US investment plans: Biden dreams of fast trains

Status: 10/27/2021 10:30 a.m.

Dilapidated bridges, old trains and even in Las Vegas no train station: traveling by train in the USA is expensive, but not at all a pleasure. Rail fan Joe Biden wants to change that with billions in investments.

By Claudia Sarre, ARD Studio Washington

It’s an old-fashioned train that passengers for Boston get on at Union Station in Washington. While rail freight is considered profitable in the US, passenger transport is hopelessly out of date. For modernization measures of the state railway company Amtrak – the abbreviation for American Track – it is “highest railway”. This is how Robert Puentes from the Center for Transportation put it in an interview.

Claudia Sarre
ARD-Studio Washington

“The tracks in the northeastern United States are among the oldest in the country and are in desperate need of renovation,” he continues. “They are mega-projects that require billions of dollars in investment, such as the tunnel under the Hudson River, a tunnel in Baltimore and the bridges basically everywhere.”

In fact, the US government’s infrastructure package plans to invest billions in railways. Bridges, tunnels, tracks, points, signaling systems, signal boxes and trains have to be partly renewed, and train routes have to be expanded and added.

Washington to New York in four hours

President Joe Biden helped advance the plans. For years, Amtrak-Joe, as he was called, commuted from Wilmington, Delaware to Washington. The rail fan dreams of high-speed lines that connect US metropolises with one another: “That would offer the possibility of expanding passenger train traffic. Just imagine: the two-hour train journey between Atlanta and Charlotte at a speed of 220 miles per hour!”

The reality of trains in the USA is different: the train is slow and, on top of that, expensive. A drive from Washington to New York takes around four hours and often costs around $ 200 – one way, mind you. There is an urgent need to change the route network and the trains, says Jim Mathews of the Rail Passengers Association: “An immediate benefit from this investment will be to increase the frequency of departures on certain routes, for example between Wisconsin and Illinois.”

On the rails – for the environment

Big cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix are not yet connected to a rail network. The US railways have been on a downward trend since the 1980s – the competition from airplanes, long-haul buses and private cars is too great. But if you want to reduce greenhouse gases in the USA in the long term, the transport system also has to change.

Switching to rail would be a good and environmentally friendly alternative, says Mathews: “Getting cars off the road and putting people on trains instead reduces greenhouse gases. The fuel consumption of diesel locomotives is still more effective than that of millions of cars,” he reckons before. And: “Rail travel could be even more sustainable if even more locomotives were operated with electricity instead of diesel.”

But first the infrastructure package has to be passed by the US Congress. Even after that, it will probably take many years before passengers will also feel the modernization measures.

Better, faster, further: US President Biden wants to invest in the railways

Claudia Sarre, ARD Washington, October 27th, 2021 9:10 am

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