Amtrak DOT Finance

Breaking Down the Department of Transportation’s Proposed 2012 Budget

» Department recommends funding for new transit projects in several American cities, but its primary priority in the short term is in getting existing infrastructure up to a state of good repair. Amtrak announces it plans to increase capacity on Acela trains.

Almost a year ago, Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff took a controversial stand when he argued that the public sector was not doing enough to ensure the good repair of the nation’s oldest inner-city rail systems. He pointed out that cities from New York to Chicago needed to spend tens of billions of dollars to upgrade their transportation networks — rather than spend most of their funds on expansion.

The Department of Transportation has, at least to some extent, heeded his advice and made such funding a significant part of what the White House hopes will be a greatly expanded transportation budget for Fiscal Year 2012. Of the $22.2 billion President Obama requested for the FTA specifically, some $10.7 billion would be granted for the state of good repair initiative. For cities wondering how to rebuild their aging infrastructure, this could be good news.

New capital projects, however, were not left behind. The budget would contribute more than one billion more to the New Starts transit expansion program than in 2010. The DOT’s proposed budget identifies a number of rail and bus projects around the country that it hopes to fund over the next year (see below).

And the Federal Railroad Administration would receive a major boost to implement the national rail plan. Amtrak, which introduced its own budget, hopes to latch on to renewed interest in intercity rail; the national rail company asked for $2.22 billion in funds, some of which would be used to expand capacity on the existing Acela Express. Amtrak has also indicated that it has begun planning the first phase of its 220 mph replacement for the Northeast Corridor that it revealed last fall (see end of article).

Funding for most programs would increase temporarily under this plan, falling back to more typical levels by FY 2013. The Administration is hoping to use this year’s transportation budget as a sort of second stimulus, and the $50 billion in new funding would include some measures that replicate what was seen in the first stimulus. The National Infrastructure Investments program, for instance, would fund unique transportation programs with $2 billion worth of grants, much like the TIGER program did.

President’s Proposed Transportation Spending 2012-2017 (in billion $)
 FY 2010201220132014201520162017
» Formula Grants9.
» State of Good Repair10.
» Expansion2.
» Network Development2.
» System Preservation1.
DOT Surface Programs77.0107.176.582.288.894.9101.0

The Department of Transportation’s funding expansion is across the board, and it benefits highways (up 70% between 2010 and 2012) almost as much as transit (up 83%). So the White House is not exactly taking a stand against roads here. Moreover, like the rest of the budget revealed yesterday, the Administration’s input is only half of the equation: The House and Senate must pass any spending bill and there is a lot of skepticism on the Republican side of Capitol Hill about any sort of increase in public investment.

Nevertheless, the reforms announced by the Department of Transportation indicate how the Administration wants the Congress to move forward on a funding reauthorization bill, and the measures proposed make sense. The Highway Trust Fund would transform into the Transportation Trust Fund, providing new, specified accounts for highways, transit, high-speed rail, and an infrastructure bank (currently there are only highway and transit accounts). Transit agencies would be allowed to use some of their federal funding for operations, something that is not allowed under current federal guidelines. And the various grant-providing programs currently offered by Washington would be simplified. These would all be meaningful, useful improvements over the existing situation.

The Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts Program

Though the FTA typically reveals which transit expansion projects it is planning to fund in its annual New Starts Report, this year recommendations were included in the Department of Transportation’s budget request. Because of the size of that proposal, and the current lack of consensus in Congress about how — or whether — to spend so much on transportation, it is possible that the agency will not be able to follow through on all of its recommendations.

Nevertheless, as demonstrated in the table below, the agency has seven projects with Full Funding Grant Agreements ensuring federal funding; nine projects ready for construction and likely to receive Washington’s dollars; ten recommended projects that are further behind in planning; and four projects that may or may not advance this year.

Department of Transportation Proposed New Starts Spending 2012 (in million $)
CityProject ModeNew Starts StatusProposed Funding in FY 2012
New YorkLIRR East Side AccessCommuter railFull funding215
New York2nd Ave Phase 1Metro railFull funding197
DallasGreen/Orange LinesLight railFull funding86
Salt LakeMid JordanLight railFull funding79
Salt LakeFrontRunner SouthCommuter railFull funding52
WashingtonDulles Metro Phase 1Metro railFull funding96
SeattleUniversity LinkLight railFull funding110
SacramentoSouth Phase 2Light railPending50
San FranciscoCentral SubwayLight railPending200
DenverEast CorridorCommuter railPending300
HartfordHartford-New BritainBuswayPending45
OrlandoSunrail Phase 1Commuter railPending50
HonoluluTransitMetro railPending250
MinneapolisCentral CorridorLight railPending200
HoustonNorth CorridorLight railPending100
HoustonSoutheast CorridorLight railPending100
San JoseSilicon Valley BART Phase 1Metro railRecommended130
PortlandPortland-MilwaukieLight railRecommended200
Salt LakeDraperLight railRecommended114
PhoenixCentral MesaLight railRecommended38
FresnoBlackstone/Keys CanyonBRTRecommended18
OaklandEast BayBRTRecommended25
San FranciscoVan NessBRTRecommended30
JacksonvilleNorth CorridorBRTRecommended6
Grand RapidsSilver LineBRTRecommended13
El PasoMesa CorridorBRTRecommended14
SeattleRapidRide EBRTRecommended22
SeattleRapidRide FBRTRecommended16
Los AngelesRegional ConnectorLight railAmbiguous
Los AngelesWestside SubwayMetro railAmbiguous
CharlotteNortheast CorridorLight railAmbiguous
PortlandColumbia River CrossingLight railAmbiguous

Of the projects still pending federal approval, four — one in both Orlando and Sacramento, and two in Houston — have been at the top of the federal list for aid since at least 2009. But each has struggled in preparation for construction: Orlando fought with a freight railroad and now is in conflict with the state government; Sacramento struggled with underfunding of the existing transit system; and Houston signed an unfortunate contract with a rail car manufacturer in direct violation of the “Buy America” provision required under the law.

Other projects have long been in consideration, such as Honolulu’s first rail link, Minneapolis’ Central Corridor, and San Francisco’s Central Subway. Each is very likely to move forward this year with the federal government.


The national railway company released its own budget plan in coordination with the Obama Administration’s. The agency may be behind the times, however: Though it now operates outside of the direct influence of the Federal Railroad Administration, the White House indicated last week that Amtrak funding would now be considered when the Department of Transportation is evaluating how to distribute intercity rail appropriations. This could mean competitive bidding for the rights to operate trains on the corridors which the federal government pays to upgrade.

Nonetheless, Amtrak’s $2.22 billion request for subsidies is the most ambitious the agency has been in a decade. The company wants funds to expand the length of its Acela Express trains between Boston and Washington; it hopes to buy 40 cars and add two to each of the 20 trainsets by 2014, increasing the number of available seats by 130 per trip. Amtrak already has 70 electric locomotives and 130 single-deck passenger cars for regular service under construction, financed by the stimulus.

The agency argues that the all-time ridership records it set this year — 28.7 million trips — mean that it merits more public funding.

Intriguingly, Amtrak also revealed that it was considering the first segment of the true high-speed rail line it plans for the Northeast Corridor. Along with $50 million in planning funds it hopes to receive to begin studying the Northeast Gateway Project (a new tunnel between New Jersey and Manhattan), Amtrak says it is now considering how it will begin implementing what it says would be the minimum operating segment of its high-speed project, a $7 billion new pair of tracks between Newark and Philadelphia that would reduce travel times from New York to Philadelphia from 1h05 to 50 minutes.

Image above: Seattle Rapid Ride BRT bus, which would see expansion under proposed New Starts policy, from Flickr user Atomic Taco (cc)

Amtrak DOT Finance High-Speed Rail Intercity Rail President

The White House Stakes Its Political Capital on a Massive Intercity Rail Plan

» $53 billion proposed for investments over the next six years. The President wants to “Win the Future,” but will his Republican opponents relax their opposition to rail spending?

Vice President Joe Biden spoke in Philadelphia this morning to announce that the Obama Administration intends to request from Congress $8 billion in federal funds for the advancement of a national high-speed rail system as part of a six-year transportation reauthorization bill.

The White House’s commitment to fast trains has been evident throughout the Administration’s two-year lifespan, beginning with the addition of $8 billion for the mode in the 2009 stimulus bill and continued with $2.5 billion included in the Fiscal Year 2010 budget. Yet this new funding, which would add up to $53 billion over the six-year period, is remarkable for its ambition. It is clear that President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, already being framed in terms of “winning the future,” will hinge partially on whether voters agree with his assessment of the importance of investing in the nation’s rail transport infrastructure.

In his speech, Mr. Biden argued that American wealth was founded on “out-building” the competition. Infrastructure, he noted, is the “veins and the arteries of commerce.” The President and his team will be making this case to the American people the next two years, hoping that the public comes to endorse this message of national advancement through construction.

Whether the proposal — to be laid out in more detail with next week’s introduction the President’s full proposed FY 2012 budget — has any chance of success is undoubtedly worth questioning. Republicans have campaigned wholeheartedly against rail improvement projects in Iowa, Ohio, and Wisconsin; even Florida’s project, which would require no operating subsidies once in service, hangs in the balance. But as part of the larger transportation reauthorization legislation, which is apparently slated to move forward by this summer, a real expansion in high-speed rail funding seems possible, especially if Mr. Obama pressures the Democratic-controlled Senate to push hard for it.

Of course, as has become typical whenever anyone has announced new transportation investments, it is not yet clear what specific revenue sources would fund high-speed rail.

The $53 billion down-payment on intercity rail would be the first step in the White House’s goal to connect 80% of the country’s population to the mode in 25 years. Funding would be allocated through two accounts: One would essentially be a New Starts capital expansion fund that would construct new lines and stations; the other would renew the existing system to bring it within a state of good repair. Importantly, the latter fund would also “provide temporary operating support to crucial state corridors while the full system is being built and developed.” This implies that the Obama Administration believes that states will continue to be skeptical of funding train operations — so the federal government must step in until self-financing high-speed lines can pay for themselves.

The plan does not specify which corridors would receive funds if the money were awarded. This implies that spending would be distributed in the same manner that have been the U.S. DOT’s grants over the past year: Through merit-based awards ultimately allocated by the Secretary of Transportation.

Big projects — such as California’s High-Speed Rail line and Amtrak’s just-announced Gateway Tunnel between New Jersey and Manhattan — would undoubtedly move forward, but Mr. Biden sketched out a vision of a high-speed network that is “modern, efficient, environmentally friendly, and truly national.” This suggests that the Administration will seek to invest in rail infrastructure across the country, not just in the densest areas.

This stance is likely to attract some Republican support, especially from people representing rural districts that rely on even once-daily trains: It is worth remembering that despite being put on the chopping block year after year by the Bush Administration, Amtrak managed to hang on to its federal support even when Republicans controlled both the House and Senate between 2002 and 2007.

Nonetheless, the Republicans at the helm of the House’s Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and its Subcommittee on Railroads, John Mica (R-FL) and Bill Shuster (R-PA), respectively, immediately denounced the plan, suggesting that the Administration was supporting “snail-speed trains to nowhere.” It is not clear to me whether most Republican Party House members will feel this way about needed infrastructure investments in their districts, however, especially if they are combined with the highway funding also to be included in the six-year reauthorization bill.

Mr. Mica and Mr. Shuster latched on to their free-market contention that Amtrak is a “Soviet-style train system [that is a] failed… monopoly” and that only the private sector is capable of developing high-speed rail, a sentiment that may be appealing to their right-wing compatriots but is unrealistic considering that almost every train improvement project in the world has at least partially been aided by government investments.

They also repeated the now-familiar contention that the Obama Administration had been remiss in not finding adequate funding for the Northeast Corridor, whose renovation now appears to have bipartisan support. This could, as Benjamin Kabak and Jeremy Steinemann have written, be good news for projects such as the Gateway Tunnel. One can imagine a compromise in which Congressional Republicans agree to some funding for intercity rail in the transportation bill, as long as the majority of dollars go towards the Northeast Corridor.

Whatever the immediate success of the President’s proposal, Mr. Obama is making evident his plan to promote himself as the candidate for a renewed America, one in which the future is won through public investment in essential infrastructure. This represents a very real contrast to the political posturing of his Republican opponents, who have been staking their political cause on being opposed to government spending of almost any type. Mr. Biden concluded his speech with the following:

“If we do not take this step now, if we do not seize the future, you tell me how America is going to have the opportunity to lead the world economy in the 21st Century like we did in the 20th. We cannot settle. We are determined to lead again. And this is the beginning of our effort to, once again, lead the future.”

* The map at the top of this article represents my interpretation of what connecting 80% of America to the intercity rail network would mean; it is not based on any government publication.

Amtrak High-Speed Rail Intercity Rail Metro Rail New Jersey New York

ARC Revived as the Amtrak Gateway Project

» New rail tunnel between New Jersey and Manhattan, left for dead a few months ago, comes roaring back as the Gateway Tunnel. Yet it now faces competition for limited funds.

Amtrak will not allow itself to miss the train for President Obama’s effort to “win the future.” Two weeks after the State of the Union address, in which Mr. Obama announced his intention to promote a high-speed rail system that connects 80% of the country’s population, the national railroad has made its first move.

This morning, Amtrak President Joseph Boardman and New Jersey Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez headlined a press conference in which the railroad articulated a basic framework for a new rail tunnel into Manhattan. The connection — named the Gateway Project — would generally follow the alignment of the Access to the Region’s Core project, a $10 billion link that would have carried New Jersey Transit commuter trains into a new terminal before it was cancelled last October by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who cited state budget concerns for his decision.

In connection with the replacement of the moribund Portal Bridge just west of Secaucus Station, the Gateway Tunnel would represent the first, $13.5 billion, step in Amtrak’s $117.5 billion plan to upgrade the entire Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston to 220 mph speeds. Completion of this stage is proposed for 2020.

Though the necessity of a new rail link between New Jersey and Manhattan has been evident for years because of increased passenger traffic and decaying infrastructure, the decision by Mr. Christie appeared to have put any such project on hold for a decade or more, since funds committed to the project — $3 billion from both the Port Authority and the Federal Transit Administration — would be redistributed. But this announcement from Amtrak changes the equation significantly. In light of the President’s active support of high-speed rail and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica’s excitement about the Northeast Corridor, it may well be a viable program.

No funding is currently available for the project, even the $50 million necessary to kickstart engineering studies. In addition, the Gateway Tunnel faces competition that has arisen since ARC was cancelled: A potential extension of the New York Subway’s 7 Train, a project that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has endorsed in recent months.

That project could arguably be constructed for fewer funds, since it would require little new tunneling under expensive Manhattan real estate. In addition, the Subway link would have the serious advantage of direct service to Grand Central Terminal and Queens, 24 hours a day — something neither New Jersey Transit or Amtrak will be able to offer. (Amtrak proposes to loop the 7 Train east along 31st Street to serve the station, a questionable proposition.)

Nonetheless, the Gateway Tunnel would service to reinforce the Northeast Corridor intercity rail system far more significantly, and even more than ARC would have. That’s because, unlike ARC, the Gateway Tunnel would be connected to Penn Station, allowing Amtrak trains running from Washington to Boston to use the link. Several new dead-end platforms would be constructed just south of the existing station, forming a new terminus for New Jersey Transit and opening up more space in the existing Penn Station for Amtrak and potentially Metro-North trains from Upstate New York and Connecticut.

ARC would have dead-ended into a cavern far underground, making it both incompatible with the existing rail network but also deeply inconvenient to its riders, who would have had to ride long escalators to the top.

The new tunnel’s capacity would be split between Amtrak and New Jersey Transit, with 8 intercity trains and 13 commuter trains per hour (added to 12 and 20, respectively, today). This represents a decrease from the 25 additional hourly commuter trains ARC would have provided. The plans to connect the Bergen and Passaic lines to ARC to allow for direct service to Manhattan have been abandoned.

Yet the advantages of allowing through trains to use this facility ultimately mean Amtrak will not have to build yet another link under the Hudson in the coming years, as it had planned. In addition, the Gateway Tunnel would provide a vital backup in case something goes wrong with the 100-year-old tunnels currently serving trains between Manhattan and New Jersey.

Amtrak will have to construct a very careful case for its project in order to assemble the necessary funding, especially in the context of a Republican Congress that has made cutting national investments its major priority. Unlike ARC, Gateway would serve intercity as well as commuter traffic, so it is unclear whether the Federal Transit Administration would agree to sign up to aid in sponsoring it. On the other hand, the Federal Railroad Administration, which administers high-speed rail funds, might want to get involved — but this project would do nothing to speed up trains, since it would simply duplicate a service that already exists.

Ultimately, the national railroad’s best argument for the project is that it would serve national economic growth objectives, providing just the sort of infrastructure repair that the President has so forcefully recommended. It would be difficult even for conservative Republicans to argue that this project does not fulfill Washington’s mandate to improve the nation’s transportation systems, since it is of course at its core a connection between two states.

Images above: Amtrak Gateway Project Maps, from Amtrak

Amtrak High-Speed Rail Northeast Corridor

Amtrak Unveils Ambitious Northeast Corridor Plan, But It Would Take 30 Years to be Realized

» Unfunded, $117.5 billion proposal would speed trains from Boston to Washington in just 3h23. Amtrak wants a full new corridor along the entire line, including a new inland route through Connecticut.

After months of sitting on the sidelines as states and regional agencies promoted major new high-speed rail investments, Amtrak has finally announced what it hopes to achieve over the next thirty years: A brand-new, 426-mile, two-track corridor running from Boston to Washington, bringing true high-speed rail to the Northeast Corridor for the first time.

The report, released today at a press conference in Philadelphia, suggests investing $4.7 billion annually over the next 25 years on the creation of a route that would allow trains to speed between New York and Washington in 96 minutes and between New York and Boston in just 84 minutes. The line would run along a corridor that could stretch in new tunnels under the city centers of Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, and along new rail rights-of-way through Connecticut. New stations would be built in every city the project would serve. This Next-Generation High-Speed Rail, as Amtrak is calling it, would produce overall average speeds of about 140 mph by 2040 (top speeds of 220 mph), compared to 75 mph today. It would undoubtedly significantly expand the mobility of residents of the Northeastern United States.

Amtrak claims that once in operation the line could produce an annual profit of almost $1 billion a year (in 2010 dollars), increasing overall intercity rail ridership along the corridor from about 12 million today to 38 million by 2050. Total construction costs would be $117.5 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars, or $42 billion in 2010 dollars, about the same as the California High-Speed Rail project.

But it is worth being skeptical of the political chances for the project’s implementation. The timing of the plan’s release could not be much worse. With anti-rail and austerity-focused Republicans likely to retake control of the U.S. House of Representatives in this fall’s elections and little serious talk of increasing funds for fast train projects in the immediate term at the national level, a vast increase in capital financing for Amtrak is hard to imagine.

Amtrak has rarely publicly advocated for such a major investment. Last year, the publicly owned agency’s vision for the Northeast Corridor suggested $10 billion in upgrades producing a 5h30 total trip time between Boston and Washington. Today’s announcement is of a completely different magnitude, but it falls in line with the agency’s recent push to operate true high-speed lines in places like Florida.

The proposal is even larger than that suggested by a University of Pennsylvania planning group earlier this year, which I dismissed as mostly unrealistic, thanks to its grandiose proposal for a new tunnel under the Long Island Sound and a new corridor through Center City Philadelphia. Yet Amtrak’s management clearly thinks there is a possibility of major investment here, which is why this new program would not only build that new tunnel under Philadelphia, but also connect New York’s Penn and Grand Central Stations and involve the construction of an entirely new greenfield route through much of the region.

The fact that the Congress has thus far only committed $10.5 billion total to high-speed rail projects across the country does not seem to have fazed anyone in Amtrak management, though it may have resulted in the decision to propose spreading out spending over a 25-year period, rather than, for instance, building it all in ten years. Under the plan, the sections from Baltimore to Wilmington and from Philadelphia to New Rochelle would be completed by 2030, with the rest done by 2040.

Amtrak will need a massive and long-term commitment from the federal government to make this project possible. It will have to find a way to build a coalition between Republicans and Democrats on the matter, since each party will inevitably be in power at some point over the next thirty years. It will have to make a strong case for why investing in the system fulfills national objectives. In the report, it is clear that the agency hopes to portray the Northeast’s strong contribution to the overall U.S. GDP as one of the primary reasons to invest in infrastructure there.

There are therefore long odds for this scheme, but that does not mean it is without merit. In order to implement truly high-speed rail in the Northeast, there is basically no choice but to commit to the construction of an entirely new corridor, since the existing tracks are already mostly at capacity surrounding the major metropolitan areas. Upgrading them could cost as much or more as building from the ground up.

And Amtrak understands the value of building the new line in terms of interconnections with the existing network. Under the service plan suggested in the report (shown below), trains from the southern part of the new corridor could run through along the existing Coastal Corridor in Connecticut and Rhode Island; similarly, trains coming from Harrisburg along the existing Keystone Corridor could interline with the new route at Trenton.

Amtrak will have to assemble major political force behind this project to see it through. This will not be a simple project, either from a funding or construction standpoint. But for the nation’s densest and most economically productive region, it may be the best way forward.

Images above: Amtrak’s proposed routing for its new high-speed rail service, from Amtrak

Amtrak DOT Freight High-Speed Rail Infrastructure Intercity Rail

U.S. Withdraws Proposed Freight Rail Regulations But Fails to Address Conflict with Future Passenger Service

» Freight companies rejoice now that they won’t have to pay for passenger train delays.

It was inevitable: Distraught by the possibility of having to increasingly open up their tracks to passenger trains, the freight railroad companies have staged an open rebellion against a proposed U.S. policy that would have penalized them if they caused delays.

The rule, which was proposed in May by the Federal Railroad Administration, would have enforced “stakeholder agreements” that went along with funding for new or improved intercity rail routes advanced by state governments. In exchange for a public investment in track, signaling, and the like, freight rail companies would be required to ensure that passenger trains aren’t delayed by oncoming traffic or slowed-down cargo trains.

In the Omaha World-Herald earlier this week, reporter Joe Ruff described some of the opposition to these rules. D.J. Mitchell of BNSF railways, suggested that the situation was stacked against the freight companies since their existing lines simply are not built for trains running at speeds higher than 90 mph whereas the Obama Administration has been adamant in pushing projects that increase maximum speeds to 110 mph along freight corridors. Meanwhile, Ruff quotes Bob Turner of Union Pacific, who argued not only that the passenger trains could delay freight traffic but also that “It’s out land, it’s our rails… This is about the government regulating what happens on our property.”

This was a sad reaction from an industry that could potentially benefit handsomely from the infusion of significant federal dollars. The freight railroads have operated mostly without government help for decades. Yet Washington clearly did not approach this situation with the necessary tact, failing to inform the industry of the proposed rules changes… before they were proposed, which evidently is the way things are supposed to work.

Joseph Szabo, head of the FRA, concluded that the rules were a mistake, and pulled the regulations out of consideration, a move veteran transportation insider Ken Orski dubbed as “sensible.” Orski concluded with a hope that Mr. Szabo “do no harm” to the freight industry, a message most people can agree with but one that provides little sense of what direction the government’s future initiatives need to point. But the decision also seems to suggest that the federal government is unwilling to mess with the freight industry no matter the costs. Is that an acceptable position for the future of the national transportation system in general?

The fundamental problem is that the U.S. government has failed to produce a guiding document that lays out the national goals for the railway system, both in terms of both freight and passenger movement. The national rail plan, whose preliminary draft was released last fall, is by all evidence likely to be a manifesto of vague, uncontroversial ideas, with few specific “plans” for the country’s future mobility. This means that the manner in which the DOT awards intercity rail grants — generally on a state-to-state basis, without much consideration of national needs — is likely to be the way it’s done over the next few years as well.

It also means, in more direct response to the issue posed here, that the government has failed to mediate a compromise between the proponents of freight and passenger rail service. The difficulties raised over the recent proposals by the FRA are only the start of things. For the future of American intercity rail, the government has a responsibility to take further steps to coordinate policy so that it benefits both sides of the rail equation, but it has not done so thus far.

As I discussed last month, despite the fact that allowing trains of different speeds (freight trains are slower than high-speed trains) would (and does) cause problems, there is significant ground for compromise that would allow both services to be improved substantially over the next few years. Notably, were the government to encourage joint use of tracks in city centers by rival freight companies, other inner-city corridors could be devoted to passenger rail without much of a problem.

But that won’t be possible unless the federal government abandons the hands-off policy it seems to be enforcing through its recent decision; at some point, if freight railroads benefit from national investments in their tracks, they should face penalties if they prioritize their trains over passenger vehicles. Freight companies may own the tracks, but if they’re getting funding for improvements, they have to compromise to allow passenger trains to operate effectively.

It’s time to develop a dialogue between freight railroad companies and advocates of improved passenger rail. Improvements for both don’t have to be set in opposition to one another.

Image above: C&NW freight train, by Flickr user vxla (cc)