WASHINGTON—The Biden administration’s plan to spend $80 billion rebuilding the nation’s railroad assets could enable Amtrak to pursue the ambitious goal of providing a rail alternative to flying and driving nationwide, as it does now on the Eastern Seaboard.
Amtrak planners have hoped for years to solve a flaw in the national network. Legacy long-distance routes travel through cities and large potential markets where the population is growing, but often at inconvenient times and with major delays caused by conflicts with freight trains, whose tracks they use.
Providing more-frequent daily service could generate gains in ridership, Amtrak contends. Critics say it is a wasteful investment in an antiquated network.
“Just because somebody built a rail line 50 years ago or 100 years ago doesn’t mean we have to pay to maintain them,” said Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute and a foe of government spending on mass transit. “We have newer technologies. They’re called buses.”
Amtrak’s plans largely follow recommendations developed over the years by state governments, and studies by the Federal Railroad Administration under both Republican and Democratic administrations that recommend building out regional rail networks in the Southeast, Southwest and Midwest.