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By Angela Cotey, Associate Editor
To put the significance of Amtrak’s portion of the stimulus bill into perspective, NRC’s Baker points out that the $1.3 billion provided for the national intercity passenger railroad is just shy of what they’d expect to receive in an annual appropriation.
“It’s a very meaningful amount of money — they essentially doubled their annual appropriation in one shot,” he said during the Webcast.
And the railroad plans to put it to good use. In anticipation of the stimulus bill, Amtrak officials began formulating a project list late last year. The initial list included more than 1,000 projects.
“With a $7 billion state-of-good repair issue, projects are easy to come by,” says Amtrak Chief Financial Officer D.J. Stadtler.
As the bill made its way through Congress and became more concrete, Amtrak officials narrowed the list based on the bill’s regulations, then the executive committee prioritized the projects.
In late March, Amtrak released its final project list, which calls for spending $100 million to replace the Niantic River Bridge in Connecticut — a project Amtrak has delayed for more than a decade because it didn’t have the funds — and $65 million to upgrade 10 other bridges in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New York.
The railroad also will spend $90.8 million to refurbish out-of-service rail cars and locomotives; $65 million to upgrade 10 other East Coast bridges; $35 million to construct a maintenance facility in Seattle and $25 million to build one in Los Angeles; $47.5 million to improve Chicago facilities; and $25 million to upgrade Miami’s Hialeah maintenance facility.
“Overhauling the rolling stock is a big deal,” says Stadtler. “We can get more cars out there that are ready to go into service.”
Stations will get a facelift, too. Amtrak will use $40 million in stimulus proceeds to upgrade and improve accessibility at more than 200 stations in 40 states, $20 million to renovate the Wilmington, Del., station and $10 million to replace the Auto Train station in Sanford, Fla.
As of press time, the largest stimulus-funded contract Amtrak had awarded was to Shoemaker Construction Co. to restore the Wilmington station, where years of deferred maintenance have taken a toll on the historic facility.
Work includes demolishing and installing concrete curbing, glass stairwell enclosures, canopies and an ADA-compliant raised platform; replacing track bed waterproofing; restoring the building’s exterior; repairing the brick sidewalk and underside of platforms; refurbishing the station’s interior; and installing new HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems.
On the security side, Amtrak will spend $50 million to expand positive train-control systems on the Northeast Corridor and $10 million to upgrade PTC in Michigan. The railroad also will spend millions to install fire detection and suppression systems, and improve emergency egress from buildings and tunnels.
To ensure Amtrak remains accountable for its portion of the recovery funds and that projects remain on schedule, the railroad is following “pretty strenuous reporting requirements,” says Stadtler.
Amtrak will issue monthly reports that detail the status of each stimulus-funded project, including contracts that have been awarded, milestones they’ve achieved and which ones are coming up, whether the project is ahead of or behind schedule (and if it’s behind, why), and dollars expended to date. The reports are available to the public through www.recovery.gov.
“We’ve been criticized in the past for not being transparent, and we’ve gone back and forth with the FRA to make sure our levels of transparency are up to standard,” says Stadtler. “This is our opportunity to show exactly what we’re spending the money on and why.”
Amtrak estimates the stimulus funds will help create or retain more than 6,000 jobs within Amtrak, as well as contractors’ and subcontractors’ workforces.