Construction on the Baltimore and Potomac (B&P) tunnel started 150 years ago and, as federal, state and local officials eye its replacement, they gathered June 18 to commemorate its history and highlight the tunnel’s future importance.
Amtrak and the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) will work together to replace the tunnel, which Amtrak calls the biggest passenger rail bottleneck between Washington, D.C., and New Jersey.
The new tunnel will also carry a new name: The Frederick Douglass Tunnel. Douglass, one of the most well-known abolitionists in history, was a Maryland native and the railroad played a key role in his escape from slavery.
“In naming this vital piece of new infrastructure on the Northeast Corridor, we want to highlight Frederick Douglass as a critically important figure in American and Maryland history, whose principles and work inspire Amtrak and align with our own values and mission,” said Amtrak President Stephen Gardner. “As Frederick Douglass escaped to freedom by way of a train in Baltimore and traveled extensively by rail, naming this state-of-the-art new passenger rail tunnel after him is a fitting way for us to honor his legacy.”
“It is a tremendous honor to have the future tunnel named for Frederick Douglass,” said Nettie Washington Douglass, a great-great granddaughter of Douglass. “Baltimore was where the first seeds of freedom were sewn for my great-great grandfather.”
At a celebration honoring the 50th anniversary of Amtrak on June 17, Gov. Hogan said he directed Maryland Transportation Secretary Greg Slater to advance discussions with Amtrak to replace the B&P Tunnel.
“This is a critical project for Baltimore, for the state of Maryland and for the entire Northeast Corridor of the United States, and we plan to work with Amtrak and the federal government to move it forward as expeditiously as possible,” said Gov. Hogan.
Amtrak calls the Frederick Douglass Tunnel the centerpiece of its B&P Tunnel Replacement Program, which will modernize and transform a four-mile section of the Northeast Corridor. It includes two new high-capacity tubes for electrified passenger trains, new roadway and railroad bridges, new rail systems and track and a new ADA-accessible West Baltimore MARC station.
MDOT and Amtrak have agreed on a phased implementation approach for the tunnels with all MARC Penn Line and Amtrak trains initially using the new Frederick Douglass Tunnel, but two additional tunnel tubes could be designed to accommodate freight trains in the future. Maryland Transportation Secretary Slater says MDOT will electrify its MARC commuter trains through the new Frederick Douglass Tunnel to support this plan.
Amtrak notes a key benefit of the new approach is that it will eliminate diesel train emissions at a ventilation facility on North Avenue in West Baltimore. The changes will also save two years during construction and more than $1 billion.
“This is a generational project for passenger rail in the state of Maryland and the entire Northeast Corridor,” said Maryland Transportation Secretary Slater. “MDOT is proud to partner with Amtrak on the new approach, and we are ready to work with Amtrak and the federal government to move a new B&P Tunnel forward.”
Amtrak is currently performing final design and initiating property acquisitions to prepare for construction. Pending sufficient funding for the approximately $4 billion investment, early construction activities on the tunnel’s southern approach could begin over the next one to two years.
“Built just after the Civil War, the B&P Tunnel is reaching the end of its useful life,” said U.S. Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg. “This project will modernize a critical part of the Northeast Corridor making the train work better for the 9 million passengers that depend on it each year. It’s a great example of what we can accomplish more of with the American Jobs Plan.”