Our Research

Recent Entries

Photo: MTA / Kevin Ortiz

The New Haven Line needs such substantial repair work that at the current pace of investment it will take two decades to restore the line to full operating capacity, a new study by Regional Plan Association found. An analysis by RPA determined that $3.6 billion will be needed beyond what is currently budgeted to modernize the rail line, the busiest in the U.S.

Infrastructure on the 60-mile stretch of track between New York and Connecticut has been allowed to deteriorate, largely due to decades of underinvestment in critical repairs and upgrades. Delaying the repair work significantly raises the risk of unplanned outages and limits the line’s capacity to accommodate growing ridership. 

The New Haven Line carries 125,000 passengers every day on the Metro-North commuter line and on Amtrak trains between Boston and New York and plays a vital role in the economic life of the Northeast. The line's owners, the states of Connecticut and New York, have made significant progress improving the rail infrastructure they inherited in the 1970s in poor physical condition, despite major funding constraints. But funding shortfalls have forced both states to defer long overdue capital investment necessary to protect the line's operations and passengers.

The age-related problems that plague the line can be felt by passengers nearly every day. Five movable rail bridges, all well beyond their replacement age, get stuck open several times a week, delaying train traffic and causing ripple effects up and down the line. This year, the line suffered two major outages, including a derailment and collision in May that injured 76 people and an electrical outage in September that disrupted service on the line for more than two weeks.

RPA’s study, Getting Back on Track: Unlocking the Full Potential of the New Haven Line, documents the key issues affecting the rail line and outlines critical capital investments necessary for the line to function as a reliable, four-track railroad. RPA researchers found that an additional $3.6 billion is needed to repair or replace aging and obsolete infrastructure, beyond the $1 billion already budgeted by the state of Connecticut for this work.

“The New Haven Line supports the biggest and most diverse economy in the country, yet this crucial piece of infrastructure is no longer up to the task,” said RPA President Robert D. Yaro. “If we don’t maintain our vital infrastructure, we will be subjecting a generation of commuters and long-distance travelers to relentless, disruptive repair work and jeopardizing the growth and prosperity of our region,” he said. 

Expediting construction would mean disruptions to service in the short term, but would get the line back to its full, four-track capacity far sooner. This would allow the line to accommodate anticipated population growth and economic development along the New York-to-New Haven corridor. The upgrades also are crucial to accommodating passengers transferring from the region’s branch lines, including from the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter line, which is expected to begin service in 2016.

The study outlines an emergency action plan for the rail line to address major needed improvements, including: upgrades to power and signal systems; repairs to tracks and station platforms; and rehabilitation or replacement of the five movable bridges that are a source of continued service disruptions.

The full study can be viewed here: http://library.rpa.org/pdf/RPA-Getting-Back-on-Track.pdf

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure convened in New York City on Friday for a hearing about the importance of the Northeast Corridor. The hearing took place in the Farley Post Office, home of the future Moynihan Station. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), chair of the Railroads Subcommittee, wielded the gavel while Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), chair of the full committee, participated along with Ranking Member Corrine Brown (D-FL) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). The witnesses included the President and CEO of Amtrak, Joe Boardman; Commissioner of New York State Department of Transportation, Joan McDonald; President of Drexel University, John Fry; and President of Regional Plan Association (RPA) and Chair of the Northeast Alliance for Rail (NEAR), Bob Yaro.

The impetus for the hearing is that the current federal rail bill, PRIIA, expires this fall and Congress will begin negotiating the next bill this summer. The next federal rail bill will authorize a five to six years worth of appropriations for the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak, and hence capital improvements to the Northeast Corridor (NEC). The FRA's High-Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail Program is a potential source of future funding for NEC improvements. After Florida Governor Rick Scott rejected $2.4 billion in federal high-speed rail funds in 2011, nearly $1 billion was redirected to the Northeast. Amtrak's federal funding for capital improvements is also largely dedicated to the NEC, where nearly 40% of their capital budget is spent.

In his testimony before the Committee, Bob Yaro outlined the main components of an improvement program that can be authorized in the reauthorization of the rail bill. RPA calls this program, "NEC Now." The NEC Now proposal addresses the corridor's highest-priority infrastructure needs: to remove bottlenecks, increase capacity, improve reliability and reduce travel times along the entire corridor. It also proposes funding for the construction of an Acela Express train optimization program which, along with other NEC Now projects, would cut trip times between New York and Philadelphia to well under an hour.

Download RPA's NEC Now Legislative Proposal & Infrastructure Program.

Download Bob Yaro's testimony as prepared.


Central Corridor Light RailBig infrastructure projects take years or even decades to complete. Too often, that's because planning work gets bogged down in protracted environmental reviews. But new research by Regional Plan Association has identified ways environmental analysis could be completed more quickly, without sacrificing environmental protections.

In "Getting Infrastructure Going: Expediting the Environmental Review Process," RPA finds that the National Environmental Policy Act adopted in 1970 still provides a strong regulatory framework for protecting the environment. But misguided implementation of the law contributes to lengthy delays in delivering big infrastructure projects.

Thumbnail image for cover_nelandscapes.jpgConservation needs to be approached at the regional level in order to ensure that wildlife habitat, water supplies and working farms and forests throughout the U.S. Northeast are protected for future generations, a new report by Regional Plan Association and America 2050 concludes.

The research examines how landscape conservation initiatives are working across the Northeast to protect vital natural and cultural resources. The report, "Landscapes: Improving Conservation Practice in the Northeast Megaregion," makes recommendations for improving conservation efforts that stretch across city and state boundaries, from addressing governance questions and ensuring adequate financial resources to creating tools for measuring the impact of these regional efforts.

Read the Release | Read the Report (Web) (Print) | Read the Project Summary

Colorado 012.jpgAmerica 2050 is calling on landscape conservation practitioners and interested citizens to take the Landscape Conservation Tools Survey. The survey is intended to inform our efforts to create web tools for people working to protect and conserve large natural areas of open space, scenic beauty, historic significance, or wildlife habitat. The survey includes a list of questions to gauge how people might use a large landscape web portal and should take less than five minutes to complete.

The partners in this effort include: America 2050, Regional Plan Association, The Trust for Public Land, the University of Montana's Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Policy, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and other members of the Practitioners' Network for Large Landscape Conservation, who are looking at ways to facilitate landscape conservation through on-line tools and websites. 

HSR Charrette_Transit Network-01.jpgA new report released today by Regional Plan Association recommends strategies for leveraging public investments in improving the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield (NHHS) Rail Corridor for economic growth. Titled, "Dependable Rail in 2016: What Will it Mean for the Knowledge Corridor Region?", the report includes lessons from successful passenger rail corridors in Maine and Northern California, and proposes a broad set of strategies to build on the $400 million initial public investment being made to upgrade the NHHS Rail Corridor.

These preliminary, recommended strategies are offered for discussion at a convening of business leaders and local officials today in Rocky Hill, who will explore additional strategies and next steps for achieving the maximum economic benefit from the NHHS rail project.

Download the Report (PDF - 5MB).

Thumbnail image for cover_linc-pfr_hsr_300dpi.jpgHigh-speed rail has been adopted throughout the world, and is now being planned and developed in the United States. Over the past 50 years, U.S. transportation spending has heavily favored the development of interstate highway and aviation systems. In the meantime, countries such as China, Japan, Spain, France, and Germany have been investing in modern, high-speed rail systems to satisfy the travel demands of their current and future generations. As the United States embarks on the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program launched in 2009, it can learn from the experiences of other countries in planning, constructing, and operating high-speed rail.

This long-term perspective, discussion of benefits, and recommendations for making high-speed rail work in the United States is presented in a new report released today by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, called "High-Speed Rail: International Lessons for U.S. Policy Makers" (PDF). Written by RPA authors Petra Todorovich, Dan Schned, and Robert Lane, the report documents lessons from over four decades of international experience in high-speed rail in Europe and Asia, applies them to the U.S. context, and recommends a fresh approach that creates new, accountable, rail management structures, brings in the private sector, and concentrates for now on California and the Northeast.

A strategy to address the nation's infrastructure needs through increased funding and institutional reform, Road to Recovery: Transforming America's Transportation, has been released by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Leadership Initiative on Transportation Solvency.

Carnegie CoverThe non-partisan plan was developed by former Senator Bill Bradley, former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, and former Comptroller General of the Government Accountability Office David Walker -- a Democrat, Republican, and independent, respectively. The authors seek to address the chronic underfunding and disinvestment that has caused American transportation infrastructure, once the best in the world, to sink to 23rd in international rankings.

Currently, the National Highway Trust is insolvent and relies on frequent bailouts by taxpayers to make ends meet. The Carnegie plan advocates restoring transportation spending to a sound financial footing, and returning to a "pay-as-you-go" model in which capital investments are paid for immediately, as opposed to the current practice of "deferred maintenance." The authors refer to deferred maintenance as nothing more than "a hidden tax, with interest," as delaying needed repairs or improvements only raises the total project cost for taxpayers, often relying on borrowing money. The authors point out that consistent majorities of Americans believe we should invest more in our transportation infrastructure, and they lay out a strategy for raising additional revenue to do so immediately, rather than relying on deficit spending.

The centerpiece of the plan is a bold proposal to levy a tax on oil at the point of production or importation, and put a corresponding tax on fuel sold to consumers at the pump. According to the report, this would stabilize the price of oil and protect the American economy from sharp changes in the price of oil, while providing a steady and predictable stream of revenue to pay for transportation infrastructure.