PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A federal grant for track upgrades in Massachusetts will smooth out bumpy sections of track and set the stage for another daily round trip for Amtrak’s Downeaster between Boston and Portland, officials said Monday.
The $20.8 million will be used to eliminate a bottleneck by extending double track between Wilmington and Andover, Mass., allowing trains to pass each other, as well as replacing older welded rail and making other improvements, said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.
The U.S. Department of Transportation grant, announced by U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, was made possible by Florida’s rejection of $2.4 billion in funding for rail projects.
The largest share of the money — nearly $800 million — will be used to upgrade train speeds from 135 mph to 160 mph on critical segments of the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Monday at a news conference in New York’s Pennsylvania Station, the nation’s busiest train depot.
The projects should also improve the reliability of other commuter lines, such as New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road, by improving electrical lines on shared sections of track and allowing Amtrak trains to bypass a major junction in New York City, LaHood said.
Officials in the New York area had lobbied heavily for the money, noting that the stretch between Washington and Boston is the country’s most-traveled rail corridor.
“This is what our friends around here have been asking for,” LaHood said.
While the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority applied for the grant, the track is owned by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which will make the improvements.
The changes could trim another 15 minutes from the running time, bringing the service closer to a goal of completing the Portland-to-Boston route in less than two hours, said Wayne Davis, president of TrainRiders Northeast, a rail advocacy group based in Portland.
Chris Hawley of the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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