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Rail upgrade pushed online via Facebook

Page advocates for high-speed system

Saturday, December 22, 2012
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— Why can’t New York State have high-speed rail?

Albany resident John Frederick has been asking that question for a while. Now he’s started a Facebook page, called New York Citizens for High Speed Rail, with the goal of creating grass roots support for building a high-speed rail system in New York. The page can be found at www.facebook.com/NYCitizensForHighSpeedRail.

“I want people to start talking about this and thinking about it,” Frederick said. “I want to start a discussion and educate people about it.”

Plans for bringing high-speed rail to New York have moved forward in recent years. In 2010, the state received about $151 million in the first round of federal stimulus funding to build a high-speed rail system between New York City and Buffalo, but those funds fall far short of the estimated $3 billion needed to actually do it. About $90 million will be used to build a second track between Albany and Schenectady. Right now, there is only one track between the two cities, shared by passenger and freight trains.

Frederick believes a high-speed rail system would improve the state’s economy by making it easier for people to live upstate and commute into New York City for work, stemming the loss of population upstate. He also said that as gas prices continue to climb, traveling by car might not be as practical or affordable as it is now.

“We’re a country of mobility, of people getting from one place to another,” Frederick said, “but cars and trucks might not be sustainable.”

For people who live upstate, he said, “high-speed rail can become a viable alternative for getting in and out of New York City.”

“Other countries are doing this,” Frederick said, noting that Japan, China and Europe have all built high-speed rail lines. “They know that it works.”

Right now, there is only one high-speed rail line in the U.S.: Amtrak’s Acela Express, which runs from Washington, D.C., to Boston.

In 2009, the New York State Department of Transportation released a plan for improving passenger rail service and reliability. Another plan, unveiled in 2006 by former state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, called for upgrading the state’s existing rail service and building a high-speed rail system throughout the state.

This plan was the product of a task force led by John Egan, former head of Albany International Airport, that put forth a goal of achieving a travel time between New York City and Buffalo of between 2 and 3 hours.

The corridor that stretches from New York City to Buffalo is known as the Empire Corridor. It is one of 10 federally designated high-speed rail corridors in the U.S.

A 2010 U.S. Conference of Mayors study touted the economic benefits of high speed rail. According to the study, train service running between New York City and Albany at 110 mph would create more than 4,700 jobs.

Earlier this month, Amtrak and CSX Corp. reached a long-term lease agreement that will enable the passenger railroad to take full control of 94 miles of track between Schenectady and Poughkeepsie. The contract ensures that passenger rail traffic has scheduling priority and will fund at least $181 million in improvements, such as an upgrade in passenger loading capacity at the Rensselaer station.

Another major rail project is the addition of a second track near Saratoga Station and Saratoga Freight Yard, which is expected to reduce delays for Amtrak’s Adirondack Service.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has championed high-speed rail since his election in 2010. That year, he penned a letter to federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, asking for stimulus funds for high speed rail.

“High speed rail could be the 21st century Erie Canal for New York State and help rebuild upstate New York’s economy,” Cuomo wrote. “Now is the moment to build.”

The Federal Railroad Administration has established three levels of high-speed rail service, from up to 90 mph to between 125 and 250 mph.

Frederick said New York has long been on the cutting edge of transportation, noting construction of the Erie Canal in the early 1800s created a navigable water route that stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes and the building of the New York State Thruway was an ambitious undertaking.

“New York was the Empire State for a reason,” Frederick said.

Earlier this month, relics from a failed previous effort to bring high-speed rail to New York were sold at auction in the Glenville Business and Technology Park. Auctioned off were eight gas-turbine Rohr Turboliner engines and 12 passenger cars; another auction of Turboliner parts was conducted at the Rotterdam Corporate Park. The engines, cars and parts will be sold for scrap.

The trains, originally built in the 1970s, were brought to Glenville in 1998 by Amtrak as part of a $185 million high-speed rail project.

Plans to refurbish the diesel-powered trains for high-speed rail were abandoned in 2004 after mounting difficulties, including the need for asbestos and lead abatement, pushed back the timeline and increased the cost.

In a press release last week, Cuomo’s office said it has taken a “different approach to high speed rail development, one designed to deliver tangible improvements in reliability, on-time performance and speed.”

 

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