Train Construction: Amtrak’s $151 Billion Plan to Fast-Track Train Network Development in the USA
American rail giant Amtrak, which runs most of the passenger train routes in the Northeastern United States recently unveiled a plan for a $151 billion infrastructure overhaul meant to bolster revenue and accommodate growing ridership. While the plan is projected to generate an additional $1.65 billion in annual revenue, Amtrak would still require government and taxpayer assistance to get started on the ambitious renovations it has proposed.
Amtrak’s plans aren’t entirely cosmetic though – they’re also looking to improve service by offering high-speed rail for the first time, dramatically cutting travel times between cities like New York, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, Chicago and Indianapolis. Along with infrastructure upgrades, Amtrak plans to conduct historic building renovations on some older stations to enhance and preserve them for the future. We’ve broken down Amtrak’s transit construction proposal below, and highlighted some of the innovative construction initiatives that will help to achieve the desired improvements by 2040.
Amtrak envisions a high-speed rail system with frequent service, a focus on passenger experience through enhanced service and commercial offerings and a facelift for major stations that will bring transit in the Northeast into the 21st Century.
Constructing Upgrades to Train Service in the Northeast
1. Eliminating Choke Points – Choke points are just bad for train service, and the only way to eliminate them is to construct alternative routes. The nation’s busiest railway corridor, which runs between New York and Washington DC, also contains some of the worst choke points that grind service to a halt during peak hours. Trains must travel through the Baltimore and Potomac tunnels, where tight corners and poor conditions force trains to reduce their speed to just 30 MPH. Amtrak wants to re-build these tunnels and dig parallel ones to accommodate increased traffic.
2. Station Expansion and Commercialization – Upgrading and expanding railway stations in the Northeast is a major feature of Amtrak’s revitalization plan. New York’s Grand Central Station and Union Station in Washington are already some of the best train stations in the world. The biggest proposed renovation is a proposed $6.5 billion overhaul of 30th Street Station in Philadelphia which would include an underground concourse and a dense urban neighbourhood. Union Station in Washington was recently revitalized in the same way and now offers over 40 restaurants and other amenities to travelers. Enhanced commercial and dining options elevate the appeal of stations, attracting new riders and making the station itself a destination rather than just a waypoint.
3. Extending Platforms – One of the simplest, yet most ingenious ways to accommodate growing ridership could be to lengthen train platforms at stations. For the heavily-trafficked corridor between New York and Washington DC, which accommodates 750,000 daily riders, extending train platforms and operating longer trains would quickly increase the capacity of the system.
4. Rebuilding and Redesigning Existing Tracks – A cornerstone of Amtrak’s plans is to upgrade its existing tracks to accommodate train speeds of up to 220mph. The present system was built over a century ago for much slower trains, and contains twists and turns along with overhead wires that force trains to travel at just 80mph in some parts.
5. Signals and Sidings for Better Service – Amtrak engineers currently operate the train route between Indianapolis and Chicago. The train runs once daily in each direction, leaving Indy at 6:00 AM and returning just before midnight. In addition to inconvenient timing, the train is frequently late or behind schedule. Additionally, the tracks are owned by CSX, which runs freight trains on them several times each day. To accommodate the desired improvements, Amtrak wants to invest over $150MM to build sidings that would run alongside the existing tracks and allow passenger trains to bypass the freight trains operated by CSX. The end goal is to have trains heading both ways on a regular basis with a high standard of service.
There are plenty of reasons to get excited about the planned upgrades to rail transit in the Northeast. This tremendous construction project will span several decades and promises to deliver high-speed service with greater reliability, fewer chokepoints and a far better customer service experience to Amtrak’s growing ridership. The improvements will create commercial opportunities for small businesses and enhance the infrastructure around the best train stations in the world.