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State of New York needs high-speed rail czar

(The following story by Eric Anderson appeared on the Albany Times-Union website on May 15, 2010.)

ALBANY, N.Y. — There's a job opening at the state Department of Transportation, and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand would like to see it filled.

That job is high-speed rail project manager, and it has been vacant since Ann Purdue left the post earlier this spring. While transportation company CSX Corp. and the Obama administration appear willing to move ahead with the state's program -- a top official at the Federal Railroad Administration was recently designated to help move it ahead -- the state "has yet to announce any intentions to fill the position," according to a news release from Gillibrand.

"High-speed rail is one of my top priorities for New York," Gillibrand said. "If we're going to rebuild our economy and create new jobs, we need to connect all of our cities, businesses and workers with high-speed rail. And we need the right leadership in our state to help secure federal funding and manage this development. We can't afford to miss out on any federal dollars or watch other states pass us by."

Despite efforts by both Republicans and Democrats to improve passenger rail in New York state, rail advocates say little has been accomplished since the 1970s, when transportation bond money paid for improvements that allowed 110 mph speeds on a few stretches of track and the purchase of a fleet of French-designed turboliners, which at the time were state-of-the-art.

The recent award of $151 million from federal rail funds disappointed many officials, although the state DOT said it was the eighth-greatest amount among the states that received money.

"The Senator was pleased that we received federal dollars," said Bethany Lesser, a spokeswoman for Gillibrand. "But we need more."

At least the FRA official will have a head start in getting up to speed on New York's situation. Karen Rae, who will represent the federal government, is a former state DOT official whose responsibilities included passenger rail.

State DOT officials couldn't be reached Friday for comment.

Monday, May 17, 2010

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