WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate AppropriationsSubcommittee on Transportation, Housing, Urban Development and RelatedAgencies, on Tuesday asked U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary PeteButtigieg and U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo about theBiden administration's plans to invest in the repair and modernization ofAmerica’s rail infrastructure at the committee hearing, The American Jobs Plan: Infrastructure, ClimateChange, and Investing in Our Nation’s Future.
Murphy focusedhis questioning on the need to provide long-term funding to revitalize theNortheast Corridor network, which faces a $40billion state-of-repair backlog despite serving hundreds of thousands of trainriders daily from Washington, D.C. to Boston, Massachusetts.
“It takesabout four and a half hours to get from Beijing to Shanghai via train; it takesabout seven hours today to get from Boston to Washington,” Murphy said. “To make things evenworse, we're not getting faster—we're getting slower. This morning, I checked atimetable from Bridgeport to New York City. Right now, it's about 89 minutes onaverage. You can get a train a couple minutes faster if it doesn't make as manystops. In 1963, it was 74 minutes. We're getting slower, not faster.”
Murphy askedSecretary Buttigieg about Northeast Corridor rail funding and how to leverageinvestment in the corridor from states and other stakeholders so federaldollars can do more to improve riders’ experience.
“I would justrecommend to this committee and to others that are working on this that we takesome time to make sure that we are offering a proposal here that prompts otherentities to put increased resources into the pool as well. Because even if youtake the $80 billion for Amtrak and assume that half of it goes to theNortheast rail corridor, that just covers state of good repair,” Murphy said.
Murphy went on toalso ask Secretary Raimondo for her thoughts on how we can incentivize statesto do more to improve the Northeast Corridor, and for her perspective on theimportance of shortening travel times between Washington and Boston to theregion’s economic development.
Last month,Murphy applauded the inclusion of rail funding in the American Jobs Plan.Murphy also led a letter urging the Biden administration to support $55 billionin long-term funding for passenger rail infrastructure in order to repair theNortheast Corridor rail network.
You can readMurphy’s full exchange with Secretary Buttigieg and Secretary Raimondo below:
MURPHY: “Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, ViceChairman. Thank you all for enduring a long hearing but an important one.
“SecretaryButtigieg, the distance between Beijing and Shanghai is about twice as long asthe distance between Boston and Washington. And so suffice it to say, it wouldbe embarrassing if the amount of time it took to travel between our nation'scapital and the city of Boston was the same as it takes to travel between thosetwo major Asian capitals. In fact, it's worse than that. It takes about fourand a half hours to get from Beijing to Shanghai via train; it takes aboutseven hours today to get from Boston to Washington.
“To make thingseven worse, we're not getting faster—we're getting slower. This morning, Ichecked a timetable from Bridgeport to New York City. Right now, it's about 89minutes on average. You can get a train a couple minutes faster if it doesn'tmake as many stops. In 1963, it was 74 minutes. We're getting slower, notfaster.
“And so I'mgrateful for the focus in this plan on Amtrak generally and Northeast rail. Iknow Senator Coons asked some questions about this as well. But we've got thistremendous backlog of state of good repair projects. I want to just make surethat our goal here is not just to fix what's broken, but to actually improveperformance, improve experience. Is that the underlying goal of our projecthere with Amtrak funding, transit funding, and specifically Northeast railfunding?”
BUTTIGIEG: “Yes, we're not going to all this troublejust in hopes of remaining 13th in infrastructure globally. This is aboutlooking after what we have and making sure we get better.”
MURPHY: “And so then let me ask you this question.How do we make sure that in a rail system that has a fairly complicatedexisting financing structure—you’ve got commuter rail systems, you've got statefinanced portions of the rail, Amtrak's putting in money and the federalgovernment's putting in money—how do we make sure that this federal investmentdoesn't become an excuse for states or for commuter rail to not put in theirown skin? How do we make sure that we leverage a substantial investment inrail, in particular Northeast rail, in a way that provokes states to do more,not do less?”
BUTTIGIEG: “Thank you. It's a welcome reminder ofthe challenge of making sure that every player is doing their part. To thatregard, I would point not only to the funds in the American Job plan, but alsoin our discretionary budget request this year calling for a PRIME—I can'tremember what it stands for other than that the P and the R are for passengerrail—but to reward and encourage those local and other bodies that are steppingup.”
MURPHY: “And Mr. Chairman, I would just recommendto this committee and to others that are working on this that we take some timeto make sure that we are offering a proposal here that prompts other entitiesto put increased resources into the pool as well. Because even if you take the$80 billion for Amtrak and assume that half of it goes to the Northeast railcorridor, that just covers state of good repair. That literally just fixes theparts that are broke. That repairs the bridge in Connecticut that was builtduring the Grover Cleveland administration, but it doesn't necessarily get youeven back to 1963 travel time. So I think that's a really worthy project for usto undertake.
“SecretaryRaimondo, staying on this topic, you've got obviously unique expertise toleverage here because you were governor of a state on the Northeast railcorridor. So two questions for you. One, what ideas, if any, do you have abouthow to leverage states to put skin in the game here and to not just replacetheir spending with federal spending? And two, from a commerce standpoint, howimportant is it, as we're marketing America, to be able to say that we areattacking this issue of travel times between major Eastern seaboard capitalsthat are again expanding rather than decreasing?”
RAIMONDO: “Thank you for your question. Nice to seeyou, neighbor from Connecticut.”
MURPHY: “Good to see you.”
RAIMONDO: “It's vitally important. I spent an awfullot of time as Governor trying to convince companies to locate in or expand inRhode Island and, inevitably, the number one question was how is the airportand tell me about the infrastructure. And trains are a key part of that. So, inany event, I would just say it is absolutely vitally important. Businesses wantto be and people want to live in places with first class infrastructure. Andthat's broadly defined: broadband water bike paths, railroads, airports, etc.
“I will say thatin the [American] Rescue package, which was fantastic—and thank you for takingaction—states do have money available on account of that, and I think we needto be innovative in how we encourage them to make some of that money and othermoney available to put against federal investments. Again, if we could take adollar and turn it into two or three, that maximizes the investment.”
MURPHY: “Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”