Feds advance plan to improve Northeast Corridor rail service

Feds advance plan to improve Northeast Corridor rail service
© Greg Nash

Federal railroad regulators advanced a long-term rehab plan for the Northeast Corridor (NEC) on Wednesday that is designed to eliminate bottlenecks, expand rail capacity and improve travel times.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced that the first tier of an environmental review process for the plan has been completed, allowing priority projects to move forward more quickly.

The agency also issued a record of decision (ROD) that aims to speed up project delivery by establishing agency relationships and agreements that will expedite and coordinate reviews and narrowing the range of possible alternatives that need to be examined at the project level.

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“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 agency has been working for years with stakeholders on a comprehensive strategy for the corridor -- the busiest in the country with about 820,000 passenger trips every weekday.

Officials believe the $153 billion plan can make the trip between Washington and New York 35 minutes faster, and shave 45 minutes off travel time between Boston and New York.

The FRA suggested a “menu of potential ways” to improve the corridor, such as increasing the number of regional commuter trains, adding 200 miles of expanded track capacity, modernizing current tracks and designating some segments for future high-speed rail operations.

The agency did not, however, identify potential funding solutions – a decision that must be made by local stakeholders.

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