On Monday, the Secretary of the U.S. DOT, Ray LaHood, announced that Amtrak and the New York State Department of Transportation will indeed receive the $745 million that was awarded to them back in May 2011 for two high-speed and intercity rail projects on the Northeast Corridor. The grant awards, announced just over three months ago, represented a major victory for the region's passenger rail system and today's announcement marks a major milestone in bringing the benefits of these improvements to the Northeast Corridor.
In May, Sec. LaHood, joined by Sen. Schumer, announced nearly $1 billion in awards for the Northeast, including $795 million for projects on the NEC.
Robert Yaro, Co-Chair of America 2050 and President of Regional Plan Association, remarked, "Secretary LaHood's announcement is a huge relief for the millions of rail passengers who rely on the Northeast Corridor, America's busiest intercity transit link. These investments had been threatened by a proposed rescission of these funds by the U.S. House of Representatives. Looking forward, these two rail improvement projects will increase the reliability of Northeast Corridor rail service, create thousands of jobs in the Northeast, stimulate American manufacturing, relieve significant bottlenecks, and allow for increased speeds and decreased travel times on the Corridor."
"We applaud the Secretary and the Administration for making this wise, much-needed investment and moving to obligate the funds so quickly."
You could hear rail advocates up and down the Northeast Corridor breath a collective sigh of relief today when they learned of the announcement, as there have recently been efforts to strip the Northeast of this money. By obligating this funding, the U.S. DOT has protected this money from these ill-advised attempts to rescind this funding. In July, the House passed an Appropriations Bill that included a provision, introduced by Republican Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, which takes back all high-speed rail grants that have not yet been obligated. If this provision does not get removed from the bill by the Senate, every HSIPR projects with unobligated funding will be effectively cancelled, including many awarded projects in the Northeast that are still unobligated today.
In light of this threat, earlier this month, New York Senator Schumer sent a letter to Secretary LaHood urging him obligate the Northeast's funding as soon as possible to prevent Congress from taking back their awarded money. Fortunately, the Secretary heeded this urgent call to action from his Congressional colleague and moved quickly to obligate this funding and secure it for the Northeast.
The $745 million will be used by Amtrak and the New York State DOT to fund two critically important state of good repair projects on the Northeast Corridor:
1) Upgrades to Track and Overhead Wires
This $450 million project will make major upgrades to a 24-mile stretch of track between Trenton and New Brunswick, NJ. Funds will be used to replace outdated overhead catenary wires that supply power to the trains, which tend to sag and tighten in variable temperatures. Under these conditions the wires often lose contact with the trains' pantographs causing voltage problems for the trains and limiting speeds. The current, old overhead wires have caused significant delays and grief for NJ TRANSIT commuters and Amtrak passengers over the past several years. In their place, Amtrak will install "constant-tension" catenary wires, which use counterweights to maintain the proper tension of the catenary wires. Amtrak is also planning to modernize much of the existing tracks, signals, and power supply along this segment of the NEC.
"Thanks to these investments," Secretary LaHood wrote in today's press released, "Acela Express trains will soon reach up to 160 mph (up from 135 mph today) ... In the future, as Amtrak purchases new, next generation high-speed train sets, passengers will travel at world-class speeds of 186 mph along the improved track."
2) Improvements to the Harold Interlocking
The Harold Interlocking in Queens, NY is the busiest railroad interlocking in North America. Over 750 Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), NJ TRANSIT, and Amtrak trains travel through it each day, causing frequent conflicts and delays for over 300,000 daily Long Island Rail Road and Amtrak riders. New York State DOT will use $295 million to build a new flyover that allows Amtrak trains to travel through the interlocking separately from LIRR trains, and NJ TRANSIT trains on their way to the Sunnyside Maintenance Yard.
In May, a "Report on the Economic Benefits of the Harold Interlocking Project," prepared by the Office of Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney of New York was released. The report concluded that the $295 million would create generate the following economic benefits:
- Up to 9,213 jobs over the project's five-year construction period;
- Tens of thousands of other jobs throughout the economy;
- A $585.9 million boost to the region's economy;
- Millions in new tax revenue;
- Reduced commuting times for LIRR, Amtrak and NJ TRANSIT; and
- It will pave the way for high-speed rail along the Northeast Corridor, which would create roughly 44,000 jobs and $33 billion in new wages annually over the 25-year life of the project.
Location of NEC Investments
View NEC Investments Location in a larger map
Images: domestication-comic.com; the Epoch Times; and McGrawHill Construction at newyork.construction.com