Tuesday, January 29, 2013

New York: We’ll support Empire Corridor trains

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Allaying fears of cutbacks on Amtrak's Empire Corridor service linking Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Albany, and New York City, New York State says it will maintain existing Amtrak service levels with $44.3 million in state support beginning Oct. 1.

Amtrak's fiscal year 2014 begins on that date, when states are required to help cover Amtrak operating losses on short-haul passenger services of less than 750 miles, as required by the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA). Unlike other short-distance services, the Empire Corridor was considered part of Amtrak's original service structure, with New York State not required to provide operating support.

Many states, including Vermont and Indiana, have yet to decide on their commitment to existing short-distance Amtrak routes. Vermont, which already helps fund the Vermonter and Ethan Allen, is considered likely to continue financing the trains, deemed popular among state residents. By contrast, Indiana seems less likely to aid the Hoosier State, operating between Indianapolis and Chicago; rough estimates by Amtrak of the route's operating cost is between $4 million and $5 million per year.

Amtrak's long-distance trains, normally the most tempting target of anti-rail partisans in Congress, are not directly affected by the PRIIA mandate.

Last December Amtrak formally assumed control from CSX Corp. of a portion of the Empire Corridor right-of-way between Schenectady and Poughkeepsie, N.Y, which also includes Albany, the state capital.