The Northeast Corridor Needs Critical Repairs & Upgrades Now

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure convened in New York City on Friday for a hearing about the importance of the Northeast Corridor. The hearing took place in the Farley Post Office, home of the future Moynihan Station. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), chair of the Railroads Subcommittee, wielded the gavel while Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), chair of the full committee, participated along with Ranking Member Corrine Brown (D-FL) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). The witnesses included the President and CEO of Amtrak, Joe Boardman; Commissioner of New York State Department of Transportation, Joan McDonald; President of Drexel University, John Fry; and President of Regional Plan Association (RPA) and Chair of the Northeast Alliance for Rail (NEAR), Bob Yaro.

The impetus for the hearing is that the current federal rail bill, PRIIA, expires this fall and Congress will begin negotiating the next bill this summer. The next federal rail bill will authorize a five to six years worth of appropriations for the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak, and hence capital improvements to the Northeast Corridor (NEC). The FRA's High-Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail Program is a potential source of future funding for NEC improvements. After Florida Governor Rick Scott rejected $2.4 billion in federal high-speed rail funds in 2011, nearly $1 billion was redirected to the Northeast. Amtrak's federal funding for capital improvements is also largely dedicated to the NEC, where nearly 40% of their capital budget is spent.

In his testimony before the Committee, Bob Yaro outlined the main components of an improvement program that can be authorized in the reauthorization of the rail bill. RPA calls this program, "NEC Now." The NEC Now proposal addresses the corridor's highest-priority infrastructure needs: to remove bottlenecks, increase capacity, improve reliability and reduce travel times along the entire corridor. It also proposes funding for the construction of an Acela Express train optimization program which, along with other NEC Now projects, would cut trip times between New York and Philadelphia to well under an hour.

Download RPA's NEC Now Legislative Proposal & Infrastructure Program.

Download Bob Yaro's testimony as prepared.

Bob Yaro also spoke about RPA's support for improving NEC infrastructure and passenger rail service. "Specifically, RPA supports the long-term goal of building two new dedicated tracks for high-speed rail service from Boston to Washington, and creating a suite of new affordable and integrated world-class rail services to meet the needs of the Northeast economy. In the shorter-term, we ask that you authorize enough funding in the next rail bill to completely eliminate the corridor's $9 billion backlog of deferred maintenance, fully fund Amtrak's normal capital program so that it has sufficient resources to keep its infrastructure in safe, working order. This will be necessary, but not sufficient to meet the growing economic and mobility needs of the Northeast Megaregion, which for more than two centuries has been America's economic engine."

Joseph Boardman testified that Amtrak will need at least $782 million annually for the next 15 years simply to clear the backlog of state of good repair projects.

Everyone in attendance agreed that the NEC needs a major improvement program to address its critical state of good repair issues, such as:

  • Amtrak's Gateway Program ($15 billion)
  • Baltimore & Potomac Tunnels ($1.5 billion)
  • Susquehanna River Bridge ($800 million)
  • Gunpowder River Bridge ($600 million)
  • and many more...
Not everyone was in agreement about the level of investment that is needed for upgrades to the NEC. Rep. Shuster and Denham debated how realistic it is to believe that high-speed rail can be achieved in the corridor. Rep. Shuster said he would like to make smart investments for HIGHER-speed rail, and called visions for true, world-class high-speed rail "pie-in-the-sky" and "unrealistic." Rep. Denham said he believes high-speed rail could be achieved in the NEC in his lifetime, but emphasized the need to first repair its broken assets and attract private-sector investment.