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Local hearing could get rail project on track

Tuesday, March 4, 2014
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The railway platform at the Amtrak Railway Station on Erie Boulevard in Schenectady is pictured on Friday.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber
The railway platform at the Amtrak Railway Station on Erie Boulevard in Schenectady is pictured on Friday.

— The first in a series of public hearings on the state’s plans for high-speed passenger rail service across upstate will take place this afternoon in Albany.

State and federal transportation officials will be at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering from 4 to 8 p.m. to discuss plans for the Empire Corridor, 463 miles of fast service between New York City and Niagara Falls.

It is the first of six meetings being held around the state to discuss the project, as part of a federally mandated environmental review.

WORDS

High-speed rail hearing

WHAT: Meeting on New York state high-speed passenger rail proposals, hosted by the state Department of Transportation and Federal Railroad Administration

WHEN: 4 to 8 p.m. today, with formal public hearing at 6 p.m. and open house prior

WHERE: The College of Nanoscale Sciences and Engineering, Nanofab South building, 255 Fuller Road, Albany

High-speed rail service across the state has been under discussion for decades, but money that New York obtained through the federal stimulus program of 2009 may help make it a reality within the next decade.

Since 2010, New York state has received about $500 million in federal high-speed rail funding, some of which is paying for the upcoming construction of a second track between Rensselaer and Schenectady, to ease congestion and reduce delays.

Alternatives under consideration by the state Department of Transportation and Federal Railroad Administration range from doing nothing to spending more than $14.7 billion to build an entirely new rail corridor across the state designed for electric locomotives.

According to a draft environmental-impact statement, the most-discussed scenarios entail spending $5.5 billion and $6.3 billion to build a dedicated third track parallel to the existing CSX Transportation tracks across upstate.

The cost would depend on whether the tracks are rated for travel at 110 mph or 125 mph.

In practice, the study notes, train speeds will be considerably slower, probably averaging between 60 and 70 mph — which is still faster than current average speed west of Albany of 51 mph.

The goal of faster passenger rail would be to draw some travelers away from driving or flying, reducing traffic-related pollution. Ridership last year on the Empire Corridor was 1.67 million, a number officials think could double with faster travel times.

If it becomes reality, high-speed rail would mean faster service from both directions to Schenectady — where a new rail station is in planning stages — as well as faster trains passing through the cities and villages of the Mohawk Valley.

The rail corridor between New York City and the Rensselaer Amtrak station is currently the ninth-busiest in the United States, while the rail corridor west of Albany has far fewer passenger trains, but is one of the busiest freight routes in the state.

All the options for building and operating high-speed rail would require at least $24 million in annual operating subsidies.

Another public hearing will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. March 11 at the Amtrak station in Utica. Written comments will be accepted through March 24.

 
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