Home Capital Program 2015-2019 A brief thought on having no approach to transit funding

A brief thought on having no approach to transit funding

by Benjamin Kabak

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced $8 billion in state funding for the MTA’s capital plan a few months ago, the proclamation came with absolutely no details, and a follow-up agreement between the city and state to end their feud and fund the capital plan similarly contained no details. We had no idea how the state would generate the $8 billion in new funding Cuomo had pledged to the MTA, and in the intervening months, no additional details have emerged.

Will the money come from congestion pricing? (Unlikely.) Dedicated revenue sources? (I wouldn’t count on it.) Bonding? (Probably.) Either way, without tying the money into a source, Cuomo seemed to be promising a lot of dollars for downstate interests, and that, despite the economic realities of New York State, did not sit well with everyone else. Now the upstaters want their share. Is it a fair share or is just a money grab?

Here’s the story from Binghamton’s Press & Sun Bulletin:

New York will pay $8 billion over the next five years to fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, but upstate should have its own funding stream to fix roads and bridges, leaders testified Thursday.

Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks and county leaders urged lawmakers to create a similar fund that would put the rest of the state on par with the downstate region for infrastructure upgrades. “Upstate residents deserve parity to this downstate investment so that all New Yorkers benefit equitably,” Brooks told the Assembly Transportation Committee headed by Assemblyman David Gantt, D-Rochester.

Brooks, who is president of the state Association of Counties, said the state Department of Transportation has yet to release its five-year capital plan for road and bridge repair, leaving municipalities unsure what projects will get funded…For his part, Cuomo has vowed to get more infrastructure funding for upstate after the MTA deal was crafted between New York City and the state on Oct. 10.

The MTA, which provides transit services to the city and its suburbs, including the Hudson Valley, had a $9.8 billion funding gap for its five-year, $32 billion capital plan. The state will pick up the bulk of the tab, with the city and MTA funding the rest. Cuomo agreed that more infrastructure spending is needed in upstate. The concerns from Brooks and other leaders follow similar calls in recent months from upstate officials over the need to infuse cash into the upstate infrastructure. “They’re right,” Cuomo told reporters Nov. 18 in Rochester. “We always fund transportation needs all around the state. We need to fund them downstate, and we need to fund them upstate. There’s no doubt about that.”

This is a prime example of what happens when you promise money without identifying a funding source: Everyone wants a piece of the bottomless pie. With a rationalized transit funding policy, tied into revenue-generating schemes that promote transit and sensible transportation policies, it’s harder for everyone else to stick their hands in the state-sponsored cookie jar. That’s on Cuomo.

Anyway, here’s the question I pose to you: We can’t be surprised by the upstate request, but what does it mean to give them “parity,” as Brooks has requested? An $8 billion expenditure on upstate infrastructure would equate to something along the lines of $30 billion within NYC based on economic strength and impact on the state on the whole. (Tangentially, should we also consider the new Tappan Bridge an upstate project?) A policy of investing heavily in roads may be good in the short-term for upstate’s struggling economy but where does that leave New York on the whole? Ultimately, it should drive Cuomo to come up with a rational transit spending and funding program. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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Will December 4, 2015 - 11:16 am

Really, Parity!!. Upstate is in economic turmoil. Losing irs population. All they need is funding from local communities to repair thier roads and bridges

Tower18 December 4, 2015 - 12:06 pm

Let’s have parity on a per-capita or per-vehicle basis. Honestly if, say, the North Country had to spend $8 billion, I’m not even sure what they COULD spend it on. You could build a 6 lane highway from Plattsburgh to Watertown for approximately half that amount…and that would be almost useless.

AG December 4, 2015 - 3:53 pm

Probably The last thing they need is that big of a road. Politicians have to talk though. What’s politically incorrect – but probably the reality – upstate needs to look more like Ontario or Quebec. Consolidate most people in one or two major urban centers and depopulate the rest. Whatever is not functioning and productive farmland (which there is actually a good amount) should be reverted to wilderness. Bring back wolves and elk and let the moose population continue to grow. Tourists will pay a lot to see that. I would! Why should I have to go to Alongonquin Ontario or Yellowstone or Alaska to see those animals. I’d gladly spend it upstate if they existed – just like I buy upstate wine. Not likely to happen by policy – but if the economy keeps contracting as it has for 30 years – there may be no choice in another 30.

adirondacker12800 December 4, 2015 - 5:27 pm

They already are consolidated into metro areas. There’s big swaths of undeveloped land, the term usually used is “forever wild”, in the Adirondacks and Catskills. The people churning out all those agricultural and mineral resources need services, silly them wanting to buy food, go to the doctor etc. So do the people who serve the tourists coming to see the wild animals.

AG December 4, 2015 - 7:43 pm

Except the records show that upstate is sprawling more – even as the economy continues to stall or retract…
For a variety of reasons – Quebec and Ontario are in better shape than upstate NY.

But no – the ADK is not really a wilderness because there are too many small towns there. In contrast to Algonquin or a place in Alaska like Denali or Yellowstone. That said – Lake George and Lake Placid do need a population.

The Catskills continue to depopulate though. I was driving through Sullivan County this past summer and I could see what the census showed. Many farms were abandoned and reverting to forest.

adirondacker12800 December 4, 2015 - 9:57 pm

The Census Bureau estimates that Sullivan County’s population has dropped in the past few years. The estimate is higher than the actual count in 2000.

The economy isn’t going to be lousy forever, the people who put off retiring will someday. The retirees who die will be replaced with other ones.

The least densely populated county in New York, in nice round numbers is two times as densely populated as Alaska.

AG December 5, 2015 - 11:25 am

NYC lost population in the 70’s… Sullivan County is not NYC. There has been a fundamental shift going on in the Information Age/Knowledge Economy. It’s not just NY state.. It’s the whole country and the entire world. Economic activity is increasingly slowing in rural areas and concentrating in the urban environment. Retirees are NO WAY to build an economy… Ask Florida and Arizona what happens when you try that and there are no solid fundamentals underneath.

adirondacker12800 December 5, 2015 - 3:23 pm

yet Sullivan County’s population is higher now than it was in 2000.
Telecommuters, the epitome of the new New Economy, don’t need to live within a few miles of corporate.

AG December 5, 2015 - 6:20 pm

Telecommuting is VASTLY overstated… Even the tech companies who facilitate it require the VAST majority of their employees to cluster on campuses…
Most of the growth in Sullivan County are from religious groups that started in Brooklyn and slowly moved up to Rockland County – and then into the area around Monroe/Kiryas Joel in Orange County. Sullivan was the natural progression.
They are moving their for the land for the non-stop growth of their families. They run their own buses into and out of NYC each day. They are not going there because the economy in Sullivan County is good… They are moving there in spite of it…. Or even because of it.
Sullivan County is a beautiful place but it is depressed… It has been for at least a couple decades. Many would (locals) say it never recovered since the time of the setting of the film “Dirty Dancing”. I mean – going through Monticello reminds me of Harlem in the 80’s – minus the rubble.

adirondacker12800 December 5, 2015 - 10:18 pm

The Census and Walmart don’t care why you moved. Or who you are.

Nathanael December 4, 2015 - 10:16 pm

Upstate NY is complicated. Remember, it’s larger than England.

The dynamics are different in different areas. There is an established and ongoing sprawl problem in Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, which is dominating the numbers in the Brookings report. The mayors of all three cities are trying to fight it. Sprawl isn’t really a problem in the rest of upstate, though depopulation still is a problem.

AG December 5, 2015 - 11:29 am

Right but my point is that in those metro regions they are sprawling which is the opposite way the world is going.
As to the rest of upstate… As someone else noted… There are too many layers. Small farming – unless you are organic and have a high yield product is going away – just like manufacturing. In fact – the main reason Hudson Valley farms (and those in New Jersey) that ARE able to survive – they make a lot of their money getting city people to come out. A small farm in Greene county is a little too far. In fact – without the wine and hard cider and the like industries – NY farmland would have disappeared even more rapidly.

adirondacker12800 December 5, 2015 - 3:30 pm

Spend 30 seconds with Google.


Very few people go out to watch the silage harvest. Or get he urge to pick their own. Do you even know what silage is?

AG December 5, 2015 - 6:39 pm

Poor attempt at being clever… In any event “very few people”? Really??? You must be missing the agriculture trends in the Hudson Valley. Hudson Valley is the specific region I referred to when you read the comment.




Small farms disappearing in favor of big ones… Overall decrease in agricultural land… Increased diversification to “Agri-tourism”… Not sure how you have missed these trends. I could tell you from my own experiences talking to the farmers on my visits to Ulster – Orange – Dutchess… Of how they depend on people like me going up there on the weekends to buy their wine and produce. But let the actual researchers explain it in those writings above.

adirondacker12800 December 5, 2015 - 10:27 pm

I can spit at the Hudson River from my back porch.

Buffalo Gal December 4, 2015 - 5:32 pm

Go build the Syracuse-Montreal branch of the state 220mph high speed rail network, so I don’t have to transfer at Albany.

R2 December 4, 2015 - 12:17 pm

Parity???? How about: Upstate would be like Mississippi without the City of New York.

Nathanael December 4, 2015 - 10:16 pm

It really wouldn’t be. It would be like Ohio. 😛

Melinda December 4, 2015 - 12:30 pm

Parity? Exactly!! You know where that 8bil goes; right into their pockets!

AG December 4, 2015 - 3:06 pm

Well I think funding should take place relative to the economic input of the region. It should be that way on a federal level too – but that is obviously more complicated. Fixing roads upstate won’t help the failing economy – since that is not the problem – but as fellow citizens they do deserve “something”.
But nah – no way Tappan Zee is an upstate project. That’s firmly in the NYC metro area.

Nathanael December 4, 2015 - 10:19 pm

Agreed that Tappan Zee is strictly a NYC Metro Area project.

Tearing down I-81 would be an upstate project. Tearing down the Buffalo Skyway would be an upstate project. Tearing out the Inner Loop in Rochester *is* an upstate project which is actually happening.

Obviously, high speed rail from Albany-Syracuse-Rochester-Buffalo would be an upstate project, and I would really appreciate getting it funded ASAP.

Nathanael December 4, 2015 - 10:19 pm

(That’s tearing down I-81 within downtown Syracuse, for clarity.)

AG December 5, 2015 - 11:32 am

As to HSR I think it would be good to link the urban areas of the state. Though for HSR to happen – it would have to include Montreal and Toronto in that mix. Truly HSR would probably skip Syracuse as well.

AG December 5, 2015 - 11:35 am

and meaning that the ultimate goal of HSR would be to connect all of those to NYC

Bolwerk December 5, 2015 - 12:53 pm

Why skip the fifth(?) biggest city in the state?

AG December 5, 2015 - 6:08 pm

Too many stops means it’s not true HSR…. Really – it should be either/or Buffalo/Rochester.
Regional service is “being attempted” to be sped up along the Empire Corridor… https://www.dot.ny.gov/empire-corridor
This is nice – but it won’t be true HSR… Neither will “All Aboard Florida”.

HSR would ideally be NYC – Albany – Montreal… NYC – Albany – Rochester/Buffalo – Toronto

Bolwerk December 5, 2015 - 7:14 pm

If you have n stops, you can have n(n-1) stop pairs. Not every train needs to make stops at both stations in every possible pair.

Still, some very minor stations could even see daily service very economically with HSR, so it seems kind of crazy to completely skip a relatively major station.

AG December 6, 2015 - 8:51 am

“some very minor stations could even see daily service very economically with HSR”

Where is this true? Without operating subsidy – where does that exist in the world? Places with lower capital and operating costs at that… Those are also all countries where it is much more expensive and difficult to own and operate a car than it is here.
Yes there are lines that run both express and intermediate “slower” HSR. We would have trouble building a system that does one or the other – let alone both. HSR is only economically feasible when it is a premium service. Every other type requires subsidy. Is NYS or the Feds going to do so?
The best solution is let Amtrak and NYS do the upgrades to the Empire Corridor as they are planning. If someone in Syracuse really needs to get to NYC faster they can transfer in Albany. If they need to get to Toronto they can transfer at Buffalo/Rochester.

Bolwerk December 6, 2015 - 9:56 am

Where is it not done? I guess I don’t know much about East Asian rail, but it seems standard in Europe. Here are some krautistan examples: Uelzen (pop. ~35k), Riesa (~31k), Cuxhaven (~48k), Stendal (~40k). Many, many more stops are in cities with populations in the low six figures population range.

As far as I’m aware, HSR is almost never a premium service in Europe. Typically a ticket is sold based on distance, not speed. Seating density is more like NJT commuter rail than Amtrak coaches. The exceptions are special services like Thalys and the chunnel-traversing Eurostar.

I don’t think higher opex is a problem here. If you have a station already (we do), the cost to let some faster trains stop occasionally is very negligible.

AG December 6, 2015 - 10:13 am

Yes – but I addressed why (for political reasons) their lines are set up that way. But it is a “premium” compared to the regular rail lines. Only Paris to Lyon doesn’t require operating subsidy.

Well your last point was correct – but again – I was talking about an actual high speed dedicated line versus improving the existing Empire Corrido as is. Doesn’t matter. I just read the EIS – the two “real” high speed options were killed because they were deemed “too expensive”.


Bolwerk December 6, 2015 - 1:59 pm

There really isn’t anything “premium” about them, except maybe the initial investment and that they are often reserved for passengers only. Once one route is brought up to HSR standards, the next thing to do is to bring another route up, which results in positive network effects for extant lines.

I’m personally not too swayed about debates about profitability, and am not sure I can believe an NYC-Buffalo service could be profitable. However, since even badly run routes tend to be less costly than alternatives like highways and flights to minor cities, I don’t think that should stop anything. I don’t mean you, but the people who worry most about that tend to hold rail to completely different standards than they hold other modes. That said, AFAIK, profitable HSR was fairly normal until relatively recently throughout the continent, and what changed was the European Commission has embraced a policy of rapidly expanding HSR at the expense of traditional national railway routes, airlines, and and bus routes.

Buffalo to Syracuse is about ~150 miles, which is much greater than the stopping distances between many European HSR routes. Those can be as little as every 100km (~60 miles).

AG December 6, 2015 - 2:34 pm

The reason I bring up profitability is that all those European lines – minus Paris to Lyon are subsidized by their governments. That’s why they make all those stops. Their is no appetite for that in this country. I mean – just this past month the sales figures show gas guzzling SUV’s and trucks continue to gain market share here. Yet – Amtrak basically is being bled – let alone local transit.
That’s why all the HSR here that are proposed tout being able to cover all of their operating costs. Even Amtrak – who is trying to introduce HSR on the NEC is skipping intermediate stops in their plans because it’s basically a “waste”.

As to withing NYS – again – doesn’t matter… I noted on one of the other comments – the real HSR along the Empire Corridor was killed for being too expensive to build. The best option still on the table is 7 1/2 hours NYC – to Niagara Falls.


AG December 6, 2015 - 2:35 pm

sorry – that last link wasn’t meant for you

Bolwerk December 6, 2015 - 3:29 pm

I don’t know where you’re getting that. As of last year, SCNF’s HSR unit was ~€250M in the black, and I doubt that is only because of Paris-Lyon. It is true that they’ve overextended themselves, that their profitability has been dropping, and regional politics have probably created a situation where too many marginal stops are served.

I don’t see anything wrong with skipping a minor stop sometimes. But if the question is turning NYC-Buffalo or NYC-Toronto into an HSR network, you probably want 10 or so stop options and have individual high speed trains leaving at set times serve 4-6 of them. The stations and tracks even already exist, so it costs virtually nothing to let trains that pass through them stop at some of them – the only exception is when you can completely fill trains to Buffalo and/or Toronto with no capacity to spare! When that happens, you probably want a yield management system of some sort.

Alon Levy December 6, 2015 - 4:28 pm

Only Paris to Lyon doesn’t require operating subsidy.

This is painfully false, as can be seen by the profits that SNCF, DB, JR East, JR West, and JR Central make, and the near-profitability of RENFE. A few years ago, there was a ruckus about how 20% of the TGV services were losing money. You need to tilt your head more to see subsidies to these HSR systems than to see a tree out of an Old Law Manhattan apartment.

(What actually happens is that the government pays to build HSR lines in Europe, and then the profits are reinvested in the system, instead of paying dividend to the government. In Japan, the profits are being used to pay down dividend, but the government zapped old debt for operating losses, and people think it also zapped Shinkansen construction debt, which it didn’t.)

Different lines handle intermediate stops differently. Paris-Lyon has two very small intermediate stops, served by a few trains per day. Lyon-Marseille has three midsize stops, outside built-up areas of midsize cities or suburbs, served by more trains, maybe once per hour. Japan has about 2 locals per hour (more at rush hour), making a lot of stops, and a bunch of express trains, making intermediate stops in the largest cities.

In the case of New York-Buffalo, the only correct stop patterns west of Albany involve every train stopping at Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo; patterns can vary on stopping at Utica (options include no trains, all trains, and some trains).


1. The primary driver of ridership on Empire West is travel between New York on the one hand, and Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo on the other hand. Toronto is not in the US, so the travel market to New York is much smaller than you’d expect based on its size. Erie is small. Cleveland and points west are too far.

2. Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo are of approximately the same size: 750k, 1.1m, 1.2m. This does not favor an express pattern. Conversely, nothing else Upstate is of the same size class, except Albany.

3. There is no good ROW for skipping Syracuse at speed. The ROW through the city is good enough for a stopping high-speed train, as is any alternative that involves zapping 690 and rerouting trains through downtown Syracuse. Similarly, there is no good ROW for skipping Rochester. The optimal ROW allows both skipping Utica at speed and serving it, but is far from the other stops that Empire trains make, like Rome and Schenectady.

4. Syracuse is an important connection point to regional trains toward Cortland and Watertown. The correct way to schedule trains is to have a pulse on the hour at Albany and Syracuse, with trains doing Albany-Syracuse in an hour and Albany-New York and Syracuse-Buffalo in around 53 minutes each. Even though Buffalo and Rochester are bigger, they’re less useful as connection points.

AG December 7, 2015 - 10:40 pm

Japan is not Europe. Saying the Spanish lines are “near” means they aren’t. Many of those numbers from Europe are suspect in terms of operationally.

In any event – doesn’t matter the alignments since it’s not going to happen. The EIS killed HSR as too costly along the Empire Corridor.

adirondacker12800 December 6, 2015 - 5:30 pm

It’s the same ROW that would take them to Montreal Boston and Cleveland. Once Ohio has HSR, Upstate NY to all of Ohio can use it. Detroit? The rest of New England. And vice versa. For instance people from Hartford who want to go to Montreal or Toronto can use it. Cleveland to Toronto.

….Boston to Cleveland is 640 miles via I-90. Might not be attractive for Boston-Cleveland but for not-Boston to Cleveland or vice versa it would be. Toronto and Montreal on the train become much more attractive if they do customs and immigration on the train.

The tracks between Rensselaer – where the trains from New England and the trains from New York City come together – and Schenectady – where the trains to Montreal diverge from the trains to Utica and beyond, is going to be very busy.

AG December 7, 2015 - 10:42 pm

Doesn’t matter… None of it is going to happen. No money and no will for it.

Alon Levy December 8, 2015 - 1:07 am

AG: no, those numbers are not suspect. These are public companies with transparent reporting. Amtrak and other American excuse makers think that SNCF and DB are cheating by counting local subsidies to run regional rail as revenue; but they do not get subsidies for intercity trains, which are illegal according to EU rules. In the US, unlike in Europe, regional services are run by state agencies with state money, with separate branding and planning from intercity services, leading to familiar turf battles. In most of Europe, the services are contracted out to the national rail provider.

As for Spain, it’s the entire RENFE system that is nearly profitable, not just the AVE. RENFE runs AVE trains on many lines, including to very small cities, but also slower trains, some on high-speed lines (Avant, which loses money) and some on legacy lines.

Bolwerk December 8, 2015 - 9:43 am

Europe keeps two sets of books. One for internal use, and one to propagandize how much better they run railroads than Americans. The second is a lie, of course, since nobody does railroads better than America.

adirondacker12800 December 5, 2015 - 10:16 pm

What’s the average stop spacing on the Shinkansen? AVE? TGV though the French like sending non-stop hither thither and yon. ICE? How ’bout in Taiwan?

AG December 6, 2015 - 9:30 am

Yes – and also look at which lines cover their costs better operationally in those countries. This nation has no appetite to subsidize Amtrak even – let alone a line like this. The express stops are the ones which carry their own weight on those systems. Again – as noted to someone else on this thread… Owning and operating a car is much much more expensive in all of those places as well. There are too many differences to list in this small space. But again – operating cost wise – the intermediate stops exist because of politics in those nations – not because they were the most feasible. Anyone who seriously looks at the California plan know it’s a joke that they claim they can cover their operating costs.



All Aboard Florida owns the tracks and runs freight. They also own real estate around the stations (which are very limited) which they hope to make money on. Texas – that private group is still very coy on how they plan to operate – but we do know the Japanese are willing to loan them money very cheaply for the use of their tech.
Will NYS be willing to subsidize HSR as well as the Empire Corridor? And let’s be honest – just as the thought of this post was – it is really downstate who would be paying for it. Yet getting money for the MTA is a fight.

adirondacker12800 December 6, 2015 - 12:31 pm

The tracks are going to be going through metro Syracuse anyway. It costs money to run slow trains, more money than building a station and stopping the fast trains. The super express from Washington DC to Montreal can leave New York City, then the super express from Washington DC to Toronto, then the express to Cleveland, then the local to Buffalo. All that very very expensive infrastructure gets more utilization. …and carries more passengers because the fastest way to get from Ithaca or Watertown to Cleveland, Toronto, Montreal, Boston and New York City is to take the bus to Syracuse and get on a fast train.

mister December 7, 2015 - 8:38 pm

Texas Central Railway pretty much just got the proverbial nail in its coffin with the announcement that it will not operate into downtown Houston.


I expect that, much like the “Texas High Speed Rail Authority” and the “Texas Trans Corridor”, TCR will eventually die out, particularly now that this has happened.

AG December 7, 2015 - 10:47 pm

Yes – I heard about it… You are probably right that it will die (there is still a chance the California plan will too even though they “started construction”)… I was just commenting on their “plan” in terms of how they would operate in terms of stops and operational sustainability.

Eric December 8, 2015 - 6:03 am

Nail in its coffin? Really? This only has a significant effect on the minority (maybe 10%?) of expected passengers whose destination is downtown Houston and who are currently driving there from Dallas. Losing some of those passengers is too bad, but there is no way it is going to kill the project.

AG December 8, 2015 - 5:42 pm

Who are the projected users? I see in November than truck and SUV sales continue surge and gain market share – so efficiency doesn’t seem to be on the most of most in this country. Are people really going to give up driving between the two in substantial enough numbers? Or are they expected to come from planes? In any event – both Dallas and Houston will have to greatly improve their local mass transit to make using it worthwhile for anyone use – downtown or not.

adirondacker12800 December 8, 2015 - 6:10 pm

It’s not like the airport is downtown. Just like they find their way to the airport they will find their way to the train station.

mister December 9, 2015 - 2:45 am

IT affects substantially more than just the “10%” of riders whose destination is downtown.

For one, centrally located rail terminals are a boon because they provide, not just direct service to the downtown area (which is likely a large portion of people using the service), but also because they are equally accessible to everyone because of their central location. This is especially true when you also consider point #2: A rail terminal downtown often provides direct access to multiple mass transit connectors. TCR’s terminal on the outskirts of Houston will have NO major mass transit connections. Lastly, as for the notion that “People drive to the airport, they’ll drive to the train station”, The biggest advantage that rail has is that it can get a large majority of its ridership close to their destinations. If I have to drive to the outskirts for a plane or a train, why not just take the plane? Most of the train’s time advantage is lost if you have to drive outside the town to get to the train too.

adirondacker12800 December 9, 2015 - 2:20 pm

How do people who fly between Dallas and Houston manage to get to and from where ever it is they are going, now? They don’t live at the airport and they aren’t all going to conferences at airport hotels.

mister December 10, 2015 - 12:27 am

That’s not the question. The question is, if they have to endure the hassle of traveling to a transport facility outside the city, why would they stop taking a faster plane ride for the train? When the train is more convenient, it becomes competitive, time-wise, with flying.

adirondacker12800 December 5, 2015 - 3:47 pm

Then the high speed train from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia shouldn’t stop in Harrisburg, it’s too small.Or the high speed train from Boston to Montreal shouldn’t stop in Springfield, it’s too small.
Being able to get from Utica to Manhattan in an hour and half makes Utica a much more attractive place to live for telecommuters who only have to be in the office twice a month. Whether the office is in New York or Boston. Or when corporate is in Toronto or Montreal and they want a U.S. office.

AG December 5, 2015 - 6:58 pm

HSR is expensive. Utica and Harrisburg and Springfield should be served by regional rail as they are. People who can afford to travel regularly on HSR already can afford it because they make enough money. Telecomutters are a tiny slice of rail travel and wouldn’t make it viable.
No true HSR exists anywhere in the US… But there is a reason even the “half-HSR” Acela goes straight to Philly then Bmore then DC and cuts out regional stops.
In California the complaints are already being heard… Every politicians wants a stop in their area. That slows down the train and makes it less attractive for the high end users it takes to make HSR remotely viable. The truly private railroad projects being planned in this nation – Florida – Texas – and the Maglev proposed parallel to the NEC aren’t wasting time trying to put in intermediate stops. Even Amtrak in their HSR plans for the NEC (separate than the private Maglev group) aren’t “wasting” stops. The Florida plan isn’t even real HSR – but being private they don’t have the capital to “waste” either.
Now of course NY State has say on what happens along the Empire Corridor – but that goes back to the whole point of Ben’s question. When funding is political – rather than practical – it causes a quagmire.

adirondacker12800 December 5, 2015 - 10:14 pm

The tracks are gonna be going right through Utica. It doesn’t cost much to slap down some platforms and TVMs. Or where ever the tracks end up in Syracuse and Rochester.

AG December 6, 2015 - 8:56 am

Yes it does… This is not China where capital cost is no issue. Even in Germany and Japan those types of services lose money on the operating side. Sure – as a local subway we should build as many stations as possible wherever possible. HSR is not the same type of service in any way.

Alon Levy December 6, 2015 - 4:48 pm

Literally everything you’re saying about HSR is wrong.

1. As I noted in a comment above, HSR in Germany and Japan makes money. Follow links from here.

2. HSR construction costs in China are only marginally lower than in Germany and Japan, and that’s because the terrain is flatter. Beijing-Shanghai was around $40 million per km, with practically no tunneling, vs. about $50 million/km for ~18% underground German lines, and $55 million/km for the 50% underground Shin-Aomori extension of the Tohoku Shinkansen.

3. The construction costs of an intermediate station are a rounding error. If I remember correctly, the somewhat gold-plated figures California HSR assumes are on the order of $200 million per station. The cost of HSR from Croton-Harmon to Buffalo should be on the order of $15 billion, giving sub-3 hour service from New York to Buffalo.

4. China has a much bigger problem with operating costs than developed countries, actually. Incomes are lower, so the riders can only pay lower fares, so the same capital costs require much higher ridership to be financially justified.

5. Re your comment farther upthread, HSR fares around the world are much lower than Amtrak NEC fares. European intercity rail fares are around $0.15 per km on average (with HSR barely higher than conventional intercity rail in France and Germany), and Japanese fares are around $0.22 per km. This is well below Regional fares, let alone Acela fares. In parts of the world where trains are run by competent people, i.e. not Amtrak, HSR is not a premium service.

6. The TGV’s success, specifically, involves letting TGVs run on legacy tracks at reduced speed for part of the way. This is the right way for Hartford and Springfield, with none of this nonsense about shuttles. Plan on 4 tph Boston-DC and 2 tph Springfield-DC, with speeds between New Haven and Springfield restricted to 160-200 km/h. It beautifully gives the thicker New York-DC segment more frequency than New York-Boston.

7. The various official NEC HSR plans – Amtrak’s Vision, and now NEC Future – are respectively 10 and 20 times more expensive than the maximum acceptable cost for what they’re trying to do. The only transportation use for the paper they’re printed on is as paper airplanes. One of the problems with these plans is that they’re spending too much money on new alignments to go around major intermediate cities, or to serve them with new CBD tunnels, rather than taking a small hit on trip time and using legacy stations (various Penns, 30th Street, New Haven Union, Providence).

AG December 8, 2015 - 5:21 pm

Blame it on doing too many things at once… Well I can’t write as much as you but will touch on it.. I didn’t write what I meant to say. When I referenced Paris-Lyon I didn’t mean to say just operationally. The reason I compared it to this country is that in this country these types of projects now have to help cover their capital costs. Paris-Lyon is the only European route that was able to. Just on time – Congress has announced that the operating profit on the NEC will be allowed to help cover the capital costs of the Gateway Project.

1) Germany runs express routes… Japan this is true for various reasons… Doesn’t negate that some stations wouldn’t exist in many countries with HSR if it’s weren’t for subsidy/political consideration. ICE runs more similar to the NYC/Albany/Montreal/Toronto type routes I spoke of.

4) Incomes on average are lower in China – but their middle class is so huge now – it doesn’t matter as much. China is now the #1 market in the world for luxury cars now. Larger than Europe or the US market. That means plenty of people to spend even though there are many dirt poor

5/6) Again – Amtrak is not afforded the same things other rail services are. There is plenty of capital subsidy that Amtrak will not get in this generation… Which is why the comparison of competence doesn’t really work.
It’s also the reverse as it relates to riders. Owning and operating a car is WAY cheaper in the US than in Europe and Asia – so there is less demand for intercity rail travel – even on relatively dense corridors. Until auto taxes – gas taxes and the like go up substantially here – we won’t see any major shift. Of course that would have to be coupled with a vast improvement in local mass transit. The NEC being the only real somewhat fitting corridor in this nation. The Empire Corridor – which is how this discussion started – still doesn’t fit the bill.

Again – in the end – HSR has been killed on the Empire Corridor. We will see what happens with the NEC and Texas and California. But the capital subsidy won’t be there as in most HSR in the world.. They will be expected to pull their operational weight but also cover capital. Something very few lines can do. (And yes there are quite a few that can’t cover their operations too – the Empire Corridor would have probably ended up like that with intermediate stops).

adirondacker12800 December 8, 2015 - 5:59 pm

HSR gets killed on the Empire Corridor regularly. It gets killed on the NEC regularly too.

Alon Levy December 9, 2015 - 12:06 am

The LGVs other than Paris-Lyon cover their capital costs, too. The EU mandates separation of infrastructure and operations; the infrastructure operator must charge trains a track usage fee, regardless of who operates them, in order to allow fair competition. The track access charges on HSR lines tend to be much higher than the maintenance costs, and the extra revenues represent a rate of return on capital of a few percent a year. In France the track access charges are deliberately jacked up to make SNCF barely break even, in order to make sure those profits all go to state-owned monopoly RFF, rather than to train operating companies, which include not just SNCF but also DB and potential private ventures.

In Japan, the situation is legally very different, but financially similar: the government builds Shinkansen lines, and leases them to the private companies, who pay interest. The private JRs have always had to pay interest on Shinkansen construction, and the mainland ones are fully private and profitable.

China has a large middle class, sure, but this middle class is quite poor by US standards. In Shanghai, which is in a near-tie for richest city in China, the average income is something like one third the US average, if you believe in urban GDP figures. The result is that HSR fares per unit length are noticeably lower than in developed countries. Not coincidentally, the profitable CRH lines – Beijing-Tianjin, Beijing-Shanghai, Nanjing-Shanghai, and Shanghai-Hangzhou – connect more or less the richest cities in the country.

Amtrak got a couple billion dollars in the 1990s, and squandered them on the Acela. It also gets several hundred million dollars a year for operating subsidies, which in Europe would be illegal. Amtrak is getting the money everyone else is getting. It’s just squandering it.

The car issue isn’t as big of a difference as you think. In Upstate New York, everyone who can afford a car owns one. The same is true in provincial France, except Lyon and a handful of historic city centers like Marseille and Bordeaux, which represent small fractions of their respective metro regions. France has fuel taxes and (in most but not all cases) road tolls, but conversely, the cars are smaller and more fuel-efficient than in the US, so fuel costs per unit distance aren’t too different.

In both countries, the use of HSR is to get to a very large city. And there, there’s not too much difference between New York and Paris. (Paris has much better transit in New York, but the difference comes from suburban regions where out-of-town travelers wouldn’t go anyway.) People ride the TGV from Aquitaine and Midi-Pyrenees to Ile-de-France, and they’re going to ride HSR from the Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo regions to New York if there’s decent service.

adirondacker12800 December 9, 2015 - 2:23 am

ICE runs more similar to the NYC/Albany/Montreal/Toronto type routes I spoke of.

If I did the arithmetic right the average speed of the Adirondack is 37 MPH. The Maple Leaf does 55 between New York and Buffalo. Customs and immigration kills the speed to and from Toronto and it drops to 44. What ICE trains go that slow?

AG December 9, 2015 - 10:48 pm

No – I am not talking about the service that exists… I’m talking about my hope that there would be HSR that would connect NYC-Albany-Montreal and NYC/Albany/Rochester/Toronto. That’s the “I spoke of”… Which would be similar to ICE. The plans that were killed by the state.

Larry Littlefield December 4, 2015 - 3:28 pm

“We always fund transportation needs all around the state.”

Actually, since the ascension of Generation Greed with the start of the Pataki/Silver/Bruno era, the state has always FAILED to fund transportation needs all around the state.

Borrowing instead, and then overpaying for the work that does get done.

Snow alone can’t explain this.



Tower18 December 5, 2015 - 8:53 am

Yes per capita numbers will always be skewed for upstate. Assuming honesty, it takes roughly the same number of people per highway mile to maintain a road system, regardless of how many people live in the area.

In some counties, the road/highway department might be a Top 20 employer with a dozen or two dozen people. Someone has to maintain the interstate highway that serves a vital link *through* that area, even though nobody lives there. I’m thinking primarily about the North Country and Tug Hill areas.

Larry Littlefield December 5, 2015 - 2:04 pm

The problem is that Upstate NY requires more road workers to do the same work compared with other, similar areas.

But that’s true of many things, Upstate and Down.

Duke December 4, 2015 - 8:25 pm

If upstate wants to solve their funding problems they need to do away with having too many layers of government. Every square inch of upstate has both a county and a town government, and most clusters of population even if relatively small also have a village or city government.

New York ought to take some inspiration from what most other states do and eliminate towns. Everywhere not worthy of village or city status can asnwer to the county directly with no lower level of government.

That, or eliminate all the villages and make those people answer to the surrounding town only. We don’t need both.

Nathanael December 4, 2015 - 10:21 pm

This would actually work out really badly. The county governments are strangely remote from the people; town-level planning is way better than county-level planning around here.

I’d be more inclined to eliminate the counties and keep the towns. You’d have to remove the major duties of the counties, however. Which is basically Medicaid.

Nathanael December 4, 2015 - 10:22 pm

NY is the only state in the Union which forces the counties to handle Medicaid. 😛

Counties also handle some road stuff (the towns could do this, and could even set up shared services for it). Towns handle fire protection. Counties have police, but there’s no particular reason to have them at the county level rather than the town or state level.

Bolwerk December 4, 2015 - 11:29 pm

I’m not sure “county” means the same thing in many other states though. It’s handled badly, but that power structure is not inherently a bad thing. In NYS counties are supposed to be administrative divisions of the state, not autonomous local governments.* That’s why cities in NYS are typically contained within counties, but are independent from any towns; the exception is NYC, which contains several counties. Medicaid and policing are largely state functions, since the state makes criminal law in most (not all) cases.

* Clearly this has become muddled.

Tower18 December 5, 2015 - 9:01 am

Yeah this concept of Counties, Towns, Cities, and Villages confused me when I arrived in New York. After years, I still don’t think I completely get it. Where I grew up, you had a county, which maintained roads, had a sheriff’s department, court system, etc., and then you had your village, city, or whatever. Some states also use township to cover unincorporated parts of counties…Michigan rings a bell. These operate somewhat similarly to Towns in New York State. Other states have townships, but they’re generally meaningless except as taxation districts and voting precincts.

Bolwerk December 5, 2015 - 9:33 am

The logic is not that hard. The original theory was that counties would administer state functions locally and towns would provide every citizen a minimal level of local government. Villages were more specialized urban forms of local government (I guess because sprawling 18th/19th century towns might not always have been equipped to deal with immediate urban problems?). A “town” in most places would be called a village in NYS, of course. Cities are specially chartered by the state and independent of towns, while villages are not independent of the towns and have to follow state law regarding village administration. Cities are not independent of counties because counties would still handle state records and courts and the like.

Now, of course, that has become muddled because counties have more lawmaking functions, are independently elected, etc.. Towns and villages split powers in rather ad hoc ways.

The closest comparison to New York’s system is probably New England, which generally has counties that don’t actually do anything and towns handling most local government functions.

AG December 5, 2015 - 11:22 am

Yes – I stated a very similar thought. This is the 21st century… The old models don’t work. Upstate’s population is spread out too thin. When your economy is humming that’s fine – but or a variety of reasons – that is not the case upstate and probably won’t be in the foreseeable future. The new tech jobs will employ nowhere near the jobs of the old industry… Nor will those jobs spread out all over the place. They will most likely concentrate in Albany – then Rochester – Buffalo.

Nathanael December 4, 2015 - 10:09 pm

Grrr. Not Maggie Brooks again. She’s got a really bad record.


Please, please do not consider her representative of upstate. She isn’t.

Nathanael December 4, 2015 - 10:14 pm

Consider, instead, what Stephanie Miner or Lovely Warren are advocating for.

Alon Levy December 6, 2015 - 5:01 pm

Question to the gallery: if I write a post about what I think the correct intercity and regional rail network in Upstate New York is, how many people will care? This includes HSR and connecting low-speed services.

adirondacker12800 December 6, 2015 - 6:48 pm

After the 7 or 8 HSR stations in upstate New York there are no places that have enough people to support low speed service. Most of ones you could imagine would be adequately served with a 12 passenger airport shuttle style bus that runs fairly frequently instead of a once a day train . Which would be faster than any rail alternative using freight tracks. If they still exist.

Bolwerk December 6, 2015 - 8:05 pm

That’s by no means true if we get the equipment back up to prewar average speeds. Places like Binghamton and Watertown could be served through Scranton and Syracuse with relatively minimal investment after the Lackawanna is reactivated. Hell, Binghamton could probably be served via Port Jervis with Metro-North, if Amtrak and NJT can’t get their acts together.

Though at least that last possibility is way less viable or interesting thanks to Cuomo wrecking TZB rail.

adirondacker12800 December 6, 2015 - 9:43 pm

Pre-war average speeds are slower than the bus on the interstate.


Bolwerk December 7, 2015 - 10:19 am

Fair enough in a lot of cases, though I think the Water Level Route actually had trains pull off average speeds in the 70 mph range.

adirondacker12800 December 7, 2015 - 1:41 pm

In nice round numbers 62 mph. On the crack express train.


In nice round numbers, very round, Albany is 150 miles from New York, Syracuse is 300, Buffalo is 450 and Cleveland is 600. At an average speed of 150, an hour to Albany, two to Syracuse, three to Buffalo and four to Cleveland. The people in New England can use the tracks between Albany and Cleveland. And they are the same tracks that can haul people to Toronto.
…. same thing with the tracks from Albany to Montreal.

Alon Levy December 7, 2015 - 5:38 pm

The last possibility is not viable regardless of the Tappan Zee. The Erie is a truly horrible intercity line – circuitous as fuck, for one. Service to Binghamton should go via the Lackawanna – with overhead wires, FFS, it’s 2015 and the Swedes have electrified longer, more remote lines serving smaller cities.

Bolwerk December 7, 2015 - 9:13 pm

I dunno. Looks to me like it could be straightened to decent conventional rail speed with relative ease. At least as Hancock, the curves could possibly be straightened with (state-owned) land swaps. To really do that right would require PA’s cooperation.

It’d never be an HSR line though.

adirondacker12800 December 8, 2015 - 1:01 am

It’s in the Catskill Mountains. Mountains make it really really expensive to build straight tracks.

Ya have to build things like this


Bolwerk December 8, 2015 - 9:40 am

Not sure about that. Look at a topography map. The terrain is probably still hilly, but not mountainous. Biggest problem seems to be it runs next to a river, and straightening the line would mean bridging the river a lot.

That said, I’m not sure 80 mph service would be out of the question on the route.

adirondacker12800 December 8, 2015 - 1:26 pm

In nice round numbers the Erie Limited took 45 minutes longer to get to Binghamton than the Phoebe Snow took to get from Hoboken. And was 22 miles longer.

How many billions of dollars do you spend, For a quarter of a million people in metro Binghamton. when there is an existing route that would be faster? The study for it, to get to Scranton, is old but the estimate for that route was just over half a billion, Scranton to Binghamton would be moderately cheap, it’s a relatively straight freight route.

Bolwerk December 8, 2015 - 3:26 pm

I’m by no means arguing Scranton wouldn’t be preferable, but surely you can see the value in evaluating alternatives.

I really have no idea what it would cost. Greenfield rail costs of $20M/mile would come to around $2.3 billion over that distance, but hopefully it wouldn’t need to be anywhere near that high.

Average speeds of 65 over that distance would imply a little under 2 hours to get from Port Jervis to Binghamton. Not ideal, but certainly highway competitive.

adirondacker12800 December 8, 2015 - 3:47 pm

I86/Rt17 versus I81/I380/I80 is a few miles longer and takes a few minutes more. The road has to squiggle all over the place to get around the mountains. I86/Rt17 is a shorter route than the former Erie main.

Places like here.


There’s a reason why the railroad and later the state highway squiggle all over the place.

Bolwerk December 9, 2015 - 11:34 am

I noticed. But it’s not exactly out of line with developed world practice to modernize a corridor like that with bridges and tunnels to straighten the tracks for higher speeds.

Anyway, maybe it’s impossible. I dunno. I’d be curious to know what it would cost at least. The benefits between Port Jervis and Binghamton are probably questionable, but Binghamton is a large-ish conurbation.

adirondacker12800 December 9, 2015 - 12:38 pm

No it’s not, not for a quarter of a million people.

adirondacker12800 December 7, 2015 - 9:23 pm

And the burghers in Orange County decided they didn’t want those noisy smelly trains going through town so much of what was the passenger main was torn up. It’s why the current stations are out in the middle of nowhere, it’s the freight bypass.

The Phoebe Snow took three hours and fifteen minutes to get between Hoboken and Scranton. Another hour and twelve to get to Binghamton. It left Hoboken after the competing Erie train and got to Binghamton before the Erie train.

Running the New Jersey cutoff at 125/200 would save a few minutes and running the Pennsylvania cutoff at 80/130 a few more. Hour and half on the bus from Binghamton to Syracuse and getting on train that takes two hours to get to New York… would be faster.


JAzumah December 8, 2015 - 6:12 am

You are absolutely right. The integration of bus and rail service is something that can make both stronger.


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