Amtrak soon will be receiving the first portion of $1.3 billion for capital improvements from the economic-stimulus package. Vice-President Joe Biden, a long-time Amtrak rider and supporter, told a March 13 press conference at Washington, D.C.'s Union Station, that the $1.3 billion "will nearly double Amtrak's investment program over the next two years."

Niantic River Bridge, Amtrak
Photo: NCI, Leo King
Drawbridge in Connecticut would be replaced.

Amtrak President Joseph Boardman says the railroad expects to reach a final grant agreement with the Federal Railroad Administration on the stimulus funds with during the week of March 16. "Once we've got that, we're ready to move very quickly," Boardman says. "We know many of these projects are ready to go right now, so we're going to be moving it right out the door." Work will begin in "just a matter of weeks," he says.

Amtrak expects that installments of the stimulus funds will be distributed quarterly.

Biden, who as a U.S. Senator from Delaware frequently commuted by Amtrak to Washington, listed several major projects to be funded by the stimulus aid. The largest is a $105-million replacement for a 102-year-old drawbridge over the Niantic River in Connecticut. Boardman says, "Our design is done....We're ready right now" to go to bid on a contract. He expects that the project will be substantially complete, if not fully complete in two years.

Another project on Amtrak's stimulus list is restoration of its Wilmington, Del., station, which is about 100 years old. The project will receive $21 million from the stimulus, plus funding from the state of Delaware and other sources. Work will include restoring the building's interior and terra cotta fa�ade and constructing a third high-level train platform.

The stimulus also will provide $10.5 million for a new Auto Train station in Sanford, Fla., the route's southern terminus. Much of the old station was destroyed in 2005 hurricanes and temporary facilities have been in use since then.

Amtrak plans to use $105 million in stimulus aid for repairs to stations, maintenance shops and warehouses around the country. Work will include roof replacements, plumbing repairs, heating and air conditioning upgrades.

Biden noted that the U.S. Dept. Of Transportation Inspector General has estimated Amtrak's capital project backlog at $5 billion. Boardman concedes that the stimulus money will only cover some of that. "But it's a darned good slice of it. It's something that we can make real progress with."