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Construction of new Amtrak tunnels and several allied projects to New York could cost an estimated $16 billion and under the most optimistic scenario could take up to a decade to build.
“It could be done in seven years if we put some incentives on it,” Amtrak president Joseph Boardman said during an interview with the Star-Ledger editorial board. “We’re looking at a minimum of seven years to 11 years. That’s from the time we get a go-ahead.”
Amtrak posted record ticket revenues for its Fiscal Year 2014 ending Sept. 30 and achieved an increase in ridership over the prior fiscal year, reflecting strong continued demand for passenger rail. However, meeting future growth in passenger demand requires investing in the infrastructure that supports intercity passenger rail and resolving unacceptable congestion delays caused by freight railroads that own the tracks.
For Fiscal Year 2014, ticket revenues reached $2.189 billion, up 4.0 percent from the prior year. Ridership was more than 30.9 million, an increase of 0.2 percent over adjusted FY 2013 numbers. The slower growth in ridership than in recent years is due, in part, to a harsh winter season and on-time performance issues associated with freight train delays and infrastructure in need of replacement.
With ridership of 11.6 million, the Northeast Corridor (NEC) had its highest ridership year ever in FY 2014, up 3.3 percent from the prior year. However, ridership on long-distance routes and state-supported services declined by 4.5 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively.
The Acela Express and the Northeast Regional services each set a new ridership record. In particular, Acela showed strong popularity, with 28 days where the number of trips topped 14,000 as compared to just five such days in the previous year. Eight other routes also set ridership records, including Adirondack, Auto Train, Albany-Niagara Falls-Toronto, Blue Water, Capitol Limited, Empire Service, Piedmont, and Washington-Lynchburg.
“Amtrak is clearly selling a product that is very much in demand,” said Amtrak Board Chairman Tony Coscia. “Achieving strong ridership and revenue despite the challenges with aging infrastructure and freight rail congestion demonstrates Amtrak’s commitment to improving its financial and operating performance, and is a credit to Amtrak’s management and staff. It is now time to leverage Amtrak’s successes in increasing ridership and improving performance by making much-needed investments in our nation’s passenger rail system.”
“As more and more people choose Amtrak for their travel needs, investments must be made in the tracks, tunnels, bridges and other infrastructure used by intercity passenger trains particularly on the Northeast Corridor and in Chicago,” said Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman. “Otherwise, we face a future with increased infrastructure-related service disruptions and delays that will hurt local and regional economies and drive passengers away.”
Boardman explained that nowhere is the connection between passenger rail and economic growth stronger than in the NEC, but its infrastructure continues to age and suffers from a chronic case of long-term underfunding. He said a new federal policy and funding arrangement is needed to create a significant and reliable multi-year capital investment program to reverse the decay of NEC infrastructure and support other intercity passenger rail projects across the nation.
Further, many long-distance and state-supported trains operate over tracks owned and dispatched by freight railroads that could benefit from infrastructure upgrades to improve the fluidity of the rail system. Not only are delays to passenger trains on these tracks increasing, but so, too, is the magnitude of those delays. On many of these routes, passenger rail has experienced a significant decline in on-time performance, lower ridership and revenue, and increased operating costs.
“The freight railroads simply have to do a better job in moving Amtrak trains over their tracks,” Boardman stressed. “Amtrak is prepared to take all necessary steps with the freights to enforce our statutory, regulatory and contractual rights to meet the expectation of our passengers for improved on-time performance.”
Amtrak is working with the freight railroads to address the congestion situation and is also pursuing remedies through the federal Surface Transportation Board. In addition, Amtrak is open to supporting public funding to supplement freight railroad track capacity, but only after the operational and maintenance improvements under their own control have been exhausted and prove to be insufficient.
Amtrak’s CEO says passenger rail service in Southeastern Colorado is more important than some other amenities such as chocolates on the pillows for long-distance travelers.
“Our most essential goal is to ensure Amtrak continues to serve small town America that is being abandoned by airlines and bus companies, and keep communities such as Trinidad and La Junta . . . connected by rail to the rest of the nation,” CEO Joe Boardman said in a news release.
We talk a lot about our national debt. But the largest debt we owe is to those who will come after us in this nation. Our fulfillment of that debt should underpin the actions we take right now.
Our national infrastructure forms the bedrock foundation upon which our economic future is built as America competes in the global marketplace. Railroads — both passenger and freight — are essential elements in the national transportation network that will help deliver future economic growth to communities across the country.
But for the rail network to function at its best, the rail industry must further improve safety.
Joseph H. Boardman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Amtrak, has been named 2014 Railroader of the Year by railroad industry trade journal Railway Age.
“Joe Boardman, who came to Amtrak after his tenure as Federal Railroad Administrator, has been chief executive for the past six years, far longer than any of his post-Graham Claytor predecessors,” said Railway Age editor-in-chief William C. Vantuono. “Under his watch, Amtrak has posted record ridership and revenues, ordered a new fleet of electric locomotives for the Northeast Corridor and new single-level long-distance cars, developed a long-term strategy for additional new rolling stock acquisitions, and is effectively administering major capital programs. Boardman has a sustainable vision for the future of U.S. intercity passenger rail, which includes higher-speed services. As such, he is a deserving recipient of our Railroader of the Year award.”
The Northeast Corridor is a national transportation asset and Congress should stop taking it for granted, Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Joe Boardman told a Senate committee yesterday.
The corridor is aging, failure prone and lacks redundant systems to keep it operating in the event of failure, Boardman told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which met in Bridgeport, Conn., yesterday to discuss the causes of a recent power failure on MTA Metro-North Railroad’s New Haven Line.
WASHINGTON — An assault on the future of Amtrak and its employees was launched June 15 by the chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), and the chairman of the House Rail Subcommittee, Bill Shuster (R-Pa.)
The UTU and other rail labor organizations are gearing to fight this effort to privatize the Northeast Corridor, which would be the first step toward eliminating Amtrak on the Northeast Corridor as well as its long-distance passenger trains outside the Northeast Corridor. The proposal likely would destroy America’s national rail passenger network.
Mica and Shuster said they will introduce legislation to strip from Amtrak its ownership of the Northeast Corridor – linking Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston – and look to unnamed private operators to bid on operating high-speed passenger trains on the 437-mile long corridor.
Destruction of Amtrak could cause a crushing financial blow to the Railroad Retirement system if private operators were permitted to place their employees under coverage of Social Security rather than Railroad Retirement.
“I think we can make the service even better and reduce subsidization,” Mica said. “The whole concept of this is attracting private capital.” He opposes an Amtrak plan to operate 220-mph trains over the corridor in the future, saying so-far unnamed private operators could provide better service at a much reduced cost to taxpayers.
Amtrak President Joseph Boardman responded, “The Mica/Shuster proposal takes Amtrak apart only to put something in its place that looks quite similar.
“The Northeast Corridor is not just a piece of real estate,” Boardman said. “It is a major transportation artery and a vital component of the regional economy, carrying more than 250,000 intercity and commuter passengers every day. Amtrak provides the region the best opportunity to achieve the needed improvements. The Northeast Corridor is a success under Amtrak stewardship and many components of our next-generation high-speed rail vision plan are already moving forward.
“We don’t want to run the risk of adopting something that won’t work, that compromises safety, or that simply costs more than we can afford,” Boardman said. “The last thing the Northeast needs is a plan that’s poorly thought through and that doesn’t take key issues into account.”
Boardman recently told a rail labor group that privatization of British Rail has not been a success and increased costs.
Former Amtrak President David Gunn was blunt in a statement he made about British Rail privatization when Gunn ran Amtrak: “Since privatization [of British Rail], the system has had more accidents and delays.” And former Amtrak President Tom Downs, when he ran Amtrak, called privatization of British Rail “a disaster … They have multiple rail companies and fares, and trouble even issuing a national ticket.”
The conservative Economist magazine reported in 2005, “The privatization of British Rail has proved a disastrous failure … a catalogue of political cynicism, managerial incompetence and financial opportunism. It has cost taxpayers billions of pounds and brought rail travelers countless hours of delay.”
In responding to the Mica/Shuster proposal, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, “Amtrak is the entity most capable of taking the next steps to modernize rail service in the Northeast Corridor.”
The Mica/Shuster proposal, which likely will have support of the House Republican majority, will face tough opposition in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), said June 15, “I will fight in the Senate to stop any plan that threatens Amtrak and commuters on the Northeast Corridor.”
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), said the Mica/Shuster proposal “makes as much sense as privatizing Medicare or Social Security. In other words, no sense at all.”
Senate Republicans also are likely to oppose the Mica/Shuster proposal. The current ranking Republican on the Democratic-controlled Senate Commerce Committee, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, told The Washington Post some years ago, “There will be a national system or there won’t be an Amtrak at all.”
In fact, in passing the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, a bipartisan congressional majority said, “It is the sense of the Congress that long-distance passenger rail is a vital and necessary part of our national transportation system and economy; and Amtrak should maintain a national passenger rail system.”
Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, the senior Democrat on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, said of the Mica/Shuster proposal, “They want to hand over the conductor’s cap to the same folks who ran the stock market off a cliff. Privatizing passenger rail in the Northeast Corridor will not merely affect train service in that region; it will have a crippling domino effect on train service from sea to shining sea.
“Because of its national scope, Amtrak is able to invest profits from [its profitable Acela service on] the Northeast Corridor to offset less profitable long-distance lines in other parts of the country,” Rahall said. “Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Transportation invited proposals from private companies to develop high-speed rail in the United States. Not one single proposal was submitted by the private sector for developing high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor. Not a one.
“We ought to be looking at ways to help Amtrak achieve the goal of high-speed rail; not looking at ways to dismantle it,” Rahall said.
WASHINGTON — Amtrak President Joseph Boardman told the Senate Appropriations Committee May 17 that Amtrak will never “be able to cut costs enough on long-distance trains to make them profitable. It becomes more a question of policy whether we are going to have border-to-border, coast-to-coast connectivity.”
Boardman urged the lawmakers not to cut back on long-distance train subsidies, which he said would deprive a significant area of the country with train travel that is essential to rural Americans without airport options.
The Amtrak CEO also testified that he wants to increase security patrols of the nation’s rail passenger network — much of it owned by freight railroads over which Amtrak trains travel — using new technologies, including ultrasonic and laser devices, to provide advance pinpoint warning of track tampering in the face of elevated terrorist concerns.
He warned lawmakers that trains are more vulnerable to attack than commercial airliners because terrorists have widespread access to the track, bridges and tunnels used by passenger trains.