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Amtrak's Northeast Corridor: Information on the Status and Cost of Needed Improvements

Amtrak's Northeast Corridor: Information on the Status and Cost of Needed
Improvements (Briefing Report, 04/13/95, GAO/RCED-95-151BR).

The Northeast Corridor--stretching from Washington, D.C., to Boston,
Massachussetts--serves more than 100 million passengers per year and is
the most heavily used passenger train corridor in the United States.
The corridor is used by Amtrak's eight commuter railroads and by four
freight railroads.  Since 1978, the federal government has invested more
than $3 billion to provide high-speed passenger service throughout the
corridor. This briefing report provides information on the status of
Amtrak's improvements to facilities high-speed operations in the north
end of the corridor and on capital investment needs throughout the
corridor.  GAO discusses (1) the ownership and use of, and operations
over, the corridor; (2) the projects and costs associated with upgrades
to allow high-speed operations on the north end of the corridor; and (3)
the capital investment needed in the south end of the corridor.

--------------------------- Indexing Terms -----------------------------

 REPORTNUM:  RCED-95-151BR
     TITLE:  Amtrak's Northeast Corridor: Information on the Status and 
             Cost of Needed Improvements
      DATE:  04/13/95
   SUBJECT:  Railroad transportation operations
             Railroad industry
             Appropriated funds
             Mass transit operations
             Repair costs
             Maintenance costs
             Future budget projections
             Financial management
             Investments
IDENTIFIER:  Amtrak Northeast Corridor
             Amtrak Northeast Corridor Improvement Project
             Amtrak Northeast High-Speed Rail Improvement Project
             Amtrak Centralized Electric Traffic Control System
             Amtrak Strategic and Business Plan
             
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Cover
================================================================ COVER


Briefing Report to the Chairman, Subcommittee on Surface
Transportation and Merchant Marine, Committee on Commerce, Science
and Transportation, U.S.  Senate

April 1995

AMTRAK'S NORTHEAST CORRIDOR -
INFORMATION ON THE STATUS AND COST
OF NEEDED IMPROVEMENTS

GAO/RCED-95-151BR

Amtrak's Northeast Corridor


Abbreviations
=============================================================== ABBREV

  CDOT - Connecticut Department of Transportation
  CETC - Centralized Electric Traffic Control system
  FRA - Federal Railroad Administration
  LIRR - Long Island Railroad
  MARC - Maryland Rail Commuter Service
  MBTA - Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
  MTA - Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York
  NECIP - Northeast Corridor Improvement Project
  NHRIP - Northeast High-Speed Rail Improvement Project
  NJT - New Jersey Transit
  PATH - Port Authority Trans Hudson Corporation
  SEPTA - Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority
  SBU - Strategic Business Unit
  SLE - Shore Line East

Letter
=============================================================== LETTER


B-260935

April 13, 1995

The Honorable Trent Lott
Chairman, Subcommittee on Surface
 Transportation and Merchant Marine
Committee on Commerce, Science and
 Transportation
United States Senate

Dear Mr.  Chairman: 

The Northeast Corridor---from Washington, D.C., to Boston,
Massachusetts---serves more than 100 million passengers per year and
is the most heavily used passenger train corridor in the United
States.  The corridor is used by the National Railroad Passenger
Corporation (Amtrak), eight commuter railroads, and four freight
railroads.  Since 1976, the federal government has invested more than
$3 billion to provide high-speed passenger service throughout the
corridor. 

Amtrak acquired ownership of most of the right-of-way along the
Northeast Corridor from the bankrupt Penn Central Railroad through
the Regional Rail Reorganization Act of 1973 and the Railroad
Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976.  As part of the
1976 act, the Congress established the Northeast Corridor Improvement
Project (NECIP) and set a goal of achieving scheduled passenger rail
service in 3 hours or less between New York City and Boston, and in 2
hours and 40 minutes between New York City and Washington.\1 Although
Amtrak began offering service in 2 hours and 40 minutes in 1983, it
has continued to improve the south end of the corridor.  Amtrak is
now improving the north end---in particular, installing an electric
traction system---so that it can offer service in less than 3 hours
by 1999.  Amtrak recently created a Northeast Corridor Strategic
Business Unit and made it responsible for completing the construction
of and operating the corridor. 

This briefing report responds to your request that we provide you
with interim information on the status of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor
improvements to facilitate high-speed operations in the north end of
the corridor and on capital investment needs throughout the corridor. 
Specifically, we are providing information on (1) the ownership and
usage of, and operations over, the corridor; (2) the projects and
costs associated with improvements to allow high-speed operations on
the north end of the corridor; and (3) the capital investment needed
in the south end of the corridor.  This report summarizes the
information we provided to your staff during a briefing on April 6,
1995. 

In summary, we found the following: 

  Although Amtrak owns about 85 percent of the right-of-way along the
     Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston,\2 it is a
     relatively small user of the corridor.  Three state commuter
     rail authorities own the remaining portion.  Seven commuter
     railroads operate about 91 percent of the passenger trains that
     use the corridor each year.\3

However, these users' operations are generally very localized,
whereas Amtrak uses the corridor in its entirety. 

  By 1999, Amtrak will invest about $1.6 billion in improvements to
     the north end of the corridor to implement high-speed service
     (in less than 3 hours) between New York and Boston.  This
     investment includes about $360 million to electrify the track,
     $600 million to purchase and maintain high-speed trainsets, and
     $640 million to install high-speed features on components of the
     right-of-way, such as interlockings, signals, and ballasted
     and/or movable bridges.  In addition, according to the Federal
     Railroad Administration (FRA), to minimize the impact of the new
     high-speed service on commuter and freight railroads, Amtrak
     will need to invest about $600 million after 1999 to improve the
     capacity of the right-of-way by constructing additional track
     and/or sidings.  It will also need another $1 billion after 1999
     to replace and/or rehabilitate aging components of the
     right-of-way, such as bridges, tunnels, track, and facilities. 

  Amtrak now estimates that it needs at least $2.5 billion to
     rehabilitate the south end of the corridor, which has been used
     for high-speed operations since 1983.  The infrastructure on
     this portion of the corridor has deteriorated; major capital
     needs include replacing the electric traction system, installing
     concrete ties and replacing and/or installing continuous welded
     rail, replacing worn and outdated interlockings, replacing
     bridges, and replacing highly specialized maintenance-of-way
     equipment.  Amtrak has allocated $115 million of its $200
     million NECIP appropriation for fiscal year 1995 toward meeting
     these needs. 

Section 1 of this briefing report provides more detailed information
on the ownership and usage of the Northeast Corridor.  Section 2
provides information on the status and funding needs of the NECIP (to
implement high-speed service) and information on the capital
investment needed to return the corridor to a state of good repair. 


--------------------
\1 Since 1976, Amtrak has received a separate appropriation, in
addition to an appropriation for general capital projects, for this
project. 

\2 This percentage includes the Amtrak-owned "nonspine" segments of
the corridor from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and from
New Haven, Connecticut, to Springfield, Massachusetts. 

\3 An eighth railroad--not included in the 91 percent--operates over
one bridge owned by Amtrak. 


---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :0.1

We collected data and interviewed officials from Amtrak's Northeast
Corridor Strategic Business Unit in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and
Amtrak's Northeast Corridor High-Speed Rail Improvement Project
(NHRIP) Office in Old Saybrook, Connecticut; FRA; and the Federal
Transit Administration.  We also interviewed officials of the
following commuter and freight railroad users of the Northeast
Corridor:  the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA),
Connecticut Department of Transportation (CDOT), Metropolitan
Transportation Authority of New York (MTA), Metro North Commuter
Railroad (Metro North), Long Island Railroad (LIRR), Port Authority
Trans Hudson Corporation (PATH), New Jersey Transit (NJT),
Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), and
Maryland Rail Commuter Service (MARC).  We performed our work between
October 1994 and April 1995 in accordance with generally accepted
government auditing standards. 

We discussed a draft of this briefing report with officials in
Amtrak's Northeast Corridor Strategic Business Unit, including the
Chief Executive Officer, Vice President of Finance, and Chief
Engineer.  We also discussed the report with the Chief of FRA's
Passenger Service Division.  These officials generally concurred with
the information presented in the briefing report but provided revised
data on the number of track and route miles owned by Amtrak and other
commuter railroads, as well as on the number of trains operated over
the corridor's right-of-way.  We revised the report to respond to
their comments as appropriate. 

We are sending copies of this report to the Secretary of
Transportation, the Administrator of FRA, and the President of
Amtrak.  We will make copies available to others on request. 

Please contact me at (202) 512-2834 if you or your staff have any
questions.  Major contributors to this briefing report are listed in
appendix I. 

Sincerely yours,

Kenneth M.  Mead
Director, Transportation Issues


BRIEFING SECTION 1 OWNERSHIP AND
USAGE OF THE NORTHEAST CORRIDOR
============================================================== Letter 



   (See figure in printed
   edition.)


Under Public Law 89-220, the Congress in 1965 authorized the
Secretary of Commerce to contract for demonstrations to determine how
high-speed ground transportation could contribute to making intercity
transportation systems more efficient and economical.  According to
the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), these demonstrations
occurred between New York City and Boston and between New York City
and Washington, D.C., and led to the introduction of the first
Metroliner service in the late 1960s. 

At that time, however, the rail industry was rapidly failing.  Under
the Regional Rail Reorganization Act of 1973, the Congress found that
essential rail service in the northeast region of the United States
was insolvent and that this problem could be resolved only with
substantial federal action.  The act provided for the identification
of a rail service system and set goals such that, among other things,
the system would be adequate to meet the needs of the northeast
region and high-speed rail passenger service would be improved in the
Northeast Corridor.  This second goal was to be accomplished by
transferring the Northeast Corridor rail properties owned by
railroads then in bankruptcy (primarily the Penn Central Railroad) to
Amtrak. 

The Congress more clearly defined Amtrak's role in the Northeast
Corridor when it passed the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory
Reform Act of 1976 (the 4R Act).  As a result, Amtrak became the
primary owner of the railroad rights-of-way in the Northeast
Corridor.  The act also created the Northeast Corridor Improvement
Project (NECIP).  NECIP's goal was to achieve regular high-speed
passenger rail service on the Northeast Corridor between Washington,
D.C., and Boston, Massachusetts.  The act authorized $2.5 billion in
federal funding for this purpose.  The responsibility for
implementing NECIP initially rested with FRA, but the responsibility
for managing the project was transferred to Amtrak in 1985. 

   Definition of the Northeast
   Corridor

   (See figure in printed
   edition.)


Although definitions of the Northeast Corridor vary, we have defined
it for this briefing report as the main line rail right-of-way
between Washington, D.C., and Boston, Massachusetts,\4 that is owned
and/or operated by Amtrak and others, as well as the branch lines
from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and from New Haven,
Connecticut, to Springfield, Massachusetts, that are owned by Amtrak. 
These are commonly referred to, respectively, as the "spine" and
"nonspine" segments of the corridor.  Under the 4R Act, as amended,
these segments make up the passenger rail corridor to be improved
under NECIP. 

The 4R Act mentions the route between New York City and Albany, New
York.  However, because Amtrak owns only 10.8 miles on this route and
does not operate the right-of-way, we have not defined the Albany
extension of the spine as part of the corridor in this report. 
Similarly, although the 4R Act was amended to include the branch line
from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Atlantic City, New Jersey, this
track is not owned by Amtrak and, as of April 1995, will have no
Amtrak service. 

Since Amtrak's recent reorganization into strategic business units
(SBU), the Northeast Corridor SBU manages all Amtrak service on the
corridor and includes service from Washington, D.C., to Richmond,
Virginia.  We have not included the service operating south from
Washington, D.C., in this report because the service (1) operates
primarily in Virginia, which is not included in the 4R Act's
definition of the Northeast Corridor; (2) uses only two facilities
that are on the corridor (Union Station and the Ivy City maintenance
facility in Washington, D.C.); and (3) operates primarily over
freight-owned rights-of-way that will not be improved to meet the
goals of NECIP. 



                      Amtrak and Commuter Rail Operations in
                                   the Corridor


Us
er
of
ri
gh
t-
of                                                                          Total
-                                                                           daily
wa                                                      Route     Route     train
y\                                                      miles     miles  movement
a   From                    To                          owned  operated         s
--  ----------------------  ----------------------  ---------  --------  --------
Am  Washington, DC          Boston, MA                    362       456
tr
ak

    Philadelphia, PA        Harrisburg, PA                104       104

    New Haven, CT           Springfield, MA                62        62

=================================================================================
To                                                        528       622       149
ta
l
Am
tr
ak

SE  Wilmington, DE          Trenton, NJ                     0        56
PT
A

    Philadelphia, PA        Parkesburg, PA                  0        44

=================================================================================
To                                                          0       160       246
ta
l
SE
PT
A

NJ  Trenton, NJ             New York, NY                    0        58
T

    Philadelphia, PA        Philadelphia, PA\b              0         6

=================================================================================
To                                                          0        64       242
ta
l
NJ
T

LI  New York, NY            Sunnyside, NY                   0         4       560
RR

MA  Washington, DC          Perryville, MD                  0        76        86
RC

Me  New Rochelle, NY        New Haven, CT                56\c        56       204
tr
o
No
rt
h

SL  New Haven, CT           Old Saybrook, CT                0        33        28
E

MB  Providence, RI          Boston, MA                     38        44       212
TA

=================================================================================
To                                                        622       999     1,727
ta
l
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\a The Port Authority Trans Hudson Corporation (PATH) operates over
one Amtrak-owned bridge on the corridor but otherwise uses its own
right-of-way.  The PATH trains are not included in this table. 

\b New Jersey Transit (NJT) trains operating from Philadelphia to
Atlantic City use about 6 miles of Amtrak's right-of-way in
Philadelphia.  The NJT trains in this service are included in this
table. 

\c Metro North operates and maintains track owned by the Metropolitan
Transportation Authority of New York and the Connecticut Department
of Transportation. 

Amtrak shares the Northeast Corridor with eight commuter railroads: 
Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), Shore Line East
(SLE), Metro North Commuter Railroad (Metro North), Long Island
Railroad (LIRR), Port Authority Trans Hudson Corporation (PATH), New
Jersey Transit (NJT), Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation
Authority (SEPTA), and Maryland Rail Commuter Service (MARC).  While
Amtrak operates trains on the entire length of the corridor, the
commuter railroads operate only on limited segments, generally within
their respective states.  For example, LIRR operates over only 4
miles of Amtrak's right-of-way that lead into New York's Penn
Station.  However, this track is critical to LIRR because it operates
more than 500 trains per day at this location.  Also, although PATH
uses only one bridge belonging to Amtrak, about 300 of its trains
traverse this bridge, and without such access, they could not
operate.  In total, commuter railroads operate trains over 371 of the
622 route miles on the corridor. 

In addition, the Virginia Railway Express commuter railroad, which
operates primarily in northern Virginia, uses Amtrak's Union Station
and Ivy City facilities.  As stated previously, however, we did not
include this railroad's activities in this briefing report. 



   (See figure in printed
   edition.)


Amtrak is the primary owner of the Northeast Corridor and has
responsibility for operating and maintaining it.  Amtrak owns about
85 percent of the right-of-way on the corridor (528 out of 622 route
miles), while three other entities---MBTA, the Connecticut Department
of Transportation (CDOT), and the Metropolitan Transportation
Authority of New York (MTA)---own the remaining 15 percent.\5



   (See figure in printed
   edition.)

Note:  Usage is calculated as a percentage of the total number of
passenger trains operated in the corridor each day.  This total
includes nonspine operations, which could not easily be segregated
from spine operations. 

Although Amtrak's trains operate over the entire length of the
Northeast Corridor, they represent only 9 percent of the train
movements that occur over the corridor's tracks each day.  In
contrast, the commuter railroads are responsible for more than 90
percent of the train movements that are scheduled each day, including
nonrevenue train movements (e.g., between stations and yards).\6
However, the commuter railroads provide very localized service,
limited to certain segments of the corridor.  For example, between
Trenton, New Jersey, and Wilmington, Delaware, SEPTA operates 246
trains per day, while Amtrak operates only 104 trains per day.\7



   (See figure in printed
   edition.)


Amtrak physically operates most of the Northeast Corridor by
providing dispatching services for trains as well as maintaining the
track, roadbed, bridges, signals, fencing, and electric traction
system (where installed) that make up the right-of-way.  The commuter
railroads pay Amtrak for the use of its tracks through negotiated
trackage-rights agreements. 

In addition, the commuter railroads share responsibility for
operating the right-of-way with Amtrak along certain segments of the
corridor.  At New York's Penn Station, responsibility for dispatching
alternates semiannually between LIRR and Amtrak.  LIRR maintains the
track it uses and therefore does not pay Amtrak for operation and
maintenance services.  Also, Metro North operates and maintains the
56 miles of the corridor's right-of-way that it owns or leases from
CDOT between New Rochelle, New York, and New Haven, Connecticut. 
Amtrak paid Metro North $5.3 million for the use of its tracks in
fiscal year 1994. 

The only other portion of the corridor's spine that is not owned by
Amtrak is the 38-mile segment from the Rhode Island-Massachusetts
state line to Boston.  Owned by MBTA, this segment is operated by
Amtrak under a contract that includes the (1) operation of MBTA's
commuter trains, (2) operation and maintenance of the track, and (3)
cost of Amtrak's trains using the track. 

In addition, the commuter railroads or their associated states fund
capital improvements on their segments of the right-of-way that will
benefit both themselves and Amtrak.  For example, the state of
Connecticut will spend about $250 million to upgrade the catenary\8
between the New York state line and New Haven, Connecticut. 



   (See figure in printed
   edition.)


In addition to the commuter railroads, four freight railroads
operated trains in fiscal year 1994 over segments of the Northeast
Corridor owned by Amtrak:  Conrail, Providence and Worcester,
Springfield Terminal Railway Company, and Delaware and Hudson.  These
railroads paid Amtrak over $17 million for the use of its tracks. 

BRIEFING SECTION 2