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Schumer: Congress must 'get serious' about passenger-rail investment

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)
Photo – Sen. Schumer's office website


U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced this week that Congress must make "critical investments" to Amtrak and other passenger-rail services' state-of-good repair backlog or more derailments such as two recent incidents at Penn Station will continue to occur.

At a press conference held Sunday in New York and in a press release, Schumer said it's time for the federal government to "get serious" about making passenger-rail service a priority. Long-delayed and critical federal investments must be made to Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and Long Island Rail Road, he said.

Recent derailments at Penn Station — one involving a NJ Transit train last week and another involving an Amtrak Acela train in March — have caused massive delays and frustrated riders. Schumer said he is making a new push to prioritize investing in rail systems before such derailments become even more routine.

The senator noted that Amtrak alone is facing a $28 billion state-of-good repair backlog, which could have contributed to the maintenance issues that caused the derailments over the past two weeks. In addition, other regional transit systems including the MTA and NJ Transit also have serious maintenance backlogs.

Schumer attributed the widespread maintenance issues plaguing the Northeast Corridor to a lack of funding, and called for a major increase in rail and transit maintenance funding to help address the issue.

A plan exists to make such investments in transit and passenger rail, but it has not yet made traction in Congress, he noted. Specifically, Schumer has called for an investment of $180 billion over the next 10 years to repair aging rail and transit systems, and specifically $5 billion a year to Amtrak, which would help alleviate delays.

Making rail and transit improvements should be a major priority in any federal infrastructure legislation, the senator said.

"We learned this lesson in New York in the 1970's when we systematically disinvested in the MTA and the system broke down," said Schumer. "We had delays, derailments, dirty trains and ridership fell to historic lows. But when we made the change and invested into the system, ridership went through the roof and maintenance vastly improved. When you delay maintenance, it only leads to disaster.”

In the Northeast alone, about 750,000 people travel each day on rail systems from Washington, D.C., to Boston, which contributes $50 billion to the national economy, according to Schumer's office.

Meanwhile, Amtrak and the Southern Rail Commission will host public meetings in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana this week to update stakeholders on efforts to launch passenger-rail service in the region.

The meetings will review progress made since Amtrak and the commission operated an inspection train tour across the Gulf Coast route in February 2016 and share the next steps necessary to revive Amtrak service in the area.

Meetings will be held starting today in Jacksonville, Fla.; in Marianna, Fla., and Mobile, Ala., tomorrow; and in Gulfport, Miss., and New Orleans on Thursday.

The public may follow the meetings via Twitter at SRC’s feed on Twitter @SouthernRailCms.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 4/11/2017