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Photo: MTA / Kevin Ortiz

The New Haven Line needs such substantial repair work that at the current pace of investment it will take two decades to restore the line to full operating capacity, a new study by Regional Plan Association found. An analysis by RPA determined that $3.6 billion will be needed beyond what is currently budgeted to modernize the rail line, the busiest in the U.S.

Infrastructure on the 60-mile stretch of track between New York and Connecticut has been allowed to deteriorate, largely due to decades of underinvestment in critical repairs and upgrades. Delaying the repair work significantly raises the risk of unplanned outages and limits the line’s capacity to accommodate growing ridership. 

The New Haven Line carries 125,000 passengers every day on the Metro-North commuter line and on Amtrak trains between Boston and New York and plays a vital role in the economic life of the Northeast. The line's owners, the states of Connecticut and New York, have made significant progress improving the rail infrastructure they inherited in the 1970s in poor physical condition, despite major funding constraints. But funding shortfalls have forced both states to defer long overdue capital investment necessary to protect the line's operations and passengers.

The age-related problems that plague the line can be felt by passengers nearly every day. Five movable rail bridges, all well beyond their replacement age, get stuck open several times a week, delaying train traffic and causing ripple effects up and down the line. This year, the line suffered two major outages, including a derailment and collision in May that injured 76 people and an electrical outage in September that disrupted service on the line for more than two weeks.

RPA’s study, Getting Back on Track: Unlocking the Full Potential of the New Haven Line, documents the key issues affecting the rail line and outlines critical capital investments necessary for the line to function as a reliable, four-track railroad. RPA researchers found that an additional $3.6 billion is needed to repair or replace aging and obsolete infrastructure, beyond the $1 billion already budgeted by the state of Connecticut for this work.

“The New Haven Line supports the biggest and most diverse economy in the country, yet this crucial piece of infrastructure is no longer up to the task,” said RPA President Robert D. Yaro. “If we don’t maintain our vital infrastructure, we will be subjecting a generation of commuters and long-distance travelers to relentless, disruptive repair work and jeopardizing the growth and prosperity of our region,” he said. 

Expediting construction would mean disruptions to service in the short term, but would get the line back to its full, four-track capacity far sooner. This would allow the line to accommodate anticipated population growth and economic development along the New York-to-New Haven corridor. The upgrades also are crucial to accommodating passengers transferring from the region’s branch lines, including from the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter line, which is expected to begin service in 2016.

The study outlines an emergency action plan for the rail line to address major needed improvements, including: upgrades to power and signal systems; repairs to tracks and station platforms; and rehabilitation or replacement of the five movable bridges that are a source of continued service disruptions.

The full study can be viewed here:

Written by Mark Pisano, Senior Fellow at the Price School of Public Policy, Past Executive Director of the Southern California Association of Governments, and Co-Chair of America 2050

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America 2050 convened a seminar in Healdsburg, California of the thought leaders in long-range planning in the United States in March of 2012 to consider next steps for deploying the America 2050 strategy that was developed in 2008, and deferred by the Great Recession and subsequent fiscal de-leveraging that resulted. Participants at the Healdsburg retreat examined demographic shifts that are occurring, such as the aging population and other factors effecting our future; the changes in strategy for infrastructure deployment, including the decentralization, diversification, and distribution - "3-D" approaches; and financing strategies, such as partnerships, that could be used to mobilize the vision contained in the America 2050 Prospectus.

Following the retreat, several papers have been prepared that outline an approach that could be used by regional partners in moving forward with initiatives to support the wealth creating dynamics of the nation's megaregions. It should be noted that these papers are background for developing an operating strategy in this period of transition.

The first paper, Demography as Economic Destiny, is an examination of how the demographic changes that were noted at Healdsburg will be affecting the economy of the country over the next several decades and how these changes are affecting the incomes, expenditures, and taxes paid by individuals. The advantage of the age dividend that was created over the past several decades and that accelerated growth in the past several decades, which was created by the ever-increasing working-age population, is described. Likewise, the age penalty that is resulting from the retirement of Baby Boomers, as well as the smaller growth rates of working-age population of subsequent generations is also described. Using elasticity curves developed from Consumer Expenditures Surveys (CEX), the paper analyzes the growth and tax implications of these changes. The slowness of the recovery and the duration of the economic and financial implications of what we are experiencing are described. Significant findings, such as slowing GDP growth and reduced growth in taxes paid to all levels of government by individuals, as well as slowing growth in income and expenditures, are described.

The final two papers describe the effect that these demographic changes will have on infrastructure deployment and financing. The first paper, 3-D: Infrastructure for California's Future, focuses on how these demographic and taxing implications will effect what infrastructure will be built and how we will finance infrastructure. The basic conclusion is that we will be moving to capture the benefits of the wealth creating effect of infrastructure through use payments. New partnerships and institutions will be created using the principles described in the second paper, which was published in the National Academy of Public Administration's "Memos to National Leaders: Partnerships as Fiscal Policy". Together these papers provide thoughts that will enable regional partners to begin the process of developing new approaches to grow our megaregions and nation.

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.

America 2050 released the following statement today on the release of the California High-Speed Rail Authority's revised business plan.

California High-Speed Rail System Potential PhasingAmerica 2050 released the following statement today on the California High-Speed Rail Authority's revised business plan:

Governor Jerry Brown and the California High-Speed Rail Authority are to be commended on the revised 2012 draft business plan for high-speed rail, which cuts the project's cost by $30 billion while making numerous improvements to previous proposals.

The revised plan is more cost-effective and is phased in a way that will bring benefits sooner to the urbanized regions of the state, including the San Francisco Bay Area and the Los Angeles Basin. It directs funding toward electrifying the high-volume CalTrain corridor on the San Francisco peninsula, reducing pollution, noise and travel times of commuter rail, and makes safety and reliability upgrades to the Amtrak-Metrolink corridor between Los Angeles and Anaheim. These improvements will benefit existing commuters and will clear a path for integration with high-speed trains in the future. In addition, the plan proposes an Initial Operating Segment, which can be completed in the first 10 years, stretching 300 miles from California's fast-growing Central Valley to the San Fernando Valley at the gateway to the Los Angeles basin.

Thumbnail image for cover_nelandscapes.jpgConservation needs to be approached at the regional level in order to ensure that wildlife habitat, water supplies and working farms and forests throughout the U.S. Northeast are protected for future generations, a new report by Regional Plan Association and America 2050 concludes.

The research examines how landscape conservation initiatives are working across the Northeast to protect vital natural and cultural resources. The report, "Landscapes: Improving Conservation Practice in the Northeast Megaregion," makes recommendations for improving conservation efforts that stretch across city and state boundaries, from addressing governance questions and ensuring adequate financial resources to creating tools for measuring the impact of these regional efforts.

Read the Release | Read the Report (Web) (Print) | Read the Project Summary

GOP Bills Would Cut Funding for Rail, Walking, Biking

Last week, more than two years after the nation's last five-year surface transportation law expired, the House of Representatives introduced its proposed legislation for rewriting the nation's transportation laws. And boy, it is a doozy. 

Facing severely reduced gasoline tax receipts, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has proposed to cut many of the non-highway programs in the transportation bill that help give people alternatives to driving. These include things such as Transportation Enhancements, which provide set-asides for local projects that improve the transportation experience in communities (the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal was restored with a Transportation Enhancement grant); and other programs that reduce the environmental impact of transportation and promote pedestrian and biking facilities. The bill also reduces operating funding to Amtrak and cuts a capital grant program to relieve congestion on rail corridors.

The cuts to these programs were largely expected, but what provoked anger and surprise among many transportation experts was a separate measure by Ways and Means, the committee that authorizes the revenues for the transportation bill, that severed the 30-year-old link between highways and transit in the transportation trust fund. Since 1982, when President Ronald Reagan signed a bill that dedicated a penny of the federal gas tax to transit, transit agencies have had a steady source of reliable federal funding that allows them to keep their systems in good repair, replace outdated infrastructure and equipment and plan for the future. Dedicated funding for transit, which today amounts to 2.86 pennies of the 18.3 cents per gallon gas tax, has allowed systems like the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority to pull back from the brink of disinvestment and make five-year capital plans that include projects like the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access that are now under way.

Commentary by Osman Dadi

Accommodating high-speed rail trains in the San Francisco peninsula has been a contentious topic because of potential noise and visual impacts on the surrounding communities. Recently, the California High-Speed Rail Authority announced its support for a "blended approach" that would utilize the existing Caltrain corridor. But what if a solution could be found that ensures grade separation between trains and automobiles while also opening up dramatically enhanced commuting options for bicyclists? 
Download the press release.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 15, 2011

We commend Chairman John Mica and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for holding a hearing today to focus on the viability of high-speed rail in California.

Our research indicates that there are two markets in the nation that have the concentrations of population, employment, and existing travel markets to support high-speed passenger rail today: California and the Northeast. California, having started planning this project in the mid-1990s, is now poised to be the first state in the nation to build world-class high-speed rail. In doing so, it will transform the state's geography, shrinking time distances among the state's major job centers and connecting California residents to economic opportunity for decades to come.