Statement to the Senate on FY 2012 appropriations

Fiscal 2012 Department of Transportation Appropriation

Submitted April 29, 2011

Thank you for the opportunity to submit this statement.  Thank you also for the positive role that you and your subcommittee have played over the years in providing funding for intercity passenger trains.

Energy-efficient passenger trains are more important than ever as Amtrak ridership continues to rise, along with gasoline prices.  Ridership growth is colliding with the realities of a fleet that is too small.

Thus, our key requests for intercity passenger trains for FY 2012 are:

  • Full funding of the Obama Administration’s requested $8 billion for intercity passenger trains, including approximately $4 billion each for network development (capital upgrades to tracks and stations and procurement of new or rebuilt equipment) and for system preservation and renewal.  We support this as the baseline for the multi-year commitment as outlined in the Administration’s budget.
  • The bare minimum should be $4.7 billion, comprised of Amtrak’s request of $2.2 billion plus the 2010 level at which High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) program was funded, $2.5 billion.

We strongly support U.S. DOT’s approach in HSIPR grants to the states.  We applaud the agreements reached to date with BNSF (Washington State), Norfolk Southern (North Carolina) and Union Pacific (Illinois).  We look forward to the early conclusion of agreements with CSX, especially for Virginia and New York.

Failure to meet, at minimum, the funding targets Amtrak identified in its FY 2012 Grant and Legislative Request puts the country close to a no-growth scenario, which would be extremely unfortunate given the likelihood that high gasoline prices are here to stay.  “Smart growth” housing, intercity passenger trains and rail transit have two things in common. 

  • Both help enable Americans to sustain the highest possible quality of life in a competitive world economy, and to mitigate what The Weekly Standard’s Christopher Caldwell called “America’s almost unbelievable demand for oil.”  Caldwell noted that this demand “has led [the U.S.] to diverge from the rest of the west on energy policy,” a polite way of saying that we are headed for trouble if we don’t make it possible for more people to burn less oil. [Quotes: Financial Times column, Apr. 2.]
  • Demand for both exceeds supply, indicating that the public is ahead of the policymakers and moving faster than the market place can react. We continue to urge consideration of the use of tax credits and/or asset depreciation benefits to encourage private leasing companies to buy equipment and lease it to states and perhaps Amtrak.  This could help reduce the high up-front costs that taxpayer-supported agencies face when procuring new equipment.

As gasoline prices continue their steady upward climb, airfares are at historic highs, and intercity bus service has been dramatically scaled back over the past four years, America’s growing population is seeking better, more affordable mobility.  Amtrak’s historically high ridership—even though the railroad’s fares are as high as the market can bear, especially on the Northeast Corridor—is evidence of this. 

The need to maintain mobility for our citizens, bolster our nation’s economic competitiveness and energy efficiency, provide good jobs for Americans, and reduce our transportation system’s negative environmental impact all demand that we ramp up investment in modern passenger trains.

The following table, showing 2008 data, comes from the annual Transportation Energy Data Book (Edition 29, released in 2010), published by Oak Ridge National Laboratory under contract to the U.S. Department of Energy, at http://cta.ornl.gov/data/chapter2.shtml :

Mode BTUs per passenger-mile Amtrak 2,398 Commuter trains 2,656 Certificated air carriers (domestic) 2,995 Cars 3,437 Light trucks (2-axle, 4-tire) 3,641 * BTU = British thermal unit; passenger-mile = one passenger traveling one mile

The table indicates that Amtrak is 20% and 30% more energy efficient per passenger-mile, respectively, than airlines and autos.  That is true even though Amtrak’s fleet averages 37 years old while the airplane and automobile fleet is constantly turning over with energy efficiency generally improving.  Thus, the Amtrak 2008 figures understate rail’s true potential.

We are disappointed that negotiations between Amtrak and Union Pacific Railroad apparently remain stalled regarding Amtrak’s initiative to provide daily service over the entire line between New Orleans and Los Angeles. 

We fully support Amtrak’s Gateway Tunnel project, which will create a long-overdue expansion in track capacity between New York City and New Jersey, and for the entire Northeast Corridor.

We are concerned about the impact of PRIIA Section 209 which directs states to provide full operating support for intercity trains whose routes total 750 miles or less.  It is important that this not become an obstacle to service continuation.  We continue to urge consideration, at least in emergency situations, of allowing federal support for such routes’ continued operation on a 50/50 matching basis, without making Amtrak swallow the difference.

Thank you for considering our views.