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CSX to aid New York’s high-speed rail plans

(The following story by Lee Coleman appeared on the Daily Gazette website on March 26, 2009.)

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — A major railroad company has agreed to play an active role in making high-speed rail transportation a reality in New York state, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said Wednesday.

Schumer met with Michael Ward, CSX Corp. chief executive officer, on Wednesday in Washington to discuss the state’s new rail master plan and to encourage CSX to be an active partner in the plan.

CSX, a national transportation company, owns the rights of way along the Empire railroad corridor that runs from Buffalo to Schenectady to Albany and Rensselaer and down to New York City.

The state’s new railroad master plan, unveiled two weeks ago at the Albany-Rensselaer Amtrak station, calls for a third rail track along this corridor for a high-speed passenger train that would reach speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour.

“Because they own the rights of way, CSX’s participation is fundamental to building a better, faster and more reliable passenger rail system from Niagara to Albany and beyond,” said Schumer, D-N.Y., in a statement.

He said Ward “indicated a willingness to work with the state so that all parties will benefit from an upgrade to high-speed passenger rail.”

Locally, the railroad project, which would be funded through some of the $8 billion in federal stimulus money set aside nationally for high-speed rail, would include a second set of railroad tracks between Schenectady and Rensselaer. These tracks would make both freight and passenger rail transportation between the two stations faster and more efficient, officials say.

Schumer said he considered eliminating the bottleneck between Schenectady and Albany to be a priority, Schumer spokesman Max Young said.

Charles “Skip” Carrier, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said it’s very encouraging to have both state and federal support for a high-speed rail system that would improve both rail passenger and rail freight transportation in the state.

He said it’s also encouraging to have CSX indicate that it will be an active partner in the railroad initiative. He said the state, CSX, Amtrak and federal officials have to work together on the railway plan to make it happen.

Carrier said the rail lines between Schenectady and Buffalo do a “huge” amount of freight business. He said a third rail line is needed along this corridor for a high-speed passenger line.

The third track would also provide more flexibility and faster transport for freight cars on the other two tracks by removing passenger trains from the lines.

“It would give greater efficiency to freight operations,” Carrier said.

The state DOT commissioned a study to assess the feasibility of adding a third, dedicated track for passenger rail along the existing tracks of the 430-mile Empire Corridor.

This resulted in the state’s first rail plan in 22 years. Marissa Shorenstein, a spokeswoman for Gov. David Paterson, said Wednesday that the rail plan is necessary to qualify for some of the $8 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus money that is intended to pay for high-speed railroad projects across the United States.

Ward told Schumer on Wednesday his company was willing to work with the state but noted that the “planning stages are still in their infancy.” Schumer said he will convene future meetings of every involved party as “a way to ensure that everyone is clear on what needs to be done to bring high-speed rail to upstate New York.”

Thursday, March 26, 2009

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