A 15-year rail improvement plan has been initiated by a coalition of transportation organizations, along with Amtrak, while Congress continues to work toward an infrastructure package agreement.
The plan would bring upgrades to the highly-congested Northeast Corridor in an effort to improve current daily train routes and travel speeds along Acela express lines. However, this plan is only likely to become successful if Congress is able to pass a significant infrastructure spending plan.
The plan, set forth by the Northeast Corridor Commission (a group implemented by Congress in 2008), could be a “mobilizing force” for overall transit updates, and the potential changes that could be made throughout the 450-mile-long rail corridor could boost travel trends and steer them away from fuel-emitting vehicles “as our economy returns to full strength.” It could also help to create around 1.7 million new jobs, according to Federal Railroad Administration deputy administrator and Northeast Corridor commission co-chair, Amit Bose.
President Biden’s original bipartisan infrastructure deal would have offered $80 billion for rail over eight years, with $39 billion allocated directly to the corridor. However, the current Senate bipartisan deal offers $66 billion for rail, although experts aren’t sure exactly how much of that could over the 15-year, $100 billion regional plan.
“The corridor supports more than 800,000 daily passenger trips between the greater Washington, D.C. and Boston regions,” explained commission co-chairman and New Jersey Transit president and CEO, Kevin Corbett. “It is imperative that together, we seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to replace aging assets, add rail capacity, [and] improve performance.”
An $11 billion initiative to upgrade and repair the century-old Hudson River tunnels feeding into New York City would be feasible under this plan, which would serve around 200,000 Amtrak and New Jersey Transit passengers who use these routes every weekday. The plan would also bring funding to long-awaited traffic improvement projects along the corridor, and safety-focused projects for this route would be fast-tracked as well–even being able to begin construction as soon as 2025.
The Trump administration had deemed this project as being too high in cost, but Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has already voiced his support for these improvements.
Other projects under the plan include expansions to rail stations in New York City; Washington D.C.; Philadelphia; Stamford, Connecticut; and Providence, Rhode Island; as well as the rail line within Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
The Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel would also receive funding for improvement projects, as it is currently a major chokepoint for Amtrak and MARC trains running near Baltimore Penn Station. As of now, trains have to slow to 30 miles per hour in the 1.4-mile, two-track tunnel, where the large amount of water in the soil under the tracks often cause floor slabs to sink. New replacement tunnels built through Amtrak and Maryland’s $4 billion plan would allow trains to move at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour through this area.
“The investments in infrastructure laid out in this plan will lead to more modern, reliable, and faster trains, expanded service, and a better customer experience–that will benefit customers, economies, and local communities along the entire Northeast Corridor and beyond,” noted Amtrak president, Stephen Gardner.
By 2035, this plan could boost daily Amtrak service by 33%, double commuter railroad capacity, add 60 million new rail trips each year, and reduce overall travel time from New York to Boston on Acela by 28 minutes and from Washington to New York by 26 minutes. Annual travel time savings within the Northeast Corridor through this plan would be valued at around $140 million.
“For the first time, we have a unified region behind a plan,” added the commission’s executive director, Mitch Warren. “It’s a big step forward for the corridor.”
He may be right–Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has promised to acquire congressional money for the Hudson River Tunnel project, and the bipartisan deal will likely cover $20 billion for the Northeast Corridor project. The commission approves of Congress’ proposed spending and regards it as a good starting place, and adds that if all of its proposed projects are able to reach completion, the travel time saved and positive environmental impacts will be well worth the money.