While we remain skeptical about a “build it and they will come” approach to the rail service between Niagara Falls and Toronto, there is an argument to be made about completing a decadelong study so that existing upstate passenger rail could be improved.
President Biden has proposed a $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan that calls for $80 billion in rail improvements.
Meanwhile, an 11-year high-speed rail study by the state Department of Transportation is due to be completed next spring. It has been overdue for many years.
Passenger rail enthusiasts concerned about Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s attention to other projects, such as the Skyway and Exchange Street train station, may have a legitimate worry. Given Biden’s proposal, there should be an equal amount of urgency when it comes to completing this report.
State Sen. Tim Kennedy of Buffalo heads the Senate Transportation Committee. He acknowledged the upstate rail corridor needs improvement and introduced legislation last month calling for a commission to study high-speed rail and a “hyperloop,” a concept advanced by Elon Musk which is, basically, a sealed transportation tube that eliminates air friction. First, though, it would be smart to improve the existing model of rail transportation.
Kennedy wants the DOT to complete the environmental impact treatment for high-speed rail, which he says should have been done a long time ago. He’s right.
According to the DOT’s deputy commissioner, the lack of a study has not stopped federal funds from a number of statewide rail projects. Those projects include constructing a double track from Albany to Schenectady, and building train stations in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Rochester.
That may be true, but it doesn’t explain the delay in finishing the study. A state official with knowledge of the process said New York State would be in a much better position if the study was finished.
The federal government understandably is more inclined to fully fund projects that are ready. Cuomo’s 2020 State of the State comment calling for a panel of engineers to “re-examine and rethink strategies” for bringing high-speed rail to New York requires more urgency.
Biden, who eared his nickname of “Amtrak Joe” from decades of taking the train from his home in Delaware to Washington, D.C., has presented a major infrastructure plan that calls for huge investments in rail improvements. Let’s not get left at the station.
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