Home MTA Economics Getting a better return on the Stewart Airport connection

Getting a better return on the Stewart Airport connection

by Benjamin Kabak

Every few months, the plan for a one-seat Metro-North ride from Manhattan to the Stewart International Airport in Newburgh rears its ugly head. At the end of last week, the MTA, at the behest of Senator Chuck Schumer, committed $2.7 million to study a possible Stewart Airport rail link. The Port Authority will contribute the same amount to the study.

While some commenters here in August noted that the Port Authority, operators of the airport, would be paying for the rail connection, that the MTA is now doling out money just to study the issue is a bad sign. Meanwhile, in my opinion, the region’s transportation agencies and the state’s political leaders are approaching the airport and its potential passengers through the wrong lens.

The Poughkeepsie Journal reported on the upcoming jointly-funded $5.4-million study:

Schumer said funding has been slow in coming but that the MTA’s allocation of the remaining $2.7 million needed to jump-start the study avoids the need to wait for a federal appropriation from the 2009 fiscal year. Instead of waiting until 2009, he said, the study can begin in the next few months…

“This is the moment when talk turns to action,” Schumer told a group gathered at the airport. He estimated the alternative study and the following environmental impact study would be done by late 2010. “It means the project can begin this summer,” Schumer said. “It’s also going to help us bring more air service.”

Peter Cannito, president of Metro-North railroad, said the study is broader than just rail access to Stewart Airport. He said the study, called the West of Hudson Regional Transit Access Study, will include upgrades to the Port Jervis line that runs through Orange and Rockland Counties to reduce the travel time into New York City.

This study will also include looking at all means of getting to and from Stewart, including ferries and buses to Beacon’s Metro-North station.

I’m all in favor of extending commuter rail service into parts of the state that don’t have it but only if the areas could really use it. I’m not at all in favor of spending billions of dollars to build a one-seat ride to Stewart Airport at the expense of other, more vital projects that would have a more immediate impact on the Metropolitan Area.

As I wrote in September, the idea of a one-seat ride from Manhattan to Stewart is simply misguided. “It right now takes an hour and a half on Metro-North/NJ Transit to reach the Salisbury Mills stop from Penn Station,” I wrote. “Considering that it would take another train ride to get to the airport and airlines are asking people to get there 90 minutes earlier, travelers would have to begin their journeys up to four hours before their scheduled departure time.”

But that’s not to say that an expansion of service at Stewart would not be useful. Rather, the Port Authority should figure out how to make Stewart transit-accessible so that it siphons Westchester and Northern New Jersey travelers away from the city’s three major airports. If the Port Authority can beef up Stewart service so that travelers north and west of the city avoid the endless commutes to JFK, LaGuardia or Newark Liberty Airports, Schumer could realize his goals of cutting down air traffic congestion from those three airports while providing travelers with a viable alternate airport.

In the end, the $2.7 million are relatively small beans for the MTA. But what if the study recommends a Metro-North line to the airport. While I’m sure the Port Authority and state will elect to bear some of the costs, as we’ve seen with the 7 line extension, “some” never equates to “all,” and the MTA is bound to be at least partially on the hook for a project that simply isn’t worth it.

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Peter May 13, 2008 - 8:21 am

Stewart would doubtless serve the northern and western suburbs of NYC more efficiently than the 3 existing airports, but if overcrowding at JFK, LGA & EWR is the problem that needs to most quickly be resolved, Long Island’s MacArthur airport – an hour away from NY Penn Station by existing LIRR Express service and separated from the Ronkonkoma Station by only a chainlink fence – is a vastly simpler more expeditious solution.

Airlines could open check-in and ticketing facilities at NYP, and passengers could ride aboard Airline-sponsored Express trains stopping in Jamaica & Mineola, and then be picked up directly from the train by shuttles that would pull up at track level and deliver pasengers directly to their airplanes.

The Stewart plan will require numerous redundant studies and reports, acquisition of private property for a portions of the new rail right-of-way, a massive cross-Hudson bridge or tunnel, a new bureaucracy and untold billions of dollars of financing, bonds, loans and inevitable financial boondoglery, all performed with Other People’s Money. Naturally policiticans and the Financial Industry find this alternative far more attractive, which is why a simple MacArthur Airport alternative is not only unlikely, it wont even be mentioned much less discussed as an option.

Alfred Beech May 13, 2008 - 8:57 am

I’m all for adding rail connections to airports, but I think connections to closer airports should be done first.

I vote for a rail link to LaGuardia first. Getting there from my house in Bushwick requires a subway and two bus transfers over an hour and 15 minutes.

After that, I’d vote for Islip, which is, as your commenters from the last article pointed out, right next to the the LIRR’s Ronkonloma line. Unfortunately, the terminal is on the opposite side of the property, so you either have to pay a $5 shuttle charge, or take a scenic hour walk (don’t ask) around airport property. It’s about an hour from Penn Station to Islip, and I’d think the one-seat ride would be an attractive alternative to a subway ride with a transfer to the air train.

Only then would I be in favor of a rail connector at Stewart.

AlexB May 13, 2008 - 12:58 pm

New York area airport capacity is an interesting conundrum. No one is proposing anything on the scale of another JFK, or even another La Guardia. From what I understand, Stewart Airport’s full capacity is about a tenth of JFK’s. It would barely relieve the congestion we have now, let alone the congestion years from now that would exist after a rail link is built and additional runways and terminals are constructed. If there is not going to be another JFK anytime soon, it seems that the Port Authority should be investing not just in Stewart, but in Islip and Teterboro as well. As a fanciful idea, with a relatively minimal amount of investment, Amtrak could run some sort of “air train” connecting JFK, Newark, Trenton’s Airport and Philadelphia’s airport that would be less than 2 hours from JFK to Philly’s airport.

Marc Shepherd May 13, 2008 - 2:52 pm

The trouble with NYC’s airports is that they’re out of land upon which to expand. The only way to relieve capacity constraints is to get people to use secondary airports, like Stewart and Macarthur. That these airports will never be attractive alternatives for people in the city, but they could siphon people who live west of the Hudson or on Long Island away from the big three airports.

The LaGuardia airlink was deep-sixed by NIMBYs. I agree that it ought in principle to be exhumed, but at this point the MTA is struggling to complete projects already in progress, so I don’t see it happening anytime soon. Anyhow, a train connection LaGuardia would do nothing to ameliorate airport capacity constraints.

Alon Levy May 13, 2008 - 7:02 pm

If Amtrak invests in a national high-speed rail network, that’ll siphon people away from the airports too.

rh May 14, 2008 - 9:56 am

Beacon’s Metro North station is about 15 minutes from Stewart. Why don’t they just work hook up a connecting bus service to Stewart?

Marc Shepherd May 14, 2008 - 12:25 pm

If Amtrak invests in a national high-speed rail network, that’ll siphon people away from the airports too.

Amtrak has no source of capital with which to do so.

Beacon’s Metro North station is about 15 minutes from Stewart. Why don’t they just work hook up a connecting bus service to Stewart?

I think the problem is that without network improvements, rail service to Beacon would be too slow to be an attractive alternative.

Alon Levy May 15, 2008 - 5:32 am

Amtrak has no source of capital with which to do so.

Then maybe it’s time to give it one.

Snake Pliskin May 20, 2008 - 11:07 am

There is a bus that runs from Beacon to Stewart operated by Leprechaun lines, admittedly not a proper solution.
Stewart will alleivate some congestion. No, it is not a panacea.
Orange County is among the most airport-dense in the U.S. Residents from choice. Indeed, an FAA-sponsored study (Regional Air Service Demand Study – 2007, http://www.faa.gov/…/reg.....202007.pdf ) indicates that Stewart passengers often go to Westchester, LaGuardia and Newark.
Now, if it is to be a business airport, previous research has shown that a busy schedule with many choices is critical. However, Westchester has that market covered. Which is why PANYNJ is going the low-cost carrier route. This is a continuation of strategy developed by previous owner National Express Group. Unfortunately, domestic air travel is in a bit of a lull currently. But, eventually I believe the mantra “If you build it, they will come” will work out, apologies to Kevin Costner. As for the one-stop ride, it would be first be nice to have that at the major commercial airports that serve 100+million passengers per year before giving that the Stewart. The point is, Stewart is not intended to be an airport for Manhattan visitors. Maybe some, but the main aim is to siphon off traffic from surrounding counties in the mid-Hudson valley, northern NJ, westchester and possibly westernmost CT. That is the first goal. The FAA study mentioned says that the overwhelming majority of SWF users arrive their by automobile. Moreover, the most important factor of those surveyed was travel time to/from the airport. These people are driving. First, the authority needs to go after them.

Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog » Blog Archive » AirTran announcement should scuttle Stewart raillink plans June 16, 2008 - 2:11 pm

[…] to spend a few billion dollars on a raillink from Manhattan to Stewart Aiport. I’ve discussed the folly of this plan before, and a recent announcement by AirTran should drive yet another nail into this idea’s […]


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