Thursday, January 28, 2010

MARC to benefit from $8b in improvements to high speed rail

Yesterday I speculated as to whether or not the MARC system would benefit from $8 billion in stimulus funds that will go toward high speed rail across the country, which an AP article reported would be announced by the President and the Vice President today.

Today's press release from the White House emailed to reporters ahead of President Obama and Vice President Biden's arrival in Florida-- where they'll announce the grant recipients-- reveals that indeed Baltimore will directly benefit from $112 million in improvements to the Northeast Corridor, specifically from Boston to New York and Washington DC. (For a broader perspective of funds going to the entire Northeast corridor, check out this Dept. of Transportation/Recovery Act PDF).

A chart of the grants released by the White House specifically says $112 million will go toward "major, long-needed projects such as the completion of engineering and environmental work for a new tunnel in Baltimore and a new station at BWI Airport." It adds that "projects will span Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland and Washington, D.C."

The President and VP are also touting the infrastructure improvements as a much-needed job measure, but what Stuck on MARC cares most about is helping people get to their jobs, or to job interviews on time!

For a local perspective I asked MRAC (MARC Riders Advisory Council) chair Rafi Guroian yesterday to tell Stuck on MARC readers what the improvements will mean for area commuters. He wrote me last night before the details of the plan were announced, but I think his comments are still instructive.

Here's what Rafi emailed Stuck on MARC yesterday (emphasis is mine as it relates to today's announced improvements).
Let's assume for a moment that Obama does, in fact, announce funding specifically for northeast corridor improvements between, say, Elkton, MD and New Carrolton, MD. The known speedbumps for rail traffic in this area are bridges, tunnels (specifically the tunnels into and out of Penn Station Baltimore), and bottlenecking of tracks. That will most likely be where the money will be put to use, primarily for Amtrak's benefit. MARC, however, happens to run on those same tracks and MARC trains are subject to those same speedbumps, so any improvements that are made to that infrastructure would not only allow Amtrak to run its trains at faster speeds and greater frequencies through those areas, but it would also allow MARC trains to do the same.

Keep in mind, we're not talking about running MARC trains faster than their top speed today. We're talking about running trains faster in areas where they currently have to run at restricted speeds. We're also talking about added flexibility to run trains at times we currently aren't able due to space constraints on the corridor. The MARC Penn Line is the fastest commuter line in North America (125 MPH when using electric engines and the bilevel cars); the cars aren't rated to go any faster than that without serious upgrades. So where we may see improvement is in areas like West Baltimore into Baltimore, for example, where trains are restricted to about 15-30 MPH, depending on traffic. We may also see service extended to Elkton, MD and Wilmington, DE earlier than anticipated as well; only time will tell.

If Obama announces any improvements to the track capacity and infrastructure from Washington south to Virginia, we could also see MARC service extended to places like L'Enfant Plaza, Crystal City, and Alexandria. All of these things I've mentioned are items on the Maryland MTA's "wish list" (see their 35 year plan). Making them a reality requires a lot of funding and interagency collaboration. If Obama's announcements focus on any of those areas of Maryland, then at least we're part of the way there with funding. It'll be up to Amtrak and the Maryland MTA to work together in making it a reality.
Now comes the hard part: holding Amtrak and Maryland MTA's feet to the fire to get the engineering and environmental work done in a timely matter so that actual construction can begin on the improvements.

No comments:

Post a Comment