$117B plan to upgrade Northeast Corridor could shorten your commute, but it needs money
The Acela, the first of a fleet of new high speed rail cars for Amtrak, returned to the Alstom shop after undergoing high speed testing in Colo. The Evening Tribune
NEW YORK — Agency officials along the Northeast Corridor announced a 15-year plan to update the nation’s busiest section of railroad to improve travel times, make overdue repairs and prepare for future high-speed travel.
The $117 billion plan, known as Connect 35, is a collection of more than 150 projects on the corridor that snakes down the East Coast from Boston to Washington, D.C., with the busiest sections in New York and New Jersey.
There's just one problem: money. About 85%, or $100 billion, is not yet funded.
Amtrak and other local agencies that run trains along the Northeast Corridor — including NJ Transit and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates Metro-North — will pursue traditional funding methods for the projects. This includes dedicating state money and applying for federal grants.
There could be federal money set aside for the corridor in the infrastructure bill pushed by President Joe Biden and currently undergoing negotiations among lawmakers. Gov. Phil Murphy was at the White House on Wednesday with other governors and mayors to discuss the infrastructure plan with Biden.
Stephen Gardner, president of Amtrak, said he was optimistic about the work being done in Washington.
It was, he said, an "incredible success to get all of us together to have a clear plan just in time for the fantastic focus of this administration and all the work in Congress to provide the resources. We’ve got the plan; hopefully they’ve got the dollars coming so that we can partner and move forward."
Many of the projects are basic updates to signals, power and rail that should improve train speeds and reduce delays, while other projects would expand service and allow more trains to run.
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"The corridor is lined with aging assets from Washington to Boston, bridges and tunnels dating back to the 1800s with track signal and power systems that are beyond their useful life," said NJ Transit President and CEO Kevin Corbett, who also co-chairs the Northeast Corridor Commission, which authored the report. "When completed, C35 will achieve significant progress on improving service and eliminating the state of good repair backlog while keeping Amtrak and the region's commuter rail services running safely and reliably."
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One goal is to increase train speeds to 160 mph on some segments of the corridor by updating railroads. One of those stretches would be from Trenton through New York City, where 38 miles of track could increase train speeds by 48%. Rail through Westchester and Connecticut would not see high-speed rail improvements, according to the report.
But many of the upgrades are basic and lag behind high-speed rail innovations in Europe and Asia, where trains can travel at more than 200 miles per hour. Gardner said this plan is the first step.
"This corridor is not like every other corridor. It’s an integrated, multi-modal corridor that serves freight, commuter, intercity trains," Gardner said, adding that Amtrak recently purchased new Acela trains capable of traveling at slightly higher speeds than current ones. "We’re going to build over time the segments that further allow us to reduce trip time significantly."
Many of the plan's big goals for New Jersey are part of the Gateway program, which is $30 billion worth of projects that include constructing two new rail tunnels, fixing the existing ones, replacing the Portal North Bridge and the Sawtooth Bridge, and expanding and updating New York Penn Station. Projects in the Gateway program would allow for more direct NJ Transit train service into Penn Station on the Pascack Valley, Raritan, Main/Bergen and Port Jervis lines.
Prioritizing and completing the projects will require cooperation among several states and agencies that have a history of not always getting along. New York has been at odds with New Jersey and Connecticut for the last six months about how to split $14.2 billion in federal transit funding granted through stimulus packages to help with the recovery from coronavirus.
"Yes, we do have disagreements. Every family has disagreements. We continue to work with our partners to provide mobility for the residents of our state and this region," said Ron Epstein, commissioner of the New York Department of Transportation. "We will continue to work with our partners to do what’s best for the people of the state of New York, what’s best for this region, and what’s best for this nation."
Colleen Wilson covers the Port Authority and NJ Transit for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to her work covering the region’s transportation systems and how they affect your commute, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.