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N.Y. high-speed rail project closer to reality

(The following article by Jill Terreri was posted on the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle website on February 25.)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Development of a rail system in which cars reach speeds of up to 120 miles per hour between Buffalo and Albany isn’t that far off, Rep. Louise Slaughter said Tuesday.

Slaughter, D-Fairport, spoke with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Monday about the project and met Tuesday with federal and state transportation officials and a bipartisan group of upstate members of Congress to discuss their options.

If the high-speed rail were built on existing rights of way, the project would move faster but the trains would go slower. Existing rights of way, owned by CSX, have curves that would keep trains from going faster than 120 mph.

“The choices we have to make is do we want to do something that could go 200 miles an hour that would require new rights of way or take existing rights of way and make improvements to those,” said Rep. Dan Maffei, D-DeWitt, Onondaga County.

One thing that’s off the table is more studies. “It’s been studied to death,” Slaughter said.

The Rules Committee chairwoman is hoping the project wins a piece of the $8 billion for high-speed rail included in the $787 billion stimulus package.

High-speed rail from Buffalo to Albany parallel to the existing track would cost about $3 billion, which includes acquisition of rights of way and could happen in the next five years, officials said.

Tuesday’s meeting included representatives from the Federal Railroad Administration, Amtrak, CSX, the state Department of Transportation and Gov. David Paterson’s office.

CSX, which did not return a call seeking comment, made it clear that the rights of way necessary for new tracks for high speed rail lines are theirs, Slaughter said. CSX owns the existing rail lines and Amtrak trains yield to CSX freight trains, Slaughter said. The new lines could make 10 round trips a day between Buffalo and Albany instead of today’s four round trips.

“There’s great opportunity to move forward,” said Rep. Chris Lee, R-Clarence, Erie County. “It’s critical for the long-term development of New York state and the upstate area.”

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

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