A Congressional hearing in New York City today highlighted the importance of the Northeast Corridor to Amtrak's intercity passenger rail service. Committee leaders called the corridor -- Amtrak's most valuable route -- the kind of infrastructure that can be improved upon through smart investment and within existing, realistic budget levels.
The hearing of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials was led by Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R-CA). The panel continues its work preparing for the development of passenger rail reauthorization legislation this Congress.
"The Northeast Corridor is the most highly trafficked rail corridor in the country" Denham said. "Infrastructure upgrades in this corridor are essential to continue to serve a proven and dedicated ridership that continues to expand. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Federal government to continue to support the full financial burden, and we must explore other sources such as state, local and private investment. With years of trillion dollar deficits, federal resources are scare and we must work within existing funding levels to prioritize, fix it first, and address known problems -- something our current policy structure does not encourage."
"Across the country I 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," said Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), who also participated in today's hearing in New York's Moynihan Station. "However 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. High speed rail, while great in theory, is not realistic given the NEC's immediate need for state-of-good repair improvements."
Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman, New York Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald, Regional Plan Association Executive Director Bob Yaro, and Drexel University President John Fry testified at today's hearing.
Yesterday, en route to the hearing, Denham, Shuster, and other bipartisan members of the Committee conducted a "rolling roundtable" on an Amtrak train travelling from Washington, DC to New York. Transportation officials from Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, who boarded and disembarked the train at various stops, discussed the NEC's infrastructure needs and priorities, cost sharing options for infrastructure investment, and how States and localities work within Amtrak's system.
The NEC region is home to four of the ten most populous metropolitan regions in the nation -- New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Boston -- with 18 percent of the nation's population living in just two percent of its land area. The Corridor is the most valuable piece of Amtrak's network, generating the most profit and the most traffic. Of the 437 total miles of the NEC, Amtrak owns and controls 363 miles. The NEC carries more passengers than any other Amtrak line; in 2012, a record 11.4 million passengers rode Amtrak trains on the NEC. Amtrak operates 153 daily trains on the corridor, including the Northeast Regional and Acela services, alongside more than 2,000 daily commuter trains and roughly 70 daily freight trains.
According to estimates, the NEC will require significant resources over the next 20 years in order to reach a state of good repair and to accommodate future growth. Members of the Committee and witnesses today discussed the need for infrastructure improvements to bring the NEC into a state of good repair, and the need for private sector involvement given Federal budget constraints.