- Sen. Angus King (I-ME)
- Tyler Duvall, McKinsey & Company
- E. Donald Elliott, Yale Law School
- George Frampton, Jr., Covington & Burling
- Travers Garvin, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.
- Philip K. Howard, Common Good
- Nick A. Malyshev, OECD
- Diana Mendes, AECOM
- Karen Rae, New York State Department of Transportation
- Lynn Scarlett, The Nature Conservancy
- Robert D. Yaro, Regional Plan Association
Rail freight traffic is expanding throughout North America, particularly to serve ocean ports. Assuring that transportation infrastructure capacity keeps up with demand is important for global trade competitiveness and national economic security.
A key growth area is in the Great Lakes Megaregion, where an industrial heartland route links Montreal, Toronto, Detroit/Windsor and Chicago. About 60% of Port of Montreal container traffic moves inland by rail, mostly to and from markets in Ontario and the U.S. Midwest - a corridor hampered by a bottleneck at the Detroit River, the world's busiest commercial border crossing. A century-old rail tunnel between Detroit and Windsor handles more than 400,000 rail cars each year. The Port of Montreal is doubling container-handling capacity by 2020. The current tunnel can't handle 9' 6" double-stacked container rail cars or Auto-Max vehicle carriers, the most efficient rail shipping modes.
The Continental Rail Gateway (CRG), formed in June 2010, unites Canadian Pacific the Windsor Port Authority and the Borealis Infrastructure investment firm in a replacement rail tunnel venture. The public-private partnership owns the existing tunnel and rail corridor. Project funding calls for $200 million from the partners and $200 million from government sources in each country.
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure convened in New York City on Friday for a hearing about the importance of the Northeast Corridor. The hearing took place in the Farley Post Office, home of the future Moynihan Station. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), chair of the Railroads Subcommittee, wielded the gavel while Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), chair of the full committee, participated along with Ranking Member Corrine Brown (D-FL) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). The witnesses included the President and CEO of Amtrak, Joe Boardman; Commissioner of New York State Department of Transportation, Joan McDonald; President of Drexel University, John Fry; and President of Regional Plan Association (RPA) and Chair of the Northeast Alliance for Rail (NEAR), Bob Yaro.
The impetus for the hearing is that the current federal rail bill, PRIIA, expires this fall and Congress will begin negotiating the next bill this summer. The next federal rail bill will authorize a five to six years worth of appropriations for the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak, and hence capital improvements to the Northeast Corridor (NEC). The FRA's High-Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail Program is a potential source of future funding for NEC improvements. After Florida Governor Rick Scott rejected $2.4 billion in federal high-speed rail funds in 2011, nearly $1 billion was redirected to the Northeast. Amtrak's federal funding for capital improvements is also largely dedicated to the NEC, where nearly 40% of their capital budget is spent.
In his testimony before the Committee, Bob Yaro outlined the main components of an improvement program that can be authorized in the reauthorization of the rail bill. RPA calls this program, "NEC Now." The NEC Now proposal addresses the corridor's highest-priority infrastructure needs: to remove bottlenecks, increase capacity, improve reliability and reduce travel times along the entire corridor. It also proposes funding for the construction of an Acela Express train optimization program which, along with other NEC Now projects, would cut trip times between New York and Philadelphia to well under an hour.
The independent, nonpartisan, federal watchdog agency, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), gave the California high-speed rail project passing marks in an audit released last Friday. The report found that the California High-Speed Rail Authority has produced "reasonable" ridership and revenue forecasts in its Revised 2012 Business Plan, while also pointing out that the project's cost estimates could be improved and that future funding for the project remains uncertain. Jeff Morales, CEO of the Authority, called the GAO's report, "an important validation from a highly respected government watchdog." "This is a very good, very strong, report card." Dan Richard, board chairman of the Authority said. "It's not straight A's, but we will aspire to improve in the areas where the GAO tells us we can do much better."
The Authority's business plan forecast that annual ridership will grow to between 16 million and 27 million by 2030, depending on various future conditions, such as the price of fuel. The plan's high ridership scenario assumes a fuel price of $6.11 and the low scenario assumes a price of $2.60 in 2030. Fares for high-speed rail are assumed to be 83% of San Francisco-Los Angeles airfare in 2009. The plan also projected that the high-speed rail system would generate annual revenues of between $1 billion and $1.8 billion in 2030 and proved that no public operating subsidies will be required under any scenario.