Happening Now

$80 Billion For Rail

March 31, 2021

Tranformational rail investment is at hand...if we can make our voices heard

by Jim Mathews / President & CEO

Happy Infrastructure Day...no, really! In a speech in Pittsburgh, PA, today President Biden is slated to unveil his American Jobs Plan which would inject some $2 trillion into infrastructure investments over the next eight years, including more than $160 billion, with a “b,” for public transportation, passenger rail and railroad improvements and grants.

This is mostly in the form of capital, with the stated aim of catching up Amtrak on its long-delayed state-of-good-repair backlog along with investing in new routes, new destinations and new equipment to serve it all. Transit, too, comes in for a boost, with the plan essentially doubling Federal spending on public transit relative to today’s levels.

A White House overview of the plan offers some very encouraging words, especially in outlining Biden’s call on Congress to invest $80 billion over eight years “to address Amtrak’s repair backlog; modernize the high-traffic Northeast Corridor; improve existing corridors and connect new city pairs; and enhance grant and loan programs that support passenger and freight rail safety, efficiency, and electrification.”

The Administration makes the point we’ve been trying to make for many years: unlike highways and transit, “rail lacks a multi-year funding stream to address deferred maintenance, enhance existing corridors, and build new lines in high-potential locations.” The White House notes that “there are currently projects just waiting to be funded that will give millions more Americans reliable and fast inter-city train service.”

All of this sets the stage for Amtrak to make good on its embrace of a growth vision for passenger rail. Last year Amtrak leadership began hinting at bigger ideas for passenger rail in a visionary legislative report and grant request for Fiscal 2021, an ambition that the coronavirus squashed. But today’s announcements from the White House and the Dept. of Transportation signal that it’s time to re-boot that ambition.

In the coming days and weeks let’s look for Amtrak to take on the Biden Administration’s challenge, and when they do let’s all get aboard as advocates to push it through. Make no mistake: the steely knives are already out from opponents of rail. Now will be the time we advocates will have to work harder than we ever have – harder than we did to save the Southwest Chief, harder than we did to restore daily service. But the payoff in multiple new services and maybe even hundreds of new communities served by Amtrak’s long-distance Network could truly be transformative for passenger rail in this country.

I’m ready for this. Are you?