Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Maryland, Virginia, link fund requests to Amtrak, NEC

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Two states operating regional rail service with Washington, D.C. as their hub have submitted requests for federal funding to provide upgraded infrastructure. Unlike many of their brethren, however, Maryland and Virginia, to differing degrees, are piggybacking many of their own needs onto those of Amtrak, owner and operator of the Northeast Corridor.

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Maryland officials have submitted a request for $360 million in federal funds for upgrades on two lines used by its MARC regional passenger rail service—its Brunswick Line (owned by CSX Corp.) and its so-called Penn Line, part of Amtrak’s NEC.

Maryland seeks much of the funding for studies, engineering, and/or construction of several projects on the NEC that have been delayed or postponed for years, if not decades. They include tunnel replacement in Baltimore, a notorious pinchpoint on the NEC, as well as expanding BWI Thurgood Marshall Rail Station on the NEC, which serves Baltimore/Washington International Airport. As well, Maryland seeks capacity expansion for three NEC bridges spanning the Susquehanna, Gunpowder, and Bush rivers, which would ease capacity constraints and aid both MARC regional and Amtrak HSR operations.

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Funds also are sought for GPS-based train location on both the Penn and Brunswick lines, and for construction of a new rail yard near Washington Union Station.

South of the Potomac River, Virginia’s $74.8 million funding request would allow the state to upgrade CSX right-of-way between Washington and Richmond, the state capital, to handle Virginia Railway Express and Amtrak trains at speeds up to 90 mph. Amtrak is increasing its train frequency on this stretch, seen by many industry observers as a de facto extension of the NEC. In addition, VRE trains, like their MARC counterparts, also lay up near Union Station.

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"Amtrak has stated repeatedly they want to see the Northeast Corridor extended from Washington down to Richmond," said Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation director Chip Badger, noting such a desire gave Virginia an advantage in seeking federal funding.

The Maryland/Virginia submissions may have an edge with Amtrak, but California, to no one’s surprise, weighed in with 42 applications totaling $1.1 billion. California has committed $9.9 billion in state funds to advance its high speed rail program, strengthening its case for a federal contribution.