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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.
Empire Service train #235 entering Poughkeepsie station in May 2008
|Service type||Inter-city rail, higher speed rail|
|Predecessor||New York Central corridor trains|
|First service||December 3, 1967|
|Ridership||1,150,498 (New York–Albany FY18)|
366,696 (Albany–Toronto FY15)
|Start||New York Penn Station, New York City and Grand Central Terminal, New York City (limited trains)|
|End||Niagara Falls Station and Customhouse Interpretive Center, Niagara Falls, NY|
|Distance travelled||460 miles (740 km)|
|Class(es)||Business class and reserved coach|
|Catering facilities||Cafe car (some trains)|
|Rolling stock||Amfleet coaches|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
|Operating speed||Up to 110 mph (177 km/h)|
|Track owner(s)||MNRR, Amtrak, CSXT|
During fiscal year 2018, the Empire Service carried 1,150,498 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 366,696. Ticket revenue on the New York–Albany section in FY2016 was $49,361,545, an increase of 1.4% from FY2015, while revenue on the Albany–Toronto route was $22,143,803.
Hourly weekday service is available on the southern portion of the line between New York Penn Station and Albany–Rensselaer. An additional two trains continue through to Niagara Falls. As of the April 14, 2019 timetable, seven trains operate along the line on most days–five between New York and Albany, and two between New York and Niagara Falls.
The Upstate portion north of Albany is served by two additional trains each day:
- The Maple Leaf, which runs along the entire corridor before continuing to Toronto
- The Lake Shore Limited, which follows the corridor as far as Buffalo–Depew en route to Chicago, with one section breaking off at Albany to serve Boston.
The Adirondack to Montreal and Ethan Allen Express to Rutland, Vermont also supplement service on the southern portion of the line between New York and Albany. Both follow the corridor as far as Schenectady.
The portion of the route from Poughkeepsie southward is shared with the Metro-North Railroad's Hudson Line, and sees frequent commuter service, with connections to the Empire Service at Yonkers, Croton-Harmon and Poughkeepsie.
The Empire Service is one of four New York State-based train routes that Amtrak operates with funding from the New York State Department of Transportation with the other three routes being the Adirondack, Maple Leaf, and Ethan Allen Express.
Today's Empire Service is the descendant of numerous routes dating to 1869, when Cornelius Vanderbilt merged his Hudson River Railroad (forerunner of today's Metro-North Hudson Line) with the New York Central Railroad, thus linking New York City with Albany.
Its route is largely coextensive with what was once the NYC's main line, which was the eastern portion of the "Water Level Route" from New York City to Chicago. The Buffalo-Niagara Falls leg was formerly part of an NYC subsidiary, the Buffalo and Niagara Falls Railroad, but was abandoned in 1961.
In December 1967, just months before its merger with the PRR to become the Penn Central Transportation Company, the Central reorganized all its passenger routes. All trains along the New York-Buffalo corridor were consolidated under the Empire Service brand. 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. The new scheduling produced mixed results; passengers were deterred by the poor quality of the passenger cars and the inconvenient locations of stations along the route.
Penn Central handed the Empire Service, along with most of its other routes, to Amtrak on May 1, 1971. Initially, Amtrak retained seven daily trains on the New York—Albany—Buffalo corridor: four operated from New York to Albany, and three ran through to Buffalo. All service west of Buffalo was discontinued. All 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 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 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 New York Penn. Prior to that change, all passenger trains from Albany and beyond went into Grand Central Terminal, forcing passengers traveling to the Northeast Corridor 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. Since 2012, Amtrak has effectively had operational control over the Hudson Subdivision, handling all maintenance and capital responsibilities. CSX retained 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.
From July 10 through September 1, 2017, six Empire Service trains (three round trips) used Grand Central Terminal as part of Amtrak's work to make repairs at Penn Station.  All trains using the Empire Connection, excluding the Lake Shore Limited, again operated into Grand Central Terminal from May 26 to September 4, 2018 to allow work on the Empire Tunnel, the Spuyten Duyvil movable bridge, and Track 19 in New York's Penn Station.
In May 2018, the Massachusetts Senate approved funds for a pilot of the "Berkshire Flyer", a seasonal extension of a weekend Empire Service round trip to Pittsfield. The trial service, modeled on the CapeFLYER, is scheduled begin in June 2020. One Friday afternoon train will be extended to Pittsfield and return on Sunday afternoon.
- 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, leased to Amtrak between Schenectady and Poughkeepsie)
- 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 northern terminus for most trains, Albany-Rensselaer, is the ninth-busiest Amtrak station in the country and the busiest serving a metropolitan area of fewer than two million people. This is mainly due to the large number of passengers traveling along the New York-Albany corridor, which for years was to the New York Central what the Philadelphia-New York corridor was to the Pennsylvania Railroad.
From Spuyten Duyvil to Albany, the train runs mostly parallel to the Hudson River (viewable on the left side northbound and the right side southbound).
The New York Central did not order new equipment for the Empire Service, preferring to rehabilitate existing equipment. 40 64-seat coaches, built by Pullman-Standard in 1946, were refurbished in 1967–1968. Another 21 coaches from the same pool were rebuilt as 50-seat "coach-buffet" cars. Amtrak acquired this equipment when it took over the Penn Central's passenger trains in 1971. The cars remained on the Empire Service under Amtrak into the mid-1970s. A typical train between New York and Albany consisted of two coaches and the coach-buffet or "snack bar" coach. Trains which operated west of Albany had additional coaches.. Presently, the Empire Service usually operates with a single GE P32AC-DM locomotive, four Amfleet coaches, and a business class car. For trains traveling from New York to Niagara Falls, the business class car is also used as a café car.
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.
Currently, trains attain a maximum speed of 110 mph (177 km/h) on the stretch of track just south and west Albany. Areas east of Schenectady also see speeds above 79 mph (127 km/h).
- "Amtrak FY18 Ridership" (PDF). Amtrak. November 2018. Retrieved May 20, 2019.
- "Amtrak FY16 Ridership & Revenue" (PDF). Amtrak. October 2015. Retrieved May 20, 2019.
- "Empire Service Schedule" (PDF). Amtrak. April 14, 2019. Retrieved May 20, 2019.
- "They're brightening up the Empire Trains" (PDF). Penn Central Post. April 15, 1968.
- Saunders 2001, p. 377
- Amtrak (May 1, 1971). "Nationwide Schedules of Intercity Passenger Service". Archived from the original on September 8, 2013. Retrieved September 6, 2013.
- Nationwide Schedules of Intercity Passenger Service. Amtrak. June 11, 1972. p. 43 – via Museum of Railway Timetables.
- All-America Schedules. Amtrak. May 19, 1974. p. 33 – via Museum of Railway Timetables.
- Amtrak Northeast Timetable: Winter 1996. Amtrak. January 1996. pp. 20–23 – via Museum of Railway Timetables.
- Amtrak Northeast Timetable: Fall/Winter 1996/97. Amtrak. November 14, 1996. pp. 20–23 – via Museum of Railway Timetables.
- Amtrak Northeast Timetable: Spring/Summer 1999. Amtrak. May 16, 1999. pp. 22–23 – via Museum of Railway Timetables.
- Eric Anderson (October 18, 2011). "Amtrak leasing track corridor". Times-Union. Retrieved October 25, 2011.
- "Governor Cuomo Announces Hudson Rail Line Lease" (Press release). Albany, NY: Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. December 4, 2012.
- "Select Empire Service Trains to Operate to/from Grand Central Terminal during Infrastructure Renewal Period" (Press release). Amtrak. July 3, 2017.
- "Amtrak Announces Summer Infrastructure Renewal Work" (Press release). Amtrak. April 10, 2018.
- "News Briefs: Mass. Senate approves funding for opioid prevention services; Mass. Senate provides funding for Berkshire FLYER; Mass. Senate to review small bridge repair regulations". Berkshire Edge. May 30, 2018.
- Vaccaro, Adam (March 27, 2018). "A Berkshires-NYC train service could relaunch by 2019". Boston Globe.
- Bellow, Heather (March 1, 2019). "Berkshire Flyer group `ready to take the leap' from vision to reality". Berkshire Eagle.
- Wayner 1972, pp. 34; 37
- Simon & Warner 2011, pp. 135; 150–151
- Wayner 1977, pp. 18–19
- "Empire Service". TrainWeb. Retrieved April 8, 2018.
- Saunders, Richard (2001) . Merging Lines: American Railroads 1900–1970 (Revised ed.). DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press. ISBN 978-0-87580-265-7.
- Simon, Elbert; Warner, David C. (2011). Amtrak by the numbers: a comprehensive passenger car and motive power roster, 1971-2011. Kansas City, Missouri: White River Productions. ISBN 978-1-932804-12-6.
- Wayner, Robert J., ed. (1972). Car Names, Numbers and Consists. New York: Wayner Publications. OCLC 8848690.
- Amtrak Consists (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Wayner Publications. 1977. OCLC 4279671.