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NEC FUTURE

FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Record of Decision for NEC FUTURE?

The Record of Decision documents the FRA's formal selection of an investment program for the Northeast Corridor (NEC), referred to as the Selected Alternative.

The Selected Alternative will serve as a framework to help prioritize future investment in the NEC. The issuance of the ROD completes the Tier 1 environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

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What is the Selected Alternative?

The Selected Alternative represents a vision for the NEC that will help to facilitate and expedite investment in the NEC for the next several decades.

The FRA is selecting a corridor-wide vision for the NEC that encompasses improvements to grow the role of rail within the transportation system of the Northeast region. To achieve this vision, the Selected Alternative includes the following four components:

  • Improve Rail Service: Corridor-wide service and performance objectives for frequency, travel time, design speed, and passenger convenience.
  • Modernize NEC Infrastructure: Corridor-wide repair, replacement, and rehabilitation of the existing NEC to bring the corridor into a state of good repair and increase reliability.
  • Expand Rail Capacity:  Additional infrastructure between Washington, D.C., and New Haven, CT, and between Providence, RI, and Boston, MA, as needed to achieve the service and performance objectives, including investments that add capacity, increase speeds, and eliminate chokepoints.
  • Study New Haven to Providence Capacity: Planning study in Connecticut and Rhode Island to identify additional on- and off-corridor infrastructure as needed to achieve the service and performance objectives.
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Does the Record of Decision lead to construction?

No, the ROD does not result in construction, and no agency permits or approvals will be applied for or issued as part of this Tier 1 EIS process.

It will be up to individual project sponsors, such as states and railroads, to move forward with specific projects identified to implement the Selected Alternative in the Record of Decision. A Tier 2 project study is the next step in the process to advance projects within the Selected Alternative. Each individual Tier 2 project will require further analysis and environmental review, as well as funding, before construction can occur.

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Additional FAQs


What is the Northeast Corridor?

The Northeast Corridor (NEC) is the 457-mile rail transportation spine that runs from Washington, D.C., to Boston, carrying more than 2,200 intercity, commuter, and freight trains per day. Most of the rail line is owned by Amtrak, with New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts also owning portions of the line. The NEC carries over 750,000 riders per day on trains operated by Amtrak and eight commuter rail authorities.

What is NEC FUTURE?

NEC FUTURE is a comprehensive planning effort to consider the future role of passenger rail service on the NEC in the context of current and future transportation demands. Initiated by the FRA in February 2012, NEC FUTURE establishes a framework for future investment in the corridor through 2040 and beyond. NEC FUTURE includes the development of a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and a Service Development Plan (SDP), which the FRA will prepare with the NEC Commission after the Record of Decision (ROD) to serve as a roadmap for implementation of the Selected Alternative.

What is the purpose of NEC FUTURE?

The purpose of the NEC FUTURE rail investment program is to upgrade aging infrastructure and to improve the reliability, capacity, connectivity, performance, and resiliency of passenger rail service on the NEC for both intercity and regional trips, while promoting environmental sustainability and economic growth.

What is a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement?

Under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), there are various levels of environmental review that can be undertaken by an agency. NEPA provides the flexibility to assess projects in a staged approach known as “tiering,” where broad programs and issues are addresses in an initial Tier 1 or programmatic level analysis, followed by site-specific, project-level (Tier 2) studies. The FRA determined that a Tier 1 EIS was the appropriate level of NEPA documentation for NEC FUTURE due to the nature of the decision being made at this stage, as well as the complexity of the NEC and the multi-jurisdictional nature of the passenger rail operations.

What's the difference between a Tier 1 and Tier 2 study?

The FRA is conducting NEC FUTURE as a "tiered" review under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321-4327) (NEPA) and CEQ regulations (40 C.F.R. Parts 1500-1508), and other applicable laws, regulations, and guidance. The CEQ regulations state that tiering is appropriate when an agency’s analysis moves from a “program, plan, or policy environmental impact statement” to “site-specific statement or analysis.” (40 C.F.R. 1508.28(a)). In this way, tiering allows for programmatic decisions to be made and broad issues to be identified through an initial (Tier 1) programmatic level analysis, and project-level decisions to be informed by subsequent (Tier 2) site-specific analyses. The NEC FUTURE Selected Alternative, as defined in the Record of Decision (ROD) for the Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), contains a range of possible rail improvements, represented at a conceptual level, including information about the cities and towns to be served and the types of rail service to be provided.

The Selected Alternative sets a framework for future investment, but does not identify specific locations for improvement projects or result in any construction. The Tier 1 decision will be followed by site specific, project-level studies (Tier 2) to be undertaken by individual project sponsors, such as states and railroads, and federal agencies over the next several decades. Each Tier 2 project study will involve engineering, design, and environmental review with appropriate involvement of affected communities and the public.

How did the FRA choose the Selected Alternative?

The Selected Alternative, as described in the Record of Decision, is a refinement of the Preferred Alternative identified in the Tier 1 Final EIS. In identifying the Selected Alternative, the FRA considered the same factors used to identify the Preferred Alternative: the technical analyses in the Tier 1 Draft and Final EISs, U.S. DOT and FRA policy objectives, and input received from the public and stakeholders, particularly feedback received following issuance of the Tier 1 Final EIS.

What are the benefits of the Selected Alternative?

The Selected Alternative will improve the reliability, capacity, connectivity, performance, and resiliency of passenger rail services on the NEC to meet future Northeast mobility needs for 2040 and beyond.

The Selected Alternative will improve the NEC by expanding capacity and improving service to grow the role of rail in the Northeast. The Selected Alternative modernizes the NEC to a state of good repair and recommends enhanced passenger rail operations to meet corridor-wide service goals. Modernizing the NEC will accomplish the foundational improvements necessary to maintain safe, reliable operations throughout the NEC. Additional capacity and chokepoint elimination will substantially eliminate operating conflicts, such as when one train must wait for another, between passenger trains and with freight rail operations.

The Selected Alternative will support economic development as it strengthens the existing rail network and transportation system by giving people better access to urban centers, jobs, and destinations throughout the Northeast region. Finally, the Selected Alternative makes it possible to improve the NEC in phases, with less disruption to passengers and greater cost savings. Near-term benefits can be achieved, while flexibility is maintained by expanding capacity incrementally to adapt to market conditions and future funding availability.

In short, the Selected Alternative provides more reliable and frequent train travel with shorter travel times and easy connections to more places.

What does the Selected Alternative mean for transportation in the Northeast?

The Selected Alternative is a corridor-wide vision for the NEC that identifies improvements to grow the role of rail within the transportation system of the Northeast.

This vision for the NEC will achieve modern, efficient passenger rail service for travelers in the Northeast. The Selected Alternative significantly enhances NEC passenger rail service across the region, providing sufficient capacity to greatly increase service frequency, improve travel time, and increase connectivity between markets on and off the NEC rail network.

As the Selected Alternative is implemented and improvements come online, it will enable operators of the NEC rail network to adopt service concepts that will enhance the passenger rail experience. Common-ticketing and more-convenient schedules and connections will improve passenger experience and make rail a more user-friendly transportation option for travelers in the Northeast. Enhanced service concepts such as integrating Intercity and Regional rail ticketing, operations, and services, as well as incorporating a new corridor-wide Metropolitan service to connect local stations with Hub and Major Hub (also referred to as terminal) stations can fundamentally change and improve passenger experience. Better intermodal connections will be created by concentrating improvements on urban Hub stations well served by transit and by allowing for convenient airport access with frequent Intercity and Regional service.

The Selected Alternative provides more-reliable and frequent train travel with shorter travel times and easy connections to more places in the Northeast and beyond. Limited-stop Intercity-Express service will offer competitive trip times and substantial operating profit potential that could support public-private partnership financing. The potential of the rail travel market, as shown in the analysis for the Selected Alternative, increases the attractiveness of private investment for those improvements.

The Selected Alternative will support economic development in the Northeast as it strengthens the existing rail network and transportation system by giving people better access to urban centers, jobs, and destinations throughout the region. Finally, the Selected Alternative makes it possible to improve the NEC in phases, with less disruption to passengers and greater cost savings. Near-term benefits can be achieved, while flexibility is maintained by expanding capacity incrementally to adapt to market conditions and future funding availability.

Does the Selected Alternative include a new segment between Old Saybrook, CT and Kenyon, RI?

The Selected Alternative does not include infrastructure elements that increase capacity or improve performance between New Haven, CT, and Providence, RI (such as a new segment between Old Saybrook, CT and Kenyon, RI, or new track between Branford and Guildford, CT).

The FRA found that there is a fundamental need to expand capacity, improve performance, and increase resiliency (including some sections using new rights-of-way) between New Haven, CT, and Providence, RI. Due to physical constraints in the geography of the area, expanding the rail line largely along the existing NEC right-of-way is not possible and does not meet the NEC FUTURE Purpose and Need. Comments received during the Tier 1 Draft EIS comment period and feedback received following issuance of the Tier 1 Final EIS indicated that there is broad public concern regarding the impacts associated with the Old Saybrook to Kenyon new segment included in the Preferred Alternative. At this time, there is no consensus regarding the appropriate railroad infrastructure elements in this area. The Selected Alternative thus requires a capacity planning study in Connecticut and Rhode Island, in cooperation with the FRA, to identify additional on- and off-corridor infrastructure as needed to achieve the service and performance objectives in the Selected Alternative.

The New Haven to Providence Capacity Planning Study should consider inland as well as shoreline routes (both on and off the existing NEC) for providing passenger rail service between New Haven and Providence consistent with the Selected Alternative. While the geographic focus of the Capacity Planning Study is in Connecticut and Rhode Island, outcomes from the study will necessarily influence passenger rail services north of Hartford to Springfield and north of Providence to Boston. As such, the FRA expects that Connecticut and Rhode Island will engage with Massachusetts and other appropriate stakeholders to identify and address how the New Haven to Providence Capacity Planning Study may address future rail services to Springfield and/or physical changes to the Hartford/Springfield Line and improved service from Providence to Boston. Completion of the New Haven to Providence Capacity Planning Study will be a pre-condition to any Tier 2 projects that are intended to increase capacity between New Haven and Providence.

 

Where will the funding for the Selected Alternative come from?

Successful implementation of the Selected Alternative is expected to be a long-term effort requiring on-going support from numerous regional stakeholders. No single source or method of funding and financing is expected to provide the total amount of funding required, nor is all of the funding needed today. Through NEC FUTURE, the FRA identified a critical need for an on-going, sustained program of capital investment in the NEC that would enable the region to address the corridor’s most critical needs today and advance the long-term vision for the corridor.

A successful funding and financing program to advance the Selected Alternative will allow for flexibility in assembling funding partners that reflect the nature of the infrastructure work being completed. Funding approaches could include: federal grants and loans, state or local government funds, public-private partnerships, bonds or commercial debt, passenger revenues, or special purpose tax districts. All of these methods have been used to advance similar work along the NEC in the past. Potential partners and project sponsors include the federal government, a state or group of states, local governments, Amtrak, commuter railroad authorities, private entities, or a combination of these organizations.

What happens now that the ROD has been issued?

Following issuance of the ROD, the FRA will prepare a Service Development Plan (SDP) with the NEC Commission to inform the process of implementing the Selected Alternative, including identification of a first phase of projects to address the most critical needs on the NEC.

Using the ROD and Selected Alternative as a guide, the states, railroads, and other stakeholders will decide how to move forward with the different projects that will build a Northeast Corridor for the future. The ROD will not result in any construction. Project design, environmental review and permitting leading to construction requires the completion of future Tier 2 project studies (and between New Haven, CT, and Providence, RI, the completion of a Capacity Planning Study). The location of new or additional infrastructure can only be decided through future Tier 2 environmental and engineering studies.

What is the Service Development Plan?

The Service Development Plan (SDP) is a planning process used by the FRA to understand phased implementation of proposed improvements. The FRA is working with the states and railroads along the NEC, as well as the NEC Commission, to develop a SDP for NEC FUTURE. Together, these key stakeholders will use the SDP to plan for corridor-wide upgrades to the NEC over the next several decades. The SDP will help to prioritize critical improvements to the NEC, define phases for incremental implementation of improvements, and help to identify efficient ways to undertake capital improvements on a railroad that supports hundreds of millions of intercity and regional train trips and critical freight rail shipments. The FRA expects to release an initial SDP for NEC FUTURE over the next year and to work with the NEC Commission to update that document as improvements progress and funding becomes available.

When will Tier 2 projects begin?

The pace and phasing of projects to advance the Selected Alternative will depend on many factors, including decisions by the railroads and Northeast states, the availability of funding, market conditions (travel demand), and practical operating constraints.

Tier 2 projects to advance the Selected Alternative would range from near-term priority projects to help achieve a state of good repair to major capital projects that may not occur for decades. The NEC railroads and Northeast states, along with the NEC Commission, will play leading roles in determining how and when the various Tier 2 projects move forward. 

Integral to implementing the Selected Alternative will be coordinated service and investment planning through the Service Development Plan (SDP). The SDP is the long-range implementation plan through which the NEC stakeholders will establish priorities and determine how to advance the Selected Alternative. The SDP process will consider implementation strategies, including the phasing of work and development of approaches for the efficient use of construction outages. The FRA will work closely with the NEC Commission in developing the SDP and continued corridor-wide planning.

What role will the states play in Tier 2 studies for NEC FUTURE?

All Tier 2 project studies for new rail segments will require the support and collaboration of the NEC states and District of Columbia and the participation of any affected communities. Potential partners in Tier 2 project studies include railroad owners and operators, federal and state agencies, local governments, and private-sector partners. The FRA could take a lead or supporting role in future Tier 2 studies, but in either case, support from the affected states would be necessary. The FRA is committed to working with the states, railroads, and communities across the NEC to plan and advance the rail improvements necessary to grow the Northeast region of the United States.

What is the difference between NEC FUTURE and the NEC Commission Five-Year Capital Plan?

The NEC Commission Five-Year Capital Plan is a region-wide action and funding plan for infrastructure projects that are underway or planned on the Northeast Corridor and connecting corridors to Harrisburg, Albany, and Springfield. The NEC Commission Five-Year Capital Plan results from collaboration between NEC Commission members and identifies both funded projects and unfunded projects that could be advanced within the next five years if additional funding were made available. The Five-Year Capital Plan is updated and approved annually by the NEC Commission in the spring and then transmitted to Congress as a unified capital request for the NEC.

While the Five-Year Capital Plan provides a comprehensive view of the NEC’s immediate infrastructure needs, it does not assess the long-term role of rail in the region, define and evaluate various service and routing alternatives, or perform environmental impact analyses. Instead, these tasks are objectives of NEC FUTURE.

The FRA has coordinated closely with the NEC Commission throughout the NEC FUTURE process. One part of this collaboration has been in developing the No Action Alternative for NEC FUTURE. The No Action Alternative provides a baseline for comparison with the Action Alternatives evaluated in the Tier 1 Draft EIS and with the Preferred Alternative evaluated in the Tier 1 Final EIS. It includes funded projects, as well as mandated projects (funded or unfunded) and unfunded projects necessary to keep the railroad running. Many of the projects included in the NEC Commission’s Five-Year Capital Plan meet these criteria, and are therefore, included in the No Action Alternative.

The NEC FUTURE Service Development Plan will help guide the investment strategy and project prioritization of future investment throughout the NEC. Accordingly, subsequent annual updates to the Five-Year Capital Plan developed and adopted by the NEC Commission will reflect the investment strategy and framework provided by the NEC FUTURE planning process.

Is Amtrak's Gateway program included in the Selected Alternative?

Yes. The Selected Alternative includes new tunnel capacity between New Jersey and New York and new platform capacity at Penn Station New York. New tunnels connecting New Jersey to Penn Station New York as well as additional capacity at Penn Station New York are also elements of the Gateway Program.

How is the FRA involving the public and other stakeholders in NEC FUTURE?

The FRA is committed to an open and transparent public involvement process for NEC FUTURE. The FRA used the NEPA process to structure the major milestones where public and stakeholder input could most effectively be collected and utilized to inform the development of investment plan alternatives and decision-making. The FRA proactively sought stakeholder and public involvement throughout the NEPA process; outreach included hundreds of meetings with state DOTs and railroads, the NEC Commission (see below), resource and regulatory agencies, as well as public meetings, workshops, hearings, and open houses in each of the NEC states, virtual webinars for agencies and the public, and maintaining the NEC FUTURE website.

In August 2012, the FRA held agency and public scoping meetings in each of the NEC’s eight states and the District of Columbia. The agency meetings included a presentation and informal discussion and were attended by over 100 federal, state, regional, and local agencies, rail and transit operators, and tribal governments. Over 500 people attended the public meetings, which included a presentation, open house, and opportunities for formal public and private testimony. The FRA received nearly 2,500 different comments from approximately 800 individuals and organizations.

When the FRA released the Tier 1 Draft EIS in November 2015, the FRA held a three- month comment period from November 13, 2015, to February 16, 2016, during which it received 5,000 comments. The FRA conducted public outreach following publication of the Tier 1 Final EIS and provided an opportunity for feedback to be submitted between the release of the Tier 1 Final EIS and the ROD (more than a 90-day period). The FRA held two open houses in Springfield, MA, and Baltimore, MD, on January 25, 2017, and February 1, 2017, respectively and two virtual meetings via webinar on February 13 and 16, 2017.

The FRA has developed the NEC FUTURE program in close coordination with the states and railroads along the NEC, federal, state, and regional agencies, and with the NEC Commission, an organization established through federal legislation to promote mutual cooperation and planning for the NEC. The NEC Commission members include representatives from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the NEC states and District of Columbia, Amtrak, and non-voting representatives of the freight railroads that operate over the NEC. Connecting states and commuter operators on the NEC have also been invited as non-voting representatives.

How is the FRA addressing freight rail in NEC FUTURE?

Freight railroads are major users of the corridor and are critical to the economic vitality and competitiveness of the Northeast. While NEC FUTURE does not provide a freight plan, the FRA coordinated with freight railroads to identify their future growth projections and incorporated these projections and related freight projects into the FRA’s analysis for NEC FUTURE. The Selected Alternative ensures that additional passenger rail service can coexist with the growth of freight rail service on the NEC, and, where possible, provide increased access to the NEC for freight operations. Moreover, new segments, new tracks, and chokepoint relief projects defined as part of the infrastructure elements of the Selected Alternative could reduce conflicts between locations where the freight rail network and the passenger rail network share facilities.