Infrastructure bill to allocate $1 trillion to various sectors
On Aug. 1, the Senate unveiled the latest version of President Biden’s infrastructure plan. The bill will be the largest package of its kind in decades, despite representing roughly half of Biden’s initial plan. If passed, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will allocate $1 trillion to various sectors, including railway infrastructure.
Rail systems rarely make headlines as the focus of infrastructure spending, but they’re critical. Biden, who used to take the train to D.C. when serving as a senator, is a noted railway supporter. This bill comes as the latest example, aiming to repair the nation’s railways and bring them into the modern age.
Here’s a closer look at how the plan would help freight and passenger rail.
The updated White House fact sheet on the plan mentions a multibillion-dollar repair backlog that America’s public transportation faces. That includes 5,000 rail cars and thousands of miles of track that need replacement. Overall, the bill would allocate $66 billion to Amtrak, with much of that going toward these maintenance concerns.
According to Amtrak, it would take more than $38 billion to repair the Northeast Corridor alone. Since the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act says it aims to eliminate Amtrak’s repair backlog, most of the rail investment will likely go there. If the bill does clear this backlog in its entirety, the nation’s railways could see considerable efficiency improvements.
Poor maintenance conditions limit freight and passenger trains to 30 mph in some areas. Repairing these lines would enable them to get closer to their top speeds, letting rail transport reach its full potential.
The bill’s railway spending doesn’t end at repairing old lines and cars, either. If passed, it would also invest in modernizing railways, specifically in the Northeast Corridor, the busiest section in the U.S. Much of the nation’s railway infrastructure uses systems from 1977 or earlier, making modernization a pressing task.
The plan allocates $24 billion in federal-state partnership grants for modernizing the Northeast Corridor. What exactly that modernization looks like is still unclear, as the fact sheet does not go into specifics. However, the one specific it does mention is the research and development of high-speed rail.
Pete Buttigieg, Biden’s transportation secretary, has mentioned making the U.S. a leader in high-speed rail in the past. Considering how the country currently falls far behind other nations in developing high-speed rail systems, that goal would take considerable investment. This new bill seems like it may be the stimulus for that shift to finally happen.
Expanded Rail Networks
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would also add new rail lines to Amtrak’s national network. While the specifics of which cities or neighborhoods they will connect are unclear, they could help freight and passenger lines. An expanded rail network could provide more straightforward routes where trains previously had to take long, indirect paths.
These new routes could connect previously unconnected cities, enabling more efficient transport between states. Interestingly, the White House’s fact sheet specifically mentions intercity rail service, to which the plan allocates $12 billion. These smaller railways may not do much for moving freight but would make public transit more accessible.
Many major cities in the U.S. still lack intercity railway infrastructure altogether, and others don’t have efficient or clean systems. Which side of this issue the bill plans to focus on is unclear, but either way, it would improve passenger rail travel. It would make affordable transportation available to more people, especially in impoverished communities.
Improved Safety and Resilience
While railways are often far safer than highway transit, safety is still a prominent concern. As the nation’s railway infrastructure ages and decays, safety and resilience become all the more critical. In light of these challenges, this new bill would allocate several billion dollars to improving rail safety.
The plan includes $5 billion for rail improvement and safety grants, likely covering things like dangerous lines or outdated equipment. It also allocates another $3 billion specifically for grade crossing safety improvements. Grade crossing collisions have caused at least 90 casualties a year since 2018, so these changes could save lives.
The bill would also seek to make infrastructure, including railways, more resilient to extreme weather and cyberattacks. It allots $50 billion to these resiliency improvements, but it is unclear how much of that will go specifically to railways.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would make transit more sustainable. While most of the bill’s sustainability language focuses on electric cars and buses, this initiative includes railways. This will likely take the form of electrification in the form of hydrogen, batteries or direct current.
The plan will invest $5.57 billion in replacing transit vehicles with zero-emissions alternatives. That will likely include electric trains, though it seems like most of it will go toward electric buses. An earlier version of the White House fact sheet mentioned railway electrification as part of the modernization effort, but that language is missing from the updated version.
Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. While trains account for a comparatively small portion of that figure, rail electrification could help make transit as a whole more sustainable. Electric intercity rails would make zero-emissions transportation more accessible.
The New Infrastructure Plan Could Revitalize Railways
If the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passes, it will represent the largest investment in railways since Amtrak’s creation. While many details are still unclear, these improvements could make freight and passenger rail safer, more efficient, accessible and sustainable. The nation’s railway infrastructure could overcome historical shortcomings to suit the modern public’s needs
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, a magazine exploring how innovations change our world. She has over 3 years experience writing articles in the industrial and tech sectors.