Federal funding for Amtrak's Northeast Corridor (NEC) service should focus on a state-of-good repair strategy rather than on high-speed rail, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said in a statement issued after a subcommittee hearing held late last week.
The hearing of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials was held at Moynihan Station in New York City as part of preparation for the development of passenger-rail reauthorization legislation.
"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 Shuster, who participated in the hearing. "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."
Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) said infrastructure upgrades are "essential to continue to serve a proven and dedicated ridership that continues to expand." But, because it's getting harder for the federal government to take on the financial burden, "we must explore other sources, such as state, local and private investment," he said.
"We must work within existing funding levels to prioritize, fix it first and address known problems, something our current policy structure does not encourage," said Denham.
Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boardman told subcommittee members that NEC infrastructure investment is insufficient to meet "ongoing normalized replacement and the backlog capital requirements.
"And that means we are eating our assets alive," he said.
The "de-capitalization" of NEC assets has led to rapidly increasing degradation of ride quality, reliability and the ability to support major improvement projects, Boardman said in a press release.
He urged the federal government to reauthorize legislation to take the lead in funding a major program to build out infrastructure on the corridor that's needed for the coming century. He noted Amtrak needs $782 million every year for the next 15 years to cover the costs of NEC normalized replacement and a backlog of infrastructure work.
That level of funding would allow Amtrak to operate safely at maximum allowed track speed, maintain on-time performance and meet basic needs of those who want to develop real estate along the corridor. But that funding level would not address capacity improvements, trip-time reductions or other new initiatives, Boardman said.
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