Empire Service (train)
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|Service type||Inter-city rail, higher speed rail|
|First service||3 December 1967|
|Ridership||1,023,698 (New York-Albany FY11)
406,286 (Albany-Toronto FY11)
|Start||New York Penn Station|
|End||Niagara Falls, NY|
|Distance travelled||460 miles (740 km)|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
|Track owner(s)||MNRR, Amtrak, CSXT|
The Empire Service is a higher speed train service operated by Amtrak within the state of New York in the United States. The brand name originated with the New York Central Railroad in 1967. Trains on the line provide frequent daily service along the 460-mile (740 km) Empire Corridor between New York City and Niagara Falls, New York via Albany, the state capital.
During fiscal year 2011, the Empire Service carried over one million passengers on the line between New York and Albany, while services between Albany and points west, including the Maple Leaf and Lake Shore Limited, carried an additional 400,000 people. Ridership on both sections of the Empire Service's line increased from FY2010, by 4% and 5% respectively. Ticket revenue on the New York-Albany section was US$40,077,158, while revenue on the Albany-Toronto route was $23,406,596.
Hourly weekday service is available on the Hudson portion of the line between New York Penn Station and Albany-Rensselaer. The Upstate portion west of Albany is served by a total of four trains in each direction daily:
- Two Empire Service trains continuing to Niagara Falls (formerly known as the Water Level Route)
- The daily Maple Leaf to Niagara Falls before continuing to Toronto
- The Lake Shore Limited which follows the Empire Corridor as far as Buffalo-Depew en route to Chicago.
The route was formerly the Water Level Route of the New York Central Railroad to Buffalo and then the former Buffalo and Niagara Falls Railroad. In December 1967, just months before its merger with the Pennsylvania Railroad to become the Penn Central Transportation Company, the Central reorganized all its passenger trains. Gone were individual train names. In their place the Central introduced the Empire Service brand for New York–Buffalo trains. Marketing emphasized convenient service within New York, with a reduced emphasis on long-distance trains which continued west of Buffalo. This program continued after the Penn Central merger.
Amtrak began on May 1, 1971, with seven daily trains on the New York—Albany—Buffalo corridor: four operated New York—Albany and three ran through to Buffalo. All service west of Buffalo was discontinued. All the trains retained their ex-Penn Central numbers and were otherwise nameless. Westward service resumed briefly after May with the introduction of the Chicago—New York Lake Shore, but this train was canceled on January 6, 1972.
Despite doubts about Amtrak's potential success, the company was key in reestablishing some discontinued services along the Empire Corridor. Service beyond Buffalo to Niagara Falls, which had been abandoned by the New York Central in 1961, was reestablished with such trains as the Niagara Rainbow and the Maple Leaf. In addition Amtrak restored service to downtown Schenectady in 1978, a service which Penn Central had discontinued in 1968, for all Empire Service trains that continued beyond Albany. Service was restored permanently on the New York Central Water Level Route to Chicago with the reintroduction of the old New York Central train, the Lake Shore Limited in 1975.
On April 7, 1991, all Amtrak Empire Service trains started using the new Empire Connection into Penn Station, New York. Prior to that change, all passenger trains from Albany and beyond went into Grand Central Terminal which forced passengers going beyond New York to transfer via shuttle bus, taxicab or via the New York City Subway to reach Penn Station. The move also saved Amtrak the expense of operating two stations in New York.
In October 2011, CSX and Amtrak reached an agreement for Amtrak to lease the Hudson Subdivision between Poughkeepsie and Schenectady, with Amtrak assuming maintenance and capital responsibilities. CSX will retain freight rights over the line, which hosts only five freights a day. Amtrak will use federal funds to double track the line between Rensselaer and Schenectady, and add an additional station track at the Albany-Rensselaer station. Amtrak sees the lease as key to improving Empire Service speeds and frequencies. Amtrak officially assumed control on December 1, 2012, with trains in the section now dispatched by the Amtrak Control and Command Center in New York City.
- CSX Niagara Subdivision, Buffalo Terminal Subdivision, Rochester Subdivision, Mohawk Subdivision, Selkirk Subdivision, and Hudson Subdivision, Niagara Falls to Poughkeepsie (Amtrak-owned between Hoffmans and Schenectady)
- Metro-North Railroad Hudson Line, Poughkeepsie to Spuyten Duyvil
- Amtrak Empire Connection, Spuyten Duyvil to Penn Station
The Empire Service utilizes dual-mode locomotives due to a ban on diesel locomotive operations in the Penn Station tunnel. An "on the fly" power change from diesel to third rail (or vice-versa) takes place once the train enters the tunnel near Penn Station.
The Empire Service has been a long-standing candidate for high-speed rail and electrification. The need for high-speed rail service has been addressed by former Governor George Pataki, former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, and members of the New York State Assembly who represent the upstate regions. Other politicians have asked that high-speed rail be introduced along the Empire Corridor, diminishing the time for New York City – Buffalo trains from seven hours to just three hours; train travel from New York City to Albany would take less than two hours to complete. This may introduce Acela trains to the Empire Corridor if high speed rail is successful. Another reason, which politicians have noted, is that high-speed trains might help improve upstate New York's economy, which had become stagnant.
- "Amtrak Ridership Rolls Up Best-Ever Records" (PDF). Amtrak. October 13, 2011. Retrieved February 7, 2012.
- "They're brightening up the Empire Trains". Penn Central Post. April 15, 1968.
- Amtrak (May 1, 1971). "Nationwide Schedules of Intercity Passenger Service". Retrieved September 6, 2013.
- Eric Anderson (October 18, 2011). "Amtrak leasing track corridor". Times-Union. Retrieved October 25, 2011.
- "Governor Cuomo Announces Hudson Rail Lease – Amtrak/CSX Deal Will Improve Passenger Service, Move Projects Forward" (PDF) (Press release). Albany, New York: Amtrak. December 4, 2012. Retrieved 2012-12-05.
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