Assessment: Proposed Extension Of

Metro-North Rail Service

Into Northern Dutchess County

Produced by the

Rhinebeck Technology Committee

Executive Summary

Despite its rural environment, Northern Dutchess County has some of the best rail service in the United States. This service includes:

Amtrak provides this service. Amtrak's service is a driving factor behind the economy and exemplary quality of life enjoyed by Northern Dutchess County residents and businesses.

$3 million of taxpayer funds are being spent to, for all practical purposes, study the replacement of high-speed, high-quality, Amtrak service with slower and inferior Metro-North service. The actual replacement will cost an additional $70 million of taxpayer funds to effect, untold millions to subsidize every year, and will be disastrous to the economy, the environment, and the exemplary quality of life in Northern Dutchess County. The negative impacts of this substitution in service will stretch from Northern Dutchess County into New York's Capital Region.

Metro-North completed the "Identification of Need" phase of their work with zero input from the citizens or municipalities affected. The citizens and municipal governments were not informed of, much less invited or allowed to participate in, the "Identification of Need". There were no surveys or interviews of citizens needs. Despite numerous requests by elected municipal officials and citizens, Metro-North will not supply any of the data or analysis related to the "Identification of Need". Metro-North has declared the "Identification of Need" is complete.

Based on the needs that Metro-North identified, Metro-North applied for and received a

$3 million grant of federal taxpayer money for two activities:

  1. the creation of a document titled "The Locally Preferred Alternative"

  2. a combined Major Investment Study / Draft Environmental Impact Statement (MIS/DEIS) of extending Metro-North service.

Not specified, but probably funded in the grant, is the expensive and presumptive design of Metro-North's services and facilities - - after all, how can an MIS/DEIS be properly done without a design?

Northern Dutchess County is not a part of the process. There are no representatives from Northern Dutchess County involved in the management or direction of this $3 million effort. According to Metro-North, the workscope for the work effort is completely defined by mid-August. The workscope has not been released to residents or municipal officials.

Metro-North has hired all of the consultants. Metro-North will not provide any information on any work activities of the consultants. Not one Northern Dutchess County citizen or elected municipal official even gets to review or approve the "The Locally Preferred Alternative" document before it is published.

Public participation in comment sessions has been very high. Many citizens have spent considerable time and resources evaluating the issues. More than 95% of the citizens attending were strongly opposed to Metro-North service in Northern Dutchess County. The reasons for this opposition were numerous and substantial.

Many municipal governments have passed resolutions declaring "no confidence" in Metro-North's

ability to conduct a meaningful and fair assessment of transportation needs of, and alternative solutions for, Northern Dutchess County residents. These governments have passed resolutions opposing any extension of Metro-North service into their communities based on the activities Metro-North is undertaking. Rhinebeck, Milan, Tivoli, and Red Hook have all passed these types of resolutions to date.

Northern Dutchess County does have transportation needs. There are many ways of solutioning these needs and several known solutions that can be achieved at far lower cost, and with far fewer negative impacts, than would be achieved by extending Metro-North service into Northern Dutchess County. Designing Metro-North's train service into Northern Dutchess County and evaluating its impacts does nothing to help define the real transportation needs of Northern Dutchess County and is a very unlikely solution to any of those needs.

Is the $3 million of taxpayer funds being spent to quickly and efficiently address the transportation needs of Northern Dutchess County's citizens? Every piece of information we have indicates that neither the management team, the work activities, nor the processes that Metro-North has selected have any reasonable hope of producing "The Locally Preferred Alternative".

Metro-North Railroad / The Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Metro-North Railroad (Metro-North) is a part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). The MTA is a state agency under the executive branch of New York State government. The MTA had an operating deficit in 1998 of $1.6 Billion. Capital programs drove the MTA's need for taxpayer subsidies to $1.8 Billion in 1998. There is no indication that the MTA's need for subsidies is levelling off, much less decreasing.

Northern Dutchess County residents and businesses directly subsidize the operation of the MTA and its Metro-North subsidiary. Northern Dutchess:

  1. businesses pay a sizable MTA surcharge on every business tax return filed

  2. residents pay a sizable MTA sales tax surcharge on their purchases

  3. residents pay a sizable MTA Mortgage Recording Tax on all mortgages filed

  4. residents and businesses pay an MTA surcharge on their phone bills

Since the MTA loses money on its operations, various types of federal and state tax monies are always used to fund the MTA's capital programs. Any extension of Metro-North service to Northern Dutchess County will be funded by federal and state tax monies. Northern Dutchess County residents and businesses are near the top of the list of the "most highly taxed" in the U.S..

$3 Million In Taxpayer Funds To Conduct A "Study" - Metro-North Railroad, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the Federal Transit Administration are spending $3 million of taxpayer funds to study the extension of Metro-North's Hudson River Line's services northward beyond Poughkeepsie, NY. This work has two main activities. One activity is the creation of a document titled "The Locally Preferred Alternative". The other activity is a a combined Major Investment Study / Draft Environmental Impact Statement (MIS/DEIS) of extending Metro-North service. Not specified, but probably funded in the grant, is the expensive and presumptive design of Metro-North's services and facilities - - after all, how can an MIS/DEIS be properly done without a design?

$70 Million More In Taxpayer Funds To Build It - The extension of Metro-North Railroad to Northern Dutchess County is reportedly estimated to cost $70 Million by MTA officials. These monies will need to be obtained from taxpayers, as Metro-North and the MTA already operate at a deficit of $1.6 Billion per year.

Millions More Every Year In Taxpayer Funds To Operate It - It is easily projected that, like its other operations, Metro-North's extension into Northern Dutchess County will not operate profitably. The projected amount of the additional taxpayer funds required annually to subsidize the day-to-day operation of the proposed extension to Northern Dutchess County could not be obtained, but prorated on a track mile basis, will be several million dollars.

Metro-North's Objectives

Metro-North plainly stated their objectives for their MIS/DEIS as:

  1. Extend Metro-North rail service north of Poughkeepsie to meet current and anticipated demand, while tapping new markets and providing an alternative mode of transportation for Northern Dutchess County

  2. Provide a one seat ride to Grand Central Terminal on Manhattan's East side for residents of the study area

  3. Determine the northernmost terminus for expanded rail service

  4. Provide new stations in the study area as intermediate stops between Poughkeepsie and the new terminus

  5. Provide a new train storage yard, equipment maintenance area, and employee base facility

  6. Minimize dead-head mileage on the Hudson line

  7. Improve rail transit access to employment opportunities and commercial areas for residents in the study area through the provision of frequent rail service to New York City and Westchester County

  8. Improve access to cultural attractions for the provision of frequent off-peak and week-end rail service

  9. Support/complement local development plans

  10. Reduce regional polution levels by reducing vehicle miles of travel in the study area

  11. Provide real service options that encourage shifts from single occupant vehicle travel to rail

  12. Provide improvements that will help achieve provisions of the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990 and the State implementation plan by reducing the number of vehicle miles of travel

  13. Attract new riders to mass transportation
Metro-North Capabilities

The frequency of Metro-North service - Metro-North operates approximately 23 trains into and 23 trains out of Poughkeepsie every day. The number of trains that are being evaluated for Metro-North service to Northern Dutchess County could not be obtained. Service levels to Poughkeepsie are substantially lower than service levels to cities south of Poughkeepsie such as Ossining and Tarrytown. Metro-North service levels to Northern Dutchess County will likely be lower than service levels to Poughkeepsie.

Metro-North is substantially slower - The City of Poughkeepsie is 20 miles south of Rhinecliff. Poughkeepsie is serviced by Metro-North and (during off-peak hours) Amtrak. Travel time over the 74 miles between New York City and Poughkeepsie on Metro-North ranges from 90 minutes to 105 minutes. The slower speeds and frequent stops of Metro-North services usually requires riders to spend more time on Metro-North trains going to/from Poughkeepsie than does Amtrak's high speed rail service between New York and Rhinecliff - - an additional 20 miles.

The 7:06 a.m. Amtrak train out of Rhinecliff actually arrives in New York ahead of the 6:59 a.m. Metro-North train out of Poughkeepsie. This occurs despite the fact the trains travel over the same tracks into the city and the Amtrak train travels an additional 20 miles.

Metro-North's service would require an additional half hour of train travel each way in addition to the commute times achieved by Amtrak to/from Rhinecliff today. Metro-North service in Northern Dutchess County means Rhinecliff commuters must spend an additional hour on the train every day. The daily commute to/from Rhinecliff will require at least four hours a day on just the Metro-North train.

Metro-North terminates at Grand Central Station (42nd Street) - This is 10 blocks away from Amtrak's Penn Station and 10 blocks further away from the high-wage jobs of Wall Street and Silicon Alley. These 10 blocks are problematic and expensive for:

Metro-North quality is inferior - Northern Dutchess County residents overwhelmingly rate Metro-North as bad to unbearable. The major drawbacks to Metro-North service are that it 1) has uncomfortable, hard, cramped seating; 2) commuters lose substantial productivity by not being able to spread work out in a dining car or plug in a laptop computer; 3) it is slow with frequent stops; and 4) there are no amenities such as a dining car to get a snack or beverage.

Metro-North is not cost effective - For the typical commuter who drives to Rhinecliff and takes the train into New York City, the monthly commute on Metro-North would cost $330 today (as compared to Amtrak's $380). A monthly pass on Metro-North, only good on weekdays, will cost $300/month1. Parking will cost $30/month. Metro-North provides a $50/month cost savings in exchange for 20 additional hours of commuting. Metro-North service is only cost effective for commuters that value their time at less than $2.50 per hour.

Metro-North does not effectively service Westchester County - Many Dutchess County commuters do travel to Westchester County. Commuting to Westchester County from Metro-North's Hudson Line is not practical for the vast majority of commuters on either Metro-North's existing or proposed service. In fact, few Metro-North riders travel from Poughkeepsie to Westchester County, the reasons for this are very clear.

Most Dutchess County commuters who travel to Westchester travel to Somers, Armonk, White Plains, Hawthorne, or Yorktown. Hawthorne and Yorktown are not serviced by Metro-North. A Metro-North commute from Poughkeepsie (or points north) would require a Metro-North traveller to travel 90-105 minutes south into New York, change trains in Grand Central Station, and then travel an additional 30-60 minutes back north. This is 2-3 times the travel time than can be achieved in a car and represents a 5-6 hours of train/station time round-trip plus local transportation.

Northern Dutchess County has full rail service

Despite its rural environment, Northern Dutchess County has some of the best rail service in the United States. This service includes:

Amtrak provides this service. Amtrak has been providing this economical and high quality service to Northern Dutchess County for many years. Amtrak has been executing a financial plan under which they will operate subsidy-free by the year 2002.

Published Amtrak travel time over the 94 miles between Rhinecliff and New York City (NYC) ranges between 90 to 100 minutes. With the introduction of higher-speed service elsewhere in the Northeast, Amtrak will be moving even better/faster equipment into service along the Hudson River and will be able to reduce the travel time between Rhinecliff and New York City. Amtrak service is affordable and parking is free. A monthly pass on Amtrak between Rhinecliff and New York City costs $380 and can be used every day of the month including weekends.

Rhinecliff is a hamlet of the town of Rhinebeck. Rhinebeck is the only rural town that receives Amtrak service between New York City and Albany. Rhinebeck is a rural community surrounded by rural communities in Northern Dutchess County, yet there is more Amtrak service to Rhinebeck than to the City Of Poughkeepsie or the City Of White Plains. Travel between Rhinebeck and New York City reportedly accounts for Amtrak's 6th largest ridership in New York State. The Amtrak station in Rhinebeck is reportedly listed among the 50 busiest stations in Amtrak's system.

Amtrak currently runs 13 trains from Rhinecliff to New York City and the same number in return. Amtrak service has increased from 7 trains each way 5 years ago. Amtrak reportedly plans to further enhance their Rhinecliff presence to provide hourly service, as reportedly described in their 2010 operating plan. Northern Dutchess County residents overwhelmingly give Amtrak service high marks for comfort, speed, and efficiency. High-speed Amtrak commuter service is a unique and valuable asset that provides substantial economic advantages to Northern Dutchess County.

Extending Metro-North to Rhinecliff will cause a reduction or halt in Amtrak service

Northern Dutchess County will lose most, if not all, of its Amtrak service if Metro-North service is extended to Northern Dutchess County. With only 150 riders from and 150 riders to Rhinecliff in a day, there is not a sufficient volume of riders (even projecting a sustained 7% growth in ridership) to support two railroads providing regular service to Rhinecliff. Amtrak will be operating without subsidies in 2002, how can Amtrak afford to compete with the heavily subsidized Metro-North? Metro-North service will replace Amtrak service for Northern Dutchess County.

Splitting service between Amtrak and Metro-North at a station always drives Amtrak from the station. This can easily be observed in the City Of Poughkeepsie. Amtrak trains do not stop at the Poughkeepsie station during morning and evening commuting hours because Poughkeepsie is also serviced by Metro-North. Poughkeepsie does not sustain two commuter railroads despite the fact that it has a larger, more densely populated, ridership to pull from today than Northern Dutchess County does today or in the 2020 projections.

As a large driver of ridership and profits on the line, loss of Amtrak ridership in Northern Dutchess County will hurt Amtrak's ability to service other points in New York. This will result in reduced frequency of Amtrak service to the cities of Poughkeepsie, Albany/Rensselaer, Schenectady, Amsterdam, Utica, Rome, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo, effectively reducing:

to these areas.

Loss of high-speed rail service to Northern Dutchess County will result in:

Loss of high-wage earning residents - Reduction or loss of Amtrak service makes living in Northern Dutchess County a burden to the Wall Street, Silicon Alley, and other highly paid professionals who live in Northern Dutchess County and work in New York City. Loss of high-speed rail service gives these people one less reason to live in Northern Dutchess County. The secondary affects of Metro-North service on the communities will take away additional reasons.

Loss of community volunteer coverage and increased demand for services - Metro-North's proposed service keeps commuters away from their family, their neighborhoods, their childrens' schools and after-school activities, and their community for an additional 20 hours per month. The rural Northern Dutchess County communities rely on volunteer ambulance service, fire protection, town committees, in-classroom, and after-school assistance. The ratio of volunteers to residents always declines with increases in commuting times.

Less protection of open space - High-wage commuters were attracted here by the comfort, speed, and convenience of an Amtrak commute. These high-wage earners, and their desire and ability to live on larger tracts of land, have helped keep Northern Dutchess County rural. They have fueled our economy (restaurants, retail, and trades people) while fighting hard to preserve the open spaces that attracted them to Northern Dutchess County. As these people move out, the pressure to sub-divide and develop their properties is irresistable.

Affordable housing is already an issue in Northern Dutchess County. Metro-North will increase this pressure. Solutions to affordable housing usually involve the purchase and development of vacant land, a commodity that will already be under pressure from the added population created by Metro-North.

Erosion of the tax base - Reductions or loss of high-speed Amtrak service out of Rhinecliff makes living in our community a burden to those who have substantially larger properties or second homes in Northern Dutchess County and commute to New York. These types of commuters are very positive for the tax base, producing far more in taxes than they consume in services. Commuters that can afford these types of properties would clearly continue to give up $50 a month in exchange for having 20 more hours a month of free-time. Losing these homeowners, who typically own homes built on above average to very large tracts of land, makes Northern Dutchess County very susceptible to large developments of bedroom communities built on small lots - a usage which is devastating to the tax base.

Sprawl - Metro-North train service is attractive to lower-income commuters and clearly a large burden to middle-income and higher-income commuters. Metro-North service will change the delicate balance of commuters that Northern Dutchess County currently enjoys. Lower-income commuters can not, by definition, afford low density housing. The result of any shift to lower-income commuters will be increased sprawl and congestion.

Metro-North negatively impacts existing residents through:

Increases in train traffic - Train traffic through our communities will almost double.

Extending Metro-North to Northern Dutchess County will significantly increase the amount of train traffic through our communities and along our river. Amtrak will continue to run trains between Albany and New York (although few, if any, will stop in Northern Dutchess County). Metro-North will run an additional 13 trains north through Rhinebeck and an additional 13 trains south through Rhinecliff just to match today's level of Amtrak service.

This is an addition of at least 26 trains a day through our rural communities and along our river. The added presence, noise, and pollution of these added trains will greatly reduce the quality of life for residents and visitors near the Hudson River.

Increases in car traffic - Car traffic will rise in several ways.

Lower cost rail service will pull commuters to the train from further away, resulting in more car miles driven to and from the train stations every day. This added traffic will be generated mostly by new residents attracted to Metro-North service. Most of this additional car traffic will pass twice a day through small village centers to reach and then exit the proposed stations.

Some current Amtrak riders will abandon train service once Amtrak service declines/stops. These commuters will drive into New York in their cars to control their commuting time - adding to automobile congestion on highways and area roads.

Increases in car exhaust - The pollution generated by automobiles will rise in several ways.

Current commuters will have a shorter drive to the rail station. This is not nearly as positive as it sounds. This shorter drive will not reduce the average number of miles that are driven while the vehicle is cold - the major source of air pollution. It will only reduce the number of miles that are driven while the vehicle is warmed up.

Cold operation of a vehicle shortens the life of many of its components including exhaust system, catalytic converter, and driveline. These items must be replaced more frequently, resulting in additional environmental costs for their manufacture, installation, and disposal. In the case of pollution control equipment, when these items cease functioning they cause the vehicle to directly add more pollution into the environment. The shorter life for these components also drives additional cost for the consumer.

In areas where Metro-North service is available, many commuters continue to drive substantial distances to stations closer to New York City to save time and to reach a station with more frequent service. Adding Metro-North stations in Northern Dutchess County will supposedly discourage many of the current Metro-North travellers who travel from points north and west of Poughkeepsie from driving to Poughkeepsie or stations south of Poughkeepsie. Metro-North has been asked to expand the their MIS/DEIS to include a study of ridership at its existing stations on the Hudson Line to determine the magnitude of this effect, but has thus far declined.

Many current rail commuters will start commuting to the city in their car (less than a two hour drive) should Northern Dutchess County lose its comfortable, productive, high-speed, Amtrak service. They will do this to hold their total commuting time to reasonable levels. In the process, they will create substantial added vehicle emissions. Metro-North has been asked to expand the their MIS/DEIS to address this in their study, but has thus far declined.

Increases in train exhaust - Train exhaust in our communities will more than double.

Metro-North is apparently being pressured to move their train storage and maintenance yard out of Croton-Harmon. One of the major reasons for this pressure is that the train yard (with many diesel engines idling through the night) and the very high number of miles of empty train operation every day are harming the metropolitan New York area's air quality.

It is likely that the prime driver behind Metro-North's study is to relocate their train yard to Northern Dutchess County. By relocating their yard, they will move the air pollution it generates out of the New York metropolitan area - - allowing New York to keep federal funds tied to air quality levels. Unfortunately, this will not really reduce Metro-North's air pollution, it will merely be relocated it into our rural communities.

Metro-North has other, more appropriate, options for reducing their damage to air quality. Clean air standards were enacted to reduce overall air pollution, not just move it around.

Loss of access to the Hudson River - In all other areas they service, Metro-North has made it a criminal offense to walk across the train tracks to reach the Hudson River. Metro-North vigorously pursues and prosecutes people walking across their tracks to reach the Hudson River. If Metro-North service is extended northward, it will reduce Northern Dutchess County residents' access to the Hudson River for fishing and recreation.

Loss of scenic vistas - Any meaningful increase in ridership will require additional parking facilities. To be accepted by riders, these parking facilities must be placed near the train tracks - and near the Hudson River. The vista of the Northern Dutchess County shoreline from on the Hudson River and the vista from hundreds of feet above the river on the Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge are critical assets to Northern Dutchess County that could be lost by expanding automobile parking facilities at train stations, new train storage yards, or new train maintenance facilities.

Potential for electrification of the rail line - Other MTA rail lines have been electrified to reduce pollution and operating costs. If the MTA extends rail service into Northern Dutchess County, the service could be electrified initially or in the future. Electrified rail lines would further restrict access to the Hudson River and present serious safety risks to Northern Dutchess County residents and visitors. Electrification of the rail line would also pose a danger to any animals (domestic, wild, or endangered) crossing the rail line.

Metro-North negatively impacts existing commuters

The $50/month reduction in exchange for 20 additional hours/month on the train is clearly not attractive to middle-income and higher-income commuters. Neither is the loss of a comfortable seat during their ride, lost productivity from not being able to spread out work or use a power outlet for a laptop computer, or loss of amenities like beverage/snack service. Metro-North provides no benefits for middle-income and higher-income commuters.

Extending Metro-North service north of Poughkeepsie is a means of subsidizing lower-income commuters. Subsidizing lower-income commuters is a viable government option, however there are more effective ways of achieving this subsidy:

Immediate - Amortizing the $3 million cost of the study over the next 10 years equates to more than $35,000/month. This money could be used to immediately subsidize the $50/month price difference between the current Amtrak service and the proposed Metro-North service for 700 lower-income commuters for the next 10 years.

Long term - $70 million is required to actually build Metro-North service to Northern Dutchess County. At 6% per year, the interest on $70 million is $350,000 per month. The interest alone provides enough money to subsidize the price difference between Metro-North service and Amtrak service for 7,000 lower-income commuters every day forever.

Metro-North estimates that less than 800 Northern Dutchess County residents commute to New York City using all forms of transportation. Current total daily train ridership in Northern Dutchess County totals 150. Metro-North has verbally indicated that there are very few commuters in Northern Dutchess County that would qualify for a direct subsidy and that the number of commuters qualifying for a direct subsidy remains low through 2020.

Indirect - Subsidizing the price difference for travel on Amtrak benefits lower-income residents in other ways. Just like everyone else who uses Amtrak service, these subsidized commuters will be able to enjoy an hour more with their family, their neighbors, and their community than the Metro-North proposal allows. That extra hour every day makes it easier for them to be an active participant in volunteer, school, and community organizations. Amtrak service will provide them with a clean and comfortable seat on the train. Amtrak service will allow them to get work done on the train.

Metro-North negatively impacts weekenders & second home owners

Metro-North service will raise the cost for Amtrak users. $30 per month parking fees are mandatory for all travellers using parking facilities at stations serviced by Metro-North. These monthly parking fees would raise the cost for weekenders and vacationers who park a vehicle at the Rhinecliff station for extended periods of time.

Reduction or elimination of Amtrak service will be a burden for many weekenders and second home owners that use Amtrak. Metro-North service will require more time, additional travel within New York City to reach the train station, and is less accommodating to their need to carry luggage, bicycles, sports equipment, and other bulky items.

Weekenders and second home owners have a very positive impact on the tax base and the quality of life in Northern Dutchess County.

Metro-North negatively impacts vacationers

Reduction or elimination of Amtrak service will be a burden for vacationers that use Amtrak. Loss of Amtrak service to Rhinecliff will require vacationers to walk, taxi, bus, or subway the ten blocks between Penn Station (Amtrak service) and Grand Central Station (Metro-North service). Metro-North's service is not designed to accomodate luggage or recreational equipment like bicycles or skis, and other bulky items such as items purchased at local craft or antique venues.

Metro-North negatively impacts existing local businesses

Any externally generated growth in the population of Northern Dutchess County will speed the demise of local businesses based on the rural qualities of Northern Dutchess County. According to the New York State Department of Economic Development, tourism brought $122 million of business into Dutchess County in 1991. A disproportionate (more than 21%) share of this business probably went to Northern Dutchess County residents and businesses because of their rural environment and their tourism centered economies. These businesses include restaurant; retail; trades and services businesses that cater to tourists, weekenders, and second home owners; and bed & breakfast businesses.

Any shift in the commuting population will also hurt these businesses. Lower-income commuters are not able to financially sustain these businesses. Any erosion in the customer base will lead to the decline of these businesses that make Northern Dutchess County unique. The result of any shift to lower-income commuters will be the replacement of these locally owned and managed businesses with a smaller number of the large national chain businesses found elsewhere in the New York metropolitan area.

Metro-North negatively impacts existing local business travellers

Air service for Northern Dutchess County is remote, expensive, and seriously lacking. Amtrak service from Rhinecliff provides affordable and direct access to Amtrak's very-high-speed inter-city Amtrak service running from Boston to Washington. This fast and direct access for local business travellers is vital to area businesses and economic development.

In Northern Dutchess County, this service will be lost or greatly reduced if Metro-North service is extended. Connecting between Metro-North's Grand Central Station and Amtrak's Penn Station is not efficient or practical. In cities along the Hudson River (Poughkeepsie, Hudson, Albany, and north), access to this vital business service will be reduced by the loss of Amtrak profits/ridership in Rhinecliff.

Metro-North negatively impacts economic development plans

Today's Northern Dutchess County economy is heavily based on tourism and agriculture. Population growth in Northern Dutchess County is inevitable. As the population grows, the current economic base will change. Tourism and agriculture typically decline as the population of year-round residents increases. Population growth from Metro-North accelerates the decline in these businesses.

Appropriate types of growth can be planned and encouraged. Northern Dutchess County residents have made it clear that they do not want their region to become a bedroom community of sprawling residential developments populated by residents who race to leave the area in the morning and race back into the community at night.

Any Metro-North driven influx of bedroom commuter residents that significantly increases the population density, reduces open space, and/or requires more from the tax base than it provides will also preclude this type of growth.

Northern Dutchess County has several unique and powerful competitive advantages that can help it avoid becoming a bedroom community. These advantages include:

  1. open space and natural beauty;

  2. high-speed commuter rail to New York City;

  3. fast and convenient access to very-high-speed rail service to Boston (another large new economy hub); and

  4. a population rich in information technology skills

These advantages position Northern Dutchess County as a very attractive location for Internet and "new economy" high-wage job holders. Internet and "new economy" jobs have been cited repeatedly as the most attractive economic growth option for Northern Dutchess County. Internet and "new economy" jobs are high-wage jobs. Internet and "new economy" jobs are key to maintaining open space, preserving the natural beauty, and maintaining the sense of community that defines Northern Dutchess County.

New York City's Silicon Alley is one of the four major centers in the United States for Internet and "new economy" jobs today. Commuting time between Rhinecliff and 55 Broad Street in Silicon Alley consumes 4 hours door-to-door. Metro-North would extend this daily travel time to 5 hours and 30 minutes.

Many workers in these jobs are able to telecommute for at least part of their work week. In most industries, telecommuters are able to both earn a high wage and be an active part of their community. Telecommuting brings business to the citizens.

Loss of high-speed rail service (Amtrak) between Northern Dutchess County and New York City will make Northern Dutchess County unattractive to people holding Internet, new economy, or telecommuting jobs by forcing them to

  1. spend an additional hour on the train;

  2. spend additional travel time once in New York City to reach Silicon Alley; and

  3. decrease their comfort and productivity for the four hours they will now spend on the train

  4. increasing population, diminishing the natural beauty, and greatly changing the quality of life in the communities affected

As telecommuting and the Internet continue to grow, quality of life and sense of community will become the overriding factors in where high-wage job holders choose to live. The communities in Northern Dutchess County are positioned to benefit disproportionately from this change with their abundant Amtrak high-speed rail service to New York City, open space, natural beauty, and high quality of life. Several of the communities in Northern Dutchess County have contracts with high-speed Internet Service Providers ensuring their high-speed connection to the Internet within the year.

These economic development plans have not been well documented by Northern Dutchess County municipalities. Evaluating Metro-North's impacts on these plans will require that these plans are fully documented for a DEIS level of assessment. This is a large, non-productive, and time consuming task to impose on the volunteer organizations involved. No monies are being provided by Metro-North to hire professionals to document these plans.

Metro-North drives the wrong kind of population growth

According to Metro-North, the population of Northern Dutchess County (Rhinebeck, Red Hook, Hyde Park, Milan, Pleasant Valley, Stanford, and Clinton) will grow from 56,400 in 1995 to 65,400 in 2020 without their service. According to Metro-North, the population of all of Dutchess County will grow from 262,000 in 1995 to 314,000 in 2020 without their service. Metro-North is assuming that the roughly 20% total projected growth from 1995 to 2020 is pretty uniformly distributed across Dutchess County. This seems reasonable.

Metro-North projects that the number of Northern Dutchess County residents commuting to New York City will grow 60% (3 times faster than the population) by 2020 without their service. Given the powerful affects of the nascent Internet, and the "new economy" it enables, this projected growth rate in commuters to New York City seems seriously outdated and highly suspect. They have made no projection of the additional growth in commuters created by their service.

Regardless of what "natural" growth rate you work from, Metro-North will be a substantial external driver of population growth in Northern Dutchess County. Metro-North, by definition, drives additional growth in "bedroom community" commuters. From a tax base standpoint, this type of growth is one of the most detrimental types of growth a region can experience.

This growth will also reduce open space and the quality of life that makes Northern Dutchess County attractive. Metro-North generated growth will make our area unattractive as either a primary or secondary home to middle/higher-wage earners, Internet and "new economy" workers, and telecommuters.

Conclusion

Despite its rural environment, Northern Dutchess County has some of the best rail service in the United States. This service includes:

Amtrak provides this service. Amtrak's service is a driving factor behind the economy and exemplary quality of life enjoyed by Northern Dutchess County residents and businesses.

$3 million of taxpayer funds are being spent to, for all practical purposes, study the replacement of this Amtrak service with inferior Metro-North service. This replacement will cost an additional $70 million of taxpayer funds and will be disastrous to the economy, the environment, and the high quality of life in Northern Dutchess County. The very negative impacts of this change in service will probably stretch from Northern Dutchess County into New York's Capital Region.

Public participation in comment sessions has been very high. Many citizens have spent considerable time and resources evaluating the issues. The overwhelming majority (more than 95%) of the citizens that spoke were strongly opposed to Metro-North service in Northern Dutchess County. The reasons for this opposition were numerous and substantial.

Northern Dutchess County does have transportation needs. There are many ways of solutioning these needs and several known solutions that can be achieved at far lower cost, and with far fewer negative impacts, than would be achieved by extending Metro-North service into Northern Dutchess County. Designing Metro-North's train service into Northern Dutchess County and evaluating its impacts does nothing to help define the real transportation needs of Northern Dutchess County and is a very unlikely solution to any of those needs.

Is the $3 million of taxpayer funds being spent to quickly and efficiently address the transportation needs of Northern Dutchess County's citizens? Every piece of information we have indicates that neither the management team nor the work activities that Metro-North has selected have any reasonable hope of producing "The Locally Preferred Alternative".


1 Metro-North's monthly commuter pricing formula is almost linear at $100/month plus

$2.15 per mile travelled. Poughkeepsie is 74 miles from Grand Central Station and the monthly commuter ticket is $257. Rhinecliff is 94 miles from Grand Central Station and the monthly commuter ticket calculates to $302.