Amtrak Kicking Off $6B B&P Tunnel Replacement Program

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor, Railway Age
(Amtrak Photo)
Amtrak Photo

Amtrak on March 10 will start early construction work for the B&P Tunnel Replacement Program. The nearly 150-year-old, 1.4-mile tunnel that connects Baltimore, Md., and Washington, D.C., is a single point of failure for both MARC commuter rail and Amtrak intercity passenger rail service, according to “America’s Railroad.”

It is said to suffer from a variety of age-related issues such as excessive water infiltration, a deteriorating structure, and delays that impact more than 10% of weekday trains.

The early construction work will include replacing aging wooden ties with new concrete ties, installing new rail, and completing track drainage improvements in the Halethorpe and West Baltimore areas, Amtrak reported March 8. The track and tie replacement work will take place overnight on Track A from Winans to Bridge interlockings and is not expected to impact rail service. Bridge interlocking is located north of West Baltimore Station and Winans interlocking is at the south end of Halethorpe Station.

Funded by a grant from the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) FY 2019 Federal-State Partnership for the State of Good Repair Program, the upgrades will enable high‐speed operations on all four tracks along this track segment, Amtrak said. Completion is targeted for early this summer. Additional project work related to the replacement of an existing turnout in Winans with a new high-speed turnout will be carried out in a future phase.

The B&P Tunnel Replacement Program (the Program) will modernize and transform a four-mile section of the Northeast Corridor. It includes two new high-capacity tubes for electrified passenger trains, new roadway and railroad bridges, new rail systems and track, and a new ADA-accessible West Baltimore MARC station. (Caption and Map Courtesy of Amtrak)

The B&P Tunnel Replacement Program, conducted by Amtrak and the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Transit Administration, will build a new tunnel to be used solely for passenger rail service. It is expected to be completed in about a decade. The Frederick Douglass Tunnel—named for the 19th century Maryland-born abolitionist leader—will serve MARC and Amtrak. Currently, trains travel at around 30 mph through the B&P Tunnel that connects Baltimore’s Penn Station with Washington and Virginia; two separate tubes with up to four tracks total in the new tunnel would enable speeds up to 110 mph. The program will also modernize a four-mile section of the Northeast Corridor; work includes new roadway and railroad bridges, new rail systems and track, and a new ADA-accessible West Baltimore MARC station. The existing B&P Tunnel will be dedicated to freight rail service.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $6 billion. The state of Maryland intends to commit $450 million in construction funds. These funds, combined with Amtrak’s intended commitment of approximately $750 million, put the project closer to achieving full funding under the FRA’s Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grant Program.

“This initial project will directly reduce impacts during later construction phases and maximize the benefits of the new Frederick Douglass Tunnel with higher track speeds and greater system capacity,” Amtrak Executive Vice President, Capital Delivery Laura Mason said. “Our partners at the Federal Railroad Administration recognize the importance and urgency of this project and have provided $8 million in key funding to help us complete this critical infrastructure work. We are also grateful to Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and the state of Maryland for their partnership and support.”

“This initial work by Amtrak is laying the foundation for the new Frederick Douglass Tunnel, and will help us improve mobility, access and service for riders throughout the region,” said Paul J. Wiedefeld, the new Maryland Transportation Secretary.

The B&P Tunnel, located in Baltimore, dates from the Civil War era. At nearly 150 years old, it is the oldest tunnel Amtrak inherited and a single point of failure for MARC’s busiest line (the Penn Line) and the Northeast Corridor (NEC). The 1.4-mile tunnel, connecting Baltimore’s Penn Station to Washington and Virginia, suffers from a variety of age-related issues such as excessive water infiltration, a deteriorating structure, and a sinking floor. There are no fire and life safety systems that help keep passengers safe in the event of emergencies, and excessive costly maintenance is required. Due to its age, delays are chronic—more than 10% of weekday trains are delayed, and delays occur on 99% of weekdays. The B&P Tunnel must be replaced to meet the needs of the nine million MARC and Amtrak customers who rely on it annually. (Caption and Photograph Courtesy of Amtrak)
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