Rail Leaders See Bright Future


Jennifer Mitchell and Roger Harris.

Two senior figures in the rail industry are extremely optimistic about the industry’s future, as they conveyed to a packed house at the Passenger Rail Perspectives from FRA & Amtrak General Session during APTA’s 2024 Rail Conference.

Amtrak President Roger Harris is ready for a major upswing in rail systems. Improvements are already underway to the Northeast Corridor, where the Acela is the carrier’s most successful line. “Once you have a successful product, you’ll get the customers,” he told attendees.

Both he and FRA Deputy Administrator Jennifer Mitchell are most excited about the recent passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which will pump billions into the rail industry. Mitchell says “generational improvements” will now become reality. “We are able to fully fund projects with a local share—projects that haven’t been able to be tackled for over 100 years.”

For Harris, it means Amtrak is about to become the largest construction manager in the US. “Five years ago, you could count on one hand the number of projects that Amtrak was doing that cost over $200 million. Today we have 700 and it really is an incredible ramp up.” 9.5 billion alone will go to improvements in the Northeast Corridor, but tons of new money is also available for projects like high-speed rail.

“Once Americans get a chance to ride high-speed rail; see it in our country and see it connecting to major destinations, we really expect that people are going to want to see more of it.” Mitchell touted the line from Las Vegas to Los Angeles that will be just a two-hour trip, and also progress on potential systems from Vancouver to Oregon, and Brightline in Florida being expanded from Orlando to Tampa. She hopes the California and Florida lines will be completed within 10 years.

Mitchell believes this is “almost a once in a lifetime opportunity” and has sage advice for stakeholders in rail. These are projects that all require local matching funds, so she urges stakeholders to “get started early” on convincing local and state governments to get involved. Too many times FRA sees grant applications that could be a winner, but that lack that support from the partners that could push them across the finish line.

View more images from the conference here.