Track work to make way for 1.7-mile-long train starting ‘later this year’

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy took to social media to warn constituents that Norfolk Southern would be repairing at-grade crossings, like this one on Brandle Road in Guilderland.

ALTAMONT — Workers last week dropped off lengths of rail all along the former Voorheesville Running Track in anticipation of upgrades to accommodate a 9,000-foot double-stacked train that is set to regularly run through the area. 

The track drop-off held up traffic on Main Street in Altamont for a total of approximately 45 minutes on Jan. 5, with the first closure lasting about 25 minutes and the second about 20, according to Altamont Free Library Director Joseph Burke. The library, once a train station, is right next to the tracks.

The village of Altamont had not been notified that the unloading would take place, Altamont’s superintendent of public works, Jeff Moller, said on Monday. 

Although County Executive Daniewl McCoy did take to social media on Jan. 4 to warn constituents that the company would be repairing at-grade crossings at Meadowdale Road in Guilderland and School Road in Voorheesville. 

As for a timeline on when the work would take place, Connor Spielmaker, the the media relations manager for Norfolk Southern, told The Enterprise by email that the rail would “be installed later this year,” but when asked for a specific start date, Spielmaker wrote he did have one “at this moment.”

Approximately a year ago, Norfolk Southern was the recipient of $5 million in state funds for the upgrades. 

The continuously-welded rail being off-loaded by Norfolk Southern “reduces the number of welds required on a section of track,” according to Spielmaker, which “helps to make for a smoother and safer rail for our trains to operate on.”

The 1.7-mile-long specialty train that will be using the 15.5-mile track that runs from Delanson in Schenectady County through Altamont and merges with CSX’s line in Voorheesville pulls rail cars that each carry 80,000 pounds of automobiles from the nation’s car manufacturers. The track upgrades are needed in part to accommodate the weight of the trains carrying the automobiles. 

Use of CSX’s rails will allow Norfolk Southern to move its specialty trains within 35 miles of Boston without having to stop in Saratoga County to take the top stack off the train to make it through a too-low tunnel in Massachusetts.

While Voorheesville has a railroad overpass that cars can drive underneath, in Altamont, there is no way to bypass the Main Street railroad crossing.

In January 2022, as CSX was in the process of acquiring Pan Am Railways, in which Norfolk Southern owned a share of a subsidiary freight carrier, Altamont sent a letter to the regulator overseeing CSX’s acquisition, asking it to reject the deal because the “negative consequences to the safety and wellbeing of the community cannot be understated and could result in loss of life and property under a worst-case scenario.”

In the letter, village attorney Allyson Phillips wrote that Altamont opposed the deal because running the speciality train twice per day over Main Street would leave parts of the village inaccessible to emergency responders for as long as 10 minutes.  

The most recent Federal Railroad Administration data, from June 2019, showed two trains a day traveled over Altamont’s Main Street at a maximum speed of 10 miles per hour with a typical speed range between 5 and 10 miles per hour — however, the FRA inventory goes back to 1977, and shows the maximum timetable speed prior to 1998 was 35 miles per hour. 

The speed of Norfolk Southern’s train is not yet known. 

In December, the average speed for a Norfolk Southern train carrying automobiles was about 2o miles per hour, according to data filed with the Surface Transportation Board. 

The annual average daily traffic count, based on numbers from 2014, was 6,513 cars a day passed over the tracks, with an estimated 5 percent trucks. The FRA data said the Main Street Crossing is not regularly used by school buses and is not an emergency services route. 

In June, Inho Suh, Guilderland schools’ supervisor of transportation, told The Enterprise that approximately 30 buses per school day travel over Altamont’s Main Street. 

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