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High-speed rail in New York has been a topic that is consistently discussed among legislators, political leaders and in particular, several past governors since the 1990s, but thus far little progress has been made. In his campaign speeches prior to his defeat by Governor George Pataki in 1994, Mario Cuomo promised to bring high speed (maglev) rail up the Hudson Valley and along the Catskill Mountains route.[1] It was not a priority for the subsequent administration.

Currently, Amtrak's Acela service between Washington, D.C., and Boston, Massachusetts, is available to New York City, but the cities in Upstate New York and Western New York remain isolated from high-speed rail service. Further, destinations outside the New York metropolitan area have experienced delayed service for decades. In some areas, New York State has been quietly endorsing and even implementing rail improvements for years.

Frequently cited as a partial solution for Upstate and Western New York's economic stagnation, faster rail transportation between New York City and the rest of the state has been suggested as a way to make rural areas grow into suburban destinations for daily commuters, and easily accessible for businesses to relocate to cheaper real estate. Many politicians also endorse closer ties with destinations in Canada.



An 1876 NYCRR map of the four track water level route

Rail travel in New York has its roots in the early 19th century. The New York Central water-level route roughly followed the path of the Erie Canal, with four tracks along much of the route. For many years the Twentieth Century Limited and Empire State Express services, to Chicago and Buffalo were amongst the fastest trains in the world, with average speeds topping 60 mph (97 km/h) and top speeds reportedly well over 100 mph (160 km/h). Rail travel largely stagnated in the post-World War II economic boom, as the New York Thruway was built, and then the rest of the highway transportation and suburban lifestyles burgeoned. Nonetheless, rail culture lived on in the New York metropolitan area. It was kept alive by the subway culture in New York City, as well as suburban routes on Long Island and the northern suburbs of the city. The Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad are the two largest commuter railroads in the United States. New Jersey Transit, which serves New Jersey commuters to Manhattan, Philadelphia, and points within New Jersey, is also a major player in the U.S. commuter rail market. Potential also exists for a high-speed rail line to Montreal, Quebec, Canada along existing train right of way.

Interest in updating the state's aging rail infrastructure was sparked in the early 1990s. In the late 1990s, ground was broken on a new rail station in Rensselaer, at the time reported as the ninth busiest station in the entire United States; federal funding was secured for the project. [2] In 2001, the state tested a newly rebuilt Turboliner RTL-III diesel locomotive capable of reaching 125 mph (201 km/h). [3] In 2004, the Turboliner rehabilitation project had a falling out between Amtrak and New York State and the contractor doing the rehab. After lawsuits were filled, a settlement was reached to liquidate the unfinished Turboliner project. In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, New York Governor George Pataki attempted to secure, among other things, a high-speed rail link to Schenectady using federal emergency aid money.[4 ]

Notably, federal planners identified New York State's Empire Corridor (Buffalo-Albany-New York City) as one of the best-suited for high-speed rail service. [5] In 2005, New York State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno expressed renewed interest in high-speed rail proposed research into high-speed rail development in New York State as part of a plan to boost Upstate New York's economy.[6 ]

Current plans

In 2009, The New York State Department of Transportation released a statewide rail plan, including a program of capital investments to increase passenger rail speed and reliability.[7 ] In October 2009, the state applied for funding for a number of these project from the  American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program. [8]

Issues in constructing high-speed rail lines in New York

The entire upstate network lacks electrification for conventional high-speed service. As an alternative to electrification, diesel-powered options such as the new JetTrain by Bombardier Transportation were considered, as well as refurbishing of the older Turboliner fleet, but both projects are either stalled or canceled.

Sections of the Hudson River route require straightening of the track route. Some portions, notably the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge over the Harlem River, are operating with only a single track.

Most sections of the routes north and west of Albany share track with freight trains. Third or fourth tracks would be necessary to ensure continuity of high velocities on the route.

While the metropolitan Erie Canal line has seen much interest in such a line, the rural areas of the Southern Tier, as well as the North Country, have largely been neglected; indeed, there is not even normal Amtrak service in these areas. These areas tend to be hillier and more mountainous than the current plans, and are thus not ideal for high-speed service.


Other proposals involve extensions of existing corridors or cooperation with agencies in other states or in Canada.

Montreal to New York City

On October 6, 2005, the Albany Times-Union reported that New York Governor George Pataki and Quebec Premier Jean Charest "called for the creation of high-speed rail service between Montreal and New York City as a way to boost the regional economy during the third Quebec-New York Economic Summit on Wednesday," October 4, 2005. The article claimed that New York was Quebec's main trading partner, which perhaps explains some of the interest in linking the two major cities.[9 ]

According to a report by the New York State Senate High Speed Rail Task Force, such a route would serve Plattsburgh via Albany.[10 ] Amtrak's Adirondack currently provides a passenger rail link between Montreal and New York City through Albany.

Buffalo to Toronto

New York State Assemblyman Sam Hoyt of Buffalo has been active in promoting high-speed cross-border rail service, pointing out that Toronto is a large metropolis nearby Western New York. Buffalo, the largest city on the U.S. side of the border in the region, plays host to many Canadian companies that do business in the United States. Toronto, on the other hand, is a major cultural center for many Western New Yorkers, and high-speed rail service has the potential to increase environmentally-friendly traffic and decrease congestion on the Peace Bridge.[11] The existing passenger rail link is served by Amtrak and VIA Rail.

Binghamton to New York City

Senator Charles Schumer and others have proposed passenger rail service from Binghamton, NY via Scranton, PA and the Lackawanna Cutoff in New Jersey to New York City. The right-of-way from Binghamton to Scranton and along the Lackawanna Cutoff are suitable for high-speed service, although the rest of the route isn't, so it has sometimes been proposed to make this service high-speed.

Other out-of-state connections

New high-speed routes through from Albany to Boston and Buffalo to Kansas City and/or Minneapolis through Cleveland are also proposed, most likely along the routes of current Amtrak services. Through service from Washington, D.C. to upstate New York via the Northeast Corridor is also proposed.[10 ] These services would require heavy cooperation with other states and the United States federal government. Many civic and business leaders in New England have recently shown interest in better service to New York City and Boston.[12][13]

See also


  1. ^ For New York, steel-wheel plus maglev is envisioned - New York State passenger rail upgrades Railway Age, Dec, 1993
  2. ^ "Governor Pataki Breaks Ground At New Rensselaer Rail Station." New York State press release: June 2, 1999.
  3. ^ "Governor Announces Successful 125 MPH Run Of NY's High Speed Train." New York State press release: February 23, 2001.
  4. ^ Haberman, Clyde. "Isn't Heartland Still Part of Homeland?" The New York Times: June 9, 2006
  5. ^, Federal Railroad Administration report; October 21, 2003
  6. ^ "Fast Trains in NY: Slashing Travel Time is Key to Accelerating Upstate Economy" by Joseph Bruno
  7. ^ New York State Rail Plan, 2009
  8. ^ NY State High Speed Rail Funding Application, 2009
  9. ^ a b See map at end of page: (loaded December 9, 2006)
  10. ^ "Opportunities for Cross-Border High Speed Rail." City of Toronto: October 22, 1999
  11. ^ Holhut, Randolph T. "Time To Put Some Real Money Into Rail Service,", May 9, 2006.
  12. ^ Pierce, Neil, et al. "N.E. states must pull together to re-link region with railroads," Telegraph of Nashua: June 4, 2006.

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