Home Asides AirTran announcement should scuttle Stewart raillink plans

AirTran announcement should scuttle Stewart raillink plans

by Benjamin Kabak

For some reason, the cash-strapped MTA wants 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 coffin. Last week, AirTran, one of the two biggest carriers out of the Hudson Valley airport, announced plans to end service to Stewart Airport. Stewart becomes another in the long line of smaller regional airports that are too far from urban centers seeing a decrease in flight options, and the plans for a raillink to this airport should probably be frozen now as well.

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Alfred Beech June 16, 2008 - 3:37 pm

Skybus was also flying to Stewart until April, but also went belly-up due to fuel prices. Notice that the airport quotes their passenger counts from March to March. Could that be to maximize the amount of time that Jet Blue, Air Tran and Skybus were all flying?

I’m not in favor of a new rail connection to Stewart, but it’s a shame that this period of airline contraction will probably nix other, more needed, rail-airport connectors as well.

Christine June 17, 2008 - 12:17 pm

I think this blog is wonderful source of transit related information. However, your bias (if that is correct word) toward the five boroughs is often short-sighted. As the city becomes more and more congested and expensive, the entire region must be equiped to handle the “overflow.”

The recent events at Stewart aside, this airport provides a viable transit alternative to help ease the (increasing, and dangerous) congestion from LGA, NWK and JFK. If that weren’t the case, the Port Authority would not be planning for investments there over the long term. A direct rail link would not only provide time and energy saving alternatives to reaching Stewart, but it would open up the entire Lower Hudson Valley to development all along the corridor that runs on both sides of the Hudson up to Stewart.

It’s a win-win situation in my mind.

Benjamin Kabak June 17, 2008 - 12:22 pm

As I’ve said time and again, I’m all in favor of encouraging the use of Stewart Airport. But any agency that invests over $1 billion in building a link from Manhattan to Stewart would be wasting their money. People aren’t going to tack on a 90-minute train ride to an already-hellish experience of using an airport.

You touch upon a better solution in your comment, and it’s one I’ve mentioned before. Stewart should be accessible to people who live in Westchester, the Hudson Valley and Northern Jersey. That way, the airport can siphon people away from the over-crowded conditions at LGA, EWR and JFK. If the regions’ expanding as you accurately say it is, then focusing on a centralized Manhattan starting point is folly as well.

Alon Levy June 17, 2008 - 3:35 pm

it would open up the entire Lower Hudson Valley to development all along the corridor that runs on both sides of the Hudson up to Stewart.

That’s exactly the problem. Sprawl is sprawl regardless of how you call it. The additional residents along the east side of the Hudson might commute to Manhattan by train, but they’ll live in large, detached houses, which require more energy to heat, and run errands using cars, consuming more gas and increasing pollution and carbon emissions. The additional businesses will come with ample free parking as per zoning laws, and have most of their workers and customers arrive by car, as the rail links will be inconvenient to anyone who doesn’t live on the Hudson Line.

On the west side of the Hudson it’ll be even worse. There’s a railroad running down to Hoboken, but it’s not used for passenger service. Even if it is, the connection to New York City and even most of Bergen and Hudson Counties will remain difficult, so even more trips will involve cars.

A better solution than expanding Stewart is to draw traffic away from the three airports through high-speed rail. At the speeds proposed for the California high-speed rail project, a train can get from Penn Station to Chicago Union Station in four and a half hours, which is quite competitive with airlines, considering that the train stations are located right at their cities’ centers, and that trains require about an hour less for check-in and security.

Cap'n Transit June 18, 2008 - 12:09 am

The picture isn’t quite as discouraging as Alon paints it. Earlier this month Ned Sullivan, head of Scenic Hudson, wrote:

The new land rush is about residential projects. Development on the Hudson can be good, but it’s got to represent “smart growth” that complements rather than damages this great resource.

This means concentrating development in city and town centers, ideally within a half-mile of train and bus stations so people can walk and bicycle for many of their trips and use public transportation if they have to commute to their jobs or other distant destination. This is a major new thrust of Metro-North, working in partnership with the Paterson administration, and Scenic Hudson is supporting this.

Also, I have hopes for revived West Shore Line service.

You would definitely be justified in feeling skeptical, and overall, I agree that the money for the Stewart rail link would be much better spent on connecting these air passengers to other airports or wherever their final destinations may take them. For that reason, I’ve added the $600,000,000 project to my Spreadsheet o’Boondoggles.

Alon Levy June 18, 2008 - 1:42 pm

I think a lot of smart growthers think that if you build more walkable neighborhoods, people will forego car use. This is unlikely. The amount of investment required to make trains competitive with cars for suburb-to-suburb travel is vast. The amount of investment needed to make trains competitive with cars for day-to-day intra-suburb travel is even vaster. At current American levels of investment, expanded service will mean more residents living away from city centers, and hence more sprawl and more environemental damage.


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