Northeast Business Leaders Unite to Preserve Amtrak

WASHINGTON – Citing the vital importance of Amtrak to the nation’s economy and quality of life, a large delegation of East Coast business leaders today introduced a new coalition to advocate for increased federal investment in the aging passenger rail system.

The Amtrak Business Coalition (ABC) consists of more than 50 East Coast business organizations from Virginia to Maine and includes The New England Council. In all, the Coalition represents 12 states and the District of Columbia. The ABC will work toward an increased federal commitment to preserve safe and reliable service along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor Main Line, as well as key Main Line connector routes in New England, upstate New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

“Amtrak’s strong presence has made our region a far more desirable place to live, visit and conduct business,” John D. Porcari of the Greater Washington Board of Trade said at a news conference held at Union Station May 5. “It is absolutely critical that Congress do everything necessary to ensure that Amtrak continues to meet the highest standards of safety and reliability.”

At the news conference, several business leaders emphasized the importance of Amtrak to their respective local and regional economies.

“Not only is Amtrak an essential transportation option for business people traveling between Boston and New York and points in between, but it also serves as a vital link that connects many residents in Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire with the main line of the Northeast Corridor,” said James T. Brett, President and CEO of the New England Council, noted Amtrak’s importance as both an urban commuter corridor and a lifeline for rural communities.

According to Amtrak President and CEO David Gunn, the system needs $1.8 billion in 2005 to initiate a five-year capital program that will include overdue repairs to track segments, bridges, railcars and power sources. In its 2005 budget request to Congress, the White House has requested $900 million for Amtrak. According to Gunn, this level of funding would make it impossible to sustain current service levels, and would eventually force a shutdown of the system.

“We are extremely concerned that the Administration’s $900 million funding request…is inadequate to operate and maintain Amtrak’s national system,” the Coalition stated in a letter to congressional leaders. “The strength of our regional economies depends heavily upon a strong transportation network and any serious disruption of Amtrak service would have devastating consequences for the Northeast region.”

The Coalition plans to make its case for a $1.8 billion Amtrak budget to Congress over the coming months. Chip Hallock, President of the Newark, New Jersey- based Regional Business Partnership, emphasized that the Coalition’s size and geographic diversity will make it an effective voice for Amtrak on Capitol Hill.

“The strength of the Amtrak Business Coalition rests in the size and diversity of our participating organizations, as well as our conviction that Amtrak provides essential service and economic vitality to our respective communities,” Hallock said. “We look forward to carrying that message to our elected representatives and ensuring that Amtrak receives the financial support it needs to serve the Northeast Corridor.”

The Amtrak Business Coalition operates independently of Amtrak, and its activities are led entirely by member volunteers. U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., spoke at the news conference, and expressed support for the Coalition’s purpose.

“Amtrak is vital to the economic health of the East Coast, and I’m encouraged that so many businesses will now be joining together to push Congress and the White House toward more funding for improved rail lines, rail safety and the stability of Amtrak,” Carper said.

The New England Council is the nation’s oldest regional business organization. An alliance of large and small companies, educational institutions, nonprofit and other agencies, the Council is dedicated to promoting federal public policies and regional initiatives, which support economic development.

— Business Wire