9:57 am Jul. 10, 20122
Amtrak has a new high-speed rail vision for the northeastern United States that's going to take a long time to get there.
With the proposed installation of high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor, operational in 2040, train travel from New York City to Washington will be reduced from a 2-hour-45-minute Acela trip to 94-minute jaunt.
The new plan, for trains that would run at top speeds of 220 miles per hour, is actually a more modest version of a plan unveiled in 2010. Among other things, service to New York City is reduced from the original.
The updated plan calls for $151 billion in both near- and long-term rail investments that will improve existing rail capacity, while also paving the way for true high speed rail in the northeast.
Alex Goldmark notes in Transportation Nation that compared to the 2010 version, the new plan "scales back the total cost, drops planned stations, and devotes much more attention to realistic, phased implementation."
Among the changes: the 2010 proposal assumed, like most everyone did, that a regionally funded pair of new rail tunnels under the Hudson River would move ahead as planned, alleviating the debilitating rail congestion between New Jersey and New York City.
New Jersey Governor Christ Christie ultimately decided that he'd rather use that money for other purposes, so now Amtrak now plans to administer two new cross-Hudson rail tunnels, part of a project known as Gateway.
Also unlike the 2010 version, this high-speed rail plan no longer includes a new station on the east side of Manhattan, instead relying solely on an new Moynihan/Penn Station complex, rendered here.
The rationale for the elimination of an east side station is that it would actually increase overall travel time and have little impact on ridership or revenue. It would also cost a lot.
The new plan also eliminates a proposed high-speed-rail station at White Plains Airport.
"North of New York, NY, the proposed station at White Plains Airport was removed pending future discussions with local and state officials regarding the feasibility of alternative possible locations for an additional station stop serving the White Plains, NY vicinity," says the report.
But the need for better transportation would seem to be apparent.
Planners use the term "megaregion" to refer to areas in which cities and the suburbs surrounding them expand to the point where they basically merge, sharing economies, natural resources, and transportation systems.
Of the 11 so-called megaregions in United States, the one in northeast, running from Maine to Virginia, encompassing New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and D.C., and comprising 2 percent of the country's land mass, "is the densest and most economically productive," according to the report.
Its $2.6 trillion economy accounts for a fifth of the nation's GDP.
But its transportation network has not keep pace.
In recent decades, congestion along the region's highways, and at its airports, has increased exponentially.
The existing 457-mile Northeast Corridor line from D.C. to Boston already serves 13 million Amtrak passengers a year, and 200 million commuters.
Every day, 70 freight trains also crowd the tracks.
"In the New York vicinity, some areas are operating at 100% capacity, resulting in significant delays from even minor operating disturbances," reads the report.
By 2050, the region's population is expected to grow 30 percent, from 50 million to 65 million.
According to Amtrak president and CEO Joe Boardman, the northeast's transportation network "is facing a crisis."
Amtrak wants to complete a more detailed plan, one that addresses both the new service's scope and its environmental impact, by 2015.
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