Better rail service is a goal of the federal government and many states, including New York. But rail makes more sense in some places than others — i.e. in places where the basic infrastructure already exists, where there are population centers fairly close together, and where there is a history of people using the train. Places like the New York-Western Vermont corridor, which has plenty of potential for rail but is currently underserved.
Since early 2011, the two states have been conducting a federally funded study on how to improve rail service in the region. From an original six there are two remaining alternatives, both of which would run trains from Albany-Rensselaer to Schenectady and Mechanicville (where a new station would be built), and on to Rutland, Vt., via Bennington and Manchester Center. One alternative would shift the existing Ethan Allen line that stops at Saratoga Springs, Fort Edward, Whitehall and Castleton on its way to Rutland; the other would keep that line and add a new one.
Ridership is expected to increase in either case, more with the two-route option. But that one would require a bigger operating subsidy: $5 million a year vs. the $1.7 million Vermont currently provides for the Ethan Allen line. Vermont would like New York state to pick up some of the extra cost — and it should.
That’s because the train would benefit New York as much as Vermont. It would bring more visitors and traffic to the downtowns of Schenectady and Mechanicville. It would carry tourists, workers commuting from southern Saratoga County to Albany, as well as students from the region’s many colleges. And it would save fuel and reduce carbon and other emissions.
Capital costs would be around $117.5 million, and the federal government, after funding this study, would likely pick up a significant part of it. Given the benefits, the two states should be prepared to pay the rest.