America’s dated railway infrastructure could disrupt President Joe Biden’s hopes for high-speed rail to become a “game-changing” opportunity to reduce carbon emissions, E&E News reported.
None of America’s existing railways are built to accommodate trains moving at 200 miles per hour (mph), and the busiest Amtrak routes, located in the northeast, are encumbered by sharp turns, power lines, decrepit tunnels and bridges that deter high-speed travel, E&E News reported. The Biden administration has pledged to pursue high-speed rail as a major research and development opportunity to help reach his administration’s goal to have the U.S. economy reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.
Other issues facing a high-speed rail future in the northeast of the country include congressional fights over funding, requirements that some federally-subsidized rail equipment be manufactured domestically and a lack of domestic manufacturing capacity to meet those requirements, E&E News reported. Amtrak purchased 28 high-speed trains from a French company with a $2.45 billion federal loan in 2016.
“We’re making historic infrastructure investments, such as replacing the B&P Tunnel in Baltimore (trains in the new tunnel will be able to operate at top speeds of approximately 100 mph vs. 30 mph today),” an Amtrak spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “In addition to undertaking significant infrastructure upgrades on the NEC, we’re also making substantial improvements and considering opportunities to improve intercity passenger rail service in other parts of the country.”
The B&P Tunnel in Maryland will cost at least $4.5 billion to replace, and it will not be ready for passenger transit until 2032, according to ConstructionDive. The tunnel is falling apart, which is part of the reason why trains must slow down substantially while going through it.
Some of Amtrak’s newer cars are able to lean around sharper curves in order to keep high speeds, but many railway curves are still too severe for the most advanced railcar technology, Louis Thompson, a former director of the Federal Railroad Administration said to E&E News. A federal program to subsidize high-speed rail transit could be necessary to incentivize American companies to spend on research, engineering and new manufacturing facilities that could create the necessary rail components and also meet the domestic manufacturing requirements, Thompson added.
At present, just 32 miles of Northeast Corridor tracks are capable of handling speeds up to 160 mph, E&E News reported. Amtrak plans to upgrade an additional 100 miles of track to be suited for handling high-speed trains over the next 12 years, an expansion which would allow the trains to reach 160 mph for roughly 30% of the route by 2035, about a decade after they begin to operate.
“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests heavily in this effort both across the country and on the nation’s busiest passenger rail corridor, notably through the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Program,” Daniel Griffin, director of communications for the Federal Rail Administration, told the DCNF. “In total, the Fed-State Program will make available $36 billion over the next five years, with $24 billion for projects on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) and $12 billion for intercity passenger rail projects and high–speed rail projects nationwide.”
The White House did not respond immediately to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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