USA: A 30-year programme of route modernisation, including four-tracking and some new alignment, has been recommended by the Federal Railroad Administration under its proposal to develop the Northeast Corridor linking Boston, New York and Washington DC.

A four-year consultation and market testing exercise known as NEC Future was launched in 2012 to evaluate options for investment in the 735 km corridor, and in April 2013 FRA issued an initial list of 15 potential investment options. Now these have been whittled down to a single recommendation, intended to improve reliability on the route and address a ‘consensus’ among policymakers, business leaders and the rail industry that its ‘current capacity is vastly inadequate to meet the demands of today or tomorrow’.

In the short term, FRA suggests that expenditure should focus on renewal of the existing railway to bring it to ‘a state of good repair’. Subsequent enhancements would cover:

  • adding infrastructure to provide four tracks along most of the corridor, enabling the separation of premium inter-city and regional or local trains;
  • realignment of the railway around Philadelphia to serve a new station at Philadelphia Airport and avoid tight curves north of the city;
  • route upgrading to enable regular-interval inter-city services to Hartford (Connecticut) and Springfield (Massachusetts);
  • release of train paths to permit up to a doubling of regional passenger trains and a five-fold increase in inter-city services.

Other enhancements already being developed include the New York Gateway programme, which would alleviate the current bottleneck between Newark, New Jersey, and New York Penn Station, and provide a degree of redundancy for the ageing Hudson tubes. This is being co-ordinated by a four-way consortium including the federal government, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and national passenger operator Amtrak.

Upon completion, significant journey time savings are envisaged, with Boston – New York journeys accelerated by 45 min to 2 h 45 min and New York – Washington DC journeys falling by 35 min to 2 h 10 min.

However, FRA stresses that ‘it would be up to states, cities and railroads to decide whether to move forward with any specific projects’. The total cost of the programme is expected to be approximately $120bn, of which around $40bn is needed to renew the existing infrastructure.

‘In order to keep moving forward, we need a new vision for the Northeast Corridor’, said FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg. ‘We need a corridor that provides more options and more trains for commuters. One that allows for seamless travel between the nation’s capital and New York, and New York and Providence and Boston. A corridor that provides streamlined connections between a city’s airports and its cities. And a corridor that can efficiently and reliably serve a population that is growing quickly.’