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NEC FUTURE is a comprehensive planning effort to define, evaluate, and prioritize future investments in the Northeast Corridor (NEC), from Washington, D.C., to Boston. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) launched NEC FUTURE in February 2012 to consider the role of rail passenger service in the context of current and future transportation demands. Through the NEC FUTURE program, the FRA will determine a long-term vision and investment program for the NEC, and complete a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Service Development Plan (SDP) in support of that vision.

The NEC, the rail transportation spine of the Northeast region, is a key component of the region's transportation system and vital to its sustained economic growth. Today, the 457-mile NEC—anchored by Washington, D.C.'s Union Station in the south, New York's Pennsylvania Station in the center, and Boston's South Station in the north—is one of the most heavily traveled rail corridors in the world. The NEC is shared by intercity, commuter, and freight operations and moves more than 365 million passengers and 14 million car-miles of freight per year.

While improvements continue to be made, the NEC faces serious challenges, with century-old infrastructure, outdated technology, and inadequate capacity to meet current or projected travel demand. With similar capacity issues on the region's highways, and some of the most congested airports in the nation, the Northeast's economic future could be hampered by transportation constraints.

Responding to these pressing issues, the FRA initiated NEC FUTURE as a comprehensive planning process for future investment in the corridor. NEC FUTURE will create a framework for the future investments needed to improve passenger rail capacity and service through 2040. Technical work includes an analysis of market conditions in the corridor, development of program alternatives, an evaluation of the environmental impacts of those alternatives, and a recommended approach that balances the needs of various users of the corridor—whether commuters, intercity passengers, or freight—in a manner that ensures safe, efficient travel throughout the Northeast.

Yet, NEC FUTURE is not only a technical process. Equally important is the opportunity for a broad public dialogue to establish a future vision for the corridor. By bringing together numerous stakeholders from the corridor's eight states and the District of Columbia, the planning process is structured to help foster a broad agreement on future directions for corridor investment.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to consider the environmental consequences of proposed projects as part of their decision-making. NEPA provides the flexibility to assess projects in a staged approach known as “tiering.” Tiering addresses broad programs and issues in an initial (Tier 1) or programmatic level analysis, and analyzes site-specific, project-level (Tier 2) proposals and impacts in subsequent studies. Given the broad scope and complexity of the NEC FUTURE program, a tiered approach to the environmental review process was chosen. The Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) assesses the corridor-wide impacts of proposed improvements to the NEC. More detailed Tier 2 environmental reviews will be needed to examine the potential impacts of the site-specific projects that are advanced following the Tier 1 EIS.

For more details on the environmental review process, refer to the Tier 1 EIS page.

The Service Development Plan (SDP) provides the business case for implementing the selected investment program from the Tier 1 EIS Record of Decision. It summarizes the benefits and costs of implementing the Selected Alternative, including an analysis of transportation network and economic effects, ridership, and funding and financing opportunities. Most importantly, the SDP provides the platform for implementation of the program by the federal government, states, the NEC Commission, and the NEC railroads.

The SDP for NEC FUTURE will include: