With news last week of the first major high speed rail project receiving the green light in California, transportation aficionados were ecstatic at the prospects of the project, especially as China continues to pump them out like hot cakes. But, from a New York perspective, our competitors on the West Coast hold claim to something the Empire State desperately: an extremely fast, relatively cheap mode of commute from Albany to New York. Or, as Governor Cuomo has cleverly called it, “the 21st century Erie Canal.”
Although it started (and failed) during the Pataki Era, the Empire Corridor Rail System‘s rejuvenated ambitions started in January of 2010, when Cuomo asked Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood for the high speed cashflow. And he got it: out of the $8 billion distributed nationwide as a result of the stimulus package, New York received $560 million for its project. But, with the results of the project coming out this month from the Governor’s office, it looks as if New York’s high-speed rail will not be happening any time soon.
Oh, the train is going to be built… it just won’t go as fast as we’d like it to go. And, for the million passengers who ride between the capital and the metropolis each year, that comes off as a huge disappointment. California – 1; New York – 0.
So how fast does a train have to move to be considered a high-speed rail? Well, the one in Shanghai, using magnetic levitation, clocks in at 268 miles per hour. The Europeans? 186 miles per hour. Both of these examples blow past the international standards, which deem a train “high-speed” if it can go between 125 and 150 miles per hour. Yes, that is definitely high-speed.
Albany and New York City are 135 miles apart. If we had a true high-speed rail, you could soar Upstate or vice versa in an hour or less – talk about efficiency. But that’s where the failure in our project lies: according to Heather Rogers of Remapping Debate, a result of America’s tendency for “labeling over substance” is a completely underwhelming product, in regards to speed.
The Empire Corridor Project, in the end, will have a train that can go, at max, 60 miles per hour, even with a possible interval of 75 and 85. As of now, the trip between Albany and New York takes about two and a half hours and, after completion, the trip will still take that same time. Whelp.
Now, Rogers placed the blame on the federal government. And for good reason: three years ago, the Federal Railroad Administration reset those international standards mentioned before and Americanized them by dumbing them down a bit. Its new definition: a “regional” train, one that moves in between cities about 500 miles apart, would only run about 90 miles per hour – a number about 50 miles per hour lower than what has been established in Europe and China.
So, the answer to the question, “When will New York get its high-speed rail?”, is simple: yes but not until America starts getting her act together.