Investing in the Northeast Corridor

This report illustrates how current and potential future levels of investment in the Northeast Corridor (NEC) could shape the economy of the Northeast region and the nation. It is not a cost-benefit analysis or a full economic impact study. Its purpose is to provide an economic context for deliberations regarding a vision for the NEC through the NEC FUTURE planning process under the leadership of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

Economic Engine for the Region and Nation
Rail service along the NEC plays an essential role in generating economic activity in this most densely populated part of the country, relieving congestion from the highway and aviation networks and unlocking access for families to higher-paying jobs and more affordable housing markets. Over $20 billion is needed – on top of typical annual investments of between $400 and $500 million – to restore existing NEC infrastructure to a state of good repair, sustain existing service levels, and thereby protect current economic productivity. Levels of investment would have to exceed those figures in the coming decades to allow the economy of the Northeast and the country to advance alongside global peers.

Protect the Economy
As rail infrastructure along the NEC ages, the system is becoming more vulnerable to service disruptions. A previous study by the Commission found that a theoretical loss of all service along the NEC for just one day would cost the economy $100 million. The present study finds that the cost of actual delays – measured in lost time and productivity – combined with the extra time users build into their schedules “just in case,” totals nearly $500 million every year. That figure will grow in the coming years if historic levels of capital investment persist.

Advance the Economy
Economic impacts related to transportation system use are easiest to forecast. NEC FUTURE estimates that once completed, the build alternatives would provide approximately $4 billion in transportation-related benefits for users of the rail system. In addition to these direct user benefits, NEC FUTURE forecasts approximately $500 million in potential non-rail user benefits, including increased safety and reduced emissions. This type of investment in infrastructure would bolster major job centers, potentially transform mid-sized cities on the NEC, and align with local economic development plans already in place.