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Today, Amtrak released its “Vision for High-Speed Rail in the Northeast Corridor,” an ambitious plan to build a next-generation high-speed rail corridor between Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C. How ambitious? The new and improved service would cost $117 billion to build over a 25-year construction period, according to the national intercity passenger railroad. Amtrak has outlined possible alignments between Washington, D.C., New York City and Boston that call for building new right of way north of New York City and using existing right of way south of New York City. Trains would operate at speeds up to 220 mph along the corridor, with an average speed of 137 mph between Washington, D.C. and New York City, and 148 mph between New York City and Boston. Travel times would be about 96 minutes between Washington and New York — one hour less than Acela trains take today — and 84 minutes between New York and Boston, saving about two hours compared with current travel times. Amtrak proposes to build several new stations as part of the project, including one in Philadelphia, one near Penn Station and another near Grand Central Terminal in New York City, and aerial stations in Boston. Ridership is estimated at 18 million passengers annually, with capacity to accommodate up to 80 million passengers annually “decades after the new system fully comes online,” according to Amtrak. Up to four trains per hour would depart in each direction (compared with today’s one train per hour), with additional service during peak periods. Total daily high-speed rail departures could increase from the current 42 trains to as many as 148 by 2040. The new high-speed service would generate an annual operating surplus of about $900 million, Amtrak projects. Construction could begin on the south end by 2015 and on the north end by 2024. During a press teleconference held this morning, Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boardman called the plan a “100-year vision,” adding that the plan is “what we see as necessary for future economic and global competitiveness for Amtrak and our nation.” The vision is necessary in order for Amtrak to begin seeking financing for the project, said Boardman. And funding a new high-speed rail service in the Northeast Corridor will require money from many different sources, added Al Engel, who last week was appointed Amtrak’s new vice president of high-speed rail. “Certainly public money will be required, but it also will attract private investment,” he said. “There are opportunities for P3s in this corridor because there are lots of development opportunities available.” The price tag might seem expensive, but it still pales in comparison to what other countries are investing in high-speed rail, Engel said. “China spent $88 billion last year on high-speed rail development,” he said. “It’s a matter of priorities.” That’s not to say that prioritizing is easy, but there does seem to be a better understanding from some in Congress that different transportation modes are needed, Boardman said.
“They understand we’re going to have a very expensive energy future and there needs to be a different vision than the highway vision, the old vision,” he said. Amtrak contracted engineering firm AECOM to conduct the study in April, after a Northeast Corridor Infrastructure Master Plan issued earlier this year projected that the Northeast Corridor would run out of capacity in 20 years. The specific high-speed alignment, stations, maintenance yards and other facilities that were analyzed in the report “represent only one of a wide range of possible network and service configurations that could be developed,” Amtrak said. “We’ve moved from a vision of state of good repair to a vision of what we need to do to keep this region competitive,” said Boardman. To view a copy of the report, click here, then download the "Vision for High-Speed Rail in the Northeast Corridor" PDF. — Angela Cotey