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For a strong future, rail requires predictable, dedicated funding

For a strong future, rail requires predictable, dedicated funding

Over the past week I've had the pleasure to be joined by Congressional leaders from two different states for tours of two very different --but equally impressive-- rail sites. The Amtrak maintenance site in New Jersey and the B&P Tunnel in Maryland are good demonstrations that America's railways need predictable, dedicated funding.

The Amtrak maintenance center near Trenton, NJ, is upgrading 23 miles of the busiest rail in our nation between New Brunswick and Trenton.  New signaling systems, interlockings, constant tension catenary, and track improvements are some of the necessary improvements to replace the 80-year old infrastructure that will ultimately improve speed, reliability, and safety along this stretch of track. The work here is really a prototype of what is needed all along the Northeast Corridor between New York City and Washington, DC. 

But that work can only be done if we have predictable, dedicated funding for rail. 

Photo of Joe Szabo with members of the New Jersey congressional delegation and Amtrak officials
FRA Administrator Joseph C. Szabo (left) was joined by members of New Jersey's congressional delegation, and other officials on a tour of Amtrak's New Jersey High Speed Rail Improvement Project operations center August 6, 2014.

In Baltimore, we highlighted the B&P Tunnel, which was first pressed into service in June of 1873. That's 141 years, and the need for a replacement stands as a stark reminder of the aging infrastructure challenging our nation's transportation systems.

The Northeast Corridor, some 450 miles of track between Boston and Washington DC, is one of the busiest railways in the world, carrying more than 2,200 passenger trains, 70 freight trains,  and 720,000 passengers every day. A service failure along this corridor, even if just a delay, can paralyze the region and hamper productivity, not just in the northeast but across the country.  The Northeast Corridor Commission documented that a loss of service on the Corridor for just one day --for example, if the aging B&P Tunnel failed-- would cost the nation nearly $100 million.

As you can imagine, replacing the B&P Tunnel --while still maintaining service along the busy Northeast Corridor-- is a major undertaking. It's the kind of project that can only be accomplished with the cooperation of organizations, departments, and leadership beginning locally in Baltimore, and reaching the senior levels of Congress.

And, while the Federal Railroad Administration has helped fund pre-engineering work, permitting, and environmental analysis, proceeding to actual construction on a project of this scope takes stable, reliable funding that industry, cities, and states can count on to help them see the work through to completion.

Photo of Joe Szabo with some members of the Maryland congressional delegation
FRA Administrator Szabo speaks about funding for rail on August 11, 2014.  Administrator Szabo was joined by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Senator Barbara Mikulsi, and Congressman Elijah Cummings (Photo by: FRA)

These two examples clearly illustrate why we need predictable, dedicated funding. Just as in the 1800s, when the railroads first became a reality in America and connected east and west, we find ourselves today staring down a very similar and no less daunting task: Building the rail infrastructure that will see this nation through its next 100 years. And that endeavor is going to take the same level of dedication and commitment as the pioneers of rail demonstrated more than a century ago.

Along those lines, the Federal Railroad Administration is completing  the NEC Future, a bold vision with an executable plan to chart a new course for the Corridor over the next thirty years.   

GROW AMERICA --the four-year, $302 billion transportation bill that Secretary Foxx sent to Congress last spring-- would invest $19 billion in American rail to address this very real national infrastructure need.  With tunnels that are nearing 150 years old, electrical systems designed in the 1950's, and infrastructure that was once state-of-the-art but now belongs in a museum, the Northeast Corridor is the most visible example of what our nation's railroads require across the country: the predictable, dedicated funding that GROW AMERICA provides.

Only when industry, cities, and states can count on future funding will they plan for the strong future Americans expect and deserve.

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would like to know some specifics about the SAFETEA funding that was recently obtained for tunnel inspections, in the Amtrak B&P tunnels, in the amount of $1.5M. respond to swiecek@hntb.com

FRA Administrator Szabo's call for predictable rail infrastructure funding is admirable but old news to those of us who have been fighting this battle for at least 40 years. Frankly, we are very tired of continuing empty words unsupported by firm leadership toward the promised goal. It is absurd that states such as Ohio have access to what seems like an endless stream of "planning" money that never produced any movement toward action until 2000, when its then newly elected governor refused to accept $400 million in federal funding for actual rail passenger service implementation -- and neither Ohio nor any of the two other states who refused such funding were sanctioned in any way. To end this farce, planning FRA/USDOT transportation planning grants should include a severe penalty clause for recipients who fail to produce projects resulting from the planning. Perhaps any such federal planning fund recipients should be required to repay 100% of the federal planning funds plus interest when they fail to proceed, and be "black-listed" for future planning applications until such time as a federally satisfactory action plan is submitted. Such returned funds should then be awarded to federally approved rail capital investment for projects recommended by other federally assisted planning projects.

People who have never taken Amtrak don't realize how important a mode of transportation it is. Millions of people would be left stranded if our rail infrastructure were to fail. Funding is needed to keep it running!!

Good read. PT is always a good investment in our cities future.