A historic event occurred July 25. Amtrak announced an ambitious project for one of the most important railroad stations in the country. Washington Union Station is a beautiful building but is running well over capacity -- carrying two million more annual riders than when it was reopened in1988. Also, it is located in our nation’s capital which gives it lots of exposure to our political leaders and to tourists from all over the nation and the world.
Amtrak is to be commended for its leadership and vision with regard to Washington Union Station, as well as the Northeast Corridor (NEC), in general, as reflected in its work on the multi-agency Master Plan to upgrade the existing NEC (June, 2010), the Next-Generation Vision (September, 2010), and the July, 2012, “Update Report” which integrates the two earlier documents.
It is often said that the NEC should be the first example that will become a model for the rest of the nation. While understandable, that statement should not distract policymakers from responding to the strong demand for passenger trains that already exists across the nation, and thus to the need for robust investment outside the NEC. Amtrak expects Fiscal 2012 (which ends Sept. 30) will be the ninth year of record-breaking ridership in the last ten; this ridership growth is across the board, not just in the NEC.
It is vital that Congress fund Amtrak’s fleet plan so that Amtrak can expand its carrying capacity and retire elderly rolling stock on a reasonable schedule.
We also need a bigger network so that more people will have the choice to travel by train. NARP in June, 2007, published a 40 year vision plan for a truly national passenger system.
Six months later, the National Surface Transportation Policy & Revenue Study Commission included in its final report (Transportation for Tomorrow, December 2007) its own map showing several thousand miles of routeswhere passenger train service could be established (click on Recommendations and scroll about halfway down).
The federal government must support definitive action towards such an expanded system.