CT: New rail plan calls for New Haven Line improvements, better Penn Station access

Nov. 17, 2023
State and federal officials on Thursday released their 15-year vision for Amtrak's Northeast Corridor that includes promises of increased service, quicker trains and new rail connections.

Nov. 16—Flush with billions of dollars in Congressionally-approved infrastructure funds, state and federal officials on Thursday released their 15-year vision for Amtrak's Northeast Corridor that includes promises of increased service, quicker trains and new rail connections.

The 457-mile link between Washington, D.C. and Boston — representing the nation's busiest rail corridor — runs straight through Connecticut, where it also shares tracks with commuter trains operated by Metro-North and CT Rail. It also incudes Acela, the nation's only high-speed rail service.

Each of those services stands to benefit from proposed upgrades included within the Northeast Corridor Commission's Connect 2037 plan — which also comes with an estimated price tag of $135 billion.

Less than half of that amount is currently funded through federal, state and local sources, according to the commission, meaning that lawmakers will have to come up with another $100 billion to fill in the gap.

The size of that gap has not budged since the commission released its most recent long-term plan drafted in 2021, even as Congress has approved billions through its Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

The influx of federal funding, however, has allowed officials to begin chipping away at their "wish list" of neglected projects along the corridor, according to Mitch Warren, the executive director of the Northeast Corridor Commission.

"Thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, for the first time we actually have the money to move these projects forward," Warren said. "It's a very exciting time for the Northeast Corridor."

In Connecticut, those proposals include track upgrades that will usher in speedier service along the New Haven Line, increasing capacity along the Hartford Line and the launching of a long-awaited direct service to Penn Station via Metro-North.

Many of those objectives were presented as part of commission's 2021 report, which proposed a "once-in-a-generation" effort to solve major bottlenecks along the route, including a series of century-old rail bridges in Connecticut that will cost roughly $1 billion apiece to replace.

Two of those projects — the Walk Bridge in Norwalk and Amtrak's Connecticut River Bridge — were among a slate of projects included in a $16.4 billion funding package for the corridor announced by President Joe Biden last week. The announcement also included roughly $3.8 billion toward the development of the Gateway Tunnel program underneath the Hudson River, which promises to relieve congestion for riders traveling south on Amtrak.

Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto praised the commission's outlook on Thursday, noting it included several local projects vital to meeting the state's goal of reducing commutes along the New Haven Line by 25 minutes in 2035.

"There definitely will need to be more investments," Eucalitto said. "But the funding that was delivered under the federal-state partnership is going to enable us to hit that goal."

The majority of projects included within the NEC37 plan ultimately aim to move the route to a state-of-good repair, essentially meaning that trains can travel at speeds that the tracks were designed to handle decades, or even a century ago.

Traveling at faster speeds more typical of European and Asian high-speed rail systems, however, will require billions for new projects that will likely take decades to complete. Currently, Acela trains can only operate at top speeds along limited stretches of the corridor.

"It signals support for the rail system," Eucalitto said. "Without showing that support, there would be a hesitation to invest in it."

Eventually, Amtrak aims to be able to make the full trip between Washington, D.C. and Boston in under 6 hours with its next-generation Acela trains. That's about an hour faster than the quickest currently-scheduled train along the corridor.

A full roadmap for meeting that timetable, Warren said, will be included in the commission's next long-term plan set to be released in 2025.


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