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Governor's proposal may put high-speed rail plans back on track

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is looking at running higher-speed passenger trains across New York by re-imagining designs.

Albany has been studying faster trains for years without getting anywhere, moving along at the speeds of some Amtrak trains that can't stay on schedule.

In the latest of his proposals to be fleshed out in his State of the State message, the governor is proposing a panel of outside experts to challenge past practices. That is what he did with a team of outside experts in in repairing a New York City subway tunnel damaged by Superstorm Sandy. The governor's experts came up with a way to repair the tunnel without stopping subway services for perhaps a year.

Rail Passengers Association Operations Vice President Bruce Becker said this might produce action.

"More efficient rail service across New York State has been on the drawing boards for decades at this point," Becker said. "That he wants to re-think how to do that in a cost-effective manner in cities across the state is a great first step."

Becker said the details are important.
"We don't know what exactly the proposal might encompass going forward that the governor is proposing, but any improvement that would reduce trip time," he said, "which is really what people need to look at, not just what speed the trains go at, but can they get to their destination in a shorter time than driving? That really should be the focus of any plan, going forward."

By world standards, what is being talked about isn't high-speed rail, but higher-speed. Amtrak service around here now tops out at 79 miles per hour, while in many countries the fastest trains now routinely hit 200 miles per hour.

"It won't happen overnight, but at least gets the ball moving, gets the train moving down the track, hopefully to come up with a plan that would be workable," Becker said. "It will take time to implement."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.