Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Boondoggles: Stewart Airport Rail Link

Following Ben Kabak's lead, I have added the Stewart Airport Rail Link to my Spreadsheet o'Boondoggles. In this, I agree with Jeff Zupan, who was paraphrased by the Sun as saying that "the real benefit of Stewart International Airport would be if it relieved the city airports of upstate residents who would no longer have to commute into the city to fly." None of the rail proposals would serve very many upstate air passengers.

With AirTran cancelling its flights out of Stewart, Ben observes that there's even less reason to invest scarce transit funding in enabling this airport.

Following up on an earlier article about the tradeoff between funding air and rail travel, I feel that government money spent on air travel deprives passenger rail carriers of needed revenue and ensures that they will continue to need to beg for subsidies. My parents regularly fly to Florida through Stewart. They've tried driving the entire way, and they've tried taking the train the entire way. They've told me that flying out of Stewart is so much more convenient than either of the other options. But would the train be more attractive if they had to fly out of Albany or one of the other airports?

Incidentally, there used to be a privately-operated bus called the Hudson Valley Airporter, which traveled down the Thruway and Route 9 to Kennedy and La Guardia. It was active in the 1980s, gone in the 1990s. Stewart Airport opened in 1990. Coincidence?

Here's an idea: imagine if we extended the Empire Corridor train service from Rhinecliff, Poughkeepsie, Croton and Yonkers through Penn Station to Kennedy Airport. There are only two obstacles. The first is that the ex-New York Central Hudson Line and the LIRR Main Line have incompatible third-rail electrification systems. This could be dealt with by stringing catenary the whole length, but it would be expensive. Another option would be some kind of dual-mode locomotive that could switch shoes. The second obstacle is that use of the Rockaway Cut-Off has been blocked by local residents, and the MTA has allowed the tracks to decay.

Anyone care to give a back-of-the-envelope calculation about how much it would cost to restore the Rockaway Cut-Off? To deploy catenary along the route? To produce dual-mode locomotives like this? Any chance that this is under $600 million dollars?

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