Amtrak offered $ 80 billion in upgrades, but modernization efforts may cost more –

Amtrak offered $ 80 billion in upgrades, but modernization efforts may cost more

  • As Amtrak prepares a spending spree, experts say it may cost more to modernize the US system.
  • Biden last week announced $ 80 billion in Amtrak funding as part of his $ 2 trillion plan.
  • See more stories on the Insider business page.

When President Joe Biden last week outlined the $ 80 billion in funding for Amtrak in its $ 2 trillion infrastructure package, the rail operator released a map showing all the changes it plans to make over the next 14 years.

There were new high-profile routes to Las Vegas and Phoenix in the west, and Nashville and Montgomery in the south. But experts said the most important part of the plan was the modernization of the routes that were already in operation, the ones that have been crumbling for years.

Few would not recognize that the nation’s railroads, both Amtrak and local, have been through tough times. The US consistently ranks below other countries in its rail infrastructure. China, Japan, and other countries invested in high-speed trains in recent decades that are more efficient than anything else in the US.

The most notable high-speed rail project in the US, for example, a train expected to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles, has repeatedly slashed its budget. That route was included in the map released by Amtrak this week, which details what American routes were expected to look like by 2035.

Amtrak Connect United States Map 2021 March

Amtrak Connects US, the railroad’s vision for rail travel in the US in 2035.


The United States has historically not invested as much funds in its rail system as its European or Asian counterparts, said Allan Zarembski, professor and director of the Railroad Safety and Engineering Program at the University of Delaware.

“This bill will certainly help, but it may not be enough on its own as it does not address the long-term problem of continued funding for public passenger systems,” Zarembski said Thursday.

Biden’s plan is sure to face opposition from conservatives in Congress. Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. Kevin McCarthy said last week that the bill was full of waste.

The invoice “[f]ast-tracks $ 80 billion in new subsidies for Amtrak and its unions, despite the fact that Congress provided billions in aid to Amtrak last year, “McCarthy said in a statement denouncing the” bidenomia. ”

McConnell said Biden’s plan was full of “radical far-left priorities.”

Amtrak New Jersey Tunnel Project

Amtrak workers perform tunnel repairs to a partially flooded train bed, Saturday, March 20, 2021, in Weehawken, NJ. a year-old tunnel in the meantime.

John Minchillo / AP Photo

Over the years, academics and researchers have published a number of reports on the US rail system, most of which came to the same conclusion: More funding would be needed to modernize them to the new global standard.

A team of researchers from George Mason University, for example, published an analysis of trains in the northeastern US in 2019, compared to their counterparts around the world.

To make the northeast corridor between Washington, DC, and New York City as reliable, energy efficient and safe as Alstom’s French trains, Amtrak would have to invest $ 164 million per mile, the researchers wrote.

That would total $ 37 billion for a single US route, which would not include its annual operating cost of $ 570 million. That would be nearly half the spending allocated as part of the Biden bill.

Comparing rail networks from one country to another is a difficult task, in part because good systems depend on geographies. Even within the US, rail corridors have varied uses. Commuters crowd Acela in the northeast corridor, while seers relax in glass-roofed cars traversing Glacier National Park in the northwest.

But most of America’s rail routes were “legacy” systems created by failed 19th-century railroads, said Murray Rowden, global director of infrastructure for Turner & Townsend, a New York firm.

There is a growing investment gap between what states are willing to pay and what the railroads need. A plan like Biden’s can begin to make up for those budget shortfalls.

“States always have their ups and downs with their budget cycles when trying to balance their priorities, and the primary focus for most transit agencies is keeping their infrastructure in ‘good shape’,” Rowden added.

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