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Dreaming of a high-speed rail from Long Island to Boston

Robert Yaro, then-president of the Regional Plan Association,

Robert Yaro, then-president of the Regional Plan Association, in Manhattan in August 2002. Yaro wants to see a high-speed rail connecting New York to Boston via Long Island built under the Biden administration. Credit: FREELANCE/Jennifer S. Altman

For decades, Robert Yaro, the former president of the Regional Plan Association, has dreamed of a high-speed rail through the Northeast Corridor.

Now, Yaro sees an opportunity. In a post-pandemic world, when the "mega-region," as he calls it, will need new infrastructure, jobs and transportation options, Yaro is hoping a high-speed rail from New York to Boston — via Long Island — will be on the to-do list.

Known as the North Atlantic Rail Initiative, the project would take passengers from Penn Station into Jamaica, and then through Nassau and Suffolk, using a mix of underground tunnels, freight rail lines, new track, and existing track. Potential stops on the Island, Yaro said, could include the Nassau Hub, Republic Airport, Ronkonkoma and Stony Brook. Then, just before the Village of Port Jefferson, the train would head through a tunnel under the Long Island Sound to Connecticut.

Express service that wouldn’t make every stop could bring passengers from New York to Boston in 100 minutes, Yaro said, noting that he has used England’s high-speed rail efforts as a model for his plans.

Yaro told The Point he has talked to President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team, and "They’ve told us this ticks off all their boxes." The $105 billion project, Yaro said, would represent critical improvements not only to transit, but in areas like climate change and racial and economic equality, since it would touch areas, especially in Connecticut and Massachusetts, that currently lack widespread public transit access.

He’s also begun conversations with congressional representatives across the corridor. And on Wednesday afternoon, he held a webinar about the project with a group of mayors and county executives, including representatives from Nassau and Suffolk.

"It’s a game changer for Long Island," Yaro said. "Instead of being the biggest cul de sac in America, which it is now, Long Island gets connected to the entire Northeast Corridor in the way it never has been … In some ways, Long Island becomes a central place in the Northeast [with this project]."

Yaro said he’d recommend that a special public authority be created to handle the project. Yaro noted that he was involved in the blue ribbon panel on the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, and that similar techniques, including design-build, could be employed here.

Yaro noted that 10 years ago, he worked with a group of University of Pennsylvania graduate students, which presented the project to then-Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. During the presentation, Rendell got then-Vice President Joe Biden on the phone to tell him about it.

Biden brought the group to the White House for a presentation, and, according to Yaro, said: "I’ve been waiting 40 years for this. This is what we have to do."

It didn’t move forward then. But Yaro’s hoping that a decade later, a Biden presidency could be the answer to his dream.

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