Cuomo Announces Fire Sale on Failed High-Speed Trains

Published June 27, 2012

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced plans to hold a fire sale of unused trains purchased by the state as part of a failed high-speed rail project. 

‘Train to Nowhere’

In 1998, New York Gov. George Pataki (R) announced a “historic” high-speed rail partnership with Amtrak. The state poured $70 million dollars into a plan calling for retrofitting seven sets of Amtrak gas turbine trains and making track improvements to facilitate high-speed travel from Albany to New York City. 

Now, 14 years later, the state will sell what’s left of the unused trains, probably for scrap. Four sets of trains have sat unused in a rail yard in Glenville, New York (with spare parts in a Rotterdam industrial park) since 2004, costing state taxpayers $150,000 per year in storage costs. Each Amtrak Turboliner weighs about 400 tons. They may be scrapped by the state for as little at 10 cents per pound.

Cuomo’s director of state operations, Howard Glaser, has called the project “New York State’s $70 million train to nowhere.” The trains never fulfilled their high-speed promise and are now sitting among weeds in what some have called the most expensive weed planters in the world. 

$70 Million Wasted

In the original plan, the state was to take possession of seven retired trains from Amtrak that were built in the 1970s and rehabilitate them for the planned high speed rail project. Four of the trains—each of which included two locomotives, a cafe car, and two passenger cars—never ran. The three that did run were fraught with financial and technical problems, including malfunctioning air conditioning and fires. The three barely functioning trains were eventually towed by Amtrak to Delaware in 2004. The state stored the four remaining trains and spare parts in the industrial parks.

The state is hoping to recoup half a million dollars from the sale of the trains, a small proportion of the $70 million the state invested in the project.

Lesson Not Learned

“While Gov. Cuomo is doing exactly the correct thing in this instance, the state under his leadership is still seeking federal funds for high speed rail in upstate New York,” said E. J. McMahon, a senior fellow with the Empire Center for New York State Policy.  

McMahon says the state is proceeding with a “build it and they will come” attitude for rail service in and around cities like Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse. 

“Much of what [state officials] denounce about the stupidity of the failed high-speed rail plans is still embedded in their expectations for future rail plans,” said McMahon. “Spending $92 million under current plans to put on 17 miles of track from Albany to Schenectady is as wasteful as buying those cars in the initial plan.”

Brian Fojtik ([email protected]) is president of Brownstone Communications.