This hearing continues our informal roundtable discussion yesterday on Amtrak and will hopefully reinforce the idea that investment in the NEC is a priority.
Last week in California we learned a lot about the California High Speed Rail Program. We also learned how the first $6 billion in State and Federal funding the project received will go to upgrade current Amtrak service in the Valley.
The Northeast Corridor is the most highly trafficked rail corridor in the country, and Amtrak's sole money making enterprise. Infrastructure upgrades in this corridor are essential to continue to serve a proven and dedicated ridership that continues to expand.
I believe the $6 billion that was given to the California High Speed Rail Authority could be better spent on such upgrades, as these projects are both clearly identified, and necessary beyond dispute.
To place $6 billion in perspective; this amount of money is enough to replace the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnels ($1.5 billion), build a new Portal South Bridge with a 4 track alignment into New York ($1.0 billion--150,000 daily riders), replace the century old Susquehanna River Bridge ($800 million), and replace the Gunpowder River Bridge ($600 million), with $2 billion left over. These are just a few examples on a list of over $30 billion in identified projects. Each would substantially decrease trip times along the corridor by eliminating significant bottlenecks.
Given that there are over 11.4 million Amtrak riders and over 200 million commuters that use the Northeast Corridor every year, it would be an investment in an area where we have proven ridership.
Furthermore, there are still questions in California as to whether the improvements made by the Authority will even be used by Amtrak or help improve ridership as stations may move from city centers to the outskirts. Simply put, this money would've been better spent here on the Northeast Corridor which continues to surpass ridership and revenue records for Amtrak. Also, unlike most other Amtrak services, the Northeast Corridor consistently turns an operating profit.
I believe more investment must be made in the Northeast Corridor for continued success in the future, but when there was funding available, it was spent elsewhere. Indeed, the Northeast Corridor did not receive any of the President's High Speed Rail money until after other State's returned theirs. Clearly, this was not a priority.
We must prioritize, fix it first, and address known problems, and our current policy structure does not encourage this.
Finally, with years of trillion dollar deficits, federal resources are scare and we must work within existing funding levels and we must find ways to involve the private sector.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for the Federal government to continue to support the full financial burden of major infrastructure projects, and we must explore other sources--such as state, local and private investment.
The Northeast Corridor is a valuable asset to the region and the Nation as a whole. We must be able to leverage the opportunities this asset offers to attract private investment, while improving infrastructure and realizing public benefits.
Again, I thank the witnesses for being here today. We are open to all suggestions, and look forward to hearing from our witnesses today.