Installation of the long-awaited second track has begun between the Rensselaer and Schenectady Amtrak stations, scene of many delays over the years as freight trains and passenger trains waited for each other to clear the single existing track.
The track work and related construction at the Rensselaer station — extending a platform and adding a fourth track — will total $50 million, according to Carol Breen, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, which is in charge of the project. The local work is part of more than $300 million worth of upgrades the state is making throughout the Empire Corridor, from New York City to Rensselaer to Niagara Falls, she said.
Breen said track is being laid by Amtrak personnel and should be in place within four weeks. However, much more needs to be done before trains can roll on that new track — the signals need to be upgraded, new cable laid and technology modernized.
Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz said Tuesday that the passenger train delays between Schenectady and Rensselaer largely ended in December 2012, when Amtrak entered a long-term lease with CSX, owner of the track, giving Amtrak trains priority.
Nonetheless, the second track is a welcome addition, he said, providing greater capacity, flexibility and reliability.
“It’s an important section of the railroad there,” he said. “It will be a tremendous benefit to our passengers.”
Schulz also noted the work being done at the Rensselaer station and the signal upgrades being made along the route.
“All of those improvements will result in a more convenient, reliable railroad for all the users,” he said.
The question mark remaining at this point is Amtrak’s Schenectady station.
Currently, most people traveling by rail between the Capital Region and New York City drive to the Rensselaer Amtrak station, which is the ninth-busiest passenger station in the United States. It handled 764,000 people in 2013, according to Amtrak, while the Schenectady station handled 61,000.
The Rensselaer station is a grand structure completed in 2002. Schenectady’s circa-1970s station could kindly be called nondescript, and many people find it dingy or rundown.
The plan is to replace Schenectady’s station with something nicer; not exactly the old Union Station demolished in the Urban Renewal era, but something inspired by it, that would complement all the improvements made to downtown Schenectady.
The state DOT sought bids for what it expected to be a $14.6 million project. In March, it received a single bid for $24.9 million. DOT still hasn’t decided how to proceed, Breen said Tuesday.
However, she said, sometime this summer, “We’re hoping that we’ll have a new proposal to move forward with.”
Reach business editor John Cropley at 395-3104, [email protected] or @cropjohn on Twitter.
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Categories: Business, News, Schenectady County