Baltimore, Potomac Tunnel Study Enters New Phase

Wed July 02, 2014 - Northeast Edition

Aerial view of west portal of Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel, Baltimore, Maryland.
Aerial view of west portal of Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel, Baltimore, Maryland.

Working to improve rail service, reliability and address a longstanding bottleneck along Amtrak’s busy Northeast Corridor (NEC), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and Amtrak are advancing an engineering and environmental study to examine various improvements to the 141-year-old Baltimore and Potomac (B&P) Tunnel in Baltimore, Md.

“We’re taking the first step toward upgrading rail traffic through this Civil War era tunnel, which will improve passenger rail service along the entire East Coast,” said Gov. Martin O’Malley. “Working together to enhance transit service and reliability will increase ridership and create a sustainable, more competitive future for Maryland. I want to thank U.S. Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, Congressman Elijah Cummings and Maryland’s entire Congressional Delegation for their hard work and support for federal funding to advance this much-needed study.”

The two-track tunnel, which opened in 1873, is located between the West Baltimore MARC Station and Baltimore Penn Station and is used by Amtrak, Maryland’s MARC Commuter Rail trains and Norfolk Southern Railway freight trains. The existing track geometry and outdated tunnel design significantly impedes rail movement along the busy NEC, creating a low-speed bottleneck impacting approximately 85 Amtrak trains, 57 MARC commuter trains and one to two freight trains each day. The $60 million federally funded study, which began last fall, is moving into a new phase with expanded public outreach and opportunities for residents and commuters to learn more about the project’s purpose and need.

The study, which will be complete in mid 2017, will include development and evaluation of various alternatives based on the need to enhance rail safety and to improve capacity, reliability and travel time for commuter, freight and intercity passenger rail service on the NEC. Alternatives will include the No Action Alternative, as well as a full array of Build Alternatives such as rehabilitation of the existing tunnel and a new tunnel on new alignment.

“The B&P tunnel is a crucial link on the Northeast Corridor making Amtrak and MARC service possible through the city of Baltimore,” said Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman. “As owners and stewards of this vital piece of infrastructure, we know that a new or rehabilitated tunnel is what we need to maintain and ultimately improve reliability, speed and safety for all trains — Amtrak, MARC and others — that use it. This study is an important step forward toward realizing that goal, and will help to expand economic development opportunities for the greater Baltimore region.”

The study also involves development of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which examines various alternatives while considering environmental and community impacts. The project also will be subject to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966 and other applicable environmental laws and regulations. FRA is leading development of the EIS in close coordination with MDOT and other stakeholders.