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Northeast Corridor riders got a glimpse into their future earlier this month when the Federal Railroad Administration rolled out 15 preliminary alternatives for improved passenger rail service. The move was the latest step in a long-term rail investment plan to accommodate ridership needs through the year 2040.
The alternatives range from relatively low cost projects that would provide increased capacity at choke points to substantial infrastructure improvements that would allow for high-speed trains.
Some potential highlights for Philly-area riders: the high-speed rails would mean a 40-minute trip between New York City and Philadelphia. An airport stop and a tunnel are also a possibility for the city.
But federal railroad planners are in no rush to roll out these changes. The FRA isn’t expected to unveil what it’s calling a “preferred alternative,” which will include cost analysis and projected construction dates, until 2015.
Amtrak Media Relations Manager Craig Schulz said Amtrak is actively involved in the process. As one of various stakeholders, Amtrak has shared data and provided feedback to the FRA. Additionally, it has published an overview of its vision for high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor.
So far, local groups have found the 15 recently-proposed alternatives to be short on details, and are “waiting for them to come up with the numbers,” said Tony DeSantis, treasurer and past president of the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers (DVARP).
Mark Spada with the Keystone Association of Rail Passengers agreed that without more specific cost projections, its hard to judge the proposals.
“It’s too general in nature to say which alternative is the best,” Spada said. “The most important things on the Northeast Corridor and anywhere else in the country is that trains are running on time and running at higher frequencies and reliability.”
At this point, DVARP is waiting on specifics before it takes a stance on items likely to interest people in the Philadelphia area – the airport stop and tunnel – until it sees the cost benefits. DVARP does agree with the need to increase the capacity of the corridor, but takes issue with the way the corridor itself is limited in size by Amtrak’s planners.
“We don’t feel the corridor ends in Washington. It needs to go down to Richmond,” De Santis said. “If you’re talking about 2040 you really have to look at the size of the corridor.”
“We’re going to let this thing play out,” DeSantis said. “We have been at their meetings. They just recently had dialogues. I went to the one in Newark to let them know what we’re thinking about.”
This week the FRA held three public meetings about the plan in New Haven, Connecticut, for those in the northern region; Newark, New Jersey for the central region; and Washington D.C., for the southern region. It will also hold a public webcast on April 18 at 3 p.m.
“We’re worried about coming up with something that’s realistic, something that we can afford and something that can actually get built.” DeSantis said. “As things get more specific we’ll probably have more to say.”
This story was produced in cooperation with GIMBY.org, a Washington, DC-based news blog about the local impact of the federal government.