The reduced level of federal investment in Northeast Corridor (NEC) infrastructure has resulted in a cumulative degradation of its components, nearing the loss of asset functionality and decreased reliability of the system that threatens the successful continuity of passenger rail operations, Amtrak President/CEO Joe Boardman told a Congressional committee late last week.
"There is insufficient NEC infrastructure investment to meet both the ongoing normalized replacement and the backlog capital requirements. And that means we are eating our assets alive," he explained.
Boardman said this de-capitalization of NEC assets leads to rapidly increasing degradation of ride quality, reliability and the ability to support major improvement projects.
He urged the federal government to act now and use the opportunity of rail reauthorization legislation to take the lead in funding a major program to build out the NEC infrastructure needed for the coming century. Amtrak shares the NEC with eight commuter railroads and its infrastructure supports the movement of 260 million intercity and commuter rail passengers each year. Several of the most important segments, such as the New York tunnels, are at capacity with ridership demand at record levels and growing.
Boardman noted Amtrak needs $782 million every year for the next 15 years just for the costs of NEC normalized replacement ($386 million) and the backlog of infrastructure work ($396 million). That level of funding will allow Amtrak to run a safe railroad at maximum allowed track speed, maintain an excellent on-time performance and meet the basic needs of those who want to develop real estate along the NEC and fill their development with the people who they expect to come by train. However, it will not address needed capacity improvements, trip-time reductions or other new initiatives.
He reminded committee members that after Amtrak was given control of the NEC in 1976 during the Conrail process, it was followed by several significant, federally-funded repair and improvement programs which transformed the dilapidated mid-century rail operation it inherited into the successful high-rail speed rail route it is today.