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Rail News: Amtrak

Amtrak asks Congress to use Northeast Corridor profits for corridor improvements

Amtrak officials are seeking congressional approval to use the railroad's operating profits from the Northeast Corridor (NEC) for infrastructure improvement projects along the corridor instead of subsidizing long-distance routes.

In its fiscal-year 2015 budget request to Congress, Amtrak requested $1.62 billion in federal capital and operating support, a 16 percent increase from FY2014 federal appropriations. Amtrak also is seeking a new federal policy and funding arrangement that would create a multi-year capital investment program "to reverse decay of NEC infrastructure," including replacement of 100-year-old bridges and tunnels along the corridor.

"Infrastructure deterioration and changes in business patterns have reached a point where something has to change," Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boardman wrote in the railroad's budget-request letter to Congress.

Current federal funding levels put the NEC infrastructure at "increased risk with serious economic consequences for the nation," said Amtrak Chairman Tony Coscia in a press release.

NEC revenue exceeds operating costs by more than $300 million annually and is used to cover some costs of state-supported and long-distance trains, Boardman wrote. Instead, Congress should fully fund the operating and capital needs of the long-distance routes so that Amtrak can reinvest NEC revenue into its infrastructure needs, he said.

Long-distance trains have been a core federal responsibility since 1971, and Congress should fulfill its obligation by funding their cost, Boardman wrote.

He also noted that in FY2013, Amtrak set an annual ridership record of 31.6 million passengers and a ticket revenue record of $2.1 billion.

"In spite of these successes, the likelihood of major infrastructure failure has grown," Boardman wrote. "Current investment levels leave us vulnerable to a bigger, costlier and far more damaging failure than anything we have seen."

Included with Boardman's letter was a report by the independent Northeast Corridor Infrastructure Advisory Commission, which described the increasing risk to NEC infrastructure.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 3/19/2014