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Rail News: Passenger Rail

Amtrak urges FRA to forge 'clear national vision' for rail system


Amtrak officials urged the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to be “bold and unambiguous” in its vision for the future of the national rail system, including Amtrak, as the administration develops a long-range National Rail Plan (NRP).

“Amtrak’s existing national intercity passenger-rail system should be recognized in the NRP as the foundation for the development of an expanded network of high-speed and conventional rail services spanning key corridors across the United States, said Amtrak Vice President of Policy and Development Stephen Gardner in a prepared statement.

Amtrak’s high-speed services in the Northeast Corridor, short-distance services run in partnership with the states and overnight long-distance services are a “solid base on which to build a truly 21st century national intercity passenger-rail system,” said Gardner.

“The NRP should lay out a clear national vision for this network and contain strategies for improving and expanding intercity passenger-rail services where such services can advance key national priorities like congestion relief, transportation safety, energy-efficiency, environmental protection and sustainable development,” he added.

The final NRP should address the department’s views on Amtrak and its future role in delivering the type of modern intercity passenger-rail service envisioned in the preliminary NRP, Amtrak officials said in written comments submitted to the FRA.

The FRA also should establish clear federal performance goals for each segment of the nation's passenger- and freight-rail system, and should link the goals to national outcomes. In addition, the NRP should set specific targets and milestones for system development and performance that can be used to measure national progress, Amtrak officials believe.

In terms of developing high-speed rail, Amtrak is recommending a target be set to connect all pairs of metropolitan areas with populations of 1 million or more, and separated by less than 600 miles, with “frequent, reliable, high-speed intercity passenger-rail service.”

In addition, the NRP must match intercity rail development plans to appropriate markets, Amtrak officials said.

“In order for intercity passenger rail to become a viable travel alternative to the nation’s highway and aviation systems, the NRP must recognize that intercity passenger rail service needs to be both accessible and well-connected to final destinations through local transit options and that developed corridors will need to be connected into a coherent national network,” Amtrak officials said.

Amtrak also noted that a dedicated source of "reliable, predictable and multi-year funds" is necessary to support capital grants for both Amtrak and states.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 6/8/2010