NY DOT looking at five options to speed up rail travel

Mar 6, 2014

New York state transportation planners have opened the discussion about the best way to speed up train travel through upstate New York.

Passenger trains running between Buffalo and New York City right now run at about 50 miles per hour and are often slowed more by competing freight train traffic.

There are five plans state Department of Transportation officials have presented this week to the public on how to improve on that. They would increase the speed trains run to a range of 90 to even 125 miles per hour, which would shave two hours off a train ride from Syracuse to New York City.

Reaching the top speed would require an entirely new rail corridor to be built, though. And the faster the speed, the higher the costs, says DOT spokesman Beau Duffy. But he says faster rail travel is also better for the economy.

"When you reduce travel times, when you can make it convenient for business people to take the train from Syracuse to New York City in as much or less time as it would take to drive, you’re creating the ability for there to be more interaction," he said at a public hearing in Syracuse Wednesday evening.

People attending the information session and public hearing liked the idea of faster rail travel, but there was some doubt about the practicality of the bigger upgrade ideas.

"The one thing is a lot of the right of ways that would have to be acquired for building new tracks," said Paul Harris, of Syracuse. "It seems like it could take a long time – years and years – to really finalize that and possible court cases, things of that nature."

It's expected that the faster rail travel becomes along the Empire Corridor, the more people will ride the train.

"The more convenient you make travel by rail, the more people will ride it," Duffy said. "It’s something that’s readily accepted in the transportation community; it’s something that’s based on evidence."

The state received a few hundred million dollars in federal money for the study and smaller upgrades to the rail network, like new signals through the Syracuse area.

The transportation department is a ways away from new rail being laid down, Duffy said. Several studies need to be done and then funding secured. He says the benefits are worth the wait though.