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?