Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Expanding rail passenger planning without high speed rail: Western Massachusetts

Albany-Renssalaer Train station, Wikipedia photo.

While there are many railroad commuter services across the country, in the northeast, there are extant rail passenger systems in Greater Boston, Greater New York City (including Connecticut), New Jersey, Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware, in Maryland and Virginia, that for the most part are built on "legacy" railroad passenger services that had been first offered by for profit railroad companies decades ago.

As the for profit services declined, some but not all of the commuter services had been picked up by local and state government funded programs.

This left gaps in the services available, as the systems slimmed down to services focused on commuting-based services.

I have suggested, based on work originally laid out by BeyondDC, that a single regional railroad system serving DC, Maryland, and Virginia, with certain connections to West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware makes more sense than the separate services that Maryland and Virginia offer currently.
Proposed map of a Washington-Baltimore regional rail system
Maps by BeyondDC.

Similarly, while New York State's MTA provides service as far north as Poughkeepsie in New York State and Danbury in Connecticut, and MBTA serves Greater Boston, the region north from Poughkeepsie up to Albany and west from Boston to Pittsfield was once served by rail and could be again.

The privately run Housatonic Railroad commissioned a study suggesting that provide service to Western Massachusetts from Danbury. See "Rails of gold for Berkshires?‎" from the Berkshire Eagle.

You can see how improving rail service in this area, and from north of Poughkeepsie, which wasn't part of the study, could help to revive these areas economically, and would be an economic development strategy worth considering for Upstate New York and Western Connecticut, and Western Massachusetts, even if the state governments are hard pressed for money, and while New York's MTA faces massive economic hardship. Also see this 2007 article, "Regional Passenger Rail Projects Await Green Light" from the Hill Country Observer.

For me the reason it is worth considering is that these areas are already familiar with rail passenger service. It isn't a new phenomenon, and it is something that people would likely ride, if they had the option.

Although it isn't forecasted that the service would have "transit oriented development" potential, as the plan called for station areas with large parking lots.

There are probably more of these opportunity areas within various parts of the country.
Railroad system Washington-Baltimore region

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