Greater City Providence

$1.3 Billion for Amtrak


Providence Station platform | Photo by dpriddy from Flickr reports that Vice President Biden (VP Amtrak as I like to call him) announced today, a $1.3 billion investment of stimulus funds for Amtrak.

Biden said every passenger rail system in the world relies on subsidies, as do airports and highways, and that for too long Amtrak has been starved for cash.

I’m tired of apologizing for help for Amtrak,” he said. “It is an absolute national treasure and necessity.

I think I have a new favorite Biden quote to go with my favorite Obama quote.

Some of the projects slated to receive stimulus funding are:

  • $105 million to replace a 102-year-old drawbridge over the Niantic River near East Lyme, Connecticut.
  • $82 million to repair old rail cars and put them back into service.
  • $63 million to fix Amtrak’s aging power supply system on the Northeast Corridor.
  • Installing better signals that will help prevent train collisions and derailments
  • Repairs to dozens of aging rail stations, maintenance facilities and warehouses across the country.

Amtrak estimates that the infusion of cash will create 8,000 jobs. The agency currently has a backlog of $5 billion worth of unfunded projects. Despite the Bush administration’s disdain for Amtrak, revenue and ridership has risen for the last 6 years, to a record 28.7 million people last year.

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • I do so love the train. But if they don’t fix that coddamn escalator at the Providence Station, I am going to seriously boycott. I am willing to bet that you could give Providence Geeks two flashlights, a philips head screwdriver, 15 rubber bands and an iTouch and they could make it work in about a 1/2 hour. Honestly.

  • A more disappointing thing about the information in the posting above is that the entire Amtrak system had only 28.7 million riders, even after 6 years of growth. To put that into perspective: RIPTA buses had 25.2 million riders last year — almost the same number of passengers! Think of what RIPTA could do with $1.3 billion!

  • David: Sure, RIPTA had about as many riders, but the average bus rider probably went a distance of 5 miles, whereas the average Amtrak rider goes more like 200 miles. And most costs scale with passenger-miles, not passengers.

  • anonymouse: Just so you know, I am well aware of the difference in passenger miles traveled for a local transit agency versus the sprawling wreck (outside the NE Corridor) that is Amtrak. My point remains: there are a lot better ways to spend $1.3 billion.

    It might be better to give it to Peter Pan and Greyhound. Consider the following from a 1996 report to congress maintained on the National Council for Science and the Environment website (

    The numbers…on energy use per passenger-mile by different transportation modes suggest that Amtrak does not conserve energy compared to intercity bus transportation or auto travel for trips longer than 75 miles, but does conserve energy compared to air transportation. Consequently, federal financial assistance to Amtrak might not reduce energy consumption to the extent that people would travel by bus or by auto for trips longer than 75 miles, in the absence of Amtrak.

    Federal financial assistance to Amtrak could conserve energy, to the extent that those expenditures result in passengers riding Amtrak rather than flying or taking trips shorter than 75 miles by auto.

    The far greater fuel efficiency of intercity buses compared to Amtrak suggests that federal financial assistance to intercity bus service might conserve more energy than Federal financial assistance to Amtrak, even if additional buses caused some increase in congestion.

  • David: there is already massive Federal assistance to intercity bus transportation. It’s called the Interstate Highway System. Amtrak’s long distance trains, meanwhile, run on freight tracks built and maintained with private capital, and on which railroads pay property taxes. Also, I kind of wonder about those energy efficiency numbers, since they’re about 10 times worse than what other railroads get. Perhaps they were measured back when Amtrak had a significant express freight operation, and passenger trains were at least half freight.

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