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Amtrak unveils ‘Connects US’ map that suggests new corridors

By Bob Johnston | March 31, 2021

Release coincides with announced $80 billion over 8 years in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, but will depend on legislative remedies from Congress

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Map of U.S. with current and proposed Amtrak lines
Map of U.S. with current and proposed Amtrak lines
Amtrak is proposing expanded operations, with new operations shown in light blue. (Amtrak)

WASHINGTON — Citing the need to finally attack a multi-billion dollar backlog of century-old Northeast Corridor bridge and tunnel replacements, Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn followed President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan announcement with the first outlines of a proposal that would jump-start expansion of state-supported intercity corridors with an infusion of upfront capital assistance.

“President Biden’s infrastructure plan is what this nation has been waiting for,” Flynn says in a statement, adding, “Amtrak must rebuild and improve the Northeast Corridor, our National Network and expand our service to more of America.” The wide-ranging $2 trillion Biden plan includes $621 billion for transportation infrastructure, with $80 billion of that for passenger and freight rail.

Along with Flynn’s statement, the company released a “Amtrak Connects US” fact sheet and map, available here, that shows existing routes, including those with “enhanced service,” and suggests where new routes might be added as part of what Amtrak calls “Our 2035 Vision.”

The map is similar to one the company made available to advocacy organizations as it sought to garner support from states which might be interested in sponsoring short-distance corridors.

The outline claims there would be “up to 160 more communities served; multiple daily trips in 15 more states; up to 30+ potential new routes; and up to 20+ existing routes with more trips.” Details are not provided because all those proposed additions would require a buy-in by states, or groups of states, to make a long-term commitment to fund operations.

The map shows corridor extensions to Las Vegas, Nev., from California, and between Dallas and Houston, Texas — routes where private developers are nearing the construction phase for high speed projects. It does not indicate service on Florida’s Miami-Orlando Brightline route (while showing the existing Amtrak long-distance route between those cities), or acknowledge the effort in Montana to revive service on the North Coast Hiawatha’s former route. The map does show that the Sunset Limited’s route east of Mobile, Ala., to Jacksonville, Fla., is still “suspended.”

There are no details how state-Amtrak partnerships would be structured, but the fact sheet does make clear that Congress must act to supply “increased funding … to support operating and capital costs for new and improved corridor routes.”

It also makes clear that lawmakers must also facilitate “a streamlined and expeditious process for accessing freight lines and determining reasonable capacity improvements,” and help develop “new enforcement tools for Amtrak’s existing right to preference over freight trains to ensure our riders arrive on-time.”

Flynn concludes, “America needs a rail network that offers frequent, reliable, sustainable, and equitable train service. Now is our time; let’s make rail the solution.”

46 thoughts on “Amtrak unveils ‘Connects US’ map that suggests new corridors

  1. Can’t help but notice a lack of long-distance routes in this plan. While I guess that sort of makes sense (corridors will likely have greater ridership), the long-distance trains still seemed to recover from COVID shutdowns rather quickly. A new North Coast Hiawatha or Pioneer would really help fill some gaps in the national network.

    1. Frankly, I personally think that we will see these four LD improvements/expansions : 1, A new North Coast Hiawatha, it has a pretty steady drumbeat, and good political support, it is also a prime candidate for restoration funds due to its rail authority. 2, A daily Cardinal. 3 The Pennsylvanian extension to Chicago via Detroit. 4, CONO extension to Orlando.

      Add these on to the proposed map, and we are good to go.

      1. I would add a direct route from Fort Worth to Denver via Pueblo. A lot of Texan’s have second homes in Colorado and/or go skiing there. It’s too expensive to fly and just a bit too far for a one day car trip.

  2. Make that second Chicago-Twin Cities route via Madison going directly up the old CNW through Janesville, the old Milwaukee Road up to Portage and over to Camp Douglas, and then up the old CNW via Eau Claire. Skip the trip-lengthening side trip to Milwaukee. The existing Amtrak Chicago-TC route should still get a second train also, however.

    1. Mr. Holman: I’m not going to judge the merits or demerits of operating a CHI-TC train via “the old CNW through Janesville. But how do you propose to get a train that originates/terminates at Chicago Union Station to/from the UP Harvard Subdivision? The only connection between the tracks that lead to CUS and the UP (Metra) is with the UP Geneva Sub at Tower A2.

      1. Let me partially answer my own question to Mr. Holman: Trains to/from CUS could potentially access the UP Harvard Sub via the CP C&M Sub/Metra Milw North at Mayfair. However, no track connection exists there now and absent my watching the Metra-sponsored headend ride videos (one in each direction) CUS-Fox Lake, I cannot say if room exists to put in such a connection. Para. Let me take this space to opine on the actual subject of this article. I don’t trust Amtrak two feet. I have a feeling, partially based on a regular commenter at the RPA Hotline News, that these proposals seem to be a Trojan Horse for dismantling or at least greatly undermining the LD services. And no attention is being paid to the fact that to implement any of these routes, a buy-in from host railroads will be required. And they might not say “Yes”. Yeah, Virginia is having great luck with CSX. But NYState blew it with them with the third track restoration proposal of 2009 and died a horrible death in 2014. And the idiot children in the Western MA state elected delegation who are objecting to CSX+PAR are undermining their stated desires for cross-state services Pittsfield-BOS and North Adams-BON. Lastly, I wouldn’t give Amtrak a dime of stimulus $$$ unless and until they kick Stephen Gardner out the door. Stephen Gardner has no use for a connected national system. He only wants to play in his NEC sandbox and perhaps state-supported routes where the states fund 100%. Flynn might be a nice guy and behave with civility unlike his predecessor. But he has a figurative nose ring and he is being led around by Gardner. I am royally ticked at Pres. Biden and “Mayor Pete” for not recognizing what Gardner is and forcing his ouster before initiating any effort to “Build [Amtrak] Back Better”.

        1. Biden has a chance to appoint some Amtrak board members. He ought to put people on like John Robert Smith and Dave Strohmaier, who will outweigh Gardner, if not fire him.

          1. John Robert Smith is a past member of the Amtrak Board. Can he be again and if so does he want it? But will Pres.Biden appoint anyone new. The current Chair is as NEC-centric as Gardner.

  3. Looking at the map, they may as well close the gap between Louisville and Nashville and they could, once again, have a direct Chicago to Florida train. They should also restore service between Las Vegas, NV and Salt Lake City, UT to tie-in with the “California Zephyr”. A lot of the tourist traffic to and from Vegas comes from mid-western and eastern states—not just from southern California. Discontinuing the “Desert Wind” was a BIG mistake. The coordinated van-bus that takes Vegas passengers to/from Amtrak’s “Southwest Chief” at Kingman, AZ is a joke—especially with the way Vegas is served by air. They should also close the gap between Pueblo, CO and either La Junta or Trinidad to coordinate with Amtrak # 3 & 4.

    1. DAVID – Some good ideas. As for Nashville to Chattanooga, I was train-watching that line earlier this week. This is a railroad (literally) out of the Ciivil War – Braxton Bagg and William S. Rosecrans fought over it. It’s not suitable for passenger trains. Neither Amtrak nor the half-baked (at best) proposals for suburban service southeast of Nashville is going to happen. Interstate 24 is a parking lot, and the parallel US 41 is the worst US Highway in America. That’s what were stuck with. CSX’s rail line isn’t any better.

      1. To continue my own analysis — this is the Year 2021. Not 1971, which was, literally, half a century ago. There are many reasons why Las Vegas, Nashville, Phoenix and Columbus have no passenger trains. One of the reasons is that the rail network has changed over the last fifty years. Anyone can “connect the dots” of the pssaenger train network, as USDOT and NARP did late 1970 to early 1971. The tracks that were there in 1970-1971 have in many cases been downgraded or lifted entirely. In other cases, freight traffic has increased and/ or runs slower. In 1971, the Milwaukee Road’s line from Milwaukee to MSP was double track. Now it isn’t. Repeat versions of that reality nationwide, that’s what we have to work with.

  4. So we can expect an expanded Northeast corridor with electrification from Maine to Virginia?

    1. I don’t think so. How would you get across Boston for one thing? For another, don’t you think it more pressing to get the problems of the Hudson River and B&P Tunnels, and the aging and deficient Susquehanna River, Portal, Pelham Bay, Mianus, Norwalk, Saugatuck, Housatonic, and Connecticut River bridges replaced first?

  5. While Birmingham, Atlanta and Charlotte are ‘double dipping’ with added service on the existing route of the ‘Crescent’, there remains no restoration of passenger train service over the former route of Southern Railway’s ‘Tennessean’ between Washington and Memphis via Roanoke, Bristol, Knoxville Chattanooga, Huntsville (Alabama) and Sheffield (Alabama). The void in the Tennessee Valley would be filled after a half century of no passenger trains between Knoxville, Chattanooga, Huntsville, Sheffield and Memphis.
    Sadly, many of us will not be alive if Amtrak ever makes major route and service expansions.

  6. Looks promising would like to see a return of the Northcoast Hiawatha & an alternate MSP to CHI route on the UP BUT all the above routes will require state support which will be next to impossible in todays political climate.

  7. The triangle route in Texas had been debated for decades now. I’m more keen on seeing the DFW-Houston high speed private connection than an Amtrak connection in all honesty. Amtrak concentrates on lower speed at this time outside of the NEC and unless they are willing to go the distance and upgrade the ENTIRE network for high or higher speed they need to support the private companies who are building them.

  8. Very good comments about many of these routes and some of the challenges to get them back to passenger train standards/speeds. The most interesting one on the map to me is the proposal for Los Angeles-Phoenix service. The UP (ex-SP) line west from Phoenix to connect with the mainline east of Yuma has been out of service for decades now, I would wonder if Amtrak actually can get Arizona interested in subsidizing a complete rebuild of approximately 120 miles of track with no local towns along the way to help support the service. Perhaps they will, LA-Phoenix could be a great market if travel times could be brought to a level competitive with driving I-10.

  9. What is the theory here ? Build these routes to fill a need ? Or build the routes and they will come ? With flying or driving being either quicker, cheaper or more convenient, why should anyone ride the train. Amtrak should stick to the corridors that have a need already.

  10. The fact that there still is no service from the Midwest/Chicago to Florida, via Nashville and Atlanta is borderline criminal

  11. Amtrak’s “Connects US” network looks somewhat like its network from back in the George Warrington/Ed Ellis days. The Southwest region could benefit by having a “hub” at Fort Worth with a rerouted SUNSET LMTD from LA through El Paso terminating at FW with connections to a San Antonio-FW-OK City HEARTLAND FLYER, a Houston-FW train, and the TEXAS EAGLE.

  12. These plans will all disappear when the Republicans gain control of the Congress and the Presidency.

    1. Given the current legislative doings in Georgia, Arizona and other states and how those efforts fare in the courts, that’s a very real possibility. And yes it will undo any all this passenger rail stuff

  13. Anybody who does not believe in the viability of rail service to the well being and safety of a country has not studied history…and those fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. As an American who has literallly travelled thousands of miles by rail I support Biden’s knowledge and understanding of the railroads.
    May America get back to backing the good things about the USA.

      1. Oh, in my Chevrolet that was built in Canada? Or how about my Honda that was built in Alabama?

  14. I wrote the previous comment not realizing my husband’s name would automatically go on it.
    I’m his wife and we both support Amtrak. Susan B. Kominz

  15. Even is the construction and service plans are not scuttled by changes in the administration in Washington, unreliable travel times and poor connections with extremely long layovers will kill potential ridership. How long would it take to get from Nashville to Kansas City?

  16. An Auto Train from the Chicago area to Sanford, FL would be (in my humble opinion) a money maker for Amtrak. Not going to happen, but I can dream, can’t I? I’m also dreaming about non-microwaveable food on Amtrak. Wow! What have I been smoking?

  17. Quite frankly, I’m disappointed in Amtrak’s plan and especially in the map they came out with.

    A wise man once said “make no small plans”. I’m not sure who said that but in this case it most definitely applies.

    For the first time in its history, Amtrak has a strong, vocal advocate in the White House and a sympathetic Congress to boot. Why not shoot the moon? Then if they don’t get everything that they want, they might still get the better part of it.

    But it just seems to me that they are starting out here at a much lower base. Then, if they don’t get everything that they want, we won’t have made too much progress over what we have today.

    I did see a few good ideas. The map suggests that they plan to try and return to Phoenix proper. The “Heartland Flyer” or whatever it’s called that now dead ends in Oklahoma City is slated to be extended to the Southwest Chief Route in Kansas – another good idea.

    A new train from L.A. Las Vegas is also a good idea but why not take it to Salt Lake City and Denver? Southern Californians will be able to take the train to Vegas but people from SLC, Denver and points east will not be able to.

    Where is the new talked-about route across southern Montana and what about ending the so-called “temporary” suspension of Sunset Limited service from New Orleans to Florida? What about a Chicago-Florida train? I would use that one for sure if they’d offer one!

    The new route to Scranton and two that are slated to go west of Chicago to Rockford and Iowa were already in the works anyway so this isn’t really any new material here.

    The plan is a step in the right direction but, like I say, I’m underwhelmed and disappointed.

    Regards,
    Fred M. Cain,
    Topeka, IN

  18. I see the crayonistas are out in force on this one. Very little of this will come about. There is little demand for LD passenger trains in the US. Some corridors will happen if the states get on board and provide the money but I doubt many states have the money available, after Covid, for a low demand service but in larger urban areas there may be a chance. The NEC upgrade projects should proceed and the rail freight items are really necessary. Regarding the Chicago- Florida train, in the late 1970s I took what I believe was the South Wind from Chicago to Jacksonville. If I remember right, it took two nights and one whole day and parts of two others. There was very little of scenic value and became very boring very quickly. Why would anyone (other than railfans) do this when they can get on a plane and be at their destination in 3-4 hours? Makes no sense for the average person. Plus the cost in a sleeper would be prohibitive. I don’t think Biden really expects that his proposal will be passed in total. Even some moderate democrats are starting to realize this is too expensive and irresponsible. Something will get passed but we’ll have to wait see how much.

    1. Here is why. A four hour flight takes 12 hours end to end and its a degrading terrifying experience. A whole massive swath of the American population are not flyers. They fear the whole family dying in a crash. Dont laugh, they do fear a plane crash. The airports are confusing and expensive to get to and the TSA scares the hell out of them. They just will not fly. they will ride the train however long it takes but they are not going through that security line at the airport. Air travel is bad environmental policy as well.

  19. I agree that any re-vitalization of the “South Wind” that was not an Auto-Train is a poor idea given that from Chicago there is tremendous air service via AA, UA, SW, and Spirit to every location in Florida.
    What does make sense to me is a return of the NYC’s “Southwestern Limited” with modifications. Run from NYC to CLE then via Indianapolis on the old Big Four “Bee” line and west to St. Louis and Kansas City. This latter part would be a rebirth of part of the old “National Limited” which last ran in October, 1979.

  20. Its a political document and a lily-livered one for sure. JFK took us to the moon in 10 years during an era when we barely had jet travel and theese guys cant get us to Jacksonville FL until 2035! Twenty-four years. What a bunch of lazy bureaucrats. I hope private operators just jump in and take it all. The market for traditional rail travel in the US is unlimited. Only the government could lose money on it.

  21. As long as the U.S. government is involved, mal-investment will be the rule. If the
    passenger rail system was opened to private entities, we might have a chance at good rail service. How to fix? Get rid of government or continue the decline into the new Dark Ages.

  22. Huge gap between Portland, OR and Salt Lake City and/or Denver. Not much connecting out west from what I can see. Same old anti-long distance bias pushed by Northeast Corridor centric Amtrak.

  23. Need to restore Pioneer and Desert Wind–huge mistakes to stop them. Fill in gaps in the map.

    Corridors might carry more passengers, but long distance trains tend to way out-perform in terms of passenger miles and even boardings per station per train. Corridor and long distance can complement each other: what the map doesn’t show is growth potential on a route if there are multiple frequencies over certain parts of a longer route, the longer route being linked by a single long distance train.

  24. It ain’t gonna happen! Reasons have been mentioned previously, here’s my summary:
    1. Likely switch in majority party in congress in 2022.
    2. Most Americans will drive or fly.
    3. What survives 2022 will be the part visible to politicians and big city bureaucrats-the NEC and little else.
    I enjoy taking the train, but with my wife in a wheelchair, we go in our truck and trailer because any sort of public transport is a PITA.
    It will take a major shift in public attitudes and political sensitivities to change 1-3. Both parties are too wedded to their donors to do the right things.
    PR

  25. Whether NJT or Amtrak, I hope I’m around long enough to actually ride from where I am on Long Island, connecting at Penn to a train DIRECT to Scranton PA – that’s comfortable and takes me to a point in Scranton that’s good to be at, and let’s me either get an easy connection or rent a car. I’m a native Scrantonian, have reason to go there every few years and hate driving at this point. But love staying at the former Lackawanna station. Just watching trains going by, preferably tourist.

  26. If they want continued Federal handouts, force the passenger service back to the railroads. They did it better anyway.

  27. I wish it was possible to leave politics out of this discussion, but it isn’t. Some readers have commented that the whole plan will collapse if the Republicans regain congress in 2022. If HR-1/S-1 passes the senate and is signed by the president, the Republicans will never win a majority again. With the virtual shut down of the petroleum and coal industries, there won’t be enough electricity to fuel all those fanciful electric vehicles. In that case, since people tend to be mobile, train travel will have a major resurgence. Years from now, remember where you read this prediction first.

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