“15 Ideas for Making Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor Better.
Eric Jaffe. April 4, 2013
Early last year, the Federal Railroad Administration launched NEC FUTURES — an effort to plan out the passenger rail investments needed in the Northeast Corridor through 2040. This week it released a short list of ideas [PDF] for improving the region. FRA is calling these 15 ideas “Preliminary Alternatives,” whittled down from a larger basket of about a hundred. The next step is an even smaller set of “Reasonable Alternatives,” and by early 2015 the administration is expect to arrive at what it may well call a “Single Alternative,” but what the rest of us will probably just call a decision.
NEC FUTURES is the latest attempt to prepare for growth in the country’s most important rail corridor, following the $151 billion “vision” [PDF] for the Northeast that Amtrak released last summer. The FRA has (rather wisely) chosen not to subject itself to the political ridicule that surrounded Amtrak’s price tag, but as a result it’s a bit tough to evaluate the options set forth by the administration. Generally speaking, they range from limited capacity upgrades to an enhanced high-speed service — as well as a “no build” option that more or less maintains the status quo.
The impetus for all these plans, of course, is that rail travel in the Northeast Corridor is both thriving and seemingly set to thrive even more. Amtrak ridership in the region is steadily growing, with trains now carrying a greater share of passengers than planes in the corridor, and yet there’s plenty of room for improvement. NEC FUTURES makes the case that the Northeast is also deserving of great investment given its economic importance to the country — generating a fifth of the nation’s G.D.P., according to an FRA chart.”