Located just south of Baltimore Penn Station, Amtrak's new tunnel will serve electrified passenger trains with two parallel, single-track tunnel tubes, each approximately two miles long. -...

Located just south of Baltimore Penn Station, Amtrak's new tunnel will serve electrified passenger trains with two parallel, single-track tunnel tubes, each approximately two miles long.

Photo: Rendering via Amtrak

Amtrak achieved a major milestone for the Frederick Douglass Tunnel Program with the selection of a Kiewit/J.F. Shea Joint Venture to build the brand new, state-of-the-art passenger rail tunnel that will serve electrified Amtrak and MARC commuter trains.

“We are one step closer to unlocking the biggest passenger rail bottleneck on the Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C., and New Jersey,” said Amtrak Executive VP, Capital Delivery, Laura Mason. “This would not be possible without historic funding through the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act, as well as continued support from the Biden-Harris Administration, FRA, and our funding partners at Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Transit Administration (MDOT MTA).”

Amtrak’s Frederick Douglass Tunnel Program

The generational investment is the centerpiece of Amtrak’s Frederick Douglass Tunnel Program, which will modernize and transform an approximately 10-mile section of the Northeast Corridor (NEC).

The new tunnel is named in honor of civil rights leader and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, a Maryland native whose 206th birthday is later this month.

Located just south of Baltimore Penn Station, the new tunnel will serve electrified passenger trains with two parallel, single-track tunnel tubes, each approximately two miles long. It will also support much faster travel speeds than the existing tunnel, where trains are currently limited to maximum speeds of 30 mph due to the tight curves.

The overall program is scheduled for completion in 2035 and will be delivered through three major construction contracts, which include:

  • Replacing five roadway and rail bridges; building new rail infrastructure (interlockings, tracks, catenary/power, etc.); and constructing a new ADA-accessible West Baltimore MARC Station.
  • Building the Frederick Douglass Tunnel (both tubes).
  • “Fitting out” the new tunnel with tracks, rail systems, and ventilation facilities.

Collectively, these investments will improve travel times for more than 12 million annual Amtrak and MARC passengers who rely on the NEC. When the Frederick Douglass Tunnel opens, it will be the first new passenger rail tunnel built on the NEC since 1986, and the first in Maryland since 1934.

Upgrading the Passenger Experience

The Frederick Douglass Tunnel will replace Amtrak’s existing B&P Tunnel, which opened 150 years ago during the Ulysses S. Grant Administration. Over the years, Amtrak has made significant investments to keep the B&P Tunnel safe and operational. However, several age-related issues, including excessive water infiltration and a sinking floor, have required continuous upkeep.

Amtrak is committed to doing the right thing, including engaging with the community throughout the planning, design, and construction processes.

Since initial planning to replace the B&P Tunnel began over a decade ago, Amtrak and its partners have conducted hundreds of outreach engagements with local residents and community organizations to guide program development, share updates, and discuss future activities.

Throughout tunnel construction, Amtrak will continue to keep the community informed and updated, perform real-time monitoring, and undertake other industry-leading activities to protect adjacent properties.

Frederick Douglass Tunnel Milestones

The past year has featured several major milestones for the Frederick Douglass Tunnel Program:

  • Jan. 30, 2023: President Biden and partners joined Amtrak in Baltimore to kick off the program, execute the Project Kickoff Agreement, and celebrate the Project Labor Agreement with the Baltimore-DC Building and Construction Trades Council.
  • March 2, 2023: Amtrak hosted an “Industry Day” to engage potential contractors and bring attention to this critical infrastructure program.
  • March 10, 2023: Amtrak began early work activities along an approximately five-mile section in the Halethorpe and West Baltimore areas.
  • June 2023: Amtrak completed the first set of early work activities that began in March, replacing aging wooden ties with 13,500 new concrete ties, installing 28,000 feet of new rail, and completing track drainage improvements.
  • Sept. 2023: Amtrak awarded two important contracts that will advance the program, including the “Southern Approach” (Package B) contract that includes a new ADA-accessible West Baltimore MARC Station, replacing multiple bridges, and constructing tracks and other railroad infrastructure, among other work.
  • Sept. 26 & 28, 2023: Amtrak hosted two community open house events to discuss the overall program and provide an opportunity to meet the program team. These open houses are part of Amtrak’s community engagement efforts, including regular updates at community group meetings, pop-ups, and other engagement activities in the community.
  • Nov. 6, 2023: President Biden announced $16.4 billion in federal grants for NEC projects, including up to $4.7 billion for the Frederick Douglass Tunnel Program. With this announcement, the program is now fully funded. The rest of the program budget will be funded by contributions from Amtrak and the State of Maryland for a total program budget of approximately $6 billion.
  • Nov. 13, 2023: Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor Julie Su, U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, and Amtrak announced commitments from Amtrak, Baltimore City, and the state of Maryland to support the Baltimore Workforce Hub and ensure a skilled workforce is ready to support major infrastructure investments in Baltimore, like the Frederick Douglass Tunnel Program.
  • Jan. 9, 2024: Amtrak hosted a community meeting to discuss the temporary, one-year relocation of Lafayette & Payson Park slated for 2026 while bridge construction takes place. Amtrak also solicited feedback on the plan and park amenities; feedback can be submitted here through February 13.

Next Steps

The third and final construction contract to “fit out” the Frederick Douglass Tunnel with tracks, rail systems, and more will be announced at a future date, with an anticipated award in 2025/2026.

Amtrak will also soon select a Delivery Partner to coordinate and support the successful execution of the Program.

Construction of the new tunnel is being delivered through the innovative Construction Manager At-Risk (CMAR) delivery method, which improves project delivery time and allows design, pre-construction, and other work to proceed simultaneously.

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