Amtrak’s $80 billion plan to connect the US is the latest step in a rail revolution but has a glaring omission: high-speed rail

Amtrak Acela
Amtrak’s Acela service runs between Washington D.C., New York City, and Boston.

  • Amtrak has unveiled a plan to further connect the US by rail but it doesn’t include high-speed rail.
  • New routes will be added and current routes will be upgraded as Amtrak aims to repair its network.
  • Private companies and states have taken up the costly task of building high-speed rail on their own.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Americans are all-aboard for high-speed rail but Amtrak’s new rail plan is putting the brakes on bullet train dreams.

Amtrak is getting ready to spend $80 billion of the federal government’s money as part of President Joe Biden’s planned $4 trillion infrastructure bills. The “Amtrak Connects US” plan calls for greater rail connectivity across the US with the addition of new routes and improvement of old ones in a major step forward for America’s rail system.

But one phrase is notably missing from Amtrak’s proposal: high-speed rail. Amtrak’s fact sheet doesn’t mention the phrase even once.

Rather, Amtrak is using the billions to give service to rail-strapped cities like Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Nashville, Tennessee, and upgrade existing lines. Not one penny will be spent towards building a clean-slate high-speed rail line even though getting America’s high-speed rail network in line with those in Europe and Asia is a desire for many Americans.

Jim Mathews, president and CEO of the Rail Passengers Association, told Insider that Amtrak may still be decades away from true high-speed rail and is still readjusting from an era of extreme cost-cutting.

“As recently as three years ago, Amtrak senior leadership was out talking about how routes have to make a profit and long-distance routes shouldn’t exist,” Mathews said, referring to the tenure of former Delta Air Lines chief executive officer Richard Anderson that saw Amtrak’s most nostalgic offerings cut in a bid to save costs.

Read More: Here are 9 hurdles Biden’s infrastructure plan would have to overcome in Congress before it can become law

Before Amtrak can even consider a brand-new high-speed rail network, there’s still a backlog of repairs to work through on its existing lines. And unlike regional transit authorities, Amtrak’s network stretches from sea to shining sea, leaving a lot to maintain and update.

“There’s all these sort of boring infrastructure investments that you got to do,” Mathews said.

On the Northeast Corridor, where Amtrak has its only high-speed service with the Acela, Mathews said that it would cost around $50 billion just to get the line to a “state of good repair.” That’s 62.5% of Amtrak’s proposed $80 billion funding from the infrastructure bill in just repairs alone and not even laying the foundation for true high-speed rail in the Northeast.

True high-speed rail would require new infrastructure, including straight lines of track so trains can achieve their top speeds. In congested regions like the Northeast, that means spending millions if not billions just to purchase property along the line’s planned route.

“Politically, high-speed has a different ring to it and I think Amtrak is probably unwilling to step into that,” Mathews said. “From their point of view, they’re like, ‘Hey, we just want to run our trains. We want to run more trains and we want them to be on time.'”

Amtrak is already spread thin in its languishing nationwide network. Existing infrastructure across the US has fallen into disrepair and battles with freight railroads prohibit Amtrak from being competitive on existing lines.

Private companies have instead spearheaded the effort to bring high-speed rail to the US. Brightline built a high-speed line to connect West Palm Beach and Miami in Florida that will soon be connected all the way to Orlando. In Texas, the Texas Central Railroad is developing a high-speed rail line that will connect Dallas and Houston in only 90 minutes.

California has even taken up the mantle with a new high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Construction is currently underway with the 800-mile line taking at least 14 years to complete at an estimated cost of at least $68 billion, according to Architect Magazine.

Amtrak is introducing new trains to the Acela line but those will only travel slightly faster than the current train sets. And pre-pandemic non-stop service between New York and Washington still took two hours and 30 minutes, despite being a comparable distance to the planned route between Dallas and Houston.

“What about grandma?”

Critics of Amtrak and its money-losing ways look too much at the big picture, according to Mathews, and not at the smaller journeys that are more in line with Amtrak’s original congressional charter. Only around 10% of riders take the full length of a long-distance service like the Empire Builder between Chicago and Seattle, for example, whereas most customers are taking the train between intermediary stops.

“The vast majority of trips take place in between,” Mathews said. And those short-distance trips between say Staples, Minnesota and Wolf Point, Montana, where convenient air service is a distant dream, is Amtrak’s bread and butter. Fares are comparatively lower than flying and trains can better accommodate passengers that face issues when flying, whether it be because they require medical devices or the nearest airport is hours away.

Keeping those smaller cities connected is also the reason why Amtrak rushed to get long-distance trains back to daily service after they were reduced to three-times-weekly service during the pandemic. Restoring them to daily service may have seemed counter-intuitive from a revenue perspective but the move ensures more Americans that rely on the rails have access to it.

When Amtrak does eventually enter the high-speed rail realm, it may be relegated to the lines that private companies haven’t already scooped up. But Mathews believes that’s alright because the rail corporation’s purview, after all, is to serve the entire country – profitable or not.

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Amtrak is adding nostalgia-inducing private rooms to overnight trains between Boston, New York, and Washington, DC

Amtrak Superliner bedroom
Amtrak’s Superliner bedroom.

  • Amtrak is adding private rooms to overnight Northeast Regional trains between Washington, DC and Boston this spring.
  • Three types of rooms are offered including a roomette, bedroom, and accessible bedroom.
  • The longest journey is nine hours and 58 minutes from Washington to Boston.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The overnight trains between Washington, DC, and Boston are getting slightly more bearable with upgrades coming this spring.

Amtrak will offer private rooms on late-night Northeast Regional trains running between Washington and Boston starting in April. The once-daily trains already depart in the evening and arrive in the early morning after a near-10-hour journey in each direction but have been limited to standard coach class and business class seats.

Three types of bedrooms will be offered for purchase including the Viewliner roomette, bedroom, and accessible bedroom. The smallest and narrowest room is the roomette with dimensions of three feet and six inches wide and up to six feet and eight inches long.

Starting at $288 for one traveler on the full route, the roomette offers two seats that convert into sleeping berths at night stacked vertically. Shower and restroom facilities, however, are not located in the room and are shared in the car.

The bedroom is double the size of the roomette with a width of up to six feet and eight inches and a length of up to seven feet and six inches. It offers a sofa and adjacent armchair for seating and two berths stacked vertically for sleeping, as well as a private shower, sink, and restroom.

An accessible option for the bedroom is also available with an in-room sink and restroom but no in-room shower. The accessible shower is located elsewhere in the train car.

All rooms come with a dedicated attendant and access to Amtrak’s lounges in Boston and Washington. The Metropolitan Lounge, formerly known as ClubAcela, is comparable to an airline lounge at an airport with complimentary food, drinks, and snacks available for Amtrak’s top customers, as Insider found during a visit to New York’s brand-new Moynihan Train Hall at Pennsylvania Station.

Travelers also receive a complimentary alcoholic beverage after boarding and a continental breakfast before arrival in Boston and Washington. Bedding, towels, linens, and pillows are all included in the room rate so customers don’t have to worry about bringing their own.

Washington to Boston service on train 66 departs Union Station at 10 p.m. and arrives in New York at 1:55 a.m. followed by Boston at 7:58 a.m. for a journey time of nine hours and 58 minutes.

Boston to Washington service on train 67 departs South Station at 9:30 p.m. and arrives in New York at 2:30 a.m. followed by Washington at 7 a.m. for a journey time of nine hours and 30 minutes. On Fridays and Saturdays, however, times differ and the service is offered as train 65.

The journey times are markedly slower than the daytime trains. A standard trip from Washington to Boston on the Regional, for example, is only around eight hours – a two-hour difference from the overnighter. Acela still provides the fastest service between the two cities, with average journey times of under seven hours.

Trains will also still make station stops at numerous intermediary points along the corridor like New Haven, Connecticut; Wilmington, Delaware; and Trenton, New Jersey, as well as a 45-minute layover in New York City. Travelers can book the rooms for any stretch of the journey.

The first private room-equipped trains run on April 5 and are now bookable on Amtrak’s website.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Disney World is building a train station that will connect the parks with Orlando’s Airport, Miami, and more

walt disney world monorail reopening day
Disney’s monorail might soon have a new coworker.

  • Disney World will connect to Orlando and Miami by rail as soon as 2022. 
  • The company in late November announced a deal with Brightline to build a station at Disney Springs as the train operator expands to Miami. 
  • Brightline also has plans to break ground on a Los Angeles-to-Las Vegas route this year. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Next stop: Disney World, hopefully at a time when the pandemic will be in the rearview mirror.

Brightline, which currently operates trains between Miami and West Palm Beach, announced on in late November a deal with Disney World to build a station there as it extends service north to Orlando.

Brightline planned florida extension map
Brightline’s map of planned stations.

The Disney World station is planned for the Disney Springs complex, the company said. Brightline’s extension to the Orlando International Airport is set to open in 2022, but the company did not provide a timeline for the Disney station.

Brightline, which has been hit hard by the pandemic and hasn’t run any trains since March, hasn’t slowed down its aggressive expansion in both Florida and California. A route from Los Angeles to Las Vegas is set to break ground this year.

In a 2019 interview, Brightline’s main investor, Fortress Investments founder Wes Edens, said there are up to a dozen so-called city pairs ripe for rail service. Those include Atlanta to Charlotte, Chicago to St. Louis, and Houston to Dallas, where a competing private rail operator is also working on a project.

Read more: Brightline is on the cusp of connecting Disney World to Miami by train. Its owner explains what’s next in the railroad’s quest to beat Amtrak at its own game.

With tens of millions of people visiting Disney World every year, many of whom arrive at Orlando’s airport, it’s a chance for Brightline to convince even more people to opt for greener transportation.

For a market where train travel is kind of foreign, we have to think of creative ways to get people in through the top of the funnel,” president Patrick Goddard told Business Insider in January.

Disney World might just be the thing to do it.

Read the original article on Business Insider