Community and Economic Development Director Robert von Hasseln explained his long-term plan for the relocation of Amsterdam’s train station from its current location on West Main St. to the downtown area at Tuesday’s Amsterdam Common Council meeting. Von Hasseln said the bulk of the funding for the project would have to come from grants and may take anywhere from 2 to 7 years before the project begins. He also said that council approval would be required at several stages of the plan.
Von Hasseln broke down the plan into four stages. The first conceptual stage, he explained, was when the idea was initially introduced in Amsterdam’s Comprehensive Plan, which was completed in 2003 and included input from a wide range of the city’s residents as well as various business, community and political leaders. He said that the idea was also embraced by Amtrak and the Empire State Corridor program, who von Hasslen said encouraged the city to “think big” and expand the project to be an “inter-modal” transportation hub with additional parking and banquet hall space. He said that CSX Corporation, which owns the railroad tracks, was also consulted and has no objections to the project.
After the station was flooded in 2011, the project received support from the NY Rising Commission and was included in its 2014 report. Von Hasseln said a grant from NY State’s Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOA) program funded plans for the second stage, which calls for preliminary designs to be drawn up and a specific site to be selected. He said he expected the designs would be finished by spring of 2015.
The third stage would be to complete detailed design plans which von Hasseln said would require the city to apply for a state grant using the Consolidated Funding Application process (CFA). The fourth and final stage would be to apply for a TIGER grant (Transportation Improvements Generating Economic Recovery) from the US Department of Transportation to fund the actual construction of the station.
Von Hasslen said he had heard concerns about the cost to city taxpayers and the amount of input from the public and the common council.
“Apparently there’s been some kind of buzz around about maybe we shouldn’t do this or maybe the common council should say let’s stop this now before any more tax payer’s dollars have been involved,” said von Hasseln.
Von Hasseln explained that public participation was a part of the initial comprehensive plan process, the BOA programs, the Empire Corridor program, and the NY Rising Commission. He also pointed out that the common council would have to approve the use of any grant money won by the city. He also pointed out that if the city updates its comprehensive plan, there would be additional opportunity for the public to participate and the common council to give its approval.
“Be assured that if after the preliminary plans are done…and you don’t like it, you have three more chances to put a stake in the heart of this thing. But you don’t need to act now until you actually get a chance to look at what the plans might look like,” said von Hasseln.
When asked about the potential costs to the city, von Hasseln said that the grant he hoped to secure for the detailed plans would fully fund the project and that most of the planning work so far had not cost the city anything. He said the city’s cost to participate in the BOA program was “minimal” but said he did not have an exact figure.
Von Hasseln said the even though the current train station has been rehabilitated after the flood and was currently in use, that it was only a matter of time before it was damaged again from flooding.
“As the NY Rising commission pointed out, it can’t stay in that location because neither the railroad or the government can afford to keep rebuilding it or refinishing it after every flood…everybody from Amtrak, CSX, State of New York knows that it can’t stay there in that flood plain,” said von Hasseln.