Norfolk Southern receives $5M from state for local track upgrades

Enterprise file photo — Melissa Hale-Spencer

The rail line in Altamont crossing Main Street is due for a state-aided multi-million-dollar upgrade so that Norfolk Southern can run a 1.7-mile-long double-stacked train on the tracks twice per day.

ALBANY — Governor Kathy Hochul recently announced the awarding of tens of millions of dollars in state funding to renew and modernize freight-rail infrastructure throughout New York. 

Among the $76.4 million in infrastructure upgrades is the allocation of $5 million to Norfolk Southern Railway “toward safety and service reliability enhancements, including the rehabilitation of 15 miles of track along the Voorheesville corridor, grade crossing resurfacing, the installation of welded rail, and other enhancements.”

 In 2000, Canadian Pacific, which bought the Delaware and Hudson Railway Company in 1990, decided that, rather than expending significant resources repairing and then maintaining a railroad bridge over the Normanskill, it would abandon the line it used to move freight between Albany and the Northeastern Industrial Park in Guilderland — today, those 10 miles make up the Albany County Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail.

Instead, Canadian Pacific decided to bring back into service the running track between Voorheesville and Delanson, which at that point hadn’t been in use for a decade.

In 2015, Norfolk Southern bought the 282-mile former Delaware and Hudson line from Canadian Pacific. The acquisition allowed Norfolk Southern to extend its system from central Pennsylvania through Binghamton (where a Norfolk Southern line that runs all the way to Chicago previously terminated) and from Oneonta to Delanson, where the line splits east toward Schenectady and south to Altamont and Voorheesville. 

SMS Rail Lines began leasing the 15.5-mile Voorheesville Running Track in 2007. Norfolk Southern terminated that agreement last year. 

Norfolk Southern’s upgrades are tied to CSX’s proposed takeover of Pan Am Railways, a deal currently being scrutinized by the federal Surface Transportation Board. 

CSX in November 2020 reached an agreement to acquire Pan Am Railways, based in Massachusetts, and seven of its subsidiaries. But Norfolk Southern, the owner of the rail line crossing over Route 146 in Altamont and crossing over Main Street and Voorheesville Avenue in Voorheesville, raised objections to the STB, which has economic regulatory oversight over the nation’s railroads.

At issue for Norfolk Southern was its 50-percent stake in a Pan Am Railway subsidiary, Pan Am Southern. Norfolk Southern claimed, among other things, that the deal could be anti-competitive. The two sides came to an agreement that would allow Norfolk Southern to use 161.5 miles of CSX’s rails to move 9,000-foot-long specialty trains between Voorheesville and central Massachusetts twice a day every day.

The specialty train pulls rail cars that each carry 80,000 pounds of automobiles from the nation’s car manufacturers. Track upgrades would be needed in part to accommodate the weight of the trains carrying the automobiles. 

Use of CSX’s rails would allow Norfolk Southern to move one of its 1.7-mile-long double-stacked 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.

Were the deal to fall through, the state money wouldn’t go away.

“This funding was awarded through a competitive process,” state Department of Transportation spokesman Bryan Viggiani told The Enterprise by email on Wednesday. “The rehabilitation of this segment of the line is not impacted by the proposed acquisition of PanAm by CSX.”

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