FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 4, 2011
SCHUMER URGES CSX, AMTRAK, NEW YORK DOT AND THE FEDERAL RAILWAY ADMINISTRATION TO QUICKLY FINALIZE NECESSARY AGREEMENTS TO GET NEW YORK RAIL PROJECTS MOVING FORWARD
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer sent a personal letter to the leaders of CSX, Amtrak, the New York State Department of Transportation and the Federal Railway Administration, urging them to work together and reach the necessary agreements to move forward with rail projects across the state. From Fiscal Year 2009 and 2010 and the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), Senator Schumer has helped New York secure $250 million in rail funding, but only $6.5 has been obligated for specific projects. The delay has occurred because CSX, Amtrak, NYSDOT, and the FRA have not yet completed the necessary agreements on land and track leasing, operating and management, dispatching and right of way maintenance, implementing, and service outcomes. Schumer is urging the parties to move forward quickly, in light of attempts by the House of Representatives to rescind funding for high speed rail and other infrastructure projects. In addition to the letter, Schumer also called FRA Deputy Administrator Karen Rae, NYSDOT Commissioner Joan McDonald, and Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman, urging the parties to finalize the necessary agreements.
“We need to get these projects moving down the tracks as quickly as possible,” said Schumer. “With funding at risk, it’s more important than ever that the parties complete and sign off on the necessary agreements, so that we can begin building new tracks, improving existing tracks and planning for new stations. Whether it’s the 2nd track between Schenectady and Albany or capacity improvements statewide, these are critical projects that will benefit tourism and businesses across the state – we need to get them started now.”
Unfortunately, efforts have been underway in the House of Representatives to rescind high speed rail money and prevent these projects from moving forward. The very first bill passed by the House this Congress, the omnibus appropriations bill, was also the first House measure attempting to rescind unobligated high speed rail funds. Schumer fought hard to beat back these rescissions and the provisions which would have taken back New York’s rail money were not included in the final bill. More recently, the House voted to include a provision to rescind all unobligated rail money awarded through ARRA in the annual Energy and Water Appropriations bill. Schumer has committed to fighting to keep these rescissions from becoming law. In addition, several members of Congress have introduced stand-alone bills that would block rail funding from being spent.
The text of Senator Schumer’s letter can be found below:
Dear Administrator Szabo, Commissioner McDonald, Mr. Boardman and Chairman Ward:
I write to underscore the critical need for timely and effective allocation and utilization of the funding for high speed rail projects in upstate New York awarded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). I appreciate the effort each of your organizations has put into reaching an agreement that will allow the projects that define New York’s overall effort to move forward, and I urge you to work quickly to finalize those agreements so that work can begin on these important projects.
Specifically, I urge the Federal Rail Administration (FRA), New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) and CSX Corporation to quickly finalize the necessary agreements and allow New York to utilize the nearly $240 million awarded to rail projects in Upstate New York that remains to be obligated. This funding is critical for putting hundreds of New Yorkers to work making desperately needed improvements to New York State’s rail infrastructure – improvements that will create the infrastructure needed to build a vibrant economy for decades to come – and delaying the work will only put the funds at risk.
There have been several attempts in Congress to rescind transportation infrastructure funding which has not yet been obligated, including a recently passed House of Representatives Energy and Water Appropriations bill which would rescind unobligated money for ARRA-funded rail projects. This is a short-sighted and mistaken policy that will eat our seed corn, rather than wisely investing in projects that will both put people to work in the short term - when unemployment remains unacceptably high - and lay the foundations of an economy capable of competing and creating jobs in the global marketplace. I will work to keep this provision from being included in the final appropriations bill, and will fight against any other efforts to rescind money awarded to New York. However, the best way to prevent high speed rail funding from the threat of rescission is to finalize the necessary agreements so that the money can be obligated and put to its intended use, and I strongly urge you to do just that.
I worked very hard with my colleagues from the New York State congressional delegation to secure funding for the Empire Corridor, which runs from Niagara Falls to Albany, and south to New York City. Rail passage on the corridor, as it currently exists, is constrained by a bottleneck from Schenectady to Albany that adds significantly to trip times. A portion of the ARRA award totaling more than $87 million will add a second track from Schenectady to Albany, thus eliminating the backlog. This project is of the utmost importance in improving rail travel in New York State, and we cannot afford to waste any time in completing it.
In addition to the second track project between Albany and Schenectady, many other projects in New York State will benefit from the $240 million in ARRA funding that has yet to be obligated. These include much needed track improvements in the Rochester area and important grade crossing and signal improvements across the. All of this work is critical to ensuring faster, safer, and more efficient trips for passengers.
I understand that FRA, NYSDOT, Amtrak and CSX are working together to reach an agreement on how these rail projects and subsequent operations will serviced, maintained and financed. I ask that all parties promptly conclude these discussions so as to allow funding to be obligated and the projects to commence. The operating agreements between NYSDOT and Amtrak are of particular importance and will determine how NYSDOT and Amtrak will divide responsibility for maintenance and operating costs. I urge NYSDOT and Amtrak to continue working together to find an agreement through which Amtrak takes responsibility for some portion of the maintenance and operations of the tracks.
Thank you for your continued attention to this important matter. If you have any questions or need additional information, please contact my Washington, DC office at 202-224-6542.
Senator Charles E. Schumer