The fastest way to get from here to New York City by train is to skip the Schenectady train station.
In fact, the train is so slow that commuters heading back to Schenectady can get off at the Albany-Rensselaer station and be back in Schenectady 30 minutes before the train gets there. Fighting traffic is faster because of regular bottlenecks on the tracks between the stations.
But that will be over soon. A second track will be built this year, starting later this summer. Then the platform at the Schenectady train station will be renovated. And
finally, a new train station will be built next year. The train station is a $15 million project, funded by state and federal sources, with zero cost to the city.
It all starts with the track.
“Between Albany and Schenectady, there’s a single track that is used by the passenger and the freight trains,” said state Department of Transportation spokesman Beau Duffy. “There’s a lot of freight traffic on that route.”
That slows passenger traffic because two trains can’t head in opposite directions at the same time on a single track, DOT spokeswoman Carol Breen said. Waiting for another train to clear the track can take 25 minutes, she said.
Trains also will be able to travel faster. The trip between Schenectady and Albany-Rensselaer currently takes 23 to 26 minutes, but will be shortened to about 18 minutes, she said.
“You would have a drastically reduced trip,” she added.
Schenectady County’s economic development leader, Ray Gillen, said the second track will encourage more tech companies to relocate to Schenectady from New York City. Quirky company officials took the train to Schenectady many times as they considered their move, he said.
But, he added, many people just bypass Schenectady’s station.
“That delay, that really is a downer, so people go to Rensselaer” to catch the train, he said.
The difference is stark: Riders can spend 31⁄2 hours on the train to get to New York City from Schenectady, or they can drive less than a half-hour and spend 21⁄2 hours on the train.
“The bottleneck, that’s the key. We really need to eliminate that,” Gillen said.
DOT officials are still overseeing the final touches of the design for the new train station, but the draft rendering has delighted Gillen and others, who see a resemblance to the old Union Station.
“Everyone knows Union Station shouldn’t have been torn down,” Gillen said, referring to a decision made decades ago.
The replacement station, which has been used for years, is a short, squat structure in comparison to the majestic Union Station.
It’s also in some disrepair, with peeling paint, rusty steps and cobwebs in the stairwell to the tracks. “It’s not acceptable. It’s totally not in keeping with what we want downtown,” Gillen said.
The proposed two-story station will be dominated by floor-to-ceiling arched windows. It will be an easy-to-see downtown landmark, taller than nearby buildings and bearing historic touches, including a large clock.
“It’s just where we need to go with development,” Gillen said.