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Oct. 26, 2015

Panel presents solutions to improve reliability and mobility, solve rail gridlock

WASHINGTON – Amtrak President & CEO Joe Boardman was joined by a panel of industry experts today at the National Press Club to highlight the need to make infrastructure planning and investment a national priority.

Joined by Chicago Gateway Blue Ribbon Panel members Thomas Carper, Amtrak Board of Directors member; Howard Learner, founder of the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago; and Jack Quinn, former chairman of the Railroads Subcommittee of the

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and president of Erie Community College, the group discussed the nation’s infrastructure crisis, the growing problem of aging infrastructure and railway congestion, and most importantly funding.

“Amtrak is doing what it can. But the root of the problem is lack of funding needed to address the congestion challenge that contributes to these delays,” said Boardman. “Persistent underinvestment leads to congestion – and the lack of investment threatens our national economy.”

Nowhere are infrastructure problems worse than in the New York and Chicago regions.

As the majority owner of the Northeast Corridor (NEC), a complex commuter and intercity rail network, Amtrak depends on the infrastructure investments made today to help ensure it can deliver mobility, reliability and safety to its stakeholders in the future. Each day, 750,000 people board trains headed to work, school and other destinations making the NEC one of the largest economic drivers of our American economy.Amtrak has completed construction on Phase I of the Hudson Yards Concrete Casing, begun construction on Phase II, and continues early planning work on the Hudson Tunnel Project. But future work on other critical components of the Gateway Program – including two new Portal Bridges and an expanded Penn Station – remain unfunded.

“We don’t need to find a solution – we need to fund one,” Boardman stated.

In addition to New York, Chicago is the nation’s largest rail hub, with every major railroad operating through the area. The Blue Ribbon Panel was formed to make recommendations to address the Chicago rail gridlock that is causing major delays for passengers and for freight shipments. Chicago congestion problem creates an economic vulnerability of up to $799 billion every year, impacting six key industries constituting 85 percent of U.S. domestic product.

The panel recommended bringing together rail traffic control dispatchers separated by thousands of miles, improved operating practices by Amtrak and other railroads and funding for priority projects already identified in Northern Illinois and Indiana as top recommendations.

“This is a fight our country needs us to win – it’s time for us to build,” Boardman said.

A copy of the full remarks from the panel is attached.

For more information about Amtrak’s investment in the region, follow #TimeToBuild, visit or to view the Chicago Gateway Blue Ribbon Panel’s report, economic impacts analysis and videos, visit
About Amtrak®

Amtrak – America’s Railroad® – is dedicated to safe and reliable mobility as the nation’s intercity passenger rail service provider and its high-speed rail operator. With our state and commuter partners, we move people, the economy and the nation forward, carrying more than 30 million Amtrak passengers for each of the past five years. Formally known as the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, Amtrak is governed by a nine member board of directors appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Anthony R. Coscia is board chairman and Jeffrey R. Moreland is vice chairman. Amtrak operates more than 300 trains daily – at speeds up to 150 mph (241 kph) – connecting more than 500 destinations in 46 states, the District of Columbia and three Canadian Provinces. Learn more at or call 800-USA-RAIL for schedules, fares and other information. Check us out at, Like us on and Follow us on Twitter @Amtrak.

National Press Club Remarks
Joe Boardman

Good morning, and thanks very much for that very kind introduction. It’s an honor to be here today, particularly in the company of Howard, Jack, and Tom. I’d be remiss if I started without thanking them for all of their hard work. I also need to thank Linda Morgan, whom many of you remember as the first chair of the Surface Transportation Board; she was unable to make it today, which is unfortunate, because she played a vital role, too, in helping our panel to carry out its plan to study the challenges of congestion in Chicago, which may be the greatest challenge our industry faces.

Tom and Howard have quite a bit to tell you about the railroad, the city, and what needs to be done, but before they do, I want to talk a bit about the magnitude of the challenge. This challenge isn’t just about safety, reliability or mobility – it’s about all of those things and their economic and social impacts. And it’s a failure of vision. At one time, the Federal government saw problems that were national in scale, and it created useful solutions that were national in scope. Today, however, we don’t address problems - we avoid them.

The problem on the East Coast is more concentrated, but no less acute. Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor serves a region that houses 17% of the nation’s population, and produces 20% of its GDP, on just 2% of its land area. One out of 3 jobs in the region is located within five miles of an NEC station – but we’re carrying the heaviest traffic in the NEC’s history on an infrastructure that has never been older – and in most places, we’re vulnerable to single points of failure.

Chicago matters a lot to us at Amtrak. We share routes into and out of the city with the freight railroads and with Metra, the Chicago area commuter rail agency, which carries more than 83 million passengers a year, a total surpassed only by New York City. Ridership on the three state-supported routes in Illinois has grown by 125%. State and Federal governments have invested heavily in Amtrak, and the Chicago to St. Louis and Chicago to Detroit routes are now operating at speeds of over 100mph, thanks to this strong partnership. There is also a high speed rail plan, the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative.

While these programs have the potential to improve service dramatically, the reality has fallen short of expectation – because no matter how rapidly we can move a train across Michigan or southern Illinois, all of the mobility and reliability gains are lost if we can’t get it in or out of Chicago on time. In FY 2015, the Illinois corridor services arrived at their terminals on time just 55% of the time, and the national network trains did even worse, averaging less than 50%.

Amtrak is doing what it can. But the root of the problem is lack of funding needed to address the congestion challenge that contributes to these delays. Persistent underinvestment leads to congestion – and that lack of investment threatens our whole economy.
Fortunately, the framework for solutions is in place. In Chicago, the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program, known as CREATE, was established in 2003 as a partnership among the Chicago-area railroads – including Amtrak – and the state, city, and Federal governments. CREATE has identified more than 70 projects in the Chicago area needed to eliminate rail-rail and rail-highway crossings at grade and add rail capacity. Twenty-nine of these projects have been completed, at a cost of $1.2 billion, but the price tag for the 41 remaining projects is an estimated $2.6 billion, and probably counting, since rail traffic has continued to grow since CREATE began.

Similarly, Amtrak has created the Gateway Project to address the age and capacity problems on its line between Newark, New Jersey, and Penn Station in Manhattan. Today, that line is a double-tracked chokepoint, and the tunnel under the Hudson River (which flooded during Super Storm Sandy) is 105 years old. We need to build a new tunnel, a new bridge over the Hackensack River, and new track to eliminate this chokepoint, which is the most congested single point on the Amtrak system. We also need to expand the terminal at Penn Station if we are going to deal with the growth in Amtrak and commuter passengers we expect to see over the next couple of decades.

We’ve begun planning, and we have been able to undertake some of the preliminary construction on the tunnel casing. Construction on Moynihan Station Phase I, led by New York state, will be complete next year. But the biggest projects are ahead of us: the tunnel, the bridge, the new right of way, and the expanded terminal that will provide us with both the resilience and the capacity we will need for decades to come. The status of these projects is easy to sum up in a single word, and that word is – unfunded. We don’t need to find a solution – we need to fund one.

Tom Carper
Thanks, Joe, and my thanks to everyone for the invitation to speak here today. As a lifelong resident of the state of Illinois, as someone who has held local office and worked in the state economic development office, and as a local mayor and a longtime Amtrak supporter, I have had the opportunity to see the Chicago railroad situation from several different perspectives. As Joe has so rightly said, it’s a problem that’s national in scale, and it is going to require a national solution.

As we looked at the problem, we were truly impressed by the importance of the Chicago hub to the American railroad system. It is the most densely packed freight rail transfer point in the world, handling a third of all American rail traffic, and 60% of all intermodal traffic. The rail network was essentially complete a century ago, and the network struggles with traffic volume patterns it was never designed to handle. The vast majority of the rail routes cross one another at grade, so only one train can go at a time.

Today much of the freight arrives in Chicago in giant intermodal and commodity unit trains. They move slowly through the city, blocking crossings and causing tie-ups at antiquated rail junctions. And of course conventional freight trains still require transfer handoffs to the corresponding carriers who have multiple yards and many miles of track throughout the Chicago terminal area.

The length of modern trains exacerbates the problem, and spreads it, as one train can easily block multiple intersections. The delays cascade through the system, as one after the other, trains stack up. Those disruptions cost money: for example, UPS loses $100 million a year for every five minutes of daily freight delay across its network. These losses impact our national supply chain, consume valuable fuel and employee time, and hurt our national competitiveness. Eastbound freight traffic can cross the Western U.S. in as little as 48 hours, but it can take 30 hours to cross Chicago - at an average speed of less than twelve miles an hour.

Of all the major rail hubs, Chicago represents the largest potential economic vulnerability to domestic industry, and fixing Chicago’s rail infrastructure is a project of regional and national significance -because there are no viable alternatives. There are large impacts to passenger traffic as well. There are several cities and towns in Illinois, Michigan, and Indiana whose total annual ridership on Amtrak’s state supported routes is larger than their population. These are typically college towns, whose students (and economies) are dependent on the local Amtrak service and the mobility it provides.

This is clearly a problem that the nation must address. Howard will lay out the primary recommendations of our Panel for Chicago. These projects are visionary, necessary, and long overdue. They will benefit not just the city of Chicago and midwest, but the nation – for if nothing is done, freight delay rates for the Chicago area will more than triple over the next twenty years.

These problems translate into costs that are ultimately borne by the consumer. In Chicago, the potential economic risk is the greatest of all the nation’s rail terminals. Railroad congestion there creates an annual economic vulnerability to disruption that runs into the hundreds of billions of dollars, as delayed trains disrupt everything from supply chains to individual travelers on their daily commute. Nowhere do the trend lines show an improvement – and the fact that the rail system is now showing the strain ought to be a matter for serious concern.

This ought to disturb us, because these numbers represent loss, pure and simple. Some idea of the immensity of the cost challenge can be gained by comparing the scale of the impacts to the cost to address them. In Chicago, for example, the total cost to complete the CREATE program is $2.6 billion.

These are not small requirements, but they need to be addressed – because the cost of failing to address rail congestion in the Chicago area would greatly outweigh the cost of the improvements themselves. The public benefits alone for the CREATE project would total $3.6 billion, to say nothing of the private benefits – and as part of our study, we have calculated that somewhere between $657 billion and $799 billion of the nation’s gross domestic product is dependent on the fluidity of the rail network in the city of Chicago.

Howard Learner
We need to press ahead with several projects that will expand capacity on the vital southeastern approach route from Indiana. We have identified two projects that offer the promise for significant improvement to both Amtrak and freight operations in the near term. One is the 75th Street corridor in South Chicago – the most congested railroad point in the city, and possibly in the nation, where a string of congested at-grade junctions where rail lines intersect would ideally be replaced by flyovers and reconfigured junctions that would almost entirely eliminate the need for any at-grade crossings. This project would increase the efficiency of freight movements by forty percent and would help both Amtrak and Metra services, at a total cost of about $1 billion.

The “Grand Crossing Project” would reconfigure that junction, and leverage the Englewood Flyover to eliminate an awkward routing and a time-consuming backup move over a heavily congested line currently used by Amtrak trains coming into the city from Carbondale and New Orleans. We could also obtain a better routing for our Cardinal and Hoosier State routes to Indianapolis and the east coast. Freight would be moved onto a new, adjacent route, and conflicts with Metra will also be reduced. We could then double the number of intercity trains entering Union Station via the Englewood Flyover route.

These two projects would improve the operation of freight and passenger trains on the existing rights-of-way and set the stage for the implementation of the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative. Over the longer term, larger scale projects such as the proposed “South of the Lake” project to develop a dedicated 40 mile long “higher speed” passenger line will provide the network with additional and badly needed passenger and freight rail capacity to improve service and address demand growth in the greater Chicago metro area for decades to come.

The greatest need is therefore not for improvements to the Chicago rail network, important though those undoubtedly are. It is for improvements to our Federal transportation policy that will allow the government to play a constructive role in solving the nation’s transportation problems. America needs a truly multimodal, adequately funded Federal transportation policy that can assess risk, choose investments, and deliver committed, multiyear funding streams to complete projects of this magnitude. There’s a lot at stake here. Few of government’s functions affect people as directly as infrastructure and transportation problems do. If we can address them, we take two big steps toward strengthening our nation – for not only do we ensure that our economy continues to function smoothly, we take a step toward restoring something just as precious – our citizens’ belief that our Federal system works. Transportation is something that Americans want, need and support, regardless of their political affiliation, and bipartisan initiatives are a great way to demonstrate to the American people what their government can do.

For all of these reasons, we also recommended a slate of changes to the way transportation projects are authorized and funded that will make it easier for the government to promote major rail projects like this one. The RRIF loan program should be reformed to encourage innovative financing approaches. Finally, environmental review requirements that apply to rail projects should be consistent across the transportation modes, and should be coordinated between the agencies and prioritized so that projects of national significance can be identified, funded, and advanced.

Finally, there are the harder to quantify but no less important impacts to individuals and the environment. Standing trains pollute, too, and online neighborhoods and communities feel the impact. Longer routings, which are made necessary by heavy congestion, entail significant

increases in pollution, while the other potential outcome – the movement by shippers and passengers to less environmentally friendly modes, such as trucks, autos and aviation, will lead to still higher levels of emissions.

Joe mentioned earlier that the one word that summed up the remaining CREATE projects was “unfunded;” well, to that I would add that a single word couple sum up the impacts I have just identified – and that word is “avoidable.” There is no insuperable obstacle to success here; the obstacle is a lack of Federal funding to match state and private sector investments for projects that will provide significant national and regional public benefits. We have the knowledge, the understanding, the materials, skills and technology to make the necessary improvements. The consequences I discussed a moment ago are all avoidable, if we can work together to craft a policy that selects for results and aims to deliver the transportation choices Americans are increasingly demanding.

Jack Quinn
Tom, and Howard, thanks for that excellent summation of the challenge and the potential solutions.

These projects are vital – but no mechanism exists to fund them. While Amtrak cover more than 90% of its operating expenses through it revenue, Amtrak typically receives only about $1.4 billion a year in Federal funding, which is inadequate to sustain state of good repair and service levels, let alone to make the vital investments we will need to address an infrastructure that has exceeded its useful life, and cannot accommodate a growing popular demand for passenger rail and freight services. There is no Federal grant program that’s sufficient for the needs of major projects like CREATE or Gateway.

The condition of our nation’s infrastructure is an enormous challenge – but it is similar to ones we have met before. This isn’t the first time our country has needed a major infrastructure investment to build our economy, and it isn’t even the hardest one. One hundred and fifty years ago, the people of this country got together in the wake of the deepest political dispute we’ve ever known to embark on a vast program of public infrastructure works so that we could settle the western states. While we all remember the first Pacific Railroad – which was arguably the first public-private partnership – the reality is that for most of our country’s history, the American government found ways to make an enormous and tremendously successful investment that transformed our economy, and prepared America for the leading role it plays in the world’s economy – not just in the railroads, but in roads, dams, and electricity-generating infrastructure.

Today, we’re still using that infrastructure – and it’s time that we started to make the investments we need to provide us with the capacity and the resilience to handle the traffic of the coming century. But to do that, we need a policy that matches a vision for America’s future with serious and sustained public funding, on a scale that’s sufficient to do the job. Our forebears had a vision, and they found a way to do it – and by so doing, they built more than the railroads – they built a nation. But although the need for a new generation of investments is not generally disputed – when was the last time you heard someone suggest that we should spend less on our decaying infrastructure? – we lack both the funding and the policy instruments that we would need to translate a plan into reality.

We do have several Federal programs designed to fund rail improvements, in a limited way, but there’s no real money behind them. The TIGER grants, for example, which are the only currently funded Federal program that has provided funding support for CREATE, received an appropriation in 2015 that amounted to a total of just half a billion dollars – no more than $125 million of which can be used for a single project. That’s just a fraction of what we need for a single project in Chicago, and less than 1% of the projected cost of the Gateway Project in New York.

We all know this is true – and yet, there are few components of our transportation system or policies that are ready to face the new century. The nation’s airports and urban centers are heavily congested, and the cost of that congestion to our economy would more then pay for the whole of our Gateway Program, with CREATE thrown in for good measure. These investments would purchase the capacity and the resilience we will need for the coming century.
Over the last couple of decades, we have repeatedly faced the choice of investing for growth, or living with the consequences. Too often, we have chosen to live with the consequences, and now that the impacts of those decisions are rising, we can see a very plain and
very unpleasant fact – we are going to pay no matter what. Would we prefer to invest now and benefit from the improvements, or would we prefer to do nothing – and continue to pay for our inaction through a decline in our quality of life as a nation?
Today, the question of transportation policy is before the Congress. The Senate has approved a surface transportation bill that took the first tentative steps in the direction of a coherent policy. If this bill passes, it would include Amtrak in the Federal government’s surface transportation program for the first time. It would not, in its current form, provide Amtrak with access to predictable, guaranteed funding; that’s a step yet to come. But for now, this represents a significant and vital acknowledgement of a truth many of us have known for years: that if rail is to have a secure place in our future transportation policy, it cannot continue to be an afterthought.

Howard has put his finger on the heart of the problem: will we as a society acknowledge this demand, and find a way to fund it, or would we simply prefer that the policies of the past simply continue unchanged?
That’s important, because the reality is that something truly has to change in the way our country funds transportation – for not only are there clearly unfunded needs such as those our panel has identified, the reality is that the funding system itself is broken. America has spent more to bail out the highway trust fund over the last seven years than it has spent on forty-four years of Amtrak – and what improvements do we have to show for it? There’s a clear need for a solvent but comprehensive multimodal transportation policy, and the Senate has taken a step in the right direction.

The nation’s transportation policy will expire in just a couple of days, and the two houses of Congress have begun the first cautious steps toward a real discussion of the nation’s needs. I hope in the days and weeks to come, that we can find in ourselves some of the courage and foresight of our forebears, so that we can make a fitting contribution to the future of this great nation – now, tomorrow, and for decades to come.

Joe Boardman (CLOSING)
Jack, Howard and Tom – thanks for your thoughts and for all of your hard work. I think you’ve done a great job of identifying the problems and the solutions, too. I can’t mention solutions with expressing my thanks to Linda Morgan, because it was she who helped start CREATE after the rail meltdown in Chicago more than a decade ago. Her contribution to this panel and our industry has been invaluable.

I want to leave you with a thought of my own – and that is that a challenge of this magnitude can only be addressed by the Federal government. When the Framers sat down to hammer out the Constitution, they understood that national problems don’t stop at state lines. They knew that there would always be matters that would be big enough that only the full faith and credit of the Federal government would suffice to deal with them. This is one of those matters, and one of those times, and the stakes for our future are as high now as they were when people looked out across the Missouri River and referred to the sight as “The Great American Desert.” We transformed it then, and there’s no reason why our generation can’t undertake projects on the same scale – because today’s need is greater than ever. This is a fight our country needs us to win – it’s time for us to build.

To give you some idea of how projects like these work, we have here a video which will show how the recently completed Englewood Flyover project has already improved the situation in Chicago. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to - An online railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used railroad books. Railroad pictorials, railroad history, steam locomotives, passenger trains, modern railroading. Hundreds of titles available, most at discount prices! We also have a video and children's book section. - An online model railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used books. Layout design, track plans, scenery and structure building, wiring, DCC, Tinplate, Toy Trains, Price Guides and more.

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