Amtrak to Congress: All Aboard, or Else!

March 6, 2013
Marc Bussanich

Amtrak’s CEO, Joseph Boardman, said at a Congressional transportation hearing that the national passenger rail service will not be able to grow unless Congress commits to billions of dollars of capital investments to upgrade and build new infrastructure along the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak’s and the nation’s busiest rail corridor. (Read More and Watch Video)

Despite being the busiest in the nation, 100-yeard old bridges and outdated signaling and power supply systems plague the NEC network that runs between Boston and Washington, DC.

Since its inception in 1971, Amtrak has been consistently underfunded, and is frequently the target of fiscal conservatives because it needs federal subsidies to maintain and support unprofitable long-distance routes. John Mica, the former chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, frequently chided Amtrak for being a “Soviet-style” rail system.

Republican members of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials questioned Mr. Boardman how can Amtrak become more profitable and rely less on federal subsidies.

He responded that without investments, Amtrak can’t grow revenues.

“What would help us improve the revenues is more capital infrastructure investments for the future to allow us to increase capacity and speed,” said Boardman.

There’s no short list of repairs and upgrades required to modernize the NEC. The Northeast Corridor Infrastructure and Operations Advisory Commission recently issued the “Critical Infrastructure Needs on the Northeast Corridor” report, citing almost 40 different infrastructure needs such as replacing bridges, building new tunnels, expanding station capacity and installing new track.

Boardman displayed a copy of the report during his testimony and said that about $52 billion worth of work is necessary over the next 20 years to achieve a state-of-good repair to meet increasing ridership demand.

Jeff Denham (R-CA), the new chairman of the subcommittee in the 113th Congress, said, “This hearing will help lay the groundwork for the Subcommittee’s work this Congress to strengthen and improve the efficiency of American rail transportation.”

Whether Amtrak can persuade the subcommittee as the new Congress progresses might be a tall order because Denham has been a critic of California’s proposed high-speed rail network; in the previous Congress he and fellow Republicans pushed legislation to stop additional federal funds going to the project.


March 6, 2013

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