» September 2012 NYS Stats
» Amtrak's Poughkeepsie to Schenectady Lease Now In Effect
In a major step forward for the future of passenger rail service in New York State, Amtrak’s lease from CSX of 94 route miles of the Empire Corridor from Poughkeepsie to Hoffmans (9 miles west of Schenectady) took effect at 12:01am on December 1, 2012!
The takeover had been originally scheduled for early November, but was delayed due to the recovery efforts from Hurricane Sandy.
The immediate impact of the takeover is that Amtrak is now responsible for the dispatching of the segment, in addition to all track and signal maintenance. Passengers should see improved reliability and fewer freight-train related delays in the near term, though the differences will be generally be minor.
The dispatching duties for the newly acquired sections will be handled out of Amtrak’s New York City Operations Center. Staff there will control the line from CP 75 (just north of Poughkeepsie) where it meets Metro North, to CP 169 at Hoffmans, where the CSX freight line from Selkirk Yard joins the route to head west. In addition, dispatchers in New York will control the Post Road Branch (used by Amtrak’s daily Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited) and a short section of newly-acquired track at Niagara Falls, NY (including on the Whirlpool Bridge to Canada). The Empire Connection on Manhattan’s west-side running between Penn Station and Spuyten Duyvil has always been dispatched by Amtrak. The Rensselaer Station and Maintenance Shop area trackage will continue to be controlled from a small cabin on the Livingston Ave. Bridge, until the planned platform, track and signal improvements are completed at Rensselaer.
This historic lease opens the door for the a number of long-sought improvement projects to begin significant construction in 2013, including the 4th platform track at the Rensselaer station; the second main track between Albany and Schenectady; a new station at Schenectady; major signal system improvements south of Albany and grade crossing enhancements.
CSX’s leasing of the line to Amtrak allows CSX to avoid having to commit to any ‘Service Outcome Agreements’; required for the use of the federal and state funds which have been awarded for these projects. As a vital part of the lease, Amtrak will be the party to enter into these necessary agreements.
Governor Cuomo issued a Press Release on the lease on Tuesday, December 4, which highlighted the importance of the lease to the state.
ESPA applauds and congratulates all of the parties involved for their cooperative efforts during the lengthy process that was necessary to bring this complicated deal to fruition. With Amtrak now in control of over 100 miles of the Empire Corridor, passengers can look forward to reduced times and improved reliability in the coming years.
» VIA Rail Equipment To Be Used On The Adirondack Between Albany and Montreal
Effective Tuesday, November 20 (northbound) and Wednesday, November 21 (southbound), Amtrak will be substituting leased VIA RAIL Canada equipment on the Adirondack between Albany-Rensselaer and Montreal, in place of the regularly-assigned Amfleet cars.
This substitution will allow Amtrak to re-deploy the 10 Amfleet cars normally used on this train to the Northeast Corridor during the peak Thanksgiving travel period. Amtrak usually leases New Jersey Transit cars to boost it’s holiday capacity, but many of these NJT cars were damaged during recent Hurricane Sandy. The substitution is expected to last through November 27th.
VIA RAIL has supplied two train sets of equipment, each consisting of 4 long-distance coaches, 1 corridor coach and 1 Park-series Observation-Dome car.
Due to third-rail clearance issues, the VIA RAIL coaches can NOT be used in to or out of Penn Station, so all through passengers will be required to make a cross-platform change at Albany-Rensselaer to or from an Amfleet-equipped train for the New York to Albany segment of the train.
Amtrak is very aware that forced mid-route changing of trains is unpopular with passengers and extra staff will be available on the platform at Albany-Rensselaer to assist in making the change between the two train sets as easy as possible.
One benefit to all passengers riding north of Albany however will be the rare opportunity to make use of the Park Car’s unique Vista Dome and rear-facing observation lounge area. These cars are usually only available to sleeping car passengers on select VIA RAIL trains, including the trans-continental ‘Canadian’. Cars such as these have not run in regular Amtrak service in over 30 years.
» Syracuse Station Parking Lot Re-Opened 11-16-12
The main parking lot at Syracuse’s William F. Walsh Regional Transportation Center (RTC), which includes the Syracuse Amtrak Station, has re-opened effective November 16, 2012, after having been completely rebuilt and enlarged.
This project converted three previously separate parking areas into one completely paved general parking lot, with a total of 280 spaces available.
The main lot is now the ONLY parking area at the Transportation Center for use by travelers who need to leave their cars while away.
WARNING...All parking in the main lot (after the first one hour which is FREE) is now $7.00 per day, regardless of how many hours or days it is utilized. For long-term, multi-day, parkers this is a significant increase from the previous flat rate of $10.00 per entry, which was valid for up to 14 days of parking (an effective rate of only $0.77 per day for a two-week period!)
Effective with the lot’s opening, all other parking areas near the Transportation Center are now closed, forcing travelers to pay the new, higher, rate, if they want to park.
» August 2012 NYS Stats
» Buffalo-Depew Parking Lots Re-Opened
Both of the parking lots at the Buffalo-Depew station have been reopened following complete renovations. Free, unrestricted and safe, short-term and long-term parking is once again available at this busy Empire Corridor station.
The parking renovations included all new drainage, pavement and lighting. New reserved handicap parking spots have been added immediately adjacent to the building. The work created a total of 20 new parking spaces; a welcome addition for these lots which are often filled to capacity during busy travel periods.
The parking lot project is one of a number of ADA-related improvements currently underway at the station. This work was funded by an ARRA grant announced in 2010.
» FY 2012 New York State Ridership Sets New Record
On October 10, 2012, Amtrak announced that its FY 2012 (October 2011 through September 2012) nationwide ridership set a new record, with 31,240,565 carried passengers during the year; a 3.5% increase over the prior year. Overall revenues also broke a new record, with total ticket sales of $2,020,004,751 (the first time over the $2.0 billion mark).
Here in New York State, all Amtrak routes posted gains, with overall ridership of 1,656,689; a 3.2% increase over last year (New York State ridership on the Lake Shore Limited is not included in these firgures). Overall revenues reached a new record of $78,055,710.
Route-By-Route 2012 Stats:
Ethan Allen Express: Ridership: 54,376 - +10.0% Revenue: $2,829,307 - +13.0%
Lake Shore Limited: Ridership: 403,700 - +4.3% Revenue: $32,785,725 - +6.8%
2012’s ridership results are up 25.1% over just 7 years ago; in 2005 total ridership was only 1,324,838
The increases over the period by route are dramatic:
Adirondack - +52.0%
Lake Shore - +36.3%
» Amsterdam Station Repaired And Re-Opened
The Amsterdam Passenger Station, which was severely damaged by late-summer 2011 flooding, has been repaired and is NOW available for passenger use.
The modest station building, orginally constructed by the New York Central in the late 1960’s, contains a small enclosed and heated waiting area with seating and two restrooms.
The station is opened, closed and maintained by an caretaker. There are no Amtrak services or ticketing available.
» Border Patrol Inspections Resume
Just as abruptly as the inspection of passengers on Amtrak trains by the U. S. Border Patrol agents stopped, without warning or comment, in September 2011, the inspections appear to have now restarted. Reportedly agents first surfaced again at western New York Amtrak stations around Labor Day and they have since, more or less, returned to their previous routine of focusing their attention on the Lake Shore Limited and to lesser extent on the Maple Leaf and other trains.
A recent morning at Buffalo-Depew found 7-8 agents waiting for the arrival of the eastbound Lake Shore. As quickly as they could, the majority of the agents boarded the train, leaving just one on the platform, presumably to, in part, monitor the likely amount of time left for the stop. On this day the Amtrak train crew accomplished the station stop in short order and were prepared to leave on time, but were delayed approximately five minutes as the agents removed two separate family groups; a total of 4 persons; who were subsequently loaded into Border Patrol vans and taken away.
In the past, the uniformed Border Patrol agents would generally ask passengers to state their nationality and if they were satisfied with the response they would quickly move on. But for those passengers that raised the suspicions of the agents, formal identification was required to be produced. If their ID’s were not supplied or found not to be in order, the passengers would be taken off the train for further questioning and possible detention.
Those familiar with the laws governing the operations of the Board Patrol state that on-board passengers are under no legal requirement to answer an agent’s questions and are completely within their legal rights to refuse to do so.
Whether these routine inspections are back for good or are just a short-term measure is not known, as the Border Patrol refuses to answer questions regarding their policies and tactics. The New York Civil Liberties Union is aware of the resumption of the inspections and reportedly will be pressing the Border Patrol for more information.
» Niagara Falls Station Funded - Whirlpool Bridge Agreement Reached
On September 9th, the Federal Railroad Administration announced that $16.5 million in TIGER II grant funds, originally awarded in October 2010, had finally been obligated for the construction of the new Niagara Falls Intermodal Transportation Center. The project had originally been targeted for completion in 2013, but the delay in finalizing all of the necessary agreements with local stakeholders will likely push this date well into 2014.
The new 26,000 square foot building will serve the current two daily Empire Corridor trains which originate and terminate in the Niagara Falls, in addition to the daily Maple Leaf running between New York and Toronto. The station will feature a 500 foot long high level platform and specially designed facilities to expedite the processing of passengers entering the US from Canada. The adjacent, already renovated, historic Customs House, will be linked to the new station and will contain exhibits on the significance of the Niagara Falls area and the Whirlpool Bridge in particular,to the Underground Railroad movement of the mid-1800’s.
The two daily trains which terminate in Niagara Falls will continue to use the current maintenance and lay-over base east of the new site for the foreseeable future, though longer-range plans call for a new, modern, facility to be built nearer to the new station.
Related to this announcement, it has also been confirmed that Amtrak has reached a general agreement to assume responsibility for the maintenance and operations of the rail deck of the Whirlpool Bridge. The Canadian National Railway has long held the lease allowing for rail operations on the bridge, but there hasn’t been any freight traffic over the border at this location in many years. Accordingly, CN sought to officially abandon the trackage on the bridge over a year ago. With both Amtrak and VIA Rail looking to continue service over the gorge, negotiations have been ongoing since then. Amtrak is currently soliciting bids from qualified railroad contractors to perform necessary repairs and ongoing maintenance on the bridge’s rail deck in conjunction with the required routine track inspection duties.
In addition, CSX is taking the opportunity to seek permission to abandon and then transfer to Amtrak approximately one tenth of a mile of track at the new station site that they no longer use for freight operations.
Unfortunately, the Maple Leaf will soon become VIA Rail’s only Niagara Falls, ON to Toronto train, when at the end of October VIA’s one current commuter/business-oriented round trip on the route is cancelled as part of VIA’s broader network re-structuring. With this service reduction, the VIA stations at Niagara Falls and St. Catherines, ON will also lose their agents.
» July 2012 NYS Stats
» June 2012 NYS Stats
» Recent News
The following are links to media reports and stories of interest:
From The Article:
Debt: A fourth-straight year of trillion-dollar deficits is projected. Federal spending is estimated at 23.5 percent of gross domestic product this year, up from about 20 percent in the previous administration, and is forecast to decline to 21.8 percent by 2016. Won approval to raise debt limit to avoid default. Calls for tackling the debt with a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases. Central to Obama’s plan is to let Bush-era tax cuts expire for couples making more than $250,000. That would generate more than $700 billion over 10 years. Also, would set a 30 percent tax rate on taxpayers making more than $1 million, increasing taxes for some but not all millionaires and billionaires. That would generate about $47 billion over 10 years. Reached agreement with congressional Republicans to cut $487 billion in military spending over a decade.
Debt: Defended 2008 bailout of financial institutions as a necessary step to avoid the system’s collapse, opposed the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler and said any such aid should not single out specific companies. Would cap federal spending at 20 percent of gross domestic product by end of first term. Stayed silent on the debt-ceiling deal during its negotiation, only announcing his opposition to the final agreement shortly before lawmakers voted on it. Instead, endorsed GOP “cut, cap and balance” bill that had no chance of enactment. Favors constitutional balanced budget amendment. Proposes broad but largely unspecified cuts in federal spending. Among the few details: 10 percent cut in federal workforce, elimination of $1.6 billion in Amtrak subsidies and cuts of $600 million in support for the arts and broadcasting.
» Amtrak Lease Of Hudson Line Finalized March 8
Representing a very significant step forward for the future of the Empire Corridor, on March 8th Amtrak officials hand delivered to NYSDOT Commissioner Joan McDonald, signed copies of the lease agreement between CSX and Amtrak, allowing Amtrak to gain long-term control, operations and maintenance of the approximately 90 route miles of the Corridor between Poughkeepsie and Hoffmans.
In that New York State is the conduit for federal rail dollars targeted to fund a number of vital improvement projects on this segment of the Corridor, the next step for the lease agreement was to be a review by NYSDOT and then final approval by the state’s Comptroller, all of which was expected to be completed within a few weeks.
The historic lease has Amtrak assuming complete responsibility for the line segment’s operations, including train dispatching; track and signal system maintenance and capital improvements. Reportedly, the anticipated schedule calls for Amtrak to gain full, final, control in early November. Over the coming months, Amtrak will be coordinating with CSX on the logistics of the transfer, which will include a significant increase in the number of employees at Amtrak’s Rensselaer-based Engineering Department.
Amtrak officials expect that Corridor train performance will be greatly enhanced after the transition, as scheduled maintenance programs will be coordinated to minimize disruptions. In addition, emergency repairs will be given the highest possible priority.
The lease also clears the way for the many already funded improvement projects to get underway, including the second Albany-Schenectady main track; 4th platform at the Rensselaer station and the new Schenectady station. While design and engineering work is actively progressing for these projects, there appears to be some debate as to when actual ‘shovels in the ground’ construction work will start. Amtrak President Joe Boardman has referenced 2013 (after the lease takes effect) as the likely start date, while NYSDOT adamantly maintains that actual construction will be underway during 2012. As a practical matter, given that construction contracts have not yet been put out to bid, nor have supply orders been placed, it seems unlikely that any major work will be underway in the coming months.
ESPA applauds the lease agreement and thanks everyone who has been involved in making it a reality.
» Draft Enviromental Impact Statement (EIS) For Corridor Expected Soon...
The release of the Draft EIS has apparently been further delayed and is now not expected to be released until mid-October at the earliest.
Original News Item From July 15, 2012...
The release of the Draft EIS statement for the Empire Corridor is expected by the end of August, though a specific date has not yet been established.
The EIS Project Team, consisting of NYSDOT and consulting firm HNTB, has narrowed the alternatives under study to five:
•Alternative #1 - Base ‘No Build’ Alternative, which does however assume that the currently funded projects are completed, but top speeds are not increased above the current 79mph.
•Alternative #2 – 90 mph (A) – Increasing top speeds to 90 mph west of Hoffmans, but not adding a new dedicated passenger track within the existing right-of-way.
•Alternative #3 – 90 mph (B) – Increasing top speeds to 90 mph west of Hoffmans and adding a new dedicated passenger track within the existing right-a-way.
•Alternative #4 – 110 mph – Increasing top speeds to 110 mph west of Hoffmans, with the addition of a new dedicated passenger track on the same alignment as the existing right-a-way.
•Alternative #5 – 125 mph – A completely NEW and separate, electrified, grade separated corridor, with top speeds of 125 mph, on a different alignment from the current right-a-way.
A comprehensive description of the five alternatives, including ridership and cost projections, is available on the EIS Project Study website, which can be found on the NYSDOT site or by Clicking Here
Upon the release of the Draft EIS, a series of state-wide public hearings will be held, in order to solict comment and input from all interested parties.
Watch the ESPA web site and your local media for the dates, times and locations these hearings. Your active participation in these hearings will be vital in advancing ESPA’s goals of promoting reduced trip times, improved reliability and increased service levels through prudent incremental improvements in the years to come.