In response to my previous post regarding the extreme cost of Amtrak’s new Northeast Corridor Vision plan, people both on forums and on blogs have said that it’s actually a cost saving coming from bundling the Vision with the earlier Master Plan. Although the original cost was $117 billion and the current one is $151 billion, the current one is still lower than the sum of the original cost plus the cost of the Master Plan, by $15 billion. This looks like a cost saving, but it’s actually not.
The explanation is that the Master Plan still contains elements that are unnecessary if large portions of the line, including nearly the entire New York-Boston segment, are bypassed. The list of projects on PDF-page 21 of the plan contains additional tracks in eastern Connecticut and a replacement of the bridge over the Connecticut, boosting capacity. However, if the intercity trains are removed from the line, there is no need to boost capacity. Low-performing branch lines – and this is what Shore Line East is without intercity trains – can be and are spun off to regional agencies: JR East abandoned the northern reaches of the Tohoku Main Line as it extended the Tohoku Shinkansen, spinning them off to the prefectures to run as it is not interested in running regional rail at the low densities of northern Japan and the intercity functions were all rolled into the Shinkansen.
So in that sense, any cost saving was spurious: Amtrak simply removed some, but not all, Master Plan projects that are obviated by the plan for a bypass. It’s no different from the fact that the Tokaido Main Line and the PLM Line are still double-tracked, as in both cases the national railroad chose to build high-speed rail parallel to them instead of to quadruple-track them to boost capacity.
But on top of that, there is at least some cost overrun implied in the plan. The cost breakdown is not detailed enough to make this clear, but the cost of the Gateway Tunnel is up to $14.7 billion, from $10-13.5 billion last year. It’s buried deep enough that it’s hard to see, or discern what the total overrun is, but it’s there. So Amtrak has a surreptitious cost escalation for the Gateway project at the same time as a spurious cost saving from partially merging the Vision and the Master Plan.