On the 50th anniversary of Amtrak’s founding, Chairman Tony Coscia said the future is bright for the agency’s prospects under President “Amtrak” Joe Biden, once a regular rider in his U.S. Senate days.
“We feel very lucky,” Coscia said in an interview on April 30, hours before Biden is slated to be part of an afternoon ceremony in Philadelphia to recognize Amtrak’s 50th anniversary.
“We spent the last decade becoming a strong company for this moment in time when there’s a president who puts a very high value for what we do and is willing to put a significant amount of support behind it,” Coscia added.
Just how much support? Probably at least $80 billion, and likely approval for long-awaited financing for the multibillion-dollar Hudson River Gateway tunnel blocked by President Donald Trump.
That’s what could be earmarked for Amtrak under Biden’s landmark $1.9 trillion infrastructure proposal, known as the American Jobs Plan.
Greg Lalevee, business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825, suggested that many of those funds could go toward projects across the nationwide transit agency. But the focus in New Jersey has been the Hudson River tunnel replacement, part of the broader $30 billion transit overhaul for the New York City metropolitan area.
Coscia did not have a timeline for when he expects the groundbreaking to start for the tunnel, but he expects construction to at least be underway before the end of Biden’s first term.
Biden is visiting Philadelphia Friday as part of a nationwide tour to whip up support for the mammoth spending bill.
“President Biden is calling on Congress to invest $80 billion to address Amtrak’s repair backlog; modernize the high-traffic Northeast Corridor; improve existing corridors and connect new city pairs; and enhance grant and loan programs that support passenger and freight rail safety, efficiency, and electrification,” reads a White House overview of the plan.
Some economists have characterized the latest plan as the largest federal economic intervention since President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal nearly a century ago, and contend that it’s just what the nation needs to kick-start the post-COVID economy recovery.
“The proposed $85 billion in funding for public transit will modernize our rail system to make commuting easier, and more efficient,” reads a recent NJ Spotlight op-ed from Gov. Phil Murphy and Woodbine Mayor William Pikolycky, a Republican.
Biden’s proposals, they continue, would help New Jersey “build back better over the long term.”
Trump’s opposition to the tunnel came through efforts to block its funding and slow-walk approval of the project’s environmental impact report. That was despite agreements between Amtrak, New York, New Jersey and the Obama administration on how to pay for the antiquated tunnels, which advocates say are dangerously in need of repairs.
Amtrak put the current price tag for the new tunnel and the rehabilitation of the existing tubes at about $11.6 billion.
The Portal North Bridge replacement is about $1.8 billion, for which Murphy was able to secure a 50% financing commitment from the federal government during the final days of the Trump administration.
In the very best-case scenario, the bridge could start as soon as this year, Coscia suggested. Right now, the entire Northeast Corridor remains a choke-point on the New Jersey side of the tunnel, which frequently gets stuck and snarls rail traffic.