The speed at which a train can travel is limited by the type of track it travels on. Bringing high-speed rail to North America will require building new high-speed lines that can accomodate frequent 200+ mph service. These new high-speed segments connect to and...
On March 31, Amtrak submitted to Congress its Fiscal Year 2023 General and Legislative Annual Report. The report includes an aggressive funding ask, seeking $3.3 billion in total grant funding, with $1.1 billion for the Northeast Corridor and $2.2 billion for the National Network. This is consistent with the annual authorized funding levels established in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and would be in addition to the advance appropriations that the IIJA made.
We’re impressed that Amtrak is being this aggressive, asking for about a billion more than what they have received before. They also lay out the need to expand their network, both in terms of more frequent service and establishing new corridors.
In FY23, the requested funding would go towards a variety of capital projects split into the categories pictured to the right. This includes bringing Amtrak’s tracks, signaling systems, rolling stock and other assets into a state of good repair, while looking for ways to upgrade this infrastructure to provide better and more reliable service. The lack of reliable funding for Amtrak means there is a backlog of capital projects that are necessary to improve service throughout their network.
Some of the major capital project highlights include the Hudson Tunnel project, procurement of new intercity trainsets and planned station upgrades.
In addition to their funding request, Amtrak outlined three legislative requests in regards to the IIJA and a number of policy proposals.
The IIJA requires the Secretary of Transportation to submit a detailed expenditure plan, for the NEC and National Network, to the House and Senate Appropriations Committee through FY 2026. The USDOT released their FY 23 plans last month and there was some discrepancy compared to Amtrak’s request. Amtrak is requesting the language to be changed to clarify that the Secretary and Amtrak should have dual responsibility for developing these plans, which would give them more input on funding requests.
Other policy proposals include changes to grant programs administered by the Federal Railroad Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation. The theme that stands out here is their request to alleviate the local match requirements for a number of the grant programs. This could be very helpful for projects that have a large impact throughout the network and not just in a concentrated area.
One prime example of this is the South-of-the Lake Reroute: a new passenger-dedicated mainline across northern Indiana. This is a chokepoint in the current network and it should be upgraded to accommodate increased frequencies and high-speed trains. The need for this project has been recognized for decades as it would benefit many states, and would indirectly benefit the entire country. By eliminating or reducing the need for a local match, Amtrak or another federal agency could take the lead on this project without individual states holding up progress.
This is far from the only project that would be impacted by this policy change and we mentioned the need for solutions to this problem in our comments on the FRA’s Corridor Identification and Development Program. With multiple federal agencies looking for solutions to this problem, we are hopeful that this issue will be addressed.
It’s encouraging to see Amtrak being aggressive with their funding request and policy proposals. They are asking for all the authorized funds from the IIJA, the biggest ask they’ve ever made, and they also lay out the need to expand their network over the next 5 years. We are also happy to see them ask that their annual appropriations be usable for a project’s local match requirements. It will be a benefit for projects of national significance that don’t have local support. Amtrak must continue to stay this aggressive every year and advocates need to stay engaged to ensure that the budget includes a significant investment in trains.