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Amtrak Eyes ‘Delivery Partner’ for B&P Tunnel Replacement Program

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Amtrak on Dec. 5 announced a new Delivery Partner model for the B&P Tunnel Replacement Program. (Amtrak Photo)

Amtrak on Dec. 5 announced a new Delivery Partner model for the B&P Tunnel Replacement Program. (Amtrak Photo)

Amtrak on Dec. 5 reported that it will seek a “Delivery Partner” for replacement of the nearly 150-year-old Baltimore & Potomac (B&P) tunnel in Baltimore, Md.

The Delivery Partner model, “America’s Railroad” said, involves a private partner taking on “substantial risk-sharing, impacting overall project outcomes.”

The B&P Tunnel Replacement Program, conducted by Amtrak and the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Transit Administration (MDOT MTA), will build a new tunnel to be used solely for passenger rail service. The Frederick Douglass Tunnel—named for the 19th century Maryland-born abolitionist leader—will include two new tubes, serving MARC commuter rail and Amtrak riders. Currently, trains travel at around 30 mph through the two-track, 1.4-mile B&P Tunnel that connects Baltimore’s Penn Station with Washington and Virginia; two separate single-track tubes would enable speeds up to 100 mph. The program will also modernize a four-mile section of the Northeast Corridor; work includes new roadway and railroad bridges, new rail systems and track, and a new ADA-accessible West Baltimore MARC station. The existing B&P Tunnel will be dedicated to freight rail service.

The B&P Tunnel, located in Baltimore, dates from the Civil War era. At nearly 150 years old, it is the oldest tunnel Amtrak inherited and a single point of failure for MARC’s busiest line (the Penn Line) and the Northeast Corridor (NEC). The 1.4-mile tunnel, connecting Baltimore’s Penn Station to Washington and Virginia, suffers from a variety of age-related issues such as excessive water infiltration, a deteriorating structure, and a sinking floor. There are no fire and life safety systems that help keep passengers safe in the event of emergencies, and excessive costly maintenance is required. Due to its age, delays are chronic—more than 10% of weekday trains are delayed, and delays occur on 99% of weekdays. The B&P Tunnel must be replaced to meet the needs of the nine million MARC and Amtrak customers who rely on it annually. (Caption and Photograph Courtesy of Amtrak)

“Once complete, the new tunnel system will improve travel times for approximately nine million passengers each year who rely on the Northeast Corridor for service, including Amtrak Acela, Northeast Regional, and long-distance trains, as well as the MARC Penn Line,” Amtrak said.

According to Amtrak, more than 24 companies responded to its recent Request for Information (RFI) that invited feedback on the Delivery Partner model. This demonstrates “a significant appetite for a private partner with ‘skin in the game’ to ensure a successful project delivery,” Amtrak Vice President, Program Development and Project Services Tony Ryan said. “Timely advancement of this program is critical as we work to modernize and transform the Northeast Corridor, reducing delays and adding capacity for the future.”

Solicitation for the Delivery Partner is expected to launch in January 2023.

The B&P Tunnel Replacement Program (the Program) will modernize and transform a four-mile section of the Northeast Corridor. It includes two new high-capacity tubes for electrified passenger trains, new roadway and railroad bridges, new rail systems and track, and a new ADA-accessible West Baltimore MARC station. (Caption and Map Courtesy of Amtrak)

Amtrak said the Delivery Partner engagement complements the construction manager at risk (CMAR) delivery approach for the first phase of the B&P Tunnel Replacement Program, the Southern Approach, which is already in the Request for Proposal (RFP) stage of procurement. (Amtrak in June issued a Request for Letters Of Interest.)

The Southern Approach CMAR solicitation includes the new ADA-compliant West Baltimore MARC Station; all major excavation for the approach to the south portal for the new tunnel and bridge construction; and some utility and roadway work.

Amtrak said this CMAR procurement is its “first use of the CMAR alternate delivery method, which will improve project delivery time and allow design, pre-construction and pricing work to proceed simultaneously. Collaboration on the design offers an opportunity for innovation and reduces the risk to Amtrak for substantial changes to the scope of work later.”

Future construction packages for the B&P Tunnel Replacement Program will be announced next year, Amtrak said, which include a “tunnel package for the twin bore tunnel construction work, featuring two parallel tunnels, each containing a single rail track.”

Amtrak and MDOT MTA in June 2021 released plans to replace the B&P Tunnel at a cost of $4 billion.

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