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One Proposal For Amtrak Bullet Train Route: Under Long Island Sound

By DON STACOM

September 03, 2012

HARTFORD As Amtrak studies how to bring bullet trains to its frantically busy Northeast Corridor, one design team is suggesting a radically new route requiring a roughly 18-mile-long tunnel beneath Long Island Sound.

Trains speeding from Washington to Boston would run through the heart of Long Island, cross into Connecticut through a tunnel emerging in Milford, head to Hartford and then race east toward Worcester on new tracks running alongside I-84.

The segment between Manhattan and Hartford would cost about $20 billion, according to the University of Pennsylvania's high-speed rail design studio, which first put forward the idea in 2010. Overall, the full 450-mile route from Washington to Boston would cost about $100 billion, PennDesign said.

Amtrak is focusing on its own "NextGen High-Speed Rail" map for the corridor, a proposal that would skip the Long Island section and cost an estimated $151 billion. But PennDesign's plan isn't off the table.

Advocates of bullet trains in the Northeast acknowledge that a project of such magnitude, regardless of the routing or specific details, would require enormous private investment.

PennDesign's proposal includes a series of public-private financing scenarios, while Amtrak's own proposal doesn't address revenue sources. Last month, Amtrak President Joseph Boardman told The New York Times: "We can worry about where the money is coming from, but we need to have a plan in place so when it does, we're ready."

Unlike many of the high-speed routes that President Barack Obama proposed and the Republican Congress scuttled, some form of modern, fast passenger train service on the Northeast Corridor has at least a bit of bipartisan appeal. GOP transportation leaders in Congress have said they're open to discussing proposals because the Northeast Corridor is the busiest and most financially viable part of Amtrak's system. They've also insisted the private sector would have to play a major role in any plan that advances.

Calling the Washington-Philadelphia-New York-Boston corridor "the economic powerhouse of the United States," PennDesign contends that high-speed rail is essential to relieving congestion and accommodating population growth over the next 30 years. Amtrak served about 11 million passengers on the Northeast Corridor last year, and projects steady increases as the region's population grows in the next three decades.

Amtrak has been outselling airlines' short-hop flights on Northeast Corridor routes. Analysts say business travelers are drawn by lower prices and a trip that's ultimately faster than flying. Travel time, even on the Acela, is far longer than flying, but that can be balanced off by the convenience of trains: Passengers quickly board in one downtown and arrive in the downtown of their destination city. Air travel requires time-consuming security screenings and check-in procedures, along with long and costly trips to and from airports on both ends.

With that basis, the Federal Railroad Administration is embarking on a three-year study of what should be the long-term map for high-speed trains in the Northeast. It has established a website explaining details of its planning process: http://www.necfuture.com/

Connecticut is a particularly problematic stretch of the existing shoreline route because of century-old bridges and steady twists and bends along the southeastern coast. They prevent the Acela from getting anywhere close to its top-rated speed of 150 mph. Amtrak's own proposal is to bring trains from New York up to Danbury, then create an all-new corridor running to Waterbury and then Hartford before banking eastward for Providence.

European-style high-speed rail would require two tracks dedicated exclusively to 220 mph bullet trains, advocates say. The routes would have to be mostly uninterrupted by grade crossings or sharp curves so that the trains could maintain speed and stick to much faster schedules than what Amtrak offers now.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
     
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