Amtrak signs PLA to kick off B&P tunnel replacement

Amtrak kicked off the Baltimore-Potomac Tunnel Replacement Programme alongside President Biden and USDOT.

President Biden and Amtrak

Credit: Amtrak

Together with President Biden and the U.S. Department of Transportation, Amtrak joined Maryland officials to execute the Project Kickoff Agreement with the State of Maryland and to celebrate the Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with the Baltimore-DC Building and Construction Trades Council for the first phase of the B&P Tunnel Replacement Programme in Baltimore.

“Replacing this Civil War-era B&P tunnel will nearly triple train capacity on this critical section of the Northeast Corridor for the nine million annual Amtrak and MARC customers who rely on this vital connection,” Stephen Gardner CEO of Amtrak, said. “As we work with Maryland and our labour partners to deliver the new Frederick Douglass Tunnel, we are grateful for essential funding that the Biden Administration has designated for this project, made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the strong support of our many federal, state and local partners.”

Investing in the project

Maryland intends to commit $450 million in state funding to support this major infrastructure project, which includes the construction of the new Frederick Douglass Tunnel. These funds, combined with Amtrak’s intended commitment of approximately $750 million, put the project closer to achieving full funding under the Federal Railroad Administration’s Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grant Programme. Once work is complete, service reliability, capacity and speed will increase from 30mph to up to 110mph, saving commuters time on what is currently the largest rail bottleneck between Washington D.C. and New Jersey.

“Investment in transit infrastructure is fundamental to expanding economic opportunities and promoting more reliable, customer-focused service to Marylanders,” Wes Moore, Governor of Maryland, said. “The Frederick Douglass Tunnel project stands as more evidence of our commitment to modernise and transform transit throughout the state.”

“We will continue to work closely with all of our partners to advance the Frederick Douglass Tunnel and support the region with innovative transportation solutions,” Paul J. Wiedefeld, Acting Secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, said.  “This critical infrastructure project will improve both passenger and commuter rail for Marylanders.”  

“The launch of the Fredrick Douglass Tunnel project shows that transit in Maryland has a bright future,” Holly Arnold, MDOT MTA Administrator, said. “This project will ultimately lead to improved reliability and increased travel options for our riders.”

A new PLA

In addition to the project kickoff agreement with Maryland, a new PLA has been signed between Amtrak and the Baltimore-DC Building and Construction Trades Council, which is a local affiliate of North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), to cover the replacement of the Warwick Bridge that can serve as a model for other Amtrak projects. The PLA is the first agreement under a 2021 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Amtrak and NABTU covering Amtrak’s major civil engineering projects, including the remaining phases of the B&P Tunnel Replacement Programme. The PLA is a collective bargaining agreement that will govern terms and conditions of employment for workers constructing the bridge replacement.

 “NABTU is proud to partner with Amtrak to ensure that the major civil engineering projects under its control are performed under collective bargaining agreements with NABTU’s councils and affiliates to ensure that the highly skilled men and women of North America’s Building Trades construct the critical infrastructure necessary for America’s rail system,” Sean McGarvey, President of NABTU, said. “There is no better place to start our partnership than with the much-needed B&P Tunnel replacement programme.”

On a national level, having the MOU in place with NABTU ensures that:

  • Amtrak and NABTU will not face labour-related delays in the planning and contracting of major projects
  • Contractors and subcontractors share Amtrak’s commitment to paying fair wages and benefits
  • Amtrak and NABTU can move forward with Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funded projects with efficient labour-management relations.

At nearly 150 years old, the B&P Tunnel is Amtrak’s oldest tunnel on the Northeast Corridor and a single point of failure for both MARC and Amtrak trains. The 1.4-mile tunnel, connecting Baltimore to Washington, D.C., suffers from a variety of age-related issues such as excessive water infiltration, a deteriorating structure and delays that impact more than 10% of weekday trains.

The $6 billion programme is comprised of several investment projects to construct new bridges, rail systems and track, an ADA-accessible West Baltimore MARC station and the new Frederick Douglass Tunnel, which will include two new high-capacity tubes for electrified passenger trains.

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