Amtrak Aims to Double Riders With These Improvements

Major changes underway after influx of funding from infrastructure bill
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 8, 2023 8:45 AM CDT
Amtrak Using Infrastructure Funds to Get a Major Facelift
A passenger disembarks from Amtrak's Sunset Limited at its final stop.   (AP Photo/Pat Semansky, File)

Amtrak made the lofty goal to double its ridership in under 20 years, and the railroad company is using an infusion of cash (some $22 billion) from the 2021 infrastructure bill to help make it happen. The Wall Street Journal reports that improving some of Amtrak's busiest hubs, many of which haven't had upgrades in decades, is key to this plan. "Amtrak is making significant investments to modernize our stations," said EVP Laura Mason, who is overseeing the company's internal infrastructure overhaul. Projects include improving tracks, adding accessibility, and rehauling several giant stations to capitalize on retail their potential. Philly's 30th Street Station, New York's Penn Station, and Chicago's Union Station will all get an influx of funding.

Baltimore's 112-year-old Penn Station, which WBALTV-11 reports has not seen significant renovations since 1984, is also getting a refresh. "It's a tremendous opportunity to lure new residents from DC and other locations to live in a neighborhood where they are steps from hopping a train to virtually anywhere," a local Baltimore community leader told the Journal. The station will undergo historic preservation while also adding two platforms sized to accommodate new Acela trains and building out a new modern station building across the tracks that will be connected by a concourse. Amtrak's spending is set to skyrocket: from the $15 million in major stations funding in 2019 to $1.5 billion by 2028; annual capital investment will jump from $785 million in 2019 to over $6.5 billion in 2025.

The Journal notes that Amtrak was "cobbled together" when private railroad companies like Pennsylvania Railroad began breaking up in the '60s. The national passenger railroad company absorbed long stretches of underused tracks crisscrossing the country, but also inherited enormous sites like Baltimore's Penn Station, which have potential for development. But against the aggressive timeline to double ridership by 2040 come delays: The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Wednesday that the next-gen Acela train sets that had been set to go into service in 2021 may be further delayed because a newly released performance audit found a number of defects in the nine-car train sets.

(More Amtrak stories.)

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