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Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn told "Axios on HBO" the $66 billion coming to rail through the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill will be "absolutely transformational" and "more funding than we've had in our 50 years of history combined."

The big picture: Flynn spoke about Amtrak's 50th anniversary, President "Amtrak Joe" Biden, navigating COVID-19 and preparing for climate change. The setting was the new Moynihan Train Hall expansion of Penn Station in New York, just days before final passage of the infrastructure bill.

  • Amtrak's ridership numbers are now at about 65% of pre-COVID levels and trending up, he said.

Details: About half of the money targeted for Amtrak would go to expanding intercity passenger rail across the U.S. — targeting places where there are now few or no routes.

  • "Phoenix to Tucson is a great example," Flynn said. "Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati. Los Angeles to Las Vegas."
  • As for a dream stop that doesn't currently exist: "I think Nashville would be a great place to stop. I mean, how many country-western songs involve trains?"

Asked if Amtrak's commitment to reducing emissions by 40% by 2030 is enough, Flynn said reductions are "never enough" but would be an "important goal and an important achievement."

  • "We take environmental threat and environmental risk very seriously."

One big question: How successfully will Amtrak comply with federal vaccine mandates by the upcoming deadline?

  • Flynn told me he gets updates on internal COVID-19 statistics daily for the company's more than 18,000 employees. He said about 3,000 have gotten the virus since the start of the pandemic — and around 30 employees had died.
  • About 85% of Amtrak workers had received at least one shot at the time of the interview, up from about 50% in early August.
  • He said the company is emphasizing to its unvaccinated workers the need to protect themselves, fellow employees and customers.
  • "We don't want to see people leave the company, leave the corporation. We want people to be vaccinated, to be healthy and have a great career here. ... Our goal is to speak in human terms."

What we're watching: Flynn told Axios that while he couldn't comment on an ongoing investigation into a deadly derailment in Montana in September, Amtrak will continue to support the NTSB's investigation and "it affects all of us deeply."

Editor’s note: In an earlier version of this story, Flynn incorrectly described the company’s arbitration rule. It does not allow litigation as an alternative, and arbitration was not waived in a September derailment in Montana. The story has been updated to remove the inaccurate language.

Go deeper

Amtrak's Midwest plan would link Ohio's "three Cs"

Image: Federal Railroad Administration

The Buckeye State could benefit big from the $66 billion potentially coming to passenger rail via the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill sent to President Biden's desk on Friday.

Why it matters: Columbus is the second-largest city in the country without intercity rail, behind only Phoenix. Train lines would make it easier to travel between cities and bring more visitors to central Ohio.

16 mins ago - Health

First known U.S. case of the Omicron variant identified in California

PhotoL Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The first known U.S. case of the Omicron variant was detected in California, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Wednesday.

Driving the news: The confirmed case was detected in a traveler returning from South Africa who was fully vaccinated and has mild symptoms, according to the CDC.

Supreme Court appears likely to roll back abortion rights

Abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 1. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Wednesday seemed likely to weaken abortion rights and perhaps to let states ban the procedure altogether.

The intrigue: The court seemed likely to throw out the framework established in Roe v. Wade, but it wasn't clear whether a majority of the justices were inclined to overturn the court's precedents entirely.