WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Amtrak is receiving a $2.45 billion loan from the federal government to buy new trains, upgrade tracks and make platform improvements along the busy Northeast corridor, the largest such loan ever by the Department of Transportation, officials announced Friday.
Vice President Joe Biden, a champion of Amtrak who rode the corridor's trains almost daily during his more than three decades in the Senate, joined Amtrak officials and deputy transportation secretary Victor Mendez in making the announcement at the Wilmington, Delaware, station named for Biden.
"You can't make this country work without rail ... This is a really, really sound investment, Biden said.
Terms of the loan were not immediately available, but Amtrak said the money would be repaid through growth in revenues from Northeast Corridor operations.
"We're making the most significant investment in passenger rail that's ever been made in this country," said Amtrak board chairman Anthony Coscia.
The loan includes more than $2 billion for 28 new trains that are to replace 23 nearing the end of their useful service life. It also includes $170 million for facility improvements in New York, Washington and Maryland, and $90 million for safety improvements and $80 million for track infrastructure.
The new trains will initially travel at speeds of up to 160 mph but will be capable of traveling up to 186 mph to take advantage of future track improvements. The first next-generation train is scheduled to enter service in 2021, with the rest entering service, and the current fleet retired by the end of 2022.
"The future of Amtrak travel starts today," said president and CEO Joseph Boardman.
U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, who holds the seat once occupied by Biden and is himself a frequent Amtrak rider, said the timing of the new funding is good.
"Amtrak just had a remarkable year," said Coons, citing record ridership numbers. "Amtrak is on terrific, strong and solid footing going forward."
But Coons, Biden and other officials noted that the Amtrak system is still facing a $7 billion backlog in maintenance needs.
"Why in this country are we so boneheaded to not understand the essential value of a rail system that's modern throughout the whole country?" Biden asked, wondering why Amtrak should have to rely on a loan to help build and maintain a rail system on par with those in Europe and Asia. "Why do we argue about whether or not it makes sense?"
Biden said the population along the Northeast Corridor is expected to grow by 58 million by 2040.
"If we don't plan this now, what's going to happen?" said Biden, adding that a modern rail system is not only crucial for commerce, but for national security.
Biden also noted that he had ridden more than 2 million miles on Amtrak, making close friendships throughout the years with many Amtrak employees.
"These men and women have become my family," said Biden, who briefly became emotional at Friday's event.
The new trains will be built by Alstom — which has sold more than 1,100 high-speed trains around the world — at facilities in New York.
Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, welcomed the announcement, calling it a victory for working people and the U.S. economy.