Amtrak calls for new way to fund Northeast Corridor repairs

An Amtrak Acela train from New York pulls into 30th Street Station.
An Amtrak Acela train from New York pulls into 30th Street Station.
Posted: March 20, 2014

Amtrak wants to use operating profits from the Northeast Corridor for major construction projects on the corridor, instead of subsidizing long-distance trains elsewhere in the nation.

Revenues from passenger operations on the 453-mile corridor between Washington and Boston will exceed operating costs by about $290 million next year, Amtrak president Joseph Boardman said in a letter Tuesday to congressional leaders.

Boardman asked that Amtrak be allowed to use that operating surplus to help pay for $735 million in capital costs on the corridor, including new railcars, station improvements, and rail and signal upgrades.

He said the full operating deficit of long-distance trains - expected to be $618 million this year - should be paid from the federal budget.

The Northeast Corridor carried 11.4 million passengers last year, about 36 percent of Amtrak's total national ridership of 31.6 million.

Boardman said that the Northeast Corridor is in dire need of a major overhaul, and that without a significant increase in capital funding, Amtrak is "vulnerable to a bigger, costlier, and far more damaging failure than anything we have seen."

"The nation cannot afford to let a railroad that carries half of Amtrak's trains and 80 percent of the nation's rail commuters fall apart; the economic consequences would be devastating," Boardman wrote.

Amtrak is seeking $1.62 billion in federal funding for operating and capital costs nationwide in fiscal 2015, an increase of 16 percent from this year's federal appropriations.

And Amtrak is expected to ask for about $2.5 billion the next year, driven by a doubling of the costs of construction projects in the Northeast Corridor, according to the congressional letter.

The heavily used corridor, with its century-old bridges and outdated equipment, cannot be maintained "at today's financing levels or with today's policy instruments," Boardman said.

He urged Congress to give Amtrak multiyear capital funding guarantees, instead of annual appropriations that limit the railroad's ability to carry out expensive improvements.

"Only this type of commitment will allow us to plan and undertake major multiyear projects like bridge and tunnel replacements," Boardman wrote in his letter to House Speaker John Boehner and Senate President Joseph Biden Jr.



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