Thursday, May 19, 2011

Amtrak seeks private sector aid for NEC

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Amtrak said Thursday it is developing an in-depth business plan that will maximize the opportunity for private investment to finance the construction of infrastructure and the acquisition of equipment required to provide 220 mph next-generation high speed rail service in the Northeast Corridor.

al_engel.jpg“Amtrak will aggressively pursue private investment, in combination with funding from the federal government and from other public sources, to achieve our goal of initiating true high speed rail from Washington to Boston,” said Amtrak Vice President, High-Speed Rail Al Engel (pictured at left).

Last month, Amtrak issued a request for proposals for a fully implementable and robust business and financial plan where Amtrak is the key developer and operator of the HSR system. It will identify and develop public and private funding sources and address fundamental issues of risk, credit, debt, and investment phasing, among other criteria.

The business plan also will include strategies and tactics for meeting the project delivery timelines and achieving financial targets, provide information for Amtrak’s FY 2013 federal budget request and lay out the strategy for subsequent forays into the private investment and capital markets.

Amtrak says that numerous private investment firms have expressed interest in working with it. Proposals are due June 10.

Engel said the active pursuit of private financing is one of several actions taken by Amtrak to move forward its next-generation high-speed railvision plan since it was announced last September. Another key action is the development of a stair-step approach outlining a clear, structured, and coordinated path to achieve 220 mph service on exclusive operational segments first between Philadelphia and New York, then New York to Washington, followed by New York to Hartford and, finally, Hartford to Boston.

Amtrak recently was awarded $450 million by the Department of Transportation to upgrade a 24-mile section of its Northeast Corridor infrastructure, located in New Jersey, to support maximum speeds of 160 mph.

Amtrak says it has distributed its HSR vision plan for international peer review by HSR operators in Europe and Asia, and notes most reviewers agreed with the stair-step approach, saying the current strategy is needed for successfully implementing next-generation HSR in the NEC.amtrak_logo.jpg 

Many reviewers also said Amtrak ridership estimates were too low, and several major operators indicated there are construction cost reduction opportunities that could reduce the capital investment. Many also suggested Amtrak would likely capture a larger share of the intercity travel market than what is projected in the plan. “This bodes well for an even higher benefit/cost ratio than the current 2.3 stated in the report,” said Engel.

Amtrak is a partner in the 8th World Congress on High-Speed Rail that will be held in Philadelphia in July 2012. As a partner with the International Union of Railways, the American Public Transportation Association, and the Association of American Railroads, Amtrak will host the world congress. The event is expected to attract some 2,000 attendees worldwide to exchange views on the development and achievements of HSR.

“Even with limited funding, Amtrak is continuing to make bold moves forwardtoward realizing its vision for 220-mph next-generation high speed rail in the Northeast Corridor,” Engel said.