As the federal government seeks to improve infrastructure along Amtrak’s heavily traveled Northeast Corridor, Maryland rail projects are set to receive a large share of nearly $10 billion in grants announced this week.
Amtrak on Monday announced a slew of funding for a dozen projects, including up to $4.7 billion for the Frederick Douglass Tunnel Program. The new West Baltimore tunnel will replace the current Civil War-era tunnel, often blamed as a bottleneck that slows passenger trains moving through the corridor. Demolition of certain properties that Amtrak has acquired in connection with the overhaul is slated to begin this month.
The announcement of Federal Railroad Administration grants marks the latest wave of a historic funding swell for national infrastructure projects made possible by the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the bipartisan infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden ushered through Congress.
“Under President Biden, we are finally delivering the generational investments in passenger rail that Americans have wanted for years, including modernizing the busiest rail corridor in the country,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in the press release. “These investments will make our busiest passenger railroad safer, faster, and more reliable, which means fewer delays and shorter commutes for the 800,000 passengers who rely on the Northeast Corridor every day.”
The West Baltimore tunnel represents the largest investment in the announcement. It is followed by roughly $2 billion to help Amtrak replace the Susquehanna River Rail Bridge, which runs parallel to Interstate 95 and connects Havre de Grace and Perryville in the northeast part of the state. The project will replace a more than 100-year-old bridge, improving safety, trip time and capacity, in addition to making navigation channels easier for boats.
The grants announced Monday also include close to $50 million for planning and project development of two additional Maryland bridges. Amtrak plans to replace the Harford County Bush River Bridge and eastern Baltimore County Gunpowder River Bridge — both 110-year-old, two-track structures — with four tracks that include upgraded signaling and track interlockings. All three bridges will accommodate both commuter trains and freight operations.
“Passenger rail is critical to Maryland’s economic strengths, its quality of life and its role as a gateway on the East Coast,” U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat, said in a statement. “These historic investments in the capacity, efficiency and safety of our rail infrastructure will ensure that this infrastructure can serve the needs of generations to come.”
The redevelopment at Baltimore Penn Station will also get a roughly $100 million boost. Amtrak has already begun construction of two new platforms at the Central Baltimore station to service its high-speed Acela trains, an addition the company says is critical for reaching its goal of doubling ridership through Baltimore by 2040.
The platforms are part of a total reimagining of the 47,000-square-foot station area. Penn Station Partners, a collaboration between Beatty Development and Cross Street Partners, hopes to transform the area into a true transit-oriented development hub, complete with new apartments, mixed-use retail and office space, and better connections to bus and pedestrian infrastructure.
Daniel Zawodny covers transportation for The Baltimore Banner as a corps member with Report For America, a national service organization that places emerging journalists with local newsrooms that cover underreported issues.