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Fleet, infrastructure maintenance key to Amtrak's updated five-year plan


Yesterday, Amtrak released an updated version of its five-year strategic plan, which the national passenger railroad first developed last year to detail its spending. With the exception of removing fiscal-year 2004 data and tacking on another year, Amtrak’s plan appears to be very similar to last year’s.

"There are no surprises and the size of the program is basically same," said Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer David Gunn during a press conference held yesterday in Washington, D.C. "It’s basically a fleet and infrastructure program."

With federal funding requests averaging about $1.6 billion annually through FY2009, the plan maintains annual federal support for operating purposes at a flat $570 million. The remainder will be used to bring equipment and facilities to a state of good repair, said Gunn.

During the next five years, Amtrak plans to rebuild 32 interlockings, install 885,000 concrete ties, undercut 423 miles of track, install 352 miles of rail, rebuild five bridges, replace 136 miles of signal cable and renew 300 miles of catenary hardware.

"Our goal is to stabilize the railroad from an operating expense point of view and continue to ramp up the capital program," said Gunn.

The plan also includes a fleet maintenance program designed to increase passenger car and locomotive reliability and availability. Amtrak plans to overhaul 326 locomotives, and overhaul or remanufacture 1,457 cars.

"There are days on the Northeast Corridor where we could fill every seat out there and the fact that we have cars we can’t use is costing us a lot of money," said Gunn. "If you get the fleet in good shape, you get more cars, and if you give me 50 or 75 more cars, we have the ability to improve performance."

During the past year, Amtrak officials have worked with state representatives to develop programs aimed at improving performance on intercity corridors by increasing speed and providing more frequent service. Amtrak and interested states have identified corridors, their congestion and capacity challenges, and capital investment needs.

Amtrak evaluated the corridors’ readiness for immediate development, factoring in such criteria as whether a state has a long-term master plan, revenue and expense forecasts, infrastructure and equipment investment plans, and whether an agreement exists to provide a 20 percent funding match and cover any additional operating deficit.

Corridors that met all the criteria include Philadelphia-to-Harrisburg, Penn.; Raleigh-to-Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago-to-St. Louis; Chicago-to-Milwaukee-to-Madison; San Diego-to-Los Angeles-to-San Luis Obispo, Calif.; Bakersfield-to-Sacramento/Oakland, Calif.; San Jose-to-Sacramento, Calif.; and Eugene-to-Portland, Ore., or Seattle.

Meanwhile, the railroad is on track to post record ridership during FY2004, said Gunn. During the first eight months of the fiscal year, ridership totaled 16.2 million, a 6.2 percent increase compared with the same 2003 period. Between February and May, Amtrak posted all-time record ridership and the railroad could exceed 25 million passengers for the first time ever this year.

In the meantime, the railroad is trying to keep expenses to a minimum.

"The operating side of the plan is aggressive but doable and right now, we’re doing better than budget on the operating side," said Gunn. "We are gradually making improvements in our financial condition and have been able to control our operating expenses for the first time in quite awhile."

But it won’t take much to throw the railroad’s plan off track. The biggest threat: inadequate capital funding, says Gunn.

"If you can’t provide a good infrastructure of solid equipment, operating costs will begin to spiral," he says.

Angela Claypool

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 6/30/2004