March 24, 2024 - TRA Newswire -

Amtrak's recent General and Annual Legislative Report and Fiscal Year 2025 Grant Request to Congress holds some hope for improvements to the three three trains that serve Texas.

If approved, a $25 million Texas and Oklahoma Rail Improvements Initiative, a Food and Beverage Service Initiative to restore dining service on the Texas Eagle, an appropriation request to replace aging cars in the Amtrak fleet and expansion of wi-fi service on trains could all benefit travelers in Texas.

The FY 25 annual grant request is divided into two components: "base needs" that represent the minimum funding level to carry out core functions and "modernization" which represents initiatives to improve the railroad and the customer experience to generate more revenue and ridership.

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, Amtrak’s ridership returned dramatically, with 28.5 million customers counting on Amtrak to safely take them to one of 524 destinations across the United States and Canada—from small towns like Havre, Montana (population: 9,362) to huge metropolises like greater New York City (population: 20.1 million).

This level of ridership is significant on two fronts: it represents a 25% increase over the previous fiscal year, and was equal to about 89% of pre-COVID-19 levels. Monthly ridership was at or above pre-pandemic levels as Amtrak completed the final months of the year and this trend has continued so far in FY 24. 

Texas & Oklahoma Rail Improvements — Amtrak is seeking $25 million in FY 25 for a Texas & Oklahoma Rail Improvements initiative, which would support investments in rail infrastructure, stations, and mechanical facilities along the routes of the Texas Eagle, Sunset Limited, and Heartland Flyer.

Amtrak said that this initiative in Texas and Oklahoma, where more than one out of every ten Americans live, are badly underserved by intercity passenger rail. The Amtrak routes that serve these states—the State-Supported Heartland Flyer and the Long-Distance Texas Eagle and Sunset Limited—operate at most once per day, even though Texas and Oklahoma are home to some of the largest and/or fastest growing population centers in the country. (For example, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Houston is the 4th largest U.S. metropolitan area, San Antonio is the 7th, Dallas is the 9th, Austin is the 10th, Fort Worth is the 13th, and Oklahoma City is the 20th.)

Prudent federal investment in the region could allow Amtrak to improve the quality and reliability of existing Amtrak services in these populous areas, while also laying groundwork for corridors selected by the Federal Railroad Administration’s Corridor Identification & Development (CID) program.

$25 million would support initial pre-construction activities, and fund full construction of selected projects. Funding could support investments

  • to strengthen and stabilize track along the route of the Heartland Flyer (where subgrade issues can cause delays
  • to address congestion issues in or around San Antonio and Houston, and along the route of the Flyer
  • funding could support upgrades and repairs to bring roughly two dozen Texas and Oklahoma stations into a state of good repair, as well as more expansive improvements in Ft. Worth and at the undersized San Antonio station
  • funding could help identify mechanical facility options in Dallas-Ft. Worth to service current equipment and, as applicable, additional equipment required for any future service expansions

Over the life of the initiative some $300 million would fund infrastructure, stations, and facilities investments to improve service quality and reliability.

The Food & Beverage Service Improvements initiative - would support advancement of actions that were discussed in Amtrak’s recent response to the Food and Beverage Working Group recommendations for which necessary funding is not currently available. While Amtrak is requesting $27 million in FY 25, funding for this initiative is sliding scale: Amtrak can utilize whatever level of additional resources Congress chooses to provide to advance / implement promising ideas in the FBWG report.

What could FY 25 funding achieve?

  • it would enable Amtrak to fully restore traditional dining on the Long-Distance Texas Eagle. This train is currently one of only a few national network trains that still serves microwaved meals to sleeping car passengers and only allows coach passengers to subsist on sandwiches and snack foods on this overnight train. Other western overnight trains have restored full-service meals to both sleeping car and coach passengers. 
  • funding would also enable exploration of other potential F&B improvements, with a focus on further expansion of traditional dining, if feasible
  • expanded availability of for-a-fee traditional dining for coach class customers. Other areas of evaluation could include pilot programs to test new service concepts; improved training for employees; and/or other customer experience enhancements aligned with FBWG recommendations

Texas Rail Advocates does not believe that the Texas Eagle, which for years has been regarded as Amtrak's Red-Headed Step Child, should have to be tied to a initiative that restores proper food service for its passengers through a congressional approved initiative. This is the first time we are aware that a single existing train has been singled out for a stand-alone appropriation to fund food service that is now available on other trains. This is just flat wrong and a slap in the face to Texas Eagle high-fare paying passengers. 


Wi-Fi Improvements — Amtrak seeks $30 million in FY 25 for a Wi-Fi Improvements initiative, which would support expansion of Wi-Fi availability on the National Network, and also improvement of Wi-Fi quality on the NEC and elsewhere. While initial investments would not directly close all remaining coverage gaps, they would lay necessary groundwork for future expansions and improvements—particularly if the initiative were funded across multiple years.

National Network Trains  - Amtrak is in the process of a formal procurement request to manufacturers for replacement of its national fleet that would include for the Texas Eagle, Sunset Limited and Heartland Flyer. 

A $50 million appropriation in FY 25 could support initial progress towards facilities required for the new long-distance fleet

  • funding could cover some of the costs that would be required to build or improve facilities for new Long-Distance equipment 
  • Service Development Plans and Feasibility Studies for New or Expanded Long-Distance Routes
  • funding could SDP costs for daily Cardinal and Sunset Ltd. service, including restoration of Sunset service to downtown Phoenix, and other costs that may be required to evaluate new and expanded Long-Distance route opportunities identified by the FRA

An $87 million appropriation for Additional Corridor Development - in FY 25 could support near-term capital needs

  • Funding could accelerate delivery of capital projects for which planning and design work, environmental review, and other pre-construction activities are complete or substantially underway, but for which a lack of near-term funding has become a source of delay
  • such investments could support, for example, extension of the Heartland Flyer to Newton, KS; extension of the Wolverine to Windsor, ON; extension of the Downeaster to Rockland, ME; and/or establishment of an “Inland Route” connecting Boston to New Haven via Springfield.