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What you need to know for 01/18/2017

State and feds to hold hearing on high-speed rail plans in Albany

State and feds to hold hearing on high-speed rail plans in Albany

State and federal transportation officials will hold a public hearing next month in Albany on plans

State and federal transportation officials will hold a public hearing next month in Albany on plans for a high-speed rail corridor from New York City to Niagara Falls.

The hearing will be on a draft environmental impact statement on the Empire Corridor High Speed Rail, which has been under discussion for decades and has moved forward in recent years because of potential federal funding.

The plan calls for development of accelerated passenger and freight service on 463 miles of track, with the most work planned between Albany and Buffalo.

The local hearing, the first of six across the state, will take place Tuesday, March 4, at the College of Nanoscale Sciences and Engineering, 257 Fuller Road, Albany. There will be an open house from 4 to 8 p.m., including a formal public hearing scheduled for 6 p.m., DOT officials said.

Alternatives under consideration for high-speed service range from doing nothing to spending more than $14.7 billion to build an entirely new corridor across the state for electric locomotives.

In one of the most commonly discussed scenarios, it would cost between $5.5 billion and $6.3 billion to build a dedicated third track parallel to the existing CSX Transportation tracks across upstate, depending on whether the tracks would be rated for 110 mph or 125 mph, according to the draft study.

In practice, the study notes, train speeds will be considerably slower, probably averaging between 60 and 70 mph — which is still faster than current average speed west of Albany of 51 mph.

The goal of faster passenger rail would be to draw some people away from the Thruway or air flight, reducing traffic-related pollution. If it becomes reality, the project would mean faster service from both directions to Schenectady — where a new rail station is in planning — as well as faster trains passing through the cities and villages of the Mohawk Valley.

The feasibility of high-speed rail has been discussed since the 1990s, and got a boost from money included in the 2009 federal economic stimulus legislation.

Since 2010, New York state has received about $500 million in federal high-speed rail funding, some of which is paying for the pending project to construct a second track between Rensselaer and Schenectady.

The corridor between New York City and the Rensselaer Amtrak station is currently the ninth-busiest in the United States, while the rail corridor west of Albany is also busy, but primarily with freight traffic. With 50 to 60 freight trains a day, it is the busiest freight corridor in the state. Currently, only four Amtrak passenger trains a day travel the corridor.

If high-speed rail becomes a reality, passenger ridership west of Albany is projected to increase from 1.4 million annually today to 2.6 million by 2035.

All the options for building and operating high-speed rail would require at least $24 million in annual operating subsidies. State officials are nevertheless high on the prospect of increasing the speed and frequency of rail service.

“Extending high speed rail passenger service to the Empire Corridor west of Albany will be good for all of New York state, bringing with it jobs, tourism, economic development and a cleaner environment,” DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald said in a news release.

DOT is conducting the environmental review in conjunction with the Federal Railroad Administration, which will be the most likely source of any project funding.

The study is being carried out by HNTB New York Engineering and Architecture, in association with Clough, Harbour & Associates; Louis T. Klauder & Associates; AKRF, Inc; and Pinyon Environmental.

Other public hearing locations will be in Syracuse, Buffalo, Rochester, Utica and Poughkeepsie. The Utica hearing will be 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 11, at the Utica train station.

Written comments on the plan may be submitted to David Chan, project manager, New York State Department of Transportation, 50 Wolf Road, Albany NY 12232, or emailed to empirecorridor@dot.ny.gov with the subject line Draft EIS.

The comment period will run through March 24.

The draft environmental impact statement can be accessed at www.dot.ny.gov/empire-corridor.

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