Amtrak plans to begin procurement in fiscal year 2012 of 40 additional Acela Express coach cars to increase seating capacity on all existing high-speed train sets to meet growing ridership demand. The plan to purchase new high-speed equipment is part of the national passenger railroad’s $2.22 billion funding request submitted to Congress today.
“Investing in Amtrak is investing in America’s transportation future and is an important component of any serious plan to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said President and CEO Joe Boardman. “It is necessary to balance the real concern over federal spending with the ongoing need to invest in the nation’s intercity passenger rail network to meet growing demand, support economic recovery and fuel the next generation of growth,” he added.
The funding request for FY 2012 includes $1.285 billion for capital investments to maintain and improve tracks, equipment and other infrastructure particularly along the Amtrak-owned portions of the heavily travelled Northeast Corridor; $616 million to support the operation of more than 300 daily trains; and $271 million for debt service.
This federal funding is vital to the continued operation of Amtrak, will support revenues received from ticket sales and other sources, and is consistent with funding levels authorised by Congress in the Passenger Railroad Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.
Amtrak is also seeking $50 million to start design and preliminary engineering work on the Gateway Project to build two new tunnels into Manhattan and expand capacity at New York Penn Station as the cornerstone of its vision for a 220 mph (341 kph) high-speed rail system capable of handling expected ridership growth for the next 100 years.
Due to efficiency improvements and investments in infrastructure and other systems in recent years, Amtrak covers 85 percent of its operating costs with ticket sales and other revenues requiring 15 percent to be supported with federal funds. Also, America’s railroads set annual ridership records in seven of the last eight fiscal years, including more than 28.7 million passengers in FY 2010. Plus, Amtrak has worked strategically to successfully cut its debt in half and improve its on-time performance so that on average nearly 4 out of 5 trains system-wide arrive at their endpoints on-time.
Under the plan to purchase 40 additional coach cars for the Acela high-speed service, each of the existing 20 Acela train sets would receive two additional coaches, increasing seating capacity by 130 per train. This will lengthen the train set from a 1-6-1 configuration to 1-8-1 (power car – passenger cars – power car) and require modifications to high-speed rail maintenance facilities in Washington, New York and Boston. If the procurement process begins in FY 2012, the first of the new Acela coaches would begin to enter service in FY 2014.
Acela trains carried more than 3.2 million passengers and earned more than $440 million last fiscal year. On weekdays, Amtrak has seen an average of 80 percent of seats sold on the busiest segments with trains regularly selling out during peak hours. Acela, in combination with conventional rail service, has helped Amtrak achieve a 69 percent air-rail market share on the Washington – New York route and a 53 percent air-rail market share on the New York – Boston route. Thus, Amtrak carries more passengers than all the airlines that serve these key routes.
The federal government has invested a total of $36 billion in Amtrak in the forty years that it has served as the nation’s intercity passenger rail provider. Between 1971 and 2008, by contrast, the federal government has invested more than $421 billion in aviation and at least a trillion dollars in the nation’s highways.
Even with limited funding, Amtrak has become an ever more desirable and opted for travel choice in many regions of the country, offering travellers a frequent, fast, reliable, efficient and environmentally sound alternative to airports and congested highways.