RPA: Amtrak Previews Plans for Infrastructure Bill Funding

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
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Amtrak executives—including newly appointed Executive Vice President-Major Program Delivery Laura Mason—addressed plans for potential infrastructure bill funding and pandemic recovery during the Rail Passengers Association’s virtual conference this week.

Roger Harris, Executive Vice President/Chief Marketing and Revenue Officer, discussed Amtrak’s timeline for fleet renewal on the Northeast Corridor and the National Network.

The procurement program would receive “a massive boost” with the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA), according to the Rail Passengers Association. IIJA includes $36 billion in General Fund authorizations, including $19.2 billion for Amtrak investment—$6.57 billion for NEC grants and $12.65 billion for National Network grants—and $66 billion of advance appropriations, including $6 billion for NEC grants, $16 billion for National Network grants, and $36 billion for the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail grant program, the American Public Transportation Association reported last month.

Roger Harris, Executive Vice President/Chief Marketing and Revenue Officer, Amtrak

“We’re basically replacing all of our fleet over the last five years,” Harris told conference attendees. “Between the new Acelas, Viewliner cars ordered by the states, the Siemens replacement for Amfleet equipment on the NEC, and once you wrap the long distance fleet, it will be the vast majority of the Amtrak rolling stock. This is not something Amtrak really has a deep bench on, in terms of doing procurements, so we really need to tackle these sequentially. So, there’s some elements of the Amfleet replacements that we need to wrap up still from that procurement, and then we will begin to have the capacity to work on the long-distance procurement.”

Harris also discussed Amtrak’s return of pre-pandemic services, such as traditional onboard dining. “As to opening up traditional dining to non-sleeping car passengers, what we really wanted to make sure we did with the reintroduction … is to make sure we could do it right in the first place,” Harris said. “Because of limited crew, and because it was a new service, we did not want to overburden our [Onboard Services] employees with having to deal with coach passengers and COVID restrictions and everything else all at the same time. We made a very deliberate decision that we would restrict it to sleeping car passengers initially to make sure we could get the service right, harden the service, deliver it reliably.”

Beginning in October, Harris said Amtrak will begin providing traditional dining access to business class riders of the Coast Starlight, which runs between Seattle and Los Angeles. “Now I know that sounds like a really small population, but the idea is to start small and work through the issues we will inevitably encounter,” Harris said. “As that test is successful, we will work to roll it out to additional markets.”

Laura Mason, Executive Vice President-Major Program Delivery, Amtrak

Laura Mason addressed “laying the groundwork to receive the substantial infusion of federal funding that will come from the passage of the IIJA,” RPA said. Mason was hired in May to coordinate with Amtrak stakeholders and external partners to successfully deliver large-scale, complex projects.

“With the state of our infrastructure today and the funding that we have hopefully coming towards us with the infrastructure bill, we need to be able to build up the capacity to do multiple billion dollar programs, to have just not one focus but many,” Mason told conference attendees. “We have $40 billion of planned critical infrastructure, facility and fleet investments that we need to turn into a reality.”

Mason also addressed the next-generation Amtrak workforce. “One of the big challenges to the industry is how do we get people excited and involved?” Mason said. “We need to recruit at all levels; I think entry-level is very important, but also mid-level. We need to bring in people from different industries and help them see the rewards that come from working in rail. That you can do well by doing good, and also that you can have a tremendous positive impact. I talk about this when I go out recruiting, about the impact. Do you want to affect tens of thousands of people a day? Hundreds of thousands? Millions of people a year? You can do that in transportation! There’s very few other jobs out there where you can actually directly affect the lives of tens or hundreds of thousands of people every day. Particularly to the younger generations who talk about climate change and want to do something, I say: Make it your day job; come work in rail. If you want to combat climate change, help be part of the solution of making rail and carbon neutral transportation an option for everybody.”

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