How about a train ride from Nashville, Tennessee, to Atlanta, Phoenix to Southern California, or Louisville, Kentucky, to Indianapolis?
Amtrak late Wednesday released a proposed map of new and expanded service if it can land the $80 billion President Joe Biden proposed for the rail service as part of his American Jobs Plan, a massive $2 trillion plan to rebuild the nation’s aging infrastructure.
Amtrak’s vision calls for bringing new intercity rail service to up to 160 previously unserved communities over the next 15 years, including 30 potential new routes and enhanced services with more daily trips on existing routes.
New service is identified for major cities that currently have no Amtrak service such as Las Vegas, Nashville, Columbus, Ohio, and Phoenix. The cost for each of the projects is unclear.
Amtrak has long been beleaguered by financial woes and desperately needed upgrades, making the quasi-public corporation unable to expand and improve service and causing it to become a regular target of criticism for slow and unreliable service.
A significant portion of funds in Biden’s plan would cover a backlog of repairs along Amtrak’s heavily used service in the Northeast, where its hub is in Penn Station in Manhattan, the largest transit center in the nation and runs from all points North, South, East and West.
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Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor is the busiest railroad in North America, with about 2,200 trains a day over some portion of the Washington-Boston route and about 18 million trips a year, before the COVID-19 pandemic, through its spine of Washington-New York-Boston and connecting corridors to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Springfield, Massachusetts; Albany, New York; and Richmond, Virginia.
The plan seeks to repair major tunnels and bridges that are mostly a century old along the Northeast Corridor and to rehabilitate stations.
“President Biden’s infrastructure plan is what this nation has been waiting for,” Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn said in a statement. “Amtrak must rebuild and improve the Northeast Corridor, our National Network and expand our service to more of America.”
Amtrak released a broad map Wednesday that showed where new and improved service might go if the money is approved by Congress. The proposals are outlined in Amtrak’s “Connect US” plan – a 15-year vision that seeks to add 20 million new Amtrak passengers by 2035. Ridership is currently around 32 million.
New service proposed in Amtrak’s plan includes:
- Routes in the South with service connecting Atlanta to Nashville, Chattanooga, Tennessee; Savannah, Georgia; and Montgomery, Alabama.
- Routes in Wisconsin connecting Milwaukee, Green Bay, Madison and Eau Claire.
- New service out of Indianapolis and connecting to Louisville.
- New routes from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and Phoenix to Los Angeles.
- A revamped Texas network including service from Houston to Dallas.
- Routes out of New York to Scranton and Allentown in Pennsylvania and a route from Manhattan to Nassau County on Long Island
“With this federal investment, Amtrak will create jobs and improve equity across cities, regions, and the entire country – and we are ready to deliver,” Flynn said
In all, the new routes would bring multiple daily trips to 15 additional states.
Other expanded services would run on the existing lines from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh; New York through Baltimore and Washington, D.C.; San Diego to San Luis Obispo, California; the Northwest corridor through Portland, Oregon, and Seattle; and several expansions and enhancements from Chicago.
Cities identified for new Amtrak service tend to have rail already in place. But expansion would seemingly require the construction of new stations and other infrastructure.
Kimberly Woods, a spokeswoman for Amtrak, said exact funding for each of the projects is still undetermined and that “investment is scalable” based on what is approved by Congress.
In a speech Wednesday in Pittsburgh, Biden talked about the need to upgrade the nation’s rail system, which he has long been an advocate.
In fact, he had gained the moniker “Amtrak Joe” because he would take the train daily from his Wilmington, Delaware, home to Washington, D.C., as a senator.
“The American Jobs Plan will build new rail corridors and transit lines, easing congestion, cutting pollution, slashing commute times, and opening up investment in communities that can be connected to the cities, and cities to the outskirts, where a lot of jobs are these days,” he said Wednesday.
Joey Garrison reports for USA TODAY. Joseph Spector is the Government and Politics Editor for the USA TODAY Network’s Atlantic Group, overseeing coverage in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. He can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter: @GannettAlbany