The federal government has yet to release a $91 million grant to construct a second railroad track between Rensselaer and Schenectady, delaying construction on the line until at least next year, according to a group promoting high speed rail in New York.
Benjamin Sio of the High Speed Rail NY Coalition said the Federal Rail Administration has to release the money by Sept. 30, which would push the project outside of this year’s construction season.
“We are not exactly sure when they will do it, but we heard the FRA was slow in releasing the funds. It has been slow across the nation,” Sio said. A spokesperson for the FRA was not available for comment.
The state Department of Transportation said the second track will alleviate a bottleneck that delays passenger and freight rail service between the Schenectady and the Rensselaer train stations. The 18-mile second track would run alongside the existing line.
Construction of the second rail cannot begin until an environmental study is completed, state officials said. The state will use a separate federal grant of $1 million to conduct an environmental impact study along the 463-mile-long Empire Corridor, which runs from New York City to Buffalo. The state will supply the remaining $3.5 million of the $4.5 million cost of the study.
Sio said the state has to complete the second rail by 2012. “This is a top project in the state,” he said.
Clough Harbour & Associates is designing the second track and will perform the environmental impact study.
Once the study is completed, New York will become eligible for future high-speed rail funding from the federal government; it currently is not able to apply for the billions the government intends to spend annually on this mode of transportation.
The state is hoping to build a third track for high speed rail, where trains can reach speeds of 120 mph and higher, along the Empire Corridor. That project will cost more than $4.5 billion to complete, Sio said.
Sio said the coalition remains supportive of the state’s plan to develop high speed rail. “It will take a long time and a long commitment from the business and political communities,” he said.
The coalition’s priority is to maintain pressure on the federal government to increase funding for high speed rail. “The feds are committed to putting $1.25 billion to $1.5 billion per year in the budget for high speed rail. We are asking for $4 billion per year to be put into the budget,” Sio said.
The state received a total of $151 million in the first round of federal funding for high speed rail, far less than what many anticipated. Approximately $3.3 million of this amount will be used to construct a third main line track on the south approach to the Saratoga Springs yard and passenger station. The 2.2-mile rail will be built to increase capacity for Amtrak’s Adirondack line between New York and Montreal and the Ethan Allen Express running from Manhattan to Rutland, Vt. The remaining money will be used to improve train stations and grade crossings.
The state has discussed creating a high speed rail system along the Empire Corridor for at least 20 years. The last major initiative, a $185 million project, occurred during then-Gov. George Pataki’s administration in 1998.