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Revised B&P Tunnel replacement plan on table ahead of open house

Federal, state and local transportation officials are expected to scrap two options and focus on a third today for replacing an aging railroad tunnel under West Baltimore that is considered a major choke point on Amtrak's busy Northeast Corridor.

The revised plan would lower the impact of the $4 billion project on residents in neighborhoods stretching from Midtown-Edmondson to Bolton Hill. It will be presented at a 5 p.m. open house at Frederick Douglass High School, 2301 Gwynns Falls Parkway. All three plans faced community criticism at previous meetings in February.

Amtrak wants to rebuild the tunnel, which opened in 1873, eight years after the Civil War, to increase the number of trains that can pass through it each day. The project would smooth out sharp curves in the tunnel, enabling trains to double their speed.

About 140 Amtrak and MARC trains and a few freight trains use the 1.4-mile tunnel daily. The modification would make it possible for 388 trains to use the tunnel each day.

Under the revised proposal, the tunnel would be bored through rock 115 feet below the city, deep enough to "eliminate any noticeable vibrations from passing trains," according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

The project would displace 17 residents, instead of 41, the administration said. Amtrak would need to acquire 12 acres for the tunnel realignment, instead of 17 acres, or roughly 50 parcels.

An air-vent plant for the tunnel would be relocated away from a community garden, and officials would solicit opinions on another location on North Avenue. Eighty-five on-street parking spots would be lost, instead of the originally proposed 150. The new proposal would decrease the number of displaced businesses from nine to six. Four community facilities, instead of the originally planned five, would be displaced.

The plan includes a renovation to the West Baltimore MARC station.

Amtrak owns the tunnel, but federal and state transportation officials are developing the replacement plan for an environmental impact statement, which is expected to be finalized next spring.

The federal government has invested $60 million for the planning stages and environmental review of the project.

"Rebuilding the B&P Tunnel is a significant undertaking, and it is our responsibility to incorporate input from everyone it will serve and affect," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. "I encourage everyone to stay involved and provide feedback during the two open forums."

A second open house is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 16 at Carver Vocational School, 2201 W. Presstman St.

An open house Feb. 7 at Douglass High drew residents who said the project should be scrapped entirely. Residents argued that even the seemingly least intrusive option would shake buildings and impose an intolerable racket on their occupants.

The Federal Railroad Administration pledged to continue working with the public on the plans to find a way to do the renovations in a way that would mitigate adverse effects.

"The changes that the FRA is proposing based on the feedback provided by citizens in Baltimore will reduce the impact to the communities and make the project stronger and better," said Federal Railway Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg. "The FRA remains committed to listening to and working with residents in Baltimore as the project moves forward, and we hope everyone will stay engaged."

ccampbell@baltsun.com

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