Orange County Light Rail Proposal
Background and Rationale
Orange County, approximately 60 miles north of New York City, is home to both suburban and urban towns, and rural fields and forests. It is a combination of classic rural America and classic suburban America. Public transit-wise, this creates an issue. Instead of having typical suburban transit, Orange County has a hodgepodge of different transit options. There are local buses within the larger towns, there are commuter buses to New York City, and there is one commuter rail line to Hoboken. Aside from this, there is an intercity bus that runs cross-county, but only 2-4 times a day, and that’s it. You need a car. Now, some of these commuter buses try to pretend they are also local buses, but in all honesty, they don’t serve the needs of the county - and to make it worse, COVID has caused many routes to be suspended. Orange County needs more transit. There is ridership demand across the county, and what little bus service there is isn’t enough. For example: to get between the two largest cities in Orange County, Newburgh and Middletown, by transit, you have two options. One, take a twice-a-day bus for an hour and 45 minutes, or take a commuter bus to Harriman and then the Main Line intercity bus. Total travel time? 4 hours. It is obvious that Orange County needs better transit. However, what is the best way to serve Orange County? An intercity bus system may seem best, but routes would have to be extremely deviatory to serve enough places, and most buses also pollute the environment a lot. However, running a commuter rail system also wouldn’t work, as you would need to build new train yards and acquire equipment, which is massively expensive. However, using a Light Rail system would be the best of both worlds. Yes, these trains would pollute, but would have much more capacity than a bus, so practically, they’d be more fuel efficient, however while these do need yards, they’d be much smaller, and light rail vehicles are also much cheaper.
This Light Rail system would have two lines running across the county - the Main Line and the Newburgh-Warwick Line. Both lines would link large cities to small towns across the county. In addition, both lines would run almost completely along abandoned or underused rail lines, the only exception being a short street-running section in Middletown. The rolling stock used would be Stadler GTW trains, a Swiss train that is able to operate on street, but is also powered by diesel, and therefore doesn’t need costly electrification. The Main Line would replace the Main Line bus, but would run a lot faster than this bus. The bus currently takes, at its fastest, 2.5 hours, whereas this train line, built to 60 mph standards, would take about 30 minutes with stops, or 5 times faster. This would run on the abandoned Erie Main Line, which is already owned by the county as a rail trail, and could easily be rebuilt. The Newburgh-Warwick Line would run along the abandoned Erie Newburgh Branch, whose Right-of-way has been preserved, and the NYSW Mainline, which is an active freight line (trains only run at night). These lines combined would allow for seamless cross-county travel, helped by a transfer station at Greycourt. Newburgh to Middletown, that trip I mentioned earlier, would take 45 minutes, a reduction of an hour. Warwick to Harriman would take 30 minutes, a reduction of 3.5 hours. In addition to all of this, both lines connect to the already extant Port Jervis Line, which runs south through Rockland County and New Jersey to Secaucus, where one can take a train to Manhattan, and Hoboken, where one can take a ferry to Manhattan. This would allow for seamless trips to almost anywhere in the county using transit, using the local buses as connections to final destinations.