Amtrak to take control of rails between Schenectady, Poughkeepsie

Amtrak. CSX Corp. and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a long-term lease agreement today that will ena

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Amtrak. CSX Corp. and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a long-term lease agreement today that will enable the passenger rail line to take full control of 94 miles of track between Schenectady and Poughkeepsie.

The contract that took effect Saturday ensures passenger rail traffic has scheduling priority and will at last allow $181 million in improvement projects to get under way. Specifically, the agreement will allow the construction of an additional track between Rensselaer and Schenectady to significantly reduce congestion.

Preliminary work started fall on the $91.2 million project to build 17 miles of new track during the fall. Once completed, the new track will double the number of trains able to travel between the two cities, while eliminating a critical bottleneck for the entire corridor.

“Communities, especially in upstate New York, rely on rail transportation to bolster local economic activity,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Enhancements to rail service will continue to lead to job creation and business growth all over New York state.”

For decades, signals have been designed to freight standards, and all planning was subject to approval by the freight railroad. The new agreement will mean trains can now be dispatched from Amtrak’s Command and Control Center in New York City.

“Our goal is to provide a more reliable and enjoyable travel experience for passengers,” Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman said in a statement.

The agreement also allows for a critically important $50.5 million project to build a fourth track at the Rensselaer station. Funding was not available when the station was built in 2002, meaning trains sometimes wait outside the platform for upwards of 20 minutes for space to become available.

Other projects include $2.45 million in safety improvements at 13 at-grade rail crossings in Columbia, Dutchess and Rensselaer counties. Also slated are $36.5 million in signal line improvements in south Albany to replace more than 60 miles of obsolete wires, bury lines that now hang on poles along the rail line and replace 30-year-old wiring with new underground power cable.

The poor performance of signal wires during bad weather often slows travel to 15 mph over tracks capable of supporting speeds of up to 110 mph. The improvements are expected to be completed by the end of 2016.

“This is tremendous news for New York rail passengers and will finally allow for millions of federal dollars to be spent on vital rail improvements and the improved reliability that we have long advocated for,” U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement.

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