Biden Kicks Off Baltimore Rail Tunnel ReplacementWritten by Kyra Senese, Managing Editor, Railway Track & Structures
President Joe Biden traveled to Baltimore, Md., on Jan. 30 to join Amtrak, U.S. Department of Transportation and the state of Maryland to kick off the Baltimore and Potomac (B&P) Tunnel replacement project.
The 150-year-old B&P tunnel will be replaced as part of the $1 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law championed by the President. The tunnel spans 1.4 miles and is the oldest tunnel on the Northeast Corridor, connecting Baltimore’s Penn Station to points south. It is considered the largest rail bottleneck between Washington, D.C. and New Jersey.
The B&P Tunnel Replacement project, 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, which is expected to be completed in about a decade. 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 B&P Tunnel that connects Baltimore’s Penn Station with Washington and Virginia; two separate tubes with up to four tracks total would enable speeds up to 110 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.
Amtrak on Jan. 30 reported signing a project labor agreement (PLA) with the Baltimore-DC Building and Construction Trades Council, a local affiliate of North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), to cover the replacement of the Warwick Bridge. The PLA is the first agreement under a 2021 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Amtrak and NABTU covering Amtrak’s major civil engineering projects, including the remaining phases of the B&P Tunnel Replacement Program, Amtrak said. The PLA is a collective bargaining agreement that will govern terms and conditions of employment for workers constructing the bridge replacement.
The total cost of the B&P Tunnel Replacement project is estimated to be $6 billion. The state of Maryland intends to commit $450 million in construction funds. These funds, combined with Amtrak’s intended commitment of approximately $750 million, put the project closer to achieving full funding under the Federal Railroad Administration’s Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grant Program, according to Amtrak, which noted that after receipt of federal funding, it is scheduled to launch early construction activities this year.
MDOT and Amtrak have decided on a phased implementation strategy, where the initial implementation will include two new, high-capacity tunnel tubes for electrified passenger trains but defer the construction of two additional tunnel tubes that could one day be made to accommodate freight trains. Amtrak in December reported that it will seek a “Delivery Partner” for the project.
“Replacing this Civil War-era B&P tunnel will nearly triple train capacity on this critical section of the Northeast Corridor for the nine million annual Amtrak and MARC customers who rely on this vital connection,” Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner said. “As we work with Maryland and our labor partners to deliver the new Frederick Douglass Tunnel, we are grateful for essential funding that the Biden Administration has designated for this project, made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the strong support of our many federal, state and local partners.”
“Investment in transit infrastructure is fundamental to expanding economic opportunities and promoting more reliable, customer-focused service to Marylanders,” said Maryland Gov. Wes Moore. “The Frederick Douglass Tunnel project stands as more evidence of our commitment to modernize and transform transit throughout the state.”
“We will continue to work closely with all of our partners to advance the Frederick Douglass Tunnel and support the region with innovative transportation solutions,” said Paul J. Wiedefeld, acting Secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation. “This critical infrastructure project will improve both passenger and commuter rail for Marylanders.”
“The launch of the Fredrick Douglass Tunnel project shows that transit in Maryland has a bright future,” said MDOT MTA Administrator Holly Arnold. “This project will ultimately lead to improved reliability and increased travel options for our riders.”
Biden was in Baltimore for the first of three infrastructure trips this week. On Jan. 31, he will travel to New York to discuss plans for a new rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River.
Railway Age Executive Editor Marybeth Luczak contributed to this report.