New Schenectady station, rail line seen as boon for travel, freight

With final framework agreements in place, construction of a new passenger rail station in Schenectad

With final framework agreements in place, construction of a new passenger rail station in Schenectady and a long-needed second track between Albany and Schenectady will likely begin next year and take about 18 months to complete, high-speed rail advocates said.

The Capital District Transportation Authority will construct the station and the state Department of Transportation will build the second track through contract.

The intermodal station, costing approximately $14 million, will replace an existing passenger rail station at Erie Boulevard and State Street. An intermodal station connects buses, taxis, bicycles, pedestrians and cars to train services. The CDTA operates similar intermodal stations in Saratoga Springs and Rensselaer.

CDTA will link the station to

its BusPlus route on State Street via a covered canopy. Retail shops will also be incorporated into the site, said Margo Janack, CDTA spokeswoman.

CDTA will also rebuild and waterproof a viaduct on which the train tracks sit near the new station. The structure is badly deteriorated and must be repaired as soon as possible. The viaduct was built in the early 1900s.

Janack said Amtrak will continue to offer passenger rail service through the Schenectady station during construction. “The plan is to keep it open whenever possible. There will be a ticket booth in the parking lot,” she said.

Construction of the 17-mile-long second track, costing $91 million, will eliminate a bottleneck along the Schenectady-Albany route, said Deborah Warner, a member of the High Speed Rail New York Coalition. “That area has the most severe bottleneck in the state for the Empire Corridor,” she said.

The bottleneck is due to the need to juggle passenger and freight service along a single existing track running between Schenectady and Albany. CSX operates a major freight operation over the track while Amtrak operates passenger rail service over it.

“Freight has precedence over passenger and that is a very busy corridor, which is important to upstate New York’s economy,” Warner said. “The passenger service has to pull over and wait for freight to move through.”

Warner said the second track will allow CSX to increase capacity, as it will operate freight over both lines. Amtrak will be able to operate trains reaching speeds up to 110 mph along the second track. The existing track between the two cities is rated at 79 mph maximum speed.

High-speed rail advocates called the final framework agreement pivotal; it was announced Friday.

“There was fear within the rail advocacy community that Congress in the new budget would rescind money not obligated under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act,” said Bruce Becker, executive director of the Empire State Rail Passenger Association.

Becker said the state had to have a final framework agreement in place by Friday and that it has to “obligate” the money by Sept. 30, 2012, to specific projects, such as the second track.

New York secured $250 million in federal rail funding, but had obligated only a small amount for specific projects. Up until Friday’s announcement, CSX, Amtrak, the state Department of Transportation and the Federal Rail Administration had been negotiating for more than a year on agreements dealing with land and track leasing, operating and management, dispatching and right-of-way maintenance related to the second track.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport, helped broker the final agreement, Becker said.

Slaughter said any money not yet obligated as stimulus for high speed rail could have been rescinded, but that the likelihood of this happening was remote. “That was why it was so important to move the money from the FRA to New York’s bank. It can’t be taken back,” she said.

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 would cost more than $4.5 billion to complete.

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