Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bright Rails, Big City

I finally got around to filling a big gap in my high-speed rail analysis series. Examining the Hudson Valley turned out to be particularly unrewarding, as the solution would be very expensive to construct. Most of the expense would be in the southern half of the line, as the northern part runs through relatively rural and flat areas in Dutches, Columbia, and Rennselaer counties. However, the new line would provide significant time reduction. The current New York to Albany journey takes 2.5hrs to cover the @150 track-miles between the stations, which makes the average speed a leisurely 58mph. Raising the average to the still somewhat slow speed of 100mph would bring the time down to 1.5hrs, which would make a day trip from either end much more realistic.

Here some options for section through Westchester and Putnam counties:

  • An entirely new surface right-of-way - building an entirely new ROW would be enormously expensive and disruptive.
  • An improved Hudson Line - the existing line is curvy, busy, and subject to flooding. The slowest part of the current Hudson line is south of Beacon, and could be improved but so much.
  • An improved Harlem Line - the existing line is curvy, busy, and the northern half or so runs directly through town centers. Because it runs a good way to the east of the Hudson, utilizing it would significantly increase the total distance between NYC and Albany.
  • A revived Putnam Line - the abandoned Putnam Line is curvy, too narrow for two tracks, runs through through the center of various towns, and is currently a rail trail. Also, it doesn't go all the way through the Hudson Highlands.
  • A new tunnel - tunneling is expensive and slow. Attempting to tunnel under large parts of Westchester would be foolish in the extreme.
  • A hijacked highway - utilizing a part of an existing north-south highway would be probably be the cheapest way to build a new line. The ROW is already owned by state or local governments, cleared and graded, and separated from surface traffic. A pair of HSR tracks is about as wide as three lanes of traffic plus shoulders (45-50 feet). Of course, taking over half of a highway would be unpopular, and the ramps to local streets would have to be re-configured for 1/2 day directional traffic.
  • A viaduct - building a viaduct above existing surface streets would be expensive and disruptive. Also, elevated subways - or roadways for that matter - have a bad reputation for a reason.

A modified version of the last option is what I settled on. A viaduct along a highway right-of-way would preserve the utility of the existing roadway without disrupting neighborhoods during the construction period. The only right-of-way that I found workable was a combination of the Saw Mill River Parkway and the Taconic Parkway. That means some people's commute would become a bit less visually pleasing, but oh well.

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