Helped by federal funds and private investment, a major push for passenger rail

It’s the question that rail enthusiasts have been asking for years: When will train travel in the United States start to resemble that of Europe and Asia? When traveling overseas, it’s only natural to compare the convenience and efficiency of train travel in other parts of the world to the current state of rail transportation in the US. While there have been plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about the state of rail travel in recent years, there are now signs of a potential renaissance in American train travel.

One of the most significant factors contributing to the potential improvement of train travel in the US is the boost in funding from the federal government. President Joe Biden, who is known for his regular use of Amtrak, has made rail transportation a priority. The 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law allocated $66 billion for rail, including a substantial amount for Amtrak. This funding is greater than the amount Amtrak has received in its entire existence.

The effects of this funding are already being seen. The White House recently announced over $16 billion in grants for the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak’s busiest rail line. This funding will support the construction of two new tunnels under the Hudson River, relieving congestion to and from New York’s Penn Station. Additionally, $4.7 billion will be used to construct a new tunnel in Baltimore, which will increase train speeds and alleviate traffic jams. Other grants will fund improvements and expansions to the New York subway system, as well as new bridges in Maryland.

These investments in infrastructure are a significant step towards improving train travel in the US. However, experts caution that the ultimate benefits may still be a long way off. Much of the funding is focused on bringing outdated rail facilities up to date, which will take time. The construction planned for the coming years will also cause disruption and delays along the Northeast Corridor. Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner has acknowledged that Amtrak is now a major construction company, and the capital program will require careful planning to minimize disruptions.

In addition to the infrastructure improvements, there have been other positive developments in American train travel. Amtrak has opened its new Moynihan Train Hall in Manhattan, providing a much-needed upgrade to its busiest station. The company is also investing billions to replace outdated trains and cars, which will improve passenger comfort. The new Acela trains, once in service, are expected to be a major improvement for travelers.

Outside of Amtrak, privately funded operator Brightline has unveiled an extension of its fast rail service in Florida. The trains now connect South Florida with Orlando International Airport in as little as three hours. Brightline is also planning future expansions to Tampa and an entirely new line linking Southern California with Las Vegas via high-speed rail. The company recently received $3 billion in federal funds to support the construction of these projects.

Despite these positive developments, there are still hurdles that need to be overcome for American train travel to reach the level of Europe and Asia. The ongoing delays in the rollout of Amtrak’s new Acela trains highlight the challenges of major capital projects. Additionally, Amtrak’s future success will depend on consistent funding from year to year, which is not guaranteed.

Overall, the future of train travel in the US is looking promising, but cautious optimism is warranted. The boost in funding and ongoing investments in infrastructure are positive steps towards improving rail transportation. The recovery from the pandemic has also shown increased interest in rail travel among leisure travelers. With continued investments and strategic planning, it’s possible that the US could see a transformation in train travel that brings it closer to the standards of Europe and Asia.

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