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Feds propose 15 long-distance intercity train lines

The Federal Railroad Administration has proposed 15 daily long-distance Amtrak routes as part of the Biden administration’s effort to create a national passenger rail system.

The FRA is seeking feedback on the preferred routes by March 8, and plans to make final recommendations to Congress in the spring.

The map of 15 routes, released Friday as part of a 63-page Powerpoint presentation, is part of the FRA’s long-distance study that’s required under the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The IIJA requires the agency to consider the restoration of daily intercity passenger rail and the potential for new Amtrak long-distance routes.

The final report to Congress will include the preferred options, as well as an inventory of needed capital projects, estimated costs and public benefits of the routes and a list of federal and nonfederal funding sources.

The 15 preferred routes are on top of Amtrak’s existing 15 long-distance trains. The restoration of daily service of the Cardinal, between Chicago and New York, and Sunset Limited, between Los Angeles and New Orleans, was already assumed when identifying the proposed network of preferred routes, the FRA said.

“If this map is fully realized, 89% of the U.S. population would have access to Amtrak trains, including 19 million more Americans in the most-populated metropolitan areas,” said Jim Mathews, president and CEO of Passenger Rail Service in a blog. “In this plan some 13 million Americans who lost service to the various Amtrak cuts over the years would get it back,” he said, adding that it would nearly double service in rural areas.

President Joe Biden in November 2023, announcing that Amtrak will receive nearly $10 billion for the Northeast Corridor.

The White House

The proposed long-distance routes are separate from $500,000 in planning grants for 69 routes under the Corridor Identification grant program that were announced in December, along with $8.2 billion in Federal-State Partnership Program grants for 10 projects outside the Northeast Corridor.

The 15 preferred routes released Friday are defined as more than 750 miles that would restore discontinued service, increase service on an existing route or introduce new lines.

The proposed routes would serve 61 additional metropolitan areas, as well as 91% of all U.S. higher education institutions and 86% of all U.S .medical centers, the FRA said.

The IIJA requires the FRA to pay “special attention” to routes that were in service in April 1971, shortly after the formation of Amtrak in 1970 and when the Department of Transportation designated 21 city pairs between which intercity passenger trains should operate. Congress later added additional routes but service over the years began to shrink, especially after 1978 when the DOT recommended major cuts. “Long-distance network service reductions over the past 50 years have resulted in some communities losing common carrier transportation options, as well as the economic and social benefits of those connections,” the FRA said on its long-distance study website.

The IIJA, which features a total of $66 billion to rail projects, the bulk for Amtrak, aims to restore and improve passenger rail. The preferred routes should “link and serve large and small communities as part of a regional rail network, advance the economic and social well-being of rural areas, provide enhanced connectivity for the national long-distance rail system and reflect public engagement and support for renewed service,” according to the administration.

The IIJA funding includes $22 billion as grants to Amtrak, $24 billion as federal-state partnership grants for Northeast Corridor modernization, $12 billion for partnership grants for intercity rail service, including high-speed rail, $5 billion for rail improvement and safety grants, and $3 billion for grade crossing safety improvements.

The preferred routes include:

  • Chicago – Miami
  • Dallas/Fort Worth – Miami
  • Denver – Houston
  • Los Angeles – Denver
  • Phoenix – Minneapolis/St. Paul
  • Dallas/Fort Worth – New York
  • Houston – New York
  • Seattle – Denver
  • San Antonio – Minneapolis/St. Paul
  • San Francisco – Dallas/Fort Worth
  • Detroit – New Orleans
  • Denver – Minneapolis/St. Paul
  • Seattle – Chicago
  • Dallas/Fort Worth – Atlanta
  • El Paso – Billings

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