March 19, 2012 Statement to Senate Appropriators

Statement of
Ross B. Capon
President and Chief Executive Officer
National Association of Railroad Passengers

Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies
The Honorable Patty Murray, Chair
Committee on Appropriations, U.S. Senate

Fiscal 2013 Department of Transportation Appropriation

Submitted March 19, 2012

Thank you for the opportunity to submit this statement. This request is for Amtrak and for the Federal Railroad Administration’s High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail program. The total request is for at least $2.54 billion for these programs.

In recognition of the American people’s strong desire and need for passenger trains as a viable travel choice all across the country, the National Association of Railroad Passengers urges your support for the highest possible fiscal 2013 funding both for Amtrak and for the High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) program of competitive grants to states and Amtrak to for high and higher speed rail passenger train development.

Our Major Goals: Our board has approved three general goals:

  • Improvement and expansion of today’s conventional train network
  • Support the construction and start-up within five years of at least one high-speed rail line
  • Promote seamless intermodal connections use rail to tie modes together

Funding: We support Amtrak’s request for $2.167 billion. The total for intercity passenger trains should be at least the $2.54 billion in the President’s budget. It is noteworthy that Amtrak’s request for operations is $450 million, which is lower than the administration’s request. To this we would add funds needed to restore New Orleans-Florida service (see Gulf Coast Service next page) which Amtrak’s July 2009 report stated as $4.8 million for operations and $32.7 million for “capital/mobilization costs.” We believe the latter figure is overstated.

HSIPR: We strongly urge restoration of funding for HSIPR. It is essential to have a federal program that supplements state investment in worthy intercity passenger train projects. It is unacceptable for the federal government to resume its practice of telling states “we have highway and aviation money for you but you are on your own when it comes to passenger trains.”

Most of the projects which have won grants to date will generate tangible improvements in service quality and availability in the short term, and there are many more worthy projects that the Federal Railroad Administration was unable to capitalize given the shortage of funds available. A few of the improvements include:

  • 110 mph operation begun this month on Amtrak’s portion of the Chicago-Detroit line,
  • 110 mph operation on part of the Chicago-St. Louis line starting in 2014,
  • Restoration of double-track to the entire Greensboro-Charlotte section of the NS mainline
  • Shortening New Haven, CT—St. Albans, VT schedule by up to 127 minutes

Adding track capacity enhances freight operations because the tracks are there “24/7” and the passenger trains are not. Thus the HSIPR program also strengthens the freight rail.

Desperate Need for Rolling Stock: The funding outlined is a minimum. It does not address the system expansion that we envision. It does not adequately address the desperate need for new rolling stock – both to expand capacity and to deal with the aging of Amtrak’s fleet. It is good that Amtrak already has ordered cars from CAF-USA which will replace the 1950s baggage and dining cars as well as increase capacity on Eastern long-distance trains. However, we must begin to address the aging of equipment that Amtrak purchased in its early years – including the Superliners that have been the workhorse of the long-distance fleet for over three decades – as well as provide for expansion of capacity on Superliner trains.

Gulf Coast Service: One high priority for “expansion” is restoration of the New Orleans-Florida leg (of the Los Angeles-Florida route) which Amtrak unilaterally discontinued following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 even though CSX restored the railroad to “better than new” within six months. This route has never been formally discontinued and Amtrak’s continuing failure to restore it has been perhaps our top point of disagreement with the railroad ever since. There has been a resurgence of interest in this vital link in the nationwide network, reflected in a well-attended February 27 news conference in the former Amtrak station in Tallahassee. Speakers included County Commissioner Akin Akinyemi, City Commissioner Nancy Miller, Tallahassee Mayor John Marks, Madison (FL) Mayor Jim Catron and Tallahassee Women’s Club President Donna Peacock, and NARP Chairman Bob Stewart. Representatives of Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) were on hand.

Southwest Chief: We also strongly support efforts to keep Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles train on its current route across Kansas.

People Want—and are Riding—Trains: Amtrak has set eight ridership records in the last nine years. This comes in spite of aggressive fare policies. For example, in Fiscal 2011 overall ridership was up 5.1% while ticket revenues rose 8.5% compared with Fiscal 2010. During the first five months of Fiscal 2012 (October-February), ridership was up 3.2% and ticket revenues rose 4.9%, compared with the same months in Fiscal 2011. This strong ridership also comes in spite of decades of underinvestment in rail relative to highways and aviation, and the resultant low levels of service in most of the country: the majority of Amtrak stations are served by no more than one daily train in each direction. Twenty of Amtrak’s 27 short distance routes outside of the Northeast Corridor, and five of the 15 long-distance trains, set ridership records in fiscal 2011, while ticket revenues reached a record $1.9 billion.

High gasoline prices also are driving more Americans to the rails. If public policy encourages more people to travel by energy-efficient trains, this will accomplish the twin objectives of helping the economy weather the depressive effects of higher fuel prices and enabling Americans to minimize the negative impact of these prices on their life style and their ability to travel. As in the transit industry which is experiencing ridership records, a substantial share of the people who “discover” the train due to the high cost of driving wind up staying with the train.

Energy Efficiency: Trains’ lower energy intensity also means lower per-passenger emissions of heat-trapping gases. Transportation Energy Data Book, published annually for the U.S. Department of Energy, shows BTUs per passenger-mile by mode. [A passenger-mile is one passenger traveling one mile.] The latest report—2009 data released in May 2011—indicates that Amtrak is 31.2% more energy efficient than automobiles, 33.5% than personal trucks and 13.8% than commercial aviation.

California High Speed Rail: We continue to support the California high-speed rail project, which California High-Speed Rail Authority (CAHSRA) Chairman Dan Richard recently estimated would not cost as much as the $98 billion previously reported. We are heartened by the High-Speed Rail Authority’s agreement to assist transit agencies in the Los Angeles and San Francisco metro areas to make nearer-term upgrades to their systems in preparation for the full build-out of high-speed rail, and by the attention which Governor Brown devoted to the high-speed project in his state of the state message this year.

Gateway: Within Amtrak’s request, we strongly back $35 million for the Gateway project, which will add capacity and enhance reliability over the country’s most heavily-traveled railroad segment. Every year that goes by before Portal Bridge (over the Hackensack River) can be replaced, and Hudson River tunnel capacity can be increased, brings us closer to a potential mobility crisis that would touch the nerve center of the national economy.

Thank you for your consideration.