Posts Tagged ‘Joseph Biden’

Amtrak Celebrates 50 Years

May 3, 2021

Expanding its network was the theme of the day as Amtrak celebrated its 50th anniversary on Friday at a ceremony in Philadelphia featuring President Joseph Biden.

Amtrak has announced a project to add service in corridors that would add up to 160 communities to its network over the next 15 years.

Amtrak CEO William Flynn said the expansion plan would provide Amtrak service to 47 of the nation’s 50 largest cities while also increasing service in more than half the 50 states.

“America needs a rail network that offers frequent, reliable, sustainable and equitable train service. Amtrak has the vision and expertise to deliver it, now we need Congress to provide the funding for the next 50 years,” Flynn said.

During his remarks, Biden endorsed the Amtrak expansion plan while playing up his proposed $2.3 billion infrastructure program.

“Today we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to position Amtrak, and rail, and intercity rail . . . to play a central role in our transformation of transportation and economic future,” Biden said.

Both the Biden infrastructure plan and the Amtrak expansion will need to win Congressional approval.

The Amtrak expansion plan does not include any new long-distance routes, instead focusing on short-distance corridors that in time would be supported by state and local governments.

Aside from a goal of having the new routes in place by 2035, Amtrak has not provided a timeline to begin initiating the service.

In its federal fiscal year 2022 budget request Amtrak is seeking funding to pay for the capital and initial operating costs of the new corridor services.

Biden to Help Amtrak Celebrate 50 Years

April 29, 2021

President Joseph Biden will participate in a ceremony on Saturday to mark Amtrak’s 50th anniversary.

The White House said the event will be held at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station where Biden also is expected to promote his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan.

Biden became known as “Amtrak Joe” during his time as a senator when he commuted on Amtrak between Wilmington, Delaware, and Washington on a near-daily basis.

As vice president under Barack Obama Biden continued to sometimes ride Amtrak

Amtrak is expected to showcase some of its special livery locomotives during the Philadelphia event, including the Salute to Veterans ACS-46 and two P42DC locomotives that have received 50th-anniversary inspired liveries.

The latter includes the Midnight Blue No. 100 and No. 46, which has the current livery with a large 50th anniversary herald.

Other locomotives are slated to receive heritage and/or specially designed schemes, but those units have yet to be released for revenue service.

The Midnight Blue unit was released from the Beech Grove Shops near Indianapolis last weekend and was the trailing unit on Monday night’s Capitol Limited that departed Chicago en route to Washington.

In a related development, Amtrak said Thursday it is selling 50 percent off tickets to mark its anniversary.

The fares are available on select routes and come with a maximum fare of $50 per segment.

Reservations must be booked between April 28 and May 5 for travel between June 2 and Nov. 14.

More details and bookings can be done at Amtrak.com. Terms and conditions apply.

Biden Outlines $2T Infrastructure Plan

April 1, 2021

The Biden administration on Tuesday released the broad outline of a $2 trillion infrastructure plan that includes $621 billion for transportation infrastructure.

The proposal, called the American Jobs Plan, would allocate $85 billion for public transportation and $80 billion for passenger and freight rail.

“The American Jobs Plan will build new rail corridors and transit lines—easing congestion, cutting pollution, slashing commute times, and opening up investment in communities that become connected to the cities, and cities to the outskirts where a lot of jobs are these days,” President Joseph Biden said during a speech at a carpenters training facility in Pittsburgh.

“You and your family could travel coast to coast without a single tank of gas onboard a high-speed train,” Biden said.

The plan must win approval of Congress, where it already faces Republican opposition.

Various news reports have said Democrats might use the budget reconciliation process to push it through the Senate just as they did earlier this year with a nearly $2 trillion COVID-19 pandemic relief bill that Biden later signed into law.

The Biden plan would boost infrastructure spending over an eight year period.

The proposal triggered positive remarks from many transportation trade associations although the Association of American Railroads was more measured in its support.

The Rail Passengers Association in particular touted the Biden plan for its potential to pay for new rail cars, new corridors, new city pairs and more frequencies on Amtrak’s national network.

RPA characterized the plan as representing a 400 percent boost in intercity passenger rail funding.

American Public Transportation Association CEO Paul P. Skoutelas described the Biden plan as a “forward-thinking investment.”

He said it will enable communities to meet growing mobility demands, create family-wage jobs, expand U.S. manufacturing and supply chains, and grow the economy.”

An AAR statement expressed concerns about how the Biden plan would be funded. Biden has proposed raising taxes on corporations.

Instead, the AAR reiterated its call for a vehicle miles traveled fee that would charge trucks based on weight or axle count and impose an emissions surcharge to fund passenger rail.

AAR did indicate support for what it termed making much-needed investments to restore highways, bridges and roads, and improve ports.

American Short Line and Regional Rail Association President Chuck Baker said his group applauds the Biden proposal overall, saying that short lines railroads “are a critical part of the nation’s infrastructure.”

Biden Talks Infrastructure Plan With Senators

February 14, 2021

A recent meeting between President Joseph Biden and four U.S. Senators provided a preview of the challenges that lie ahead for efforts to approve an infrastructure plan this year.

The bi-partisan group of Senators agreed with Biden that improving infrastructure should be framed as a way to improve the competitiveness of the United States in the global economy, particularly in competition with China.

“If we don’t get moving, they’re [China] going to eat our lunch,” Biden told reporters during a post-meeting news conference.

Biden noted that China has made massive investments in its rail network, automobile manufacturing and renewable energy capabilities.

Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) agreed that the U.S. needs to revitalize its economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was very good, very good and one reason is that I’ve known the president forever, and we’ve worked together before,” Inhofe said.

At the same time, Inhofe said he would not support a plan that is a vehicle to reduce carbon emissions, something that Biden and many Democrats are sure to seek.

“A surface transportation reauthorization bill can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create jobs to strengthen our economy, and move us to a cleaner, safer future,” said Senator Tom Carper (D-Delaware) in a statement after the meeting.

Carper, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said he was optimistic about reaching a bi-partisan consensus on an infrastructure bill. He said the current surface transportation authorization law expires on Sept. 30 and Congress doesn’t have time to waste.

Biden Makes Top USDOT Appointments

January 23, 2021

President Joesph Biden has made 39 appointments of top officials to serve in key U.S. Department of Transportation positions.

Amit Bose was named deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration. He previously served as FRA deputy administrator, FRA chief counsel, USDOT associate general counsel and USDOT deputy assistant secretary for government affairs.

Bose also has served as vice president for HNTB Corporation and chair of the Coalition for the Northeast Corridor, and has been involved in the California High Speed Rail Project, Northeast Corridor Future, Southeast Passenger Rail and Build America Bureau.

Nuria Fernandez was named deputy administrator of the Federal Transit Administration

Fernandez most recently was CEO of California’s Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and has served in various executive positions at New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Chicago Transit Authority, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Lana Hurdle, deputy assistant secretary for budget and programs, will serve as acting secretary of transportation until secretary of transportation nominee Pete Buttigieg is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Other appointments included Casey Clemmons, special assistant, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration; Steve Cliff, deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Carlos Monje Jr., senior adviser and acting chief of staff; Alex Pena, special assistant to the general counsel; Stephanie Pollack, deputy administrator of the Federal Highway Administration; Diana Lopez, senior advisor to the administrator, FRA, and Subash Iyer, chief counsel, FTA.

Amtrak Suspending Some Washington Service

January 18, 2021

In advance of the inauguration of president-elect Joseph Biden, Amtrak is suspending some services to Washington.

In a service advisory, the passenger carrier said it will not operate Northeast Regional service south of Washington on Jan 19 and 20.

The New York-Charlotte Carolinian will only operate in North Carolina between Raleigh and Charlotte on those dates.

Long distance trains operating to or through Washington will be unaffected, including the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited.

Amtrak said passengers whose trips begin or end in Washington should be aware that there will be pedestrian and vehicle restrictions at and around Washington Union Station.

This includes the closure of DC Metro’s Union Station stop. Passengers are being directed to use Metro’s NOMA/Gallaudet station, which Amtrak described as being a short walk from Union Station. Metro will operate on a modified schedule.

MARC commuter trains to Maryland and West Virginia have been suspended and Virginia Railway Express said its trains will not run Monday through Wednesday.

The service advisory said there will be no access to taxi or ride share services at WUS.

‘Amtrak Joe’ Offers a Reality Check

January 18, 2021

President-elect Joseph Biden has yet to take office and already has disappointed some rail passenger advocates.

His $1.9 trillion COVID-19 pandemic relief plan released last week contains not a dime for additional Amtrak funding or, for that matter, airlines or intercity bus companies.

All of those modes of transportation received some funding from a pandemic relief bill adopted by Congress in late December.

At the time, the incoming Biden administration had said it considered that package to be a prelude to another round of pandemic relief in the spring.

We’ve now seen what that next aid package will involve. The Biden proposal does contain $20 billion in assistance for what the president-elect has described as the hardest-hit public transit agencies.

Although those were not named, they are likely to include systems based in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas.

The plan noted that these systems have been devastated by lost ridership and revenue.

Of course a similar scenario has played out with intercity rail, air travel and intercity bus travel.

The Rail Passengers Association issued a statement in response to the Biden plan praising it for proposing aid to public transit.

However, RPA stopped short of criticizing the proposal for ignoring Amtrak.

Instead RPA called for amending it to including funding to enable the intercity rail passenger carrier to resume operating its long-distance trains on daily schedules by next summer.

The Biden proposal is just that, a proposal and not a guarantee. It will be up to Congress to approve the plan, which is subject to change as it makes its way through the House and Senate.

There is no guarantee that Congress will adopt another pandemic relief plan at all. Biden’s Democratic Party controls both house of Congress by thin margins.

There will Republican opposition and not all Democrats will necessarily be on board with everything the new administration is proposing.

Biden, who is known by some as “Amtrak Joe” because of how he used to commute to Washington by train has just given rail passenger advocates a reality check.

Some advocates, including RPA, have hailed the possibilities of what might happen with a president who supports passenger rail.

A letter I received from RPA last week claims Biden has a vision for a “second rail revolution” and “will be looking far beyond just paving roads to secure our transportation future.”

That was last week. This week RPA was writing on its website that the Biden plan falls far short of the “resources needed to tackle the immediate crisis.”

By that RPA means a billion dollars to restore long-distance trains to daily service.

The Biden administration has signaled that it will release another plan a few months from now that will propose infrastructure improvements.

Presumably, that proposal will benefit rail passenger service by providing capital dollars for such things as new equipment and route development.

In the meantime, Amtrak and the rest of the transportation network looks to remain much as it has been of late with fewer flights, fewer intercity bus services and less-than-daily Amtrak service in many places.

Airline industry observers have been writing for months that they expect it will take up to four years for the air service network to return to the level it was in early 2019 before the pandemic took hold and the travel market all but collapsed.

Rail passengers may not like it, but the Biden pandemic relief plan has shown them that restoration of suspended Amtrak services may be following a similar track.

Less-than-daily trains and fewer corridor services are likely to be with us for a while longer and maybe quite a while.

The Biden administration might be thinking that public transit has higher priority because it enables people to get to work. For some workers, it is their only option to get to work.

Much of the Biden aid package is oriented toward bolstering state and local governments. The thinking appears to be to take care of that first and as the economy recovers and the pandemic is tamed then travel will recover as business travel resumes and pent-up demand for leisure travel explodes.

Only then will we be seeing more flights, more bus service and more daily Amtrak trains.

Biden Won’t Ride Amtrak to Inauguration

January 15, 2021

Multiple news media reports indicate that President-elect Joe Biden will not travel via Amtrak to Washington for his inauguration on Jan. 20.

The plans to ride a train had never been officially announced.

Biden often rode Amtrak between his home in Delaware and Washington during his time as a member of the U.S. Senate.

One report indicated that security officers were concerned about being able to protect Biden as he arrived at Washington Union Station.

‘Amtrak Joe’ May Favor Passenger Rail, But That Doesn’t Mean a Pending Passenger RenaissanceHeadline

November 24, 2020

President-elect Joseph Biden is known by some as “Amtrak Joe” because during his time in Congress he commuted to Washington aboard Amtrak.

Biden took an interest in the intercity passenger carrier and former Amtrak President Thomas M. Downs told Trains magazine this week he believes Biden will be supportive of Amtrak’s national network.

The Biden administration won’t be taking office for another two months and it remains to be seen what policy positions it will take and how those will affect rail passenger service.

I would not expect, though, Biden’s election to presage the type of robust passenger rail renaissance that rail passenger advocates have dreamed about for decades in which federal funding spigots gush forth billions of dollars to fuel large scale rail passenger expansion.

What might be more realistic is the type of stimulus funding for specific improvement projects that the Obama administration pushed through Congress in its first two years.

That did not, though, result in any expansion of Amtrak’s long-distance network and only a minimal effect on corridor services.

It remains to be seen what the new administration’s position will be toward federal funding of intercity rail service, particularly the long-distance routes. Past administrations have sought to shift funding for the latter to the states served by those routes.

There has been just enough political support of federal funding of the long-distance routes on both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate to keep that funding flowing. I would expect that to continue during the Biden years.

I would expect a Biden administration to be less hostile toward funding Amtrak’s national network.

You won’t see budget proposals calling for replacing long-distance trains with buses as a first step toward phasing out federal funding of the long-distance network.

Biden budget proposals might seem to favor expanding the national network through a proposed infrastructure program.

But don’t expect to see anytime soon, if ever, increased frequencies of service on existing routes, say, two or three trains a day between Chicago and New York, or new long-distance routes.

Likewise, what position will the Biden administration take on supporting federal funding for corridor service? Many passenger advocates want repealed a federal law requiring routes of less than 750 miles to be paid for by state and local funding. Getting that done won’t be easy.

A Biden administration will be receptive to spending federal dollars on such Northeast Corridor projects as the Gateway Project to build new tunnels leading into New York City.

There is a long list of capital improvements for the NEC on Amtrak’s wish list, yet it remains to be seen how many of those will benefit from federal funding directed their way with the help of Biden administration support. Some probably will but not necessarily all of them.

The future of rail passenger service hinged on how much money Congress is willing to spend on it.

We’ll get a preview of that soon because lawmakers must approve another continuing resolution to extend authorization for federal spending in fiscal year 2021, which began more than a month ago, or approve an FY 2021 budget plan.

Amtrak has been adamant that without more money than it asked for earlier this year – just over $2 billion – it will have to furlough more workers and make additional service cuts.

It is not yet a sure thing that Amtrak will get the additional funding it wants.

There continues to be talk about another round of emergency pandemic spending and, of course, Amtrak wants a cut of that, too.

Yet the same conservative senators who opposed a stimulus package before the election can be expected to continue to  balk at what they view as excessive pork barrel spending that further balloons the national debt.

How much money the Biden administration will be able to get for transportation spending will hinge on the makeup of the next Congress. Democrats have retained control of the House of Representatives, albeit by a slim margin.

In a best-case scenario for Biden, the Senate will be split 50-50 between the two parties with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking tie votes. Yet Republicans may well continue to control the Senate.

In his interview with Trains, Downs predicted it would be some time before Biden’s influence over Amtrak and passenger rail will be felt.

The incoming president’s initial agenda will be dominated by responding to the pandemic and other pressing national and global needs.

How many times a week Amtrak’s Southwest Chief operate is not on that list.

Perhaps the best that will happen during a Biden administration is Amtrak’s route network eventually will return to whether it was in January 2020.

Most long-distance trains will operate daily again and all of the suspended state-funded corridor service will be restored. That won’t happen overnight.

I expect more studies, lots of speeches and many proposals couched in how environmentally friendly passenger rail is.

Those don’t cost much, but when it comes down to actually paying for those ideas, that’s another matter altogether,

That why rail passenger service in the United States remains limited and will continue to be so other than, perhaps some incremental changes.

Biden Appoints Team to Review Transportation Programs

November 24, 2020

A Los Angeles public transit executive has been appointed to lead a team reviewing transportation programs for President-Elect Joseph Biden.

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Phillip A. Washington will lead the 18-member team which includes members from labor unions, academia, public transportation agencies, retired members of Congress, think tanks, private consultants, and the aviation field.

The team will advise the incoming Biden administration  on the U.S. Department of Transportation, Amtrak, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Maritime Commission among other transportation programs and agencies.

It is one of 39 agency review teams that have been established to advise Biden. All members of the transportation team will be volunteers.

The transportation review team will meet with former agency officials and experts who closely follow federal agencies, and with officials from think tanks, labor groups and trade associations.