Amtrak Vice President Al Engel says the nation cannot meet 21st Century transportation needs without high-speed rail, and it requires a public investment. He says private investors will not see a return soon enough to justify putting up their money.
“Investors want to see a payback in five years or maybe a little longer. With a project like this you’re not going to see a payback for ten years or more, so up front there has to be a public investment, but once the infrastructure is there on the right high-speed rail corridors you do not need an operating subsidy.”
He says the state and federal governments have to make policy decisions about subsidizing the infrastructure, and in the end they will see a return on their investments.
“It’s not coming all back in the fare box, but it’s coming back in the jobs that are created for the community and the economic activity. It’s an indirect result, but the government makes it in taxes, so there’s a return on that investment by the government.”
Engel says Amtrak makes a profit on its Acela and Northeast Corridor service, which it uses to subsidize service elsewhere, and system-wide it covers 85 percent of expenses through revenues generated, which is far better than SEPTA and most other regional transit systems. He says the federal government has been subsidizing transportation since Thomas Jefferson was president, when it helped with canals, and Abraham Lincoln authorized land grants and other help for the first transcontinental railroad. He appeared Wednesday on the WNPV talk program Legally Speaking.