The tunnel is a major bottleneck for freight rail traffic between Amtrak, Maryland Commuter Train and Baltimore’s Penn Station. Plans to replace it have been delayed for years without viable funding.
Biden’s visit marks a major milestone in the construction of the project, as the administration begins distributing billions of dollars in federal funding to upgrade aging infrastructure. Funding from the infrastructure law could account for $4.7 billion of the project’s total cost, the White House said, at an estimated $6 billion.
The White House said rebuilding the tunnels would “improve reliability, shorten commute times, and enhance safety and resiliency.” It is also expected to create 20,000 construction jobs.
Northeast century-old railway bridges and tunnels landed 9 billion overhaul
Demolition, utility relocation and some track work will begin this year, officials said.
Amtrak plans to build a single-track twin tunnel approximately half a mile north of the existing tunnel. The carrier has been working on designing and negotiating property acquisitions while promising that the tunnel, named for Maryland native and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, will carry electric trains to reduce environmental impact on nearby Baltimore communities.
Once complete, trains will travel up to 100 mph during this time, and the tunnel’s capacity will nearly triple. Officials estimate the new structure means train delays could be cut by an average of seven hours on a weekday.
“It cannot be emphasized enough how much this means to the state of Maryland,” the senator said. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said in a statement. “Replacing this tunnel with the new Frederick Douglass Tunnel will not only improve rail service for travelers and commuters, but will also provide benefits to our state by reducing travel time from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore to just 30 minutes and expanding port operations. bring more growth and opportunity”
While specific funding allocations have not yet been announced, the Transportation Department late last year identified the Baltimore project among a dozen century-old bridges and tunnels in the Northeast that would receive $9 billion through a grant program — a few one of the funding sources.
A 148-year-old tunnel is the largest rail bottleneck between Washington, D.C. and New Jersey. Here’s the new plan to replace it.
The tunnel project has received $44 million in federal funding for initial engineering and permitting, and Maryland has committed $450 million.
At Monday’s event, officials also announced a number of labor agreements they said would ensure good jobs and reduce the likelihood of labor disputes that could delay construction.
Of the 15 century-old bridges and tunnels on the Northeast’s “significant backlog” list of projects, B&P is by far the oldest. It opened in 1873, when Ulysses S. Grant was president, and is made of brick. It was last restored in the 1980s, and according to federal documents, it needs “continuous maintenance” to keep up.
A 2011 report found that the “physical condition” of the tunnel required reconstruction or replacement within the next 10 to 20 years. The Federal Railroad Administration declared the tunnel to be structurally deficient and unable to meet anticipated demand.
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It had serious structural problems, including water problems and aging bricks, according to a federal review of the project. Water-saturated soil beneath the tunnel caused its floor to sink, forcing Amtrak to make costly and repeated repairs. Tunnels also require frequent inspections and maintenance to ensure operational safety.
The 1.4-mile tunnel is an important part of the transportation network connecting Washington and Boston, carrying more than 259 million passengers a year. With no alternate tracks for passenger trains, officials say a tunnel disruption would be catastrophic for train travel in the corridor. Passengers who cross it experience chronic delays: according to the White House, more than 10 percent of weekday trains are delayed, and delays occur 99 percent of weekdays.
In June 2021, the State of Maryland and Amtrak announced an agreement to advance the replacement program within ten years.