Committee examines Amtrak’s NE Corridor

June 7, 2013

Passengers prepare to board the Acela at Union Station. (Gerald Martineau/The Washington Post)

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Penn.), chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and members of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, chaired by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), were in New York on Friday morning for a field hearing on the future of the Northeast Corridor.

Witnesses included Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman, Bob Yaro, executive director of the Regional Plan Association, Joan McDonald, commissioner of the New York State Department of Transportation and John Fry, president of Drexel University.

In their written testimony, the two chairmen continued to make a case for more private involvement in train service along the corridor — a familiar Republic theme. And while there has been much talk about high-speed rail along the corridor, Shuster said that, given the capital improvements needed, it would be wiser to invest in fixing the current infrastructure.

Some interesting tidbits offered by Shuster in his remarks:

— The Northeast Corridor is home to four of the most populous metro regions in the U.S.: New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. If it feels a bit crowded, that’s because in total that means approximately 18 percent of the population is living in just 2 percent of the country’s land area.

— How popular has Amtrak service been on the corridor? The rail system captures about 76 percent of the rail/air traffic on that corridor. Just over a decade ago, in 2001, Amtrak captured less than half — 45 percent of that traffic. In March, Amtrak set a ridership record.

In his remarks, Denham, who last month held a subcommittee hearing in California examining high-speed rail, said he thought the $6 billion in state and federal funding given to the California High Speed Rail Authority might be better spent elsewhere — like on upgrades along the Northeast Corridor. He, too, pushed for private investment along the corridor.

Fry’s testimony touched on the need for officials at Amtrak and in the communities that it serves to consider ways to better integrate train stations with surrounding communities as a strategy for fueling smart urban development.

Drexel, for example, has acquired land near the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia with an eye toward replacing parking lots with new mixed-use developments.

“Imagine the impact for Philadelphia when visitors arrive at the city’s most convenient transportation hub and disembark right into a brand-new neighborhood dedicated to learning, to innovation and to entrepreneurship,” Fry said in written testimony.

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.
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Mark Berman · June 7, 2013