The Preferred Alternative described and evaluated in this Tier 1 Final EIS is the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) recommendation, which does not constitute a final decision for selecting an alternative for NEC FUTURE. This chapter, therefore, provides information on phasing and implementation of the NEC FUTURE investment program to be selected by the FRA in the Record of Decision (ROD); the term “Selected Alternative” in this chapter refers to that alternative selected in the ROD.1 The system-wide benefits of the Selected Alternative will only be realized with implementation of numerous interrelated projects. The scope, complexity, and interrelatedness of these projects will require thoughtful and well-coordinated planning over time. While individual projects can address specific chokepoints or other localized needs, it will take groups of projects stretching across the Northeast Corridor (NEC) to generate the desired corridor-wide benefits.
Given the scale of this effort, the FRA identified a set of principles for the incremental implementation of the Selected Alternative vision (see Section 10.2). These principles are intended to guide further coordination and collaboration with the stakeholder states, Washington, D.C., and railroad operators regarding project phasing and implementation.
Chapter 10 of the Tier 1 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Tier 1 Draft EIS) (Volume 2) presented a representative initial phase of projects that would be implemented with any of the three Action Alternatives.2 Public and stakeholder comments on this chapter and more generally on implementation phasing emphasized the importance of achieving near-term improvements through incremental phases and the need for a process to develop a list of projects to be included in an initial phase of the NEC FUTURE investment program.
The FRA has not defined an initial phase for the Preferred Alternative described in this Tier 1 Final EIS, nor does the FRA intend to define an initial phase in the ROD for the Selected Alternative.
The FRA will work collaboratively with the NEC states, railroad stakeholders, and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to develop a list of projects to be implemented in an initial phase of the Selected Alternative (Initial Phase). Participation by these key stakeholders in defining an Initial Phase is critical to establishing a framework for working together to achieve common goals. The list of projects to be implemented in this Initial Phase will be documented in the Service Development Plan (SDP).3
This chapter describes the FRA's proposed approach to working with stakeholders to define an Initial Phase as well as FRA's proposed approach to carrying out subsequent Tier 2 project studies or other planning processes necessary to implement the Initial Phase.
The pace of implementation and phasing of the Selected Alternative will depend on many factors, including funding and financing availability, environmental approvals, market growth, regional cooperation, and practical operating constraints.4 However, each phase will require extensive coordination between the NEC stakeholders to plan and fund projects, as well as to implement them in an organized and sequential way that achieves benefits and allows for continued operation on the NEC. The FRA proposes the following set of key principles to guide the collaboration and development of incremental phases:
These projects alone will not fully address the reliability and capacity constraints currently faced on the NEC, but combined with other upgrades will achieve corridor-wide objectives.
Advancing the Selected Alternative will involve a diverse set of public- and private-sector entities, including railroad owners and operators, federal, state, regional, and local governments, and potential private-sector partners. Therefore, planning and design for the Selected Alternative will require diligent coordination and long-term collaboration among these stakeholders to ensure that each project benefits from and works in tandem with others. Minimizing construction impacts to ongoing train operations requires disciplined management of resources and track outages. The FRA will work with key stakeholders on phasing, funding, and construction of the improvements, as well as on how best to manage train operations with improvements to achieve the full benefits of investment.
In June 2016, the FRA established the NEC FUTURE SDP Working Group (Working Group). Its members include the Northeast Corridor Commission (NEC Commission) and staff from the NEC states, Washington, D.C., and railroads with experience in capital planning and project delivery. The Working Group will provide information to help the FRA define and advance an Initial Phase. This work includes defining service increment objectives for the Initial Phase, the sequencing of improvements, and a schedule for implementation. Upon publication of the FRA's ROD, which will complete the Tier 1 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, the Initial Phase for the Selected Alternative will be detailed in the SDP. The SDP, scheduled for completion in 2017, will address several issues relating to implementation of the Selected Alternative and will:
The Working Group will be an important platform to integrate and coordinate the Initial Phase with other activities of the NEC Commission and the individual railroads, states, and metropolitan planning organizations (MPO).
The FRA recognizes the commitment, cooperation, and resources necessary to implement the Selected Alternative and the effort necessary to build consensus among the various stakeholders, differing local priorities, and variety of projects involved, particularly when considered in light of funding limitations. Advancing an Initial Phase in this complex environment will require the commitment of NEC stakeholders to the following:
As noted above, the FRA will collaborate with the Working Group to make constructive progress on these issues.
As described in Section 10.3, the Working Group, established as a forum for stakeholder and FRA collaboration, will work together to define an Initial Phase. As a first step in this process, the Working Group will identify measurable service objectives and projects necessary to achieve the service benefits associated with an Initial Phase. Defining, at a high level, individual project scopes will require careful consideration of the ways in which individual projects are related with one another, identifying those that should be considered together and those that can advance independently. In working through the best sequencing of projects to achieve desired service benefits, the Working Group will also consider how to sequence the projects to minimize impacts to existing railroad operations. Additionally, specific scopes of each project or packages of projects and their sequencing will take into account the availability and timing of funding or financing options.
Successfully planning for, funding, and building infrastructure will require an unprecedented level of additional cooperation and coordination by key NEC stakeholders. The FRA envisions an integrated network of Regional and Intercity services that provide passengers with a more convenient, faster, and seamless traveling experience to more destinations than they can reach today. Advancing this integrated network will involve extensive discussion and coordination between the NEC stakeholders. Numerous legal, governance, and organizational issues may present particular challenges that will require discussion, planning, and negotiation between railroad operators and states; some may require legislative and statutory changes at federal and state levels. The following are examples of the types of issues requiring resolution in support of implementation of the Initial Phase and the Selected Alternative:
The degree and depth of coordination and planning by the NEC stakeholders will largely determine the success and pace for implementation of the Selected Alternative. The efforts of the Working Group to define an Initial Phase represent an important first step in this long-term process. The FRA intends to take an ongoing leadership role in facilitating resolution of the many issues involved in advancing the Selected Alternative.
Railroad operators have only limited ability to take tracks out of service to make repairs or to implement projects without shutting down or severely limiting ongoing operations. With the NEC already at capacity in numerous key locations, implementing improvements to the NEC without adversely affecting train operations will be challenging. Moreover, construction work must be implemented safely and without impinging on annual maintenance activities and other state-of-good-repair work and priority projects (such as those included in the No Action Alternative). It is essential for the NEC railroads and states to coordinate and plan how and when to implement projects, and to understand and mitigate potential adverse impacts on railroad operations.
The FRA anticipates that the Working Group will be the forum for this planning effort. The NEC railroads have decades of experience planning major work on the NEC, such as the electrification of the New Haven-Boston segment of the NEC in the 1990s, and the recent replacement of the Niantic River Bridge in Connecticut. How much service is affected, the degree to which impacts are acceptable to passengers, and how to conduct construction safely would be important factors in scheduling construction activities. Engagement with passengers through a comprehensive communications program is essential to finding the appropriate balance between the efficient scheduling of construction activities, continued railroad operations, and safe and reliable passenger service.
Chapter 8, Construction Effects, describes typical construction sequencing and potential construction effects. Many of the same approaches and effects would be applicable to implementation of an Initial Phase. Implementation planning should include the following key strategies to minimize impacts to customers:
In contrast, projects such as repair or replacement of electric catenary systems or station improvements would require careful planning and staging to manage any service disruptions. Strategies for managing adverse effects include the following:
Throughout the public comment period for the Tier 1 Draft EIS, stakeholders and the interested public asked the FRA to clarify the next steps after completion of the Tier 1 NEPA process and issuance of a ROD. Additionally, there were several questions about what decisions the FRA will make in the Tier 1 ROD, how those decisions relate to subsequent planning processes, and what role the FRA will play in implementing the Tier 1 decision as memorialized in the ROD.
A benefit of tiering in NEPA is that certain programmatic issues are resolved in the Tier 1 study and therefore do not have to be revisited in Tier 2 project studies. In this way, the Tier 2 project studies are streamlined. The diversity of interests and stakeholders participating in the implementation of the Selected Alternative will require a clear definition of terms and a set of guidelines as to how the Tier 1 decision applies to subsequent Tier 2 project studies. The guidelines will be developed following the completion of the Tier 1 process, through collaboration within the U.S. Department of Transportation (including the FRA and FTA), as well as with the stakeholders who would sponsor subsequent Tier 2 project studies.
In the ROD, the FRA may define the service and performance aspects of the Selected Alternative as a starting point for subsequent Tier 2 project studies. It is the FRA's intent to define these characteristics in such a way as to set standards for use in developing alternatives in Tier 2 project studies. In addition to bringing the NEC and Hartford/Springfield Line to a state of good repair, the following are examples of the types of service and performance characteristics that the FRA may identify as part of the Selected Alternative in the ROD:
In addition to requiring consideration of specific aspects of the Tier 1 decision in subsequent Tier 2 project studies, the FRA's ROD may identify specific commitments. These commitments would reflect stakeholder and regulatory agency input received during the Tier 1 process. Proposed commitments include the following:
With the selection of an alternative in the ROD, the FRA will define a roadmap for future investment on the NEC, helping to ensure that investments made by a variety of stakeholders contribute to progress toward the shared NEC FUTURE vision. As appropriate, feasibility studies may be conducted prior to advancing Tier 2 projects to consider location-specific constraints and opportunities. A Tier 2 project study is the next step in the process to advance any project within the Selected Alternative that receives federal funding or requires federal approval, from the FRA or another federal agency such as the FTA. The FRA or another federal agency providing funding for a particular project will not make decisions in the ROD about specific alignments, infrastructure, facilities, or equipment. The FRA or another federal agency providing funding for a particular project will evaluate specific locations for new segments as part of the Tier 2 project studies, prior to making any decisions regarding new segment locations.
As a cooperating agency in the Tier 1 NEPA process, the FTA may issue its own Tier 1 ROD. In its ROD, the FTA could include any particular caveats or limitations that may be important to the FTA based on its statutory authority or regulatory requirements. Of particular relevance are the FTA requirements for coordination with MPOd as part of its grant-making process. Regardless of the nature of an FTA ROD, ongoing coordination with MPOs in the Study Area will be necessary for candidate Tier 2 project studies funded by the FTA.
Beyond the influence of the Tier 1 decision on subsequent Tier 2 project studies, a key element of success for NEC FUTURE is ongoing leadership. The FRA is committed to a continued leadership role to advance the NEC FUTURE investment program laid out in the Selected Alternative. The previously referenced Working Group exemplifies this ongoing commitment of the FRA to work with states, railroads, and other stakeholders to transition from this environmental planning process to project-specific actions.
The FRA will review projects requesting FRA funding for consistency with the near-term objectives of an Initial Phase and the longer-term vision described in the ROD. The FRA anticipates an ongoing role in working with stakeholders to balance individual needs and resolve disagreements where stakeholder priorities are in conflict with one another or with the Selected Alternative. The FRA will encourage recipients of FRA funds to consider consistency with the ROD for those projects on or affecting the NEC and Hartford/Springfield Line whether or not they are seeking federal funding.
The FRA has a long history in planning and leading upgrade initiatives on the NEC. In 1976, it completed the first Northeast Corridor Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, evaluating plans for rebuilding the NEC following transfer of the NEC from the Penn Central Railroad to Conrail and Amtrak. Between 1977 and 2003, the FRA directly managed the Northeast Corridor Improvement Project, investing some $1.8 billion in new NEC infrastructure. Between 1994 and 2000, the FRA oversaw Amtrak's work to complete NEC electrification between New Haven and Boston, upgrade the northern end of the corridor, and introduce Acela Express high-speed trains to NEC operations. Since 2009, the FRA has led or supported numerous initiatives on the NEC funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and under the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program, including NEC FUTURE.
Following completion of NEC FUTURE, the FRA intends to continue in a leadership role in advancing implementation of the Selected Alternative. The FRA will work with the NEC Commission, the NEC states, Washington, D.C., railroads, and other stakeholders to define the need for federal funding to support implementation of the Initial Phase, as well as to explore other funding and financing options. The Tier 1 EIS makes clear the critical importance of the NEC to the economic vitality and competitiveness of the Northeast, and by extension to the global competitiveness of the United States. Developing a national program to implement the Selected Alternative will be an important priority for the FRA and the U.S. Department of Transportation. In the event Congress provides a source of federal funding for implementation of the Selected Alternative, the FRA could lead the planning and application of that funding and help to facilitate the coordination with stakeholders necessary to advance the work.
The FRA will lead or participate in efforts to implement the Selected Alternative, including the following:
Along with its railroad partners, the FRA is a steward of the NEC. The FRA intends to continue to lead efforts to fund, manage, and oversee improvement of the nation's busiest rail corridor and to promote and advance efforts to achieve the corridor-wide benefits that result from implementation of the Selected Alternative.
1 The Selected Alternative documented in the ROD may or may not be the same as the Preferred Alternative described in this Tier 1 Final EIS. As in any National Environmental Policy Act process, it is also possible that the Record of Decision will result in selection of the No Action Alternative.
2 The Tier 1 Draft EIS referred to this initial phase as the Universal First Phase. The term "Universal" was used to indicate that the projects included in this first phase were common to all three Action Alternatives.
3 Refer to Chapter 1, Introduction, or Chapter 13, Glossary, for definition.
4 Passenger service on the NEC operates in excess of 18 hours per day in some sections of the railroad. In addition, most freight service on the NEC runs at night—as does a significant amount of the inspection and maintenance work that railroad operators must perform on their portions of the railroad. As a result, railroad operators have only limited ability to take tracks out of service to make repairs or to implement projects without shutting down or severely limiting ongoing operations.
5 Related Projects are ongoing independent rail projects located within the Study Area that are not included in the No Action Alternative. Related Projects have independent utility and many are currently undergoing their own separate NEPA processes.
6 The Representative Route for Alternative 3 in the area of Patuxent Wildlife Refuge is described in Volume 2, Chapter 4.