The Northeast Corridor Commission, a federally-hosted partnership between the states and Amtrak, released a new 15-year plan to modernize tracks and stations for faster trips between Boston and Washington, DC.
If all the recommended projects of the new “Connect NEC 2035” package were funded and built, the Commission estimates that Amtrak’s travel times between Boston and New York could be reduced by 28 minutes, and that the MBTA would be able to operate significantly more trains at higher speeds between Rhode Island and South Station.
In Massachusetts, where MBTA owns the Northeast Corridor tracks, the Commission’s recommendations largely align with MBTA’s own “Rail Vision” plan to electrify its regional rail services.
Current MBTA commuter trains currently burn considerable volumes of diesel fuel along the Northeast Corridor, even as they pass under overhead cables used by Amtrak electric trains.
Fortunately, the T is already pursuing its plans to convert its trains on the Providence line to run on electricity by 2025, which would allow the agency to offer faster and more frequent service. Several of these projects are included in the Northeast Corridor Commission’s new plan, including:
- the Tower Lock Project 1, which will modernize the tracks and signals at the entrance to the South Station, and should start construction next year;
- New high-level platforms at Attleboro South station, and the electrification of the branch lines at the MBTA station in Attleboro to enable regional electric rail services;
- A new third track between Readville and Canton Junction to add additional capacity on the busiest segment of the northeast corridor. An MBTA spokesperson confirmed that the project would be a joint venture between T and Amtrak, and a study for the project was just launched last month.
A handful of other projects in Rhode Island, including a new station at Pawtucket and track upgrades near Providence Station, would also support faster and more frequent service on the T’s Providence line.
“Sspecial projects like Boston South Station Tower 1 Interlocking, Attleboro Area On-Temporal performance / capacity improvement, curve speed upgrades, and additional electrified track and conversion to electric trains will reduce existing MBTA hop-on hop-off commuters train travel time between Boston, MA and Providence, RI by 11 minutes, and between Boston, MA and Wickford Junction, RI by 16 minutes, ”the plan promises.
the “Connect NEC 2035” package Usually focuses on incremental improvements along the existing northeast corridor, while addressing the large backlog of line maintenance needs.
This approach contrasts sharply with the plan proposed by advocates of the “North Atlantic Rail”, which proposes the construction of brand new high-speed rail routes to bypass the slower parts of the northeast corridor and allow trains at 200 mph. Instead, the Commission opts for “planning studies to analyze new dedicated ones (Northeast Corridor) great speed segments. “
This lack of ambition disappoints Jarred Johnson, the executive director of TransitMatters and.
“With the Northeast regional trains already full as the pandemic isn’t even officially over, I think we need a lot more bold thinking to enable the kind of capacity and drastic mode shift we are doing. need to save our planet, ”Johnson said.
But simply closing Amtrak’s maintenance backlog along the Northeast Corridor will not be easy. The Commission’s report estimates that the projects it recommends will cost $ 117 billion over the next 15 years. Of that total, the states and the federal government have so far committed only $ 17 billion, leaving a gap of $ 100 billion.
Almost half of those costs – about $ 55 billion – are needed for projects in the New York area, where Amtrak urgently needs replace a century-old tunnel under the Hudson River.