House Appropriations Statement: Fiscal Year 2014

Statement of

Ross B. Capon

President and Chief Executive Officer

National Association of Railroad Passengers

Submitted to the

 

Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development,

and Related Agencies

The Honorable Tom Latham, Chairman

Committee on Appropriations, U.S. House of Representatives

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Fiscal 2014 Department of Transportation

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April 26, 2013

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Thank you for the opportunity to submit this statement.  Thank you also for your work to insure the continuation of intercity passenger train service.

We support the budget requests of the Administration and Amtrak and are pleased to note that they are consistent. Amtrak has requested $2.6 billion and the Administration’s $6.7 billion request includes $2.7 billion for Amtrak.

The major reason for the different numbers is that the Administration includes work beyond Amtrak – both high speed rail projects that might be operated by someone other than Amtrak and capital grants to states to upgrade routes that Amtrak uses or could use in the future.

As we understand it, the Administration’s request, which they submitted by function, is:

  • $2.7 billion for Current Passenger Rail Service, including:
    • $675 million for the Northeast Corridor
    • $300 million for state corridors
    • $800 million for Amtrak's long-distance routes
    • $925 million for National Assets
  • $3.7 billion for the Rail Service Improvement Program, including:
    • $3.25 billion for Passenger Corridors
    • $150 million for Congestion Mitigation (Freight and Passenger)
    • $190 million for Freight Capacity
    • $70 million for Planning

We also would like to highlight $1 million for the continued work of the Next Generation Equipment Committee.

Amtrak’s $2.65 billion request includes:

  • $373 million for operations
  • $1,271 million for general capital
  • $75 million for Americans with Disabilities Act work
  • $356 million for badly needed rolling stock acquisitions
  • $196 million for “equipment lease buyouts funded in previous years by the U.S. Department of the Treasury”
  • $167 million for the Gateway Project to increase capacity, redundancy and resiliency between New York City and New Jersey (including new Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River)
  • $212 million for debt service

Context: Demand for Train Travel is Growing

Travel on all US roads dropped 1.4 % or roughly 3.1 billion miles driven, in February 2013 compared with February 2012, according to Federal Highway Administration data,  while cumulative travel declined only 0.4 percent over the same period.

Since June 2005, VMT on all US roads declined an estimated 8.75 percent, according to Advisor Perspectives researcher Doug Short.  The correlation between gas prices and miles driven is actually rather weak.  More relevant factors include the aging population (seniors moving to areas where they don't need to drive as much), continuing high unemployment, the increased ability to telecommute made possible by the Internet, and the increased availability of attractive and reliable public transportation (witness the growth of rail transit systems in such places as Denver, Dallas, Salt Lake City and Seattle).

An April 2012 Frontier Group study notes, “From 2001 to 2009, the average annual number of vehicle-miles traveled by young people (16 to 34-year-olds) decreased from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita—a drop of 23 percent.”

Over that period, 16-to-35-year-olds took 24% more bicycle trips and were 16% more likely to walk to their destinations. And from 2000 to 2010, the share of those aged 14 to 34 without drivers' licenses grew by 5%.

One issue, particularly among young people, is the ability to “stay connected,” that is, to use their electronic devices on trains and transit.

 

Train Investments We Need

The Northeast Corridor requires about $350 million a year in capital investment just to “stay in place.”  Investment was less than that in both 2011 and 2012, so track conditions got worse.  Investment for essential capacity increases would be in addition to that $350 million.  Roughly half of these investments address needs of the commuter rail agencies.  Likewise, the Master Plan at $52 million is heavily oriented towards upgrading the existing tracks and infrastructure, roughly half of which is commuter oriented, based on their share of NEC train-miles.

The Short Distance Trains outside the Northeast Corridor from October 1, 2013, will be largely the financial responsibility of states.  The administration’s budget seeks $300 million for those corridors, primarily for rolling stock but also partly to help states in trouble make the transition without losing service.

The Long Distance Trains provide increasingly valuable service as alternatives disappear from smaller markets.  These trains are heavily used by people who get on and off at intermediate points.  About one-third of trips are 501-999 miles, with a slightly larger proportion making trips over 1,000 miles and a slightly smaller proportion making trips 500 miles or less.

From 1997 to 2012, ridership on Amtrak’s long-distance trains rose almost 20% even though capacity was not increased.  In an October 10, 2012, release reporting on Fiscal 2012 results, Amtrak said “all 15 Amtrak long-distance routes experienced an increase in passengers resulting in their best combined ridership numbers in 19 years.”  

In Fiscal 2012, the long-distance trains accounted for 43% of all Amtrak intercity passenger-miles.  (A passenger-mile is one passenger traveling one mile.)  In 23 states, Amtrak’s only service is provided by one or more long-distance trains.  That number rises to 25 if one includes the Oklahoma City-Fort Worth Heartland Flyer which likely would not survive disappearance of the Texas Eagle.  The two trains share facilities at Fort Worth and a substantial portion of Flyer passengers connect with the Eagle, thus elimination of the Eagle would substantially increase Flyer costs while reducing its revenues.

The net cost of operations for the long-distance trains should be put in context with the huge capital needs of the Northeast Corridor (and other short corridors). 

  • Long-distance, fully-allocated net cost declined from $597.7 million in FY 2011 to $591.0 million in FY 2012.
  • Fully-allocated figures vastly overstate what could be saved by eliminating services, since so many costs are fixed and—in the event of discontinuance of a route or routes—would simply be reassigned to surviving services.       

NARP believes policymakers should focus on expanding this service, not reducing it.

1. Lengthen trains, increase frequencies and fill gaps in the national network, creating a comprehensive web of routes that provides convenient connectivity at major hubs;

2. Make track, signal and station improvements that decrease trip times and increase on time performance; and

3. Procure high-performance, modern equipment suitable for overnight and longer distance trips.

 

Polls:  A DFM Research poll finds strong support for Amtrak in three conservative districts: IL-13 in February (Champaign/Decatur/etc.), MO-8 in March (includes Poplar Bluff), and the state of North Dakota in October 2012. 

      65% [52% of R’s]: Amtrak funding should continue or increase;

      21% [31% of R’s]: Eliminate Amtrak funding.  

From the survey: “While the surveys were done at different time during the past five months, and often asked questions that were unique to the district, the one universal thread in all three districts is the strong level of support for Amtrak government funding, and the desire for additional options for passenger rail service in their communities.”

Other notable findings include:

  • By a 4-to-1 ratio (72-17%), constituents under age 45 support keeping/increasing government funding of Amtrak, versus eliminating funding; the 55 percent positive gap is the highest among all age groups. Those over-age-65 show a 43 percent positive gap, and age 45-64 show a 35 percent positive gap. The gap refers to the difference between those who want to keep/increase funding as opposed to those who want to eliminate funding.
  • Women are more likely to support government funding of Amtrak, with a 50 percent positive gap (68-18% support level) than men, who have a 35 percent positive gap (62-27% support level)
  • By a 3.5-to-1 ratio (69-21%), self-indentified Independents support keeping/increasing government funding. Democrats have a 70 percent positive gap (80-10% support level), and over 50 percent of self-identified Republicans show support for Amtrak funding.

The train questions were asked for the United Transportation Union.  The poll is at http://dfmresearch.com/Projects.html

A September, 2012, national poll of 800 Americans done for Natural Resources Defense Council found:

      Majority wants more travel options and is aware that the transportation system needs major change

      58% would use transit more often, but it’s not conveniently available

      64% believe their community would benefit from expanded rail or bus systems.

      To reduce traffic congestion, 42% favor improving public transportation; 21% favored development of less car-dependent communities; only 20% favored building
more roads; 17% said “all of the above” or “not sure.”

 

Energy Efficiency

Already, Amtrak is:

·         41% more energy efficient per passenger-mile than personal trucks;

·         34% more than automobiles;

·         17% more than commercial aviation.

Commuter trains are 16% more energy efficient per passenger-mile than cars and 25% more energy efficient than personal trucks.  

(Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Transportation Energy Data Book, Edition 31 [2012])

Even undercapitalized Amtrak is improving its energy efficiency with improved operating practices and higher load factors.  Proper funding allowing Amtrak to modernize its fleet will further boost its energy advantage.  Trains are the only form of transportation with a demonstrated ability to move large numbers of people long distances using only electricity.

Already, Amtrak helps mitigate direct and indirect air pollution by:

  • Running electric locomotives on the Northeast Corridor and fuel-efficient diesels elsewhere
  • Removing tens of millions of passengers a year from highways
  • Encouraging denser development around many of its stations.
  • Adding to the attractiveness and cost-effectiveness of transit systems by serving passengers making connections and by sharing facilities

Thank you for considering our views.