and county) from NYC and the suburbs. Saratoga County is quite possibly the fastest-growing county in all of Upstate (a low bar, yes), because it’s the Capital Region’s favored sprawl vector. So that’s mostly bad–it’s eating up tons of prime land for subdivisions while Troy and Schenectady still suffer from disinvestment–but Saratoga Springs itself, while it does have NIMBY problems, has also built a lot of infill multifamily in the last couple decades (much of it on the former D&H ROW that used to go right through the middle of town…oops), and there’s plenty of room for more. The train station is in an awful location, though, and that can’t really be rectified. The only good thing about it is that there’s plenty of room to isolate it from the mainline and build high platforms that don’t interfere with freight ops.

        • adirondacker12800

          There’s 300,000 people in Saratoga, Washington and Warren counties. Or 50 percent more than metro Burlington or half the population of all of Vermont. Halfway between Manhattan and Montreal is Lake George-ish. An hour between New York and Albany means it’s 1:40 between Montreal and Albany. 2:40 for New York Montreal. A bit over half an hour to Philadelphia means Philadelphia is less than 3:30. Boston is around 3:00. Why would they be changing trains? The train from Boston can go allllll the way to Montreal. And the Philadelphians can get on the train that started out in Washington DC. Less than 3:30 to Philadelphia is 4:30 to DC.

        • Nathanael

          In 2010-2016 two upstate counties were growing at 3% or better rates: #1 was Saratoga County, #2 was Tompkins County. Since then Tompkins has accelerated, so it’s probably #1 by growth rate now (though off a smaller base than Saratoga). But yeah, Saratoga Springs actually does good business and will continue to. It’s a pity the current ex-NYC route is so out of the way, the D&H route was a lot better — a downtown route could be restored but it would be a lot of work and I doubt anyone wants to put in the money.

          For reference, the other growing counties in NY were Rennselear (Albany), Erie (Buffalo), Monroe (Rochester) at 0% growth, Ontario (Canandaigua/Geneva), Albany (Albany), Orange (far NW suburbs of NYC), Richmond (Staten Island), Nassau (western part of Long Island) all at 2% growth, Westchester (northern suburbs of NYC) at 3% growth, NY (Manhattan) at 4% growth, and finally Rockland (nearer NW suburbs of NYC), Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn at 5% growth. The rest were shrinking, even Suffolk (eastern Long Island). (Pity that Cuomo wasn’t willing to put rail on the Tappan Zee bridge to Rockland.)

          • adirondacker12800

            There aren’t enough people commuting between Rockland and Westchester for a train. Most of them don’t live at a train station or work at the places were there is one or could be one. That makes the trip bus-train-bus. Most people will just drive. Especially the ones that don’t work 9 to 5 ish and can avoid the rush hour congestion.

      • Benjamin Turon

        Its news — lol — to me as a life-long resident of Saratoga County that we have a NIMBYism problem concerning housing – since I’ve been born (1982) I’ve seen single family homes made up of 2×4 stud walls rise up in farm fields, wooded lots, and residential subdivisions big and small, like mushrooms. The biggest change in the last 20 years is that single-family homes have been joined by the widespread construction of multi-unit, multi-story, and mixed-use residential apartment and condominium buildings; both in Saratoga Springs and suburban towns like Malta, Clifton Park, and my own Town of Ballston. In Clifton Park around the big box stores and old enclosed mall you see now multi-story mixed use buildings going up as part of the plan to create a “town center”. A developer plans on turning an old Kmart site into apartment complex. To the south, downtown Schenectady is also seeing a building boom of new apartment buildings.

        Sure, over the past two decades some anti-growth and anti-multifamily housing policies and local politicians have popped up – a decade ago in Malta and now in Ballston after a dozen new apartment buildings and townhouses have gone up along the Route 50 corridor – but overall it has only delayed or diverted development. Saratoga County is the fastest growing county in Upstate NY. Its run mostly by business friendly country club Republicans.

        The housing problem we have is one of affordability for service industry workers, there has been successful NIMBYism against “affordable housing” in Saratoga Springs. A planned conversion of an old Skidmore dormitory on the edge of downtown in an upscale residential neighborhood were successfully opposed. A planned “affordable housing” project for “lowly paid” police officers, firefighters, and schoolteachers just fell through for financial reasons. And no one is building new mobile home parks – and rents for the existing ones there are going up.

        Old Victorian and Edwardian buildings are undergoing gentrification. Hotels and restaurants are short of workers. Rent is a major complaint at work – even for department managers and the sales staff. Commutes for some of my fellow employees are long from surrounding counties – Warren, Washington, Montgomery, and Fulton counties – were housing costs are lower. Many including me still live at home with our parents. Still, all around me new apartments are going up – along with nearby retail stores and other new businesses – but the rent for my income and debt level is too high.

        • Benjamin Turon

          Saratoga Springs is the busiest Amtrak Station for both the ‘Adirondack’ and ‘Ethan Allen’ north Albany — Montreal excepted. Its the NYC-Saratoga is the second busiest city pair for the ‘Adirondack’ after NYC-Montreal and NYC-Albany. For the ‘Ethan Allen’ NYC-Saratoga is the 1st busiest city-pair. Its ridership in 2018 was 37,303.

          • adirondacker12800

            it would be higher if it didn’t take so long to depart Rennselaer. Parking is cheap there and driving to Rennselaer means I don’t have to take the Ethan Allen. Every hour-ish instead of once a day…. I won’t use the Adironlate southbound.

          • Benjamin Turon

            CDTA is rising the parking fees at Rensselear — will cost more than the Albany Airport.

  10. fjod

    What’s the advantage of round-number journey times on a relatively sparse/unconnected network? I don’t see why the NYC-Albany stretch needs to be 60 minutes if the only trains for passengers to transfer to at Albany are branches off the main line; there’s no need for these trains to observe the same transfer minute as those in Syracuse, for example.

    • Alon Levy

      NY-Albany doesn’t need to be 60 minutes, you’re right. But Albany-Syracuse does, because there are timed transfers at both stations, and it’s useful to allow transfers to trains in both directions.

  11. David Edmondson

    Looks like the Ithaca station would need to be up by Cornell rather than at the legacy station at the edge of downtown and far enough from Collegetown that it’s not quite walkable. That’s not necessarily bad in the grand scheme of things, but it will reduce the usefulness of the line. I’m curious why you chose this route rather than the route to Binghamton via the Susquehanna.

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, it’s a problem; years ago I tried crayoning some tram-tram to climb down the hill. The reason for this is that HSR compresses travel time along the line; with the map as drawn, going to *Binghamton* is equally fast directly via Scranton and via HSR with a transfer in Syracuse, which means that NY-Ithaca is way faster via Syracuse.

      • Nilo

        The 10 runs like every five minutes between campus and downtown no need to put a station up by college town kids can ride the 10/30/32 down the hill and pick the train up in downtown.

          • adirondacker12800

            The 100,000 people in metro Ithaca get extraordinary urges to take intercity trips…. it comes out to a half empty 25 passenger bus once an hour to the HSR station in Syracuse. The people who can afford intercity travel own cars. Most of them will just drive to Syracuse. Improving abandoned tracks to make it faster than bus would cost too much for the demand. The people in a very generously defined metro Binghamton get Japanese levels of train travel urges its a half empty 25 passenger bus once an hour too. Scale back the fantasies.

          • Matthew Hutton

            The problem is that trains in America are terrible. More people would use them if they didn’t suck so much.

          • David Edmondson

            That was my thought on the subject – East Ithaca Station sucks, but on rail pointing in the right direction for high-quality train travel. Maybe an aerial gondola down the gorge? Or reroute the tracks into the NY31 right-of-way?

          • Nathanael

            Ithaca has massive, massive intercity travel demand compared to a random 100,000-population area. It’s due to being a tourist town which also has a very major university and another major college in it. And yes, we don’t want to drive.

            From what I know of Ithaca travel demand, I am *quite sure* that the following commuter schedule could be supported and would be extensively used:
            — train from Syracuse through Cortland to Ithaca arriving early enough to get to work at IC and Cornell
            — train back from Ithaca through Cortland to Syracuse after that for Ithacans going to Syracuse
            — train back from Syracuse to Ithaca before 5 PM for Ithacans returning from Syracuse
            — train back from Ithaca through Cortland to Syracuse leaving after work at IC and Cornell
            — evening train from Syracuse back to Ithaca
            — late evening train from Ithaca back to Syracuse

            (Theoretically could all be done with one trainset…)

            This isn’t Alon’s 30 minute service of course. But Switzerland provides 30 minute service to smaller places than Ithaca.

    • Nathanael

      The Ithaca station *definitely* needs to be near “B lot” at Cornell. That’s actually a very good location, within walking distance of all of Cornell, connects to the entire local bus network (especially the buses serving Cornell), and a bit under half of the Cornell staff who drive in currently park there. It’s a bit uphill from the former “East Ithaca” station.

      Nobody has ever found a fast way to get trains down the Ithaca hills. That’s OK. Don’t.

      If you routed through the former East Ithaca station and out the other route which used to go there, you can switch lines at Caroline to the former DL&W route and end up in Owego. It’s a great route, but unfortunately housing has been built on part of the line from East Ithaca to the southeast.

    • Nathanael

      The Ithaca station definitely needs to be near “B Lot” at Cornell, a bit above the East Ithaca station location. It already has intensive bus service since it’s one of the two park-and-ride lots for Cornell (very few Cornell employees get to park near their offices, only the full professors mostly — everyone else has to park in “A lot” or “B lot” and take the bus, or walk, from there). It’s actually a good location.

      It used to be possible to exit the East Ithaca station heading southeast. Some housing has been built on the route, annoyingly. But if that was restored, trains could run through from Ithaca, change to the former DL&W route around Brooktondale, and continue to Owego.

      Adirondacker doesn’t know shit about Ithaca and shouldn’t pretend that he does.

  12. Gok (@Gok)

    NY-Albany in 60 minutes would be very hard without first completely changing how trains run through Manhattan. Today the Empire Service takes 34 minutes just to get between Penn Station and Yonkers, which is less than 25km.

  13. John Brahaney

    In thinking Chicago, they need to consider the former Erie westward from Binghamton. Most of the Right of Way is still there, but underutilized, which would benefit cooperation, rather than dealing with CSX along the Water level. I know the larger cities are Rochester and Syracuse, but if the target is Chicago, it would be easier to go where the route is leanest. Plus, the communities of the Southern Tier would embrace the idea quickly. If it was good enough for the Erie, it should work now. Just my two cents as a railroader.

    • Alon Levy

      For Chicago service, there should just be greenfield HSR to Buffalo, meeting the NY-Toronto line with a timed transfer.

      Corning-Rochester and Corning-Jamestown could both be good additions, yeah. But it’s a really hilly area so you probably don’t want the high-speed line going through there – it’d require a lot of tunneling that are not necessary farther north.

      • Nilo

        Are you still for tunneling from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to get to Cleveland for HSR?

        • Alon Levy

          Yes. NY-Pittsburgh and Philly-Pittsburgh-Cleveland-Detroit are both strong markets, in addition to the fact that NY-Cleveland via the NYC route is 4:00 and 3:15 via the PRR route.

          • Onux

            NY-Pitt should go viaBaltimore-DC, with the tunneled route starting at Hagerstown not west of Harrisburg (rough locations for reference, not actual portals). A DC route would only be about 60mi/100km longer, or 0:25 added travel time. In exchange you give the 9m people in DC and Baltimore access to the midwest (while losing 1m in Lancaster/Harrisburg), and you do it for ~60mi/100km less new construction (because Phila-DC will be HSR already, while Harrisburg-Phila doesn’t need HSR for Keystone) and about 10mi less mountain tunneling (by crossing the narrowest part of the Appalachians).

            Plus you keep express train slots on the NEC from DC to NY, always be the largest market, instead of having them turn off at Phila. Finally, this puts DC at ~1:30 to Pitt. and 2:15 to Cleveland (instead of ~2:45 and 3:30 by backtracking to Phila.) which vastly increases travel on those markets. I’m not certain that gains from DC-Pitt/Phila/beyond would be significantly larger than losses from a slightly longer NY/Phila-Cleve travel time, but even if passengers are even, the cost savings from the shorter construction distance should win out.

          • adirondacker12800

            In nice round numbers there are ten million people in Washington and Baltimore or ten million in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Going through Hagerstown gets Hagerstown with a metro area of quarter of million. And Hagerstown is along the way. Going through Harrisburg gets metro Harrisburg with half a million and Lancaster with half a million. Philadelphia and New York are along the way. I suspect people in Detroit, Ohio and Pittsburgh have more reasons to go to Philadelphia, New York and Boston than they do to get to Washington or Baltimore. And more reasons to go to Harrisburg, Lancaster, Trenton, Hartford, Providence, Newark… than they do to get to Hagerstown.

          • Onux

            People in the Midwest do not have more reason to go to Boston et al than DC-Balt, because DC-Balt is bigger than all those N England cities combined. It’s the same size as those three states together, but that is a false equivalence, I could as easily and cite the population of Maryland and Virginia combined and the DC routing still comes out ahead. Plus DC is the capital, while Bos is N Eng focused.

            In any event, HSR from the Midwest to Boston via NY will never perform well compared to flying, it’s too far. DC, in addition to being bigger than Boston, is at a perfect distance form Pitt/Cleve for HSR. A Cleve-Buff-Albany-Bos route might be better, but that isn’t being discussed (plus leaves out Pitt, Phila, NY, etc.)

            A DC routing doesn’t preclude service to Phil/NY. Time added is slight. Phila in 3 hrs and NY under 4 to Cleve is useful. A Harrisburg routing by contrast kills DC to Midwest HSR. The eastern seaboard isn’t N-S, it’s NE-SW. DC is significantly west of Phila, and closer to Pitt than Phila. Making 10M people in DC-Balt add over an hour by going NE before going W is far worse than making 6M in Phila add less than 30 min going SW instead of W.

            The next census will likely show DC-Balt to be the third largest “city”, bypassing Chicago. Would you design any Midwest HSR that didn’t center on Chicago? A trans-Appalachian HSR that doesn’t link to DC is equally flawed. DC-Cleve is almost the same distance as Chi-Cleve. Phila-Cleve is 16% farther to reach 40% fewer people. NY can go through either. Which will perform better?

          • Matthew Hutton

            Chicago to New York is only 30 miles/50km longer than Beijing to Shanghai. And Beijing to Shanghai is doable by high speed rail in 4h18. So Chicago to New York should be doable in under 4h30 with current technology.

          • Onux

            Yes, but Beijing-Shanghai is flat. To get a similar NY-Chi distance you need to go due west from NY, approximating I-80. This means traversing ~275mi of the Appalachians and the Allegheny Plateau. The tunneling involved would be much more expensive, you would miss Phila, DC, & Pittsburgh, and you still might not get the same travel time since as Alon noted even the Swiss network doesn’t get 350kph speed through the Alps with base tunnels.

            The DC-Pitt, or even Harrisburg-Pitt, routes only cross 150-175mi of mountains and rugged terrain, lowering cost and picking up millions of people along the way, but at the cost of making NY-Chi longer than Beijing-Shanghai.

          • adirondacker12800

            They let people in the suburbs use the train station in the city. Just like they let them use the airport. Or marine terminals. Or the Pittsburgh funiculars.

            Except for Maine New England states are small. And densely populated. There are 373,814 people in Massachusetts not in the Boston metro area or the Springfield metro area. Everyone in Rhode Island is in the Providence MSA which is part of the Boston CSA. All of Connecticut is in the Hartford CSA or the New York City CSA.There’s ten million people in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island that will be close to a train station. Virginia not so much. Ten million people in Washington and Baltimore is very very generous.

            There’s more people in New Jersey than there are in Virginia. People in Detroit and Ohio have more reasons to go to New Jersey than they do to go to Virginia. There’s almost as many people in New York City as there are in Virginia. People in Ohio and Detroit have roughly twice as many reasons to go to New Jersey and New York City as they do to go to Virginia. It’s 376 miles from Cleveland to Baltimore. Or 402 through Harrisburg. Instead of making everybody who isn’t going to Washington D.C. have a longer trip, people who want to go to Washington D.C. can have a slightly longer trip.

      • adirondacker12800

        why wouldn’t the train just continue on to Boston? You could make them change trains again in Albany and for a third time in Springfield.

          • adirondacker12800

            If I want to get from Cleveland to Albany why do I care where the train from Toronto to New York stops in Buffalo? If TO-NY train stops in Buffalo at all.

          • Alon Levy

            Because you need the intermediate markets? Cleveland-and-points-west to Rochester-and-points-east isn’t an amazing market – you get Chicago-Rochester in 3:30, Boston-Cleveland in 4:15, and Chicago-Albany in 5:00, and I don’t think combined they get much frequency.

          • adirondacker12800

            You get 11 million people in Ohio finding some reason to go to Erie PA and Upstate New York. Without passing through customs and immigration. They can go to Syracuse and take the 25 passenger bus to Ithaca. Since the quarter of million people in metro Erie will be along side the tracks they won’t even have to take a bus to an HSR station. Unlike the quarter of a million in Binghamton.

  14. John Brahaney

    In thinking Chicago, they need to consider the former Erie westward from Binghamton. Most of the Right of Way is still there, but underutilized, which would benefit cooperation, rather than dealing with CSX along the Water level. I know the larger cities are Rochester and Syracuse, but if the target is Chicago, it would be easier to go where the route is leanest. Plus, the communities of the Southern Tier would embrace the idea quickly. If it was good enough for the Erie, it should work now. Just my two cents as a railroader. In truth, you could have both routes. No reason to think small.

    • Nathanael

      Again, the big problem is that the Erie and DL&W routes are twisty as hell, due to following very twisty rivers. Basically to get decent speed you’d need to do a lot of greenfield construction, and it’s all hills, so it means a lot of tunnelling and bridging. Given that the population centers are also on the Erie Canal Corridor, it makes a ton more sense to follow the Erie Canal route.

      (East) Ithaca to Cortland to Syracuse is pretty flat and can be straightened out pretty easily; so can Ithaca to Owego, or if you must, Cortland to Binghamton. Binghamton-Scranton has already had the fast straight route built (by the Erie Lackawanna), and Scranton is a big city, and already wants and deserves service from Scranton to NYC, for which there is already a plan and the land is already owned. So that all makes sense.

      West of Binghamton on the Susquehanna corridor the population starts thinning out fast. Yes, Owego, Elmira, Corning are all big enough for service, but west of Corning, the cities start getting REALLY small — and the route is still hilly and twisty. The next city worth serving is Jamestown (or Geneseo if you head northwest) and it’s not worth going through the empty space.

      I do have another thought on the Erie Canal Corridor. If true high speed service is built from Syracuse to Rochester, it makes a ton of sense to reconstruct lower-speed passenger service along the approximate path of the “Auburn Branch” not just from Syracuse to Auburn but also to Seneca Falls and Geneva; they’re tourist destinations.

  15. adirondacker12800

    Same percentage of people get up and go to work every day. There aren’t a lot of people in Cortland county commuting to Tompkins county because there aren’t a lot of people in Cortland county. And if they were commuting to Tompkins county they wouldn’t be in their own micropolitian area they would be in Tompkin county’s metro area. More housing gets built in Ithaca city or town they won’t be commuting from Cortland.

    • Nathanael

      Ithaca keeps expanding its job count, Adirondacker. We’re actually GROWING, unlike every other urban area in upstate NY. You seem to be forgetting that. There will be more people living in the City of Ithaca *and* more people commuting from Cortland — that’s the situation.

      Cornell expands, IC expands, weird tech companies with connections to Cornell keep being established. Even tourism expands. We even have expanding food manufacturing (of boutique organic products, naturally).

      • Nathanael

        Apologies to Ben, I notice that Saratoga is also growing. 🙂

        There are policy differences in Ithaca, though. While Saratoga has, as Ben says “old schoold country club Republicans”, Ithaca has pro-density, anti-car Democrats. There’s a reason we have such a high car-free household rate (including *the mayor*), and it’s not *just* the enormous number of college students — though that helps. It makes Ithaca a really fertile place for intercity rail service.

        And it’s OK — actually desirable — if the station is on the Cornell campus. Two of the old stations were in the West End west of downtown in the flood plain, but that’s not actually a good location; it’s been a traffic nightmare since the Flood Control Channel was built, and it’s really third-rate in Ithaca’s economic geography. The economic center of the city is Cornell (with IC and downtown as secondary areas).

        There are very frequent buses from Cornell to downtown (as well as within Cornell and from downtown to IC), and the city has a funded plan to make the buses all electric. Cornell has slowly expanded to the point where “B Lot” (on the former route to Cortland) has gigantic Ag School buildings surrounding it. Many people could walk to work or to events on the Cornell campus, or indeed to the Statler Hotel on the Cornell campus, from a “B Lot” station — it’s a *good* location and in many ways much better than the old West End station locations.

        It’s not downtown but there is no way to get a station in downtown proper by the Commons; the only train service that ever was downtown was for streetcars. A bus shuttle from B Lot to downtown is better than a bus shuttle from the West End, because more stuff is walkable from B lot — there is already more bus service from B Lot to downtown than from the West End to downtown.

        Also, of course, there’s already a huge parking lot at B Lot for anyone who is driving to take the train (though if train service gets really popular they might have to put up a garage). And there will be plenty of people who do this; this is also a town full of Nissan Leaf drivers who are driving electric cars which don’t have the range to leave town.

        I haven’t been in a position to do serious advocacy for intercity rail service to Ithaca. But it’s quite clear that the route should go from Ithaca to Cortland, mostly along the old route, and that the station should be at B Lot at Cornell.

  16. Russell.FL

    I wonder how they’ll be able to electrify NYC to Albany. More specifically, how they could electrify NY-Albany with anything less than 3 electricity modes. Penn Station has the LIRR DC third rail and the 12 kV/25 Hz overhead lines. Metro-North has the under-running third rail. You’d have to do catenary from Croton to Albany in order to get speeds up to 150 mph, most likely that would have to be at the modern standard 25 kV/60 hz. I can’t imagine they’d build a brand new 12.5 kv/25 Hz system for upstate New York. So then you’d have to have a high-speed trainset that would need to operate at 3 systems: Upstate 25 kV/60 hz, Metro-North under-running 3rd rail, and either LIRR over-running third rail or 12 kV/25 Hz. So that’s three systems, regardless of the system you choose for Penn Station. And I don’t think you’ll ever get the Metro-North section to change from 3rd rail to a catenary system, notwithstanding the difficulties you’ll get putting catenary up on the Hudson line right next to the Hudson River north of Croton. You’re talking about an epic NIMBY fight right there.

    • adirondacker12800

      Catenary would blend into the poles and pylons already over or along the Hudson line.

    • Benjamin Turon

      I don’t see an issue with the third rail or overhead in Penn Station. The Acela takes power from three difference AC currents, and the TGV trainsets can take power from several different AC and DC currents. The BR Class 373 Eurostar trainsets can take more from three currents, including overhead AC and DC, and third rail DC. The Acela trainsets can take overhead power from three different AC currents, and Metro-North’s New Haven service runs from overhead AC on the NEC and third rail DC into Grand Central.

      Electrifying the Hudson line north of Croton-Harmon shouldn’t be any more difficult than the electrification New Haven-Boston. However your not gong to get 160-mph speeds on the 1850s line. With minor track realignment, super elevation of curves, and use of tilt you can get higher speeds, including more 90-110-mph running north of Beacon, and with grade-separation of several croosing 125-mph for the last 15 miles into Rensselaer.

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