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The Stimulus Express

Hoping to get federal money, New York state rolls out a 20-year plan for passenger and freight rail

The rail plan announced Monday by Gov. David Paterson in conjunction with the New York State Department of Transportation is an ambitious step forward in improving the use, reliability, and sustainability of both freight and passenger transportation in New York state. The plan, which was submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration, outlines specific short- and long-term projects and costs.

The plan includes $671 million in projects over the next five years; 23 percent of this would directly impact rail transportation in upstate New York, with another 25 percent benefiting both upstate and the New York City area. Of the 52 percent directed specifically toward New York City, the majority, $280 million, would help fund the Moynihan Station project in Manhattan (involving both renovations to the existing Penn Station and the development of a grand new station across the street in the James Farley Post Office building).

One goal of the plan is to double intercity rail passengers, not only through station, car, and track improvements, but with the development of high-speed rail for passenger travel across the state from Niagara Falls to Albany and New York City. This is a long-term goal, outlined in the portion of the plan expected to roll out between 2014 and 2028.

“We are very pleased with the release of the rail plan and also with the greatly-increased emphasis on improving passenger rail service in New York State,” said Bruce Becker, president of the Empire State Passengers Association. According to Becker, ESPA was a major stakeholder in the new rail plan.

Amtrak was involved with the development of the rail plan. “We were working with the state and will continue to work with the state in developing the improvements to the intercity rail programs,” said a representative from the company. Amtrak, which currently operates the Empire and Adirondack service with an annual $2.5 million from New York state, is slated to contribute $158 million over the next five years to improvement projects for passenger rail.

Another goal is a 25-percent increase in freight rail. CSX Transportation, a freight-rail service and member of Railroads of New York, is the host railroad for 11 of the 18 projects over the next five years. CSX and other freight-rail companies, through RONY, were involved in the process of developing the rail plan and are expected to contribute $30 million over the next five years to development programs.

Robert Sullivan of CSX stressed the need for providing safe freight rail, saying that more than 50 freight trains per day operate over the Empire Corridor.

“We need to make sure that going forward in this we preserve the ability to move that freight to serve our customers,” he said, “and at the same time ensure that we have the ability to expand and accommodate additional rail freight traffic that is going to be coming in the future.”

Sullivan also spoke of the environmental benefits of increasing freight rail, saying that every freight train represents as many as 250 trucks off the highway.

“Rail is the most environmentally-friendly mode of transportation,” Becker said. “You can carry a ton of freight with far less fuel than over the road, and making better use of freight rail for long-distance hauling is a critical component of the plan.”

The rail plan, the first in more than 20 years, was developed in response to a program passed at the end of last year that allowed states to submit plans for intercity rail transportation to be considered for federal funds.

“We put this together before we knew there was going to be an economic recovery program,” said Charles Carrier from NYSDOT.

The economic recovery program, passed in February, outlines $9.3 billion for intercity rail. Requirements will not be announced until June for this competitive program.

“Using the rail plan and other things that we’re moving to put in place—in respect to high-speed rail in the state—we hope to be in a strong position to get our fair share,” Carrier said.

CSX, ESPA and Amtrak all said that they plan on continuing communication with the state in the development and implementation of the rail plan.

“The fact that we have this rail plan now fits into a very activist period in terms of rail service in this state—both passenger rail and freight rail.” Carrier said. “This is an interesting time for railroads.”

—Cecelia Martinez

What a Week


Making Progress

Visitors to Albany’s Washington Park should have an improved view this spring

The Washington Park Conservancy has just received a $250 grant from the Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region’s Charles M. Kiddle III and Nancy H. Liddle Fund, to use as the conservancy sees fit, conservancy president Frances Ingraham Heins said.

“We are going to use it toward trees,” Heins said. “We lost some very valuable trees in the [January] ice storm.”

The city also recently removed from the park a trailer belonging to the Police Athletic League, which had been used in connection with PAL’s annual Capital Holiday Lights display in the park, said Robert Van Amburgh, a spokesman for Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings. The trailer had been parked next to the Lakehouse, and the conservancy members felt that it diminished the view.

The next project the city will tackle—also in response to complaints by the conservancy—will be the removal of the so-called “staging areas” from the park. The city had started storing road supplies, trucks and maintenance equipment in two places in the park—behind the playground, and on a scenic overlook above the lake—on the contention that staff shortages made it too difficult for work crews to make repeated trips back and forth from the Department of General Services headquarters to replenish supplies.

The city had already agreed to remove one staging area and restore the heavily gouged ground, but Jennings had said it was unlikely that the city could remove the second one. The best that could be done, the mayor said a month ago, was to move the staging area to a less visible sight.

Now, the city has told the conservancy that it will remove the second staging area by next year and not put any others in the park.

The Albany Corporation Counsel is still reviewing the conservancy’s request for an environmental impact review of the park, Van Amburgh said. Jennings has said he is agreeable to having the review done, but details for that project, including a time frame, have not yet been announced.

—Darryl McGrath

Mr. Mayor, Tear Down This Sign

Photo: Chet Hardin

Albany Common Council President Shawn Morris was surrounded by boosters Sunday as she announced her candidacy for mayor. Morris pledged that, if elected, she will bring transparency and accountability back to the office, something that she said has been lacking for 15 years. There is a sign in front of the mayor’s office that warns: “No Walk Ins.” “Mr. Mayor, I challenge you to take down that sign, that symbol of a locked-door government,” she said. “Because I assure you, it will be gone on January 1.”

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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