News & Reviews News Wire No easy fix for Albany track closure caused by unstable building façade

No easy fix for Albany track closure caused by unstable building façade

By Bob Johnston | August 1, 2022

| Last updated on February 23, 2024

Limited routes, crews, and buses constrict Amtrak options

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Passenger train approaches on double-track main
A westbound Amtrak Empire Service train bound for Niagara Falls, N.Y. approaches from Schenectady on July 8, 2011. Freight trains coming from Selkirk Yard enter the main line on the track in the foreground. The geography of rail lines in the area give Amtrak no good reroute options around a building issue threatening tracks in Albany. Bob Johnston

ALBANY, N.Y. — A bus bridge was hastily set up Friday to ensure the inaugural run of the Ethan Allen Express from its new northern terminus of Burlington, Vt., wouldn’t have to be cancelled. But getting travelers past a crumbling warehouse adjacent to the tracks that carry the Ethan Allen, Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, Maple Leaf to Toronto, and two Empire Service trains to Niagara Falls, N.Y. is much more difficult than it might seem.

No trains have moved past the long-vacant Central Warehouse building since Amtrak was notified of the danger late Thursday [See “Amtrak suspends rail service west …,” Trains News Wire, July 29, 2022]. The Lake Shore Limiteds scheduled to pass the building Friday were both cancelled, as were all four other round-trips serving stations from Utica to Buffalo, N.Y., and beyond, on one of the busiest travel days of the week.

Amtrak was unable to secure buses and drivers on less than a day’s notice to initiate a bus connection between Schenectady, N.Y., and the Albany-Rensselaer station. Another logistical issue is that all servicing of Empire Service cars and locomotives takes place at a maintenance facility just north of the station. With passage on tracks past the building prohibited, trains arriving from the west would have to be fueled, inspected and turned west of the threatening structure and thus away from those shops.

Beginning Saturday, Amtrak announced that Maple Leaf and Lake Shore Limited passengers would be bused to and from Schenectady, and the Ethan Allen bus bridge to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., would continue. Reportedly, nine buses are required for the Lake Shore transfer. The morning eastbound and midday westbound Empire Service trains will not operate beyond Albany.

Although Amtrak said the Lake Shore and Maple Leaf would operate, on Sunday evening only the westbound Lake Shore showed any available seats through Friday, Aug. 5, possibly because displaced passengers from the cancelled trains were still being accommodated.

Cumbersome detour

Map showing rail lines in the Albany-Schenectady area
Rail lines in the Albany-Schenectady area as of 2019. New York State Department of Transportation

Is there another route? After Albany Union Station was closed in 1969 and the Albany-Rensselaer station was established on what had once been a freight bypass, the bridge across the Hudson River used by passenger trains was dismantled. This leaves  the former New York Central Lab Bridge past the warehouse as the only east-west option north of the station. Freight traffic to and from New England utilized the A.H. Smith Memorial Bridge, more than 10 miles south of the city, between Castleton-on-Hudson and Selkirk, to access Selkirk Yard from the former Boston & Albany “Post Road” tracks.

CSX trains still move that way through Selkirk to a point west of Schenectady at Hoffmans, N. Y., where the freight and passenger routes meet. If Amtrak trains were to detour through Selkirk and across the southern bridge from Hoffmans to a connection to north-south tracks on the east side of the Hudson to New York City, they would miss both Schenectady and Albany-Rensselaer.

Even then, the route through CSX’s busy yard is mostly single track with lots of switching moves; it never was designed to handle passenger trains. There are two bypass tracks around the yard but they are often clogged. Sources tell News Wire that Amtrak is qualifying operating personnel to act as pilots, just in case a Selkirk detour option is considered. If that happens, however, trains would need to bypass Albany-Rensselaer or face a lengthy back-up move reaching the station from either the Boston or New York City routes. This would be especially problematic for the Lake Shore’s Boston section, which had been previously slated for a bus substitution east of Albany this week because of track work.

Authorities are weighing the possibility of somehow protecting trains from falling debris, but for now, the city’s state of emergency remains in effect, as do Amtrak’s challenges.

— Update at 10:42 a.m. CDT  with additional details of area around Selkirk Yard.

9 thoughts on “No easy fix for Albany track closure caused by unstable building façade

  1. That structure was in very rough shape with at least two fires when I was there and that was ten years ago. Time to knock it down, construct a ramp down to the D&H, rebuild the missing leg of the wye at Mechanicville and run Vermont service that way. It could happen.

  2. Don’t know what they did, but a report elsewhere says the EB Lake Shore arrived at Albany on time, so it must have gotten through.

  3. I have wondered whether this “emergency” is somehow connected to
    political theatre. It appears the city of Albany and the owner of the
    warehouse building have been “at odds” for some time. The owner
    has apparently not paid his taxes; the city wants to confiscate the structure.
    Undoubtedly the report stating debris was falling from the building is true,
    but the same report states that said debris was no where near the tracks.
    By calling attention to the “danger”, the city may be trying to advance its
    argument that “for the public good”, the property should go to them.
    In the meantime, we have lost rail service on a recently rebuilt,
    state-of-the-art section of line between the Rensselaer depot and Hoffmans.
    Northern New York, Vermont, Toronto, all the western New York cities and, of course, the Lakeshore destinations through to Chicago are affected. This
    extremely busy section of railroad might be being used a pawn in a civic argument about the disposition of a piece of property rather than because
    of “public safety” or “an abundance of caution”.

    1. Sounds like a great opportunity for an investigative reporter! Come on papers and TV Stations… GET ON IT!

  4. Buried toward the bottom of the article was cancellation of the Boston train due to track work. What’s up with that? Another result of single-tracking a route that was once double-track?

    People in Massachusetts have several choices how to fly to the rest of America:

    Boston Logan
    Rhode Island Theodore Francis Green
    Bradley Field Hartford -Springfield
    (and maybe Worcester, there may be a few flights)

    Bay Staters can’t depend on a single-track railroad now closed for not one reason but for two reasons.

    1. Charles: First off, I hope the map showing all the Albany area rail lines made clearer all that I wrote in a previous article trying to describe CSX’s and Amtrak’s routings. Regarding the recent cancellations/bustitutions of Nos.448/449, it happens just about every work season. I don’t know if #448’s equipment turns right back on that day’s #49 or lays over a day. Conrail single-tracked the Boston Line route Westborough, CP33, all the way to Niverville, NY CP187, in the late 80s. If I have the story correctly, at the time Massachusetts was thinking of expanding T service to Worcester and asked Conrail to leave the double track down to Worcester. Conrail told whoever making the request (MassDOT predecessor Executive Office of Transportation?) to put up or shut up. The state couldn’t or wouldn’t put up so out came the second main. How many years later the put up $$$ was there and the state paid to restore the second main from CP33 to just west of the Worcester platform, CP45. To run down the segments of single and double: Double WOR CP45-CP48, single 48-57, double 57-60, single 60-83, double 83-79 (Palmer), single 79-92, double 92-109 (Springfield), single 109-123 (Chester), double 123-150 (Pittsfield), single 150-171 (East Chatham), double 171-176 (Chatham), single 176-187 (Niverville and the junction CSX to Castleton Bridge, Amtrak to Rensselaer. And yes, the Berkshire Flyer is unaffected by the service disruption affecting every other train that operates beyond Rensselaer. It lives a charmed life. Ridership into Pittsfield on 7/8 was some 60-odd but that includes Amtrak personnel, Sen. Hinds, MassDOT’s head of the Rail and Transit Division, Meredith Slesenger, and their coteries, and Berkshire Eagle reporters. How many legit pax I think in the 40s. On 7/15, 30 pax. On 7/22, in the 50s. Have not heard for 7/29. Also have not heard counts for the Sunday trains.

    2. Mr Landey , you forgot Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket have Jet Blue amongst others.
      As for Amtrak, remember the NE corridor.

  5. Want your Monday Morning Laugh? There’s one through train that still can get through: the once-weekly seasonal Berkshire Flyer. Still waiting on our Pittsfield correspondent (Mark Shapp are you awake yet?) to tell us how its doing.

    The map is extremely useful. This is the first time ever I’ve seen a map that shows the railroad places I’ve read about zillions of times but didn’t quite know where they are; Rotterdam Junction, Mechanicville, etc.

    Always a favorite area of mine whether by rail or highway (trips back to family in SE Mass).The area from Utica to the Mass state line is some of the best scenery anywhere.

    At the bottom right of the map, the connecting ramp from NYC to the Selkirk bridge is shown (under the “R” in Rensselear County). This was the backup move once used by the Boston train before the Post Road route (bisecting the second “s” in Rensselear County) was re-established.

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