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Why CSX doesn't want high-speed passenger trains on its tracks

(The following story by Eric Anderson appeared on the Albany Times-Union website on June 23, 2010.)

ALBANY, N.Y. — Adding passenger trains traveling 110 mph to CSX tracks would cut the amount of freight traffic the railroad could handle, CSX Transportation officials said this morning during an editorial board meeting at the Times Union.

"Each 110 mph Amtrak train displaces six freight trains," said Maurice O'Connell, resident vice president for CSX in Selkirk, who said the findings are based on computer models. The disruption also could throw schedules off and affect deliveries to such time-sensitive customers as United Parcel Service, he said. CSX carries UPS truck trailers on intermodal trains.

Then there's the issue of signals. Crossing gates, for example, are calibrated for trains traveling at speeds up to 79 mph, the current top limit for passenger trains west of Schenectady on the CSX-owned tracks. Freight trains typically travel at no more than 50 mph, while intermodal trains move at 60 mph.

O'Connell said the line between Schenectady and Buffalo has 210 grade crossings.

State and federal officials have sought to introduce 110 mph passenger service on the Empire Corridor across upstate New York, but CSX, citing safety issues, has said it would only permit passenger train speeds up to 90 mph, and that only after publicly funded improvements are made to tracks and signals.

While Amtrak trains hit 110 mph on some stretches of CSX track between Poughkeepsie and the Capital Region on the Hudson River's east side, thats because freight traffic only moves at night on that route. Most freight trains use a separate route from Hoffmans, west of Schenectady, south to New York City that runs along the west side of the Hudson River.

CSX handled 850,000 carloads of freight in New York state last year, said Robert Sullivan, the railroad's director of corporate communications.

"Our goal is to get as much on the rails as possible," he added, saying that projections are for 60 to 70 percent growth in freight traffic in the next 10 years.

CSX has insisted that the state's high-speed rail program include a dedicated, secure corridor separated by at least 30 feet from the nearest freight track, to protect CSX workers and hazardous cargoes the railroad says its required to accept for shipment under its status as a common carrier.

But Sullivan said CSX is working together with New York state and other agencies on the high-speed rail effort.

An environmental impact study on introducing high-speed rail in the Schenectady-Buffalo corridor is under way. CSX officials said they expect it will take two years to complete.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

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