Niagara Gazette

Columns

March 16, 2009

COLUMN: The fast train to nowhere

After hearing Gov. Paterson’s press conference about the prospects for a high-speed rail line that would cut across the Empire Corridor, many people enthusiastically jumped on board with the idea. It seemed that citizens and press all to a man followed the political class, repeating in earnest what local, state, and federal officials had said ... that it will be a boon to the economy.

I hate to burst your bubble, but this train will not be the cure for what ails our economy. Not even close. As a matter of fact, it might turn into one of the symptoms: 10 years from now, when its mostly empty cars pass by your home, the train will be but a recurring reminder of how stale the local economy has become.

A lot of readers will think that I’m being pessimistic here. No, I’m being realistic.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of railroads and a supporter of their future development (refer to my column “America’s Rail Crisis” from July. But, I know that when keeping our nation’s economy on track two things are first and foremost for rail development: One, moving freight great distances efficiently and affordably and, two, transporting people short distances for the purposes of commuting to their employment (much like the NFTA’s MetroRail does).

The high-speed rail fails to address either.

I wrote the following in the aforementioned column: “There are 140,000 miles of track in the United States, over which 2 billion tons of freight are moved annually. This accounts for approximately 15 percent of all freight tonnage transported across the states and its contribution has been growing at a 5 percent annual rate. This tame growth in rail freight is expected to explode in the next few years as high gasoline prices stifle development in truck transportation. Because of ... road congestion brought on by our rapidly-growing population (there will be a third more Americans by 2040) ... the expectations for rail freight are expected to double by 2030.”

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