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Governor offers high-speed rail plan

Governor offers high-speed rail plan

The Albany-Rensselaer Amtrak station would become the hub of a statewide high-speed rail network und

The Albany-Rensselaer Amtrak station would become the hub of a statewide high-speed rail network under a vision set forth in the new statewide railroad master plan.

The plan released Monday, the first state rail plan in 22 years, proposes spending $3 billion in the next few years on high-speed rail improvements that would cut an hour or more off travel times between the Rensselaer station and New York City, Montreal and Buffalo.

Based on that, the plan estimates passenger use on those lines could double.

“We have prioritized investments to improve intercity passenger rail service and strengthen our freight rail system,” Gov. David Paterson said in announcing the plan at the Rensselaer station.

The plan reinforces the need for a long-desired second track to be built between Albany and Schenectady, for high-speed rail use and to reduce existing travel delays. The delays are caused by the need to wait for the one track between the cities to be clear of oncoming trains.

Eliminating those delays is critical to high-tech development initiatives, including Luther Forest and the Marcy tech park near Utica, because traveling business executives don’t want wait for a track to clear, said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.

“Let’s add the second track between Albany and Schenectady and cut that 20-minute delay,” said Schumer, who also spoke.

Adding the second intercity track, at a projected cost of $60 million, was endorsed for funding under the federal economic recovery bill last week by the Capital District Transportation Committee, which plans regional federal transportation spending. A DOT official said over the weekend that work could start this year.

The necessary rights-of-way are already available, since at one time there were multiple tracks along the Schenectady-Albany line. “Once we fix the bottlenecks in the system, rail becomes a very attractive option for commuters and companies that need to move freight,” said U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam. Last week, Schenectady Mayor Brian Stratton said the second track — along with plans to rebuild the city’s downtown rail station, which were also recommended for federal funding — would make it more convenient for local people to travel from Schenectady, rather than drive to Rensselaer to get a train.

The statewide plan, submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration, calls for investing more than $10.7 billion in the state’s rail infrastructure over the next 20 years.

Much of that would be spent on tracks that ultimately meet at Rensselaer. The “Third Rail Initiative” would establish a dedicated high-speed line between Albany and the Buffalo-Niagara region.

“The Capital Region is the true crossroads of New York, connecting to Boston in the east, New York City in the south, Montreal in the north and Buffalo and Chicago to the west,” Schumer said.

According to Paterson, a $3 billion investment could bring high-speed passenger trains of up to 110 mph to the Albany-New York City and Albany-Buffalo corridors within three to five years. Another $2 billion, he said, could allow for 150 mph trains.

State officials hope for funding under the federal stimulus bill, which has $8 billion for high-speed rail nationwide. More federal money could come under the reauthorization of the federal transportation spending bill, which is due later this year.

Paterson said a high-speed system could move people more quickly between cities, making rail competitive with driving. That would have the environmental benefit of getting more cars off the roads, he said.

“Rail transportation is critical to efficiently moving people and goods throughout the state,” Paterson said.

Among ideas the plan also said are worth studying is scheduled Saratoga-to-Albany passenger service, routed through Schenectady.

The plan also calls for increasing the state’s rail freight capacity by 25 percent.

That was good news for Mechanicville, where officials have high hopes for a $40 million intermodal rail-truck freight facility that is being planned at the city’s former switching yard, where 36 sets of tracks were taken up in the 1970s and 1980s.

“It’s funny, what’s old is new again,” said Supervisor Thomas Richardson, Mechanicville’s county supervisor, who attended the announcement. “I think this is going to help everybody upstate.”

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