Amtrak calls its newly announced agenda for 2012 “aggressive,” and it’s as aggressive as limited means will allow. The main features are new equipment and infrastructure improvements:
- 70 new electric locomotives for use in the popular “Northeast Corridor” linking Boston with Washington, D.C., plus the recently upgraded branch to Harrisburg
- 130 new low-level long-distance passenger cars for use mainly in the eastern portion of the U.S.
- E-ticketing functionality on all trains, nationwideTrack and bridge work on the Northeast Corridor
The agenda also includes some further planning efforts, but planning hardly seems to qualify for “aggressive” status.
From a passenger standpoint, the new cars are the most important element of this agenda. Although Amtrak’s preferred long-distance passenger equipment consists of bi-level “superliner” cars, tunnel, bridge, and wire clearances on many eastern routes are too low to accommodate these tall cars. But some of the low-level cars Amtrak and (VIA Rail Canada) currently use were originally built in the 1950s, before airlines took over almost all of the long-haul travel. And although they’ve been extensively rebuilt, they’re still at the end of their useful lives. Moreover, despite financial starvation, Amtrak continues to attract more customers and needs to add capacity. New sleeping cars will not just replace the old ones; they’ll also provide significant improvements, especially freedom from rattles and improved light isolation.
If you follow rail developments worldwide, you can’t help but note how puny the efforts in the U.S. are compared with other areas of the world. Every day, for example, the Railway Gazette reports on announcements of the opening of dozens to hundreds of miles of new high-speed and metro rail lines, deliveries of new cars and complete trains, and new funding commitments throughout Asia and Europe, with even quite a few in Africa and South America. But the U.S. has made the political decision to raise a high financial bar on rail investment, so, here, even some “planning” is about as “aggressive” as it gets.