Thursday, June 24, 2010

Controlling passenger rail costs Upstate

Tri-State's Ya-Ting Liu is reporting that the State will have to start paying Amtrak $30-60 million a year to subsidize its long-distance trains, in addition to the $20 million that we currently pay for the Adirondack train to Montreal. In addition, upgrading the trains to Positive Train Control will cost hundreds of millions.

In that post, Liu does not give any ideas for dealing with these funding issues, so allow me to suggest two possible solutions, based on the Magic Formula for Transit Ridership. The idea is to reduce the operating shortfalls in Amtrak service. Amtrak's Empire Service is competing with the Thruway and the free Route 9 and Henry Hudson/Saw Mill/Taconic Parkways. If we reduce the subsidies to those competing facilities, the ridership boost on the Amtrak services should be enough to pay for the train operations.

As I've discussed before, the State DOT wants to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge at a cost of $14 billion dollars. As is customary for the State DOT, there are noises about "structural deficiency" and "bringing it up to interstate standards" of lane width and shoulders. There is a lot of concern about where the money would come from.

We can save a ton of money by simply reducing the number of lanes on the bridge from seven to four. The space freed up could provide ample shoulders and allow the lanes to be widened to interstate standards. The reduction in traffic would reduce the wear and tear on the bridge, postponing any reconstruction many years into the future.

Most importantly for this post, reducing capacity on the Tappan Zee Bridge would reduce the relative value of the Thruway and correspondingly increase the relative value of Amtrak service to Albany. This would lead to a shift from driving to train ridership, which would help to fully fund the train operations and provide a host of environmental benefits.

If the Tappan Zee Bridge is not enough, there are also plans to reconstruct the Patroon Island Bridge that carries Interstate 90 from Rensselaer to Albany, at an estimated cost of $104.1 million. (PDF). Reducing the number of lanes from six to four would provide room for wider lanes and shoulders, and make the Taconic that much less attractive for Albany trips.

There are a number of other projects that compete with Amtrak service, including reconstruction of the Major Deegan at $266 million. The capital plan is full of little $20-30 million projects for "free" roads and bridges. Why are they worthy of funding, while the State will have to scramble to find money to subsidize Amtrak service?

6 comments:

adronbhall.com said...

"If we reduce the subsidies to those competing facilities, the ridership boost on the Amtrak services should be enough to pay for the train operations."

I've been screaming this for so long it is ridiculous. We have more than one solution right before us for so many of our transportation related pollution problems and a whole host of other concerns...

...yet the Government keeps funding and funding this absurdity of roadways (as if we have endless money).

Adirondacker12800 said...

As I've discussed before, the State DOT wants to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge at a cost of $14 billion dollars. As is customary for the State DOT, there are noises about "structural deficiency" and "bringing it up to interstate standards" of lane width and shoulders. There is a lot of concern about where the money would come from.

The Tappan Zee suffered a series of compromise solutions due to material shortages created by the Korean War. The bubble gum and baling wire they have been using to keep it together won't last forever. The bridge needs to be replaced. I can't find sources right now but the 16 billion number is for a full build out of everything on their wish list including rail transportation between Port Chester and Suffern. If I remember correctly the bridge itself is only slated to be 6 billion without rail. That would be funded by tolls.

Rational people don't use the Taconic or Rt9 or 9W to get between Westchester or Rockland and Albany, they use the Thruway. Round trip toll for me is 17.67 with an EZ-Pass discount. 296 miles between the interchange with the Northway and the Major Deegan ( western suburbs of Albany to the New York City line ) The Thruway calculates the time as 2:24. The Thruway lies. You might be able to make that time if you were traveling between midnight and sunrise on a weekday. The Henry Hudson is only free if you start off in the Bronx. The toll for the bridge between the Bronx and Manhattan is 3.00 or 2.09 with EZ-pass.

Amtrak fare on the other hand is 74 dollars round trip if you schedule a low priced train. I can use an AAA discount to get ten percent off for a fare of 66.60. The fare less the tolls is 48.93. The car gets 25MPG on the highway so, in round numbers, 300 miles is 12 gallons of gas. Or in nice round numbers 36 dollars worth of gas. Means the train fare is 12.93 after I account for gas and tolls. 300 miles is a tenth of an oil change so it's more like ten bucks roundtrip on the train. Nice nap, some reading, the spectacular views on the Husdon Line, not having to deal with Manhattan traffic and find a legal parking space... it's worth ten bucks. If I want to use a parking lot the train is "free" but to get to that parking lot without paying the Henry Hudson tolls I have to get off the highway and wander the Bronx. .... I always wonder why there isn't a train between Albany and Manhattan more often....

Alon Levy said...

$10 billion for rail? Are they building it fully underground or something?

Cap'n Transit said...

Sadly, Alon, it's only $2 billion for rail, I think. The rest is for widening the Thruway west of the bridge and some BRT in Westchester. See previous posts with links to the primary documents.

Alon Levy said...

Wait - is it $2 billion just on the bridge, or for the entire Suffern-Port Chester line?

neroden@gmail said...

Just knock down the Tappan Zee. It's an *insane* place to have a bridge, at such a wide point. Long distance travellers can cross at the Newburgh-Beacon bridge or the George Washington bridge in NYC; short-distance travellers can take a ferry. Bound to be cheaper.

If they insist on building a bridge at such a ludicrous location, they had better not waste its capacity on cars.