By Dave Warner
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Amtrak announced a $151 billion improvement plan on Monday that includes 37-minute trips from New York to Philadelphia at speeds approaching 220 miles per hour (354 km per hour).
However, the U.S. passenger railroad will need substantial financial support from both state and federal governments to make its ambitious plan to transform rail travel in the Northeast a reality.
The railroad predicted that super-fast train trips along the East Coast could be a reality by 2040. Travel times from New York to either Washington or Boston - both about 200 miles in distance - would also be slashed, to 94 minutes, the report said.
Current travel times from New York to Philadelphia on Amtrak's sleek Acela trains are 1 hour, 15 minutes. Travel between New York and Washington currently takes 2 hours, 45 minutes and New York to Boston takes 3 hours, 41 minutes, according to Amtrak's website.
"The NEC (Northeast Corridor) region is America's economic powerhouse and is facing a severe crisis with an aging and congested multi-model transportation network that routinely operates at or near capacity in key segments," Amtrak's President Joe Boardman said in a statement.
The traditionally cash-starved railroad is funded by Congress, where Republicans have been reluctant to finance prior plans to develop high-speed rail in the United States.
Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm acknowledged a lack of federal support but said there were other funding options.
"You have to have a plan and if you have a plan, the money will follow," Kulm said.
Among the sources was $450 million in funding turned down by the state of Florida for a high-speed rail proposal there that will instead be used for rail improvements in New Jersey.
Starting sometime in the 2020s, the hyper speedy "NextGen" trains will replace Acela trains, which were first introduced in 2000, Kulm said.
The newest Amtrak improvement plan also calls for direct links to airports and listed Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore and White Plains, New York, as possible candidates for Amtrak service. Some are already served by local commuter rail lines, such as Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, which connects to the Philadelphia International Airport.
"The vision we will shape with the Northeastern states, Amtrak and all of our stakeholders will outlast the vagaries of politics, budgets and critics," said Joseph Szabo, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, which oversees Amtrak, of the 2012 report.
Amtrak also said it is essential to the entire Northeast Corridor to build new tunnels connecting New York to New Jersey under the Hudson River. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie scuttled a similar plan in 2010 that would have primarily benefited New Jersey Transit. The newer plan would benefit both New Jersey Transit and Amtrak and would use a remodeled Penn Station, said Kulm.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Lisa Shumaker)