Governor's signature will speed New York rail improvements
- Governor's signature will speed New York rail improvements
Although New York Gov. George Pataki has yet to sign a railroad tax reform
bill passed last month by the state Legislature, rail planners are gearing
up for infrastructure improvements that will boost freight and passenger
Pataki is expected to sign the measure, which will reduce New York's
railroad property tax rate by 45% over seven years. CSX had postponed
expansion plans in the state - and had filed a federal suit contesting the
old tax system - to put pressure on lawmakers.
The passage of the legislation, however, has put planning for several
projects back on the front burner.
The first out of the box is the resumption of final design work for
double-tracking CSX's line between Schenectady and Albany, which will ease a
bottleneck for Amtrak's Empire Corridor trains. Amtrak is doing the design
work on the $28.7 million project, and construction should begin in 2003 and
be completed in late 2004, said Melissa Carlson, a spokeswoman for the New
York State Department of Transportation.
"That's the most significant and immediate benefit from that legislation,"
Carlson said. At some times of day, Amtrak trains have to wait 30 minutes
for opposing trains to clear the single-track line, she noted.
Amtrak, CSX and DOT are also coordinating planning for improvements to CSX's
Hudson Line between Albany-Rensselaer and Poughkeepsie that will support
sustained 125-mph service, Carlson said. Amtrak currently operates at up to
110 mph over this stretch. A preliminary list of improvements - such as
straightening curves - is being drawn up, according to Carlson. Beyond
communications and signal improvements between Albany and Poughkeepsie, any
other changes are years away, she said.
John Casellini, CSX's resident vice president in New York, said the railroad
wants to launch a study involving all users of the Schenectady-New York City
corridor to determine what the railroads' needs will be, and then match
projects to those needs.
"We're working with DOT, Metro North, Amtrak and Canadian Pacific trying to
see what we can do to pull together a corridor study that can lead to the
improvements," Casellini said. "We don't expect that to be long-term."
A separate issue is fielding passenger equipment that can hit 125 mph. New
York is funding a $74.2 million rebuilding of seven RTL II Turboliner trains
for high-speed service that will slash Albany-New York running times to 2
hours, down from the current 2.5 hours.
But the project is running significantly behind schedule. The first train
set was supposed to debut in January 2001 after being overhauled at Super
Steel Schenectady. Amtrak and DOT have been working with Super Steel to
solve some design issues. Amtrak and DOT expect to accept the first train
set, and put it into testing, in the next few months, Carlson said. They are
currently going over a final checklist of items with Super Steel. "I'm very
reluctant to put a date on it," she said.
Before the trains will be able to run at 125, a handful of grade crossings
south of Albany will require improvements, Carlson said. The Federal
Railroad Administration also will need to sign off on those projects, she
On the freight side, the tax reform legislation ultimately will shave 45%
off the tax bills of Class 1's CSX, Norfolk Southern and Canadian Pacific's
Delaware & Hudson subsidiary.
Some 31% of CSX's systemwide property tax bill goes to New York - or about
$20 million - despite having only 7% of its track located in the state. NS
pours $16.5 million into state coffers annually, said railroad spokesman
Rudy Husband. A CP spokeswoman did not return a phone call seeking comment
on how much the D&H currently pays in New York property tax.
Once Pataki signs the bill - he has yet to receive it from the Legislature,
which is not in session - CSX plans to uncork $26 million-worth of
infrastructure projects that had been bottled up while it battled for the
tax reform. Chief among them: Adding stretches of double-track over the next
several years to portions of the River Line that links Selkirk and Northern
New Jersey and is a key link in its Chicago-North Jersey main line.
CSX has been planning to do the work in five phases - beginning in Selkirk
and New Jersey and working toward the middle - but only the New Jersey work
has been completed because of the tax issue, Casellini said. Other projects
include yard improvements in Buffalo and Selkirk.