The Federal Railroad Administration has launched a study to evaluate the restoration of daily long-distance train service and the potential for new Amtrak long-distance routes. The 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act mandated the study, requiring a review of discontinued trains or those operating less than daily.
Before Amtrak’s takeover of most intercity passenger rail services in 1971, federal law required freight railroads to operate such services. Amtrak initially discontinued many routes, and federal budget cuts forced the railroad to cancel several more trains in 1979 and 1997. In addition, service between New Orleans and Orlando, Florida, has not returned since Hurricane Katrina damaged tracks in 2005. Amtrak and two freight railroads have been locked in a pitched battle to restore just the portion of the route from New Orleans to Mobile, Alabama, since 2015.
Among Amtrak intercity rail services that were reduced to three-day-a-week operation is the Cardinal, which runs from New York to Chicago through West Virginia. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said the FRA study “is long overdue” in a press release on Wednesday. “The study also presents the opportunity to bolster essential intercity passenger rail connections and build a stronger rail network overall, all while making sure West Virginians and Americans are traveling safely and efficiently,” Manchin said in the press release.
Amtrak currently operates 15 long-distance trains, with routes ranging from 760 miles to 2,500 miles. The study will also look at Amtrak’s potential to expand with new long-distance routes. Outreach to communities and other entities began in September and will conclude in late 2023.