Rail projects receive grants

Two high-speed rail projects in the Capital Region — Schenectady’s train station and a fourth track

Two high-speed rail projects in the Capital Region — Schenectady’s train station and a fourth track for the Albany-Rensselaer Amtrak Station — received federal grants Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced.

The Capital District Transportation Authority received $4.1 million for its intermodal station at Erie Boulevard and State Street, while the state Department of Transportation received $35.4 million to build the fourth track at the Rensselaer station.

The federal money completes the $13 million funding package for CDTA’s intermodal project, allowing it to proceed from the design stage to construction, said CDTA Chief Executive Officer Carm Basile. “This is good news. It allows work to pick up,” he said.

Design work on the 4,300-square-foot building, which will replace an existing passenger rail station at the downtown Schenectady site, is about 50 percent complete, Basile said. “We can complete the design and we now have to negotiate and execute a lease agreement with Amtrak,” he said.

Basile said he expects to break ground on the project next year.

Amtrak currently operates the downtown station. Under the lease agreement, CDTA will construct and operate the intermodal station. An intermodal station connects buses, taxis, bicycles, pedestrians and cars to train services. The CDTA operates similar intermodal stations in Saratoga Springs and Rensselaer.

Basile said part of the project is to construct a walkway from State Street to the station. It also involves improvements to the track and rail bed on both ends of the proposed station.

CDTA had earlier obtained two-thirds of project funding through the state Rail Bond Act and the Capital District Transportation Committee.

Ray Gillen, chairman of the Metroplex Development Authority, said officials have been pursuing a new station since 2004. “One of the first things we did was jettison a plan … that was in place in Schenectady prior to 2004 to build a $30 million office complex and train station,” he said, calling that design flawed.

“We made the correct decision to partner with CDTA, and this relationship has served the project very well,” Gillen said. “We knew that the Federal Railway Administration was looking for shovel-ready projects, so we focused on getting all necessary approval in place while engaging an architect to begin developing drawings and specifications so that the project would be ready to go out to bid.”

Gillen credited former U.S. Rep. Mike McNulty, D-Green Island, and current Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, with helping secure funds for the project.

Acting Mayor Gary McCarthy said the intermodal project “is a great comeback story for Schenectady. The new station was designed with community input and it evokes the design of the former Union Station.” Union Station stood at the site from 1908 to 1972.

Gillen said the intermodal station is part of efforts to install a second track between Schenectady and Rensselaer. The $91 million cost to build the second track is included in $151 million the state received from the federal government last year.

The federal government has yet to release the grant to construct the second track, however. The second track will relieve a bottleneck between the two cities in both passenger and freight rail service.

Eventually, the state hopes to build a third track for high-speed rail, where trains can reach speeds of 120 mph and higher, along the Empire Corridor, which runs from New York City to Buffalo. That project will cost more than $4.5 billion to complete.

The latest funding for the Capital Region rail projects is part of $354.4 million the state received from the federal Department of Transportation. The bulk of the money — $295 million — will be used for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Harold Interlocking plan, which would construct a new route for Amtrak along two miles of track where trains must cross over a flow of MTA and Long Island Rail Road traffic.

New York applied for the federal money after it became available when Florida Gov. Rick Scott turned down $2.4 billion earmarked for high-speed rail projects in his state.

States had to compete for this latest round of money, and New York asked for $517 million. This is the second time New York has benefitted by applying for funds other states rejected. In 2010, it received $7.3 million from the federal government after Wisconsin and Ohio returned federal funding.

When the government first made the money available last year, New York received $151 million, far less than what many anticipated.

Categories: Schenectady County

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