The federal program designed to spend nearly $2 billion to rehabilitate the railroads in the northeast is riddled with "confusion, duplication and endless delay," according to Rep. John L. Burton (D-Calif.) head of a subcommittee on transportation.

In hearings aimed at evaluating the progress of the two-year-old Northeast Corridor Improvement Project, Burton yesterday blamed Transportation Secretary Brock Adams for steering the project "onto a costly sidetrack."

Meanwhile, Adams told senate hearings that he is making progress in consolidating midwest rail operations.

Citing Adams' pledge last year to get the project moving "even if I have to go out myself with a pick and shovel," Burton said, "the fact is that, while this project has had two years and ample money to get started, we now hear it will need more years and more money to finish."

Burton's Government Activities and Transportation Subcommittee began hearing testimony yesterday on the progress of the project, a portion of the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act the 4-R Act.

"Essentially," Burton said at the opening of the hearings, "we want to find out why this project is taking so long to complete. We've been told the project is so far off schedule that it may be completed in 1984 instead of 1981, and at a much higher cost."

He also said that it was now apparent that the original trip-time goals of two hours and 40 minutes from Washington to New York and three hours and 40 minutes from New York to Boston now seem unlikely on any regular basis.

Adams had been asked to testify, but said he could not because he had to testify at Senate hearings.

At the hearings before the Senate Surface Trunsportation Subcommittee, Adams claimed the first DOT success in railroad consolidation and improvement efforts in the Midwest.

Adams told the subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Russell B. Long (D-La.), that the Chicago & North Western and the Milwaukee Railroads have agreed to stop competing in some markets where the market has not been able to support both.

The North Western has agreed to stop operating in Dubuque, Iowa, and Red Wing, Minn., and the Milwaukee will no longer provide service to Rapid City, S.D. There were other consolidations involved.

"The benefits to the tworailroads from this set of projects are substantial, in terms of both reduced costs and the elimination of the need to re-habilitate track which is to be abandoned," Adams said.

In testimony before the same hearings, Intersate Commerce Commission chairman Dan O'Neil called for continuing federal operating assistance on rail branch lines.