Biden Kicks Off Work to Relieve East Coast Amtrak Bottleneck

President Joe Biden greets Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and Maryland Gov. Wes Moore
President Joe Biden greets Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, center, and Maryland Gov. Wes Moore as he arrives at the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel North Portal. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

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President Joe Biden kicked off a project to replace a 150-year-old Baltimore rail tunnel that’s slowing train traffic along the Northeast Corridor as part of a push to highlight projects funded by the president’s signature infrastructure law as prospects for additional legislative victories dim.

“I know how important this tunnel is to commuter rail, and MARC rail, back and forth to Washington. And I know how much it matters to the entire Northeast Corridor, from here to Boston,” Biden said Jan. 30 in Baltimore, adding that the work would bring relief to commuters up and down the U.S. East Coast.

The White House is focusing its efforts on implementing and championing legislation passed during the president’s first two years in office now that Republicans control the U.S. House. The president will hold a meeting Feb. 1 with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who is demanding spending cuts in exchange for raising the federal debt ceiling.

Construction of the new tunnel in Baltimore — which will be named after abolitionist and Maryland native Frederick Douglass — will create approximately 20,000 jobs, according to a White House estimate. The project will also see the construction of a new regional train station in West Baltimore.

Biden said the improvements would take vehicles off highways, saving energy and cutting down on pollution.

“The Frederick Douglass tunnel will be all electric, and we’ll continue to invest in rail to make it easier for people to use its potential to take thousands of vehicles — thousands of vehicles — off the highways, including the interstate, and save millions barrels of oil and reduce pollution,” he said. “This is going to be a game changer for the environment as well.”

The president said the tunnel was one of several projects aimed at improving rail transit for beleaguered commuters from Boston to Washington and that he would be in New York on Jan. 31 to make a similar announcement.

In New York, Biden will highlight efforts to construct a new Hudson River tunnel connecting New Jersey with Manhattan while the current tunnel is being rehabilitated.

Some 200,000 passengers travel in the tunnel between New York and New Jersey every weekday, while an estimated 9 million passengers take the rail between Baltimore and Washington annually.

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The president has repeatedly expressed his personal affinity for Amtrak, which he used for decades to commute between Washington and his home outside Wilmington, Del., along the same route where the Baltimore tunnel will ease congestion.

Biden said Jan. 30 he logged more than a million train miles on the system. He previously walked through the Civil-War era tunnel in Maryland to observe its deteriorating status.

Amtrak says it is the oldest tunnel in its system, lacks basic fire safety systems, and suffers from a sinking floor and flooding. One in ten weekday Amtrak trains operating through the tunnel suffer from delays. With the construction of the new tunnel, trains will be able to go up to 110 miles-per-hour — versus a maximum of 30 miles-per-hour currently.

Biden was joined at the Jan. 30 event by two Democrats who are seen as potential future presidential aspirants: Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, who was introduced at his inauguration earlier this month by Oprah Winfrey.

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