Changes for Amtrak in the New Infrastructure Bill

While the agency is receiving less funding than advocates say is needed, it will also have a new mandate that prioritizes public service over profitability.

1 minute read

August 6, 2021, 5:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Amtrak Train

John H Gray / Flickr

The current version of the "bipartisan infrastructure bill includes $66 billion in new funding for rail to address Amtrak’s maintenance backlog, along with upgrading the high-traffic Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston" and changing the mandate of the agency, writes Madeleine Ngo. "The bill includes new language that would change Amtrak’s goal to meet the intercity passenger rail needs of the United States' rather than achieving 'a performance level sufficient to justify expending public money.' It would also add language that prioritizes service in rural areas in addition to urban ones," officially shifting the focus from profitability to public service. The new funding "comes as the agency tries to significantly expand its map nationwide by 2035 to provide more service outside of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic."

"Although John Robert Smith, a former board chairman for Amtrak, said he preferred the higher level of funding for Amtrak in the House’s version of the bill, he said he was pleased to see senators make an effort to address Amtrak’s maintenance backlog."

In addition to heavy rail, "[p]ublic buses, subways and trains are also set to receive $39 billion in new funding under the bill," but with an estimated $176 million maintenance backlog, transit advocates say it isn't nearly enough to modernize and improve the nation's transit systems.

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