Amtrak Trying to Drum Up Support for Corridors Plan

Although it has yet to release its proposal, Amtrak has been talking with state and local officials about its ideas for creating a network of corridor services.

The passenger carrier has in those meetings described it as a long-range plan that it has billed as The Amtrak System 2035.

Among the Amtrak officials who have been touring the country is Ray Lang, the carrier’s senior director for national state relations.

Lang has described the plan as a five-year $25 billion proposal in which Amtrak would pay capital and operating costs upfront but with funding of operations shifting to state and local governments over a five-year period.

He has said during his presentation that the “price of admission for new corridor service has gotten to be really, really expensive.”

Therefore Amtrak wants to use federal money to cover those costs.

Amtrak’s vision is connecting urban centers that are hundreds of miles apart with frequent train service. 

Most of the routes Amtrak is looking to create are in the South and West, although recent news reports have indicated that Amtrak has talked with Ohio officials about creating new corridor service in the Buckeye State.

Ohio is currently served by three Amtrak routes and has no corridor service.

Some of the service to Ohio would involve extending existing corridor-oriented routes into the state, including the Empire Corridor that now operates between New York and Niagara Falls, New York, via Buffalo.

The idea is to extend some Empire Service trains to Cleveland and Detroit.

In their talks with Ohio officials, Amtrak has floated the idea of developing a corridor between Cleveland and Cincinnati via Columbus and Dayton.

Other possible corridors include New York City to Scranton, Pennsylvania, and possibly north to Binghamton, New York.

The Vermonter, which now terminates at St. Albans, Vermont, would be extended to Montreal and the Ethan Allen Express, which now terminates at Rutland, Vermont, would be extended north to Burlington, Vermont.

In the South, Amtrak has proposed corridors connecting Atlanta with Chattanooga and Nashville in Tennessee, with Charlotte, North Carolina; and with the Florida cities of Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa and Miami

In the West, corridors would link Los Angeles with Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tucson; and Denver with communities along the front range of the Rocky Mountains.

Additional service would be added along the route of the Coast Starlight, which links Seattle and Los Angeles, although Amtrak is not necessarily talking about one more trains being added to serve the length of that route.

In his presentations, Lang has said individual states “would have the ability to do what they want.”

He also indicated that some proposed routes are likely to have higher priority to get done sooner than others. That includes the Atlanta-Nashville route and service along the front range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

Amtrak’s plan faces numerous challenges and any of them could thwart corridor development.

First and probably foremost is that Congress must approve the funding for the plan.

Other challenges include resistance from the freight railroads that would host these trains and the reluctance of state transportation officials to agree to continue paying the operating costs of corridor services once they are established.

When Ohio was awarded a grant in 2009 to fund establishment of Cleveland-Cincinnati service, some Ohio legislators objected to the state having to commit to funding the operating costs of the route.

It is far from certain that all of the states that would benefit from Amtrak’s new services are on board with taking over funding of them.

There is a risk that state legislatures would decline to provide funding for a corridor service after Amtrak paid to establish.

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