Wheels of Progress: Bearing Fruit Edition
February 2, 2024
Passengers have been eagerly waiting for the surge in federal passenger rail funding included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to bear fruit. One month into 2024, and we're starting to see some of these investments pay dividends -- and an increased scrutiny of Amtrak by members of Congress looking to ensure these funds are invested well.
--Federal, state, and local officials gathered at Baltimore Penn Station this week to inaugurate an upgraded station platform, one part of a larger $150 million redevelopment of Baltimore Penn Station funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
“Our rail system is essential to keeping Marylanders and our economy moving,” said Senator Van Hollen. “This new platform will position Penn Station to better accommodate high-speed trains and increase overall capacity for rail service. This is big news for the three million riders – Marylanders and visitors alike – who pass through this critical transit hub each year.”
“The new boarding platform will provide over 1,000 linear feet of space, including pedestrian pathways and new elevators for ADA accessibility,” stated Amtrak. “The project also includes a renovated headhouse, roofing and historical restoration of the columns and canopies for each of the platforms.”
The platform will begin serving passengers this spring. A second platform is currently under construction at Baltimore Penn and scheduled for completion in Fall 2024. Together, they wil increase operational flexibility for all the services housed within the station and increase capacity for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor trains.
--Amtrak outlined a series of initiatives it will advance in calendar year 2024 that will help the railroad achieve its goal of doubling annual ridership to 66 million by the year 2040.
“Amtrak has rebounded from the pandemic and is growing again as part of our plan to double ridership by 2040,” said Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner. “With funding from the infrastructure bill in hand, we and our partners are transforming intercity passenger rail across the country in a big way.”
Project highlights include:
- $5.5 billion annual capital program: Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds and Amtrak revenue will go to modernize trains; enhance stations, tunnels and bridges; and upgrade critical infrastructure, including construction on the Frederick Douglass Tunnel Program and East River Tunnel Rehab Project.
- Northeast Corridor infrastructure: construction will continue on the Portal North Bridge and Hudson Tunnel Projects, as well as advancing the Sawtooth Bridges Replacement and Dock Bridge Rehab.
- Advancing megaprojects: station megaprojects include the Chicago Hub Improvement Program, New York Penn Station Expansion, and Washington Union Station Redevelopment; Amtrak is also supporting partners to improve future service through Penn Station Access in New York, the Long Bridge Project in Virginia, and Compass Rail in Massachusetts.
- Fleet renewal: completing testing on Amtrak Airo phase to clear the train for introduction into service, and select a manufacturing proposal to replace Amtrak’s Long Distance fleet.
- Grow the network: near-term goals include introducing twice-daily service between New Orleans and Mobile and extending the Hiawatha from Milwaukee to St. Paul.
- Food and Beverage: expand service to include more offerings, including a significant makeover to the Acela Cafe menu.
- Expand the Amtrak workforce: hire more than 3,500 new employees to improve operations, maintenance, and project development capacity.
--The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee advanced a bipartisan bill this week that looks to speed up the work being done by Amtrak to introduce ADA service across its entire network.
The Think DIFFERENTLY Transportation Act, introduced by Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-NY-19), directs Amtrak to deliver a report to Congress on the current status of ADA compliance for all its trains and rail stations. Additionally, the report will require that Amtrak provide a target date for bringing all stations into compliance. Rep. Molinaro was joined by Chairman Troy Nehls (R-TX-22), Ranking Member Donald Payne Jr. (D-NJ-10), and Reps. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Jenniffer Gonzales-Colon (R-PR), Chris Pappas (D-NH-1), and Andre Carson (D-IN-7).
“Thirty years after the Americans with Disabilities Act passed – Amtrak’s leadership still has work to do to meet the law and make trains and rail stations accessible to individuals of all disabilities,” said Rep. Molinaro. “My bipartisan bill forces the issue.”
Rep. Molinaro was a key voice in rejecting deep cuts to Amtrak last year, standing up to House Republican leadership in the process.
The most recent data provided by Amtrak’s Great American Stations states the railroad brought 104 stations into full compliance by the end of FY2022, with another 69 stations in partial compliance (excluding platforms). While Congress has provided hundreds of millions to Amtrak to do this work, Amtrak has pointed to the fact that it is merely a tenant at many of the stations it services, which hinders its ability to perform the necessary work even when funding is available.
The bill would direct Amtrak to provide the update as part of its annual operations report to Congress.
"The COVID Pandemic has been and continues to be the biggest challenge faced by Americans as it has taken a deadly toll on the world and on the world’s economies. During COVID Locomotive Engineers at Amtrak and other Passenger and Freight Railroads have embodied the definition of essential workers. This dedication by our members is not new. We applaud the Rail Passenger’s Association for recognizing the vital contributions of our members and their hard work moving Americans and freight during the COVID pandemic."
Dennis Pierce, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) National President
December 21, 2021, on the Association awarding its 2021 Golden Spike Award to the Frontline Amtrak Employees.