In November I wrote about the Northeast Corridor Futures program, which is offering three visions for the future of rail on the heavily traveled route. You can see the plans at www.necfuture.com.
The plans span the modest to the ambitious, with the most radical changes proposing new Amtrak stops at Philadelphia International Airport and a new station in Center City at the present Market Station East, as well as a tunnel that runs through the heart of the city. For the past month the Federal Railroad Administration has been shopping a draft environmental impact statement around the east coast's major cities in a bid for public comments. Monday evening the NEC road show visited Philadelphia.
The very informed comments from the people attending highlighted how much influence rail can have on the future of the city.
The proposed tunnel, and Amtrak stops at the airport and in Center City, got the most comments.
"This Philadelphia tunnel is something we don't need," said Scott Maits, who described himself as a transit activist.
He noted that Center City development was growing toward 30th Street Station. While that station, currently the only Amtrak stop in the city, would remain active under the NEC Futures plans, Maits was concerned creating a new stop in Center City would minimize 30th Street's importance and undercut the natural progress of development in the city.
Michael Noda, who writes about transportation at Sic Transit Philadelphia, questioned the value of Amtrak service directly to the airport.
"There just aren't that many people to take Amtrak for a flight out of Philadelphia," he said. "Our resources are finite."
Other comments were more pleas to take into account some of the new realities of transportation. Philadelphia has a growing bike culture, and Bob Previdi, policy coordinator for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, asked that cyclists' needs be taken into account. That included making it easier to park bikes at stations, bring bikes on trains and have changes integrate with existing bike infrastructure.
Andy Hamilton, Mid-Atlantic Coordinator for the East Coast Greenway Alliance, hoped trail improvements could piggyback on any rail improvements. Particularly of interest to him was plans for a bridge over the Susquehanna River, he said. Right now there are no crossings specifically for nonmotorized travel, he said.
"You're building a bridge down there and we'd like to be a part of that," he said.
There was little debate that the corridor needs major work. About 750,000 people travel some part of the 457-mile route from Boston to Washington D.C. each day on as many as 2,000 passenger trains. The route is now at capacity. Sarah Feinberg, the FRA's administrator, opened the meeting by noting that the bridges on the rail network date back to the beginning of the 20th Century and some tunnels date back to the Civil War. The proposal simply focused on getting the railroad network to a state of good repair, along with some improvements to capacity and speed, is estimated to cost $65 billion over 25 years.
The FRA will announce a final development plan in spring 2017, and it may be an amalgam of the three proposals on the table, officials said. The period for public comment extends through January 30. Anyone interested in offering ideas on the proposals can email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to:
U.S. DOT Federal Railroad Administration
One Bowling Green, Suite 429
New York, NY 10004