US sets out $153bn Northeast Corridor rail upgrade plan

A Northeast Regional Amtrak train on the Northeast Corridor. Credi: EQRoy/Shutterstock.
A Northeast Regional Amtrak train on the Northeast Corridor. Credi: EQRoy/Shutterstock.
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The US Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration has released a plan to improve the capacity, reliability, connectivity and performance of passenger services on the Northeast Corridor.

The 457-mile-long railway line is one of the country’s busiest and passes through Boston, Providence, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC.

Known as a ‘Record of Decision’ (ROD), the comprehensive plan identifies a number of ways to improve passenger services up to 2040 and beyond and allows projects to quickly get off the ground because a key environmental review process has already been conducted.

The suggested improvements listed in the ROD include:

  • Increasing, and in some areas doubling, the number of regional commuter trains and providing three to five times more intercity trains
  • Improving travel times between key city centres: Boston to New York City would be 45 minutes faster; New York City to Washington, DC would be 35 minutes faster
  • Expanding the Northeast Corridor to a 4-to-6-track modernised, integrated rail network with sufficient capacity to accommodate the projected increase in demand for intercity and commuter rail service
  • Adding more than 200 miles of expanded track capacity between Washington, DC, and New Haven, Connecticut, and between Providence, Rhode Island, and Boston, Massachusetts
  • Creating a seamless customer experience through integrated ticketing and convenient connections
  • Preparing for the future by stipulating that “new segments should be designated for 220 mph operations, unless there are unique or exceptional constraints that justify limiting the highest practical speed”
  • Calling for a New Haven-to-Providence capacity planning study to identify on and off corridor infrastructure to address the capacity constraints, speed restrictions and flooding vulnerability along the Connecticut and Rhode Island shoreline.

The long-term plan has been developed between neighbouring Northeast Corridor states, local communities, railway operators and public consultations.

Currently around 820,000 passenger trips are made along the Northeast Corridor. The ROD assumes that by 2040 riderships will grow by around 70 per cent at New York’s Penn station, greater than 80 per cent at Washington, DC’s Union station and 50 per cent at Boston’s South station.

The Federal Railroad Administration said that the Northeast Corridor ROD does not include recommendations of where the funding should come from but estimates that the ROD plan will cost between $121 billion and $153 billion to implement.

US department of transportation secretary Elaine Chao said: “Safe, reliable and efficient rail transportation is a vital part of our nation’s infrastructure.

“And expediting the project delivery process is key to delivering needed infrastructure more quickly.”

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