Rail

Feds advance rail plans for Northeast Corridor

Posted on July 12, 2017

NEC Future logo
NEC Future logo
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released the Northeast Corridor (NEC) FUTURE Record of Decision (ROD). NEC FUTURE is FRA’s comprehensive planning effort to identify ways to improve the reliability, capacity, connectivity, performance, and resiliency of passenger rail service throughout the Northeast Corridor through 2040 and beyond.

The ROD marks the completion of the Tier 1 environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and establishes a long-term strategy for the NEC. The NEC FUTURE ROD expedites the environmental review process by focusing Tier 2 (project-level) environmental planning work and future analysis on priority issues; establishing agency relationships and agreements that will expedite and coordinate reviews; and narrowing the range of possible alternatives that would need to be examined at the project level.

The ROD also allows priority projects to move forward more expeditiously, because the Tier 1 environmental review process will already have been completed.

“Safe, reliable and efficient rail transportation is a vital part of our nation’s infrastructure,” said U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.  “And expediting the project delivery process is key to delivering needed infrastructure more quickly.”

Amtrak train on NEC. Courtesy Amtrak
Amtrak train on NEC. Courtesy Amtrak

Developed in concert with NEC states, local communities and railroads and with significant input from the public, the NEC FUTURE ROD lays out a menu of potential ways to improve passenger rail service by:

  • 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 centers: Boston to New York City would be 45 minutes faster; New York City to Washington, D.C., would be 35 minutes faster.
  • Expanding the NEC to a four-to-six-track modernized, 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, D.C., and New Haven, Conn., and between Providence, R.I., and Boston, Mass.
  • 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.

“Given the high cost projections of the recommendations in the NEC ROD and the reality of state budgets, the completion of the Tier 1 study will enable states to better prioritize which projects to pursue,” said FRA Deputy Administrator Heath Hall. “Through this effort, localities will have a clearer picture of how their projects will fit in with the rest of the Northeast corridor.”

The NEC mainline is 457 miles long, stretching from Washington, D.C., to Boston. Adding the “connecting corridors” (including Richmond, Virginia, and Albany, New York, etc.) ensures that the corridor rail lines total 899 miles. Every weekday, about 820,000 passenger trips occur along the NEC corridor — 95% of them on eight commuter railroads and about 5% via Amtrak. The ROD assumes that by 2040, ridership will grow about 70% at New York’s Penn Station, greater than 80% at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, and 50% at Boston’s South Station.

The NEC FUTURE ROD does not include funding recommendations to implement suggested improvements, in recognition that those decisions must be made by local and regional stakeholders. The approximate total cost estimate for all projects known to be within the parameters of the ROD totals $121 billion to $153 billion.

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