Faster trains, more seats and Wi-Fi that works?

The $2.45 billion federal loan that officials awarded this summer to Amtrak will help pay for those upgrades and more as the railroad continues its push to modernize service and rebuild aging infrastructure along the busy Northeast Corridor, including in the Washington region.

The package is the largest single loan ever given by the U.S. Transportation Department.

“This loan is a key step to providing investments needed to help keep high-speed trains moving throughout the region and to help all commuters in the Northeast Corridor,” said Vice President Joe Biden, who made the announcement at the Amtrak station in Wilmington, Delaware. “We need these kinds of investments to keep this region – and our whole country – moving, and to create new jobs.”

The additional dollars are a significant boost for Amtrak, which has spent years lobbying an often-skeptical Congress for money to pay for a backlog of capital needs.

“Simply put, this investment is a game-changer,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York. “It means more riders and faster trip times along the Northeast Corridor, which will boost Amtrak revenue and pave the way for further infrastructure and safety upgrades throughout the Northeast. While this loan is just a small fraction of what we should be investing in Amtrak, it’ll go a long way toward proving that Amtrak can make smart business decisions that improve the service, ridership and revenue.”


The loan also comes at a time when Amtrak is transitioning to new leadership.

Last month, Charles “Wick” Moorman, a former top executive with Norfolk Southern Railway, was named president and chief executive, replacing the retiring Joe Boardman. Moorman began his job Sept. 1.

Amtrak officials emphasized that the money is a loan that will be repaid with revenue they expect to generate along the corridor. Under conditions of the agreement with the Transportation Department, the passenger railroad will have 29 years to pay back the money, with repayment beginning no later than 2022. The loan comes through the Federal Railroad Administration’s Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program.

The bulk of the money will be spent to buy 28 new trains for the popular Acela Express service. The current fleet of 20, which debuted in the early 2000s, will be retired as the new trains come online, expected to begin in 2021.

The billions in federal loans also will pay for other improvements to tracks and stations along the 457-mile corridor. The Northeast Corridor is among the passenger railroad’s biggest sources of revenue.

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