12 Jan Airo Security Review: Florio: There’s a non-partisan solution to improve rail tra
By James Florio
The New Jersey rail transportation system continues to deteriorate, notwithstanding efforts at improvement.
The causes of New Jersey Transit’s (NJT) problems are well-known: the inability to keep talented managers and engineers, the lack of movement on the Gateway Project and the lack of state monies and insufficient federal subsidies, to name a few. As a result, there has been little or no real corrective action taken or on the horizon. Further, there are insufficient available public monies. As such, we watch as the situation gets worse and safety and economic risks heighten.
Think about it. NJT, the nation’s second busiest commuter carrier, uses and pays for the Amtrak Northeast Corridor (NEC) rail network, which services better than 25% of our nation’s gross national product. There is no apparent realistic resolution to the problems of slow or intermittent rail service, rail mishaps, equipment fatigue, etc.
Since prior to the 1997 Congressional Blue Ribbon Panel, charged with identifying a solution to the issues then confronting Amtrak and the NEC, and by extension, NJT, federal and state funding has been a game of political football.
Amtrak originally was solely an operator of trains, owned no infrastructure and, thus, had no infrastructure responsibilities. As time went by, Amtrak took on these responsibilities. The consensus in 1997 by the Panel — and still applicable today — was to split Amtrak into two federally owned companies: 1) existing Amtrak being returned to its roots exclusively as an operator of trains, and 2) a newly created infrastructure management organization (IMO).
Under an IMO, Amtrak’s infrastructure operations would be funded to maintain and operate Amtrak’s owned infrastructure through a public-private partnership. Removal of infrastructure responsibilities from Amtrak would result in reduced infrastructure costs to commuter agencies like NJT and make additional resources available to Amtrak for needed operational improvements.
This fundable and practical solution has taken the form of a legislative proposal known as AIRNet-21. It addresses all of Amtrak’s infrastructure backlog, including the Gateway Project. The proposal stands ready, immediately implementable, awaiting only political will and legislative action. While AIRNet-21 will not solve all NJT’s systemic problems, it can be an enabling force to achieve more reliable on-time service and increased train frequencies, affordable fares, a stable work environment and, most importantly, a safe and more secure rail network.
At a minimum, the appropriate state and local agencies and authority should evaluate, preferably at public hearings, the viability of AIRNet-21. AIRNet-21 is immediately available and is non-partisan. It could be an important first step toward rejuvenating NJT’s busiest train line.
The clock is ticking!
James J. Florio, Esq. served as the 49th New Jersey governor from 1990-1994. He is currently a founding partner at Florio Perrucci Steinhardt & Cappelli, LLC.
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