Saturday, May 28

Amtrak may not see the full $80 billion Biden suggested, but planned infrastructure laws may finally help it beat out freight trains

  • Biden’s revised $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan doesn’t give Amtrak the $80 billion it was initially promised.
  • Passenger and freight rail will only get a combined $66 billion if the compromise proposal passes.
  • Amtrak may, however, get to take freight rail companies to court over disputes that have been causing lengthy delays.

New details of President Joe Biden’s revised infrastructure plan have emerged following a Thursday compromise with Congressional Republicans. A total of $1.2 trillion in funding will be distributed if the bill is passed in Congress, down from an initial $2 trillion, though some Republicans are already distancing themselves from the plan.

Investments in the nation’s railroads are still a priority in the new plan, largely owing to the president’s former life as an Amtrak-commuting senator.

Read More: He talks to Biden. We talked to him.

The White House maintains that the funding will “Improve healthy, sustainable transportation options for millions of Americans by modernizing and expanding transit and rail networks across the country while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

“Amtrak is ready to support this vision for greater public transit,” an Amtrak spokesperson told Insider.

But the compromise comes with billions of dollars being left behind at the station. Only $66 billion will go to combined passenger and freight rail projects instead of the $80 billion initially allocated for Amtrak.

The national rail provider quickly jumped on board the infrastructure train in March and unveiled its “Amtrak Connects US” plan. New rail lines were imagined and major cities without existing rail services like Phoenix and Nashville, Tennessee were promised connectivity to the national rail network. An investment in high-speed rail was notably absent.

Parts of the plan may still be implemented as the infrastructure plan still represents “the largest federal investment in passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak,” according to the White House, but the key victory for Amtrak would be a new weapon in its arsenal against freight trains.

Amtrak trains outside of the Northeast Corridor primarily run on tracks owned by freight companies that are, by law, required to give preference to Amtrak trains. But that’s not often the reality on America’s tracks and lengthy delays are often incurred by long-distance passenger trains as a result.

If Amtrak can get enforceable laws on the books to give it a leg up against Big Rail Freight, on-time performances on long-distance routes will improve. Fewer delayed trains could make the mode of travel a more reliable and consistent alternative to flying and driving, especially as Amtrak is spending $28 million on upgrades to its Superliner and Viewliner train cars.

Rep. Peter DeFazio’s House Transportation Committee is spearheading the effort to give Amtrak the right to have federal courts settle disputes with freight companies.

“Right now they’ve got it the way they want it,” DeFazio said of rail freight companies in an interview, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. “So we’re going to change the law and give Amtrak better access.”

Amtrak’s enthusiasm surrounding the planned $80 billion investment also didn’t go to waste. States and localities across the US, excited by the idea of ​​new rail service, have been eager to work with Amtrak on new state-sponsored routes.

In Colorado, officials are working towards a new rail line along Interstate 25 in what’s known as the Front Range corridor between Fort Collins and Pueblo, according to the Denver Post. Amtrak is also petitioning Congress to make it easier for states to get new services by not forcing them to foot a lion’s share of the bill, which is what the law requires at present.

Amtrak spokesperson Marc Molinari attributes the excitement to Amtrak finally going on the offensive instead of having to constantly defend itself and its spending.

Roger Harris, Amtrak’s chief marketing and revenue officer, told Insider on June 15 that the $80 billion plan was “extremely ambitious” but “even part of it would be revolutionary.”