Monday, July 09, 2012

Amtrak touts NEC needs as HSR gathering looms

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Timing its latest revision of plans for the Northeast Corridor (NEC) to coincide with an international high speed rail conference this week in Philadelphia, Amtrak Monday released an updated vision of NEC HSR, estimating the cost at $151 billion.

Amtrak's updated plan foresees trains traveling between Boston and Washington at top speeds of 220 mph. Current top speeds are limited 150 mph sprints south of Boston, and 135 mph along larger stretches of right-of-way south of New York.

Amtrak revised its projections for costs, ridership, and the alignment of its proposed new 438-mile HSR route, which would complement the current NEC but share only some facilities. Amtrak seeks a 2030 deadline to accomplish upgrades between New York and Washington, with a 2040 target for Boston-to-New York operations.

Though California's commitment last Friday to high speed rail development likely will garner much of the attention at the UIC 8th World Congress on High-Speed Rail in Philadelphia this week, Amtrak officials will be on hand to tout the company's progress so far and to promote the potential for true HSR in the Northeast.

"We are inheriting the lessons learned from nearly 50 years of development of this technology," Stephen Gardner, Amtrak's vice president of Northeast Corridor infrastructure and investment development, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Everything is on our side. I know it has looked bleak at times, with the constrained economic period we're in, but time is on our side."

Preliminary work has begun on upgrading NEC overhead wires between New Brunswick, N.J., and Morrisville, Pa., which will include installation of constant-tension catenary, allowing speeds to be increased to a maximum of 160 mph.

Amtrak also hopes to construct the $14.7 billion "Gateway Tunnel" project adding track capacity underneath the Hudson River and alleviating a key bottleneck in the New York metropolitan area.

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