For the past decade, the popularity of passenger rail in the United States has been surging. For 10 of the last 12 years, Amtrak has broken its ridership records; in 2014 it carried nearly 31 million passengers and saw a 4 percent rise in ticket revenues. And in polls of communities all over the country, from upstate New York to Missouri and from Wisconsin to Kentucky, the vast majority of Americans – both Democrats and Republicans – have said they’d like to see expanded rail service.
Against that backdrop, however, Amtrak’s infrastructure is suffering due to a lack of funding. For one thing, the tunnels bringing Northeast Corridor trains into and out of New York City are all a full century old and, accordingly, are in need of repair. And last October, Amtrak reported that four of those tunnels urgently need to be replaced due to damage sustained during the Superstorm Sandy storm surges. Two of the four tubes under the East River must be repaired, which will require shutting down one tube at a time, slowing traffic up and down the Northeast Corridor. But under the Hudson, where the other two tunnels are, the only option is to build new tunnels to hold the traffic while the damaged tunnels are repaired.
If Amtrak were adequately funded, perhaps this wouldn’t have been an issue. But unfortunately, even when funding is appropriated, it often goes unused by politicians more concerned about their reelections: several years ago, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie cancelled the already-funded and underway Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) program, which would have built that much-needed additional tunnel under the Hudson.
With the New York City tunnels only one example of Amtrak’s pressing needs, TTD and our member unions have been working with members of Congress to craft a reauthorization bill that will adequately fund passenger rail in this country. And so far, we’ve been making progress: this March, the House of Representatives approved the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015 (PRRIA).
We’ve been pleased to see that with PRRIA, the House has shown a willingness to pass a 4-year bill that provides stable funding for Amtrak, including $300 million for a new Intercity Passenger Rail program. PRRIA also codifies 100% Buy America requirements for Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loans, ensuring that infrastructure and intermodal improvements are done using American-made goods, thereby creating jobs here at home. Crucially, the bill does not include any anti-labor language, nor does it contain reckless privatization and contracting out language.
PRRIA reasserts Amtrak’s role as our national passenger rail carrier; however, it only sustains funding at current levels, and to meet growing demand while also making the repairs the system needs, Amtrak will need higher funding levels. TTD and our member unions will continue to work with those in the Senate to amend the bill so that Amtrak is in a position to provide the type and level of service Americans are calling for.