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November 18, 2018

Feds discuss plans for aging northeast rail line

NEW YORK (AP) — Rail travelers would be able to speed from Washington, D.C. to Boston at 220 mph and people on Long Island would take a tunnel straight to Connecticut and points north rather than go through New York City under some of the more ambitious long-range plans described by federal rail officials Wednesday to remake the beleaguered Northeast Corridor.

The 457-mile corridor is the busiest commuter rail line in the country and the site of regular and often lengthy delays on Amtrak and regional lines such as New Jersey Transit, due to 100-year-old infrastructure and crowded tracks.

At Wednesday’s open house, the Federal Railroad Administration laid out its vision for expanding service and making existing service more efficient. The three groups of projects presented, contained in a report released this month, were culled from an original list of 98 individual proposals that was then winnowed down to 15.

All three scenarios factor in new rail tunnels under the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York, a contentious issue that reached a boiling point four years ago when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pulled the plug on a $9 billion tunnel project, citing potential cost overruns. Amtrak, which owns the tracks along the Northeast Corridor, is seeking funding for a new tunnel project that is at least 10 years away.

While work on aging infrastructure up and down the corridor would proceed regardless of the fate of a new tunnel, the expanded capacity it would provide would be crucial to any of the major projects, said Rebecca Reyes-Alicea, FRA project manager for the Northeast Corridor.

“What we can do is account for the immediate infrastructure needs in this process, so that it all fits together,” she said. “Building tunnels is not an easy task, but at least if we can all kind of shepherd around the same goal, we can get there. It’s going to a take a while, but if we can at least get the groundwork through this and through the environmental work that has to be done for the tunnels, we can at least start to get the wheels turning.”

The three proposals include features such as a tunnel to connect stations on Long Island to the Connecticut coastline for service to Providence and Boston; a “second spine” alongside the current Northeast Corridor tracks that would carry high-speed rail at speeds of 220 mph, and new service between New York and Boston that would serve Hartford, Springfield and Worcester, Massachusetts.

Currently, Amtrak lines split in New Haven, with Boston-bound trains heading up the coast and most inland trains terminating at Springfield.

Also, new tracks would bypass several movable bridges between southeastern Connecticut and Rhode Island that currently contribute to slowdowns due to capacity and speed restrictions.

A fourth proposal, called “no action,” calls for maintaining service at current levels through 2040.

The plans are in the very preliminary stages. Within the next year, more public comment will be solicited on the proposals and a draft environmental impact study on proposals will be released in fall 2015.

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Feds discuss plans for aging northeast rail line