Commission proposes $117 billion to remake U.S. train corridor, cut travel times

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. government commission on Wednesday proposed a $117 billion plan to remake the Northeast Corridor – the Boston-to-Washington train route that is the nation’s busiest – by 2035, potentially cutting travel times and boosting capacity.

The route, which runs through major Northeastern cities including New York and Philadelphia, carried about 800,000 passengers a day before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Northeast Corridor Commission said in a statement.

Advocates argue the plan can help take more private cars off clogged American roads and eliminate some airplane trips, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

The commission – comprised of state, federal and Amtrak national passenger rail officials – said it had only identified $17 billion of the funding needed. It said the $100 billion in unmet costs would be shared between the federal government and states the route runs through.

The panel, created by Congress, said Northeastern state governments, the federal government, eight commuter rail agencies, and Amtrak worked “to develop a detailed and efficient sequencing of infrastructure investments covering 150 projects.”

The improvements would include repairs or upgrades to rail track, tunnels, bridges and stations and allow for a big jump in train service.

Much of the infrastructure along the heavily used corridor is aging and needs replacement. The crucial 111-year-old Hudson Tunnel, also known as the North River Tunnel, connecting New York and New Jersey, was damaged in 2012 during Superstorm Sandy.

By 2035, the proposed work would cut nearly half an hour from an average trip of nearly three hours on high-speed Acela trains from Washington to New York and from a little over 3-1/2 hours from New York to Boston. Amtrak also runs slower Northeast Regional trains along the corridor with lower-cost tickets.

The upgrades along the 457-mile (735-km) Northeast Corridor would allow trains to travel at 160 miles per hour (258 km) on 132 miles, up from the current 32 route miles (52 km) that can travel at 150 mph (240 kph).

The plan “supports new travel patterns as our economy returns to full strength,” said Amit Bose, deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration and commission co-chair.

President Joe Biden – once dubbed “Amtrak Joe” for his custom of commuting from his home state of Delaware to Washington by train – has called for $80 billion in new spending on high-speed rail projects across the United States.

A bipartisan infrastructure deal being considered by Congress calls for $66 billion for passenger and freight rail to repair and expand existing rail networks, including the corridor.

Amtrak in April asked for $31 billion from Congress over five years to overhaul the Northeast Corridor.

Amtrak wants to expand across the country and by 2035 add as many as 39 new corridor routes and 166 cities.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis)