In less than 20 minutes, the remnants of New York’s failed high-speed rail aspirations were liquidated at auction.
The eight gas-turbine Rohr Turboliner engines were the hot items on the block Thursday, selling for $16,000 apiece to NH Kelman Scrap Recycling of Cohoes. The 12 passenger cars were then sold to Metro Metal Recycling of Watervliet, which submitted a winning bid of $7,000 each.
Both buyers intend to carve up the rusting Turboliner trains stowed outside the Glenville Business and Technology Park and sell the resulting metal for scrap. The state recouped a total of $212,000 from the rail relics that planners had hoped would carry passengers at sustained speeds of 125 mph between New York City and Albany.
Another auction of Turboliner parts conducted at the Rotterdam Corporate Park on Tuesday netted the state $139,000, while an online auction on eBay garnered $69,000. The $420,000 total from the auctions equals slightly less than the state paid to lease space from the Galesi Group-owned properties over the past three years.
NH Kelman’s Brian Pollack has eyed the trains for years, since his company does business with Dimension Fabricators — the company now occupying the site where the Turboliners were to be refurbished. With each engine weighing between 75 tons and 110 tons, he said the scrap metal will bring a nice profit.
“We bought the most tonnage here,” he said after submitting the winning bid. “That’s the goal — to make money for our company.”
Within the week, Pollack plans to have a crew torching apart the massive engines so they can be hauled away in dump trucks. He anticipated the crew of four workers and two cranes will dismantle the eight engines in about 24 days — or roughly three days per engine.
Charlie Van Hall of Metro Metal anticipated needing about the same amount of time to dismantle the dozen cars he purchased. He expressed dismay the cars — each weighing between 17 tons and 25 tons — couldn’t have been put to better use by the state.
“This is the way it had to turn out,” he said.
The auctions bring to a close an embarrassing chapter in the state’s passenger rail history. The trains brought to Glenville in 1998 as part of a $185 million high-speed rail project with Amtrak have languished on the property since the effort was abandoned in 2004.
“They weren’t doing the taxpayers any good here,” said Heather Groll, a spokeswoman for the state Office of General Services, which oversaw the auction.
State officials still haven’t disclosed exactly how much the Turboliner project cost, though it’s least $70.3 million. And that’s not including the $153,000 spent annually to stow the defunct trains.
Tom Romano forlornly looked at the dilapidated engine bearing the number 2139. Above it was written “Lot 5” in neon orange paint, identifying the once-sleek locomotive among the eight being sold at the auction.
“It’s a shame, “ he lamented. “A lot of money went into these.”
Romano would know, too. The former Super Steel worker helped refurbish the three Turboliners placed back into service and strip down several of the others that languished on the tracks outside of Building 201.
Romano brought a photo album showing happier times at the now-defunct factory. They show the freshly painted trains glimmering under the warehouse lights and even Gov. George Pataki paying a visit to the plant shortly after the first of the rebuilt Turoboliners was unveiled in 2000.
Today, the trains are in various states of completion. Some are stripped down, bearing only the gray primer workers applied years ago; others, like engine 2139, have remained virtually untouched since the day they were hauled to the site more 14 years ago.
“It’s hard to put it into words,” said Romano, gazing at the rusted hulk of an engine. “I really hoped these would be running.”
The Turboliners were the great hope of high-speed rail in eastern New York. The Pataki administration’s five-year initiative to overhaul seven of the 25-year-old trains would cut the travel time between Albany and New York City to two hours.
But the project almost immediately ran into difficulties that pushed back the timeline and increased the projected cost. Workers had to abate lead pipes and asbestos in the trains, which boosted the $9 million price tag per five-car set to more than $13 million.
Technical problems further delayed the project, when Amtrak sought major redesigns of the engineer’s cab equipment in 2001. Still, the first Turboliner was delivered to the Amtrak station in Rensselaer in 2002.
But the trains never made the trip as quickly as envisioned by state officials. This was largely because the stretch of tracks was never properly improved and lease agreements with the freight companies that owned them were never reached.
By the time Super Steel completed three trains, the relationship between New York and Amtrak had soured significantly. The passenger railroad announced it no longer wanted to be part of the project in December 2003 and then opted to stop using the trains altogether in June 2004, citing a number of operational difficulties — everything from a lack of seating capacity to poor air conditioning.
Amtrak ultimately hauled the three rebuilt Turboliners to a yard in Delaware, where they remain today. In 2005, the state agreed to pay Super Steel roughly $70.3 million for the completed work and to cancel the original order.
Two years later, the state also agreed to share $20 million in expenses with Amtrak for improvements made to the rails between Albany and New York City. From that time on, the four unfinished trains stood as a bleak testament to the canceled project.
For Ben Turon, a rail enthusiast from Ballston Spa watching the auction, the Turboliner project seemed doomed from the get-go. With its specialized equipment and unique design, the Turboliners simply couldn’t live up to the expectations without an immense amount of funding.
“They were expecting too much for too little money,” he said.