One of the nation’s worst rail bottlenecks will be uncorked in the coming years.
On June 18, Amtrak and the state of Maryland announced that the 148-year-old Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel will be replaced in the next 10 years at a cost of $4 billion. The passenger carrier and Maryland will work together to execute the project, which currently has no funding source. Amtrak is in the process of finishing the design and purchasing sections of right-of-way. Officials are saying the tunnel will carry electric-powered trains.
The existing tunnel currently is a safety concern and does not meet the demand for freight and passenger rail. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has marked the tunnel structurally deficient. Poor soil has floor slabs sinking, requiring ongoing maintenance. Amtrak spent $71 million in 2020 to build new track in the tunnel. The section is a major bottleneck for Amtrak, MARC commuter, and commercial rail as trains move through the Northeast Corridor.
Amtrak wants to build single-track twin tunnels that would be constructed about a half a mile north of the existing tunnel. Currently trains travel at around 30 mph through the two-track, 1.4-mile tunnel, and two separate tubes will allow movement to reach up to 100 mph.
A plan to replace the 148-year-old tunnel was actually approved by the FRA four years ago, but that design called for four one-track tunnels. Revising designs with just two tubes could save up to $1 billion and will take two fewer years to construct.
Amtrak has marked $65 million for the design and preconstruction phase that will be carried out in 2022. Amtrak also is banking on $257 million in federal funding for the work. The project could be in full swing in 2023.
Freight trains will continue to use the old tunnel.