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Federal Relief for a Rail System Stretched Thin?

Today’s Wall Street Journal reported on AMTRAK’s passenger increase and the critical need for the Feds to fund infrastructure improvements. According to the article, AMTRAK needs the money not only to expand and improve service, but also to simply meet current demands.
Since last fall, Americans have been driving less while Amtrak usage has steadily increased. The latest figures suggest that the migration from highways to rail is accelerating.
But is it able to keep up with demand?
Amtrak faces many challenges just to maintain current service levels. Besides higher commodity prices and rising personnel costs following a recent set of labor agreements, Amtrak is grappling with aging, overcrowded trains. The railway often doesn’t have enough cars in stock to expand train capacity or increase service frequencies.
According to the article, “Amtrak’s newfound popularity has made an impression in Congress.” How will this impact New York?
Amtrak estimates it needs to do nearly $5 billion of work along the Northeast Corridor to bring things to a state of good repair. A provision in the House’s Amtrak bill would have the Transportation Department study the possibility of high-speed service between Washington and New York, with trains running as fast as 200 miles an hour and a trip time of two hours or less.
The article is accompanied by an excellent and witty video (watch and see an AMSHACK). It provides a national perspective on the popularity and pleasure of taking the train, but investigates the problems AMTRAK faces in accommodating growth. What’s holding back expansion, especially of high speed rail? According to WSJ’s Matt Rivera, it’s the infrastructure, especially the tracks.
“AMTRAK rents most of its rail from cargo carriers, who have no need for the modern tracks used to propel modern trains. AMTRAK uses over 21,000 miles of track, and only owns less that 700 of those miles, mostly on the Northeast Corridor.”
Read “All Aboard: Too Many for Amtrak. Surge in Ridership Leads to Crowding On Intercity Trains” by Christoher Conkey for the Wall Street Journal.