PROVIDENCE — The people who run the rail systems that crisscross Rhode Island laid out a roadmap for what train travel in 2035 will look like, with fewer delays, shorter trips, and more options — if only they can find $100 billion for it.
The Northeast Corridor Commission, made up of representatives from Washington D.C. to Massachusetts, released its Connect NEC 2035 plan on Wednesday. Running 274 pages with exhibits and other errata, the report tries to put in order the projects that they should do and when they should do them.
The projects the report describes aren’t exactly a mystery. Some have been funded, others have even gotten shovels in the ground. But it provides a broad overview of train travel in a decade and a half or so if everything goes according to plan.
“Rhode Island is ready to work hard to make C35 a reality,” Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti said in a written statement, using an abbreviation for the report. “It is the way of the future.”
The Northeast Corridor is the nation’s busiest passenger rail network. Across eight states and the nation’s capital, the corridor supported 760,000 daily trips on regional commuter railroads and another 40,000 on long-haul Amtrak pre-pandemic, the commission said. It’s also plagued with aging infrastructure and, compared to other industrialized nations, slow service.
The report says if all 150 projects between D.C. and Boston were completed, it would cost some $117 billion. But there’s a $100 billion funding gap, the report said. (The funding will come via federal dollars and state dollars.)
Some of the projects the report touts as ways to improve the future of trains include The Pawtucket/Central Falls MBTA stop, which is currently under construction; having Amtrak trains as well as MBTA trains stop at the T.F. Green International Airport, a long-held goal; already-planned repairs at Providence Station; and other improvements that will make service faster and more frequent.
Along the corridor, improvements including a conversion to electric trains would cut the travel time between Boston and Providence by 11 minutes and between Boston and Wickford Junction by 16 minutes. Getting from Boston to New York would be 28 minutes faster, the report says.
The report calls itself ambitious. Advocates for another plan say it has its benefits, but falls short of the real goal: Trains from Boston to New York in 100 minutes, plus a web of train connections that would link Providence and Woonsocket and Worcester with regional train service. The vision is called North Atlantic Rail. The mayor of Providence is among those on board. It goes unmentioned in the C35 report, a fact that was not lost on its advocates.
The C35 plan is “clearly a move in the right direction,” said John Flaherty, deputy director of Grow Smart Rhode Island, a nonprofit that tries to combat sprawl and is involved in North Atlantic Rail. “There’s no doubt about that. We just think it doesn’t go far enough, when we have an opportunity to do something much more expansive. This just sort of seems like it’s tinkering around the edges.”