I appreciate Chairman Denham for holding this important hearing today in New York to follow up on our roundtable traveling up the Northeast Corridor yesterday. I'd also like to welcome and thank our distinguished panel of witnesses for joining us.
Intercity passenger rail plays an important role in our Nation's transportation network, connecting major metropolitan areas and cities, and the Northeast Corridor is no exception. Given the population density, economic vitality, and heavily congested roadways and airspace, the NEC is where it makes sense to invest in rail infrastructure and development.
The NEC is home to four of the ten most populous metro regions in the nation -- New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Boston -- 18 percent of the nation's population living in just 2 percent of its land area.
The easy access to suburban and urban transit is also significant, bringing in numbers of riders on the NEC routes daily.
Economically, the Northeast Corridor accounts for four of the ten most productive metro regions in the nation and accounts for one-fifth of the nation's GDP.
Further, we see that NEC passenger rail is effective, with Amtrak now capturing 76% of the rail/air traffic, up from 45% in 2001.
I have recently traveled across this country and have seen the need to fix our Nation's ports, bridges, tunnels, and rails so we can have a more efficient and reliable transportation network in the future. However, unlike what the Administration has proposed, we recognize that we do not have unlimited funds, so we need to focus on what makes sense and prioritize investment in infrastructure that we know is achievable.
In the past, we have had hearings on the prospect of high speed rail in the NEC, but as both Amtrak and the Northeast Corridor Commission have stated, we need to focus on the state of good repair of the existing infrastructure.
High speed rail, while great in theory, is not realistic given the NEC's immediate need for state-of-good repair improvements. When it comes down to investment, it's simple math -- it's more prudent for the government to invest in fixing current infrastructure for the betterment of the future.
Responsible governing involves choices, and while the Administration's budget seems to choose everything, giving Amtrak a $4 billion increase and heavily investing in pie-in-the-sky high speed rail. I think we all know that is unrealistic.
The NEC is exactly the kind of existing infrastructure we can improve upon through smart investment and we will see tangible benefits and an opportunity for HIGHER speed rail.
Too many people think we can invest in it all, but in today's world we need to use our scarce resources wisely so we can reap the maximum public benefit.
We want to encourage the private sector to get involved, along with state and local governments, in order to fully leverage Federal investments. We need to work within existing federal resources so we need to look for other sources to fund the NEC's aging infrastructure -- and the private sector is just the place to look.
Again, I thank Chairman Denham for holding this important hearing and thank our witnesses for their testimony.