Monday, April 27, 2009

The Amherst Train Station...

This morning's Daily Hampshire Gazette has a story on how some folks are trying to get Amtrack rerouted through Northampton. Right now, the trains travel from Springfield, take a detour to Palmer, then come through Amherst on their trip North. A while back I spent over an hour stuck on a siding in Palmer with two tired and cranky kids, waiting for a freight train to clear the tracks so we could proceed to Amherst, so I definitely see the benefit of taking a more direct route. Northampton isn't THAT far away, and I'm sure the students who take the train would adjust to riding a bus to the Northampton station.

So... one of the few Federal Stimulus projects for Amherst involves the train station:
FEDERAL ECONOMIC RECOVERY SPENDING. PRJ Number PRJ29116011 Title NEW ENGLAND DIVISION - STATION UPGRADES Description Upgrade platforms to conform with Amtrak standards and ADA regulations at stations in: Amherst MA, Hartford CT, Mystic CT, and Providence RI. Project detail MA Amherst MA Stations to receive a new ADA compliant, 550', 8" ATR concrete platform. $500,000
Half a million dollars for a train platform sounds like a lot, but we're talking about a lot of train platform. Mr. Google tells me that the blue line I drew on the map over there on the right is 550-feet long.

One might argue that it's OK to build a train platform for a train station that may soon be closed; that the economic activity will stimulate the economy and make us better off. That's the Broken Window Fallacy (follow the link for a good description); spending money on useless projects is a bad idea.

UPDATE: basic arithmetic failed me again; I realized eating lunch that in the first version of this post I'd managed to divide 500,000 by 550 and somehow end up with about 10,000. Too many fives, I guess...


Anonymous said...

Train from Amherst to Springfield one hour 21 minutes.

Bus from Amherst to Springfield
50 minutes

Car 35 minutes

Number of round trip Peter Pan bus tickets for $550,000: 34,375

Gavin Andresen said...

Yeah, I personally really like trains. But they're stuck in a tough place between buses (cheap, slow, go anywhere) and airplanes (expensive, fast, go anywhere).

I WANT to believe in environmentally-friendly high-speed passenger rail, but I suspect the economics don't make sense. If the economics DO make sense, then why haven't the existing railroads made tons of money on passenger service?

Anonymous said...


I don't always share your skepticism about things, but, on rail travel, I do. Even with gas at $4/gallon, it was still usually cost-effective to drive to your destination rather than take rail.

I guess if you were going to New York City by yourself and were planning to stay for several days (and were therefore going to have to pay to park in a garage), train travel would make sense. But put several passengers in that motor vehicle to the Big Apple, and the economics scales tip back toward the car again.

Train travel continues to be one of those things that's better to think about than to do (and to pay for).

Rich Morse