The National Association of Railroad Passengers strongly supports the full realization of rail’s potential in the Northeast Corridor. We offer the following specific comments for consideration in the scoping process for the Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement.
(1) The Tier I must examine benefits for all users. For example, we are strong supporters of commuter rail but are concerned that some officials may be focused exclusively on commuter rail. Such a focus will not permit successful realization of the careful balance needed to enable the NEC to continue serving all of its markets.
(2) The main stations/terminals are vital elements. They function as multi-modal hubs today and can be effectively expanded to serve this role even better. A high-quality system serving NYC’s three airports from Penn Station, for example, would open up an immense ridershed from the whole regional rail network that functions only sporadically today. But, all of them are seriously overused today and cannot fulfill a larger role until expanded. Projects like South Station expansion, Gateway NYP and Washington Union Station are essential to make it work. We’d like another look at the question of a station in the Grand Central Terminal area. We want T. F. Green Airport station to get some intercity train service – a unique facility because the rental cars (important to many train passengers) actually are more convenient to train passengers than to air passengers.
(3) Right-of-way for the long sought-after rail link between Boston’s South and North Stations must be protected. It would be considered laughable in most parts of the world for something comparable to the Northeast Corridor to slam into a wall in Boston and go no further. The rail link is vital both to connect New Hampshire and Maine to the rest of the Corridor, but also to unify Boston’s commuter rail system.
(4) Gateway: We support the fast start of the Portal Bridge project and the construction of new Hudson River tunnels every bit as strongly as we opposed the ARC tunnels which failed to provide needed linkage in New York City.
(5) More generally, planning must recognize existing and proposed “Connecting Corridors” for their ability to provide a substantial expansion of trip making capabilities to the Region. The 2010 Master Plan had routes identified, for example, to Scranton, Allentown, Ocean City, MD (from both NYP and WAS) and a lot of traffic south into Virginia. While these locations obviously don’t have the population density the Spine does, including them truly broadens the reach and benefits to cover virtually all of the Northeast in ways that pure rider volume does not tell. Also needed for consideration: how will improve Spine performance affect ridership on existing branches and how much additional parking will be needed at places such as Hudson and Rhinecliff. Further on the general “off-line” point; one justification cited for a 125 mph capability in the current diesel locomotive procurement is the ability of such a locomotive to run on the NEC and provide a more optimal linkage between non-electrified points in the region and points on the NEC. Finally, we are generally supportive of the comments submitted by the Virginia Rail Policy Institute.
(6) Analysis should be done of very high speed vs. higher speed, including how each affects maintenance and operations. Conversely, it may also be appropriate to take a serious look at the routing suggestion of Boston-Hartford-New Haven-Long Island.
(7) We need to grow track, train and station capacity so that substantially lower fares can be offered on Amtrak’s Regionals. It makes no sense to have a taxpayer-supported railroad set fares that force such a large portion of the public onto curbside buses because they cannot afford the trains their taxpayer dollars bought. The present situation is understandable because the short trains are full and the key stations and track segments are at capacity. Changing this should be a goal.