Biden Visits Baltimore Rail Tunnel Replacement Location Set to Modernize Northeast Corridor

Written by Kyra Senese, Managing Editor
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The existing Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel dates from the Civil War era.

President Joe Biden traveled to Baltimore, Maryland, on Jan. 30 to kick off the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel replacement project funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act.

The 150-year-old tunnel will be replaced as part of the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill championed by the president. The tunnel spans 1.4 miles and is the oldest tunnel on the Northeast Corridor, connecting Baltimore’s Penn Station to points south.

The tunnel that runs beneath some Baltimore neighborhoods is more of a bottleneck than a lifeline, officials said. There is only one tube, and trains must slow to 30 mph to navigate a sharp turn on the southern end.

The new tunnel, which is expected to be completed in about a decade, will have two tubes with up to four tracks total and will allow trains to travel at speeds of more than 100 mph, a report said. 

“This project will address the largest rail bottleneck on the Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C. and New Jersey, and create good-paying union jobs, improve reliability, lower commuting times, and enhance safety and resilience,” a White House press release said. 

Amtrak and the Baltimore-DC Building and Construction Trades Council, a local affiliate of North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), have signed a project labor agreement to cover the first phase of the project, according to the White House.

The B&P Tunnel Replacement Program will modernize a four-mile section of the Northeast Corridor. (Amtrak)

The tunnel will be named after abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who escaped from slavery in Maryland. The total cost of the project, which includes related bridges and equipment modernization, is estimated to be $6 billion.

According to the White House, Biden plans to announce labor agreements that will help the tunnel’s completion and ensure good wages for union workers. The state of Maryland has also agreed to contribute $450 million in construction funds.

Funding has not yet been awarded from the federal infrastructure legislation, however, Biden signed legislation that includes $24 billion for rail improvements along the Northeast Corridor. The Baltimore tunnel could receive up to $4.7 billion in funding, covering the majority of its costs.

Biden was also scheduled to announce at the Jan. 30 visit the signing of a project kickoff agreement between the State of Maryland and Amtrak, which includes a $450 million commitment from the state’s transportation agency for the tunnel replacement project.

The new Frederick Douglass Tunnel will be utilized by all Amtrak and Maryland Area Commuter (MARC) Penn Line trains. MDOT and Amtrak have decided on a phased implementation strategy, where the initial implementation will include two new, high-capacity tunnel tubes for electrified passenger trains but defer the construction of two additional tunnel tubes that could one day be made to accommodate freight trains, a release said. 

Biden is in Baltimore for the first of three infrastructure trips this week. On Jan. 31, he will travel to New York to discuss plans for a new rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River.

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