The Stimulus Express

Hoping to get federal money, New York state rolls out a 20-year plan for passenger and freight rail

The rail plan announced Monday by Gov. David Paterson in conjunction with the New York State Department of Transportation is an ambitious step forward in improving the use, reliability, and sustainability of both freight and passenger transportation in New York state. The plan, which was submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration, outlines specific short- and long-term projects and costs.

The plan includes $671 million in projects over the next five years; 23 percent of this would directly impact rail transportation in upstate New York, with another 25 percent benefiting both upstate and the New York City area. Of the 52 percent directed specifically toward New York City, the majority, $280 million, would help fund the Moynihan Station project in Manhattan (involving both renovations to the existing Penn Station and the development of a grand new station across the street in the James Farley Post Office building).

One goal of the plan is to double intercity rail passengers, not only through station, car, and track improvements, but with the development of high-speed rail for passenger travel across the state from Niagara Falls to Albany and New York City. This is a long-term goal, outlined in the portion of the plan expected to roll out between 2014 and 2028.

“We are very pleased with the release of the rail plan and also with the greatly-increased emphasis on improving passenger rail service in New York State,” said Bruce Becker, president of the Empire State Passengers Association. According to Becker, ESPA was a major stakeholder in the new rail plan.

Amtrak was involved with the development of the rail plan. “We were working with the state and will continue to work with the state in developing the improvements to the intercity rail programs,” said a representative from the company. Amtrak, which currently operates the Empire and Adirondack service with an annual $2.5 million from New York state, is slated to contribute $158 million over the next five years to improvement projects for passenger rail.

Another goal is a 25-percent increase in freight rail. CSX Transportation, a freight-rail service and member of Railroads of New York, is the host railroad for 11 of the 18 projects over the next five years. CSX and other freight-rail companies, through RONY, were involved in the process of developing the rail plan and are expected to contribute $30 million over the next five years to development programs.

Robert Sullivan of CSX stressed the need for providing safe freight rail, saying that more than 50 freight trains per day operate over the Empire Corridor.

“We need to make sure that going forward in this we preserve the ability to move that freight to serve our customers,” he said, “and at the same time ensure that we have the ability to expand and accommodate additional rail freight traffic that is going to be coming in the future.”

Sullivan also spoke of the environmental benefits of increasing freight rail, saying that every freight train represents as many as 250 trucks off the highway.

“Rail is the most environmentally-friendly mode of transportation,” Becker said. “You can carry a ton of freight with far less fuel than over the road, and making better use of freight rail for long-distance hauling is a critical component of the plan.”

The rail plan, the first in more than 20 years, was developed in response to a program passed at the end of last year that allowed states to submit plans for intercity rail transportation to be considered for federal funds.

“We put this together before we knew there was going to be an economic recovery program,” said Charles Carrier from NYSDOT.

The economic recovery program, passed in February, outlines $9.3 billion for intercity rail. Requirements will not be announced until June for this competitive program.

“Using the rail plan and other things that we’re moving to put in place—in respect to high-speed rail in the state—we hope to be in a strong position to get our fair share,” Carrier said.

CSX, ESPA and Amtrak all said that they plan on continuing communication with the state in the development and implementation of the rail plan.

“The fact that we have this rail plan now fits into a very activist period in terms of rail service in this state—both passenger rail and freight rail.” Carrier said. “This is an interesting time for railroads.”

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