X. Intermodal Goods Movement

Rail Passenger Planning


The metropolitan transportation planning process for a metropolitan area under this section shall provide for consideration of projects and strategies that will-- increase the accessibility and mobility options available to people and for freight; and ... enhance the integration and connectivity of the transportation system, across and between modes, for people and freight. 

23 U.S.C. 134(f)(1)(C) & (E)


Text Box: T to serve a regional transportation district encompassing Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, and Saratoga counties. 0

he Capital District region is strategically located to be a major gateway for rail (passenger and freight), truck, air and waterway traffic between New England and the rest of the US, as well as between the eastern Canadian provinces and the eastern US.  The British recognized this strategic location in the Revolutionary War – hence the battle of Saratoga.  Whoever controlled the Champlain Valley/Hudson River corridor controlled the Northeast, and the Capital District was the key.  The nation’s earliest “interstate system” was the Erie Canal, and the Capital Region was both the origin and focus of that system.  Today, the Capital Region is the hinge point of Amtrak’s Empire Corridor (Buffalo to New York City), with the Rensselaer Amtrak station ranked 8th nationally in passenger boardings.  The Region’s I-87 Corridor is the main North-South transportation route from NYC to Montreal, and the Port of Albany is a key inland port in the Port of New York and New Jersey’s new freight distribution concept. 


      CDTC has had some noteworthy dealings with the issue of international trade and the movements of goods and freight.  This is due partly because of the Capital District’s strategic location in the Northeast, partly because of the vision of NYSDOT Commissioner Boardman, and partly because of the innate talents of the member communities.  The CDTC Policy Board also has the benefit of receiving insights from a variety of intermodal providers beyond the traditional highway/transit venue: Capital District Transportation Authority (responsible for running the Rensselaer Amtrak Station and the Saratoga Springs Amtrak Station), the Port of Albany Commission, the New York State Thruway (parent body of the New York State Canal Corporation) and the Albany Airport Commission.  All of these bodies are voting members of the Committee.


            Before looking at CDTC’s approach to passenger and freight issues, a brief look at the MPO’s nontraditional voices is presented.


Albany International Airport

Figure 18:  Albany International Airport

One of the major gateways to the Capital District is the Albany International Airport, which has the distinction of being America's first municipal airport.  Albany County owns the airport, having originally purchased it from the City of Albany in 1960.  The Albany County Airport Authority, a public benefit corporation, was created in 1993 and is charged with overseeing operation of the Airport.  In 1997, the Airport Authority was given voting membership on the CDTC Policy Board.  The Airport recently underwent substantial reconstruction, with a new terminal opening in 1998.  The Airport has opened a new Air Cargo Terminal serving FedEx, UPS, and Airborne Express.  The airport has also commissioned a study to identify regional air cargo shipments that may be funneled through the Cargo Terminal.


The Authority consists of seven members, four appointed by the Majority Leader of the Albany County Legislature and three by the County Executive, who jointly designate one of the seven members as chairperson.  All appointments are required to be approved by the County Legislature.


The controlled development of the land surrounding the Airport was (and still is) the subject of the Airport Generic EIS, through which mitigation fees are being assessed to control the rate of new commercial development and the impact on the transportation infrastructure (see the Land Use Considerations in Transportation Planning section of this report for more detail on this “best practice”.)  In addition to the GEIS projects, CDTC has funded the airport cargo access TIP project, which required significant effort to get it designated as a NHS connector for federal eligibility.



Port of Albany

The Port of Albany is located 124 miles north of New York City.  The Port is a year‑round, deep‑water inland facility.  The Hudson River channel leading to the Port is 600 feet wide from New York City to Kingston and 400 feet wide from Kingston to Albany.  A turning basin, located on the Rensselaer side of the River is 700 feet wide and 1,200 feet long; the channel depth is 32 feet in soft material, and 34 feet in rock.  The Federal Trade Zone site is located on the Rensselaer side of the Hudson.


The Port of Albany Commission[1] is one of the key regional intermodal goods providers in the Capital Region, but it is probably the most unfamiliar to the community.  It was established in 1932 to develop and operate the port facilities of the Albany Port District in the Cities and Albany & Rensselaer.  The commission consists of five members, four of whom are residents of the city of Albany and one a resident of the city of Rensselaer.  The members are nominated by the respective mayors and appointed by the Governor. 

Figure 19:  Port of Albany 2002 Annual Report


The Port of Albany is the first Northeast port to participate in the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s innovative "Inland Port" concept.  This concept involved moving containerized cargo by barge or rail between marine terminal facilities in the Metropolitan New York-New Jersey area and regional terminals in New York, New Jersey and three other Northeast states.  The containers are then warehoused and eventually redistributed by rail or truck throughout the Northeast and Canada.  Projections made by PANYNJ indicate the potential for the Port of Albany to handle 24,000 containers by 2005.  This concept will also enable the Port to serve as a container export center as well, as local and regional firms can use the barge service to ship their containerized goods down to the ports of New York and New Jersey for worldwide shipment.  We note the recent port access TIP project (Church Street) and the Tandem Lot study.


Security at port facilities is receiving a rising lever of attention recently.  All ports and terminals involved in international trade are required to implement a Facilities Security Plan.[2]  The Albany Port District Commission has filed a Plan with the Coast Guard.  In June 2005, the Planning Committee approved an amendment to the TIP for a project entitled The Port of Albany Security Improvements.  This project, funded with a $500,000 FHWA earmark (Section 115 funds), is to help implement the improvements identified in the Port’s Facility Security Plan.



Rensselaer Amtrak Station

Another of the major gateways to the Capital District is the Amtrak service through the Albany-Rensselaer Amtrak station (located in the City of Rensselaer).  This station fluctuates between the 9th and 11th busiest station in the nation and features prominently in the Governor’s high-speed rail initiative.  The Capital District Transportation Authority, a voting member of the CDTC Policy Board, operates the station.


Figure 20: Rensselaer Train Station

The CDTA directed the complete rebuilding of the Rensselaer station facility over the past five years, growing from the old 20,000 square foot station to its new 80,000 square foot size - the largest train station built in the United States in the last 60 years.  CDTA opened the new facility in September 2002.  CDTA also operates a new Amtrak station in Saratoga Springs, New York.  The building is actually owned by CPRail/Delaware & Hudson Railway; it is leased to CDTA with a 40-year renewable lease, with subleases to Amtrak and other tenants.  The new station opened in March 2004.


            As noted earlier, we commend the CDTA for its leadership and courage at undertaking these rail projects.  CDTA’s enabling legislation allows for the continuance, further development and improvement of transportation (by railroad, omnibus, marine and air) and other related services within the Capital District.  Until the Rensselaer Rail Station construction project, however, CDTA’s primary focus was the delivery of bus transit services.  Undertaking a unfamiliar project of this magnitude was indeed courageous.  .


New York State Canals

Figure 21: “Marriage of the Waters”

Albany is the beginning leg of the 363-mile long Erie Canal, first opened in 1825.  Originally derided as “Clinton’s[3] Folly”, it was the engineering marvel of its day.  Today, the primary Canal System use is not for freight movement but for recreation and tourism.  The Canal system is now operated by the New York State Canal Corporation, a subsidiary of the New York State Thruway Authority (voting member of CDTC).  State legislation transferred responsibility and day-to-day operations for the 524-mile Canal System from the NYSDOT to the Thruway Authority in 1992.





Next, we look at CDTC’s approach to considering passenger and goods movement in its transportation planning process.  We begin with the REVEST effort.


A major element of the New Visions (1997) plan was the development of both passenger rail and intermodal freight movement in order to enhance economic growth and urban revitalization in the Capital Region.  CDTC began a regional initiative to address flesh out this plan element, which culminated in the April 1998 document entitled The Capital Region of New York’s Regional Enterprise for a Vital Economy and Sustainable Transportation (REVEST). 


Ultimately, nine projects were identified and started to be coordinated into this program.  The objectives of the nine REVEST projects are as follows:


  1. Increase the region’s economic conditions to major markets in the Eastern U.S., Quebec and Ontario through an enhanced role in intercity and international passenger transportation.
  2. Use intermodal centers as a stimulus for and complement to other urban revitalization investments in Rensselaer, Albany, Schenectady, Troy and Saratoga Springs.
  3. Explore the synergy between commuter operations and intercity operations and demonstrate the potential of intra-regional rail travel to manage congestion and reduce resource consumption.
  4. Build the tourist economy of the region through linkage of tourist rail and bus operations with inter-city rail and bus operations.
  5. Position the region to capitalize on further high speed ground initiatives[4]





The nine REVEST projects are as follows:






Lead Agency



Amtrak Station Replacement



Western Gateway Transportation Center




Amtrak Station Replacement

Saratoga Springs


Completion of funding package for phase 1 high speed rail/double tracking

Rensselaer to Schenectady


Delayed due to Amtrak $

Relocation of bus terminal in conjunction with development of an intermodal facility




Rehabilitation of Livingston Avenue rail bridge; pedestrian accommodation; waterfront master planning in Albany and Rensselaer



Delayed due to Amtrak $

Commuter rail demonstration project

Saratoga Springs to Albany



South Troy Passenger Rail Facility




Scenic Train

Saratoga Springs to North Creek





Through various activities, funding has been identified through a wide variety a different Federal/State and Local sources.  The REVEST initiative is an excellent example of CDTC as an MPO using its forum to promote regional cooperation by identifying plans and projects that have similar goals and objectives that can be coordinated into one program.  As a result of programming and implementation success, the REVEST working group has been folded into the Quebec-New York Trade Corridor Transportation Committee (see below).  This will provide for a corridor-long focus and policy push for implementation of REVEST elements, such as high speed rail initiatives.



CDTC’s Goods Movement Task Force

In the original New Visions development process, CDTC established a Goods Movement Task Force that continues to operate today.  The Task Force brings together private freight operators and public freight planners to share information on local freight issues and events.  Membership includes Albany County, University of Albany, Albany County Airport Authority, Port of Albany, New York State Motor Truck Association, and CSX, among others. 

The Task Force will provided input to CDTC's New Visions 2030 plan and a planning project in Albany County for freight access along Broadway and near the port.  The Task Force also helps plan freight transportation roundtables.

We note that truck access issues occasionally arise during CDTC’s Linkage studies (see page 29 of this report).  For example, the Albany County Commercial Transportation Access Study evaluated truck access within three neighborhoods of the I-787 corridor. 


I-87 Quebec-New York Trade Corridor


The I-87 Northway is the most heavily traveled corridor in the Capital Region.  The Northway, however, extends far beyond the boundaries of the Capital District.  The I-87/Autoroute 15 corridor provides a direct international connection between the largest metropolitan area in the United States (New York City) and the second largest metropolitan area in Canada (Montreal). 


The 300-mile long I-87 corridor has, until in recent times, been generally overlooked as a major international trade corridor and it is not yet identified as a High Priority Corridor by Congress.  Within the Capital District, I-87 functions more as an arterial than an Interstate, as short distance commuter trips on I-87 account for a considerable portion of the overall traffic within the Capital Region.  Ironically, the British had recognized this corridor’s importance to the Northeast in 1777.  The opinion of the corridor’s importance, fortunately, has been changing over the past six years.


In 1998, the Saratoga Economic Development Corporation made an effort to identify 10 strategic business sectors and lay a framework and funding strategy for coordinated efforts between U.S. and Canadian businesses.  In 1999, CDTC and economic developers in seven northern New York counties built upon that effort and began to explore the feasibility of an international trade corridor stretching from Albany to Canada.  In September of 1999, CDTC sponsored a trade conference to raise the corridor’s profile.  Dubbed the Champlain-Hudson Trade Corridor, CDTC’s intention was to build support for federal, state and private investment.  We recognize Mr. Gary Douglas and the Plattsburgh North Country Chamber of Commerce as the key ongoing catalyst for the Quebec-New York Trade Corridor Coalition.


In 2002, Governor George Pataki and Quebec Premier Bernard Landry signed a Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen economic, scientific, and technological cooperation in the I-87 Albany/Montreal corridor. 


NYSDOT Commissioner Boardman has taken on the role as champion in examining both the movement of freight and goods into and through New York State and the impacts on the State economy, now and in the future.  He commissioned a report by the University Transportation Research Center and Michael Gallis and Associated entitled New York in the New World Economy (December 2002).  The report examined the impact that urbanization, economic activity, geography, and transportation constraints have had on the I‑87 corridor.


Figure 22: NYSDOT I-87 Study logo

In 2003, NYSDOT undertook the $2.5 million I-87 Multimodal Corridor Study to explore what efforts should be taken to maintain the I-87 corridor as a viable key trade corridor.  This effort also is looking as the role of rail, air service and waterways in handling transportation needs in the corridor.  The desired outcome of the study is to provide a blue print of the major changes needed to accommodate the future expected demand.  For example, the viability of high-speed rail between Albany and Montreal is being evaluated, as will transit options in the Albany-Saratoga commuter shed and improved access to key intermodal facilities such as the Port of Albany and tandem trailer lots.  Eventually, NYSDOT hopes to translate the findings into actual projects. 


 The Champlain-Hudson Trade Corridor has been renamed as the Quebec-New York Corridor (I-87).  Formal recognition of the corridor as a "High Priority Corridor" by the federal government, along with full funding of the Champlain/Lacolle "Port of Excellence" project by 2006, is a goal of the Business Council of New York State, Inc.



New York High Speed Rail

In 1998, AMTRAK and the State of New York, acting through NYSDOT, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) jointly committing to establishing a New York State high-speed rail program.  The MOU was part of Governor Pataki High Speed Rail initiative.  Under the Governor’s plan, high-speed rail service would be achieved through the Empire Corridor from New York City to Buffalo via Rensselaer.  NYSDOT subsequently approached FHWA-NY about the potential of CMAQ eligibility of improvements in the Empire Corridor.  The total cost estimate was $185 million, with Amtrak and NYSDOT having a 50/50 share.  NYSDOT was seeking a CMAQ contribution of $92.5 million (Federal funds) to cover their share.  After several rounds of discussion, NYSDOT agreed to limit the initial effort in the Albany/Schenectady – NYC link.


NYSDOT is rebuilding older turbotrains to travel at speeds of 125 MPH in order to cut travel time between NYC and Albany to less than two hours.  The $185 million plan includes signal and track improvements, such as the installation of a second track between Albany and Schenectady, and a doubling of service frequency between Albany and NYC.  It is hoped that implementation of high-speed rail in upstate New York would lead to additional economic development opportunities, and it is identified in CDTC’s REVEST as a strategic effort.  As of May 2004, a total of $62 million in federal CMAQ funds have been approved by FHWA for five projects under the High Speed Rail (HSR) initiative. 

Figure 23.  ROHR Power Car.  Six trainsets are being remanufactured under NYS’ high speed rail program.





The high-speed rail initiative has struggled to date.   Only three of the originally planned seven remanufactured trainsets have been delivered to Amtrak.  Construction of the second track between Albany and Schenectady has stalled, as has the reconstruction of the Livingston Avenue Bridge over the Hudson River.  Although the earlier stumbling block between the State and CSX regarding rail property taxes has been resolved, Amtrak’s financial situation is bleak.  Furthermore, the three trainsets that have been delivered to Amtrak are being used as replacements for existing service, not additional service.  The lack of necessary infrastructure improvements prevents them from attaining the envisioned higher speeds.





[1]  The Port Commission was created in 1932 as a public authority under Chapter 192, Laws of 1925 (not codified).

[2]  Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002


    [3] Governor Dewitt Clinton of New York

[4] REVEST The Capital Region of New York’s, 2nd Edition, March 2000