Amtrak seeks more funds to avert 'crisis'

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Amtrak's Northeast rail system, which federal officials are considering expanding onto Long Island, is quickly running out of resources to accommodate its growing ridership, the agency's chief executive told a congressional committee.

Calling it a "crisis of success," Joseph Boardman told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on Wednesday that the Northeast Corridor, which stretches from Washington to Boston, needs $2 billion in new annual funding to accommodate rider growth. Without it, service could deteriorate for 260 million riders, he said.

"We have pushed the current . . . infrastructure about as far as it can go, but the end of demand and growth is nowhere in sight," Boardman said. "A new model for investment is needed. If we do not obtain one, the outlook for the system's capacity and condition is grim."

Boardman's forecast comes two weeks after the Federal Railroad Administration announced ambitious plans to overhaul the Northeast Corridor over the next 25 years. Under one proposal, the system would be expanded across Long Island to a bridge or tunnel across Long Island Sound to Connecticut. Federal officials have not estimated the cost.

Jeffrey Zupan, senior transportation fellow for the Regional Plan Association, said that while Amtrak's value may not be fully appreciated on Long Island, it's critical toward alleviating pressure on interstates and airports. He said Boardman's request for more federal funding was "very rational and fair."

The federally funded and operated rail system has plans to improve service in the Northeast, including its Gateway project to build two new tunnels and tracks between Newark, N.J., and Penn Station. Boardman called that project "perhaps the single most important investment needed to unlock the capacity constraints on the Northeast."

The agency also wants to expand high-speed service with trains that could travel as fast as 220 mph.

Boardman said Amtrak's passenger numbers have increased by 50 percent since 2000, and that the agency has set ridership records in nine out of the past 10 years. That growth has been largely driven by the Northeast Corridor, he said.

Amtrak spends about $259 million in federal, state and local funds each year to maintain the Northeast Corridor, an amount Boardman said is enough to cover normal parts replacement, but not enough to modernize a system more than 100 years old.

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