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Amtrak Announces Bold New Northeastern High-Speed Rail Plan, Both Spurns and Loves On Baltimore

October 1, 2010

High-speed rail plans have been announced all over the country, drawing massive hype and right-wing opposition. The Northeast Corridor, the country’s most vital passenger line, though, has been left to wait on the sidelines. That is, until yesterday, when Amtrak breathlessly unveiled a $117.5 billion, 30-year plan to build a largely new corridor from Washington, D.C., to Boston, realizing the quasi-public rail operator’s goal of 90-minute travel times between D.C. and New York.

That 90-minute time is for the proposed highest tier of service, the so-called “Super Express” line. There’s a vast discussion about the proposal—addressing things such as tepid political will, where $117.5 billion comes from aside from war appropriation bills, and Amtrak’s generally rotten record of running the rail system it has now—but something else stands out about the Super Express line, which is clearly meant to be the big “wow” of the proposal.

Namely, Baltimore is cut out of that route. The trains will supposedly run straight through from Washington to Philadelphia and on to New York, which is reminiscent of a prior attempt by Amtrak to cut travel time by skipping Baltimore and Wilmington—which didn’t work out so well. The new proposal has much to do with needing to detour around central Baltimore altogether, cutting out a section of the route that forms a modest kink that keeps train speeds relatively slow. If it’s spending $117.5 billion as it is, surely Amtrak could get a bit more creative with its engineering.

That said, Baltimore gets a fairly radical upgrade as far as non-”super” trains go: a new station. Instead of Penn Station, the new line will travel through a tunnel to a four-track station at Charles Center. The logic, of course, being that Charles Center is more central and more attractive to commuters–and a new tunnel under the city eliminates some of the Baltimore route’s curvaceousness.

More thoughts on the proposal in general as they come.  As per usual, the Transport Politic has a good rundown.

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