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Amtrak and state officials are racing to meet an Oct. 1 deadline on a cost-sharing agreement required to avert a rail shutdown in New York.
Amtrak this week began notifying employees here and in other states without agreements that service could end on some routes and that their jobs could be abolished.
Mayors and congressional representatives also were to be notified, Amtrak said in a letter last month to the Federal Railroad Administration.
The cost-sharing agreement is required by legislation Congress passed five years ago. Known as the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, or PRIIA, it requires states and Amtrak to jointly develop a method to share costs for trains on routes of up to 750 miles.
The legislation requires the agreements to be implemented by Oct. 16, but the date was changed to Oct. 1 to coincide with the start of the new federal fiscal year.
As of Wednesday, eight of the 18 states affected, none in the Northeast, had reached those agreements.
But state officials say they are optimistic.
“We continue to be in productive negotiations with Amtrak and have made significant progress over the course of the last two weeks,” said Beau Duffy, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Transportation. “Nevertheless, a few issues remain outstanding, but we are confident that a contract will be in place and Amtrak’s services will not be impacted.”
Amtrak, in its letter to the FRA, said starting on Oct. 2 in states where agreements haven’t been reached that it will no longer accept reservations on routes slated to be shut down after Oct. 16. At the end of the day on Oct. 16, trains would be moved to the nearest Amtrak facility for use on other routes.
Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole said the passenger railroad is continuing “good-faith talks” with the 10 states with which it hasn’t reached agreements and is “hopeful … (of) a positive outcome.”
He said notifying employees of service suspensions is required by their labor contracts and is a “necessary action to begin planning for the possibility that some service will be affected…”
Amtrak has more than 1,600 employees in New York state and operates a maintenance facility at Rensselaer.
The passenger railroad said it set an all-time record for ridership in July, carrying 2.9 million passengers, an increase of 4.8 percent from July 2012.
The route between the Capital Region and New York City, one of the busiest, carried just under 100,000 passengers in July.
Amtrak has signed agreements with Virginia, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Wisconsin, Oregon, Washington and California.
In addition to New York, it still needs to reach agreements with Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Pennsylvania, Vermont, North Carolina, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.
The Cuomo administration has budgeted funds for existing Amtrak service, excluding the Lake Shore Limited, which isn’t covered by the congressional cost-sharing requirement.
In all, the congressional act covers 28 routes of less than 750 miles.
“We are hopeful and confident that the state and Amtrak will reach an agreement in time so that vital passenger service in New York state will continue and hopefully be improved in the future,” said Bruce Becker, president of the Empire State Passengers Association, a rail advocacy organization.
(c)2013 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.)
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Distributed by MCT Information Services