In a cost-cutting move in the 1960s, the erstwhile New York Central System reduced its mainline across Upstate New York from two tracks to four. Nearly 50 years later, that decision could give New York State an advantage in competing for high-speed rail money contained in the recently enacted economic stimulus package.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood told The Buffalo News his department is giving serious consideration to funding a high-speed rail project from Buffalo to Albany.
“This is a very bipartisan effort that includes a project that represents 60 percent of the state,” LaHood said after a meeting with the state’s upstate congressional delegation. “This part of the state is hurting, and obviously this would be an economic engine, and we obviously will take all of that into consideration.”The Empire Corridor, which extends to New York City, is one of 11 routes declared eligible for high-speed rail money by Uncle Sam. A proposal to upgrade the line using diesel-powered trains running at speeds in the 110 m.p.h. - 150 m.p.h. range would cut Buffalo - Albany trip times to three hours from the current five - six hours.
According to an aide to U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, part of the project is shovel-ready since it would follow use the unused portion of the four-track right-of-way now used by CSX's Chicago Line. With its own track, passenger trains, which in all likelihood would be operated by Amtrak, would not be subject to delay from CSX freight traffic.
The upstate New York corridor has one huge advantage, said Rep. Eric Massa, D-Corning.
“We have the right of ways,” Massa said. “Everywhere else in the state, they have to be created."
The Obama administration is required to have criteria for funding high-speed rail projects complete by mid-April.