As the status quo will not hold much longer for Amtrak, let alone the Northeast Corridor (NEC), a new paradigm is desperately required. Having no transparency on data and finances provided by Amtrak plays into its “shell game” that prevents a logical paper trail to audit how the long distance routes funding is bled off to cover the widening fiscal hole of the NEC. Concomitantly, how much, if not every dollar paid by the non-NEC states is turned around to support the NEC? For how long has Amtrak manipulated such finances to dump the NEC’s overhead and infrastructure costs into the long distance and state-supported sectors?
Just as California wised up to bring in DB for the LA-SF HSR infrastructure and operations, so must we now acknowledge that Amtrak has failed to maintain, let alone, improve the NEC infrastructure. As neither the USDOT nor FRA have the requisite sources, it is definitely time for the FRA/USDOT to commence a process to open-up the NEC infrastructure for a competent, experienced, and successful owner, or, owner/operator for the NEC.
This must be a better alternative to the present situation, where currently Amtrak does not even charge the NEC states for their trolley-like schedules. As well, despite the requirement of PRIIA 2008 for Amtrak to finally start charging the commuter users for operating and infrastructure depreciation costs, because Amtrak is an appendage so beholden to the power brokers in the Northeast, it never bothered to charge. As this neglect was apparently approved by Amtrak’s Board of Directors, this issue did not change until mandated by Congress in December, 2015. As Amtrak has willfully evolved into a subservient tool to its Northeast political patrons, it has neglected its mission for a national system.
A privately-owned and operated NEC infrastructure should serve the following purpose:
1) Identify market rates to charge–and collect– for NEC operating and infrastructure depreciation costs from all users–commuter, freight, and Amtrak.
2) Consider fuller utilization and revenues of the NEC by enabling all parcel or mail trains to operate at night.
3) Appropriately prioritize infrastructure maintenance, repairs, and replacement for all parties to contribute, including states and federal, just as the states pay now for repairs to the interstate highways serving them.
4) Rather than continuing the solo operation of intercity trains by Amtrak, this operator should offer opportunities to properly vetted experienced operators to bid on franchise, or, even just offer open access.
5) With the infrastructure freed from the current political machinations favoring just current status quo commuter or Amtrak services, major improvements in the NEC could be contemplated to facilitate increased services and frequencies by improving the design of the current infrastructure.
We have to remove the “flash in the pan” politics that had the feds underwrite new Acelas to be built in NY state, when the NEC infrastructure begs for major renovation and cannot currently accommodate any significant increase in speed or frequencies. By ignoring the continuous degrading of the NEC infrastructure, the governors of NY and NJ, and their congressional delegations, have forfeited their voices and control over the NEC. The only way to save the NEC is to place it in the hands of a competent operator. Indeed, the nation’s taxpayers west and south of the Hudson River do not appreciate the muscle game recently played by the senators from NY and NJ to withhold the approval of Mr. Batory to the FRA. If their continues to be this persistent obstinance to neglect the rest of the nation’s rail needs in favor of just the NEC, Hornblower ferries may become the best option for crossing the Hudson