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Plans for New York rail line on track

(The following story by Jill Terreri appeared on the Democrat and Chronicle website on February 28, 2009.)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. A high-speed rail line with cars that can travel up to 150 miles per hour from Buffalo to Albany will be pursued instead of a faster line, Rep. Louise Slaughter said Friday.

A 200 mph rail line would require acquisition of property through the middle of downtown Rochester, Slaughter said. A slower high-speed line can be built parallel to existing tracks.

High-speed rail has become the upstate congressional delegation's top common priority, and though similar projects have been talked about for decades, Slaughter said the current proposal is as close as it has ever been to becoming reality. The choice between the two options was discussed during a meeting earlier this week between the delegation and transportation officials. At that time, no decisions had been made.

On Monday, the delegation will meet with the top U.S. transportation official to talk about funding a new line between Buffalo and Albany. On Friday, Rep. Dan Maffei hosted a conference call with about 75 upstate officials and private-sector leaders to brief them about the project. Slaughter has also spoken with Gov. David Paterson, who expressed support, she said.

"The experts that have been in Congress awhile have told me they have never seen leadership and action like they have seen it now," said Rep. Eric Massa, D-Corning, Steuben County.

In addition to finding $3 billion to fund the rail line, which would run parallel to CSX tracks, high-speed-rail boosters will need to acquire the land to build the tracks, which is owned by CSX.

"This is a heavily used freight corridor with 50 or more trains per day moving the materials that we depend upon," said CSX spokesman Bob Sullivan after meeting this week with the upstate caucus. "CSX has worked with the group to explain the importance of the line, the freight service on the line and the rail's requirements regarding passenger service."

While CSX has made its ownership stake clear to lawmakers, Slaughter said she is "not that worried about it."

"I don't see them taking on the White House and the Department of Transportation and the head of the Transportation Committee in the House," she said.

The curve of the existing tracks, and those that would be parallel to them, will prevent the cars from traveling 200 miles per hour, though Slaughter said she is hopeful new technologies could someday allow that to happen.

The Buffalo-to-Albany line would start at 110 miles per hour and could be upgraded to 150 miles per hour within three to five years. The line has received preliminary approval as a high-speed-rail corridor from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Work on a line from Albany to New York City is also expected.

At Monday's meeting with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the upstate caucus will press for agency approval of the project and a slice of an $8 billion pot of stimulus funds designated for high-speed rail.

Slaughter and Massa made their remarks at the State University College at Brockport's MetroCenter downtown during a meeting of federal, state and local officials about how stimulus funds will be spent.

Monday, March 2, 2009

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