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Biden announces upgrades for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor

Anthony Coscia, right, chairman of the board for Amtrak, and Vice President Biden enjoy a light moment at the Joseph R. Biden Jr. Railroad Station in Wilmington, Del., on Aug. 26. (Suchat Pederson/The Wilmington News-Journal via AP)

Vice President Biden has good news for Amtrak riders along the Northeast Corridor, announcing $2.45 billion in federal loans to help pay for new trains and other upgrades along the busy corridor.

Biden, a well-known Amtrak commuter during his tenure in the Senate, was on home turf at the Wilmington, Del., station that bears his name when he made the announcement Friday. He was joined by Deputy Secretary of Transportation Victor Mendez.

“This loan is a key step to providing investments needed to help keep high-speed trains moving throughout the region, and to help all commuters in the Northeast Corridor,” Biden said.  “We need these kinds of investments to keep this region — and our whole country — moving, and to create new jobs.”

It is the largest single loan in the Transportation Department’s history.

Part of the money will be used to upgrade the passenger railroad’s current fleet. Amtrak will contract with Alstom to build 28 next-generation high-speed train sets that will replace the trains used as part of Amtrak’s Acela Express service. The trains will be built at Alstom’s Hornell and Rochester, N.Y., facilities.

“Amtrak is taking the necessary actions to keep our customers, the Northeast region and the American economy moving forward,” said Amtrak chief Joseph Boardman. “These train sets and the modernization and improvement of infrastructure will provide our customers with the mobility and experience of the future.”

The new trains will have one-third more seats than the current fleet and offer a smoother, more reliable ride, Amtrak officials said. They can also be upgraded to provide many of the amenities passengers have come to expect: WiFi access, personal outlets, USB ports and adjustable reading lights.

The new trains also will allow Amtrak to increase service on the busy corridor — including half-hourly Acela service between Washington. D.C. and New York City during peak hours and hourly service between New York City and Boston, officials said.

“As more people rely on Amtrak, we need modernized equipment and infrastructure to keep the region moving,” said Anthony Coscia, chairman of Amtrak’s board of directors. “These train sets will build on the popularity and demand of the current Acela Express and move this company into the future as a leader in providing world-class transportation.”

Initially, the new trains will operate along the Northeast Corridor at speeds up to 160 mph. But Amtrak officials said they are capable of traveling up to 186 mph, enabling them to take advantage of planned infrastructure improvements in the corridor.

Amtrak officials will use revenue generated from growth in the Northeast Corridor to pay back the loans.

The loan package also will pay for  “significant” station improvements at Washington’s Union Station and the future Moynihan Station in New York, as well as track capacity and ride quality improvements to the Northeast Corridor that will benefit Acela Express riders and other Amtrak and commuter passengers. Amtrak will also modify fleet maintenance facilities to accommodate the new trains. In addition, money also will be used to upgrade tracks in Maryland between New Carrollton and Baltimore.

The first prototype of the new train sets will be ready in 2019. Amtrak officials expect the first set of trains to begin carrying passengers in 2021.  All of the new train sets are expected to be in service by the end of 2022, when the current fleet is expected to be retired.