Amtrak received feedback from states, commuter rail agencies and other NEC users and stakeholders, and has made several changes to its planning since 2010, including: announcement of the Gateway Program to increase track, bridge, station and tunnel capacity from Newark, N.J., to New York Penn Station; a revised alignment of the proposed NextGen HSR route to travel through Providence, R.I., rather than Woonsocket; and changes to various proposed stations.
Amtrak NEC Business and Financial Plan (B&F Plan)
The 2012 Update Report also discusses key findings from the recently completed NEC Business and Financial Plan to guide Amtrak on how to potentially fund and finance its integrated vision for the NEC. Scientifically, the B&F Plan finds greater than anticipated ridership demand for, and associated revenue from, the planned Amtrak services levels supported by the NEC Capital Investment Program, forecasting a 25 percent increase in ridership and revenue over 2010 projections. However, the B&F Plan also finds that the schedule and large annual capital expenditures in the peak period of planned construction should be modified to strengthen opportunities for public and private sector funding, to take into account resource constraints and to ensure effective management and delivery of the Program.
To advance the Program, the B&F Plan concludes that Amtrak should pursue a phased approach and strategically advance specific elements with the biggest impacts on improved reliability, increased capacity and reduced trip-time as quickly as funding allows, while deferring remaining elements to subsequent phases. This approach will help Amtrak achieve early successes that strengthen revenue and financial performance and create additional capital funding to support other Program elements.
For example, the proposed Amtrak Gateway Program to improve travel to and through New York City via new tunnels under the Hudson River and the expansion of the Moynihan Station and Penn Station terminal complex is essential to the entire NEC network. Its completion will deliver many key benefits for intercity and commuter rail service and set the stage for future NextGen HSR expansion.
The B&F Plan also recommends that a combination of funding, policy decisions and cooperation from federal, state, and local governments, NEC users, regional partners, the private sector and Amtrak are necessary to advance a program of this size and regional and national significance. Further, public sector leadership and funding is essential during the early years.
While the B&F Plan finds that current Federal, state, and local transportation investment programs are insufficient to support the Program presently, strategies are available to generate funding, including enhanced access fees paid by NEC users to support state of good repair other improvement projects to the existing corridor that provide the greatest benefits to their services.
Current Amtrak NEC Improvement Projects
Several major projects are now underway that will improve existing services and support the Amtrak NEC vision, including $15 million for Gateway Program planning, design and preliminary environmental review and utility relocation to support construction of a new Portal Bridge in New Jersey, which itself is currently in the final design stage.
Another major ongoing effort is a $450 million project funded by the FRA high-speed and intercity passenger rail program to improve service reliability for intercity and commuter trains, modernize the electrical system and boost top speeds from 135 mph (217 kph) to 160 mph (257 kph) along a 24-mile section of the NEC between Trenton and New Brunswick, N.J. — making it the fastest passenger track in North America. It also will reconfigure track switches at the western entrance to New York Penn Station to mitigate congestion issues. Major construction work is to begin in 2013 with anticipated project completion in 2017.