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Amtrak Trains 2012 Sights on Northeast

Monday, January 16, 2012

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Contractors who serve the rail sector in the U.S. Northeast could be in for a happy new year, as Amtrak has released a 2012 construction plan that tilts heavily toward that busy corridor.

In an aggressive agenda released last week, Amtrak laid out plans for nationwide fleet expansion, station improvements and eTicketing, but gave the lion’s share of its attention to the Northeast Corridor.

 Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River
The century-old Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River is to be replaced and expanded under Amtrak’s Gateway Program in the Northeast Corridor.

The only major non-Northeast infrastructure project announced was completion of a $42 million upgrade of the Seattle (WA) maintenance facility. The facility will be so massive that an entire Amtrak Cascades train can be serviced indoors.

Ridership Record

The national rail system reported record-high ridership of 30.2 million passengers in fiscal year 2011—its eighth ridership record in nine years. The system also reduced its debt load for the eighth straight year, officials said.

“Amtrak is building the equipment, infrastructure and organization needed to ensure our strong growth continues into the future,” said President and CEO Joe Boardman.

“We are investing in projects critical for enhancing the passenger experience, essential for supporting our national network of services and vital for the future of America’s Railroad.”

Northeast Corridor Expansion

Several major plans were announced for infrastructure across the Northeast Corridor.

Gateway Program. Amtrak will spend $15 million this year on planning, design and environmental review for its Gateway program, which will provide additional capacity into Manhattan for Amtrak intercity and New Jersey Transit commuter services.

The program envisions building two additional tunnels under the Hudson River; replacing and expanding the century-old Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River; and doubling the number of tracks between Newark, NJ, and New York. Some of the 2012 funds will be used to begin relocation of utilities for the Portal Bridge project.

No price tag was announced for the Gateway project, but it is almost certain to run into the tens of billions. In October 2010, N.J. Gov. Chris Christie killed a plan to build a nine-mile Hudson River tunnel from North Bergen to Manhattan when estimates for that one project topped $12 billion.

Amtrak expects that New York and New Jersey will chip in for the Gateway project, Boardman told reporters. “We know it’s going to be…critical for our high-speed service through to Boston from Washington…,” he said.

Niantic River Bridge Replacement. Amtrak will continue work on its $125 million multi-year project to replace Connecticut’s Niantic River Bridge, which was built in 1907. The movable bridge will be replaced with a two-track, electrified railroad bascule bridge just south of the current bridge. Amtrak says the project, to be completed in 2013, will increase speeds and reduce traffic along the corridor.

New York East Tunnel. Work will also continue on a $72 million multi-year project to replace track in all four East River tunnels that access New York’s Penn Station. The track structure for the full length of each tunnel will be replaced. Completion is set for 2015.

High-Speed Rail

Next-Generation High-Speed Rail (NextGen HSR, as Amtrak calls it) will continue to be a huge priority, with a new vision, new financial plan and the 8th World Congress on High-Speed Rail all on tap for 2012.

Amtrak envisions a new high-capacity, 220 mph NextGen HSR system “fully integrated” within the Northeast Corridor and vows that “all funding, policy and planning decisions to ensure HSR projects are a critical element of NEC improvement efforts.”

The agency said it would release more details on its HSR vision in the spring and a complete HSR business and financial plan by midyear.

Amtrak will also begin pre-construction design and engineering work this year for a $450 million, federally funded HSR project that will boost top train speeds to 160 mph from 135 mph along a 24-mile section between Trenton and New Brunswick, NJ. The project complements the Gateway Program. Construction is expected to begin in 2013.

Fleet Replacement, Other Highlights

Fleet plans include:

• Building the first of 70 high-speed electric locomotives (a $466 million order) planned for Pennsylvania’s “Keystone Corridor” and the Washington-to-Boston route;

• Building the first of 130 single-level, long-distance cars (a $298.1 million order) that will eventually replace Amtrak’s oldest cars, which date to the 1940s; and

• An updated fleet strategy plan, with a new analysis on replacing and expanding the current conventional and HSR fleet.

Other plans include:

• A $50 million construction plan to improve accessibility at 10 stations and analyze the ADA compliance of 53 other stations; and

• The completion of installation of $12.8 million in Positive Train Control safety technology.

   

Tagged categories: Construction; Funding; Mass transit; Rail; Transportation; Tunnel

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