Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Amtrak to Spend $450 Million on NEC Upgrades In New Jersey

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has announced that Amtrak will spend $450 million to upgrade tracks and power systems in New Jersey that will enable the Acela trains to cruise along at 160 mph, which would be the fastest a passenger train can go in the United States. A total of $745 million will be spent by Amtrak nationally to upgrade services.

Critics are already deriding the spending on the high speed rail segment as costing $4.5 million per second improvement on speed in New Jersey, but they're ignoring the real issue here. These improvements are all about the power and rail reliability improvement. Speed is a secondary benefit. Critics are seizing upon the cost versus speed to claim that the project isn't worth it, but they ignore the costs of having an unreliable passenger rail/commuter rail system that is the most heavily used in the nation.

Power issues regularly cause massive delays along the entire Northeast Corridor (NEC) and spillover delays affect the LIRR and NJ Transit services. Power problems occur all too frequently and cost commuters billions of dollars over the years in lost opportunity costs and wasted time due to the problems.

Fixing the power issues will resolve a longstanding bottleneck along the NEC and will improve the reliability of Amtrak and NJ Transit.

The next step will be to replace the Portal Bridge, which everyone concedes requires replacement, but which has lacked funding because everyone tries to tie that bridge project together with the Hudson River tunnel projects (the cancelled ARC or the proposed Gateway). The Portal Bridge replacement would further improve reliability (just yesterday trains were delayed 15-20 minutes through the morning commute due to the bridge being opened for river traffic). The replacement bridge would allow higher speed through that segment of the NEC, but it would be a far more reliable component of the NEC than at present.

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