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Biden Hails Historic $16.4 Billion Investment in Northeast Rail

(Bloomberg) —

President Joe Biden said $16.4 billion for rail projects along Amtrak’s busy Northeast Corridor would help replace aging infrastructure in one of the nation’s most important economic regions.

Biden said Monday if the crucial rail line were to shut down for one day, it would cost the US economy “$100 million a day” in lost productivity. Crumbling rail tunnels, bridges and tracks along the route already cause 4,000 hours of Amtrak delays each year, he said.

“It has real consequences, this outdated infrastructure,” Biden said at an Amtrak facility in his home state of Delaware, flanked by union workers and state and local officials.

The funding Biden announced will benefit 25 passenger rail projects via the Federal Railroad Administration’s Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail grant program. The money will help to rebuild tunnels and bridges; upgrade tracks, station power systems and signals; and advance projects to increase operating speeds, according to the White House.

Listen: The Man With $1.2 Trillion and an Infrastructure Plan to Sell

Biden has sought to highlight infrastructure spending under his watch by visiting projects across the country to showcase the impacts on local communities. 

But he has struggled to translate those measures into political gains ahead of next year’s presidential election, with polls showing voters disapprove overall of his handling of the economy.

The president drew a contrast with Republicans in Congress who are calling for cuts to Amtrak.

“MAGA Republicans in Congress are proposing to slash Amtrak’s budget. We’re trying to make train travel easier, faster, safer, more reliable. They are trying to make it slower, harder and less safe,” Biden said. “We’re not going to let them stop the progress we’re making. I promise you that.”

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, lambasted the spending.

The Biden administration continues to unfairly divert taxpayer dollars away from the majority of the country to bloated, over-budget, blue-state projects,” Cruz said in a statement.

The Northeast Corridor stretches from Boston to Washington and is the most heavily traveled rail passage in the country, supporting 800,000 trips per day in a region representing 20% of the US economy. Biden said the funding package was the largest rebuilding investment since the tracks were laid in the mid-19th century.

The president often speaks about his affinity for Amtrak, which he commuted on regularly as a US senator, and on Monday, used his personal experience to argue for spending on improvements.

“When I talk about how badly the Northeast Corridor needs upgrades, you don’t need to tell me. I lived it,” Biden said. “I’ve been talking about this for a long time, I know, but finally, finally we’re getting it done.”

Highlighting how relatively minor incidents can ripple through the corridor, Amtrak earlier Monday temporarily stopped service between Wilmington and Baltimore due to a fire right before Biden was due to speak. After service was restored, Amtrak warned travelers to still expect “residual delays.” 

White House spokeswoman Olivia Dalton said the stoppage was a “case in a point” for the Amtrak investments in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

Biden said Monday the work would create “good-paying union jobs” and help grow the US economy. The funds announced Monday will contribute to more than 100,000 high-paying union jobs in construction, according to the White House.

Gateway Tunnel

One of the projects to benefit is the $16.1 billion Gateway Hudson River Tunnel, a long-delayed effort to build a new tunnel to ease congestion for commuters riding Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains as they cross the Hudson River. It will receive $3.8 billion. Construction on the tunnel officially began Friday after more than a decade of false starts.

Read more: NYC’s $16.1 Billion Tunnel to Start Work After Decades of Delays

Other projects receiving funds include the Frederick Douglass Tunnel in Maryland, which will get $4.7 billion to replace the 150-year old Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel. The Penn Station Access project —  which aims to introduce Metro-North trains to Penn Station, increase Amtrak service and cut local transit times from the Bronx to Manhattan — will get $1.6 billion. The Connecticut River Bridge project will receive $827 million.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told reporters on a call Friday that project completion dates vary but that some will be finished within the next few years. 

© 2023 Bloomberg L.P.

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