Houston, We’ve Got a Problem.
The Northeast Corridor is by far Amtrak’s busiest route, with dozens of trains a day running between Washington and New York City with many continuing up to Boston. Politicians and the media keep saying Amtrak makes a profit on the NEC but, according to a lot of smart people, that’s B.S. They say Amtrak’s accounting methodology credits a disproportionately large amount of revenue generated by the long-distance trains to the Northeast Corridor, making the NEC look better than it really is.
Even if you buy the questionable numbers, the NEC still only shows a profit when direct operating costs (railroaders refer to those as “above the rail” costs) are deducted from total revenue, most of which is ticket sales. The trouble is, there are other costs that will eventually have an impact on that alleged profitability—deferred maintenance, for example. One estimate says that could be as much as $50 billion over the next decade or so. And guess what? That’s not even the really big item.
One of our very knowledgable NARP members has compiled an extensive list of specific infrastructure projects being anticipated for most of the Northeast Corridor. In all, some 70 projects in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts are listed and include replacing several bridges, new tunnels in Baltimore and under the Hudson River into Manhattan, extensive track work, station repairs and renovations, and on and on. Some of the projects are to be fully or partially funded between now and 2020 with money coming from the feds or the states or from Amtrak. But many are not yet funded at all.
Donald Trump says he has a plan to spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure improvements. Sounds like a lot of money, does’t it? Hell, it IS a lot of money! But that one trillion dollars is for the entire country. The total cost for that list of 70 projects on that Northeast Corridor comes to $7.5 trillion. And that’s only for rail. And for only five states.
It’s way past time to get serious about this, and Soon-To-Be-President Trump will be working with a Republican House and a Republican Senate. Do you think they are all going to understand the urgency of the problem and take action?
Yeah . . . Neither do I.