Some question if cost of high-speed rail outweighs benefit

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The future of travel took center stage in Western New York as the state unveiled plans for high speed rail upstate.

The route would take travelers from Niagara Falls to New York City in just over six hours. The current travel time is nine-and-a-half hours. But at an estimated cost in the billions, some residents question if the difference of roughly three hours is worth that high cost.

Supporters say high-speed trains could make commuting between cities more feasible, spurring job creation and economic growth. But some people were unimpressed by the DOT’s ideas of “high speed” service.

State Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald said, “We want to hear what the public has to say, as we evaluate which alternative to move forward.”

The State Department of Transportation is looking for feedback on five possible plans to construct a high-speed rail system. Thursday evening, Buffalonians got their chance to weigh in.

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said, “More, better and faster train service can be an engine for economic growth throughout New York State.”

Greg Lund of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen said, “Capacity is what we need, because it does little good to have a 90- or 110-mile-an-hour passenger train get stuck behind a 50- or 60-mile-an-hour freight train.”

Construction costs for the five options being considered range from $290 million to $14.71 billion. But many of the people who spoke at Thursday’s public hearing were most concerned with speed.

Travel time from Niagara Falls to New York would be anywhere from six to nine hours. That’s seen as not much of an improvement over the current nine-and-a-half hour travel time.

Richard Berger of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo said, “There are basically 450 miles between, on the entire corridor, from New York to Buffalo. And to have that done in six hours, in 2035, is ridiculous. That should be a four-hour trip. France, Germany and China all have trains that go upwards of 200 miles-an-hour. To have an average time of 77 miles-per-hour, I can do that in my car. What is the benefit to the rider?”

Jacob Jordan, President of Queen City Rail Trails, said, “Whatever investment happens for dedicated, separate right-of-ways must consider the ability to be expanded upon for true European and Japanese-type high speed rail.”

Any high-speed rail line would be built and expanded gradually, over the next 10, 15 even 20 years. The DOT also has to figure out how to pay for building it, though it would likely be a mix of federal and state funding.

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