It wasn’t just a lack of funding that held up the planned, and much-needed, second train track between Albany and Schenectady for almost 20 years. It was also the failure, of Amtrak and the state, to reach agreement on this and other matters with CSX, owner of the corridor. Both obstacles have now been removed, which is great news for Schenectady, the Capital Region and the rest of upstate New York.
The funding issue was finally resolved last year, when the federal government approved $181 million for the second track and other improvements, such as a fourth track to remove congestion at the Rensselaer train station and signal wire protection in south Albany. And a new lease agreement with CSX, which took effect Dec. 1, gives Amtrak scheduling priority and full operational control over 94 miles of track from Schenectady to Poughkeepsie, allowing for the second track and those other improvements.
Currently there’s a bottleneck between Albany and Schenectady that makes trains wait, on a siding or in the station, until another passenger or freight train clears the track. This significantly adds to travel time and discourages passengers from using the Schenectady station when traveling to or from New York City. It also discourages train travel from New York City and Albany west to Buffalo, along the Empire Corridor, and north to Saratoga, the Adirondacks and Vermont.
The second track will remove the bottleneck and avoid delays, making possible faster, more predictable service. And Schenectady, with an attractive new train station planned to replace today’s crummy-looking one, could become not only a terminus but a hub, with more trains and passengers (perhaps including commuters on a Saratoga-to-Albany line) coming to and through.
Improved passenger rail service could provide a big economic boost to Schenectady and all of upstate New York. It’s not inevitable. But with the second track, it is at least possible.