In the largest federal funding infusion for U.S. passenger rail infrastructure in decades, the Biden administration has awarded $16.4 billion for 25 major projects along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, the railroad's busiest route.

The grants, which the White House and U.S. Dept. of Transportation announced on Nov. 6, will go to replace, upgrade or expand tunnels, bridges, electrical systems, tracks and signaling—some that date from the early 20th century. 

Funding for the Washington, D.C., to Boston route comes from the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and is a portion of the $66 billion the legislation provides for rail, said Mitch Landrieu, White House coordinator of infrastructure implementation. 

The rail focus is no surprise. Speaking at a Nov. 3  media briefing previewing the announcement, Landrieu noted that President Joe Biden is "a train guy," who commuted via Amtrak for many years from his Delaware home to Washington during his more than three decades in the Senate.

“For decades now we have underinvested in passenger rail in the United States, including along the Northeast Corridor," DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg said. The infrastructure law “changed the trajectory of what we can do for passenger rail and now we’re making the biggest investment in rail in generations.” 

The $16.4 billion includes $9 billion in fiscal year 2022 and 2023 funds and $7.4 billion in “phased funding agreements” in succeeding years.

The law authorized DOT to enter multiyear funding agreements. These are limited to capital projects­—those with an estimated cost of $500 million or more—and also are restricted to projects entering the final design or construction stage.

Baltimore Tunnel Gets Big Award

The largest project allocation in the new group of grants is $4.7 billion in phased funding agreement dollars to replace the 150-year-old Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel, located in that city, which has long been a bottleneck that requires trains to slow to 35 miles per hour.

According to a White House fact sheet, more than 10% of weekday trains are delayed at the tunnel that also has a tight curve and steep incline.

Construction started on the replacement in March; in September Amtrak awarded the project's first major contract, for the tunnel southern approach.

The second-largest award is $3.8 billion in phased funding for the Gateway project's Hudson River Tunnel between New York City and northern New Jersey.

The new allotment is part of an $11-billion DOT commitment to the megaproject, which has a total cost estimated at $17.2 billion.

Also on the list of project allocations is $2.1-billion in phased funding for a new Susquehanna River Bridge in northeast Maryland. Plans to replace the 100-year-old bridge call for two new spans, each with two tracks.

New York City's Penn Station Access project will receive $1.6 billion in phased funding to repair and upgrade 19 miles of Amtrak's Hell Gate Line. The project aims to open New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Metro-North service to Penn Station in Manhattan.

Some projects selected in the new round have previously received other types of DOT funding. The Hudson Tunnel also has a Federal Transit Administration Capital Investment Grant, and a DOT Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, or RAISE, grant.

Project sponsors, which include Amtrak and state DOTs, are contributing matching funds for the grant-winning projects.