Prepare the giant scissors and ready the extra-long ribbons – North America transit agencies are set to open 320 miles of new rail service by the end of 2023. Following well documented delays due to supply chain and pandemic related issues, this year appears to be the year projects get back on track – pun intended – as the industry prepares to a boom of new rail projects to be delivered during the next three years.
By the end of 2023, there could be as many as 12 rail transit projects open if final testing and project reviews go according to plan. Here’s a look at where ribbons could be cut and where riders could start to board this year.
LIRR begins service to Grand Central Madison
The year started off strong with the delivery of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) largest capital project: Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) service to Grand Central Madison. The project, also referred to as East Side Access, involved the construction of more than 40 miles of new tracks, rebuilt Harold Interlocking and opened Grand Central Madison as a new terminal to accommodate LIRR trains.
The 700,000-square-foot Grand Central Madison is the first major new rail terminal to open in the United States in 67 years and the first extension of the LIRR in 112 years since service began to Penn Station in 1910. The new terminal has eight tracks and four platforms on two new levels, all designed with passive wayfinding to help orient returning users through subtle color shifts by location. All tracks and platforms are fully separated from Metro-North Railroad, ensuring neither railroad causes delays to the other.
The opening of the new terminal and start of LIRR service means there are an additional 500 station stops in Brooklyn and Queens during peak periods.
"Grand Central Madison is a public transportation feat that will shorten commutes, giving commuters time back in their busy lives to spend with their families, friends and communities," New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said. "Grand Central Madison will dramatically expand service and operate more reliably for commuters and reduce overcrowding at Penn Station."
Honolulu aiming for summer opening
One of the most anticipated rail projects that could open in 2023 is the first segment of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s (HART) rail line. Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi dedicated a portion of his State of the City speech delivered in mid-March to the project where he shared it should be operational in July 2023.
“When we took office, there was no single issue that had been more consistently and passionately raised by voters than rail and what was then a historically-troubled project,” said Mayor Blangiardi. “As we embrace the challenge embodied in building the toughest segment of rail — through the airport, down Dillingham Boulevard and through the downtown corridor — we are ready for our riders to embrace rail. Our long-awaited rail system is scheduled to commence interim operations in July, with service from East Kapolei to Aloha Stadium.”
Lori M.K. Kahikina, executive director and CEO at HART, joined the Rick Hamada Program, a local radio show and podcast, at the end of March and explained HART is aiming to turn the line over to the Honolulu Department of Transportation Services in late May and believes the project opening in July is achievable.
Segment 1 is currently trial running and will include eight stations in a system that will also integrate with Honolulu’s bus system. While trial running is occurring, HART is also working to fix the eight columns in the first segment with cracks in the hammerheads. The hammerheads, which are still structurally sound, are expected to be reinforced by rebar to extend their longevity.
Brightline extension to Orlando
Brightline is preparing to expand its intercity operations to Orlando, which will add 170 miles to its network and will connect West Palm Beach and Orlando in about two hours. The extension is 90 percent complete, with construction spanning four different zones that saw 490,000 crossties laid and two million spike and bolts installed in a 36-month timeframe.
Train testing in early March saw Brightline reach 130 mph between Orlando International Airport and Cocoa, Fla., making Brightline the fastest train in the state, as well as the southeastern U.S.
The company also highlighted its new Orlando area maintenance facility, which it calls Basecamp. The $100-million, 135,805-square-foot facility sits on 62-acres and will be able to service up to 16 trains at a time.
Basecamp features a truck shop where coach and locomotive trucks can be disassembled, cleaned and rebuilt, a drop table, a parts warehouse, wheel true facility, two fueling islands and a train wash.
“This world-class facility has everything under one roof to maintain our trains, will provide highly paid highly skilled jobs to the region and will be a bustling hub for train maintenance, maintaining eight of our 10 trains here nightly,” said Brightline Executive President Infrastructure Michael Cegelis.
Before the extension to Orlando opens, Basecamp has been commissioning new Brightline trains and service existing trains. The company says the facility will operate 24/7 when the Orlando station opens and will employ 175 engineers, conductors, technicians and inspectors.
South Coast Rail returns rail service
Following a decades long absence, commuter rail will return to Middleborough, East Taunton, Freetown, Fall River and New Bedford, Mass., with the opening of Phase 1 of Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s (MassDOT) South Coast Rail late in 2023. Phase 1 will provide a one-seat trip from southeastern Massachusetts to Boston in less than 90 minutes.
In December 2022, MassDOT, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and other state officials marked substantial completion of the project’s first major construction package. The package included the construction of two new stations in Freetown and Fall River, construction of the Weaver’s Cove layover facility, upgrades and modernization work on over 12 miles of track that were previously used for freight, as well as work on nine bridges, 11 culverts and 10 grade crossings.
The second major construction package to build South Coast Rail’s New Bedford Line, upgrade the Middleborough Secondary and construct brand-new stations in East Taunton, Middleborough, two in New Bedford, a layover facility and the Phase 1 signal and communication systems, is on track toward being substantially complete.
This March, MBTA launched a safety education program ahead of the opening of Phase 1 to remind residents of proper safety protocols with more trains using the corridor.