The New England Council Calls on Administration to Reconsider Proposed Amtrak Funding

BOSTON — Following the release of President Bush’s proposed budget which would slash funding for Amtrak rail service, New England Council President James T. Brett joined other regional leaders in calling for the Administration to reconsider this proposal.

Last year, Amtrak was funded at $1.2 billion. The Administration proposal for FY 2006 is only $360 million – a move that rail officials say would shut down Amtrak.

"Rail service is very important to the New England economy," Brett said. "Any loss of service will have a deleterious impact on the movement of business and leisure passengers along the east coast and the ability of the economy to grow. Obviously we are concerned about what this proposal might mean to the future of service on the Northeast Corridor. Intercity passenger rail is a major transportation option for New England. Losing it would be devastating to the region."

Amtrak is also in the middle of a five-year capital improvement plan to bring its equipment and infrastructure to a state of good repair. "Amtrak was already under-funded in its FY 2005 allocation to fully meet their goals," Brett said. "We are open to discussing ways to restructure Amtrak in the future. But before any serious discussions can really get going, the federal government needs to commit to getting the Northeast Corridor’s infrastructure to a state of good repair. That has to happen first."

According to Amtrak, some of the most significant infrastructure needs are in New England. Their survey cited three bridges in Connecticut – the Thames River Bridge, the Niantic River Bridge and the Connecticut River Bridge – which are all at least 85 years old and in need of replacement.

These bridges frequently open and shut to allow ships to pass through. If that mechanism fails, service between New York and Boston would be severed. Forty Amtrak trains run over these bridges daily and maintain a vital link of business and leisure passenger service on one of the most heavily-traveled rail corridors in the nation.

Amtrak owns and operates 400 miles of the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston. The corridor is one of the busiest and most technically-advanced track structures in the world, utilized by more than 1,700 trains a day, including freight, commuter trains and high-speed rail service.

A shutdown of Amtrak would also affect service for eight commuter railroads that operate over Amtrak-owned or operated infrastructure throughout the Northeast. More than 750,000 commuters use the service on a daily basis.

More than 7,000 people are employed in the rail industry throughout New England. In recent years, particularly with the introduction of high-speed rail along the Northeast Corridor, rail has become a success story in New England.

Brett said. "While some of the Administration’s proposal may have merit, the Administration needs to make a monetary commitment to the northeast corridor’s infrastructure," Brett commented.

— Business Wire