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Failed $70 million state rail plan lives on

Failed $70 million state rail plan lives on

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s crusade against government waste has taken him to Schenectady County, where the

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s crusade against government waste has taken him to Schenectady County, where the state is paying $153,000 a year to store the remnants of a high-speed train project that died eight years ago.

A $70 million investment initiated in 1998 for a high-speed rail route between Albany and New York City is now collecting dust in the Glenville Business and Technology Park, where four trains are sitting, and the Rotterdam Corporate Park, where parts for the trains sit unused in a warehouse, in some cases unopened in original packaging.

The Glenville site costs the state $58,000 a year and the Rotterdam warehouse $95,000 a year.

Director of State Operations Howard Glaser announced Thursday that Cuomo had authorized the Office of General Services to oversee the disposal of the unused equipment and parts. The storage costs were identified as part of the administration’s ongoing review of spending by state agencies.

“We have zero tolerance for this kind of waste,” he said.

The four trains, which each include two locomotives, two passenger cars and a cafe car, were part of seven circa-1976 trains that were purchased in 1998 to be rehabilitated and upgraded for use as high-speed trains. The program was “plagued with problems,” according to Glaser, and by 2004 the state gave up the planned high-speed line it had envisioned.

This type of train is now effectively obsolete, as it is used in only a few places, none in the United States. The trains in Glenville have become the “most expensive planters in the world,” Glaser said.

“They’re basically rusting hulks at this point,” he said.

Glaser cautioned that the state shouldn’t expect a huge windfall from the resale of the trains and predicted they might only generate a small percentage of their initial purchase price because they might just be sold as scrap metal.

But just removing the trains from the business park is a good step forward, said Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen.

“Removing these trains will help our efforts to market the Glenville Business and Technology Park,” he said.

In a Rotterdam warehouse, about 20,000 square feet is dedicated solely to storing parts related to the trains, including engines, generators, fluorescent light fixtures, carpeting, seat frames, coil springs and air compressors, said state Department of Transportation Assistant Commissioner for Administration Pete Snyder.

“In this building are virtually any parts you can imagine that would have been used to refurbish those trains,” he said.

Some of the parts, like turbine engines purchased for $750,000 as backups, weren’t even opened until last month, when the wasteful spending was identified. Snyder said industry experts will be brought in to assess what can be sold and for how much money. A plan is expected by the end of the year.

The savings from cutting these storage expenses and possible resale revenue aren’t expected to be monumental, acknowledged state Division of Budget Director Bob Megna, but he stressed that it would amount to significant dollar amounts when combined with similar efforts at cutting waste.

“Every taxpayer dollar is a scarce resource,” he said. “If you use it for this, you can’t use it for something else.”

Megna added that the effort embodies the administration’s attitude about holding on to items it doesn’t use. The state recently began selling unneeded items, like state vehicles and real estate, on its own website, which has had more than $1 million in sales since its inception.

Glaser noted that the state hasn’t given up on high-speed rail because of failed past attempts and highlighted the fact there are seven major projects under way. Those projects include a $91.2 million investment in 17 miles of new track between Albany and Schenectady and $13.5 million for a new track and infrastructure at the Schenectady station.

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