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‘Amtrak Joe’ touts transit funding for Northeast Corridor

Visiting projects to clear rail bottlenecks in New York and Baltimore

President Joe Biden speaks at the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel North Portal in Baltimore, Md.
President Joe Biden speaks at the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel North Portal in Baltimore, Md. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden is visiting two major rail bottlenecks in the Northeast Corridor to tout funding for their modernization and expansion and promise funding for more projects throughout 2023.

On Monday, he stopped in Baltimore to kick off a project to replace the 150-year-old, 1.4-mile Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel beneath west Baltimore that serves Amtrak, Maryland commuters and freight trains. Its tight curvature and incline force trains to slow to 30 miles per hour, making it the largest bottleneck between Washington and New Jersey. 

Biden will also travel to New York on Tuesday to highlight expected funding for another long-awaited Northeast Corridor tunnel — the $30 billion Gateway Hudson Tunnel Project aimed at easing congestion between New York and New Jersey. 

“This is just the beginning of having a 21st-century rail system that has been so long overdue in this county,” Biden said in Baltimore. “As a senator, I rode between Wilmington and Washington every day… and I’ve been through this tunnel a thousand times, you don’t need to tell me how badly this tunnel needs an upgrade.”

The White House appearance comes as the GOP eases into its House majority on Capitol Hill, which will likely make it more challenging for Democrats and Biden to advance spending on rail projects.

Republicans have also promised to use their House majority to focus oversight on administration spending that was approved in the 2021 infrastructure law. 

The B&P Tunnel Replacement Program will update the Civil War-era tunnel with two new tubes and expand its capacity so trains can reach up to 110 miles per hour. The updated tunnel, which would be renamed the Frederick Douglass Tunnel, could save nearly 450,000 hours per year for transit customers, according to the White House. 

The project managers also promised the tunnel would serve only electric Amtrak and Maryland commuter trains, barring diesel freight trains, as well as employ solar power generation at various locations. 

The Transportation Department has yet to make any allocations for the project, although the Biden administration said it could receive up to $4.7 billion of its $6 billion total from the 2021 infrastructure law. The law provides a total of $66 billion for passenger rail. 

The project has already received $44 million through the 2009 domestic manufacturing law and Maryland is set to contribute $450 million.

“The structure has deteriorated, the roof is leaking, the floor is sinking — this is the United States of America, for God’s sake,” Biden said. “We know we have to prove we’re much better than that.”

The Gateway project in New York and New Jersey is expected to deliver improved and expanded connections for 450 trains and 200,000 passengers every weekday between Newark, N.J., and Penn Station in New York City on Amtrak and commuter lines. The current structure has been in use for over 100 years and suffered more damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012. 

The visits follow Biden’s first infrastructure appearance of the year in front of the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor Project, which connects Ohio and Kentucky, in early January. The $1.6 billion in new funding from the law aims to fix America’s second-worst truck bottleneck, and the states expect to break ground by the end of this year with completion expected by 2029.

“That’s what this project and projects like this are about — it’s about making investments in America’s cities, towns, and rural America — and it’s about damn time we’re doing it,” Biden said, adding that the Baltimore tunnel project will add 20,000 good-paying jobs. “To have the best economy in the world, you have to have the best infrastructure in the world.”

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