Article: Introducing a New Era of Rail in America

The following article by Amtrak Executive Vice President, Capital Delivery, Laura Mason was originally published in Global Railway Review.

In the past, when people heard “Amtrak,” they often associated us with words like “old” and “antiquated.” Today, we’re changing that narrative as we deliver a new era of passenger rail in America.

In the coming years, Amtrak will invest over $50 billion into modern trains, enhanced stations and facilities, new tunnels and bridges, and other critical infrastructure upgrades.

These generational investments mean we’re no longer only a passenger rail operator. Today, Amtrak is also a major construction company executing one of the largest capital programs in the history of the United States.

But we can’t do this alone. We’re working alongside state and local governments, rail partners and others to implement these projects effectively. This requires close collaboration and planning not only for projects Amtrak is leading, but also those led by our partners.

With so many projects in the pipeline, it can be challenging for those outside the company to keep track. I’d like to reintroduce Amtrak’s infrastructure investment plans now that these transformative projects are becoming reality.

Building on Bipartisan Support

Let’s begin with the critical role that strong support from the U.S. Congress and President Joe Biden has played in making Amtrak’s historic investments possible. In November 2021, President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) – also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL).

This historic bill provides an important commitment and down payment towards reversing decades of underinvestment in American passenger rail. With $66 billion total earmarked for intercity passenger and freight rail over five years, Amtrak and our partners’ portion of IIJA funding will enable us to address our state-of-good-repair backlog, upgrade infrastructure and expand capacity.

Creating a Capital Delivery Team

Here at Amtrak – we’re ready to deliver. We hit the ground running and created a new Capital Delivery department in early 2022. This new group is responsible for delivering Amtrak’s critical infrastructure projects. That covers early planning and design stages all the way through construction and on to operations.

In just one year, the Capital Delivery team has grown over 50%, with 630 current employees and counting. In addition to new management staff, we’re also hiring hundreds of additional union employees in the electric, signal, and track fields who will focus on both IIJA-funded and other capital projects. Combine our hiring efforts with organizational change management actions, and we’re taking the necessary steps to help deliver these quality assets.

Upgrading Critical Infrastructure

The Northeast Corridor (NEC) is one of the busiest, most complex and economically vital transportation systems in the world, serving more than 260 million passenger trips each year before the pandemic. The main portion is 457 miles long, connecting major cities like Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

As the majority owner of the NEC, Amtrak is responsible for moving intercity travelers and providing access or operational support to eight commuter lines and six freight operators. These partners rely on our tunnels, bridges and tracks, many of which are over 100 years old. While safe to travel on, they require upgrades or replacement to provide more reliable high-speed travel.

Bolstered by IIJA funding, we’re advancing plans for new tunnels and bridges that will improve reliability, expand capacity and increase train speeds along the NEC, as well as other upgrades for the National Network. These include but are not limited to:

  • Gateway Program

The most urgent infrastructure program in America is a series of projects that will improve the most congested 10-mile section of the NEC, between Newark, New Jersey and New York City. Led by the Gateway Development Commission in partnership with Amtrak and others, these projects will add needed resiliency and create the capacity for doubling passenger trains into Moynihan Train Hall at New York Penn Station (NYP) – America’s busiest train station. Work includes building a new Hudson River Tunnel, rehabbing the existing century-old tunnel, introducing new tracks and platforms at NYP, building two brand new bridges (Portal North and Portal South) over the Hackensack River in New Jersey, constructing loop tracks in Bergen County, replacing the Sawtooth Bridges and more.

  • B&P Tunnel Replacement Program

We’ve kicked off enabling work for a major program that will modernize and transform a four-mile section of the NEC. This will address the biggest rail bottleneck between Washington, D.C. and New Jersey. A new tunnel named after American abolitionist Frederick Douglass is the centerpiece of this program, featuring two high-capacity tubes. Additional work includes new roadway and railroad bridges, new rail systems and track and a new accessible MARC commuter rail station.

  • Susquehanna River Bridge Replacement

The longest moveable bridge on the NEC is approaching 120 years since opening and showing its age. We will replace the existing two-track bridge with four new tracks over two new bridges. Additional infrastructure upgrades like redesigned interlockings, new tracks and modernized signals will support higher-speed travel.

Above: The existing two-track Susquehanna River Bridge will be replaced with four new tracks over two new bridges.

Chicago Hub Improvement Program (CHIP)

Chicago is the hub of Amtrak’s National Network. Every day, dozens of Long Distance and State Supported trains start or end their routes at Chicago Union Station. CHIP will advance and accelerate Chicago-area infrastructure projects that increase capacity and reliability, reduce trip times, facilitate future service expansions and improve safety.

Introducing a Modern Fleet

We’re also modernizing a large portion of our fleet. Today, we have several projects in various stages that will introduce state-of-the-art passenger trains and locomotives across the United States, as well as upgrade rail yards to support these new trains:

  • New Acela Trains

The new high-speed Acela fleet will replace the original trainsets introduced at the start of the century. These new trains are made in America by Alstom and will further solidify the NEC as a high-speed rail corridor, achieving speeds up to 160 mph. With nearly 25% more seats than existing Acela trains, each new train will enhance comfort, technology, innovation and safety on our most sustainable fleet to date. A total of 28 new trains will be phased in over the coming years.

  • New Amtrak Airo Trains

Customer experience enhancements are coming to several routes around the country with new trains that will start debuting in 2026. Our new Amtrak Airo trains will elevate the customer journey with a focus on comfort and efficiency. These new trains will be built in America by Siemens and provide even more advantages to traveling by rail, including a modern, spacious interior, a greener impact and faster travel times. A total of 73 trains have been ordered, with contract options for additional trains.

Above: Rendering of new Amtrak Airo trains that will operate on several routes around the United States.

  • New Long Distance Trains

We’ve kicked off initial work to purchase new long-distance trains that will upgrade and modernize vital services on 14 overnight routes from coast-to-coast. The existing overnight train fleet has been placed into service over past 40 years. These new trains will reiterate Amtrak’s commitment to delivering travelers from city centers to small towns and everywhere in between.

  • New Locomotives

Cleaner, faster, and more efficient locomotives are now entering service on Amtrak’s National Network, primarily for Long Distance trains. Made in America by Siemens, the new Charger Locomotives (also known as ALC-42s) are considerably more environmentally friendly than their 1990s predecessors, consume less fuel and can reach a greater top speed of 125 mph.

Enhancing Stations Across the Country

It’s not enough to simply add new trains. We must also modernize our stations, where Amtrak customers begin and end their journey with us. A few years ago, Amtrak opened its new home at Moynihan Train Hall in New York City. This new state-of-the-art facility serves as a model for our major stations, many of which were built over a century ago.

We’re proud of this new world-class station and the modern customer experience it provides. Building on this momentum, we’re advancing several other station upgrades, including but not limited to:

  • NEC Station Upgrades and Expansions

Work has begun to redevelop and revitalize Baltimore Penn Station and the surrounding area. We also have major renovation projects planned for Philadelphia’s Gray 30th Street Station and Washington Union Station. These major upgrades will expand station capacity, improve passenger flow, add new customer amenities, introduce retail opportunities and benefit surrounding communities. Additionally, the Gateway Program includes major reconstruction and expansion plans for NYP.

Above: Baltimore Penn Station is undergoing its first major renovation since the 1980s.

Chicago Union Station

Amtrak’s busiest station outside the NEC hosts over 3.3 million customers and nearly 20,000 intercity and commuter trains each year. As part of the CHIP Program, Chicago Union Station will undergo significant customer safety and experience improvements, including capacity and customer flow improvements thanks to platform expansions and new stairs/elevators, architectural renovations and more.

  • ADA Stations Program

Making our stations accessible to all customers is a major priority. We’re performing station construction, renovation, repair and upgrade projects across the National Network. Upgrades include brand new boarding platforms, fully accessible restrooms and waiting rooms and more.

Our Next Stop

We’ve boarded a new era of passenger rail here at Amtrak and are prepared to transform American rail travel with these massive investments, alongside our government and industry partners. Get ready to experience a whole new Amtrak!

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About Amtrak®

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