Amtrak released a plan to expand service and routes across the United States with federal investment under President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure plan Wednesday. If approved by Congress, Amtrak would implement routes in cities that have previously been overlooked by the rail service, such as Columbus, Ohio, Nashville, Tennessee, Las Vegas, and Phoenix.
In Boston, and Massachusetts specifically, new or extended routes will be added to parts of New York, New Hampshire, Maine and even Montreal. Amtrak projects the expansions will create more than 500,000 jobs.
These expansions and a national focus on Amtrak are extremely necessary and overdue — trains are not only safer than a majority of other forms of transportation, but also more environmentally friendly. Railway transport has been recorded as having the least amount of emissions, as compared to road, water and air transport.
Compared to flying in particular, trains reduce your footprint by half or even up to 70%.
Amtrak has had high-profile incidents in the past, but engineers have implemented automatic braking systems for the trains, and it is still considerably safer compared to other road or water transportation.
In the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, Amtrak also provides more spaced-out travel options and allows for more connectivity through accessible transit that presents a reduced risk of coronavirus transmission.
Accessibility is a consistent, constant factor when it comes to trains. Not only does Amtrak have a vast array of usable services and features for people who are disabled, but it also circumvents the hassle of airport security and plane travel that people typically face.
For those with a fear of flying or health conditions that present a risk for flying at high altitudes, increased destinations accessible via ground transit is a godsend. In particular, it is massively helpful for students who are traveling with more luggage to and from college. For students who live a shorter distance from their school, it may be even less expensive to ride the train than purchase a plane ticket.
Adding more destinations also directly benefits the communities the stations will be located in, with the potential to bring in more frequent tourism for cities whose tourism industry has been greatly hurt by the pandemic.
Yet even with all the advantages of Amtrak, the company must be careful to avoid a couple of pitfalls. The locations of stations, infrastructure and even new rails — though most cities gaining new lines already have railway systems in place — must be thoughtfully planned to reduce noise pollution, which can have detrimental effects on the environment and communities surrounding trains.
Amtrak is also currently competing with local public transport, and the effectiveness of having the train system expanded may be lost if local services are more popular and offer the same routes. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, for example, offers commuter rail services such as a $10 unlimited weekend pass. If you were trying to reach Providence, Rhode Island from Boston, the MBTA would be a smarter financial alternative to Amtrak.
Where Amtrak can shine, however, is in long-distance routes and in equity. Compared to the unequal distribution of funding in the MBTA system, Amtrak has the opportunity to ensure equal jobs, maintenance, services and funding across the country.
Amtrak’s service has been slow and unreliable, and it is without a doubt that the funds from Biden’s plan would massively restore the former glory of the corporation. Especially since its headquarters and main concentration of stations are located in the Northeast, connecting 160 additional communities and bringing jobs and tourism to places such as Montreal or the South can help in an equitable distribution of services.
The company’s new vision benefits the entire country, and is tremendously advantageous for U.S. college students who make the trip home quite often due to holidays. Plus, who wouldn’t want to watch cities and the countryside speed past them as they travel by?