An updated vision for high-speed rail

amtrack high-speed train concept

But those are some sleek trains...

Amtrak has released an updated version of its aspirations for high-speed rail along the Northeast Corridor. The short story: the new set of goals streamlines the plan, it's still expensive ($151 billion), and high-speed rail is still decades away. Transportation nation has a digest of the report.

The Empire Corridor doesn't figure into this plan. And despite whatever strong potential there might be for high-speed rail in the Hudson Valley, seeing Amtrak peg a target date for high-speed service along the Boston-NYC-DC corridor somewhere in the 2030-2040 range puts the chances of Albany-NYC service in perspective.

That said, it doesn't have to be 220 mph or nothing. There are a lot of improvements that could potentially speed up, and smooth out, Empire Corridor service (examples: reducing bottlenecks, upgrading crossings). Higher-speed rail (say, 110 mph) should be a reasonable expectation. And people would ride it -- the Albany-Rensselaer station was the 9th busiest Amtrak station in the country last year. Getting faster service along the Hudson Valley, plus high-speed service along the Northeast Corridor, could make rail travel from here to places like Philadelphia and DC a lot more attractive.

image: Amtrak


You know, I was always a proponent of high speed rail. It seemed like a good idea and the best way to connect distant cities in this giant country of ours.

Now I'm much more ambivalent about it. Do we really want to hasten the Europization of the North American continent? By that I mean: crowded, expensive, over-regulated?

I *like* that there are vast swaths of the US that are completely unsettled, rural and very difficult to get to. I think we need to really consider preserving the "frontier" character of our country and not rush so quickly to a USA that resembles a larger version of France or England.

Didn't they just a few months ago scrap the rusted hulks of the unused trains from the last high-speed rail debacle? And now we're going to try again?

In the case of Boston, I'd settle for even regular-speed rail. Because of track-use restrictions, it takes hours longer to take the train from Albany to Boston than it does to drive there, which is a tremendous shame.

Yes they just scraped millions of dollars of rotting high speed trains. Sure hope precious dollars are not wasted on this again. The tracks also can't support this type of product.

That's great, but doesn't do anything for the "Adirondacker", also known as the "Montrealer". There are speed restrictions north of Saratoga because it become a single rail. However, if I go to NYC twenty years from now, when I'm almost 60, I'll be awesome!

I am a big supporter of improving our rail system, it's such a great way to travel. There was no better way to introduce the husband to the beauty of the plains of Illinois than to sit in the food car in Amtrak's California Zepher with floor-to-ceiling windows for the ride from Chicago to my hometown. Not sure why that 3-hour trip costs $17 but the three hours from Albany to NYC starts at $40 and can run over $100 for the same distance.

I don't exactly how much the locals dig it, but I am in love with NJ Transit. It's a fabulous way to get around NJ. I love around cities like Philly how easy it is to get from the suburbs to city center via light rail. I know that's way different than things like the NE Cooridor, but it shows the many ways our rail systems can be used for good.

It takes nearly *8 hours* to get to Montreal via train. That's CRAZY. You can make the drive in less than four hours.

I've heard the train to Rutland is pretty bad too. Starting with the rickety 150 year old bridge over the hudson through terrible tracks north of Fort Edward.

> Do we really want to hasten the Europization of the North American
> continent? By that I mean: crowded, expensive, over-regulated?

Yes, of course, because driving is so eco-friendly and flying is so not crowded at all and not the most repulsive example of price-segmentation and customer-gouging ever. Makes sense.

The airline business is actually super price competitive and has razor-thin profit margins--the reason why airlines go bankrupt so often. The price you pay for a ticket is very, very close to the actual cash cost of flying you from A to B. It's one of the best examples of an efficient, consumer-friendly market I can think of, actually.

@bk: riiiggggght, rose-colored glasses much? A consumer-friendly market is not one where the price of a product can change dramatically depending on the day of the week, sometimes even the time of the day, or other variables set in place purely to capture market surplus. What airlines do is price discrimination 101, and there is no correlation between competitiveness and friendliness. Do you want to pay to go to the lavatories? Because that is discussed as a practice to remain "competitive" and lower the ticket price, and wow, this is soooooo consumer friendly indeed. Not mentioning being treated like a 12 year old in a confined space.

After a brief uneducated analysis, I've come to the conclusion that this is a terrible idea. Amtrak has had to be bailed out numerous times over the years but think that spending $150,000,000,000 on a new train set that's cooler and faster will suddenly encourage people to pay out the nose to go slightly faster on the ground. I'd rather they gave 150,000 charities $1 million (I think that math's right).

160 mph? NYC to Philly in under an hour? Okay, get your "ouuhhs" and "awwws" out of the way and start thinking about whether we really need this.

Yes, we need better rail service in the U.S.A (really, just better mass transit, period), but High-Speed Rail is just a flashy high-ticket item that won't truly serve our needs.

We need to begin investing in Light Rail, and soon. We need dependable and efficient means of inter-city transportation and we need it all over the place, not just in the super metro areas.

I live in Albany. I've been commuting to the airport for work for the past 6 years. Next month I'll need to start driving to exit 10 on the Northway. Anyone who's ever sat in I-87 commuter traffic knows how badly we need options. I personally think that connecting all the major points in the capital district via light rail is one of the smartest things we can do in this area.

I agree with Terrence. The region needs to get a light rail system. Seattle has one that runs from the SEA/TAC airport into downtown Seattle. It is wonderful. For $2.75 you can get into the heart of downtown instead of paying a $50 cab fare. Plus you can transfer to a bus if need be. They are now expanding their light rail through the Capitol Hill neighborhood up into the University District neighborhood!
Albany needs to get on board with this idea...I would love to see a light rail that takes you between Troy, Albany, and Schenectady.

@ Terrence & Elise - I commuted from Albany to Exit 18 for two years and it was brutal. I used to dream of train tracks up the center in the current green space. Light rail from Albany to Montreal plus connections between Schenectady/Albany/Troy with bus terminals at each drop-off point would really be amazing. If people truly want to develop the Capital Region, we need to forget wastes of money like convention centers and pump some cash into smartly designed infrastructure like public transportation.


Light rail is a long, long way off for the capital region. The examples you bring up, where it's been successful, are far far more dense than our metro region. The rule in mass transit - there needs to be mass. We simply don't have it. The commute times for suburban travel aren't long enough to warrant investment, nor is there any congestion to warrant the multimillion dollar investment from an ecological standpoint. Unless the region can shift priorities and focus development into a more compact pattern, light rail won't be feasible in the immediate future.

As an Albany NYC commuter, this would be fantastic.

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