Municipal Government

Amtrak Projects May Afford Union Pensions’ Investment Opportunities

January 17, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter  
Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman told reporters last week that he sees Amtrak having a bright future because ridership and revenues are going up. Amtrak has a bold project agenda for 2012, but some of the more ambitious ones may be delayed because they’ll require significant funding. When NJ Governor Chris Christie cancelled the rail tunnel project between NJ and NY in 2010, a lot of potentially good-paying union jobs vanished. But Amtrak hopes to revitalize the new rail connection.

Boardman said during the press hearing that Amtrak has committed $15 million for a pre-construction and environmental review of the proposed Gateway project, which calls for building two additional tunnels under the Hudson River to access expanded terminal facilities serving Penn Station and the future Moynihan Station on the site of the former Farley Post Office, according to Amtrak.

Boardman told LaborPress that, “We believe both New York and New Jersey will be interested in making investments in Gateway,” as the investments will be partly critical for advancing high-speed rail service between Washington and Boston. He noted that “a lot of people” are interested in providing funding, but also said that both New York and New Jersey have not committed funding dollars yet.

He boasted that a $450 million project, funded by the federal high-speed rail program, will upgrade track and other infrastructure components along a 24-mile stretch between Trenton and New Brunswick, NJ, allowing trains to travel up to 160 mph from the current 135 mph.

The necessary upgrades will allow trains to travel faster along that stretch in both directions, but while trains heading southbound towards Washington will be able to reach their destinations faster, trains heading to New York and beyond may still face delays because of the lack of new tunnels to accommodate additional capacity, contributing to the urgent need to fund Gateway quickly.  

The completion of the Gateway project is not only necessary to increase capacity, but is an integral component of Amtrak’s planned Next-Gen High-Speed Rail trains traveling at 220 mph in the Northeast Corridor from Boston to Washington.

While New York and New Jersey investment sources for Gateway have yet to come forward, some city unions are already expressing interest in using their pension funds to support infrastructure jobs. For example, Mike Fishman, SEIU 32BJ’s President, told Bloomberg Business-week that he is in favor of using pension funds to support big infrastructure projects in New York, such as the construction of a new Tappan Zee Bridge.

Greg Floyd, president of Teamsters Local 237, is also in favor of using union pension funds to invest in infrastructure projects to create jobs. And John Samuelsen, TWU Local 100’s President, said he’s not opposed to the idea of using public pensions to create jobs, but is bewildered that public officials are clamoring for reductions in pension payments to hard-working union members on one hand, while on the other they want to use pension funds to solve the jobs crisis.

Boardman said that the uncertainty of federal funding is not new to Amtrak. But as 40 million people currently live within 40 miles of the Northeast Corridor, and 60 million are projected to live within 40 miles of the corridor within 20 years, the opportunities for city unions to make investments, especially as Amtrak is scrambling for investors, will be difficult to overlook.

January 17, 2012

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