Sunday, June 22, 2008

2008 New York State Rail Plan Vol. 1

The 2008 New York State Rail Plan, to be finalized this year after the current public comment period, is designed to present a 20-year plan for the state's rail system. The draft report describes the goals and key principles underlying the final plan.

The reason I am taking such significant interest in a facet of american life that is not explicitly a built environment issue can best be summed up by the 4th paragraph of the executive summary on Page 7 of the PDF. (Photo by J.H. Gray - CC License AN 2.0)

"In providing mobility, rail service also consumes less energy and reduces congestion and vehicle emissions compared to other modes of long distance travel, while supporting smart land use polices and environmental protection goals. In fact, a single intermodal freight train can remove as many as 280 trucks from the highway system while using significantly less energy than highway travel in the process. Railroads can move a ton of freight an average of 436 miles with each gallon of fuel. Intercity passenger rail uses 20% less energy per passenger mile travelled than automobiles and 17% less than airline travel."

These absolutely staggering figures make a huge dent in issues like energy use, multi-modal transportation, and implied direction of development. It is likely that in this post series I will tend to focus more on the passenger rail implications. This is not to diminish the importance of the freight lines (currently the only profitable trains). I simply feel that the way people are moved and their choices ties more directly into my redensification aims.

Starting by examining the current role of railroads in New York State, is it asserted that 1.5 million people utilize the upstate portions of Amtrak (the Adirondack and Empire corridors) and that 8 million Amtrak customers travel through New York's Penn Station, a once glorious structure that was sacrificed and stashed away beneath a basketball arena. While a good start, demand is forecast to rise significantly in the long term.

Some additional propaganda in my corner is the statement that, "For each 1 percent of long-haul freight that switches from truck to rail, fuel savings would be approximately 111 million gallons per year and annual greenhouse gas emissions would fall by 1.2 million tons." This leads nicely into the embedded table showing federal transportation expenditures in 1980 and 2003 showing the overt favoritism to road building and air travel. Rail funding was halved in REAL DOLLARS over 23 years. You can get a decent idea of the inflation adjustment by looking at the percentage of total expenditure. Simply stated, our current energy dependence 'crisis' is the result of years of inefficient non-partisan governmental infrastructure investment.

While the rail plan is mandated to focus on a long planning horizon, a near term (defined as 2020) vision has been established incorporating the following elements and more.

A rail system that:

  • Increases freight rail market share by 25%, reducing the growth in truck traffic and energy consumption (Photo by J.H. Gray - CC License AN 2.0)
  • Includes at least three new intermodal facilities/inland ports across the state serving the rapidly growing container segment of rail traffic
  • Has the first “green” short line railroad industry locomotive fleet in the nation, having assisted the short line railroads in replacing current fleets with clean, energy-saving locomotives
  • Transports double the intercity passenger rail ridership as it does today on each of New York’s three major rail corridors – New York City to Albany, Albany to Buffalo, and Albany to Montreal
  • Provides two hour express rail travel connecting Albany and New York City
  • Provides four-hour rail travel between Albany and Buffalo, also connecting Syracuse, Utica, Rochester, and the upstate cities in between
  • Provides six and one-half hour rail travel between Albany and Montreal
  • Is reliable, using modern rail equipment achieving at least a 90 percent on-time performance
  • Integrates commuter, intercity passenger, and freight rail operations by improving efficiency and lowering overall railroad costs
  • Provides greater intercity passenger service frequencies where there is market demand
  • Evaluates and develops new or additional passenger services where viable, that might include commuter services connecting Saratoga with Albany and Niagara Falls with Buffalo, and intercity services connecting Binghamton with New York City

An ambitious vision, but certainly not impossible (especially since it has already existed). A vision that is largely contingent on Americans embracing change for humanist as well as economic reasons. Finally today, the stated goals of the NYSDOT developed in collaboration with the rail industry representatives and stakeholders such as local metropolitan planning organizations.

  • Personal safety, and infrastructure and property security
  • Preserve the existing rail transportation system as a long-term asset
  • Develop a rail network capable of supporting the future needs of New York State residents and businesses and manage it for optimum efficiency (includes the increase of capacity)
  • An integrated rail system that facilitates the efficient movement of people and goods, expands choices, and improves access to and interconnectivity of all transportation system modes
  • Provide a rail system that is energy efficient and environmentally sustainable and that promotes the integration of transportation, land use and economic development to support New York’s economic competitiveness and quality of life
  • Adequate, stable and predictable funding through public and private sources for rail investments

As you may have read in my Syracuse case study, delays of passengers due to freight traffic are abysmal. It was brought to my attention by an engineering colleague of mine that the main line track used to be 4 tracks through all of Monroe County east of the Genesee and yesterday I was able to confirm the bridge capacity over Interstate 590. This would certainly be a good place to begin addressing future (or current) needs. Another thing that strikes me as interesting is an additional single track bridge over Union Street immediately adjacent to the public market. It may be in the best interest of the community at large to restore this line as a way to ensure delivery of marketable produce in the event of an acute energy crunch prohibiting the few local farmers left from trucking their wares. The public at large would also gain access to the market from points east and west through localized passenger rail along the route. As you can see today in this satellite image, market activity is still largely connected to commuting.

If you have comments or concerns such as these and can't make it to the remaining public input sessions in Binghamton and Manhattan, E-mail comments may be sent to


robinia said...

Thanks-- very nice post. I was at the Binghamton public hearing yesterday... more of a scoping session, really. But, they do really want input.

You are right about the passenger delays because of freight trains sharing the track. They do seem to be going for the dual-track solution (one passenger, one freight), but are really interested in public input on it (they will need public support to get the money from NYS or the feds to do it).

rose said...

hmm this a really very good plan!!
every passenger would be happy when it would be start.
trucking Charleston