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New York Rail Infrastructure: Past & Present

posted Mar 10, 2009, 9:34 AM by John Kavanagh   [ updated Mar 11, 2009, 5:27 AM ]
Yesterday brought good news for passenger rail service in New York State: Governor Patterson seems well prepared to spend Federal Stimulus for High-Speed Rail Corridors on high speed rail from New York City to Buffalo with the 2009 New York State Rail Plan.

That should get New York towards the front of the line for the initial $8 billion in rail spending found in the Recovery Act.  This is a smart element of the stimulus since it will enhance an inadequate and dilapidated part of our local and national transportation infrastructure.

Specifically, the Governor is pushing for a third rail line along of the existing New York Central corridor that runs from Albany to Buffalo. 

The Plan includes a Third Track Initiative, which aims to establish a dedicated third track for high speed passenger rail service across Upstate from Niagara Falls to Albany with a potential for reducing the travel time by 2 hours or more;

How unfortunate and ironic that the New York Central Railroad had four tracks running Albany to Buffalo, as of March 26, 1882!

For many decades, the former New York Central Railroad Water Level Route from Albant to Buffalo was a four-track speedway carrying passenger and freight trains along express and local tracks.

Furthermore, New York's congressional delegation is pushing to:

Move this project forward with the goal to use the existing rail corridor and hit initial top speeds of 110 miles per hour.

This is a good 21st century objective. However, it is bitter sweet to recognize that back in the Steam Age, New York Central's No. 999 set the then world's land speed record of over 100 miles per hour pulling a four car train on May 10, 1893 on a run near Batavia, NY.

So how did New York's remarkable achievements in rail transport fade so significantly that we're playing catch-up over a century later? Consumer choice, specifically the rise of the age of the automobile and the great independence that the car gave many Americans played a part.

Significant federal subsidies for roads and highways, starting with the landmark National Interstate and Defense Highways Act tipped the scales for automobile transport.

However, New York's penchant to tax also rolled back the advance of rail transport in the State. According to New York's own 2009 Rail Plan:

Starting in the 1960s, the New York Central [began] strategically removing track infrastructure ... to lessen the railroad's real property tax liabilities.

Hopefully, from now on, New York State, and government in general, can attract investment in efficient modes of transportation, instead of marginalizing them with skewed subsidization and counter-productive taxation.