Schumer Pushes for High Speed Rail Plan so Project can Begin

January 17, 2012 Updated Jan 17, 2012 at 3:00 PM EDT

By WKBW News

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Schumer Pushes for High Speed Rail Plan so Project can Begin

January 17, 2012 Updated Jan 17, 2012 at 3:00 PM EDT

(WKBW release) New York Senator Charles E. Schumer on Tuesday called on CSX, Amtrak, the state Department of Transportation and Federal Railway Administration to quickly complete a plan for the construction of the high speed rail line from Buffalo to Albany that is set to begin in Genesee County.

Schumer helped secure $58 million in federal funds to construct the first part of the high speed rail line in Western New York, but the money cannot begin flowing to the project until the parties complete service, construction, and maintenance agreements. With the House of Representatives already having voted several times to rescind high speed rail money, Schumer will push the parties to move quickly so that New York’s share of high-speed rail funding is not stripped before construction can begin. Schumer, a strong proponent of high-speed rail in Upstate New York, believes the rail link between Buffalo and Albany will be a huge benefit to residents and businesses throughout the state, and that the construction project could create hundreds of jobs over the next several years.

“High speed rail is going to usher in a new era of economic growth throughout Upstate New York, and that project is going to start right here in Genesee County,” Schumer said in a news release. “But for too long, this project has been stuck at the station and hasn’t been rolling down the tracks. We need to get moving, and get moving now. CSX, Amtrak, the state and the feds need to get together and come up with all of the necessary agreements so that we can sound the whistle and get this project going. The funds are there, the will is there, and the plan is there – let’s end this needless delay and put shovels in the ground so we can start on the first phase of this job creating work.”

Schumer was joined by local officials from the town of Bergen, Genesee County, Bruce Becker from the Empire State Passenger Rail Association and Miller’s Millwork owner and Bergen Councilmember Barry Miller as he announced his push to get the high speed rail construction project underway. In 2010, Schumer helped secure $58 million in funds for the first phase of the rail project that will eventually connect Buffalo and Albany with tracks capable of handling train speeds of 110 miles per hour. However, in order for New York State to utilize the funds for construction, NYSDOT, the Federal Railway Administration, CSX, and Amtrak must come to a number of agreements. CSX must finalize a Service Outcomes Agreement with New York State that specifies how the federal funds will be applied to ensure that the work improves passenger rail service, not simply freight rail. The agreement will address train speeds, and will ensure that the rail work leads to reductions in passenger rail delays. The two must also agree on a construction and maintenance agreement, and the state must finish its engineering and scoping work.

Schumer successfully pushed these parties to reach similar agreements on other projects throughout the state last fall. As a result of his efforts, $150 million in high-speed rail funds reached their intended projects last September, which will put people to work in the Capital Region and Hudson Valley building new track and making critical signal improvements. The $58M will be used to start building the first 11 miles of the actual high speed rail on which the passenger trains will run on.  Currently, Amtrak passenger trains must use CSX’s single set of freight tracks which leads to crowded lines and frequent delays.  These freight tracks are among the busiest of CSX’s route system and typically carry as many as 60 trains per day. Amtrak passenger trains take a back seat to this freight traffic and often have to pull over on sidings and wait for long periods of time in order to allow freight traffic through. This causes Amtrak riders delays, yields poor on-time performance, and provides passengers will little assurance that they will get to their destination on time. 

Schumer is pushing the construction forward in order to give Amtrak trains the opportunity to increase top speed from 79 to 110 miles per hour, and to eliminate interference from CSX freight trains so that passengers will not be subject to needless delays and can count on having their train arrive on time. The construction will also be a benefit to CSX which will have full use of their tracks, and will not have to compete for track usage with Amtrak.  This is essential for manufacturers and employers who count on a good freight infrastructure to deliver their products and supplies.

Schumer noted that similar freight and passenger rail build outs are happening across the U.S. The nation’s other long haul freight carriers are completing these types of projects in other states. Specifically Union Pacific railroad in Illinois is onboard with running their freight trains next to rails carrying 110 mph passenger service.  Norfolk Southern Railroad is operating in a similar arrangement in North Carolina, Chicago, and Michigan as is BNSF Railway in California, Oregon, and Washington. 

“New York can’t get left in the dust when it comes to high-speed rail,” continued Schumer. “We need to start laying track now, and don’t have another day to waste.”