A 19th-century Baltimore tunnel and four Maryland bridges over 100 years old are set for high-speed upgrades.
President Joe Biden outlined $16.4 billion in federal funding Monday for 25 passenger rail projects along Amtrak’s Northeast corridor, including $7 billion for four projects in Maryland — an electrification replacement for the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel, the construction of bridges in Baltimore, Harford and Cecil counties, and a major face-lift for Penn Station in Baltimore.
The president announced the projects alongside workers at a train maintenance shop outside Wilmington, Delaware.
“Why, in the United States of America, do we not have the best rail system in the world?” Biden asked, according to The Associated Press.
Biden pledged up to $4.7 billion for the Frederick Douglass Tunnel to replace the Baltimore Potomac Tunnel. Major construction is anticipated to begin next year, tunnel boring is planned to start in 2026 and the project is scheduled to be finished in 2035, according to Amtrak.
The new tunnel will consist of two tubes, allow trains to travel 110 mph, primarily serve electrified MARC and Amtrak trains, and offer a new 30-minute express MARC train between Baltimore and Washington D.C., Amtrak said. Biden first announced the project during a visit to Baltimore in January.
While the old tunnel follows a curvy track under Bolton Hill, Upton and Sandtown-Winchester, the new one will arc smoothly to the north under Reservoir Hill and Penn North before emerging near a new West Baltimore MARC station.
The old tunnel, 1.4 miles and built during the post-Civil War administration of President Ulysses S. Grant, has a 30 mph speed limit and suffers from leaks, a deteriorating structure and a sinking floor, and also lacks adequate fire and life safety systems, according to Amtrak. More than 10% of weekday trains passing through the old tunnel are delayed, Amtrak said.
Not all of the project is federally funded. Amtrak and Maryland MTA will provide nearly $1.2 billion in matching funds, according to the Federal Railroad Administration, although it is not clear how much will come from the state. Maryland transportation officials are deciding whether to build tunnel or surface tracks for the new Red Line, also set for construction over the next decade.
The federal package, part of an infrastructure bill, also includes up to $108 million to renovate, restore and update Penn Station with a new entrance, train hall and waiting area. Amtrak will provide an additional $50 million, Maryland will provide an additional $4 million, and the project will receive an additional $16 million in federal funding, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
Biden also pledged funding for two new bridges over the Susquehanna River between Havre de Grace in Harford County and Perryville in Cecil County, the Gunpowder River Bridge near Chase in Baltimore County, and the Bush River Bridge in Harford County.
The Susquehanna River Bridge will receive up to $2.08 billion for design and construction of two new two-track bridges to replace one 117-year-old, two-track span. One new bridge will be designed for 125 mph operations and the other for speeds up to 160 mph, compared with 90 mph on the existing bridge. Amtrak will pay $520 million for design and construction while the state is contributing $750,000, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
The Gunpowder River Bridge will receive up to $30 million to replace the 110-year-old, two-track bridge near Chase with a four-track span. Amtrak will provide $5,920,000 and Maryland will provide $1,580,000, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
The Bush River Bridge will receive up to $18.8 million to replace the 110-year-old, two-track bridge in Harford County with a four-track structure. Amtrak will pay $3.7 million to the project while the state will contribute $980,000, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
“We’re building a comprehensive transportation network that provides safe and accessible mobility for every Marylander across every mode, and that means modernized, efficient passenger rail service,” Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Paul J. Wiedefeld said in a news release. “Our partners at the federal level and at Amtrak know the importance of fast, reliable passenger rail service to provide residents with transportation mobility and economic mobility.”
The Northeast corridor between Boston and Washington transports 800,000 daily passengers, according to Amtrak.
“To realize Maryland’s potential to produce jobs, spark economic growth and be a place where people want to live, work and play, it’s vital to provide fast, efficient rail service,” Gov. Wes Moore said in a news release. “The Biden Administration knows Maryland is a pivotal rail connector for the entire Northeast Corridor.”
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