Mid Hudson News reports that Metro-North is still no longer considering extending service to northern Dutchess County. I'm not sure who was asking, but there you have it.
Many years ago, there was a proposal to extend service past Poughkeepsie, with stops in Hyde Park, Staatsburg, Rhinecliff and Tivoli. There was significant NIMBY opposition, and I was all ready to cuss out those transit haters, but the more I looked at it, the more their objections made sense.
It was the same problem I had with the Northern Branch plan, but even more so, because the planners expected almost every rider to drive and park. None of those stations have anything resembling the walkable suburban downtowns of Englewood and Tenafly.
To generate enough walk-up demand for the service, you'd essentially need to rezone the area to create a whole new Tarrytown, Irvington, Dobbs Ferry and Hastings. Which might be nice, but do we really need that development eighty miles from Manhattan?
We need to look at what our goals are, and how a Metro-North extension might serve them. If people are driving too much in Dutchess County, replacing a small number of large lots with new walkable suburbs will not make the existing residents drive less.
There are small things we could do. Extend some trains to Marist and Hyde Park, and maybe the CIA, to capture some of the student and tourist travel. But that's a relatively small segment of the market; would it be worth running ten-car trains?
The largest existing town without train service in Dutchess County is Fishkill. Emily from IRidetheHarlemLine.com thought it was funny that someone would want to ask Metro-North President Howard Permut about restoring passenger service on the Beacon/Maybrook Line that the railroad owns, but it's not such a strange question. Of all the potential Dutchess County service expansions it's the one that would have the greatest ridership. It runs through the most densely populated parts of Beacon and Fishkill.
At this point it might not be worthwhile running trains all the way to Derby, Danbury or even Brewster, but a local group has proposed a shuttle from the Beacon Station to Matteawan and Fishkill. You could also run a shuttle from Croton, timed to connect with the incoming local from Grand Central.
The State is planning to upgrade the Hudson Line to improve Amtrak service. Dutchess County could use more intercity service, and restoring service to Pittsfield through Amenia, Millerton and Chatham, perhaps run by Amtrak, would capture a significant portion of the weekend crowd that currently drives up the Taconic Parkway.
Emily actually asked Permut about service north of the current terminus in Wassaic, and he mentioned that he was involved in planning the current service. "If I remember correctly, the rail trail was already in existence to Millerton, so we would have had a huge obstacle," Permut said. "How do you de-map a rail trail? There would have been significant opposition." More proof that rail-trails are not good for transit.
Of course, my question for Permut, which Emily did not ask, was "If you could tear down one highway in the region, which one do you think would increase Metro-North ridership the most?" Dutchess County actually doesn't have many highways. There's one interstate (84), plus the Taconic Parkway. There are some relatively short limited-access sections of Routes 9, 44 and 55.
I would probably first get rid of the "Arterials" in Poughkeepsie, a horrible plan where two neighborhood avenues were turned into three-lane segments of a one-way pair, simultaneously killing both the pedestrian environment and commerce on Main Street. I'm baffled that the arrangement has lasted as long as it has, and I can only surmise that that's because no New Urbanist has ever visited Poughkeepsie. Restoring the Arterials to neighborhood streets, and restoring Main Street to east-west traffic, would make a lot more people want to live within walking distance of the train station. Green tracks trolleys on the former "Arterial" streets would bring more people to the train without driving.
All that said, if we really want to reduce driving in the metropolitan area, it's probably better to focus on other areas than Dutchess County. According to reports compiled by the EPA, Dutchess only accounts for two percent of the region's vehicle-miles traveled. Meanwhile, Nassau accounts for 8% of VMT, and Suffolk 13%. If only they had train service...