Amtrak, the U.S. intercity passenger railroad supported by taxpayers, asked Congress to more than double its capital budget so it can buy more trains and improve infrastructure.
Amtrak, in a letter today to Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner, asked for $2.1 billion in U.S. funds for its capital budget and $212 million for debt service for the 2014 fiscal year. In the 2013 fiscal year, Amtrak is receiving $905 million for those expenses.
“If we truly want to realize our vision of what rail can offer America, in terms of real mobility improvements and rational modal choices, policy decisions must be made and funding provided to match them,” Amtrak Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boardman said in a statement. “These are big decisions, and will require bold thinking, but they will deliver value for the money.”
While Amtrak gets U.S. aid every year, this request comes as its authority from Congress to operate is due to expire in September. Amtrak is looking for more money in legislation to expand service and increase speeds between Washington and Boston, where its share of the rail-air market has doubled in the past decade. The subsidies have been criticized by some congressional Republicans.
“Only in America could we pour more taxpayer dollars into a Soviet-style passenger rail system,” Representative John Mica, a Florida Republican who previously headed the House transportation committee, said today in an e-mailed statement.
The Washington-based railroad reduced its request for operating assistance by 16 percent after recording its smallest annual loss in 38 years.
Amtrak is seeking $373 million in operating support, compared with the $443 million it’s getting this year.
The railroad, created in 1971 to take over money-losing passenger operations from freight carriers, has never made an annual profit.
Amtrak has said it wants to expand its Acela fleet serving the U.S. Northeast and replace the 20 existing Acelas, which were built by Bombardier Inc. of Montreal and Alstom SA, based in Levallois-Perret, France. It also plans to upgrade its wireless Internet service, or Wi-Fi, to faster 4G technology on its trains.
The railroad said in January it will work with California, the only U.S. state planning to begin construction on a high-speed rail project this year, to buy Acela equipment. In January, it began asking companies for information on building as many as 60 trains to add units on the Northeast Corridor, replace Acelas and buy equipment for California. It hasn’t said from whom it will buy those trains.
After automatic budget cuts, Amtrak is getting $1.3 billion in taxpayer money for fiscal 2013, Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm said. That’s less than the $1.4 billion the railroad received the previous year.
Amtrak says its share of the rail-air market between Washington and New York has risen to 76 percent from 69 percent in 2010 and 37 percent before the Acela began service. The comparison doesn’t include buses, the fastest growing mode of U.S. transportation. Ridership throughout the Amtrak system rose 3.5 percent in the year that ended Sept. 30 to a record 31.2 million passengers.
The Washington-based railroad said Jan. 10 that its cash operating loss for the year ended Sept. 30 fell to $361 million, the lowest since 1975, from $446 million in the previous 12 months.
The Brookings Institution, in a report issued this month, found 83 percent of passengers ride Amtrak routes of less than 400 miles. The Washington-based public policy group suggested Amtrak share costs for money-losing long-distance routes of more than 750 miles with states.