Biden Touts $8.2 Billion in New Passenger Rail Projects

Calls Them 'Biggest Investments' Since Creation of Amtrak
Joe Biden speaking in Las Vegas
President Joe Biden speaks at the Carpenters International Training Center with union workers Dec. 8 in Las Vegas. (Lucas Peltier/Associated Press)

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President Joe Biden announced $8.2 billion in new funding for infrastructure projects across the U.S. on Dec. 8, much of it involving rail travel.

“We’re making the biggest investment in history for passenger rail since literally the creation of Amtrak a half a century ago,” the president said in a speech in Las Vegas.

The projects include $3 billion for the Brightline West high-speed rail effort backed by Fortress Investment Group, which aims to link Las Vegas with Southern California. Another $3 billion project involves a rail corridor in California’s Central Valley celebrated by former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a longtime Biden ally.

Biden has sought to highlight infrastructure spending under his watch by visiting projects around the country to showcase the benefits for local communities.

Yet he has struggled to translate those measures into political gains ahead of next year’s presidential election, with polls showing voters disapprove overall of his handling of the economy.

The funding also includes $1.1 billion toward the Raleigh to Richmond Innovating Rail Program, which will help build out the Southeast Corridor from Raleigh to Wake Forest in North Carolina, eventually connecting to Richmond, Va. Also, $729 million has been dedicated to construct a new two-track rail bridge over the Potomac River between Washington and Virginia.

The White House is also announcing $34 million for 69 Corridor selections across 44 states through the Federal Railroad Administration’s Corridor Identification Development Program to create a pipeline for the future of passenger rail development throughout the country.

The administration is throwing support for studying other potential routes, including four in Ohio and one between New York City and Biden’s hometown of Scranton, Pa. The moves were announced this week by Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Both Democrats are up for reelection in 2024.

“This is a country that wouldn’t be the country it is today without railroads,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on a call with reporters Dec. 7.

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Buttigieg said that many of America’s communities, including places throughout the Midwest and cities like Atlanta and Los Angeles, grew around railroads. “And yet despite that heritage for years now, the U.S. has lagged behind other nations when it comes to passenger rail,” he said.

While the railroad projects will unfold over years, the coming election was very much on Biden’s mind in Las Vegas on Dec. 8, and he drew a contrast with the administration of his likely Republican opponent, former President Donald Trump.

“Folks, all these projects stand in stark contrast to my predecessor. He always talked about infrastructure week. Four years of infrastructure week, but it failed. He failed. On my watch instead of infrastructure week, America is having infrastructure decade.”