I Hear that Train A-Comin’

I Hear that Train A-Comin’:

New York State DOT and Vermont Transportation investigate the possibility of returning passenger rail to the Paper City.

Bob Murphy

Marie Lenihan remembers how great it was to be able to take the train from Mechanicville for day trips.

The results of a VTrans-NYSDOT study propose a new passenger rail route and station in Mechanicville. (Image courtesy: VTrans, NYSDOT)

“My family and I used to take the train to go shopping in Albany and make a day of it,” she said. “We’d return home in the evening just in time to meet my father for dinner at Fantauzzi’s. A lot of people used it to go to work at the state too, I remember.”

The days of relying on passenger trains as an alternative for driving may be close to returning.  The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) and the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), have released a report analyzing alternatives for a new passenger rail route servicing southwestern Vermont that would come through Mechanicville.

Since early 2011, VTrans and NYSDOT have been engaged in a planning study to determine the viability, route alternatives, and preliminary engineering estimates regarding a potential passenger rail line between the Albany-Rensselaer train station and Rutland, VT via southwestern Vermont.

Should the study result in federal funding for the project, Mechanicville would be in a position to reap the economic benefits of a passenger rail station. Passengers would be able to board in Mechanicville and travel to New York City, Burlington, and beyond. Additionally, as the passenger rail station of southern Saratoga County, the station would likely draw ridership from Clifton Park, Halfmoon, Stillwater, and potentially other areas in the Capital Region. Local businesses will be able to take advantage of this increased exposure and consumer traffic.

Bennington, Manchester Center and other SW Vermont communities have expressed interest in establishing direct access to passenger rail to accommodate additional modes of travel in support of tourism. Specifically, such a line would enable the southwestern Vermont ski resort areas to be accessed by larger markets like New York City.

Amtrak’s Ethan Allen Line currently runs from Schenectady to Rutland with stops in Saratoga Springs, Fort Edward, Whitehall, and Castleton.  Alternatives discussed in the study include shifting the Ethan Allen Line to run through Mechanicville and southwestern Vermont or establishing another line along the such a route.

Recently, the joint effort between VTrans and NYSDOT produced the Phase II Screening Summary: Identification and Evaluation of Alternatives through its engineering consultants Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. (VHB) of Watertown, MA. The analysis has proposed the addition of three new stations, including one in Mechanicville.

“The Phase II screening document was a precursor to the last set of public meetings,” said Lara Webster, transit and rail project planner at VHB. “The meetings are tentatively scheduled to take place in mid-December,”

The exact date, time, and location of the public meetings has yet to be finalized. The last round of meetings were held in Mechanicville and Bennington.

“At the conclusion of this study, preliminary engineering will be complete along with NEPA (environmental) documentation and a Service Development Plan for the proposed service,” Webster said. “The next steps to get the service implemented would include developing final engineering plans, finalizing service agreements with the host railroads and identifying funding for construction of the necessary improvements.”

As part of the Phase II Screening Summary, VHB identified four potential locations for a new passenger rail station in Mechanicville. These sites include the former D&H Train Station in the Depot Square area, a location off Saratoga Avenue, a site on Frog Island, and another just east of Mechanicville Golf Club in Hemstreet Park. The engineering firm chose the location off Saratoga Avenue, on the former site of Strictly Windows where William St. and Saratoga Ave. meet, as the recommended site.

Consultants on the project, Vanasse Hangen Bristlin, Inc., created this depiction of a new Mechanicville passenger rail station off Saratoga Avenue (Route 67).

Webster said that factors such as “proximity to town centers, passenger/vehicular access to and from the site, potential environmental restrictions, presence of sufficient tangent track to accommodate passenger and freight trains and availability of land/need to purchase property,” were considered during station siting.

“Site 2 was shown as a separate exhibit because it is the potential site that best meets the siting criteria, and is close to the town center,” said Webster.

A passenger rail line passing through Mechanicville would have a significant effect on the city’s downtown revitalization effort. The increased traffic around a new station would bring people and visibility to downtown and the city as a whole. Ultimately, the return of a passenger rail station would add to Mechanicville’s economic vibrancy, walkability, and sustainability.

Lenihan sees the potential return of passenger trains as a step in the right direction for the city.

“Mechanicville needs something. It needs a little “umph” again,” she said. “Something like this would be good.”

The project website is www.ny-vt-passengerrail.org where a copy of the Phase II Screening Summary can be obtained.

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