Amtrak asks for subsidies in wake of Hurricane Sandy

Long Island Railroad workers work to repair tracks just east of Long Beach Road in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy on November 9, 2012 in Island Park, New York.

On Capitol Hill today, fiscal conservatives are likely to argue against the hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies that go to Amtrak each year. But Hurricane Sandy showed you need to spend if you want to save.

Amtrak says it suffered $60 million in losses from Sandy. But it's asking congress for more than $250 million to upgrade and prepare for next time.

"These include things like back up power systems, fully submersible water pumps," says Petra Messick, a planner with Amtrak. She's thinking big and long-term, including two new tunnels into Manhattan. The existing six tunnels are roughly, a century old.

"They will be built in the 21st century and include a host of features that will make them more resilient," Messick adds.
 
Republicans in Congress have argued that expensive projects like these need a clear revenue stream and that the private sector can foot some of the bill.

Robert Puentes of the Brookings Institution says that argument might be a tiny bit harder now.

"Superstorm Sandy did change the conversation around infrastructure, particularly in the Northeast," he says. "The enormous bills we have from Sandy are not going to be born by the private sector. It's ridiculous to think so."

He says there is a role private companies in passenger rail. The question is: how big?

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