Monday, May 09, 2011

Transportation Department Announces $2+ Billion In Rail Projects

Once Florida's Governor Rick Scott canceled the high speed rail project, other states scrambled to lay claim for projects in their state.

Today, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced who would receive the funds.

The big winner?

For a change, it was the Northeast Corridor (NEC), including the segment in New Jersey. The NEC will be getting significant upgrades for its overhead catenary power lines from Pennsylvania through New Brunswick, New Jersey and the Portal Bridge will be getting funding:
In what the president of Amtrak termed the first step toward getting the Gateway commuter train tunnel from Secaucus to Manhattan, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced the Northeast Corridor rail line south of New Brunswick is getting $450 million for improvements that will allow speeds up to 160 mph.

Amtrak president Joe Boardman said the money – freed up after Florida rejected federal high-speed rail funds – will increase reliability on the Northeast Corridor, America’s busiest rail corridor.

He said replacing the Depression Era overhead catenary wires and upgrading the power are key components -- along with replacing the century-old Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River – in getting the Gateway Tunnel under the Hudson River.

"This is part of the Gateway project,” Boardman said from New York Penn Station, where the Gateway Tunnel would connect. “This is a critical hurdle.”

Replacing catenary wires and improving the electrification for Amtrak trains between New Brunswick and Morrisville, Pa., will improve reliability for the corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C., officials said.

Sagging or frayed wires are a frequent bane of Northeast Corridor travelers in New Jersey, causing delays and making a difficult commute harder.

Other Northeast Corridor improvements announced today were $22 million toward replacement of a century-old bridge in Maryland and $295 million to alleviate delays for trains coming in and out of Manhattan with new routes that allow Amtrak trains to bypass a busy passenger rail junction in Queens.
The Portal Bridge doesn't exactly receive funding under the proposals and it's again being tied with the more politically suspect Gateway Tunnel - which is the successor project to the canceled ARC Tunnel.

Regardless of what happens with the tunnel project, everyone agrees that the Portal Bridge must be replaced. It is one of the critical bottlenecks on the NEC. Improving the power infrastructure along the NEC is a major concern to eliminate ongoing issues particularly in the summer when the overhead wires frequently lose power or come down in storms, get entangled in equipment, or otherwise cause delays and congestion throughout the NEC. The overhead power lines are obsolete in many locations and Amtrak has been slowly upgrading those power lines but hasn't had the funds available to complete the job along the entire NEC.

The Portal Bridge is another piece that needs replacement and upgrade, and it should not be tied to other projects that are wound up in political squabbles.

Here's the rundown of all the projects affecting the NEC:
Amtrak – NEC Power, Signal, Track, Catenary Improvements – $450 million to boost capacity, reliability, and speed in one of the most heavily-traveled sections of the Northeast Corridor, creating a 24-mile segment of track capable of supporting train speeds up to 160-mph.

Maryland – NEC Bridge Replacement – $22 million for engineering and environmental work to replace the century-old Susquehanna River Bridge, which currently causes frequent delays for commuters due to the high volume of critical maintenance.

New York – NEC Harold Interlocking Amtrak Bypass Routes – $295 million to alleviate major delays for trains coming in and out of Manhattan with new routes that allow Amtrak trains to bypass the busiest passenger rail junction in the nation.

Rhode Island – NEC Kingston Track, Platform Improvements – $25 million for design and construction of an additional 1.5 miles of third track in Kingston, RI, so high-speed trains operating at speeds up to 150-mph can pass trains on a high-volume section of the Northeast Corridor.

Rhode Island – NEC Providence Station Improvements – $3 million for preliminary engineering and environmental work to renovate the Providence Station. These upgrades will enhance the passenger experience, keep the station in good working order and improve transit and pedestrian connectivity.
The Harold Interlocking is another source of delays, and a bypass would further increase speed on the NEC between New York and Boston.

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