Flanked by Congressmen and Senators, largely from the rail-heavy Northeast corridor, at Washington, D.C.‘s Union Station on Friday, longtime Amtrak rider and advocate Vice-President Joe Biden announced that some of the stimulus spending will go to Amtrak. “For too long, we haven’t made the investments we needed to make Amtrak as safe, as reliable, as secure as it can be. That ends now. The funds in the Recovery Act for Amtrak will help create jobs and at the same time, repair and update critical needs of our nation’s infrastructure,” said Biden.
Years of under-funding have left Amtrak with severe problems in its infrastructure, causing massive delays and thus discouraging ridership, which lowers revenues and perpetuates a downward spiral. The stimulus investments, such as $105 million to replace a decaying movable bridge over the Niantic River on the Northeast Corridor in Connecticut, will help stanch the bleeding. But more substantial and forward-looking investments will be needed to bring the United States to a respectable level of train service for a developed nation. As I’ve previously reported, the Obama administration is showing the right tendencies when it comes to that. But the amounts, numbering in the hundreds of millions and single-digit billions, are a drop in the bucket compared to what we have spent on the Interstate Highway System. Restoring inter-city passenger rail to a respectable level of service is essential to re-building urban America, especially in the decaying urban precincts of the Northeast and Midwest. Hopefully, these funds for Amtrak are just the tip of the iceberg.
Ben Adler is a journalist in New York. He is a former reporter for Grist, The Nation, Newsweek and Politico, and he has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian and The New Republic.