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NEC FUTURE

Tier 1 EIS

Alternatives Development

The FRA designed the NEC FUTURE alternatives development process to consider a broad array of future possibilities for the NEC, ranging from the status quo to transformational changes in the way passenger rail service is provided. This sequential process began with the development of approximately 100 Initial Alternatives informed by the scoping process, which were then organized into 15 Preliminary Alternatives that represent the broad spectrum of possible approaches to serving existing and new markets in the Study Area. After evaluating the Preliminary Alternatives and further engaging with stakeholders and the public, the FRA developed three Action Alternatives for evaluation in the Tier 1 Draft EIS, as well as a No Action Alternative that served as a baseline for comparison. A 3-month public comment period and 11 public hearings followed the publication of the Tier 1 Draft EIS. Next, the FRA identified a Preferred Alternative based on the evaluation and findings presented in the Tier 1 Draft EIS, public and stakeholder comments, and U.S. DOT and FRA policy objectives. The Preferred Alternative was described and evaluated in the Tier 1 Final EIS, and the FRA received and considered public feedback on the Preferred Alternative. In July 2017, the FRA issued a Record of Decision documenting the Selected Alternative. The Selected Alternative (described in Section 3 of the ROD) 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 EIS, U.S. DOT and FRA policy objectives, and comments received from the public and stakeholders. In addition, the FRA considered the technical analyses in the Tier 1 Final EIS and feedback received following issuance of the Tier 1 Final EIS.

What’s in an Alternative?

As alternatives were developed and refined throughout the NEC FUTURE program, each alternative was defined at a Tier 1 level of detail, consisting of the following four elements:

  • A set of geographic markets to be served by passenger rail
  • A Representative Route (or footprint) that connects these markets
  • Assumptions about the level of passenger rail service provided to these markets
  • Infrastructure improvements to support this level of service

Markets

The FRA took a market-based approach to develop alternatives, first identifying current travel patterns, how they have changed over the past three to four decades, and potential new rail markets.

Specifically for stations, the FRA developed a hierarchy of station types, based on the size of the geographic market and type and quantity of rail service offered. This typology applies to existing stations and future stations. Stations are grouped based on similar characteristics into one of three categories:

  • MAJOR HUB stations serve the largest markets in the Study Area and have the full complement of rail services types. Major Hub stations serve the four primary markets: Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston, as well as other major markets within the Study Area, including but not limited to Baltimore, MD; Stamford, CT; and Providence, RI.
  • HUB stations offer some Intercity service, although the Intercity-Express service is more limited than the service levels offered at Major Hub stations. Hub stations include the existing smaller intermediate Amtrak stations like New Carrollton, MD; Trenton, NJ; Newark Airport, NJ; and New Rochelle, NY. This category also includes selected key Regional rail stations and new stations that have the potential to fill connectivity gaps in the existing passenger rail network, serve special trip generators, and/or provide important inter-modal connections.
  • LOCAL stations are served almost exclusively by Regional rail trains, on the portions of the NEC where Regional rail service is offered. Examples of local stations include Halethorpe, MD; Claymont, DE; Torresdale, PA; Edison, NJ; Larchmont, NY; Westport, CT; Wickford Jct., RI; and Attleboro, MA.

Representative Route

The Representative Route refers to the physical path (or footprint) of an alternative, and was used to assess its potential environmental effects. At the Tier 1 level, the footprint is only representative of where the physical route is located, and is not a prediction of future preferences or decisions. Recognizing the uncertainty that exists at this early stage of planning, the Representative Route provided a sound basis for programmatic evaluation of environmental effects.

Service Plan

The FRA developed representative Service Plans for the No Action Alternative, the Tier 1 EIS Alternatives, and the Preferred Alternative to describe the types and levels of passenger train service operating on the NEC in 2040. These Service Plans depict a representative service pattern for a typical future weekday, and include the train stops by station for both peak and non-peak periods. The representative Service Plans provide a basis for estimating future ridership and capital investment needs and costs, as well as to assess the environmental impacts associated with planned construction and future operations.

For NEC FUTURE, the FRA organized the various types of passenger rail service based on travel distance, travel market, trip purpose, where and how the trains operate, and the service characteristics and amenities offered to passengers.

Infrastructure Elements

Each alternative included existing and proposed infrastructure to support the operations necessary to achieve the targeted role of rail for that alternative. Infrastructure Elements included the following:

  • Chokepoint relief projects — location-specific capital projects to provide relief of train movement congestion and increase railroad capacity at several existing chokepoints
  • New Track — improvements that increase capacity or improve trip times, generally contained within the right-of-way of the existing NEC
  • New Segment — New track construction on new right-of-way that does not follow the existing NEC. The locations shown for new segments are illustrative and represent the information used to analyze effects of the new segment as part of the Tier 1 EIS process The location and specific details for new segments will be determined in Tier 2 project studies.)