If you’re planning a trip from Charm City to New York City, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott has a tip for how to get there: High-speed rail.
“That’s the only way you can go Baltimore to New York is by Amtrak Acela — if you drive or do anything else, I don’t know what’s wrong with your mind,” Scott said, as a shiny blue Acela speedster idled behind him.
The mayor was joined by U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, Amtrak President Roger Harris and others Monday at a ceremonial ribbon-cutting to mark the latest improvements at Baltimore’s Penn Station: A new platform to serve Amtrak Acela train passengers.
The addition will free up the station’s existing platforms for other Amtrak trains, as well as commuter trains that run on the Maryland Transit Administration’s MARC service.
Trains can start pulling into their new home at Penn Station this spring after Amtrak finishes leveling track along the length of the platform.
Construction on another new platform, for two tracks that will service MARC commuter trains, is expected to wrap up this fall, an Amtrak official said. The renovations will double the number of platforms at Penn Station and ease timing and congestion issues.
Acela trains are a more expensive ride than other Amtrak trains but can get Baltimore passengers to Philadelphia in an hour, to New York City in 2 1/2 hours and to Boston in about 6 1/2 hours. Amtrak officials say the new platform is a critical component as they seek to double ridership to roughly 6 million passengers a year through Baltimore by the year 2040.
Federal funding flowing from the 2021 infrastructure bill is allowing Amtrak to tackle a number of Maryland projects. These include a planned multibillion-dollar passenger rail tunnel underneath West Baltimore and a replacement of the Susquehanna River Rail Bridge in Harford County.
Cardin thanked the administration of President Joe Biden, a long-time Amtrak rider and enthusiast, for “providing the tools” to make a slew of infrastructure improvements across the nation, and especially Maryland. Noting strong partnerships among the offices of Scott, Gov. Wes Moore and the state’s congressional delegation, Cardin said, “This is team Maryland fighting for transportation.”
“Baltimore and Maryland play the long game when it comes to rail,” said Van Hollen, a Democrat like many of the other Maryland officeholders. “From the B&O to today, Baltimore has been a hub for rail.”
Jennifer Mitchell, deputy administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration, called this “a very exciting time for rail in Maryland and rail in the country.” Mitchell said the Biden administration is reversing a longstanding trend of underinvestment in passenger rail.
The new platforms are Amtrak’s piece of a larger redevelopment effort. Penn Station Partners, a collaboration between Beatty Development and Cross Street Partners, has a grander vision for the station footprint.
Currently, riders can grab a coffee at Dunkin’ but there are no tables where they can sit. Need to charge a phone or laptop before the train leaves? Sorry, that rectangle on the wall that looks like an outlet is just a sticker.
In addition to building apartments in the vicinity, developer Bill Struever plans to bring new commercial and retail tenants to help transform the 113-year-old Beaux-Arts station into a gateway and a true live/work/play hub.
“What Amtrak is investing in the Northeast Corridor is just unbelievable,” Struever told The Baltimore Banner Monday morning. “We see this as just the beginning.”