Category Archives: Albany

Vintage private railcars are mustered at Albany-Rensselaer Train Station

Rensselaer

Dome cars, lounges, observation and sleeper cars, many painted in the livery of their former railroads, gathered at the Rensselaer rail station Wednesday, preparing for a multi-day journey that will wind through the Adirondacks, the Southern Tier, the Berkshires and Green Mountains.

They’ll end up in Burlington, Vt., for the 40th annual convention of the American Association of Private Rail Car Owners.

Before then, the owners of these cars, the oldest of which dates from 1911, will see a considerable amount of the Northeast. Hauled by two Amtrak locomotives, they’ll travel to Utica and then to Thendara, back to Utica and onto Geneva, then head east to Springfield, Mass., and Rutland before arriving at Burlington.

The owners, rail enthusiasts all, can talk about the history of their individual cars. They’ve often spent years restoring them. Former association executive director Borden Black has just acquired a car from Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, which has ceased operation.

Dick Johnston of Phoenix travels in a dome car built in 1955 by The Budd Company, once a major U.S. railcar manufacturer, and used on the Empire Builder, which runs between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest.

Amtrak took over the route, and the equipment, in May 1971, and used it until it was replaced by newly manufactured bilevel Superliners in the late 1970s.

Coordinating a trip like this can be a challenge. Taylor Johnson, the association’s vice president of transportation, had planned a stop in Saratoga Springs and a trip via Whitehall to Rutland. But when the Canadian Pacific balked at hosting the train, Vermont rail officials and the Finger Lakes Railway stepped up with an alternate routing.

The private rail car owners support the continued operation of Amtrak, and Johnson said their train “is a reflection of American history.” The owners often make their cars available to passengers looking for a unique travel experience.

Some of the cars have private bedrooms, dining rooms and kitchens, as well as showers and flat-screen TVs.

The organization hopes to draw attention to plans by New York state to remove the tracks from Thendara north to Lake Placid, a move it opposes.

Robert Donnelly, the association president, said the private rail cars often are owned by groups of shareholders.

Among the cars participating in this year’s convention is the Georgia 300, a platform observation car that once operated on the Crescent Limited between New York and New Orleans.

The car has been used by Jimmy Carter, George H.W. and George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and by Kerry/Edwards campaign, said another association member, LeAnne Feagin. The Obamas boarded it in Philadelphia, picking up Joe Biden and his wife in Delaware, to travel to the 2009 inauguration.

Albany Times Union

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The Delaware and Hudson in Recent Memory

We have just updated our Delaware & Hudson Railway WebSite

https://penneyandkc.wordpress.com/delaware-hudson-railway/

We have added lots of new material called “The Delaware and Hudson in Recent Memory”

See some great advertising, maps, time tables and posters of the D&H

We hope you enjoy it like we do.

Talk of a 2020 run for president? First Cuomo must deal with 2018

All those newspapers in New York City and it takes the Watertown Daily Times (a day-long trip from New York City) to put the current subway troubles in perspective.

Read this article…..(and Mr. Cuomo too)

They summed everything up better than I could!

Mayor de Blasio wants to tax the “1%” to fix the Subway

The mayor of New York City wants to tax the wealthiest 1 percent to fund repairs and improvements to the beleaguered subway system.

The proposal comes as Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats, continue to squabble over responsibility for paying for repairs to the nation’s largest transit system that has seen growing delays, mechanical failures, power outages and even derailments.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota recently unveiled an emergency plan to stabilize the system. The governor offered to split the cost of the plan with the city, but the mayor refused to commit money to support it.

The mayor’s tax plan is meant as a long-term solution, not a quick fix, he said. It aims to generate nearly $800 million annually with the bulk of the money going toward capital upgrades to subways and buses, and must be approved by state lawmakers. A formal announcement was expected Monday.

“Instead of searching for a quick-fix that doesn’t exist, or simply forking over more and more of our tax dollars every year, we have come up with a fair way to finance immediate and long-term transit improvement,” de Blasio said in a statement Sunday.

The tax would increase the top income tax rate from about 3.9 percent to 4.4 percent for married couples who make more than $1 million and individuals making more than $500,000, city officials said. It would affect about 32,000 of New Yorkers filing taxes in the city, or just less than 1 percent, officials said.

“Rather than sending the bill to working families and subway and bus riders already feeling the pressure of rising fares and bad service, we are asking the wealthiest in our city to chip in a little extra,” de Blasio said.

New Yorkers already contribute to the agency through other taxes and fees. De Blasio’s plan also includes funding to offer half-price fare cards for low-income riders.

The Rider’s Alliance said the push to help low-income riders “has never been so urgent.”

“It’s time to end a system where low-income New Yorkers have to skip meals, beg for swipes or even jump turnstiles in order to get to work or school,” executive director John Raskin said in a statement.

From the Utica OD

Gondola plans pushing forward in Albany, New York

Detailed ridership, economic impact assessment being prepared.

Just over a year after the concept was first floated to wide publicity, backers are quietly planning construction of an aerial gondola over the Hudson River between the Rensselaer Amtrak station and downtown Albany.

“We have continued our work on the project, developing plans, meeting with stakeholders and raising private investment capital,” said Peter Melewski, project manager for the proposed Capital District Gondola and national director of strategic planning for McLaren Engineering Group of West Nyack, Rockland County.

A detailed ridership and economic impact assessment for the project is being prepared, he said. In addition to providing a scenic option for people arriving at the Rensselaer Amtrak station on business, a feasibility study completed last November concluded an aerial tram would have significant tourism potential. More information is expected after Labor Day, he said.

“The gondola, combined with other visitor attractions, will enhance the area as a major destination,” Melewski said.

The idea, first proposed in July 2016, has received support — at least as a concept — from local officials on both sides of the river.

Since it was proposed, plans for the state to spend $15 million on a gondola at the State Fargrounds in Syracuse were announced — an idea many people have ridiculed on social media. Melewski said the projects are different, and each should be judged on its own merits.

Initial construction for the Albany project has been estimated at costing between $17 million and $20 million, with annual operating costs of about $2.4 million. These costs could potentially be offset by a mix of private funds, passenger ticket revenue, advertising and public funds, according to McLaren Engineering’s November report. Melewski said the current emphasis is on trying to raise private financing. He didn’t have a timeline for how quickly money might be raised.

The rail station is owned by the Capital District Transportation Authority. CDTA CEO Carm Basile said he’s continued to have contact with the backers over the last year.

“They’re legitimately pursuing it,” Basile said Wednesday. “There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered, especially in the financial area.”

McLaren has identified a one-mile-long corridor between the Amtrak station and a proposed station on South Pearl Street near the Times Union Center. In a later phase, the gondola could continue to the Empire State Plaza.

The gondolas would run on cables anchored to towers on each side of the river. Such systems being used for public transportation are rare in the United States, but are found in other parts of the world.

McLaren is working with is Doppelmayr USA, the U.S. branch of Doppelmayr Garaventa Group, an Austrian-Swiss aerial gondola system maker whose projects include the gondola system built for the London Olympics.

A project scenario developed by McLaren has up to 45 gondola cabins operating 16 hours per day, with the potential to move up to 3,000 people per hour. The travel time across the river would be roughly four minutes — less time than it takes to drive between the two destinations, according to Google Maps.

Public officials including U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and Rensselaer Mayor Daniel Dwyer have expressed support for the idea, though without making any financial commitments.

Andrew Kennedy, president of the Center for Economic Growth, a nonprofit economic development organization in Albany, said he’s attended meetings with McLaren’s engineering and finance teams in recent months.

“We’re excited about the possibility, and from that point of view, you want to be encouraging and hopeful,” Kennedy said. “Something like this, if the numbers make sense and there is limited taxpayer money involved, it would be a great thing to have, giving people another option for getting to and from the train station.”

He cited the credentials of some of the other partners involved as a reason to take the gondola idea seriously.

The partners with McLaren include Doppelmayr, Capital Gondola LLC, Camoin Associates, Lemery Greisler, Urban Gondola Systems LLC, and Harrison & Burrowes Bridge Constructors Inc. So far, all the development work has been self-funded.

The complete study is available on the McLaren website, http://www.mgmclaren.com.

Published in the Schenectady Daily Gazette

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, swilliams@dailygazette.net or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

The villains (and heroes) behind the subway mess

NY Post

You’re likely aware subway trains are breaking down partly because parts of the signal system date back to the 1930s. The succession of bad decisions that got you stuck in that tunnel goes back nearly as long — to the 1950s, at least. The list includes politicians and other leaders long dead or, at least, long off the public stage.

In 1952, Robert Wagner Jr., then borough president, protested any attempt to raise the transit fare from 10 cents, despite acknowledging that “the transit operating deficit” — about $500 million in today’s dollars — “is just about as large as the additional money we need this year for pensions for [city] employees.”

Wagner became mayor in 1954. Even as budget gaps grew, Wagner gave most city employees the right to collectively bargain (transit workers were already unionized, as the subways had started out in the private sector). He also massively increased social spending.

Mayor John Lindsay, Wagner’s successor, continued this strategy. That left less money for subways, which the state gradually took over from the city. The MTA spent much of the 1980s and 1990s making repairs and replacements that should’ve been done two decades previously.

In the early 2000s, Gov. George Pataki started piling on debt. He wanted projects like the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access. The MTA also had to keep repairing and replacing tracks, train cars and the like. Pataki didn’t want to pay for it. In 1999, the MTA owed $12 billion. By 2006, it owed $23.9 billion. Pataki also restructured the MTA’s debt so that the bills would come due later — today.

The MTA’s biggest problem isn’t money. It’s that it can’t do construction fast enough. But debt costs now suck up $2.6 billion in annual spending. At some point soon, the crisis won’t just be on the tracks, but in the CFO’s office.

During the 2008 financial crisis, the MTA said the same thing about its workers as Mayor Michael Bloomberg said about city workers: They couldn’t get raises unless they paid for them through productivity increases or benefits givebacks.

A year later, under Gov. David Paterson’s tenure, a supposedly neutral team of arbitrators gave the workers two years’ worth of 4 percent annual raises and health care goodies, costing the MTA $300 million a year. (The MTA now has $3.2 billion in annual benefits costs.)

In spring 2009, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith cobbled together a middle-of-the-night bailout package that awarded the MTA what today amounts to $2 billion in additional annual revenue. Again, lawmakers missed an opportunity to reform labor and construction costs.

Contrary to popular belief, Gov. Andrew Cuomo doesn’t run the MTA. An independent board does. Yes, Cuomo names six of those board members, more than any other politician. Yet they have a legal duty to act independently. Truly independent directors would’ve questioned MTA managers’ labor-cost strategy and operational failures long ago.

They also wouldn’t sign off on major projects such as East Side Access, which will bring Long Island Rail Road trains to a station underneath Grand Central, without questioning whether it’s better to focus on something else first, like subway signals.

The board at least should’ve held off on approving East Side Access until Long Island agreed to pay a greater share, perhaps through higher property tax revenues that’ll come from better transit.

New chairman Joe Lhota, who ran the MTA five years ago, can fix this by encouraging board members to collectively assert a real strategy, rather just signing off on whatever project Cuomo feels like adding, like a $2 billion third track on the LIRR — a fine idea, but one that should wait until New York has made more progress on its aged signal system. Lhota doesn’t need this job; he has a job running a hospital. He should use that independence to push back against the governor when necessary.

MTA chairpeople are supposed to serve six years, to insulate them from day-to-day politics. But Tom Prendergast, who left early this year, was the longest recent-serving chairman and executive director — and he only served four years. Now the MTA only has an interim executive director, Ronnie Hakim, and may soon see another newcomer. (Lhota isn’t taking the day-to-day reins, only chairing the board.)

Hakim and her team should’ve considered long ago what the MTA is now thinking about: closing entire subway lines to speed up signal work. To be fair, the MTA is already planning to close the L train in two years, and the hardest work involves interlockings that control several subway lines; we can’t shut them all down.

Still, whatever the MTA is doing isn’t working. The authority has been reactive, not proactive, in experimenting with new ways to deal with sick passengers and frozen signals and record crowds.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, as he likes to remind us, isn’t in charge of the subways. Still, he hasn’t taken advantage of New York’s record revenue boom — the city will take in $6.6 billion more in local taxes than it did when the mayor took office — to benefit transit.

The state plans to invest nearly $3 billion in signals over the next five years. Why not work with the MTA to see if it can get this work done more quickly? The city could do its part by better managing the streets: carving out more space for bus lanes, bike lanes, real rideshare (with four or more people in a car) and other ways for New Yorkers to get around during shutdowns.

If the MTA can do signal work more efficiently, the mayor could offer some of these record revenues to do more. The city is putting up less than 10 percent of the MTA’s capital budget over five years; it can do more if Cuomo does more. Bloomberg is guilty of the same sin; while he pushed congestion pricing, he never thought strategically about the MTA and how the city could use money as leverage to fix it.

The subway has its heroes, too. Richard Ravitch, who chaired the MTA in the early ’80s, convinced the business community to support the taxes it would need to make up for the neglect of the previous two decades.

Sam Schwartz, the city’s former transportation commissioner, has warned about maintenance cutbacks for years — and has proposed a congestion-pricing plan to fund at least some of this work.

Long before Twitter complaints from stuck passengers, Gene Russianoff, who founded the Straphangers Campaign in 1979, made sure newspapers were armed with data on whether the trains were working well.

And finally, there’s today’s generation of transit reporters and bloggers. Nearly all of them are too young to remember the last transit crisis. Their interest in the trains, and their willingness to think about everything from pension costs to fare structures, can help ensure that this crisis never gets as bad as that one.

Where does that leave Cuomo? It’s too early to tell if he’ll be known as a hero or a villain. He’s increased the MTA’s debt to more than $37 billion, without saying how he’ll pay for it. But his excitement over projects like the Second Avenue Subway isn’t silly. We do need more subway stations.

How he handles the current crisis of delays and crowding without forcing a future generation to pick up the bill will help determine his legacy.

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.

NYC transit upgrades are long overdue

AM New York

For weeks, the newest plans for MTA capital projects, including $3 billion in funding for key improvements to subways, bridges, tunnels and commuter railroads, sat in wait.

Now, after plenty of typical Albany political posturing, those proposals are on track. State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan finally gave the last pieces of the capital plan the go-ahead on Tuesday night.

The move couldn’t have come at a better time. NYC residents have faced extensive subway delays, power and signal problems, a dangerous derailment, and a host of other issues in recent months. And this summer, as Amtrak makes extensive repairs at Penn Station, the MTA is depending on its strained subway system even more, making the need for improvements all the more apparent.

So, expanding and upgrading the system are essential. The MTA’s plans include $700 million to fund part of the important next phase of the Second Avenue Subway, which will extend the line into East Harlem but could ultimately cost $6 billion.

And the plan adds more funds for cashless electronic tolling at bridges and tunnels.

On top of that, the MTA’s amended plan creates a new span of track on the Long Island Rail Road that will help ease reverse train commutes for NYC residents who work in Nassau or Suffolk counties.
Together, the improvements will ripple through the region, boost the economy and create the opportunity for new and better-paying jobs in the city and beyond.

And all of it is part of the MTA’s larger $32.5 billion overall capital plan, which extends through 2019 and includes money for signals, subway cars and buses, along with repairs and improvements to bus depots, subway station accessibility, and more.

None of it, of course, will get done quickly enough. But it could be the start of a broader effort by state and MTA officials to think and act bigger, to recognize the extensive needs of our subways and commuter rails, and to start modernizing the public transportation system to meet the needs of its riders.

2nd railroad track opens between Schenectady, Albany

Daily Gazette

Announcement comes as new design details released on train station

The second railroad track between Schenectady and Albany has been completed, eliminating what has been a major bottleneck for passenger and freight traffic in upstate New York.

The $91.2 million track covering the 17 miles between the Capital Region’s two largest cities went into service June 26 after three years of construction, according to an announcement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.

The long-planned track eliminates a single-track situation that had forced trains to wait for up to 20 minutes in either Schenectady or Rensselaer until an oncoming train cleared the tracks, and is seen as vital if a high-speed rail line across upstate New York is ever to be developed.

The work was arranged jointly by the state Department of Transportation and Amtrak, which has a long-term lease over the tracks between Poughkeepsie and Schenectady, which are owned by freight-hauler CSX Corp.

“The double-track project has provided improved flexibility and scheduling in the operation of Amtrak trains between Albany and Schenectady and will reduce delays in this location, which have been a bottleneck and the cause of delays for years,” Amtrak spokeswoman Chelsea Kopta said. “Amtrak was proud to partner with NYSDOT on completing this project, which will enhance transportation and tourism opportunities in the Capital Region.”

Cuomo’s office announced completion of the track at the same as it released new design details about the plans for a new $23 million train station in downtown Schenectady, on the same site as the old station, which began to be demolished this week. The new station is expected to be completed by late 2018, under a state DOT contract.

“We are grateful to Gov. Cuomo and DOT for completing another significant infrastructure project that is beneficial to Schenectady County. The second track will eliminate delays in train service going west from Albany, making rail travel to Schenectady faster and more convenient,” said Ray Gillen, chair of the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority.

The governor’s announcement also updated several other Capital Region rail projects, all part of an effort to improve rail service in the region:

— At the Rensselaer Amtrak station — the nation’s ninth-busiest Amtrak station — a $50.5 million project that constructed a fourth passenger loading track, extended the loading platforms and upgraded signals wrapped up this spring. A $3.5 million state-funded project to rehabilitate platform elevators and replace the escalators is to be completed by fall.

— Grade crossing and signal improvements have been done south of Rensselaer, on the busy line to New York City, with a little work still remaining.

The three projects together have received $155.5 million in federal funding, nearly all of it from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The state has contributed $23.15 million, according to Cuomo’s office.

Separately, New York was recently awarded $33 million by the Federal Railroad Administration to install positive train control technology between Poughkeepsie and Schenectady. Positive train control systems are designed to prevent incidents such as derailments and collisions by reducing the risks of human error. That work has yet to be scheduled.

Select trains will use Grand Central Terminal this summer

In Amtrak’s efforts to continue providing you with a safe and reliable travel experience, Amtrak® is accelerating already scheduled work to strengthen and improve operations at New York Penn Station during the summer. The Infrastructure Renewal program will advance several years of already planned work to improve conditions of tracks, switches, and other infrastructure at Penn Station into less than two months.

Along with the previously announced service adjustments, the work will require three northbound and three southbound Empire Service® trains to/from Albany to use Grand Central Terminal [NYG] instead of New York Penn Station [NYP]. This change will affect schedules on weekdays from July 10 through September 1, 2017. If you are traveling on Empire Service trains via Grand Central Terminal this summer, here are a few things to keep in mind:

I am guessing that some AMD110s will be re-equipped with under-running third-rail shoes for the service.

Amtrak statewide ridership dips in NY State

ALBANY Times-Union

On the eve of massive track repair work at Penn Station in New York City, Amtrak’s upstate ridership is struggling to grow.

For passenger rail advocates such as Bruce Becker, vice president of operations for the National Association of Railroad Passengers, that’s troubling.

“It is a cause for concern,” Becker said. “While ridership in the Hudson Valley has grown modestly, ridership across upstate New York and on the Adirondack has dropped.”

Becker cites a number of possible reasons for the decline.

“One is lower gas prices,” he said. They’re down about $1.25 per gallon in the Capital Region compared to the summer of 2014, according to figures from GasBuddy.com.

But Amtrak’s own difficulties may also have contributed.

It had to cancel one daily train for a number of days last summer west of the Capital Region while CSX worked on the tracks.

“Last summer was not a stellar period for on-time performance,” Becker added.

It has been nine years since Congress approved the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, which shifted more of the cost of passenger rail operations to the states.

New York has continued to use the existing passenger cars, many of which are now 40 years old. Its specially built dual-mode locomotives that can operate on diesel or electric power have seen several breakdowns this spring, stranding hundreds of passengers.

For passenger rail advocates such as Bruce Becker, vice president of operations for the National Association of Railroad Passengers, that’s troubling.

“It is a cause for concern,” Becker said. “While ridership in the Hudson Valley has grown modestly, ridership across upstate New York and on the Adirondack has dropped.”

It had to cancel one daily train for a number of days last summer west of the Capital Region while CSX worked on the tracks.

A recommendation by some state Department of Transportation officials to replace the locomotives wasn’t included in the most recent state budget.
The state,meanwhile, has a vested interest in seeing higher passenger revenues, because they reduce the amount it must pay Amtrak to operate the trains.

Nationwide, Amtrak saw record ridership last year, carrying 31.3 million passengers. But statewide, ridership fell nearly 4.7 percent to 1.7 million, according to a recent presentation to the Empire State Passengers Association.

About half of those — 855,000 — began or ended their trips at the Albany-Rensselaer train station, one of Amtrak’s busiest.

Many factors can contribute to a decrease in ridership levels including gas prices, construction and service reliability and we continue to evaluate ways to mitigate these impacts and highlight Amtrak’s many passenger amenities and value proposition,” Amtrak spokesman Mike Tolbert said. “Amtrak ridership overall remains strong, with a record 31.3 million passengers in Fiscal Year 2016, marking the sixth consecutive year Amtrak has carried more than 30 million customers.”

EDITORS NOTE: Is the upstate operation “pure” AMTRAK or dependant on the State too? How about borrowing rolling stock and dual diesel- electric locomotives from other NY State agencies (like Metro-North)?