Two High-Speed Rail Proposals
A world-class, dedicated, high-speed rail service on the Northeast Corridor would transform what it means to travel in and throughout the Northeast Megaregion. Two creative proposals, one by the University of Pennsylvania and another by Amtrak, aim to connect major population and job centers via next generation passenger trains capable of reaching speeds in excess of 220 mph on new, dedicated tracks along the length of the corridor. Both proposals would reduce travel times to roughly half of Amtrak's current Acela service, and achieve greater frequency, reliability, and capacity than would ever be possible on the existing rail infrastructure. Both proposal also assume that the existing rail infrastructure would be upgraded and maintained as the true, high-speed rail system is implemented. However, the two proposals have contrasting visions in many areas, proposing different physical alignments, operational plans, and institutional and financial arrangements.
University of Pennsylvania - In 2010, a graduate studio at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Design, led by Bob Yaro, president of Regional Plan Association and chair of the Northeast Alliance, and Marilyn Jordan Taylor, dean of PennDesign, released a report that described what a high-speed rail system in the Northeast Corridor could look like. The proposed system would mainly utilize the existing rail rights-of-way from Washington, DC to New York. Then, recognizing that the current alignment between New York and New Haven currently operates at near 100 percent capacity and is hemmed in on all sides by dense, urban development, the proposed route extends eastward along Long Island to Ronkonkoma - MacArthur Airport before breaking north through a new tunnel under Long Island Sound to New Haven, CT. Again, here the line would diverge from the current alignment and travel north to Hartford, CT, and then northeast along a new inland route to Boston South Station.
The studio's final report was followed up by a second report in May 2011 that analyzed the project's economic benefits, recommended a new, institutional structure for building and managing the multi-state corridor, and considered several, innovative, public-private financing strategies.
A third report by the University of Pennsylvania studio, published in May 2012, identified an early action high-speed rail project between New York and Philadelphia. This project could accommodate frequent, reliable, 37-minute service in this segment while also adding new capacity for commuter rail services in the corridor.
Amtrak - Released months after the PennDesign proposal, Amtrak's proposal also calls for major new tunnels in the cities of Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, and primarily uses the existing rail rights-of-way along the southern half of the corridor. North of New York, Amtrak's solution is to send the trains north through Westchester County and into western Connecticut along a route that takes advantage of existing highway alignments already under public ownership, including Interstates 84 and 91 in Connecticut, and Interstate 90 in Massachusetts. Like the PennDesign alignment, the route Amtrak studied would also bring intercity rail service to new areas that currently are either under-served or not served at all by Amtrak, for example the Connecticut cities of Danbury and Waterbury.
In 2012, Amtrak updated their vision for high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor and integrating it with the Northeast Corridor Infrastructure Master Plan to create a single, comprehensive investment program for the entire corridor. The updated report also contained new ridership and cost projections.