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Rail News Home High-Speed Rail

3/15/2011



Rail News: High-Speed Rail

State Update: Maryland DOT advances work on BWI station planning, awaits grant agreement for tunnel project


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The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) is continuing to advance preliminary work on BWI station improvements while awaiting a grant agreement with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to complete engineering and environmental studies for a Baltimore and Potomac (B&P) tunnel replacement in Baltimore.  

In September 2010, MDOT signed an agreement with the FRA that obligated $9.4 million in high-speed stimulus funds to complete environmental and engineering work to replace the BWI Station, which serves Baltimore/Washington International Airport.

In early November, STV, Parsons Brinckerhoff and Jacobs Engineering began National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) scoping work and engineering for the BWI station project. The firms already were under contract with MDOT for work they were doing under the Maryland Transit Administration, so MDOT was able to expedite the contract quickly, says Caitlin Rayman, MDOT’s assistant secretary for transportation policy and freight. The work is scheduled to be complete in fall 2012.

The full project calls for constructing a new station building, as well as completing platform and pedestrian-access improvements to enable passenger boarding on four tracks. The station currently has three tracks, but only two have platform access. MDOT estimates the project will cost about $250 million and take two years to build.

“We’d like the opportunity to compete for more funds to finish final design and construction of this project,” Rayman says. “This is a critical component of the Northeast Corridor because it will really help with frequencies and speeds and handling more passengers at the station. If we were able to compete for funds in the next year or so, we could begin construction and could probably have it complete in about 2014 or 2015.”

Meanwhile, MDOT still is working with the FRA to draft a cooperative agreement for $60 million in stimulus dollars to complete engineering and environmental studies for the Baltimore & Potomac (B&P) tunnel replacement in Baltimore. MDOT expects the FRA will obligate the funds in the next three to four weeks, says Rayman.

The grant agreement process is a bit more complicated for the B&P tunnel than the BWI station because it involves a third party: Amtrak, which owns the tunnel. Because Amtrak is considered a private entity under the grant agreement, the contract will call for obligating the stimulus funds to MDOT, which then will turn the funds over to Amtrak, which will issue the request for proposals and manage the project.

MDOT expects Amtrak will issue a contract for the engineering and environmental work for the tunnel project in summer and that the work will be complete in 2014, Rayman says.

Built in the 1870s, the B&P tunnel is used by Amtrak, MARC commuter and Norfolk Southern Railway trains. The tunnel replacement will improve capacity and safety on the Penn Line, which serves as the main rail corridor linking Washington, D.C., and Baltimore with New York City and Boston.

“The tunnel replacement is especially critical because you have to ensure that the rail services can continue to operate,” says Rayman. “When you have a critical infrastructure element, like the tunnel, deteriorating, it’s critical we don’t let up in the process to complete the NEPA work and move expeditiously to final design and construction.”

The pending engineering/environmental studies will determine exactly what work needs to be done to replace the tunnel — whether MDOT bores separate tunnels for each set of tracks or one large tunnel for all tracks, and whether the tunnel remains a two-track structure or needs additional tracks, says Rayman. MDOT expects the tunnel project will cost about $1 billion and take four to five years to complete.

That’s why it will be important for the federal government to create a long-term funding source for high-speed rail projects, especially for states along the Northeast Corridor, which is owned by the federal government and, therefore, should be kept in a state of good repair by the federal government, says Rayman.

“We see this as a federal obligation — that’s why we’re pursuing funds as they become available,” she says. “It’s challenging for the state to try to absorb the cost for these critical infrastructure elements that are utilized by eight states and the District of Columbia.”  

In the meantime, the state is interested in pursuing $2.4 billion in American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) funds that are being redirected from Florida. HSRupdates.com spoke with Rayman prior to the U.S. Department of Transportation announcing on March 11 that it was going to launch a competitive grant process to redistribute Florida’s funds, but Rayman says the state has several projects it believes have a good shot at getting some of the stimulus money.

MDOT filed ARRA applications for three projects that the FRA deemed as eligible for stimulus funding, but ultimately didn’t receive any of the funds:

• engineering and construction of the Chesapeake Connector, which calls for building a grade separation and third track from Perryville to Elkton to improve Amtrak and freight capacity ($210 million);

• engineering and construction of the Northern Maryland Capacity and Trip Time Improvement Program, which calls for three rail bridges over the Bush, Susquehanna and Gunpowder rivers ($2.1 billion); and

• construction and improvement of a rail interlocking, and replacement of obsolete electronics with microprocessors between Silver Spring and Brunswick to expand capacity, and improve safety and service reliability ($18.3 million).

Because the funding redirection will be subject to ARRA guidelines — which include deadlines for when construction must be substantially completed — MDOT’s BWI station and B&P tunnel construction projects likely wouldn’t qualify, says Rayman.

Angela Cotey


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