AMTRAK has awarded a joint venture of Kiewit and J F Shea a contract to construct the new Frederick Douglass Tunnel in Baltimore, which will be used by Amtrak and Maryland Area Rail Commuter (Marc) services on the Northeast Corridor (NEC).

Construction of the dual bore 3.2km tunnel is set to begin in 2026.

Amtrak says the Frederick Douglass Tunnel Programme is the centrepiece of its $US 6bn initiative to comprehensively upgrade an approximately 16.5km section of the NEC south of Baltimore.

The new tunnel will replace the ageing Baltimore & Potomac (B&P) Tunnel, which is a major bottleneck on the NEC, with its tight curves limiting the speed of the 90-100 Amtrak and Marc trains that use it every weekday to 50km/h. The Frederick Douglass will enable speeds of up to 160km/h and is part of a realignment of a 6.4km section of the NEC.

“We are one step closer to unlocking the biggest passenger rail bottleneck on the Northeast Corridor between Washington, DC, and New Jersey,” says Amtrak executive vice-president, capital delivery, Ms Laura Mason. “This would not be possible without historic funding through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, as well as continued support from the Biden-Harris administration, Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and our funding partners at Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and Maryland Transit Administration (MTA).”

The overall programme is scheduled for completion in 2035 and will be delivered through three major construction contracts, the first of which was awarded in September to the Clark Construction/Stacy and Witbeck joint venture, which is delivering the Southern Approach construction package. This involves the construction of a new accessible West Baltimore Marc station, building the southern approach from south of the West Baltimore station area and extending north to the south portal of the new Frederick Douglass Tunnel, replacing three railway underpasses and two bridges, and relocating utilities.

The third contract, to fit out the tunnel with track, catenary and other rail systems and ventilation facilities, will be awarded in 2025 or 2026. Adams and Delaware Cornerstone Builders, which Amtrak says are two local Small Business Enterprises (SBE), will complete additional preliminary work ahead of the start of main construction. Amtrak began early work activities along an approximately 8km section in the Halethorpe and West Baltimore areas in March 2023.

The new tunnel is the first new passenger tunnel built on the NEC since 1986, and the first in Maryland since 1934. It is named in honour of 19th century civil rights leader and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, a native of Maryland.

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