WASHINGTON, DC - The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) today released its updated NEC FUTURE plan to modernize passenger rail service on the Northeast Corridor (NEC).  U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) says the revised 30-year vision shows that FRA listened to the concerns of Rhode Islanders and puts the state in the driver’s seat on future planning, study, and design decisions regarding any rerouting of tracks.

In response to concerns raised by Rhode Islanders, the FRA’s NEC FUTURE Record of Decision (ROD) released today makes some important clarifications to the draft environmental plan that it published at the end of 2016.  The ROD effectively kills a new bypass line across southern Rhode Island, an idea that drew opposition from State officials, local communities, tribal leaders, and preservation and environmental groups.  While it allows for state-of-good repair projects within the existing right-of-way, the ROD states that there will be no changes to the track alignment in Southern Rhode Island without additional study, analysis, and consultation initiated by the State. 

The ROD also includes language to address future Amtrak service at the T.F. Green Airport, stating that the FRA will continue to work with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) on the development of a regional rail service stop there.  Improvements to Providence Station are also included as “related on-going projects” that are considered complimentary to NEC FUTURE.

“Passenger rail is critical to Rhode Island’s economy and our future.  Under this long-term plan, passenger rail service won’t bypass the state, nor will it force Rhode Islanders in Washington County to accept a new rail line they don’t want.  The ROD leaves it up to Rhode Island to determine how to best address capacity and environmental concerns.  At a time of limited funding, the ROD rightly focuses on cost effective and immediate needs,” said Reed, the Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD).  “Senator Pell was a high-speed rail visionary, and it is vital that we have a long-term plan.  The rail improvements laid out in this ROD will help enhance passenger rail service and safety up and down the East Coast and provide us with a more modern, integrated public transportation system for the future.”

Earlier this year, at the request of Rhode Islanders who were concerned about the impact of NEC FUTURE on their communities, Senator Reed successfully urged FRA to extend the deadline for public comment on the NEC FUTURE’s draft environmental plan.  The public comment period was scheduled to end January 31, 2017, but at Senator Reed’s request, the FRA kept the comment period open through the spring, giving more citizens an opportunity to share their thoughts and concerns.  He also facilitated a direct meeting in Charlestown between FRA staff and elected officials and community leaders from Rhode Island.

“Over the course of this process, Rhode Islanders raised significant issues and to FRA’s credit, they listened and took steps to address them.  Rhode Island, not the federal government, will continue to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to determining any future rail alignments within the state,” noted Reed.

NEC FUTURE is a comprehensive planning initiative officially launched by the FRA in 2012 with the goal of informing future investment along the NEC over the next three decades. 

Now that the ROD has been finalized, the FRA will work with states and other stakeholders to prioritize the order in which projects should be undertaken as funding becomes available.