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Lauren Schechter is one of many students who takes an Amtrak passenger train to commute home over breaks.
Since rail stations are at their busiest near the holidays, Schechter’s primary concern was ticket cost and accessibility, especially given that students are often on a tight budget.
“Tickets can get really expensive,” Schechter, a senior environmental science major, said. “If you’re going from here to Philly, it’s like ‘Okay, am I really going to spend that much money on an Amtrak ticket?’ It seems kind of unnecessary.”
President Joe Biden spoke from an Amtrak maintenance facility in Bear, Delaware, on Nov. 6 to announce that his administration is allocating $16.4 billion in federal funding to the Northeast Corridor of Amtrak’s passenger trains.
The majority of the funding will go to specific infrastructure projects detailed in The White House’s Fact Sheet, such as at Penn Station and the Gateway Hudson River Tunnel.
During his speech, Biden shared his experience of riding commuter trains every day for nearly 36 years as a Senator. He would leave every morning via the Wilmington station, now the Joseph R. Biden Jr. Railroad Station, to get to his office in Washington.
“When I talk about how bad the Northeast Corridor needs upgrades, you don’t need to tell me,” Biden, who has traveled over 1 million miles himself, said. “I have lived it.”
The Northeast Corridor supports 20% of the gross domestic product via 800,000 trips every day on rail lines that stretch from Boston to Washington, D.C., making it the busiest rail network in the country, according to the Fact Sheet.
“If this line were to shut down, it would cost our economy, the American economy, $100 million a day,” Biden said. “But this line has tunnels and bridges that are over one hundred years old.”
The White House’s plan to rehabilitate the railways involves billions of dollars to repair and replace tracks, tunnels, bridges and other infrastructure that causes nearly 4,000 hours of delays each year.
Schechter expressed that she used to travel from the university via the Newark station, but due to the lack of trains that make stops there, she now goes to Wilmington station when she needs to catch a train home.
$9 billion of the new plan will go to a “fleet replacement program” intended to increase Amtrak railcar efficiency, The White House said.
Yet Schechter’s concern was not with the current locomotives, tracks or stations. Having more trains, she believes, would increase convenience for students and decrease costs for last-minute plans.
“The infrastructure itself is nice,” she said. “But I think making it so it can go to more places is important.”
Junior marketing major Isabelle Nace has had a similar experience. She finds taking the train to be more efficient than driving to her home in Massachusetts – given that there have been few delays in her experience. Even so, she wishes that there were more frequent trains and lower prices.
Unlike Schechter, Nace feels that infrastructure improvement should be prioritized. Most of the locomotives by Acela – a subsidiary of Amtrak which provides faster transportation – are “really nice and clean,” but the same does not hold true for Northeast Regional coaches, according to Nace.
“You can’t really tell what you’re paying for when you buy the ticket,” Nace said. “You don’t know what the train is gonna be like.”
Even with older infrastructure in the picture, Nace cannot recall a time she felt unsafe using Amtrak.
Anna Nichols, a sophomore international business major, had many good things to say about Amtrak as a student who rides out of the station in Newark on a near-monthly basis. Though Schechter and Nace shared a preference for the Wilmington stop, Nichols said that the proximity of the Newark station to the university is too convenient to turn down.
In terms of ticket cost, Nichols rarely buys the notoriously expensive last-minute passes, only doing so in the case of a family-related emergency. Normally, she said she “strategically plans out” her trips to take advantage of lower pricing.
“I think Amtrak is super efficient,” Nichols said. “And I feel like if we do run into problems during travel time, Amtrak’s pretty good at efficiently taking care of the situation.”
When asked if she thinks that Amtrak could improve in any capacity, Nichols mentioned that ensuring adequate wages for company employees who “work long hours” would be a beneficial cause for Biden’s financial allocation.
Part of the Amtrak funding designation, according to The White House, will “contribute to more than 100,000 good-paying union jobs in construction.” In West Baltimore, Amtrak is investing nearly $50 million in local workforces, such as apprenticeship programs, to ensure workers in that area have access to jobs.
“If it guarantees a better experience for the customers, then I don’t see a problem with it,” Nichols said.