Field Hearing: The Importance of the Northeast Corridor
Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA)
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
(Remarks as Prepared)
I appreciate Chairman Denham for holding this important hearing today in New York to follow up on our roundtable traveling up the Northeast Corridor yesterday. I’d also like to welcome and thank our distinguished panel of witnesses for joining us.
Intercity passenger rail plays an important role in our Nation’s transportation network, connecting major metropolitan areas and cities, and the Northeast Corridor is no exception. Given the population density, economic vitality, and heavily congested roadways and airspace, the NEC is where it makes sense to invest in rail infrastructure and development.
The NEC is home to four of the ten most populous metro regions in the nation – New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Boston – 18 percent of the nation’s population living in just 2 percent of its land area.
The easy access to suburban and urban transit is also significant, bringing in numbers of riders on the NEC routes daily.
Economically, the Northeast Corridor accounts for four of the ten most productive metro regions in the nation and accounts for one-fifth of the nation’s GDP.
Further, we see that NEC passenger rail is effective, with Amtrak now capturing 76% of the rail/air traffic, up from 45% in 2001.
I have recently traveled across this country and have seen the need to fix our Nation’s ports, bridges, tunnels, and rails so we can have a more efficient and reliable transportation network in the future. However, unlike what the Administration has proposed, we recognize that we do not have unlimited funds, so we need to focus on what makes sense and prioritize investment in infrastructure that we know is achievable.
In the past, we have had hearings on the prospect of high speed rail in the NEC, but as both Amtrak and the Northeast Corridor Commission have stated, we need to focus on the state of good repair of the existing infrastructure.
High speed rail, while great in theory, is not realistic given the NEC’s immediate need for state-of-good repair improvements. When it comes down to investment, it’s simple math – it’s more prudent for the government to invest in fixing current infrastructure for the betterment of the future.
Responsible governing involves choices, and while the Administration’s budget seems to choose everything, giving Amtrak a $4 billion increase and heavily investing in pie-in-the-sky high speed rail. I think we all know that is unrealistic.
The NEC is exactly the kind of existing infrastructure we can improve upon through smart investment and we will see tangible benefits and an opportunity for HIGHER speed rail.
Too many people think we can invest in it all, but in today’s world we need to use our scarce resources wisely so we can reap the maximum public benefit.
We want to encourage the private sector to get involved, along with state and local governments, in order to fully leverage Federal investments. We need to work within existing federal resources so we need to look for other sources to fund the NEC’s aging infrastructure – and the private sector is just the place to look.
Again, I thank Chairman Denham for holding this important hearing and thank our witnesses for their testimony.
Chairman Jeff Denham (R-CA)
Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials
(Remarks as Prepared)
This hearing continues our informal roundtable discussion yesterday on Amtrak and will hopefully reinforce the idea that investment in the NEC is a priority.
Last week in California we learned a lot about the California High Speed Rail Program. We also learned how the first $6 billion in State and Federal funding the project received will go to upgrade current Amtrak service in the Valley.
The Northeast Corridor is the most highly trafficked rail corridor in the country, and Amtrak’s sole money making enterprise. Infrastructure upgrades in this corridor are essential to continue to serve a proven and dedicated ridership that continues to expand.
I believe the $6 billion that was given to the California High Speed Rail Authority could be better spent on such upgrades, as these projects are both clearly identified, and necessary beyond dispute.
To place $6 billion in perspective; this amount of money is enough to replace the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnels ($1.5 billion), build a new Portal South Bridge with a 4 track alignment into New York ($1.0 billion—150,000 daily riders), replace the century old Susquehanna River Bridge ($800 million), and replace the Gunpowder River Bridge ($600 million), with $2 billion left over. These are just a few examples on a list of over $30 billion in identified projects. Each would substantially decrease trip times along the corridor by eliminating significant bottlenecks.
Given that there are over 11.4 million Amtrak riders and over 200 million commuters that use the Northeast Corridor every year, it would be an investment in an area where we have proven ridership.
Furthermore, there are still questions in California as to whether the improvements made by the Authority will even be used by Amtrak or help improve ridership as stations may move from city centers to the outskirts. Simply put, this money would’ve been better spent here on the Northeast Corridor which continues to surpass ridership and revenue records for Amtrak. Also, unlike most other Amtrak services, the Northeast Corridor consistently turns an operating profit.
I believe more investment must be made in the Northeast Corridor for continued success in the future, but when there was funding available, it was spent elsewhere. Indeed, the Northeast Corridor did not receive any of the President’s High Speed Rail money until after other State’s returned theirs. Clearly, this was not a priority.
We must prioritize, fix it first, and address known problems, and our current policy structure does not encourage this.
Finally, with years of trillion dollar deficits, federal resources are scare and we must work within existing funding levels and we must find ways to involve the private sector.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for the Federal government to continue to support the full financial burden of major infrastructure projects, and we must explore other sources—such as state, local and private investment.
The Northeast Corridor is a valuable asset to the region and the Nation as a whole. We must be able to leverage the opportunities this asset offers to attract private investment, while improving infrastructure and realizing public benefits.
Again, I thank the witnesses for being here today. We are open to all suggestions, and look forward to hearing from our witnesses today.
Updated June 4, 2013
Hon. Joseph Boardman, President and CEO, Amtrak | Written Testimony
Mr. Bob Yaro, Executive Director, Regional Plan Association | Written Testimony
Hon. Joan McDonald, Commissioner, New York Department of Transportation | Written Testimony
Mr. John Fry, President, Drexel University | Written Testimony