Amtrak Made a Bigger Map

Illustration for article titled Amtrak Made a Bigger Map
Photo: Andrew Harnik (AP)

Amtrak released its new map today, and the trainscape is looking good, toot toot. After a year of service cutbacks due to the pandemic, the rail company has drawn new lines connecting dots all over the country. The expansion is hopeful, a “2035 vision” that hinges on securing a proposed $80 million investment from Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan.

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Illustration for article titled Amtrak Made a Bigger Map
Screenshot: Amtrak

It would expand stops to cities that are, surprisingly, without service: Phoenix, Las Vegas, Nashville, Columbus, and Baton Rouge. In its announcement, Amtrak adds that hubs like Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Houston “have service that is simply inadequate, with trains that only stop once a day and often in the middle of the night.” In total, Amtrak estimates that the expansion would improve service to 20 million people. The only suspension is a line from Jacksonville, FL to Mobile, AL.

From personal experience, more frequent service could also make Penn Station significantly more appealing than the purgatory that might reasonably drive masses to the cheaper car rental place.

And, as has been reported for years, the Northeast Corridor is in bad shape. “The NEC’s [North East Corridor’s] many major tunnels and bridges – most of which are over a century old – must be replaced and upgraded to avoid devastating consequences for our transportation network and the country,” Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn said in a statement shared with Gizmodo. In 2018, an Amtrak spokesperson told Bloomberg that parts of the Hudson tunnels are so banged up by age and wear from Hurricane Sandy that there is “literally just crumbling concrete.”

Expanded train lines and improved service would be a no-brainer for carbon output reduction, especially if Biden follows up on his campaign promise to help Amtrak transition to electric trains. Amtrak currently runs on a mix of diesel and electricity, and it can go a lot further if it electrifies the whole system. Amtrak has said that its electrified system in the Northeast Corridor is up to 83% more energy-efficient than driving and up to 73% more energy-efficient than flying. But at the national level, Amtrak is only 47% more efficient than driving and roughly 33% more efficient than flying.

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Republicans are likely to oppose raising taxes for the infrastructure plan, though Biden plans to do so by making corporations like Amazon pay up.

Staff reporter, Gizmodo. wkimball @ gizmodo

DISCUSSION

Amtrak is dumb and long distance travel via train makes little sense in America. If we had developed the infrastructure more aggressively after WWII, maybe, but we decided to do a massive highway system instead. Most Amtrak routes are slower than driving a car. They’re also not cheap and the cabins you have to sit in kind of suck. There’s a major use case for commuter trains in the areas of the country where multiple metropolitan areas spill into each other and people tend to drive upwards of an hour to get to work (NYC, SF, and Chicago areas among others), but there’s a reason many of Amtrak’s long-haul routes have closed. I’d like to see more train commuting (so people could work while they ride, which you can’t do while driving), but burning money from a rare infrastructure bill on long haul train routes is short sighted. Nobody wants to chug along at 80 from Fargo to Spokane.