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Amtrak spending $2.45 billion on faster trains and improved stations

Train travel is big business on the East Coast. In fact, Amtrak carried three times as many riders between Washington, DC, and New York City as the airline industry in 2015.

That might be why the Department of Transportation gave Amtrak a $2.45 billion loan to modernize and expand the Acela express service in its Northeast Corridor, which includes Washington, DC, New York and Boston.

© Alstom SA, 2016 © Meconopsis by Trimaran. All rights reserved. Avelia Liberty high-speed train.
© Alstom SA, 2016 © Meconopsis by Trimaran.

Amtrak, which announced the plan last week, will partner with French train manufacturer Alstom for 28 next-generation high-speed train sets. The biggest improvement is that the new trains will be bigger, holding 40% more passenger seats than previous models. The new cabins will also come with amenities like personal outlets, USB ports, adjustable reading lights and improved wi-fi access.

Acela trains are the fastest high-speed trains in America, reaching speed up to 150 miles per hour. The speed allows trains to travel from Washington, DC to New York City in just 2 hours and 45 minutes. The standard Northeast Regional train takes about 3 hours and 20 minutes. The new and improved trainsets will be able to reach speeds of 186 miles per hour, but will be limited to 160 miles an hour because of the existing infrastructure.

The next generation first-class interior. © Alstom SA, 2016 © Meconopsis by Trimaran.
The next generation first-class interior. © Alstom SA, 2016 © Meconopsis by Trimaran.

In addition to the new trains, the project will also focus on massive improvements to train infrastructure and stations. Money will be put into upgrading tracks between New Carrolton and Baltimore stations, and four of the busiest stations in the Northeast Corridor —New York’s Penn Station, Washington Union Station, Baltimore Penn Station, and New Carrolton Station— will get upgrades.

The investment comes from the Transportation Department’s Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) Program and was supported by Vice President Joe Biden.

“This loan is a key step to providing investments needed to help keep high speed trains moving throughout the region, and to help all commuters in the Northeast Corridor,” Biden said. “We need these kinds of investments to keep this region – and our whole country – moving, and to create new jobs.”

Proposed bistro car
Proposed bistro car. © Alstom SA, 2016 © Meconopsis by Trimaran.

In terms of job creation, the train sets will be built at Alstom’s site in Hornell, N.Y., and maintained at Amtrak depots in Boston, New York and Washington, DC. Parts will come from suppliers in 30 different states, creating more than 1,000 jobs nationwide, including 750 in New York.

“As more people rely on Amtrak, we need modernized equipment and infrastructure to keep the region moving,” said Anthony Coscia, chairman of Amtrak’s board of directors. “These train sets will build on the popularity and demand of the current Acela Express and move this company into the future as a leader in providing world-class transportation.”

Andy Kunz is president of the US High Speed Rail Association, which continues to push for a major investment into a high-speed rail network. He hopes that this investment signals a shift toward expanding train travel.

“As a nation we have been ignoring rail for 70 years while the rest of the world invested heavily in it,” he told Yahoo Finance. “Leaders who make decisions for us as a nation are finally starting to make decisions based on what people want.”

The US High Speed Rail Associations proposed map for high-speed rail connections in the U.S.
In a perfect world, the US High Speed Rail Associations would like to see their proposed map for high-speed rail connections become a reality.

While Amtrak is simply updating train sets on existing routes, Kunz hopes the increased interest in rail will open up opportunities. “We’ve laid out a map for a 17,000-mile high speed rail system, starting with the biggest cities and then expanding little by little,” he said. “Think of how amazing that would be.”

Amtrak will release the first prototype of the new train in 2019. The first couple of new train sets will enter revenue service in 2021, and the rest will join in 2022, when the current fleet is officially retired.

Nationwide, Amtrak operates 300 trains daily and carries more than 30 million passengers a year.

Brittany Jones-Cooper is a writer for Yahoo Finance.

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