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WHAM 13’s Evan Dawson: High Speed Rail = Fast Ferry

April 15th, 2010

Rochester's outdated Amtrak Station. (photo: www.thebluecomet.com)
Last Friday (April 9, 2010) Louise Slaughter held a press conference at Rochester’s Amtrak Station along with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to officially announce the arrival of High Speed Rail to Western NY. In addition to the track improvements made possible by $151 million in federal stimulus money, Slaughter said Rochester’s outdated Amtrak station will receive modest updates to the building and platform. She also announced that Amtrak, Greyhound, and Trailways (who were in attendance) were committed to building a new multimodal station as a separate project. Also in attendance was WHAM 13’s Evan Dawson [edawson@13wham.com]. Dawson asked some tough questions. For example, “Who will subsidize the project?” Good one Dawson. Hey, does WHAM have any openings? I’d like to apply.

So this past Monday Dawson posted his commentary, High Speed Rail: Fast Forward, Not Fast Ferry… Right? external link It’s quite the masterpiece. The article points to a list of questions that he’d like answers to. But since he hasn’t found the answers yet… he’ll just assume that these upgrades to the nation’s rail system are unnecessary and will be the next “fast ferry”.

While I applaud Dawson’s quest to find answers to certain outstanding questions, I take issue with his use of metaphor. And since WHAM doesn’t allow user comments on their site anymore, I had to send him this email in order to let him know how I felt…

Mr. Dawson,

I was at the High Speed Rail press conference last Friday and I was pretty disappointed in your choice of questions for Congresswoman Slaughter. You asked what operational costs for HSR would be… Then you asked “Who will subsidize the project if that ridership projection is not met?” I thought you were missing the big picture when I heard the questions come out of your mouth. Then I saw your article on WHAM.com entitled “High Speed Rail: Fast Forward, Not Fast Ferry… Right?” and I now I see you’re missing more than I thought.

It is one thing to ask questions. It’s quite another to paint every public project as a “Fast Ferry” a.k.a. Doomed to Fail. This has very dangerous implications for our area. But I guess that’s the easy way for a Rochester “journalist” to catch people’s attention. LOOK OUT, FAST FERRY! I’m sure it works every time.

HSR is no fast ferry. The ferry was built on pure speculation. We tried it, it didn’t work, and we took a loss. That’s business and the city learned a lesson. Hopefully that lesson was ‘try harder and plan better next time’.

This nationwide project is about bringing the country’s existing transportation system into the 21st century AND for us, making sure that Rochester is connected to that system so we don’t get left in the dust.

So I’d like to know, where is your news story asking why the stimulus bill included $26,725,000,000 for highway infrastructure investments?

Why haven’t you asked the federal government why we still pay 80 to 90 percent of the cost for new highway projects regardless of whether or not those highways are actually needed?

Who pays for the upkeep of those roads? We all do… it doesn’t matter whether or not you own a car or you even use those roads. Roads, highways, buses, trains, even airlines and airports are all subsidized. But where’s your article entitled “Greater Rochester International Airport, Not Fast Ferry… Right?”

I know that you know that this project is about way more than fast trains. If you care at all about Rochester and our region I’d please ask that you think twice before using the fast ferry as a scare tactic. This town desperately needs to move on.

-Mike Governale

Now I think I’ll go eat some Oreos and wait for a reply. Stay tuned. And if you’d like to send Evan Dawson your thoughts, please email him at edawson@13wham.com or leave a comment below.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, April 15th, 2010 at 9:54 pm and is filed under Opinion, Rochester News, Transit + Infrastructure. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

8 Responses to “WHAM 13’s Evan Dawson: High Speed Rail = Fast Ferry”

  1. Dan Levy says:

    Great Letter! Way to bring in the highway stuff.

  2. admin says:

    Thanks Dan. It’s only fair. For those of you are less familiar with Rochester, the “Fast Ferry” ran for maybe 3 years carrying passengers and cars across Lake Ontario between Rochester and Toronto Canada. The City of Rochester made some capital investments to improve the port and nearby infrastructure and basically donated space to the ferry’s operating company with the hope that people would travel from Toronto and spend some time and money here in Rochester. It was a good effort but the ferry was far too big and was plagued with mechanical problems and ultimately failed. The city’s total loss in the end was about $20MM. Now, everytime a new public project is announced or an idea is mentioned, people point to this story as if failure is unavoidable. You can read more here.

  3. Dan Levy says:

    That was a pretty classy ferry.

  4. twoeightnine says:

    Excellent letter Mike. It seems like all of the media in Rochester is only publicizing the possible negatives. POSSIBLE ones. For people who say that are committed to making Rochester better and have a brighter future they sure do have a funny way of showing it.

  5. Matt says:

    As someone who already rides the train from NYC to Rochester 3-4 times a year in lieu of flying, I have to say that I strongly support rail upgrades. The Amtrak trains are always at or near capacity. On top of that, even now times are competitive with flying, despite being far cheaper, once you factor in getting to and from JFK as well as Rochester International. If they could cut the train ride to about 5 hours from closer to 7 it would be perfect. The idea that we could someday have a European/Japanese style HSR that would cover the distance in 2.5 hours would be truly incredible. One of the opponents to this would be the airlines that currently service Rochester. It is likely this would put them out of business when you can just go to NYC and fly/train to wherever you want from there easily.

  6. MAT says:

    Does The Dawson think that Louise Slaughter is the lead planner and engineer on the Empire Corridor High Speed Rail project? Did he actually expect her to have a detailed answer for him? If Evan had any semblance of journalistic integrity, he would have done his homework and read through NYSDOT’s volumes of grant applications available on its website (https://www.nysdot.gov/recovery/sponsors/rail) or at least attempt to contact NYSDOT’s High Speed Rail project manager. Instead, he asked an ignorant question of and attempted to embarrass one of the most respected elected officials in this country. Shame on you, Dawson.

  7. Dan Levy says:

    Matt brings up an interesting topic regarding the airlines. The airlines should not oppose the routing. They should not think of themselves as merely airlines but as transportation companies. The airlines, instead of merely operating planes could run passenger trains too!

    The same goes for the car companies. There is nothing that says the big three cannot exist in a post-car culture. Ford, GM, and Chrysler in addition to building cars can build buses, LRVs, and streetcars too!

  8. Bob says:

    Dan Levy,

    Jim Kunstler has made the point on his podcast that GM and Chrysler could find another niche by converting their failing car factories to ones that would build railroad rolling stock, preserving some amount of their payroll in the process.

    Good thinking!

    Ultimately the first go around of railroading in this country was not subsidized at all, in fact it was and still is TAXED!

    I am of the opinion we could avoid a lot of this controversy about rail and stimulus and still do a better job of restoring 1940’s capacity by offering tax incentives or repeals to those companies that would expand their networks.


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