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Booker Brings Key Subcommittee Hearing to Newark As U.S. Senate Prepares Passenger Rail Overhaul Bill

Booker - top Democrat on Senate Surface Transportation Subcommittee - hears testimony from federal rail officials and regional leaders

May 4, 2015

NEWARK, NJ – U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety & Security, today hosted a field hearing in Newark, New Jersey, on America’s passenger rail system. The field hearing sought input to shape forthcoming legislation that will update and improve passenger rail in the United States.

“The Northeast Corridor is an indispensable transportation asset and economic driver for New Jersey,” Booker said. “Yet we are approaching a crisis as passenger rail investment languishes and the whole system relies on outdated, 100-year old bridges and decaying infrastructure. Meanwhile, our competitors in foreign nations are pushing ahead, leaving us behind. That’s why today’s hearing is so important: to gather input on a bipartisan effort to invest in and update our passenger rail system.”

Several passenger rail officials and experts testified, including Anthony Coscia, chairman of the Amtrak Board of Directors, Sarah Feinberg, Acting Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, James Redeker, chairman of the Northeast Corridor Commission and Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Transportation, and Tom Wright, president of Regional Plan Association.

“The Northeast Corridor is the busiest rail corridor in North America, and one of the busiest in the world. The 457-mile rail transportation spine is also vital to the region’s economic growth – more than 365 million passengers depend on its intercity and commuter services each year. We have to be prepared to meet growing demand on the Corridor, and the only way to do that is by ensuring that the Corridor is in a state of good repair, and that its future is part of the focus of any surface transportation plan adopted by Congress,” said Sarah Feinberg, Acting Federal Railroad Administrator.

“Amtrak needs a bill that will authorize significant and reliable multi-year capital funding necessary to invest in and replace aging infrastructure and keep America’s Railroad moving,” said Anthony Coscia, chairman of the Amtrak Board of Directors. “The high demand for rail service and critical need for investment is vividly demonstrated here on the Northeast Corridor, with projects like the Portal Bridge and Gateway. It’s time to build now.”

"There is no more important regional rail project today than the construction of a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River,” State Senate President Steve Sweeney said, The current tunnels are obsolete, at maximum capacity, and place our region’s economy at risk. They offer no opportunity for ridership and job growth, even as we expect to double rail ridership under the Hudson to almost 90 Million annual passenger in the next three decades. We must act soon, as construction of a new rail tunnel will not only jumpstart our struggling economy -- but when complete -- will create over 40,000 new permanent jobs.”

“The Commission has released the Northeast Corridor Five-Year Capital Plan, a first-of-its-kind, region-wide collaborative effort,” said James Redeker, chairman of the Northeast Corridor Commission and Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Transportation. “However, we will only be successful in fully investing in NEC infrastructure if the federal government can join us as partners.”

Tom Wright, President, Regional Plan Association, said: “The Northeast Corridor rail network is the lifeblood of the metropolitan region’s economy, carrying hundreds of thousands of commuters to and from work every day. Without this link, the economies of New Jersey and New York would be unable to function. Yet the network is under tremendous strain, as 100-year-old tunnels and bridges at the heart of the corridor deteriorate. Without new investment, we can expect even more disruption and overcrowding that ultimately will undermine the region’s growth, prosperity and quality of life.”

The Northeast Corridor carries 750,000 passengers each day, moves a workforce that contributes $50 billion annually to the U.S. gross domestic product, and transports more people from city to city than all the airlines combined. New Jersey Transit alone is responsible for approximately 228K trips on the Northeast Corridor each day and over 63.6 million trips annually. The Northeast Corridor carries approximately 83% of all New Jersey Transit rail riders. It is estimated that the loss of the Northeast Corridor for a single day could cost the nation $100 million in wasted time and lost productivity from sitting in traffic congestion. In New Jersey, the Northeast Corridor is the lifeline to millions of the state’s residents as it is used to get to work, school and to travel.

The funding authorization law for passenger rail, which includes Amtrak, expired in 2013 and Congress has yet to pass a law to reauthorize these programs. In March, the US House of Representatives voted to approve its passenger rail reauthorization bill. Booker is currently working on a bipartisan effort in the Senate to update the nation’s passenger rail policies and reauthorize Amtrak.