CORNING | A long-deliberated proposal to establish passenger rail service between Corning and New York City was revived Tuesday evening.
An April Fools joke published by Urban Corning last year announcing that a rail project was in the works led to a surge in public support. As a result, officials held a public forum at the Southeast Steuben County Library Tuesday to discuss the feasibility of such a project.
It’s possible, they said, but it’s a matter of obtaining funding.
“There’s ways it can be done,” Empire State Passengers Association (ESPA) Southern Tier Coordinator Rob Piecuch said. “It’s just the case of finding the funding to do it.”
ESPA is an organization that aims to expand and improve mass transit in New York State.
Piecuch said most of the rail infrastructure is already there via existing lines for commercial use, and that there isn’t a huge need to add anything.
“We wouldn’t be building anything new,” he said. “That would cost way too much money.”
According to his presentation, the easiest route to establish a passenger line would travel through Buffalo, down to Corning and Binghamton, and down to Hoboken in New Jersey across the river from Manhattan.
Another route would go through Pennsylvania. It would run from Buffalo down to Corning and Binghamton, down through Scranton, Allentown and Easton in Pennsylvania, through Phillipsburg and Dover in New Jersey before arriving in Hoboken.
Four or five rail providers come to mind when considering a passenger line. This includes Metro-North, Iowa Pacific and Amtrak.
“Amtrak is having their new cars built in Elmira Heights, and obviously Alstom is going to build the high-speed train, so the Southern Tier has an Amtrak connection,” Piecuch said. “We just don’t have service.”
Piecuch said the cost of a trip would be comparable to current bus fares down to the city - which according to the presentation range from $80-$120 on average - and would take about as much time.
“It could take 6-7 hours at least,” he said. “That’s a ballpark figure.”
But the time it takes to get down to the city could be utilized to enjoy the amenities of the train.
“We’re trying to offer sort of another option essentially for people to travel, and the train is more appealing to people versus buses or sitting in traffic,” Piecuch said.
However, Steuben County IDA Executive Director James Johnson said the project could be challenging and would require the addition of separate infrastructure from the commercial lines that run through the area. The IDA owns the B&H Railroad.
“I think the difficulty and the challenge is going to be the infrastructure that’s going to be required, the rail line that would have to be installed,” he said. “There’s a lot that has to be taken into consideration."
Johnson said separate line would likely need to be installed given the obstacles associated with running commercial and passengers trains on the same rail.
Precautions would need to be taken if a commercial train carrying gas or propane is traveling in one direction on the line, while a passenger train is traveling the other way.
“There are challenges with putting passenger rail on commercial rail lines from a safety standpoint," Johnson said. "There’s a lot that has to go into the planning and coordination of that."
Adding additional rail infrastructure could also be expensive, he said.
“I think from the standpoint of having the ability to invest and put that infrastructure in, a lot of that is probably there from a property standpoint. It’s just there would have to be additional investments to expand that infrastructure, and that’s where you get into some significant costs,” Johnson said.
“I think conceptually it’s a wonderful idea. I think it would be a great thing to have, but I think it’s going to be a long discussion and require a substantial investment in order to see something like that move forward,” he added.
Piecuch said to accomplish this project would require coordination between various bureaucratic bodies.
"It’s going to require cooperation from all levels," he said. "Local governments, chamber of commerce, even the federal government and different things."