Amtrak CEO outlines plans for spending $66 billion from infrastructure funding

Amtrak plans to use the $66 billion in funding it receives from the newly passed federal infrastructure bill to advance rail projects along the Northeast Corridor and possibly expand service to 160 communities across the country, the head of the passenger rail service said.

The federal money would also help Amtrak tackle climate change.

“We have a clear vision for how we want to grow our business and reach more of America,” Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn said in a statement to NBC News on Sunday.

The House passed the $555 billion infrastructure bill on Friday night, sending the legislation to President Joe Biden who is expected to quickly sign the measure into law.

The funding package will ramp up government spending on roads, bridges and airports, as well as public transit, water systems and broadband. Amtrak will receive $66 billion as part of the package.

About $44 billion of it will go to the Federal Railroad Administration, which falls under the Department of Transportation, for state grants and other rail projects, Flynn said.

Another $22 billion would be used for fleet acquisitions and improvement projects across its system, he said, touting the passage of the bipartisan bill.

“This represents the largest investment of its kind since Amtrak was founded in 1971,” Flynn said.

The funding would push forward the company's Amtrak Connects US initiative, a 15-year strategy to expand service for up to 160 new communities in an energy efficient way, in addition to rail projects and initiatives along the Northeast Corridor and elsewhere, he said.

Those initiatives include the Hudson Tunnel Project, which would rehabilitate the existing tunnel under the Hudson River that carries Amtrak and New Jersey Transit passenger trains between New Jersey and New York, and the Connecticut River Bridge Replacement Project, which would replace the existing 107-year-old bridge between different parts of the state.

Other funds would go to station projects between Washington, D.C., and Boston; and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to Springfield, Massachusetts.

Railroad insiders and associations said they were happy about the upcoming funding.

"Our nation will make the significant, long-overdue investments we need to modernize our public infrastructure, enhance safety and support future economic growth,” Association of American Railroads President Ian Jefferies said in a statement.

The Rail Passengers Association on Sunday said it met with several members of Congress over the past few years and offered ideas that helped the measure pass.

“This is a down payment on literally decades of underinvestment,” the association's president, Jim Mathews, said. "We are catching up on stuff we should have been paying for.”

He added, “It’s hard to explain to people how little this country has spent on rail. We as a country didn’t invest enough and it shows.”

New passenger train sets would also replace the 45-year-old Northeast Regional Amfleet trains and many Amtrak-served stations would be brought in compliance for those with disabilities as part of the new funding, Flynn said.

Amtrak officials said there will be new passenger equipment for state-supported and long-distance trains, and a new corridor development program to identify new routes across the nation.

Most of the railroads that Amtrak owns are in the Northeast where the majority of its riders and routes are but the equipment and trains are outdated, said Pasi Lautala, director of the rail transportation program at Michigan Technological University.

“I would expect a good portion of that $22 billion is probably going to the Northeast Corridor. It makes sense,” he said. “If you want to increase ridership, you need convenience and reliability and right now, I’m not sure if they have either one of them.”

The funding for grant programs and corridor development is meaningful and nothing like this has been seen in several years, said Dominic Spaethling, chair of the passenger rail committee for the Transportation Research Board and vice-president of design firm HNTB Corp.

“We’re all very excited about the opportunity for investment,” he said, adding that Amtrak’s financial outline for how it expects to spend the money is appropriate. 

While the bipartisan infrastructure deal funds many projects and initiatives, it does not address every need, Flynn said.

“We will continue to work with Congress and the administration to continue to provide necessary funding on an annual basis to make rail a vital transportation option in this country,” he said.

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