By Rail: Let Amtrak Focus On Decongesting The Northeast
Ridership in the Northeast Corridor (NEC) — the rail lines running from Boston down to Washington D.C. — constitutes more than a third of Amtrak's total customers. Naturally, this route is also the nation's most consistently congested. And the situation can seem hopeless, as infrastructure problems often do. "The challenge with the Northeast Corridor is that you have so much population density," says the ASCE's Dinges, "and all the land condemnation necessary to lay any new track." Factor in the usual funding requirements, measured in the billions of dollars, in this case, and the delays that stack up along the NEC can be interpreted as the cost of doing business in the financial and political heart of the United States.
Or maybe Amtrak just needs to spend more money where more people are riding its trains. This year, Congress is expected to vote on a transportation reauthorization bill that includes a new provision, which allows Amtrak — which receives $1.4B in federal funding per year — to invest some of its profits into NEC-specific improvements. That could include long-term projects, such as the development of 220 mph high-speed trains, as well as the installing of entirely new "spines" that increase capacity along the route. For the more immediate future, though, passage of the bill could let Amtrak pursue less politically-divisive options, such as improving bypasses and general track conditions, which could lead to minor, but still long overdue reductions in overall congestion.