Influx From Infrastructure Bill Expected to Help Amtrak's Worn Northeast Corridor

Over $60 billion in funding from President Joe Biden's $1 trillion infrastructure law is set for the nation's passenger and freight rail systems, and the biggest investment into rail in Amtrak's history will go to repairs and new projects across the country.

Some of Amtrak's projects for its Northeast corridor services include a new Hudson River tunnel between New York and New Jersey, a replacement of the Baltimore and Potomac River Tunnel, and a new bridge connecting Washington, D.C., and Virginia, according to The Associated Press.

Many of the projects have been under consideration since long before the pandemic sharply decreased the number of passengers commuting to work every day, and the funding from the infrastructure law allows for many of them to finally be achieved.

The law guarantees $66 billion for rail funding over the next five years, some going to Amtrak and some to the Federal Railroad Administration to fund other grants. Depending on authorizations from Congress, annual appropriations could push the number as high as $100 billion.

By 2035, Amtrak is hoping to expand its services to over 160 new communities and accommodate an additional 20 million passengers.

As the pandemic caused many people to move out of big cities and begin working from home, Amtrak and the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA), which operates Amtrak's popular Downeaster line that runs from Boston to Maine, remained optimistic about the future of passenger rail travel.

More people that live further away from their workplaces may eventually have to commute again and rail services like Amtrak could be a popular option, the companies believe. Many young people are also trending away from cars as a demographic and focus on the use of public transportation, NNEPRA executive director Patricia Quinn told the AP.

Amtrak, Northeast, Infrastructure, Passenger Rail
A conductor makes sure all is clear as the Amtrak Downeaster passenger train pulls out of the station Tuesday in Freeport, Maine. Amtrak and other passenger and freight rail companies are set to get over $60 billion from last month's $1 trillion infrastructure bill. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

"We need to make hay while the sun shines because we've never gotten that much money as an industry," said Sean Jeans-Gail, vice president of the Rail Passengers Association, a rail advocacy organization in Washington, D.C.

Outside of the Northeast, rail advocates look forward to the restoration of service connecting New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, which was knocked offline by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In Maine, for example, municipal leaders want to see the Downeaster's Boston-to-Brunswick service expanded to other parts of the state, and a bill signed by the governor would study the issue.

When the Downeaster launched on Dec. 15, 2001, there was no guarantee that a rail link between Maine's biggest city, Portland, and New England's largest city would be a hit.

Now it's viewed as one of Amtrak's most successful regional lines, setting annual ridership records between 2010 and 2019, and was later expanded northward to Brunswick, Maine.

But the largest investment of its kind in Amtrak history doesn't address all needs, said spokesperson Jason Abrams. Amtrak will continue to work with Congress and the Biden administration to secure a consistent funding stream "to make rail a vital transportation option in this country," Abrams said.

Jeans-Gail said a key will be prioritizing passenger rail lines that provide flexibility to serve a wider variety of passengers, beyond just commuters into central business districts.

"The pandemic has reset things. People are going to return. But they're going to return differently," Quinn said. "The changes caused by the pandemic continue to make the Downeaster relevant."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Amtrak, Northeast, Infrastructure, Passenger Rail
An Amtrak train sits at a station stop in Union Station on Dec. 9, 2021 in Los Angeles. Amtrak and other passenger and freight rail companies are set to get over $60 billion from last month's $1 trillion infrastructure law. Mario Tama/Getty Images