The Federal Railroad Administration is currently managing a comprehensive planning effort to define, evaluate and prioritize future levels of investment in the Northeast Corridor (NEC) through 2040. This effort, launched in February 2012, called NEC FUTURE, will produce a Service Development Plan that articulates the overall scope, alternatives and approach for proposed improvements, and a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement that evaluates and identifies ways to address broad, corridor-wide environmental impacts due to these improvements. This process is a federally-required step before major construction to overhaul the corridor's aging, unreliable, and congested infrastructure can begin.
But, before the FRA could analyze the impacts of the multitude of visions for improved NEC rail service, first it needed to narrow down the alternative visions to a reasonable number by weeding out the alternatives that are clearly inferior to others. So far, they've winnowed the list down to 15 alternative visions. Earlier this week, the FRA published its new "Preliminary Alternatives" report, which contains descriptions of these 15 different visions of the NEC, ranging from mundane to ambitious. The FRA hopes to carry around 8 or 9 alternatives forward to the Tier 1 EIS process to be weighed against the "no action" alternative (essentially doing the bare minimum to keep the corridor operating safely). The FRA's goal is to have established a final preferred alternative by mid-2015.
The Northeast Corridor Infrastructure and Operations Advisory Commission has released a new report (PDF) and an interactive website that detail the highest-priority infrastructure projects on the Northeast Corridor. According to the NEC Commission, the list of projects represents "the improvements needed to reduce delays, achieve a state-of-good-repair, and build capacity for growth" on the corridor."
The list of projects in the report, totaling over $30 billion in "order-of-magnitude" costs, was created "through a consensus-based process by the NEC Commission's members, which include representatives from the NEC States, U.S. DOT, and Amtrak." There are several big-ticket projects on the list, including the Baltimore & Potomac Tunnels, which is estimated to cost $1.5 billion. However, the segment of the railroad that requires the most investment is between Newark, NJ and New York, where $15 billion is needed to pay for:
- Adding a third and fourth track along the Highline from Newark to New York,
- Replacing the Highline's four, aging two-track bridges with four-track bridges,
- Replacing the aging and unreliable Portal Bridge with two new bridges,
- Building two new tunnels under the Hudson River to Penn Station,
- Completing the final phase of the Moynihan Station project,
- Expanding track and platform capacity at New York Penn Station,
- Replacing and upgrading track and signals in the East River Tunnels,
- Expanding storage capacity and building new facilities at Sunnyside Yard
Last week, Amtrak sent Congress its annual funding request, which asks for an increase in capital investment and a decrease in operating support. This year's capital request continues to show Amtrak's long-term commitment to improving the Northeast Corridor, "one of America's most important transportation assets, [which] traverses the length of a region that is vital to the national economy," and where nearly 40% of Amtrak's capital budget is spent. Amtrak is seeking $167 million to advance critical components of the Gateway Program.
Highlights from Amtrak's federal funding request after the jump.
The Business Alliance for Northeast Mobility has officially been renamed, The Northeast Alliance for Rail (NEAR). The new name more clearly describes the work that the coalition does - it is no longer just a business alliance, as many civic and planning groups are active members, and our advocacy work is now more focused on passenger rail investments in the Northeast Megaregion, as opposed to broader mobility. The Northeast Alliance's new acronym, "NEAR," speaks to the proximity created by investments in passenger rail that reduce trip times between major urban hubs, and the hope that these investments will be made in the near-term.
The Senate (barely) passed the Sandy Relief Bill on Monday, Jan 28 on a 62-36 vote (60 votes were needed) and President Obama signed it into law later that day. So, after more than three long months of negotiations, relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy is finally on the way.
Relief funding in the bill totals $50.66 billion, which includes a total of $13 billion for transportation programs - $2 billion for FHWA and $10.9 billion for FTA. Of that amount, $5.4 billion will be available for grants to projects that strengthen transit infrastructure to protect against future storms. Amtrak will be eligible to apply for a portion of these funds. Amtrak was appropriated $118 million - $86 million in capital funds and $32 million in operating funds - to cover repair expenses associated with Hurricane Sandy.