News & Reviews News Wire Infrastructure bill addresses Amtrak priorities, congressional requirements

Infrastructure bill addresses Amtrak priorities, congressional requirements

By Bob Johnston | November 8, 2021

| Last updated on April 4, 2024

Criteria still must be developed to decide what projects receive funding

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Two railroad tracks exiting one tunnel and entering another
Baltimore’s almost 150-year-old B&P Tunnel is one of Amtrak’s priorities for funding to be obtained through the new infrastructure bill. Bob Johnston

WASHINGTON—The $66 billion set aside for passenger rail in the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act holds the promise of jumpstarting projects across the country, but the Federal Railroad Administration still must develop criteria to prioritize which investments receive funding.

Those criteria are will have to be determined in the next 180 days, but Deputy Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose told Trains News Wire last month, “There’s no other way to dice it: state support and involvement is essential. So is host railroad agreement and support of those projects.”

His remarks were made following a presentation in Chicago [see “FRA unveils ambitious Midwest Rail Plan,” Trains News Wire, Oct. 14, 2021]. More than half of the money prescribed in the five-year funding plan, $36 billion, is in this “Federal-State Partnership for Passenger Rail” category.

Direct grants to Amtrak in the infrastructure bill and companion five-year Surface Transportation Investment Act reauthorization include $12.5 billion for Northeast Corridor and $28.6 billion for National Network projects that don’t carry the state-match provisions, typically 20% of the cost. But the company expects to be a willing participant in efforts to help states begin investing in new routes touted in its “ConnectsUS” expansion plans.

The Rail Passengers Association has developed a table and explanation of funding available in different categories.

Amtrak’s spending priorities

Long-postponed Northeast Corridor infrastructure projects would be the major beneficiary of the infrastructure investment, but because there has never been dependable annual funding from which to form a cohesive prioritization plan, these are at various stages of development. Amtrak must decide whether to allocate money for necessary environmental work, preliminary engineering, or actual construction.

In a statement to News Wire, Amtrak says these projects include:

Two-track rail bridge as seen from on train
Replacement of New Jersey’s Portal Bridge, as seen from an Amtrak geometry car in 2013, is also part of Amtrak’s infrastructure priorities. Bob Johnston

— The Hudson Tunnel Project and other elements of Gateway such as the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River;

— East River Tunnel renewal between Manhattan and Queens in New York;

— Replacement of Baltimore’s B&P Tunnel, opened in 1873;

— Susquehanna and Connecticut River Bridge renewal or replacement;

— Station projects, including clearing a backlog of Americans with Disabilities Act compliance issues at a number of Northeast Corridor locations, including routes to Harrisburg, Pa., and Springfield, Mass.

National network funding would also help rectify ADA deficiencies outside of the Northeast Corridor and “infrastructure improvements on certain national network routes.”

Amtrak says both pots of money “would support new passenger equipment for state-supported and long-distance trains” and “new passenger trainsets to replace the 45-year-old Northeast Regional Amfleet trains.” The company has already placed a $7.3 billion order with Siemens for 73 trainsets, including a parts and servicing agreement.  The Washington Department of Transportation and Virginia are participating in that procurement, but plans to replace long-distance equipment have not advanced passed the theoretical stage.

Required Amtrak reforms

The Amtrak funding does have strings attached. Among the required reforms in the reauthorization:

— Updating cost accounting methodology and transparency, to be developed in conjunction with the State-Amtrak Intercity Passenger Rail Committee. States have complained Amtrak costs are only revealed after a service change.

— Revising the company’s mission statement to maximize the benefits of federal investment, providing service to rural communities, and recognizing the importance of long-distance routes, whose frequency or operations cannot be discontinued or reduced as long as Congress provides sufficient funding.

— Reconstituting the Amtrak Board of Directors along geographical lines, with at least two members each from Northeast Corridor, state-supported, and long-distance routes. The terms of all current board members have expired, but new members still must be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

— Stations averaging at least 40 passengers per day must be staffed with a ticket agent.

— Provide greater financial information transparency in reporting to Congress.

— Remove “break-even” food service provisions of the previous reauthorization and establish a working group to improve onboard food and beverage delivery.

Trains News Wire will look more closely at these directives in future analyses.

3 thoughts on “Infrastructure bill addresses Amtrak priorities, congressional requirements

  1. Time will tell with new Superliner car orders, if there is no announcement of bids being taken for replacements in 2022 then they surely are up to no good. It would take 4-5 years to even design & build by then the Suplnr I’s will be going on 50 yrs old & ripe for being too “costly to maintain”. A back door to eliminating the LD routes.

  2. Can someone clarify if the Bipartisan Infrastructure deal simply authorizes the rail money to be spent or actually appropriates the money? The latter actually provides the dollars to be spent unless later deappropriated. The Surface Transportation dollars are simply authorizations and will have to be fought for going forward each year.

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