Amtrak has been criticized for being too expensive and having service problems, but company President and CEO Joseph Boardman told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider he believes the future is bright. He said Amtrak covers most of its costs through fares and the transportation company allows the northeast to remain an economic center for the country.
Boardman said Amtrak offers the best deal that government has in the country for rail. “We cover 76 percent of our own cost out of the fare box and if you look at all the other revenues we take in, we cover 86 percent,” he said. “There isn’t any other railroad — commuter or anything else — in this country that covers their costs like we do.”
While some are still critical of Amtrak, Boardman said its needed. “If you didn’t have this railroad operating in the northeast, you wouldn’t have an economic center in the northeast the way it exists today,” he said. “And we wouldn’t hold on to this being the financial capital here in the northeast.”
New Jersey plays an important role in Amtrak’s operations because trains must pass through the Garden State to get to New York. He explained that there are a “huge number of trains” that come from NJ Transit into New York Penn Station. He admitted that Amtrak doesn’t have enough trains though. “We’re still living on over 100-year-old investments,” he said.
Boardman said the ARC Tunnel project, which Gov. Chris Christie canceled, made some basic mistakes. He believes the Gateway Project offers a better plan for the region. “You’re going to bring it into Penn Station [which wasn't in the ARC plan], you’re going to be talking not only NJ Transit but Long Island Railroad and inner city passenger service.”
He said the Gateway Project is still in the process of fruition. “The big deal here is that we gotta be ready when the money’s ready,” he said.
Boardman is confident the money will become available for the project. “You can’t put another 20 million people over the next 30 years in this corridor. Right now we’ve got 40 million people within 40 miles of the corridor,” he said. “You look at I-95, how do you add more lanes? If you look at the delays in the airports today, you’re talking more than half the delays in the country right here in the New York/New Jersey environment.”
When there are service interruptions for riders, organizations tend to point the finger at others, but Boardman said Amtrak accepts responsibility because it’s his company’s infrastructure. “But the problem is the infrastructure’s older and older and you have more difficulties,” he said.
Boardman cited a recent locomotive failure in a tunnel as an example. He said Amtrak is currently building 70 new locomotives to avoid future problems.
The biggest fear Boardman has is a terrorist strike. “When you look at transit, we’re handling 400,000 people a day and Amtrak does that on its corridor and its own trains,” he said. “You can’t close that up otherwise it just won’t work at all.” He said Amtrak has the the best canine system in the United States today to combat terrorist attacks.