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Feds give push to New York high-speed rail

(The following story by Eric Anderson appeared on the Albany Times-Union website on May 11, 2010.)

ALBANY, N.Y. — U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has assigned Federal Railroad Administration Deputy Administrator Karen Rae to work with the state Department of Transportation and CSX Transportation to move plans for high-speed passenger rail forward. The announcement was made by U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport.

"This is exactly what we need on this project," Slaughter said Friday following a meeting with LaHood. "Today he told me he was 1,000 percent behind New York because he understands, like I do, what a major economic benefit this will be to the people and businesses across the state."

Rae, of course, is no stranger to New York. Before being named by President Barack Obama in March 2009 to her current post, she was a deputy commissioner in the state DOT, with responsibilities covering public transit, freight and passenger rail, and aviation, among others.

The state DOT is seeking to build a dedicated track for high-speed passenger trains in an existing corridor between Schenectady and Buffalo owned by CSX Transportation and now used by conventional Amtrak trains.

DOT officials had signed a memorandum of understanding that limited passenger train speeds to 90 mph unless a secure corridor separate from the freight tracks was constructed.

The track would have to be separated by at least 30 feet from existing tracks, which would require additional land purchases and perhaps construction of additional culverts and bridges.

CSX reminded the state DOT of the agreement after state officials said publicly they wanted trains to travel as fast as 110 mph through the corridor.

The current speed limit for passenger trains is 79 mph, but CSX said it would allow taxpayer-funded improvements to permit speeds up to 90 mph on the existing set of tracks.

The state was awarded $151 million in February to begin planning the corridor and to build a short stretch of track. The bulk of that money, however, will be used to install a second track between Albany and Schenectady, where the single track now often delays Amtrak trains.

"When I formed the Upstate Congressional Caucus last year, we made bringing high-speed rail to the Empire Corridor our first priority," Slaughter said in a prepared statement. "High-speed rail in New York will be a reality."

CSX, state DOT and FRA officials attended the meeting with LaHood.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

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