Amtrak Requests Less Federal Operating Support... Again

Last week, Amtrak sent Congress its annual funding request, which asks for an increase in capital investment and a decrease in operating support. Amtrak's need for federal operating support has actually decreased significantly in recent years, meaning the railway is becoming more self-sufficient by covering more of its operating costs with ticket fares and other non-federal revenue. In 2013, high ridership (31.2 million) drove record ticket sales (more than $2 billion), which helped Amtrak cover about 88% of its operating costs "with funds generated by the company itself, rather than from the Federal Government." In 2014, Amtrak is requesting $373 million for operating support, more than 20% less than Congress appropriated last year and 34% less than was appropriated in 2010.

Highlights from Amtrak's federal funding request after the jump.

Capital Investment
Amtrak is requesting just over $2 billion to maintain and upgrade its capital assets. This year's capital request continues to show Amtrak's long-term commitment to improving the Northeast Corridor, "one of America's most important transportation assets, [which] traverses the length of a region that is vital to the national economy," and where nearly 40% of Amtrak's capital budget is spent.

This year, Amtrak will be rolling out the first models from the recent order of 70 new electric locomotives for the Northeast Regional service and 130 coaches for long-distance routes. In addition to $1.2 billion for general capital needs, the request includes $356 million for more new trains. "In January, 2013, Amtrak released a request for information to the railcar supply industry, in partnership with the California High-Speed Rail Authority. This marked the beginning of a multi-year procurement process which will eventually provide us with the next generation of high speed trains to expand seating capacity and provide for more frequent high-speed service on the NEC.

Gateway Program
The Gateway Program is Amtrak's vision for improving the rail infrastructure between Newark Penn Station and New York Penn Station. The program is comprised of several different projects, including bridge and track work in New Jersey, new rail tunnels under the Hudson River, and an expansion of Penn Station to accommodate the increase in commuter and intercity rail traffic that is projected over the coming decades. Amtrak is seeking $167 million to advance critical components of the Gateway Program.

"The Hudson Yards mixed-use development project will create a substantial overbuild atop the existing Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) yard in Manhattan west of Penn Station. This overbuild will require a substantial foundation structure to be built astride the most direct line from New Jersey to the terminal area. If that structure does not incorporate a segment for a future rail tunnel into its design, it will be cost-prohibitive and very likely technically infeasible to subsequently revise the structure so that a tunnel can reach the station on that optimal alignment. Amtrak is currently working in cooperation with the developers and other affected partners, like the LIRR, to address this by completing design of an 800-ft tunnel segment through the site, and is seeking funding to begin construction in FY 2013 of this segment to protect the alignment into Penn Station, and ensure that our system retains sufficient flexibility to accommodate projected future growth at a reasonable cost."