The Northeast Corridor (NEC) is the country’s highest-volume transit link: it supports a whopping $3 trillion economy by connecting Boston; Providence; New York City; Newark; Philadelphia; Baltimore; Washington, D.C.; and everywhere in-between.
On November 16, the NEC Commission—a coalition of officials from Amtrak, U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), regional commuter rail road networks, and state governments—rolled out a $176 billion plan to fix antiquated bridges and tunnels on the Northeast Corridor and improve service.
CONNECT NEC 2037 (C37) is a 15-year plan made possible by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). Initiatives within C37 will make the Northeast Corridor “safer, faster, and more reliable” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. C37 is also supported by a series of Intercity Passenger Rail grants from Federal and State partnerships issued on November 6 toward 25 passenger rail projects, totaling $16.4 billion in funding.
The recently approved spending package paved the way for construction to start on Gateway Program, a $16 billion Amtrak project to build a new tunnel between New Jersey and New York. The project finally broke ground on November 21 after years of delays. Upgrades will also include major work at century-old structures like the Connecticut River Bridge and the Susquehanna River Bridge in Maryland that serve passenger and freight trains. All of these upgrades will be vital to C37’s future success.
The Northeast Corridor annually sees approximately 260 million riders per year. After C37’s completion, the Northeast Corridor could support an additional 51 million more passengers annually, a press release stated. The increased volume and frequency of service could pay dividends for riders on SEPTA Regional Rail, MBTA Commuter Rail, New Jersey Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Railroad, et al. With the upgrades, the NEC Commission claims that the Northeast Corridor will have:
- 100 percent more Amtrak trains between Washington, D.C. and New York City
- 50 percent more trains between Boston and New York
- 60 percent more regional commuter trains
- 45-minute commutes between Boston and Providence via MBTA Commuter Rail (Today, that number is approximately 1 hour 15 minutes)
- 51 new weekday round trips between New York-Penn Station and New Haven for Metro-North Railroad commuters
- MARC service between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore will increase from 27 to 37 round trips per day
- New, hourly, one-seat Amtrak service between New York City; Hartford, Connecticut; and Springfield, Massachusetts
The increased passenger volume might also mean potentially less expensive tickets for passengers. Most presciently, the green infrastructure program will have tremendous environmental benefits. Improved regional rail service wrought by C37 will eliminate 38 million car trips and 600,000 short-haul plane trips each year, officials from Amtrak estimate. In total, Amtrak officials claim that C37 could eliminate 750,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions by switching over commuters from cars and airplanes to trains.
Short-haul flights ( about 400 miles or less) on average emit more carbon into the atmosphere than long-haul flights due to the fact that take off and landing consume the most amount of fuel. European countries have taken action to reduce short-haul flights by investing in regional rail, a similar program as C37. Spain, for instance, unveiled plans in 2021 to eliminate short-haul flights between Madrid and anywhere reachable by car under less than 2.5 hours by 2050. In recent years, Germany, Belgium, and France have also taken action to halt the amount of short-haul flights.
The Northeast Corridor Commission notes that an updated version of the plan will be released in 2025 called C40 which takes into account future ridership trends. Construction on C37 is set for completion in 2038.