NORWALK, Conn. – Federal plans to expand rail service in the Northeast corridor continue to include additional high speed track through Norwalk.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on Wednesday released its Record of Decision (ROD) for NEC FUTURE, its comprehensive plan for improvements to the Northeast Corridor rail line from Washington, D.C., to Boston, Mass., after months of public input. This includes adding tracks through Norwalk, although no specifics are offered.
“From the Connecticut-New York state border to New Haven, the Selected Alternative includes capacity and modernization improvements to provide a four- to six-track railroad that meets the Selected Alternative’s service, frequency, and travel time objectives. Systems are upgraded through Norwalk to improve capacity and reliability,” the ROD states. “… The new segment beginning in New Rochelle, NY, extends through Greenwich, Stamford, and Norwalk to Greens Farms. Additional high-speed track capacity is necessary to achieve the service frequency and travel time objectives between New York City and New Haven. The specific routing, location, construction type, and other design elements of this segment will be the subject of a subsequent Tier 2 environmental process.”
Tier 2 major capital projects, such as additional high speed rail through Norwalk, “may not occur for decades,” according to the NEC Future website.
“The NEC railroads and Northeast states, along with the NEC Commission, will play leading roles in determining how and when the various Tier 2 projects move forward,” the website states.
Gov. Dannel Malloy, in a press release, painted the ROD as a victory for Connecticut:
“Governor Dannel P. Malloy today is commending the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) decision on the NEC Future program for responding to his consistent urging to focus on upgrading and maintaining the Northeast Corridor (NEC) in a ‘state of good repair’ and postponing consideration of any new alignment of the tracks through Connecticut.
“Since the initial release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement in November of 2015, Governor Malloy has consistently requested that the FRA focus recommendations on the future of the NEC to achieve a state of good repair and enhance the performance of the existing rail corridor, which is what the FRA’s decision released today achieves. Further, the decision does not include any specific ‘alternative alignments’ in Connecticut and along the entire corridor. Rather, the FRA has identified areas for future capacity planning efforts to be initiated and led by the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island.”
“The ROD completes the Tier 1 environmental review process and describes the Selected Alternative that will guide future investments on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) through 2040 and beyond,” FRA said in a press release. The “Grow Vision” seeks to:
- “Improve Rail Service: Corridor-wide service and performance objectives for frequency, travel time, design speed, and passenger convenience.
- “Modernize NEC Infrastructure: Corridor-wide repair, replacement, and rehabilitation of the existing NEC to bring the corridor into a state of good repair and increase reliability.
- “Expand Rail Capacity: Additional infrastructure between Washington, D.C., and New Haven, CT, and between Providence, RI, and Boston, MA, as needed to achieve the service and performance objectives, including investments that add capacity, increase speeds, and eliminate chokepoints.
- “Study New Haven to Providence Capacity: Planning study in Connecticut and Rhode Island to identify additional on- and off-corridor infrastructure as needed to achieve the service and performance objectives.”
The ROD is part of a legally mandated process, in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) and subsequent updates.
“The FRA sponsored the NEC FUTURE program to comprehensively plan for corridor-wide improvement of the NEC and the region’s passenger rail network,” the ROD states. “During this process, the FRA worked closely with and listened to stakeholders from across the region including the NEC states,2 federally recognized Indian tribes, communities along the NEC, railroad operators, federal and state resource and regulatory agencies, and regional planning organizations. In making its decision, the FRA considered the information and analysis detailed in the Tier 1 Draft and Final Environmental Impact Statements (including associated reports, studies, and data), public and stakeholder comments, and U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) and FRA policy objectives.”
The ROD lists goals for high speed travel, including:
- New York City to New Haven, a one hour, five minute trip with one stop along the way
- New York City to Boston, a two hour, 45 minute trip with five stops along the way
“The Preferred Alternative for the portions of the NEC between Washington, D.C., and New Haven, CT, and between Providence, RI, and Boston, MA…. includes more than 200 route miles of additional track capacity, creating a four- to six- track NEC, and the replacement and expansion of the bridges and tunnels as required to support the service frequency and travel time objectives,” the ROD states.
Norwalk state legislators were not immediately available for comment.
“All Tier 2 project studies for new rail segments will require the support and collaboration of the NEC states and District of Columbia and the participation of any affected communities. Potential partners in Tier 2 project studies include railroad owners and operators, federal and state agencies, local governments, and private-sector partners,” the NEC Future website states. “The FRA could take a lead or supporting role in future Tier 2 studies, but in either case, support from the affected states would be necessary. The FRA is committed to working with the states, railroads, and communities across the NEC to plan and advance the rail improvements necessary to grow the Northeast region of the United States.”
Malloy’s press release said:
“‘The Federal Railroad Administration has developed a vision for the future of the Northeast Corridor and issued a decision that provides a path forward for expanding capacity and improving performance of the existing railroad,’ Governor Malloy said. ‘They have responded directly to requests made by the State of Connecticut to enable significant and necessary investments to address an estimated $38 billion backlog in state-of-good-repair assets, and we thank them for their consideration of our concerns.’
“Connecticut continues to make substantial investments in the Northeast Corridor. In the first annual report of the Northeast Corridor Commission, which details investments in the corridor during 2016, the state spent $367 million of the total $1.1 billion spent on the entire network from Boston to Washington, fully one-third of the total investment in this vital rail corridor.
“Governor Malloy added, ‘Now that the decision is final, it is time for the federal government to step up and invest to bring the Northeast Corridor into a state of good repair, which is essential for the economy of the entire region.’
“’Transportation improvements and funding are critical to economic growth, commerce, and quality of life for residents,’ Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman said. ‘Governor Malloy has made our transportation network a priority from planning and funding to adding new equipment and expanding service. I applaud our federal partners on their decision and urge their continued investment in a system that benefits the entire northeast region.’
“The NEC region is an economic powerhouse. It generates $3 trillion in annual economic output and is home to more than 51 million people and four of the ten largest metropolitan areas in the United States. The rail line is the backbone of the region, carrying over 820,000 passengers each day. Its infrastructure supports eight commuter rail operators that deliver hundreds of thousands of workers to several of our nation’s largest economic centers.”