Letter: Include Albany in east-west rail plan
To the editor:
As a passenger rail advocate it is very heartening to see the serious support for east-west rail in Massachusetts. I think that the MassDOT study is off to a good start — yet there are two key points I would like to add to the discussion.
First, Albany is the logical terminal for a future east-west rail, as including it would considerably boost ridership and revenue. Albany-Rensselaer is Amtrak's ninth-busiest station, serving a metro region of over a million people.
At Rensselaer, there's also an existing Amtrak crew base, maintenance facility, and food service commissary. At Albany future east-west passengers could also transfer to Amtrak trains connecting to New York City, Vermont, Montreal, Niagara Falls and Toronto.
Second: One major issue is the travel time over the mountainous railroad with its many sharp curves and heavy grades. Today's sole Amtrak train, the Lake Shore Limited takes five hours, 10 minutes to make the 200-mile Boston-Albany run — average speed 38.7 mph.
However, in the 1950s, service was almost an hour faster. The Beeliner passenger service made the run in four hours, 15 minutes while making nine intermediate station stops — average speed 47.1 mph. This is about what Amtrak does today with its popular L.A.-San Diego Pacific Surfliner and Boston-Portland Downeaster services.
One further way to reduce travel times would be to utilize tilting train-sets like Amtrak's Acela that can run at higher speeds around curves while maintaining passenger comfort and safety. The introduction by Amtrak of the tilting Talgo trains between Seattle-Portland in 1999 cut 25 minutess from the previous four hour schedule.
A previous Boston-Springfield rail study done by MassDOT a few years ago conservatively estimated that tilting trains saved 10 minutes compare to conventional trains. For the entire 200-mile line that would likely add up to at least 20 minutes — reducing Boston-Albany travel time to below four hours.
The use of tilting-trains would also dove-tail with a civil engineering program of curve straightening — for a 45-mph curve realigned for 55 a tilting train could do 65 — enabling overall much higher sustained top speeds.
In conclusion, I think that the benefits of extending the proposed east-west rail service to Albany would greatly outweigh the costs. There is a latent desire for more transportation options for travel to Boston from upstate N.Y., and if Massachusetts would reach there would be a very favorable response.
Ballston Spa, N.Y.
The writer is social media coordinator and vice president for the Empire State Passenger Association.
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