Contracts will be put out to bid this spring for the first of several Schenectady-area projects aimed at drastically improving the speed of the state’s passenger rail service.
State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jennifer Post said contracts to complete the second track between Schenectady and Rensselaer are expected to be put out to bid sometime in April. Once a contractor is brought aboard, work can begin on installing 17 miles of rail that is expected to end long-standing bottlenecks between the two cities. The state has $91.2 million in federal funding to pay for the project.
Preliminary site work got under way in 2013. But the actual installation of tracks — along with two other area rail projects — will serve as a visible benchmark of the state’s efforts to improve rail service throughout upstate.
Also slated to begin this year are improvements to the track approach to Schenectady and the platform at the rail station downtown. In addition, a fourth track is being laid in Rensselaer that will also help ease congestion.
Funding was not available for the fourth track when the station was built in 2002. As a result, some trains are made to wait outside the station for upward of 20 minutes for platform space to become available.
“We’ve been looking at a number of alternatives for improving rail service across the state through the Empire Corridor,” Post said. “These projects will improve service and help reduce delays and are laying a significant foundation for high-speed rail service across the state.”
All three projects are expected to be completed by December 2016.
Amtrak and the CSX Corp. reached a long-term lease agreement in December 2012 that enabled the passenger railroad to take full control of 94 miles of track between Schenectady and Poughkeepsie. The contract ensures passenger rail traffic has scheduling priority and allowed $181 million of long-awaited improvement projects to advance.
State officials are looking at several alternatives to boost the top speed of trains from around 80 mph to as much as 110 mph. The improved speed will likely rely on building new tracks that separate the high-speed rail from slower-moving freight trains.
Also, Schenectady will soon see work start on a new train station to replace the dilapidated 1970s-era building off Erie Boulevard. Post said $13.5 million of funding is dedicated toward transforming the approach to the existing station and building a new, more attractive and functional structure for passenger service.
During the heyday of passenger rail travel, Schenectady had eight tracks running through the city and the ornate Union Station served as the hub of rail travel west for more than six decades. But with the decline of rail passenger travel, Union Station fell into disrepair and the Penn Central Railroad sold the building to the city for $20,000 in 1971 so it could be demolished for parking.
Amtrak’s $9.5 million project to build a new station will start with a design that is expected to be completed later this year. The remainder of funding will go toward rehabbing the existing platform and parking area near the station.
Post said construction is scheduled to wrap up sometime in 2016.