Biden Promises Faster Amtrak Trains in Infrastructure Push

President Joe Biden urged Congress to revitalize Amtrak as part of his plan to rebuild infrastructure, calling train service essential to the economy and environmental protection as he recognized the 50th anniversary of the U.S. passenger rail system.

“For years I fought efforts to cut funding for Amtrak because cutting funding for Amtrak would be a disaster for our environment and our economy,” Biden said Friday at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. “We have to invest.”

Increasing spending on trains, he said, could lead to faster and more efficient transportation between scores of U.S. cities, including Washington and New York. He said that adjustments to “three curves” on the route between the two cities could reduce travel time to an hour and 32 minutes, and also indicated support for the proposed Gateway rail tunnel under the Hudson River.

“Imagine a two-hour train ride between Atlanta and Charlotte going at speeds of 220 miles an hour,” he said, and “faster and more regular trips between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, a route that I imagine could be pretty popular on Fridays.”

The president’s sweeping $2.25 trillion infrastructure package would provide the passenger rail system $80 billion to upgrade and expand service.

Biden is a well-known Amtrak passenger who picked up the nickname “Amtrak Joe” due to 36 years of daily commutes on the rail system between his home in Delaware and Washington, when he served in the U.S. Senate.

“Amtrak wasn’t just a way of getting home,” Biden said, recounting several stories from his travels, including large parties he hosted for the train service’s employees. “It provided me, and I’m not joking, an entire other family.”

He continued to take the train occasionally as vice president. But security requirements of the presidency forced him to fly to Philadelphia, rather than ride the rails.

Biden’s trip to Philadelphia is part of a nationwide tour by the president and other administration officials to boost popular support for spending plans that Biden laid out in a Wednesday address to a joint session of Congress.

Biden held a rally Thursday in an Atlanta suburb and plans to travel Monday to Yorktown, Virginia. In addition to the infrastructure and jobs proposal, Biden detailed a $1.8 trillion measure on education, child care and family leave.

Biden’s infrastructure plan would dedicate $621 billion to improve roads, bridges, railways and public transit. The Amtrak funding -- long sought by the beleaguered rail system -- would go toward clearing its multibillion-dollar repair backlog, speeding up service in its busy Northeast Corridor and expanding routes across the country.

After the plan was announced, Amtrak said it would create 30 new routes and add trains on as many as 20 existing routes over the next 15 years. Cities that have no Amtrak service -- including Las Vegas; Nashville, Tennessee; Phoenix; and Columbus, Ohio -- would get it if Congress approves Biden’s plan.

Lawmakers representing the New York metropolitan area are pressing to add funding for a long-stalled rail tunnel to the infrastructure bill. The project, known as Gateway, would build a new tunnel under the Hudson River linking New York and New Jersey and relieve a bottleneck on the nation’s busiest rail corridor. Officials in the region faced opposition to the project during Donald Trump’s presidency.

Biden called the tunnel a “critical job” and said its construction should have begun during the Obama administration.

“When I was vice president with Barack, he allowed me to put together a budget for Amtrak and it had money for high speed rail at 200 miles an hour from Charlotte, another line going in Florida down to Tampa,” Biden said. “If we had moved, Gov, we’d have that tunnel fixed in New York now.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said last month that Biden’s infrastructure plan shows “this administration is willing to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to moving forward with the new Gateway rail tunnel” and said it is “ripe for funding from the president’s jobs plan.”

The Covid-19 pandemic battered Amtrak. The rail system said ridership dropped in 2020 by more than 80% compared to the year prior, as lock downs curbed Americans’ travel. Amtrak received roughly $1.5 billion in aid from the pandemic relief law passed earlier this year, following another round of aid last year, which allowed the service to stop furloughs and layoffs.

But Amtrak still faces financial hurdles, including an estimated $31 billion maintenance backlog in the Northeast Corridor alone.

Senate Republicans have offered their own slimmed-down $568 billion infrastructure plan, which would spend $20 billion on railways. Biden spoke on Thursday with the bill’s author, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.

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