Boardman Decries ‘Zero’ Funding of Rail Transportation Infrastructure Projects

Amtrak President Joe Boardman has come face to face with a reality that all of his predecessors have faced. Funding for Amtrak is always year to year and that makes long-term planning difficult.

As if that isn’t bad enough, Boardman said the nation faces billions of dollars in infrastructure repairs but has made no progress toward addressing those.

Chief among those infrastructure needs is a plan to resolve railroad congestion in Chicago that delays Amtrak and freight trains alike.

Boardman appeared on Monday on a panel at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Monday to stump for a plan that Amtrak presented recently to fund the $2.6 billion Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency program.

Boardman lamented that Amtrak’s annual funding struggles has made multi-year projects exceedingly difficult to plan and carry out.

Also appearing on the panel were Amtrak board member Thomas Carper, former U.S. Rep. Jack Quinn ( R-New York) and Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center President Howard Lerner.

The panel noted that 29 CREATE projects have been built at a cost of $1 billion.

Boardman said it has been a long time since national leaders approved major projects for the common good.

He said the Chicago projects remain unfunded along with the Gateway project to rebuild century-old infrastructure and increase capacity between New York City and New Jersey.

Boardman said at stake is the day-in, day-out reliability of the rail network as well as the mobility needs of students, residents of remote areas and the physically disadvantaged.

As an example of why operation of the rail system needs to be more reliable, Boardman said that the on-time performance of state-supported Amtrak trains is around 55 percent while that of long-distance trains is below 50 percent.

Carper noted that completion of the Englewood Flyover in Chicago eliminated about six train delays per hour at the busiest times.

That $130 million project elevated Metra’s Rock Island District over the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern. The latter is used by 14 Amtrak trains per day.

Carper said that United Parcel Service loses $1 million for every minute of delay to its shipments and that $7 to $9 billion of the nation’s annual gross domestic product is dependent on the flow of freight through Chicago.

Lerner said the next priorities for Chicago should be the 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project and the Grand Crossing Project.

He also said that Amtrak, Metra and freight railroads need to better coordinate dispatching and that the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loan program must be reformed to make its loans easier to obtain.

However, funding for the rest of CREATE projects as well as the $20 billion Gateway project has yet to be approved.

Lerner said that there are no substitutes for a long-term federal funding program for passenger rail.

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