(T.A. DeFeo, The Center Square) – The federal government is looking to dole out nearly $2.3 billion to “expand and modernize” intercity passenger rail across the country.
But a leading transportation analyst says that Amtrak, the nation’s passenger railroad, doesn’t have any plans to break even.
The Federal Railroad Administration announced the money in a Notice of Funding Opportunity published in the Federal Register. The money, part of the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grant Program, is from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which some lawmakers call the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
“This is a historic opportunity to modernize intercity passenger rail and Amtrak service to underserved communities across the nation,” Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner said in a statement.
The FRA will administer the program. Federal officials noted that previous grants have funded rehabilitation projects, including the Piedmont Corridor in North Carolina and the Kalamazoo-to-Dearborn rail corridor in Michigan.
“Amtrak’s announced expansion and modernization plan for its national network isn’t surprising given the unprecedented funding Congress made available for this purpose,” Marc Scribner, senior transportation policy analyst for the Reason Foundation, told The Center Square.
“But it is important to remember that Amtrak does not anticipate to break even on any of these routes, which are forecasted to lose up to $514 per passenger by FY 2027 and which will require perpetual federal bailouts,” Scribner added. “This underscores that Amtrak’s primary customers are politicians in Congress, not American travelers.”
Recipients can use the money for various initiatives, including establishing or expanding passenger service. That includes privately operated intercity passenger rail service.
The money is available for projects not located on the Northeast Corridor. Officials said they plan to announce money for Northeast Corridor projects “later this year.”
In a statement, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called the grants “one of the two most significant investments in the past 50 years to modernize passenger train service across the country.”