Amtrak: Entering ‘Exciting Time’ for Passenger Rail

Roger Harris (above), president of Amtrak, believes passenger rail service in the United States is poised to greatly expand – especially in terms of long-distance routes – due in no small part to funding from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA enacted in November 2021.

[Above photo by AASHTO]

“As we stand here today, we are entering a much more exciting time for Amtrak and for passenger rail,” he said during remarks at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Council on Rail Transportation 2023 Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C.

Amtrak’s Roger Harris. Photo by AASHTO.

Harris noted that, in 2022 Amtrak logged seven million new riders, which he called “an incredible marker for the growth of our business.” However, Harris stressed that what is different going forward in light of the added funding from the IIJA is how its enhancing the partnerships Amtrak has with state transportation agencies.

“That’s where the real transformation is occurring,” he explained. “It is allowing us to open things up and think about new services.”

Two key parts of Amtrak’s expansion going forward will rely on new trainsets Amtrak plans to deploy starting in 2026, along with expanded service though the “Amtrak Connects US” plan in partnership with the states that Amtrak unveiled in May 2021.

Amtrak’s new Airo trainsets. Image by Amtrak.

“The biggest part is the replacement of our long-distance [train] fleet, though it will take a few years to get them all in place,” Harris said. “Then with our state partners it will focus on adding new regional services and enhancing current routes. During the COVID-19 pandemic we spent a lot of time working with our partners to improve relationships. That got us through the pandemic and now readies us for service enhancements.”

All in all, Harris pointed out that 2022 proved to be “a much better year” than expected.

“It wasn’t just about the growth in ridership. We found that certain parts of the country recovered faster [from COVID-19 lockdowns] than others, with demand outpacing our capacity in many areas,” he noted. “We are seeing a lot of demand for leisure travel and auto train demand is surpassing all of our expectations.”

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