Artist's rendering of the Avelia Liberty, in Amtrak livery.
Alstom
By David Z. Morris
September 3, 2016

Vice President Joe Biden announced last week that Amtrak will receive a $2.45 billion loan from the Department of Transportation to upgrade its services in the Northeast Corridor. The loan is the largest ever issued by the department.

Of the loan, $2 billion will be used to buy 28 trains for the Acela line that connects Boston and Washington, D.C. Manufactured by New York-based Alstom, the trains will offer more seating, power outlets, and improved internet connectivity, and reach top speeds of 186 miles per hour. They will replace current Acela trains, while expanding the fleet by 40%. The new trains will enter service starting in 2021.

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The trains will nearly rival the speed of Japan’s Shinkansen, which began operation in 1964 and has been credited with helping Japan become an economic superpower.

Biden has a very strong track record of supporting Amtrak, and made the announcement from a train station in Wilmington that bears his name. He spoke at length about the power of transportation infrastructure to juice the economy, and also recounted receiving Barack Obama’s call inviting him to become Vice President—a call that came while Biden was riding Amtrak.

For more on high-speed rail (without the rails), watch our video.

He also praised Amtrak officials and workers, saying “they held together a lot of these old [train] cars with baling wire . . . they did an enormous, enormous amount of work to make sure that, quote, the trains ran on time.”

That odd little hedge—the trains ran on time figuratively, not literally—suggests that despite his enthusiasm for the Acela, Biden is well aware of Amtrak’s broader problems. Its on-time performance in the Northeast, where it owns much of its own rail, rivals that of major airlines, at around 80%. But elsewhere, Amtrak runs late as much as half the time—usually because freight trains have right-of-way.

While the bulk of the new expenditures will be in Amtrak’s profitable Northeast region, Biden took the opportunity to lambast anti-rail leaders in other regions, including Florida governor Rick Scott, who previously rejected Federal funds for nationwide high-speed rail development.

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