The Federal Railroad Adminstration (FRA) is running a planning program dubbed NEC Future to determine the future path of rail development in the Northeast Corridor running from Boston to Washington. Greater City Providence reader Peter Brassard submitted the following comments to the FRA in response to the study’s request for public comment.
- Construct a T.F. Green Airport Amtrak Station
- NEC High Speed Rail (HSR) bypass between East Haven and Westerly
- Reserve the option to construct a four-track NEC corridor in Rhode Island and Eastern Connecticut, as well as between Providence and Westwood
- Develop Providence to Cape Cod Rail Service using an existing corridor
- Develop Providence/Fall River/New Bedford interstate LRT
- Develop Providence to Worcester Commuter Rail Service
- New England track electrification and use of DMUs and EMUs
- Add multiple infill train stations within Providence’s urban core cities
- Develop Rhode Island Mainline Rail Transit
- Extend Train Service to Aquidneck Island
- New York to New Jersey – Penn Station New York to the Portal Bridge
- Penn Station New York to Grand Central connecting rail tunnel
- Extend the New York #7 Subway line to Hoboken Terminal
- Boston South Station to North Station connecting rail tunnel
1. Construct a T.F. Green Airport Amtrak Station
The study should include planning for a T.F. Green Airport Amtrak Station. Amtrak Regional service, as well as MBTA commuter trains could serve the station. Service models for this station would be the BWI Airport Station in Baltimore and Newark Airport Station in New Jersey.
2. NEC High Speed Rail (HSR) bypass between East Haven and Westerly
Study a HSR bypass option that would link the existing NEC between East Haven and Westerly following the routes I-95 and RI-78 corridor. This bypass would avoid excessively curved sections of eastern Connecticut’s legacy rail right-of-way, which would allow for significantly higher speeds for HSR service. This option could be a cost effective alternative to constructing a second completely new Southern New England HSR corridor from Westchester County through central Connecticut to Hartford and to Providence. There could be an opportunity to combine funding for a rail bypass and upgrading and increasing capacity to route I-95 simultaneously.
3. Reserve the option to construct a four-track corridor in Rhode Island and Connecticut, as well as between Providence and Westwood
Amtrak has proposed creating a four-track rail corridor between Providence to Westwood. Other sections of Rhode Island’s NEC rail segment south of Providence had the corridor width to accommodate four tracks. Also many bridges had been designed to allow for four tracks throughout the state. When the New Haven to Boston NEC segment was electrified in the 1990s, replacement tracks were installed off-center in much of Rhode Island to allow for the tilting feature on Acela trains.
Develop an alternate that would reserve the option to re-build Rhode Island’s NEC rail segment south of Providence Station to four-tracks and if a HSR bypass is not planned for or constructed between East Haven and Westerly in Eastern Connecticut, to accommodate for future expanded track usage of high-speed and regional trains, commuter rail/mass-transit, and freight service. A Rhode Island four-track corridor would typically only require the acquisition of narrow strips of land adjacent to the existing corridor to meet current standards for high-speed track centers, while in other instances no land acquisition would be necessary.
Even if four tracks are not built in Rhode Island or Connecticut for decades, planning for a their future installation would insure that other federal and state funds will not be wasted when infrastructure, such as bridges are constructed or replaced over the NEC. With the current offcenter track configuration in Rhode Island, off-center abutments or column placements for new bridges could make future track expansion problematic and unnecessarily expensive.
4. Develop Providence to Cape Cod Rail Service using an existing corridor
Develop year-round rail service from Cape Cod to Providence, T.F. Green Airport, and beyond to New York. Service could be provided by Amtrak or alternately by a commuter rail agency from Cape Cod to Providence and T.F. Green with connections to Amtrak. Study the reuse of the existing rail right-of-way from Providence to Attleboro to Cape Cod.
5. Develop Providence/Fall River/New Bedford interstate LRT
Study developing a new South Coast interstate Light Rail Transit (LRT) alignment that would interconnect the Providence MSA population centers of Providence, Fall River, and New Bedford, and adjacent suburbs and possibly to Cape Cod.
The three major cities of the Providence MSA have no interconnecting mass transit of any kind. Federal law prohibits the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) from crossing the state line into Massachusetts to provide transit service. This linear portion of the Providence MSA contains over half-million people. If Cape Cod were to be included the population would be over 700,000 people in a potential service zone, plus seasonal tourist population. Due to complicated built environments and topographic conditions in Downtown and the East Side of Providence and in Fall River, it might be difficult to design and justify construction costs for a new heavy rail corridor. A LRT corridor would be less expensive and more flexible in navigating urban districts.
A possible route could be from Downtown Providence to a reused Providence East Side Rail Tunnel and link in East Providence to the partially built Henderson Bridge/Expressway corridor following the state line to connect to the center median of route I-195, where the majority of the alignment could be located. From Swansea through Fall River the route could follow US-6 to I-195 to New Bedford and beyond. Besides city stations, suburban stations could be located at selected I-195 interchanges.
6. Develop Providence to Worcester Commuter Rail Service
Study implementation of commuter rail service between Providence and Worcester. Besides train stations located at suburban park-and-ride locations, the Lincoln office region, and the cities of Worcester, Woonsocket, and Providence, stations should be located within traditional walkable urban neighborhoods, villages, or town centers. Approximately 600,000 people live in cities or towns along the Providence to Worcester rail corridor.
7. New England track electrifcation and use of DMUs and EMUs
A long-term goal would be to electrify all existing or proposed track in New England to facilitate efficient commuter rail service. An example of tracks eligible for upgrade would be the third track for freight and commuter station sidings in Rhode Island that currently lack overhead catenary.
There is a need for lightweight Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) and Electric Multiple Units (EMUs). Presently there’s no FRA-compliant DMU that would work for a proposed Providence-Worcester or Providence-Hyannis route that has reasonable operating and maintenance costs. In Germany operating costs for DMUs are comparable to those of a bus. The German DMUs have bus engine parts so that small state agencies with large bus fleets, but only a handful of trains can still benefit from economies of scale.
Study the possibility to modify FRA regulations to permit lightweight DMU and EMU vehicles that are currently non-compliant.
8. Add multiple infill train stations within Providence’s urban core cities
Study the potential of constructing multiple commuter rail or mass transit infill train stations along the NEC within Providence’s urban core cities of Central Falls, Pawtucket, Providence, and Cranston, particularly within walkable urban neighborhoods. Historic stations that existed were located in Pawtucket/Central Falls, in Cranston at Auburn, in Providence at Elmwood, Cranston Street, Olneyville, and Atwells Avenue. These historic station sites could be potential locations for new stations. However, other locations could be identified.
9. Develop Rhode Island Mainline Rail Transit
Study the development of “Mainline Rail” transit service within the Providence inner core cities along the NEC and extending into the suburbs. A Mainline Rail would be an expanded version of the proposed Rhode Island Intrastate Commuter Rail Study (.pdf) by the Providence Foundation, which is being incorporated into the Rhode Island State Rail Plan.
Mainline Rail service could be an expansion of existing MBTA commuter rail or operated by a separate agency. A Mainline Rail system would be a variation of what’s often referred to as Sbahn or RER that is usually used in small or mid-size European cities. San Francisco’s BART and the New York/New Jersey PATH are versions on this system. An S-bahn typically has characteristics of commuter rail in suburban areas and a subway (or metro-rail) in central urban zones. Train headways are more frequent than conventional commuter rail and station stops are closer together within central urban districts. In cities that treat mainline rail as an integral part of city transportation, the same people who would use buses or subways use mainline rail in addition to rail commuters.
The inner core cities of the Providence metropolitan area generally follow linear spines on each side of Narragansett Bay. The western spine, which also follows the NEC route, has the highest population density in Rhode Island. Between Central Falls and Cranston over 130,000 people live within less than a 10-minute walk or a 5-minute bus ride from the NEC rail line. When downtown Providence employees and students are added, the number of people who would have easy access to the route would be closer 200,000.
Providence has a built environment and population density similar to Dorchester in Boston, Jersey City, and the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens. These three locations have rail mass transit. The Rockaway Peninsula has high car ownership, similar to Providence, with a population of roughly 129,000. Typically long subway trains are used in this area. Even during off-peak periods when shorter trains are used, trains are fairly full of passengers running at 15-minute headways or less.
The City of Providence is well connected with efficient bus service. The RIPTA bus system has over 30 fixed bus routes that intersect much of the length of Rhode Island’s NEC rail line. These bus routes could deliver passengers to Mainline train stations. However, bus service between Providence and other inner core cities is rarely competitive with automotive travel. Rhode Island Mainline Rail transit service would serve a wider segment of the population, beyond traditional middle- and upper-income office employees of commuter rail. A Mainline Rail transit line that shares the NEC combined with intersecting bus service would create a truly competitive mass transit alternative or even a faster option to driving within the Providence area.
10. Extend Train Service to Aquidneck Island
Study the implementation of commuter rail service from Boston to Fall River to Newport utilizing the existing rail corridor along Mt. Hope Bay from Fall River to the west side of the Aquidneck Island.
11. New York to New Jersey – Penn Station New York to the Portal Bridge
Study phased alternates for the Portal Bridge in New Jersey to Trans-Hudson tunnels to Penn Station New York. The worst of the Trans-Hudson congestion problem occurs during rush hour periods between Penn Station New York and Secaucus Station mostly due to the additional commuter trains on the segment.
New tunnels should pass directly into the exiting Penn Station, rather than to a separate new station as was proposed with the ARC plan. Study the following phasing as a possible implementation sequence, so that a Phase 1 could be designed and built quickly and economically to alleviate current peak congestion between New Jersey and New York. Other phases could be constructed later.
- Phase 1 – Construct a single tunnel from the south side of New York Penn Station at the NJ Transit platforms following the approved EIS under the Hudson to New Jersey and add a third track from the new tube portal on the New Jersey side to Secaucus Station. Three tracks would permit two inbound and one outbound during the morning rush hour and would be reversed during the afternoon rush hour, relieving congestion.
- Phase 2a – Construct a second tunnel adjacent to Phase 1 and add a forth track to Secaucus Station.
- Phase 2b – Leaving the existing Portal Bridge in place to remain in service, construct a new two-track high-level Hackensack River Bridge adjacent to the old bridge and add a forth track from Secaucus Station to Newark.
12. Penn Station New York to Grand Central connecting rail tunnel
Study the construction of a tunnel to connect Penn Station New York to Grand Central Terminal, which could be used as an alternate to the Queens route for Amtrak service from New Jersey to New England and to interconnect NJ Transit and Metro North commuter service.
13. Extend the New York #7 Subway line to Hoboken Terminal
Study the extension of the New York City #7 line subway line from the 11th Avenue and 34th Street Station, currently under construction, to Hoboken Terminal in New Jersey.
14. Boston South Station to North Station connecting rail tunnel
Study the construction of a tunnel to connect Boston’s South Station to North Station to extend direct NEC route connections to New Hampshire and Maine.