NEC Commission identifies needs of $38 billion

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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The Northeast Corridor Commission on May 3 submitted to Congress two reports detailing short-and-long-term capital investment needs totaling some $38 billion for the 457-mile electrified rail line linking Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C.

The Northeast Corridor Capital Investment Plan: Fiscal Years 2018 – 2022 and the Northeast Corridor Annual Report: Operations and Infrastructure, Fiscal Year 2016 are requirements of the FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act. They “are critical elements of the Commission’s policy framework, which balances cost sharing with improved collaboration, transparency and accountability,” the Commission says. “The policy framework also calls for a federal-state funding partnership to restore the infrastructure of the most important passenger railroad [line] in the country,” which serves four of the nation’s ten largest metropolitan areas, supports more than 780,000 trips daily on eight commuter railroads and more than 40,000 trips on Amtrak’s intercity services.

A 2014 Commission study found that a loss of all NEC services for a single day “could cost the economy $100 million in lost productivity, added congestion on the regional highway and aviation networks and other transportation-related costs.”

The Capital Investment Plan identifies the Commission’s top-ten NEC-wide unfunded priorities, “which are focused on addressing the Corridor’s $38 billion backlog in state-of-good-repair needs. While the backlog would be addressed over many years, the Plan shows a five-year need, constrained by available resources, of $29 billion for a combination of investments that address the state-of-good-repair backlog as well as infrastructure and capacity enhancements to support the region’s growth. Roughly $9 billion of that need is currently funded.”

Many projects included in the Capital Investment Plan are eligible for funding from the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair Program. “This competitive grant program is authorized to provide direct federal funding to supplement the large amounts of state and local dollars that are going to replace, rehabilitate or repair basic infrastructure assets,” the Commission notes. “Congress will vote on the Fiscal Year 2017 omnibus bill this week to provide $25 million to the Federal-State Partnership Program, which is authorized at $175 million for FY18.

The Plan was completed “just as recent events (two derailments within a 10-day span) in the vicinity of Penn Station New York highlighted how infrastructure failures impact travelers across modes with serious consequences for the economy,” the Commission said. “We will adjust these plans as necessary to redirect available resources where they are most needed.”

“The states and Amtrak have stepped up to fund the Corridor’s basic infrastructure and regular maintenance needs,” said James Redeker, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Transportation and Co-Chair of the Northeast Corridor Commission. “With the Capital Investment Plan in place, we lay the foundation for the federal government to begin to help address the $38 billion state-of-good-repair backlog, infrastructure assets that, while safe, are operating beyond their useful lives, increasing maintenance costs and decreasing reliability.”

In 2015, the Commission adopted the NEC Commuter and Intercity Rail Cost Allocation Policy, an agreement committing each passenger railroad using the Corridor to share approximately $1 billion annually in operating and normalized replacement capital costs based on use. “This policy does not, however, fully fund the Corridor’s extensive capital needs, including the backlog,” the Commission stresses.

“Reliable Amtrak and SEPTA service is essential to Delaware’s economic growth,” said Jennifer Cohan, Secretary of the Delaware Department of Transportation and Chair of the Commission’s Planning Committee. “Failure to address the Corridor’s significant investment needs identified in the Capital Investment Plan puts our future at risk.”

The Northeast Corridor Annual Report: Operations and Infrastructure, Fiscal Year 2016 is the Commission’s first annual report. It documents the operational performance of NEC trains in FY 2016, “allowing Commission stakeholders to identify and track performance trends over time, improving the understanding of the causes of delays and potential opportunities for performance improvement.”

The Annual Report also addresses the implementation of the capital program for Fiscal Year 2016 and contains recommendations on improving capital planning and the annual One-Year Implementation Plan. Northeast Corridor stakeholders invested $1.06 billion in infrastructure in FY 2016. Some of these dollars were applied to the Cost Allocation Policy’s Baseline Capital Charge (BCC) Program covering normalized replacement of basic infrastructure assets. Through this program, owners and operators contributed almost $460 million to replace more than 7,800 concrete ties, 43,000 wood ties, 348,000 feet of rail, and 51,000 feet of overhead catenary. The program also paid for more than two million feet of track surfacing and 107,000 feet of undercutting. The other $600 million funded Special Projects aimed at addressing the major bridges and tunnels in the state-of-good-repair backlog or improving the NEC.

“The funding committed by states and rail agencies through the cost allocation policy provides a critical lifeline to the aging NEC,” said Stephen Gardner, Executive Vice President, Planning, Technology, & Public Affairs at Amtrak. “However, without significant new state and federal investment to address the Corridor’s aging infrastructure, commuter and intercity rail service will continue to be at risk.”

Both reports can be download at the links below.

The Northeast Corridor Commission was authorized by Congress in 2008 to improve coordination on the Corridor. It is comprised of one member from each of the NEC states and the District of Columbia; four members from Amtrak; and five members from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Commission also includes non-voting representatives from NEC freight railroads, states with feeder corridors, and commuter rail authorities not directly represented by a Commission member.

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