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Right now, Las Vegas, Nashville, and Phoenix all don’t have Amtrak service. That could change if the new Amtrak service map, released last week as part of President Biden’s infrastructure plan, gets built. With the proposed $80 billion for train service, part of the broader $2 trillion infrastructure package, the U.S. could see a much-needed rail update including:
30 new routes connecting 160 more communities, including Columbus and Baton Rouge as well as the cities above;
A backlog of badly needed repairs to the rail infrastructure, especially bridges and tunnels in the Northeast corridor.
Why This Matters: Getting around by train is more energy-efficient than driving or flying, especially if it’s electrified. The electrified Northeast Corridor emits 83% less greenhouse gases than driving and up to 73% less than flying, according to Amtrak. Transportation accounts for about a third of American emissions, mostly from cars and trucks. The proposed expansion would improve service for an estimated 20 million people. Giving people more opportunities to ride the rails instead of hopping in their cars is a huge opportunity to reduce emissions while enjoying the ride. “President Biden’s infrastructure plan is what this nation has been waiting for,” Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn said in a statement.
Putting Money Where the Need Is
While campaigning, President Biden’s plans included “spark[ing] the second great railroad revolution” and creating “the cleanest, safest, and fastest rail system in the world.” Getting there requires reprioritizing federal funding, which has mostly gone to car infrastructure for the past 65 years, to the tune of nearly $10 trillion public dollars. In that time, transit received a quarter of the funding.
“We’re almost forcing everyone to drive,” Catherine Ross, an expert on transportation planning at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told the New York Times. “The choices that individuals make are deeply shaped by the infrastructure that we have built.”
In addition to the proposed $80 billion to expand Amtrak, the Biden plan includes $85 billion for cities and towns to expand and modernize their more local rail networks. And the $115 billion for roads is meant to fix infrastructure in poor shape, not build new highways.
The Need For Speed
One new element that this plan introduces is high-speed rail. Apparently, under the plan, trains along the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C., which is Amtrak’s busiest and most profitable route, would increase speeds, though Amtrak declined to say how much. True high-speed rail, defined as speeds over 186 mph, is unlikely along this route without even larger upgrades and new rights of way to straighten out existing tracks, according to CNN Business. In some areas, trains go only around 50 mph because investments haven’t been made to maintain tracks. Rail experts believe we can do much better with government investment. “It’s pretty pathetic. We’re running a third-world passenger rail system in many instances,” James McCommons, the author of Waiting on a Train and a professor at Northern Michigan University, told CNN Business.
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