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Officials Stress Need For Amtrak Upgrades At Congressional Hearing

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Members of Congress gathered in Manhattan Friday for a hearing on the region's rail service, but the task of improving safety and speed on the tracks isn't going to come cheap. NY1's Jose Martinez filed the following report.

More than 260 million people take the train every year along the Northeast Corridor, making it the country's busiest stretch of railway.

But it's a system that's showing its age, and officials say that without a big boost in funding, it's one that faces trouble ahead.

"The system is old," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose district covers parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan. "Much of it was constructed in the 19th or early 20th centuries. Bridges, tunnels, tracks and signals all need to be upgraded just to keep up with demand on the current system."

On Friday, a congressional committee heard from officials at Amtrak, New York State and the Regional Plan Association during a hearing at what may someday become Moynihan Station.

The common theme? It's going to take billions of dollars to keep up with the growing needs of rail travelers in the Northeast.

"What would happen to this community and this whole region if the rail system didn't operate?" said Joseph Boardman, president and CEO of Amtrak.

It's a crucial question, since Metro-North, the Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit all depend on sections of the Northeast Corridor to move their trains.

Officials at Friday's hearing said the damage inflicted by Hurricane Sandy shows the need for enormous upkeep. The storm did a number on the critical railroad equipment around New York, where ridership demand is at record levels and growing.

Without major improvements, Boardman forecasted more breakdowns of equipment and trains moving slower in the name of safety.

"New investment and state of good repair is essential," said New York State Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald. "We often think what might happen if we lost this invaluable resource, and Hurricane Sandy brought that home."

How much might it cost to meet the most basic needs to keep the trains running? Amtrak officials put that figure at $750 million every year for the next 15 years.

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