Advocacy Objectives

Northeast Corridor Passenger Rail Appropriations - The Northeast Alliance seeks to maximize funding for the improvement of passenger rail infrastructure and operations in the Northeast, including the main line Northeast Corridor and all of its branch lines. Amtrak owns the majority of the passenger rail infrastructure in the Northeast Corridor and its branch lines, and operates all of the intercity trains. So, Amtrak's capital and operating budgets are currently the main avenues for directing federal funding toward intercity passenger rail infrastructure and service in the Northeast. Amtrak's annual budget requests are funded via the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill. In fiscal year 2010 Amtrak requested $2 billion - including operating, capital and debt service and received $1.6 billion. In FY11, Amtrak submitted a request for $2.6 billion and in the Continuing Resolution passed by Congress, Amtrak narrowly avoided the chopping block and received only slightly less than their previous appropriation, but again, far less than requested. It is imperative that the federal government increase their annual appropriations to Amtrak in order to bring the Northeast Corridor back to a state of good repair. The Northeast Alliance has worked with Amtrak to ensure that its budget requests are fulfilled.

High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program Appropriations - The Federal Railroad Administration's High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program is another valuable source of funding for investing in Northeast passenger rail. Since the passage of PRIIA, the Northeast Alliance has sought to establish increased levels of sustained contributions to this important program. Following the initial $8 billion appropriation in the program through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the Alliance advocated for $4 billion in the fiscal year 2010 appropriations bill and $2.5 billion was eventually appropriated. In fiscal year 2011, the Northeast Alliance joined with other regional and national transportation advocacy groups to again call for $4 billion for the program. However, the Continuing Resolution eliminated all funding for the program and stripped $400 million in unspent money from 2010. The Northeast Alliance supported President Obama's budget proposal for fiscal year 2012, which called for $53 billion for the high-speed rail program through 2017, starting with $8 billion in 2012. However, it is unlikely that Congress will adhere to the President's request given the current fiscal situation. The Northeast Alliance continues to advocate for more funding for this critical program.

Northeast Corridor-wide Environmental Review Process - In the spring of 2010, eleven northeastern states submitted a proposal to the Federal Railroad Administration to conduct a multi-state planning study for the Northeast Corridor. The proposal sought $18.8 million for a four-phased study that would include a tier 1 programmatic environmental impact statement for the entire Northeast Corridor (the first in three decades), as well as the exploration of a dedicated high speed rail service along the length of the Corridor. The Federal Railroad Administration awarded the states $10 million to conduct the study. The EIS process is expected to get underway in early-2011. The Northeast Alliance will work with the stakeholders along the Corridor as this process moves forward to ensure that it progresses expeditiously and that several dedicated high-speed rail options are included in the study and environmental review process.

Northeast Corridor Infrastructure and Operations Advisory Commission - The PRIIA legislation mandated that the U.S. Department of Transportation create the Northeast Corridor Infrastructure and Operations Advisory Commission to promote mutual cooperation and planning of rail operations and related activities in the Northeast Corridor among the U.S. DOT, Northeast states, and Amtrak. The Commission has been charged with forging consensus about the performance goals and operations on the Corridor, taking over much of the planning responsibilities for the Northeast Corridor from Amtrak. The Northeast Alliance seeks to support and coordinate with the NEC Commission to help craft a long-term vision for the NEC that includes achieving a state-of-good-repair and implementing high-speed rail.

Recent Entries

Photo: MTA / Kevin Ortiz

The New Haven Line needs such substantial repair work that at the current pace of investment it will take two decades to restore the line to full operating capacity, a new study by Regional Plan Association found. An analysis by RPA determined that $3.6 billion will be needed beyond what is currently budgeted to modernize the rail line, the busiest in the U.S.

Infrastructure on the 60-mile stretch of track between New York and Connecticut has been allowed to deteriorate, largely due to decades of underinvestment in critical repairs and upgrades. Delaying the repair work significantly raises the risk of unplanned outages and limits the line’s capacity to accommodate growing ridership. 

The New Haven Line carries 125,000 passengers every day on the Metro-North commuter line and on Amtrak trains between Boston and New York and plays a vital role in the economic life of the Northeast. The line's owners, the states of Connecticut and New York, have made significant progress improving the rail infrastructure they inherited in the 1970s in poor physical condition, despite major funding constraints. But funding shortfalls have forced both states to defer long overdue capital investment necessary to protect the line's operations and passengers.

The age-related problems that plague the line can be felt by passengers nearly every day. Five movable rail bridges, all well beyond their replacement age, get stuck open several times a week, delaying train traffic and causing ripple effects up and down the line. This year, the line suffered two major outages, including a derailment and collision in May that injured 76 people and an electrical outage in September that disrupted service on the line for more than two weeks.

RPA’s study, Getting Back on Track: Unlocking the Full Potential of the New Haven Line, documents the key issues affecting the rail line and outlines critical capital investments necessary for the line to function as a reliable, four-track railroad. RPA researchers found that an additional $3.6 billion is needed to repair or replace aging and obsolete infrastructure, beyond the $1 billion already budgeted by the state of Connecticut for this work.

“The New Haven Line supports the biggest and most diverse economy in the country, yet this crucial piece of infrastructure is no longer up to the task,” said RPA President Robert D. Yaro. “If we don’t maintain our vital infrastructure, we will be subjecting a generation of commuters and long-distance travelers to relentless, disruptive repair work and jeopardizing the growth and prosperity of our region,” he said. 

Expediting construction would mean disruptions to service in the short term, but would get the line back to its full, four-track capacity far sooner. This would allow the line to accommodate anticipated population growth and economic development along the New York-to-New Haven corridor. The upgrades also are crucial to accommodating passengers transferring from the region’s branch lines, including from the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter line, which is expected to begin service in 2016.

The study outlines an emergency action plan for the rail line to address major needed improvements, including: upgrades to power and signal systems; repairs to tracks and station platforms; and rehabilitation or replacement of the five movable bridges that are a source of continued service disruptions.

The full study can be viewed here:

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure convened in New York City on Friday for a hearing about the importance of the Northeast Corridor. The hearing took place in the Farley Post Office, home of the future Moynihan Station. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), chair of the Railroads Subcommittee, wielded the gavel while Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), chair of the full committee, participated along with Ranking Member Corrine Brown (D-FL) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). The witnesses included the President and CEO of Amtrak, Joe Boardman; Commissioner of New York State Department of Transportation, Joan McDonald; President of Drexel University, John Fry; and President of Regional Plan Association (RPA) and Chair of the Northeast Alliance for Rail (NEAR), Bob Yaro.

The impetus for the hearing is that the current federal rail bill, PRIIA, expires this fall and Congress will begin negotiating the next bill this summer. The next federal rail bill will authorize a five to six years worth of appropriations for the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak, and hence capital improvements to the Northeast Corridor (NEC). The FRA's High-Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail Program is a potential source of future funding for NEC improvements. After Florida Governor Rick Scott rejected $2.4 billion in federal high-speed rail funds in 2011, nearly $1 billion was redirected to the Northeast. Amtrak's federal funding for capital improvements is also largely dedicated to the NEC, where nearly 40% of their capital budget is spent.

In his testimony before the Committee, Bob Yaro outlined the main components of an improvement program that can be authorized in the reauthorization of the rail bill. RPA calls this program, "NEC Now." The NEC Now proposal addresses the corridor's highest-priority infrastructure needs: to remove bottlenecks, increase capacity, improve reliability and reduce travel times along the entire corridor. It also proposes funding for the construction of a high-speed bypass in New Jersey for express trains to overtake local trains on a segment with heavy NJ Transit commuter rail traffic, would cut trip times between New York and Philadelphia to well under an hour.

Download RPA's NEC Now Legislative Proposal & Infrastructure Program.

Download Bob Yaro's testimony as prepared.

NEAR-logo-Twitter.pngThe Business Alliance for Northeast Mobility has officially been renamed, The Northeast Alliance for Rail (NEAR). The new name more clearly describes the work that the coalition does - it is no longer just a business alliance, as many civic and planning groups are active members, and our advocacy work is now more focused on passenger rail investments in the Northeast Megaregion, as opposed to broader mobility. The Northeast Alliance's new acronym, "NEAR," speaks to the proximity created by investments in passenger rail that reduce trip times between major urban hubs, and the hope that these investments will be made in the near-term.

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Flooded Hudson River TunnelsOn Tuesday night, the House passed a $50.66 billion Hurricane Sandy Relief Package, which includes a total of $118 million for Amtrak - $86 million in capital funds and $32 million in operating funds to cover expenses associated with Hurricane Sandy on October 29, 2012. Amtrak requested $336 million in the previous legislative session and the Senate had included the full amount in their version of the bill, but Congress failed to pass a bill before the end of the last session, so they had to start over in the new session.

A total of $10.9 billion will also go to repairing the public transportation systems in the New York region, including the New York City Subway, Metro-North and Long Island Railroads, and NJ Transit. The bill's next hurdle is in the Senate, where lawmakers will conference with the House before sending a final bill for the President to sign.

The FRA has announced details of the public scoping meetings for the NEC FUTURE program. Nine meetings are scheduled between August 13 and 22, all at different locations in the eight states served by the Northeast Corridor and District of Columbia. The purpose of these meetings is to inform and involve the public in defining the scope of the Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement and Service Development Plan study to be completed as part of this program.

Public engagement is a critical part of the NEC FUTURE process and your input will make a substantial impact on the final vision for future rail improvements in the Northeast. We strongly recommend you attend the meeting in your area to provide comments and explain to the FRA why NEC improvements are important to your community, business, or industry group, and our region as a whole. You should be prepared to describe what kind of rail service you'd like to see offered over the next 40 years (to where, at what travel time, frequency, price points, and with what service amenities). We are also planning on submitting an official letter to the FRA on behalf of the Business Alliance advocating for our highest priority objectives. So, if you are unable attend a meeting, please feel free to email me your thoughts on what we should advocate for in this letter.

Meeting dates, times, and locations listed after the jump.

latham.jpgThe Business Alliance for Northeast Mobility recently sent a letter to House appropriators requesting their support for passenger rail projects in the Northeast Megaregion. The letter, addressed to leaders of the House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD), including THUD Chairman Tom Latham (pictured) and Ranking Member John Olver, as well as House Leadership and the entire Northeast Delegation, urged the House THUD Subcommittee to provide funding for Amtrak's legislative grant request and the federal high-speed rail program in their fiscal year 2013 appropriations bill.

"Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration's high-speed rail program ... provide critical funding to improve the Northeast Corridor rail system," wrote Robert Yaro, chairman of the Business Alliance and president of Regional Plan Association, along with 23 other co-signing members of the Business Alliance. "Congress' financial support of Amtrak's capital budget and rail operations [and the Federal Railroad Administration's High Performance Passenger Rail Grant Program are] vitally important to the mobility and economic prosperity of the Northeast Megaregion."

Specifically, the Business Alliance asked the House THUD Subcommittee to fulfill Amtrak's entire fiscal year 2013 grant request of $2.17 billion and provide at least $100 million to the federal high-speed rail program in fiscal year 2013. Over 40 percent of Amtrak's capital budget is dedicated to important rail projects on the Northeast Corridor and funding for the federal high-speed rail program could pay for the final phases of the Northeast Corridor service development plan and environmental impact study, a public process that is defining a vision for future rail service and major rail infrastructure improvements on the Northeast Corridor.

Download the letter.

Image: Flickr

IMG_0206-crop.jpgThe White House Council on Environmental Quality recently selected the Northeast Corridor's environmental review process, which will begin early this year, as a case study in a new pilot program that seeks to pioneer new ways of speeding the delivery of important infrastructure projects. This will allow projects to fix and upgrade the existing rail corridor and construct a new high-speed rail line to begin more quickly, creating much needed jobs, improving rail service, and generating enormous economic benefits for the Northeast Megaregion over time. The Business Alliance for Northeast Mobility applauds the selection of the Northeast Corridor for an expedited environmental review. We hope further time-saving techniques can be found and pioneered in the Northeast that can be applied to similar environmental studies around the country, aiding our national economic recovery.

A coalition of business and civic leaders committed to improving passenger rail in the Northeast.
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