We need to find the resources to rebuild the Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C., New York City and Boston — not surprisingly given that key parts of it are a century old or more ("Amtrak CEO says B&P tunnel replacement study may be 'waste of time' given lack of funding," Dec. 19). Last year, the corridor carried over 11.5 million passengers as well as many commuter trains and some freight trains. Amtrak's importance for moving people within the Northeast region is increasing — in 2000, the market share for Amtrak versus the airlines was 37 percent; in 2011, it was 75 percent.
The corridor's overhaul will be expensive, costing tens of billions of dollars and because Amtrak owns the infrastructure it is misleading to compare the Northeast Corridor to the long-haul routes. The Northeast Corridor naturally turns a profit more easily if you look only at operating costs and revenues because Amtrak owns the tracks its trains run on there, whereas for the long-haul routes Amtrak pays the freight railroads to operate on their tracks. For the same reason, the Northeast Corridor involves higher capital costs for Amtrak. It's the difference between renting and owning.
Randal O'Toole of the Cato Institute is wrong to claim that airlines and buses pay for themselves and cars mostly pay for themselves, a claim repeatedly made by rail opponents and repeatedly shown to be false. Any fair reading of the statistics shows that all transportation modes are subsidized. If we look just at federal expenditures, we would observe that of the $77.2 billion that the U.S. Department of Transportation spent in Fiscal Year 2014, $41 billion went to the Federal Highway Administration and $15.6 to the Federal Aviation Administration and, of course, that ignores what the 50 states spent on roads and bridges. The $1.4 billion Amtrak received is a small fraction in comparison.
Megabus and Bolt will never be able to replace Amtrak. Remember that one of their buses can carry only about the same number of passengers as one passenger car; therefore, one 10-car train would have to be replaced by a convoy of 10 buses. Does Mr. O'Toole really believe that I-95 has room to accommodate all those extra buses and that the streets of Manhattan have space for all of them?
The question is not whether governments — federal, state and local — will pay something for transportation infrastructure. They always have and without government investment, people and freight would have no way to get from point A to point B. We really need to decide how we choose to finance government investment in passenger rail transportation whether through general revenue, user fees or ticket revenue. Given the magnitude of rebuilding the Northeast Corridor, the answer will probably be a combination of all three.