The metropolitan areas of America’s Northeast are among the most densely populated in the country, and they’re only going to get bigger. This means that addressing the issue of efficient mass transportation between the region’s urban centers is of prime concern in order to keep cities and towns livable and economically healthy in years to come. That’s the goal behind NEC FUTURE, a comprehensive rail investment plan for the Northeast Corridor.
What is the Northeast Corridor?
Stretching for 457 miles, the Northeast Corridor (NEC) is one of the world’s most heavily traveled rail corridors. It is anchored by Boston’s South Station in the north and Washington, DC’s Union Station in the south, with Penn Station in New York City holding down the center. Shared by commuter, intercity, and freight operations, the NEC moves over 365 million passengers and 14 million car miles of freight every year, and is a vital component of the region’s overall transportation system.
More facts and figures about the NEC:
More than 51 million people, or one in seven Americans, live in the Northeast region, and this number is expected to reach 58 million by 2040. The area generates about 20% of the country’s GDP.
Every day, 2,220 passenger trains and 70 freight trains use the NEC, and 750,000 people ride along some part of the corridor.
Around 69% of the combined airline and rail market between New York City and Washington, DC is accounted for by NEC riders. That figure is 51% for the same market between New York and Boston.
The NEC travels through 17 tunnels and over 1,186 bridges.
The current NEC required nearly 90 years to build. It was constructed by several railroad companies between 1830 and 1917, making it nearly 100 years old today.
What is NEC FUTURE?
Launched in 2012 by the Federal Railroad Administration, NEC FUTURE is a comprehensive planning effort with the mission of defining, evaluating, and prioritizing future rail investments in the NEC within the context of present and future transportation demands. The goal is to respond to the NEC’s pressing issues and challenges—including century-old infrastructure, outdated technology, and inadequate capacity—and to create a framework for the future investments that are necessary to improve the capacity and service of passenger rail through 2040. This is particularly important given that the region is also experiencing similar capacity issues on its highways, while many Northeast airports are among the most congested in the nation. The current situation suggests that transportation constraints could hinder the growth of the region’s economy in the future.
Areas addressed by NEC FUTURE:
NEC FUTURE aims to establish a future vision for the NEC through a combination of broad public dialogue and extensive technical analysis and planning. The initiative will analyze NEC’s market conditions, develop program alternatives and evaluate their levels of environmental impact, and balance the demands and requirements of the corridor’s various users. The overall planning process will bring together a range of stakeholders from the District of Columbia and the eight states spanned by the NEC. The principal issues that NEC FUTURE will address include:
State of good repair.
As a result of insufficient investment, aging and obsolete infrastructure mean that service quality on much of the NEC currently falls short of expectations. To improve service, a state of good repair must be not only achieved, but maintained.
The variety of transportation modes and different rail services in operation along the NEC result in gaps in connectivity, making the network inefficient. Improving the reach and effectiveness of the passenger rail network will help bridge these gaps.
Severe capacity constraints at critical infrastructure chokepoints currently limit the scope of service enhancements and expansion. These must be remedied in order to accommodate not only existing riders, but anticipated future growth in ridership.
In some markets, more improvements are needed to make passenger rail trip times competitive with air or highway travel. Areas to be addressed in this category include frequency and hours of service.