As discussed in Chapter 1, Introduction, the outcome of NEC FUTURE is that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will select a long-term vision for passenger rail in the Study Area. The Preferred Alternative, which the FRA will describe in the Tier 1 Final Environmental Impact Statement (Tier 1 Final EIS), will define that vision. As discussed in Chapter 4, Alternatives Considered, the FRA anticipates that implementation of the Action Alternatives would follow an incremental or phased approach. The FRA will develop and describe a phasing plan for the Preferred Alternative in the Tier 1 Final EIS. The phasing plan will identify the priorities and describe the proposed approach for incrementally implementing new service in the Study Area and building the proposed improvements necessary to support and maximize the benefits of the Preferred Alternative.
In advance of identifying a Preferred Alternative, it is useful to understand the approach, feasibility, and benefits of incrementally implementing any one of the proposed Action Alternatives. The FRA does not intend to use this initial phasing discussion as a factor in evaluating the Action Alternatives. Furthermore, the Preferred Alternative could include components of one or more Action Alternatives. Therefore, the FRA developed a representative initial phase that could apply to any one of the Action Alternatives. The purpose of this chapter is to illustrate a representative first phase of projects that respond to market and service needs relevant to all the Action Alternatives. As defined, the initial phase is a collection of projects that would improve service and address critical infrastructure improvements for any of the Action Alternatives. This initial phase is referred to as a Universal First Phase since it does not prejudice the outcome of the subsequent decisions about a Preferred Alternative and a Selected Alterative. 1
The ability to implement expanded passenger rail service as envisioned in the Action Alternatives, and to make the improvements necessary to support such service, will depend on many factors, including funding, environmental approvals, market growth, regional cooperation, and practical constraints relating to construction on a very busy rail corridor. Therefore, project sponsors will implement improvements incrementally. Some work, such as state-of-good-repair projects, could advance on a continual basis through annual bridge, track, electric-traction, systems, and structures programs, while larger projects would be planned and implemented separately.
The Service Development Plan-to be prepared following completion of the Tier 1 Final EIS and Record of Decision-will provide a detailed phasing plan for the Selected Alternative. The Universal First Phase described in this chapter includes the fundamental building blocks applicable to any of the Action Alternatives. These building blocks collectively address the Study Area's most pressing capacity and state-of-good-repair challenges. While the future project proponents would refine the scope and design of the projects within the Universal First Phase based on specific requirements of the Selected Alternative, implementation of these projects creates a starting point from which to advance the Selected Alternative. Importantly, the improvements would enable the states and the NEC railroads to realize near-term benefits of investment in the NEC (e.g., increased service, improved reliability, shorter travel time, and advancing state-of-good-repair priorities). The successful implementation of the complex, integrated program of service and infrastructure improvements included in the Universal First Phase will require ongoing partnerships. While there is no target date for completion of the Universal First Phase, projects included could be constructed and be in service within 10 to 15 years.
The FRA did not assess environmental or economic effects of the Universal First Phase separately in the Tier 1 Draft EIS (Chapters 5, 6, and 7). While the FRA will consider the feasibility of incrementally implementing each Action Alternative in its recommendation of a Preferred Alternative, the FRA did not consider the representative Universal First Phase in the evaluation of alternatives described in Chapter 9, Evaluation of Alternatives. Moreover, the Universal First Phase, as defined, applies to each of the Action Alternatives and therefore is not a differentiator among them. However, by defining a Universal First Phase, the FRA describes how the collection of projects included in this Universal First Phase could be implemented and the benefits that could be achieved from them in the near term.
In addition to projects that address the NEC's most pressing capacity and state-of-good-repair priorities for each of the three Action Alternatives, the Universal First Phase also includes implementation of operational efficiencies and corridor-wide service enhancements that would change the way passenger service is operated today. These changes could influence cost-sharing agreements that are discussed by the NEC railroads through the Northeast Corridor Infrastructure and Operations Advisory Commission (NEC Commission). Cost-effective and timely implementation of the types and quantity of service included in the Action Alternatives would reflect the ability of NEC stakeholders to make changes to existing institutional, governance, or cost-sharing agreements. These changes would affect the funding, feasibility, and schedule of any of the Action Alternatives.
The Universal First Phase is not part of the No Action Alternative. The passenger rail improvements included in the No Action Alternative, by definition, already are planned, programmed, and in some cases, under construction. The Universal First Phase would build on the completion of those No Action Alternative projects already programmed for the near term. In this way, the FRA can incorporate the No Action Alternative projects, and their associated operational and capacity benefits, into the service and construction planning for the Universal First Phase. The Universal First Phase does not include the following improvements already included in the No Action Alternative:
The Universal First Phase of work consists of the projects required to implement any of the three Action Alternatives. It builds upon the No Action Alternative and incorporates those projects included in all Action Alternatives, but does not include projects specific to each Action Alternative's distinct long-term service objective (maintain, grow, transform). As noted, in some cases, the specific scope and design of a project in this Universal First Phase would be determined in subsequent project-level (Tier 2) analyses and could vary depending on the Action Alternative selected by the FRA. Implementation of this phase would support a modest increase in both Intercity and Regional rail services, greatly enhance the overall reliability of passenger rail on the NEC, and prepare the NEC for future phases of work.
The Universal First Phase consists of the following:
Universal Projects to Replace Aging Infrastructure and Address Major Chokepoints
The Universal First Phase includes major projects to replace aging infrastructure and relieve chokepoints. While these projects are universal in need across the Action Alternatives, they could differ to some extent in scope and design. For example, a new bridge could require two to four tracks in Alternative 1 or Alternative 2, but six tracks for Alternative 3.
Table 10-1 lists the projects included in the Universal First Phase intended to replace aging infrastructure and address major chokepoints for the Action Alternatives. The table also indicates if the improvement would take place primarily on the existing NEC right-of-way (requiring lengthy outages during construction that could adversely affect ongoing passenger rail operations) or primarily off the NEC (where construction work could proceed with fewer outages and impacts).
|Project||Construction Generally On or Off the NEC||Description|
|Replace Aging Infrastructure|
|Electrification System Modernization: Washington, D.C. -New Rochelle, NY||On||Modernization of the existing electrification system, including constant-tension catenary|
|Signal System Modernization: Washington, D.C. - New Rochelle, NY||On||Modernization of the existing signal and traffic control systems|
Replacement of Major Bridges
||Off the NEC if built as new structure; on the NEC if rebuilt or upgraded in place||Replacement generally in kind with movable or fixed structures|
|Washington Union Station, Master Plan Phase 1 and Phase 2 (Washington, D.C.)||On||Expand existing Main Concourse and increase east side tracks/platforms|
|Hanson Interlocking (Landover, MD)||On||Reconfiguration of existing Landover Interlocking|
|New Carrollton Station Improvements (New Carrolton, MD)||On||Additional track and platforms to create a station with platforms on all four tracks|
|Odenton Station improvements (Odenton, MD)||On||Additional track and platforms on express and local tracks; new interlocking south of Odenton|
|Baltimore-Washington International Airport Station Center-Island Platform (Ann Arundel County, MD)||On||Additional track and center-island platform|
|Fourth track between Odenton and Halethorpe (Maryland)||On||Eliminates chokepoint and supports expansion of BWI Airport station|
|Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel Replacement (Baltimore, MD)||Off||Replacement of existing two-track tunnel with four new tunnel tracks|
|Aberdeen Station Platforms (Aberdeen, MD)||On||New four-track station with platforms on express and local tracks|
|Newark Transportation Center and Davis Interlocking Reconfiguration (Newark, DE)||On||Partial chokepoint relief; station reconstruction, track shifts and new interlockings|
|Trenton improvements (Trenton, NJ)||On||Chokepoint relief; grade separated track connections for Regional rail yard access and turn-backs|
|Metropark Station - express track platforms (Metropark, NJ)||On||Reconfiguration of station and track alignments in station area to provide platforms on the express tracks|
|North Brunswick Station (North Brunswick, NJ)||On||New station|
|Hunter Flyover (Newark NJ)||On||Eliminates at-grade rail connection between Raritan Valley line and NEC|
|Newark Penn Station capacity improvements (Newark, NJ)||On||Track, interlocking, signaling and station improvements to maximize throughput capacity of existing station|
|Portal Bridge replacement (Newark NJ)||Off||Replacement of existing movable Portal Bridge with fixed-span two-track north and two-track south bridges|
|Secaucus Station Expansion (Secaucus, NJ)||Off||Expands existing station to accommodate platforms on tracks feeding the new Hudson River Tunnel and to provide parallel movement capability between the new tunnels and the new third and fourth tracks between Newark and Secaucus|
|4-track Mainline between Newark and Secaucus (New Jersey)||On||Supports increased capacity resulting from Portal Bridge, Secaucus Loop and Hudson River tunnel projects|
|Hudson River Tunnel Replacements (NJ/NY)||Off||Additional of two new tracks under the Hudson River and restoration of the two existing tracks to provide four-track capacity|
|Penn Station NY Expansion (New York City, NY)||Off||Six to eight additional platform tracks|
|Hell Gate Line 4-tracking and four new Bronx stations (Bronx, NY)||On||Initial phase of New Haven Line Penn Station New York access|
|Shell Flyover (New Rochelle, NY)||On||Construct flyover connecting Hell Gate Line tracks to center tracks of the New Haven line|
|Cross-Westchester turn-back (Port Chester, NY)||On||Facilitates conflict-free Regional rail train turns|
|Barnum Station at East Bridgeport (East Bridgeport, CT)||Off||Track reconfiguration and new station with platforms on express and local tracks|
|Canton Jct. to Readville 3rd track||On||Add third track to NEC main line|
|South Station Expansion (Boston)||On||Addition of tracks and platforms; interlocking reconstruction; yard capacity expansion|
Projects to Support Construction
The Universal First Phase includes temporary and permanent improvements to the NEC to support the management of train traffic during construction and to minimize adverse effects to customers and ongoing passenger rail operations. These projects include the following types of improvements:
The location for these temporary and permanent traffic management enhancements would be determined during the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Tier 2 project-level analysis and would depend on the location of specific projects and the construction staging and sequencing planned for the work. These traffic management enhancements would be identified and designed in parallel with the underlying projects and would be installed prior to construction.
Importantly, segments of new track added to support construction could be planned during the NEPA Tier 2 project-level analysis to serve in the future as segments of a second spine or to provide additional capacity for train traffic. Thus, the planning for such construction mitigation should be strategic in nature to support future opportunities.
Projects and Actions to Enhance Service Efficiency and Customer Experience
The infrastructure projects included in the Universal First Phase would eliminate chokepoints and expand the capacity of the railroad. Thus, these improvements would support an increase in both Intercity and Regional train service. However, the extent to which service is improved-and the degree to which passengers benefit-would be greatly enhanced if the NEC railroads were to jointly implement key changes in the operation and scheduling of trains. These coordinated efforts-building off work today to operate across the NEC-would further increase capacity, reduce operating costs, and support more convenient service to NEC passengers.
Key operational and efficiency improvements include the following:
Incorporation of these operating efficiencies across the NEC becomes feasible with completion of the Universal First Phase projects, which would help to maximize the benefits of the physical improvements to the NEC and enhance the passenger experience. Importantly, they would also demonstrate the ability and commitment of the NEC railroads to work together to transition the NEC to a more integrated passenger rail network. Implementation of these operational changes is sufficiently important for achieving the full benefit of NEC investment that the FRA may consider making their timely implementation a condition for future federal funding awarded to advance Universal First Phase projects. Stakeholder and public comment on such a requirement will help to shape the FRA's policy in this regard.
The acquisition of new Intercity passenger rail equipment would be essential to expand and enhance Intercity rail service on the NEC. State-of-the-art high-performance train equipment operates at higher speeds, accelerates and decelerates faster, and accommodates a greater number of passengers per car than existing trains. These attributes are critical to maximizing the benefits from physical improvements to the NEC infrastructure.
Modernization of train equipment used by the NEC commuter rail authorities, and expansion of their fleets to maximize the number of seats per train, would further enhance the benefits from implementation of the Universal First Phase. While the FRA makes no specific assumptions in this regard, the FRA anticipates that the operators of regional service would move toward building a fleet that incorporates state-of-the-art technology and efficiencies, and provides more consistent and better performance characteristics.
The Universal First Phase assumes that Amtrak would acquire new Intercity-Express train equipment to supplement or replace the current Acela trainsets. While not specifically included as a Universal First Phase component, the phased replacement of the Intercity-Corridor equipment used wholly on the NEC with high-performance train equipment would expand carrying capacity and performance, and facilitate introduction of Metropolitan service.
Implementation of the Universal First Phase would relieve the most serious capacity constraints on the NEC and accommodate near-term ridership growth.
Demonstrating tangible service benefits from the implementation of early projects will assist NEC stakeholders in making the case for future investment in the NEC. The Universal First Phase generates the following important service benefits:
Table 10-2 compares projected ridership upon completion of the Universal First Phase (estimated for this purpose as the increase in underlying growth between the years 2025 and 2030) with existing (2014) ridership.
Type of Service
Consistent with Appendix B, Capital Costs Technical Memorandum, the capital cost estimate provides a conceptual cost estimate to implement the Universal First Phase. The conceptual level of detail is a function of deliberation, analysis, engineering assessment, and understanding of those components aggregated by the capital cost model. As such, the FRA did not develop a cost estimate for each individual improvement, but instead applied the same programmatic approach that was used to estimate the capital cost for each Action Alternative to estimate the system-wide capital cost for the Universal First Phase.
Table 10-1 identifies the Universal First Phase projects to replace aging infrastructure and address major chokepoints. This list of projects includes linear element costs (e.g., new segments and new tracks) and supporting infrastructure costs (e.g., stations and junctions, and rolling stock requirements). These costs are included in the capital cost estimate of the Action Alternatives. For consistency purposes, the FRA relied on the capital cost estimate for Alternative 1 to develop a representative capital cost for the Universal First Phase projects.
The capital cost includes the following:
Table 10-3 presents a range for the capital cost estimate of the Universal First Phase projects in 2014 dollars.
|Category||Capital Cost Range
|No Action Alternative Projects||$9|
The scope and schedule for implementation of any of the projects included in Universal First Phase depend on a broad range of factors, including funding, regulatory and permitting approvals, completion of planning and engineering, duration of construction, and coordination of construction activities with railroads operating on the NEC. Thus, implementation of the Universal First Phase would be challenging and require a higher degree of coordination and planning by all the NEC railroads than has been required in the past.
In addition, there are two unique challenges that the NEC railroads and states must address:
Eight commuter rail operators and Amtrak provide passenger rail service on the NEC today. Each controls its own operations and schedules. Despite the growth in demand for passenger rail service that extends well beyond the service area of each commuter rail operator, there has been little movement toward integrating service planning across systems. The planning and funding of capital projects that benefit multiple operators also has been challenging and a source of focus by the railroads through the NEC Commission.
As noted, the Universal First Phase assumes, and the FRA expects, improvements in the operation and scheduling of NEC trains to address these issues. If achieved, the NEC would begin the important transition from today's separate service areas to a rail network of integrated services. In addition, construction of some of the improvements included in the Action Alternatives may require financial support from multiple states and railroads, and would require construction and operations planning by all entities across the NEC.
Numerous institutional, governance, and organizational issues must be addressed to achieve a network approach to NEC operations and to facilitate the long-term upgrade of the NEC. Some of these require forums for discussion, planning, and negotiation between railroad operators and states; others may require legislative and statutory changes at the national and state levels. These issues include the following:
The No Action and Action Alternatives include improvements to the existing NEC and new off-corridor segments. However, specific details about who owns, operates, or maintains both the new infrastructure and proposed passenger rail service have yet to be determined. As such, it is premature to assign either benefits or costs to a specific state or jurisdiction based on the geographic location of a proposed improvement. Investments in the NEC may be subject to the provisions of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA). In particular, PRIIA, Section 212, directs all NEC infrastructure owners and service operators to develop cost-sharing agreements for shared-benefit capital and operating expenses associated with the NEC. The FRA anticipates working with the NEC Commission, Amtrak, the NEC commuter authorities, and the eight states plus the District of Columbia to develop finance strategies and funding plans that reflect the corridor-wide value of proposed improvements.
Resolving these issues is beyond the scope of NEC FUTURE. Nonetheless, the degree and depth of coordination and planning by the NEC stakeholders would largely determine the success and speed at which the Universal First Phase and subsequent phases of work are implemented. As noted, the FRA considers these issues of great importance and would consider conditioning future federal funding on the commitment to achieving necessary governance and institutional changes upon completion of projects.
The NEC Commission-which includes the NEC states, the District of Columbia, and passenger and freight railroads operating on the NEC-is one forum for defining and advancing corridor-wide collaboration on some of the changes necessary to plan, coordinate, and expedite implementation of needed service and infrastructure projects. The NEC Commission is working with its stakeholders to develop a prioritized short-term capital plan and to develop the mechanism for allocating funds pooled from railroad users under PRIIA, Section 212.
Public and stakeholder input on how best to coordinate and integrate service and project planning will play an important role in framing a solution to these issues.
Railroad operators have only limited ability to take tracks out of service to make repairs or implement projects without shutting down or severely limiting ongoing operations. With the NEC already at capacity in numerous key locations, implementing many of the major projects included in the Universal First Phase without adversely affecting train operations would be extremely challenging. Moreover, construction work must be implemented without impinging on annual maintenance activities and other state-of-good-repair work and priority projects (such as those included in the No Action Alternative). Thus, it would be essential for the NEC railroads and states to extensively plan how and when projects are to be implemented, and to understand and mitigate potential adverse impacts on train operations.
The NEC railroads have decades of experience planning major work on the NEC, such as the electrification of the New Haven-Boston segment of the NEC in the 1990s, and the recent replacement of the Niantic River Bridge in Connecticut. While improvements on the scale included in the Universal First Phase and subsequent phases of the Selected Alternative would exceed any such prior coordinated action, these projects have demonstrated that, with adequate planning, trains can continue to safety and reliably operate during periods of heavy construction on or adjacent to the railroad right-of-way. How much service is to be affected, and the degree to which impacts are acceptable to passengers, would be important factors in scheduling construction activities. Engagement with passengers through a robust communications program would be essential to finding the appropriate balance between the efficient scheduling of construction activities and continued operation of the rail services.
Funding is a critical element and would be a determining factor in the sequencing and scheduling of projects. As noted, the timeframe to implement the Universal First Phase projects must also reflect other work planned for the NEC, including maintenance and other planned projects. With so many unknowns, it would be essential for NEC stakeholders planning the improvements to be flexible and creative, and to be able to expedite planning and construction activities to take advantage of opportunities that may arise.
Chapter 8, Construction Effects, describes the potential construction sequencing that would likely be required for implementing any of the Action Alternatives and identifies potential construction effects from the work. Many of the same approaches and effects would be applicable to implementation of the Universal First Phase. Implementation planning for the Universal First Phase should include several additional key strategies to reduce impacts to customers and passengers:
The planning, staging, and implementation of NEC upgrades should be coordinated on a corridor-wide basis to provide efficiencies in construction and to minimize impacts to train operations and passenger service.
The projects in the Universal First Phase are the same regardless of which Action Alternative would be selected as the Preferred Alternative. However, both the design and implementation of these projects may differ by alternative. While all three Action Alternatives expand service on the existing NEC, Alternative 2 adds a supplemental route between New Haven and Providence via Hartford, and Alternative 3 includes construction of a second spine from Washington, D.C., to Boston. For some of the projects in the Universal First Phase, these differences would generate unique designs and offer opportunities for different implementation strategies.
There are three types of projects where the design could differ, depending on which Action Alternative is selected:
Differences between the Action Alternatives may also result in different implementation strategies. This primarily relates to Alternative 3, which includes the addition of a second spine. It may be possible to leverage the early construction of portions of the new second spine to reduce impacts to trains operating on the existing NEC. For example:
The FRA will explore project implementation strategies in more detail focused specifically on the Selected Alternative in the phasing plan included in the Service Development Plan. The NEC Commission and the NEC railroads can build off the more detailed phasing plan to develop a long-term implementation plan that better reflects funding realities and project complexities.
1 See Chapter 1 for the discussion of and differences between the Preferred Alternative and Selected Alternative.