A final plan to modernize and revamp Amtrak’s rails on the East Coast came out last week, but without funding, it may not get beyond a drafting table.
The Federal Railroad Administration’s Northeast Corridor Futures plan would bring faster service from Philadelphia to Washington and New York City, and create a link to Philadelphia International Airport for Amtrak. It also would straighten the Frankford Curve, in the Port Richmond section of the city, where an Amtrak train derailed in May 2015, killing eight people. The next step for the FRA is to prepare a service development plan for the proposal, but doing that requires funding, officials said, and the federal government will have to take the lead.
“Significant federal funding participation is needed to create incentives for states to participate,” said Richard Kirkpatrick, spokesman for PennDot. “Without that federal investment, it will be difficult to achieve the FRA vision” to improve the Northeast Corridor.
Politicians expressed hope in December that a campaign talking point of a $1 trillion infrastructure package from then-President-elect Trump could help make the Northeast Corridor Futures project a reality, but six months into Trump’s presidency, there has been little movement on a significant infrastructure bill.
U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R., Pa.), who heads the House Transportation Committee, did not reply to questions about federal infrastructure spending, nor did the U.S. Department of Transportation.
U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, a Northeast Philadelphia Democrat, issued a statement:
“Six months into the Trump administration, Republicans’ failure to make infrastructure a priority means the NEC Future Project is stalled without federal funding — a huge missed opportunity. Democrats like me stand by hoping President Trump will get serious about delivering on his campaign promises on infrastructure. This funding would create real jobs while repairing and rebuilding our nation’s failing infrastructure and improving our economic competitiveness, safety and efficiency.”
Philadelphia officials have expressed interest in the plan but said funding is up to the federal government.
“While the funding of interstate rail is a federal responsibility,” said Mike Dunn, a spokesman for the city, “the city will work with the FRA, Amtrak, SEPTA, and other partners to improve regional access on the Northeast Corridor.”
PennDot also has expressed interest, saying it will work with SEPTA and Amtrak to evaluate the proposal and determine how much the state will contribute if the federal government kicks in money first.
The final recommendation announced last week was the plan the FRA had expressed a preference for in December 2016. In the last seven months, the FRA has sought public comment on the proposal, but the plan for the Philadelphia region is essentially unchanged from the proposal released last year, the FRA reported.
The plan would cost $121 billion to $153 billion for 30 years of work on the 457-mile Northeast Corridor. Beyond Philadelphia, the plan includes a long-awaited rail tunnel expansion under the Hudson River and faster, more frequent trains between the East Coast’s metro areas. The only significant alteration from the proposal unveiled in December was the elimination of improved, faster service between New Haven, Conn., and Providence, R.I.