What is the Record of Decision for NEC FUTURE?
Does anything in the Record of Decision lead to construction?
What's the difference between a Tier 1 and Tier 2 study?
Will the FRA advance Tier 2 studies for new rail segments without the support of states?
When will Tier 2 projects begin?
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.
NEC FUTURE is a comprehensive planning initiative launched in February 2012 by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Its goal is to prepare a Passenger Rail Corridor Investment Plan (PRCIP) for the NEC that will set a framework for future investment in the corridor through 2040. The PRCIP consists of two key activities: preparation of a Service Development Plan, which is focused on passenger rail service planning and alternatives analysis; and preparation of a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement, an environmental analysis of the alternatives conducted under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and related laws and regulations. Both activities require significant public outreach and engagement to ensure that key public and stakeholders’ concerns, issues, needs, and ideas are fully considered in the development and analysis of service alternatives. The outcome of the PRCIP is an investment program that best and most reasonably addresses the underlying transportation challenge.
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 due to the complexity of the NEC and the multi-jurisdictional nature of the passenger rail operations.
The FRA initiated the NEC FUTURE planning process to define a collective vision for the NEC and an investment program to guide future rail investment decisions by the NEC states and railroad operators in a coordinated manner, to best support the transportation needs of the Northeast and the vitality and competitiveness of the regional economy. 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.
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 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, expected to be completed in 2017, 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.
NEC FUTURE is a technical study process and an equally important opportunity for public dialogue to establish a future vision for the corridor. By bringing together numerous stakeholders from the corridor's eight states and the District of Columbia, the FRA’s planning process is structured to help foster a broad agreement on future directions for corridor investment.
NEC FUTURE is being developed in close coordination 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 Amtrak, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the corridor states and District of Columbia, and non-voting representatives of the freight railroads who operate over the NEC. Connecting states and commuter operators on the NEC have also been invited as non-voting representatives. The FRA also regularly coordinates with federal, state, and regional agencies.
The FRA held more than 35 public meetings to foster dialogue on NEC FUTURE. For more information, see the Get Involved area of this website.
Yes, the FRA has identified a recommended Preferred Alternative, as described in the Tier 1 Final EIS and on the Preferred Alternative page of this website. The Preferred Alternative defines an investment plan for the NEC that would grow the role of rail in the Northeast, providing the capacity to increase the number of trains, improve the reliability of service, and enhance the overall passenger experience. It represents a balanced approach, favored by many stakeholders, that supports growth while addressing the most immediate needs for the NEC’s aging infrastructure.In identifying a Preferred Alternative, the FRA considered the Tier 1 Draft EIS analysis, input received from the public and stakeholders, and U.S. Department of Transportation policy. More information on this process and the information considered is available in Chapter 4 of the Tier 1 Final EIS.
Implementation of the Preferred Alternative would dramatically increase both the number of trains serving the NEC and the reliability of service. With up to 5 times as many Intercity trains as today, and double the number of Regional rail trains during peak hours in major metropolitan areas, the Preferred Alternative supports substantial growth in passenger markets as well as faster travel time for Intercity and Regional trains. The benefits of the Preferred Alternative can be viewed through four key themes:
In November 2015, the FRA released the Tier 1 Draft EIS for public comment. In the Tier 1 Draft EIS, the FRA presented a range of Action Alternatives in comparison to a No Action Alternative and evaluated the potential impacts of each alternative. A comment period was held after the release of the Tier 1 Draft EIS. During that time, the FRA received comments from the public and stakeholders, which they considered in developing a Preferred Alternative.The difference between the Tier 1 Draft EIS and the Tier 1 Final EIS is that in the Tier 1 Final EIS, the FRA presents and evaluates a recommended Preferred Alternative. It also provides responses to all comments received during the comment period and corrections to the Tier 1 Draft EIS.
The Preferred Alternative adds 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. While NEC FUTURE is underway, the FRA continues to closely coordinate with Amtrak and other stakeholders on critical preservation projects that can advance in parallel (e.g., Hudson Tunnel Project and Portal Bridge North).
There are a number of critical projects along the NEC that are advancing before NEC FUTURE is complete. The Hudson Tunnel Project is an example of a critical project that is undergoing necessary environmental and engineering work as NEC FUTURE proceeds. The Hudson Tunnel Project includes the construction of a new Hudson River Tunnel and rehabilitation of the existing passenger rail tunnel under the Hudson River, which is more than a century old. Advancing the Hudson Tunnel Project concurrently with NEC FUTURE is a priority. Ongoing coordination will ensure consistency as both efforts proceed.
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, FRA has held discussions with the freight railroads to identify their future growth projections. The Preferred Alternative has been developed to ensure that additional passenger rail service can coexist with the expansion 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 Preferred Alternative could be beneficial to reduce conflicts between locations where the freight rail network and the passenger rail network share facilities.
Successful implementation of the Preferred 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 would be expected to provide the total amount of funding required, nor is all of the funding needed today. The NEC FUTURE Tier I EIS and Service Development Program identified a critical need for an on-going, sustained program of capital investment in the Northeast Corridor 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 Preferred Alternative will allow for flexibility in assembling funding partners that reflect the nature of the infrastructure work being completed. Funding approaches may 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 Northeast Corridor in the past. Potential partners and project sponsors would include the federal government, a state or group of states, local governments, Amtrak, commuter railroad authorities, private entities, or a combination of these organizations.
The FRA will consider feedback on the Preferred Alternative during preparation of the Record of Decision (ROD). The ROD will identify an alternative, referred to as the Selected Alternative, to guide future investments on the NEC. Following issuance of the ROD, the FRA will prepare a Service Development Plan (SDP) with the NEC Commission, NEC railroads and States, 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.
After the ROD is issued, 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 would require the completion of future Tier 2 project studies. The location of new or additional infrastructure can only be decided through future Tier 2 environmental and engineering studies.
The NEC FUTURE process is complete with the issuance of the Record of Decision (ROD) and release of the Service Development Plan (SDP). Completion of NEC FUTURE is the first major step towards advancing passenger rail corridor improvements, however it does not result in any construction. Once the ROD is issued, it will be up to individual project sponsors, such as states and railroads, to move forward with specific projects. These project sponsors will be able to use the ROD and SDP as a starting point to advance Tier 2 projects in coordination with other stakeholders. Each individual project will require more review and environmental study, as well as significant funding.
The FRA is conducting the NEC FUTURE environmental review on a "tiered" basis, in which broad programs and issues are addressed first (Tier 1), followed by site-specific, project-level studies (Tier 2). The Record of Decision (ROD) for the Tier 1 EIS will set a framework for future investment, but will not select specific locations for improvement projects or result in any construction. The Tier 1 decision will be followed by Tier 2 project studies to be undertaken by individual project sponsors, such as states and railroads, over the next several decades. Each Tier 2 project study will involve engineering, design and environmental review with the involvement of affected communities and the public. During the Tier 2 process all necessary approvals and permits from regulatory agencies will be obtained as required.