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Paterson Makes Bold Statement in Support of the Construction of Moynihan Station

Today Governor David Paterson made a bold statement in support of the construction of Moynihan Station when he announced conditions related to the future of Moynihan Station at New York Building Congress forum. He emphasized the critical importance for the project to emphasize infrastructure improvements and to that end announced that the Port Authority of New York would be taking over the project.

The Governor said that while New York City and State are in a difficult economic climate, fiscal responsibility is not just about reducing spending; it’s about making wise investments. Throughout New York State’s history, the government has moved ahead with infrastructure projects during times of financial insolvency. For example, the state was facing a deficit for seven of the ten years it took to construct the Erie Canal and the Lincoln Tunnel, George Washington Bridge and the Independent Subway System (IND) were all constructed during the Depression.

New York City was in the midst of a fiscal crisis during the construction of the historic Penn Station. “By any measure the 20th century was the New York Century. We entered it as a burgeoning metropolis and we left it as the greatest and most powerful city in the world. We can make the 21st century the New York Century as well, but only if we invest wisely in our infrastructure.”

Paterson said the Federal government must put together a plan for the nation’s infrastructure so we may reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and avoid catastrophic disasters like last year’s bridge collapse in Minneapolis. He also decried the Federal government's “starving” of Amtrak and reduction of slots at the city’s airports. The Governor said that we must bolster the rail options between Washington DC, Boston and other cities within 300 miles of New York City. Rail is the most fuel-efficient way to move people,, and it is critical that we lighten the loads of our airlines and on our highways. In the absence of a Federal transportation plan, Paterson said the State must develop its own plan.

“It is fitting that 100 years after the building of the first Penn Station, we assess our infrastructure priorities and establish clear conditions for the future of transportation in our State,” said Governor Paterson. “If we are to realize our full potential for growth in the 21st century, then we must look to increase our rail capacity. That is why today I have outlined the conditions that I believe must be met if we are to move forward with the Moynihan Station project. Moynihan must be more than a beautiful station; it must move more people more efficiently.”

The Governor’s specific conditions for Moynihan Station development include:

1. Ensuring that the Moynihan Station project increases transportation capacity by physically expanding the number of tracks and platforms and instituting operational changes by Long Island Railroad, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak.

Paterson announced that he was asking the leadership of the three railroads to report to himself and Governor Corzine on how they planned to work together.

2. Coordinating the development of Moynihan Station in tandem with other major development projects including New Jersey’s Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) which is the first crossing under the Hudson in 50 years;

The Governor made it clear that it would be a formidable challenge to ensure that the project will be coordinated with major infrastructure projects like ARC and unifying the three transit systems of Amtrak, Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit. “This is why we want the Port Authority to take over the leadership in terms of constructing Moynihan Station, and what we are really saying is that with such major development occurring, there has to be coordination,” the governor said.

3. Taking necessary steps to ensure that the project also helps to revitalize the surrounding community.

While the Governor acknowledged the importance of making Moynihan Station a Gateway to New York city and catalyst for development on the Far West Side, he said first and foremost this is a transportation project.

“Increasing our transportation capacity is an important step, but it is only a one step. We must ensure that we carefully coordinate the improved capacity with other major development and infrastructure projects, which is why today, I called on my Deputy Secretary for Economic Development, and Infrastructure to convene all of the project’s partners from both the public and private sectors to discuss the challenges they face,” Governor Paterson continued. “Deputy Secretary Gilchrist will report back to me with an assessment of these challenges and potential solutions.” “By any measure the 20th century was the New York Century. We entered it as a burgeoning metropolis and we left it as the greatest and most powerful city in the world. We can make the 21st century the New York Century as well, but only if we invest wisely in our infrastructure,” added Governor Paterson.

Read Governor Paterson's press release.
Read Paterson Invokes New Deal in Calling for Fresh Moynihan Plan by Eliot Brown in The New York Observer.
Read Paterson Gives Moynihan Another Shot by Matthew Schuerman of WNYC.
Read Paterson appoints aide to look into Moynihan by Theresa Agovino of Crain's New York.


August: A Recap.

August has been a pretty slow news month in terms of our primary issue, the construction of a new Penn Station. No news on who will be taking over the construction of a New Penn Station. No news on the scope of the new plan.

But there’s been other, related news that’s important.

Paterson has announced a new head for the New York State Economic Development Corporation, the agency that currently oversees the Moynihan Station development, Marisa Lago. Lago is a global head of compliance at Citi Markets and Banking, to be president and chief executive; and he named Dennis M. Mullen, the chief executive of Greater Rochester Enterprise, an economic development company, to oversee the agency’s upstate operations. According to the Times,

The economic development corporation has been beset with geographic rivalries as downstate and upstate interests within the agency fought. Mr. Paterson said Friday that he hoped his nominees would bridge the longstanding divide between upstate and downstate interests.

“We’re one state,” he said. “What I would like to do is send the signal from Albany that we want the most efficient way of saving money and creating the revitalization of our upstate economy and the return to New York City as a financial capital with the right people. And I think that’s what we chose.”

There have been a lot of national stories about the overcrowding of AMTRAK and the potential for increased Federal Funding. Today's Boston Globe describes
AMTRAK’s struggle to expand Acela service, which they may accomplish through adding extra cars. According to the article, any expansion “would require more funding for Amtrak, a "political football" that has struggled for aid in President Bush's administration.”

Maybe all the attention Biden is getting for commuting on AMTRAK every day will help increase the funding. Yesterday, Eliot Brown, in the New York Observer, questioned whether the nation’s crumbling infrastructure will be a factor in the national presidential campaigns.

There's forces adding urgency to the infrastructure push: passenger rail is at or near capacity in much of the entire Northeast corridor, a condition exacerbated as high fuel prices push more people onto trains. And the gas tax (a flat-rate 18.4 cents per gallon) that funds highways and transit projects is taking in substantially less revenue as Americans cut back on their driving.

Mr. Obama supports a national federal infrastructure bank, where money would theoretically be divvied out in a methodical manner, as opposed to the earmark/pork-heavy process that characterizes many federally funded projects.

Mr. McCain is more silent on the issue, at least on his Web site, but last year's Minneapolis bridge collapse--which has become a national symbol for crumbling infrastructure--is sure to be an issue when the Republican National Convention begins across the river in St. Paul.

Read “Governor Names 2 to State’s Troubled Economic Development Agency” In the New York Times by Jeremy W. Peters.

Read “Infrastructure as Campaign Theme? Perhaps.” by Eliot Brown in the New York Observer.”

Read “Acela Trains May Expand to Meet Demand” in the Boston Globe.

Photo via flickr from Snowdog.


Federal Relief for a Rail System Stretched Thin?

Today's Wall Street Journal reported on AMTRAK's passenger increase and the critical need for the Feds to fund infrastructure improvements. According to the article, AMTRAK needs the money not only to expand and improve service, but also to simply meet current demands.

Since last fall, Americans have been driving less while Amtrak usage has steadily increased. The latest figures suggest that the migration from highways to rail is accelerating.

But is it able to keep up with demand?

Amtrak faces many challenges just to maintain current service levels. Besides higher commodity prices and rising personnel costs following a recent set of labor agreements, Amtrak is grappling with aging, overcrowded trains. The railway often doesn't have enough cars in stock to expand train capacity or increase service frequencies.

According to the article, “Amtrak's newfound popularity has made an impression in Congress.” How will this impact New York?

Amtrak estimates it needs to do nearly $5 billion of work along the Northeast Corridor to bring things to a state of good repair.

A provision in the House's Amtrak bill would have the Transportation Department study the possibility of high-speed service between Washington and New York, with trains running as fast as 200 miles an hour and a trip time of two hours or less.

The article is accompanied by an excellent and witty video (watch and see an AMSHACK). It provides a national perspective on the popularity and pleasure of taking the train, but investigates the problems AMTRAK faces in accommodating growth. What’s holding back expansion, especially of high speed rail? According to WSJ's Matt Rivera, it’s the infrastructure, especially the tracks.

“AMTRAK rents most of its rail from cargo carriers, who have no need for the modern tracks used to propel modern trains. AMTRAK uses over 21,000 miles of track, and only owns less that 700 of those miles, mostly on the Northeast Corridor.”

Read "All Aboard: Too Many for Amtrak. Surge in Ridership Leads to Crowding On Intercity Trains" by Christoher Conkey for the Wall Street Journal.


ARC: Critical to Build, A Struggle to Fund

Eliot Brown wrote an interesting story about the importance to build, and the struggle to fund, ARC (Access to the Region’s Core). The proposed tunnel would be the first built under the Hudson River since Penn Station was built.

The tunnel would have clear transportation improvements:

Brown wrote that ARC is "the largest individual transportation project in the New York area by dollars, and would double the railroad’s capacity, allowing for 80,000 more riders daily, with a new river crossing and a fresh set of platforms by Pennsylvania Station."

But it's becoming more expensive:

A preliminary analysis by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) found the cost of the project was estimated to span from the $7.6 billion to more than $10 billion depending on a variety of potential roadblocks during planning and construction, according to a government official familiar with the analysis.

AMTRAK has apparently joined the advocates in arguing for a Penn Station connection:

The tracks would not connect to Penn Station tracks—a sore point for many transit advocates and Amtrak, which has criticized the plan for its lack of redundancy should something happen to one of the two tunnel systems. As the region and rail ridership grow, capacity could be better expanded with a connection between the two systems, those critics argue, though New Jersey Transit has said the connection costs would be prohibitive.

While Brown indicates that funding the project is challenging, it's of national importance to complete the tunnel:

“The project is probably the most important public transportation project in the country,” James Simpson, the F.T.A.’s administrator, told The Observer. “The benefits accruing to New Yorkers and folks in New Jersey are so great that the project has to happen.”

Read “Billions Down The Tunnel!,” by Eliot Brown for The New York Observer

Read ARC: 100 Years Later, An Attempt to Re-Conquer Gotham


Trains Feel More Crowded? That’s Because They Are.

AmtrakThe New York Observer is reporting that Amtrak’s ridership is increasing on the Northeast Corridor. According to the Observer, it “increased over 3.2 percent annually in June, from 878,671 passengers to 907,316, according to new figures from the national rail service.”

They also crunched the numbers on ridership for fiscal year 2008 (October – June) versus 2007:

In 2008, 5.6 million passengers traveled the Northeast corridor (Washington to Boston), versus 5 million in 2007, an 11% increase.

Travel on Acela, the Northeast-only express service, increased by 8%, from 2.4 million to 2.6 million riders..

Read “Amtrak Northeast Ridership Up 3 Percent,” by Leigh Kamping-Carder for The New York Observer


Times Says "Give Amtrak a Fighting Chance"

In today’s editorial page, the New York Times calls for the federal government to stop short changing Amtrak and criticizes the idea of soliciting private proposals for a high speed link between NY and DC. “Where passenger rail works best, as it does in Europe, it is treated like the critical service it is and is publicly financed, like the highways,” it says. Here is the full text:

It started out as a real victory for passenger rail: the House and the Senate voted to give significantly more money to Amtrak to improve service and upgrade tired cars, tracks and other equipment.

But, as is so often the case in Washington, there was a catch. To get a big enough vote to override a threatened veto by President Bush, the House leadership obliged the worst instincts of Republicans. It included a measure requiring the government to seek proposals from private companies to construct a high-speed rail service between New York and Washington.

Conferees from the two chambers should throw that privatization provision out as they reconcile the bills. Amtrak deserves this chance, without dilution, after years of being shamefully shortchanged. Its current funding is a woefully inadequate $1.2 billion. The bills would roughly double that, and sustain it for five years. That would allow long-term planning, instead of Amtrak’s yearly fight for life.

Diverting money to a pointless experiment in privatization (the cost of land alone to build a parallel set of tracks would be prohibitive) is counterproductive. It would all but ensure that Amtrak remained inefficient and ill equipped to meet increasing demands for service. Its intercity routes this year may carry as many as 27 million passengers, 2 million more than last year.

Apart from that misguided addition, the bills are good over all. The two bills — whose primary sponsors were Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Representative James Oberstar of Minnesota, both Democrats — require more accountability from Amtrak, and the states. To get states to determine and address local needs, the bills wisely include incentives, like 80 cents in federal money to match every 20 a state spends on rail.

Where passenger rail works best, as it does in Europe, it is treated like the critical service it is and is publicly financed, like the highways.

Lawmakers can no longer get away with shortchanging passenger rail. Rising gas prices and dependency on foreign oil are front and center in Americans’ minds, as are pollutants that contribute to climate change and respiratory illnesses. Airlines are responding to rising fuel prices by paring schedules, raising fares and charging for checked baggage. It’s no wonder that May was a record month for Amtrak.

Even with a relative windfall, Amtrak will not be able to deliver a French-style bullet train that can hit speeds of 200 miles an hour. But the only sensible way to get there is by starting now, with the critical investment that Amtrak needs to keep the nation moving.

Also, CQ Weekly has a major story on “Amtrak’s Critical Moment.” Colby Itkowitz and Kathryn A. Wolfe report that despite record breaking ridership numbers, “experts say Amtrak is in no position to capitalize on this good fortune. After years of living on meager subsidies from Congress while coping with high labor costs and a staggering maintenance backlog, Amtrak is essentially locked in place, dependent on the year-to-year whims of congressional appropriators and struggling just to maintain the status quo.”

Read “Give Amtrak a Fighting Chance,” from the New York Times


Amtrak on the Campaign Trail, Garodnick Wants Federal Infrastructure Funds

In an article for today’s Boston Globe, Derrick Jackson writes that “train travel is finally becoming a third rail of politics,” and “the first one to fry over it might be John McCain.”

For years, McCain, in the comfort of cheap gasoline for autos and airplanes, made Amtrak a personal whipping boy. Despite the fact that governments in Western Europe and Asia zoomed far ahead of the United States by supporting high-speed trains to relieve congestion, promote tourism and now as we are coming to know, save the planet, McCain has spent considerable capital in denying the passenger rail system the capital to modernize.

At this point, the current Amtrak passenger boom and capacity crunch has been well documented by the national media. Obama is a supporter of high-speed rail, which would include the proposed DC/NY system and, possibly, a funding boost for Moynihan Station.

The House and Senate have passed bills calling for new investments in passenger rail, creating the same federal incentives for states to invest in rail service, offering 80 cents for every 20 cents spent by the states. Barack Obama is a cosponsor of the Senate bill. Noting on his website that he is committed to the development of high speed rail, Obama said, "In many parts of the country, Amtrak is the only form of reliable transportation."

In the section of McCain's website called "reforming our transportation sector," there is no mention of rail. There is only his clean-car challenge to automakers, his $300 million prize to design battery cars, and enforcing only existing gas mileage standards. When The Washington Post reported on how President Bush's fiscal 2006 budget did not include a subsidy for Amtrak, would kill both $20 million for the next generation of high-speed rail, and $250 million for railroad rehabilitation, it quoted McCain as saying on television, "I'm glad the president is coming over with a very austere budget."

The luster of austerity is gone. Public transportation is becoming a real issue for the campaign trail. If so, McCain has all but handed Obama a golden spike to beat him over the head with.

Also, New York City Council Member Daniel Garodnick penned an editorial for today’s New York Sun calling for more federal support for the repair and expansion of the infrastructure system.

It is safe to say that the federal government has an interest in New York City remaining a global center of commerce, one with a mass transit system that can support a growing population, and a healthy infrastructure that does not endanger residents or discourage business, unlike the case of last summer's eruption of an 84-year-old steam pipe in Midtown Manhattan.

The extension of the no. 7 subway line to the Hudson Yards area is underway and when it's complete, its $2 billion price tag will have been paid entirely by the city of New York. Same goes for the $6 billion cost of building a third water tunnel that will serve New York City. Indeed, state and local governments foot most of the bill when it comes to infrastructure investment.

Add Moynihan Station to the list!

Read “McCain’s Agenda on Amtrak,” by Derrick Jackson for The Boston Globe

Read “Rebuilding New York,” by Daniel Garodnick for The New York Sun

Also, the National Association of Railroad Passengers has an excellent explanation of why the “mandate for profitability” is unfounded.


NYT: Travelers Shift to Rail as Cost of Fuel Rises

The steady drumbeat of news on the recent growth in passenger rail travel continued on Saturday when the New York Times reported that Amtrak is “bumping up against its own capacity constraints” as intercity trains are already sold out for some days this summer. However, “despite its popularity with passengers, the biggest determinant of the railroad’s health is still the federal government, and in Washington, views diverge sharply,” according to the article. The future of Amtrak “hinges on who wins the White House; Senator John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee, was a staunch opponent of subsidies to Amtrak when he was chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. Barack Obama, the probable Democratic nominee, was a co-sponsor of the Senate version of the bill to provide an 80/20 financing match.”

Amtrak is an alternative to airlines along the Boston-New York-Washington corridor, and on some routes out of Chicago and a few in California. But most of its other routes are so slow that people take those trains because they have no alternative to reach places like Burlington, N.C., or Burlington, Iowa. Or they go for the train ride itself.

The railroad carried about 25 million passengers last year and may hit 27 million this year. (That is all intercity traffic; commuter rail, connecting suburbs and cities, is also growing, but that is not Amtrak’s market.) By contrast, the airlines carry about 680 million domestic passengers a year. If Amtrak were an airline, in terms of passenger boardings it would rank approximately eighth, behind Continental and US Airways and ahead of AirTran and JetBlue.

H. Glenn Scammel, a former head of staff of the rail subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the railroad should give up on some of its cross-country trains and redeploy the equipment on relatively short intercity trips, where it could provide enough frequency to attract new business. (Providing one train a day in each direction will not draw many new business travelers.)

But the railroad’s labor contracts provide stiff penalties for dropping routes, and dropping states from its itinerary would hurt its political support, especially in the Senate, where thinly populated states are overrepresented relative to their population.

Scarcity is not all bad for the railroad, though. It has raised ticket prices, so that it recorded ticket revenues of $153.4 million in May, up 15.6 percent from $132.7 million in May 2006. That jump is higher than the ridership increase of 12.3 percent, to 2.58 million, from 2.30 million.

Read “Travelers Shift to Rail as Cost of Fuel Rises,” by Matthew Wald for The New York Times


Bloomberg Testifies Before Congress on Infrastructure Crisis

Last Thursday, Mayor Bloomberg testified before the Senate Banking Committee about the state of the nation’s infrastructure. “We are facing an infrastructure crisis in this country that threatens our status as an economic superpower - and threatens the health and safety of the people we serve,” he said. Bloomberg testified in favor of the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank that would issue up to $60 billion in tax credit bonds for infrastructure projects throughout the country. Earlier this year Bloomberg founded the Building America’s Future coalition with Governor Schwarzenegger of California and Governor Rendell of Pennsylvania.

Last week’s passage of the Amtrak reauthorization bill holds some promise for more federal funding for Moynihan Station, but the fact remains that state and local governments are responsible for three out of every four dollars spent on public infrastructure. New York City alone “needs $29.5 billion just in the next five years to continue to bring our mass transit system up to a state of good repair and to expand capacity to meet expected demand,” according to Bloomberg.

Here are some excerpts from his testimony:

To remain the world's economic superpower, we must build the infrastructure to support strong and sustained growth. And that means, very simply, things have got to start changing in Washington.

I hope 2009 will be a watershed year. The expiration of the current transportation bill will allow for a new debate on our infrastructure needs. I would hope and expect that it will focus on two issues: first, what should be the role of the federal government in our transportation system; and second, how we are going to pay for everything we know we need. And there are a few principles that I believe should guide the discussion:

First, we need to set clear goals - both for the short-term and long-term - and clear metrics for measuring success. Right now, we have no coherent national transportation policy. It's just a grab bag of programs with no goals that correspond to national priorities, such as reducing our dependence on oil and cutting our greenhouse gas emissions. We also lack performance standards to ensure we can meet our goals, which is just basic accountability. And we lack incentives that encourage cities and states to be more efficient, which is a basic idea of market economics. These practices are straight from Management 101, and we need to put them to work when it comes to transportation.

Second, we need to dramatically increase funding to help achieve our goals. Infrastructure costs money. But polls show that people are willing to pay for it - if they know they will benefit from it. Voters are smarter than politicians give them credit for being. They know there's no free lunch. But if they're paying for sirloin, they don't want to get served a bunch of baloney. To create the new funding we need, all options should be on the table, including general revenue, user fees, gas taxes, and public-private partnerships.

Third, we need to fund projects based on merit, not politics. One of the most promising concepts is the one introduced by Senators Dodd and Hagel: a national infrastructure bank. The bank would create an independent and nonpartisan entity that would fund the most vital needs - not the most parochial pork-barrel projects.

The bank's nonpartisan structure would also help us achieve the first principle I mentioned: instilling clear performance standards and accountability measures into projects.

These three principles are not Democratic or Republican. They are simply basic ideas that anyone serious about addressing our national infrastructure crisis should be able to support.


Money for Moynihan in Amtrak Bill?

Yesterday, we posted on the passage of the Amtrak reauthorization bill, which includes a plan to solicit private proposals for a high speed train between DC and NY. Today, Eliot Brown of the New York Observer cites a source in Representative Jerry Nadler’s office and reports that part of the $2.5 billion grant program could provide a boost to Moynihan Station.

But the bill faces a major hurdle. On Monday the Bush Administration vowed to veto the bill because it "authorizes an unprecedented level of funding but does not include basic measures to hold Amtrak accountable to taxpayers for its spending decisions.”