Plan unveiled for new rail tunnel near Baltimore, to be named after Frederick Douglass

Amtrak and the Maryland Department of Transportation on Friday announced revised plans to replace the rail tunnel just south of Baltimore that’s been the cause of delays for years. And they’ll be naming it after the Maryland abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass.

The Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel, on which ground was broken 150 years ago and which opened in 1873, will be replaced by a pair of “high-capacity tunnel tubes for electrified passenger trains,” Amtrak said in a statement.

Amtrak and MARC Penn Line trains (the latter of which will be electrified, Amtrak said) will use the new tunnel tubes; freight trains will continue to use the old tunnel – a change that Amtrak said would save two years of construction and $1 billion in costs, which will still total $4 billion.

Amtrak said 9 million Amtrak and MARC passengers go through the old B&P Tunnel every year, and it’s deteriorating to the point that more than 10% of weekday trains are delayed as they pass through.

The choice to name the new tunnel after Douglass was an easy call, Amtrak President Stephen Gardner said in the statement: “As Frederick Douglass escaped to freedom by way of a train in Baltimore and traveled extensively by rail, naming this state-of-the-art new passenger rail tunnel after him is a fitting way for us to honor his legacy.”

“It is a tremendous honor to have the future tunnel named for Frederick Douglass,” Nettie Washington Douglass, a great-great granddaughter of Douglass, said in the statement. “Baltimore was where the first seeds of freedom were sewn for my great-great grandfather.”

Amtrak didn’t say how the Frederick Douglass Tunnel project would be funded, but that “pending sufficient funding,” construction could begin in one to two years.

“Replacing the B&P Tunnel is an important endeavor that will result in faster, more reliable rail service for passengers up and down our country’s busiest rail corridor,” said U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “It will also be a key investment for Baltimore City. But it will take resources, a long-term commitment, and partnership among all of us at the federal, state and municipal level.”

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2012 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He went to George Washington University as an undergraduate and is regularly surprised at the changes to the city since that faraway time.

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