Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman, who has led the nation's intercity passenger rail provider since 2008, is getting a new two-year contract, the organization announced this morning.

The move comes at a time when Amtrak is enjoying record ridership -- it had 31.2 million passengers last year -- and is getting renewed attention in large part due to the administration's emphasis on high-speed rail goals.

Before being named Amtrak CEO, Boardman led the Federal Railroad Administration from 2005 to 2008. Prior to that, he was the New York State Commissioner of Transportation.

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Anthony Coscia, chairman of Amtrak's board of directors, emphasized the importance of having continuity of leadership in the organization. He said Boardman will continue to earn a salary of $350,000.

Boardman said his immediate priority will be working to get the 70 new engines announced for the Northeast Corridor online as quickly as possible in order to improve reliability of the service. He also says he will continue to work to execute Amtrak's strategic plan.

Boardman's contract extension comes at a critical time for Amtrak. Since 1997, Amtrak ridership has grown 55 percent and has been the fastest-growing mode of transportation, according to a Brookings Institution report earlier this year.

Meanwhile, President Obama has made high-speed rail a priority, and Amtrak has revealed an ambitious, $151 billion plan for creating high-speed service in its popular Northeast Corridor.

The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, which reauthorizes Amtrak and sets federal passenger rail policy, expires in September. Crafting the next version of that legislation will be a key task facing federal lawmakers who deal with transportation issues.

Earlier this week, Boardman testified before a House's rail subcommittee that questioned whether it makes financial sense for Amtrak to continue operating long-distance routes, which likely foreshadowed the thinking of some Republicans as re-authorization of the rail bill approaches.

House Republicans appear to be interested in reducing federal funds for Amtrak's long-haul routes, which are required by current law but are not profitable. Boardman has advocated for those routes to continue, saying they're an integral part of the country's rail network. "Those things need to continue," Boardman said Thursday. "We need to have those long-distance trains."

Republican Rep. Bill Shuster, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has said he doesn't believe Amtrak should be entirely cut off from federal support but thinks its subsidies could be reduced. Republican Rep. Jeff Denham, who chairs the rail subcommittee has also expressed some skepticism of Amtrak's long-distance routes.

Boardman says he looks forward to working with Congress on passenger rail re-authorization and says Shuster and Denham have been "thoughtful," which he appreciates.