Over the past few weeks we have been blogging about eminent domain and Cuomo’s big plans for Penn Station. We thought it would be interesting to continue the conversation, this time focusing on a possible high speed rail.
As part of his 2020 agenda, Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced plans for a high speed rail along the Empire Corridor which spans New York City, Albany and Buffalo. This will require re-examining old studies and roadblocks, and we are guessing, some eminent domain proceedings.
In a prepared statement Cuomo said, "High speed rail is transforming economies around the world. We've been told that bringing this technology to our state is too expensive, too difficult and would take too long – that's not an acceptable attitude for New York."
As a reminder, previous plans to connect New York City to Albany promised a two-hour ride, and a trip from Albany to Buffalo in about 3.5 hours. We love to hear about the “estimated costs” and this project was billed at $15 billion. It sounds like it would be more if the estimate was being done today. As a point of reference, the Second Avenue subway line, which is two miles long, cost $4.5 billion.
Another example being used is the high speed rail project in California. That one has proven to be expensive, time-consuming, and full of problems. In 2008, California voters approved a $9 billion project to begin construction on a high speed rail from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Plans and ideas had been floating around for literally decades prior to the vote.
CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, Jeff Morales, said that the agency was breaking ground on the proposed 520-mile rail network. That was back in 2012 and the problems started soon after.
Legal disputes were constant as those opposed to the plans accused the authority of not living up to the ballot initiative. In addition, the authority was tasked with individually acquiring each piece of property needed to build the rail lines. Of course, some of the property owners, many of whom were farmers, came together in opposition. This resulted in eminent domain in many of the cases.
Citizens are not patient and there were complaints that it was taking too long. "There was this notion that one day we’d wake up and suddenly there'd be this statewide high speed rail there," Morales said. "That’s not how things get done."
To look at the situation realistically, one has to realize that this type of project, a 500+ mile high speed rail that is built from scratch, had never been attempted before in the USA. All government money for infrastructure was going to interstate highways. Many feel that projects of this scale need Federal support to be successful. The California project did receive a multibillion-dollar boost from the Obama administration, but transit infrastructure has been decreasing under the current administration.
Morales is no longer CEO of the project, and today there is only a small section of rail under construction in California's Central Valley. Completion plans for 2020 have been pushed to 2033 with the cost doubling.
California isn’t the only example. Texas is in the planning stages of a bullet train between Dallas and Houston. It is hoped that ground will be broken over the summer for the project. In Florida, partially funded by Richard Branson's Virgin Group, a high speed rain from Miami and West Palm Beach is running and there are plans to expand to Orlando.
Is it possible to build a high speed train in New York? Are we more like California or Florida? Let’s see!