Kiewit/JF Shea JV wins Frederick Douglass Tunnel contract

7 February 2024

Amtrak has selected a Kiewit/JF Shea joint venture to build Baltimore’s 3.2km Frederick Douglass Tunnel.

The Frederick Douglass Tunnel Program, also known as the B&P Tunnel Replacement Program, will modernise and transform a 6.4km section of the Northeast Corridor. It will be delivered under three contracts and includes the construction of two new high-capacity tubes for electrified passenger trains, new roadway and railroad bridges, new rail systems and track, and a new station at West Baltimore.

The existing 2.25km B&P Tunnel, connecting Baltimore’s Penn Station to Washington and Virginia, is nearly 150 years old and Amtrak’s oldest tunnel. It suffers from a variety of age-related issues such as excessive water infiltration, a deteriorating structure, and a sinking floor. There are no fire and life safety systems and costly maintenance is required.

The new tunnel will enable faster travel speeds than the existing tunnel, where trains are limited to maximum speeds of 50kmh because of the tight curves.

“We are one step closer to unlocking the biggest passenger rail bottleneck on the Northeast Corridor between Washington DC and New Jersey,” said Amtrak executive vice-president, capital delivery Laura Mason.

Amtrak says construction is scheduled to start in 2026 and the overall project is due to be completed in 2035. The three major construction contracts are:

  • Replacing five roadway and rail bridges; building new rail infrastructure (interlockings, tracks, catenary/power); and constructing a new ADA-accessible West Baltimore MARC Station
  • Building the Frederick Douglass Tunnel (both tubes)
  • Fitting out the new tunnel with tracks, rail systems and ventilation facilities

The tunnel, named in honour of civil rights leader and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, will be the first passenger rail tunnel built on the Northeast Corridor since 1986, and the first in Maryland since 1934.

In June last year the first set of early works was completed, replacing aging wooden ties with 13,500 new concrete ties, installing 8,535m of new rail and completing track drainage improvements. In September, Amtrak awarded the first of the three construction contracts – the Southern Approach Package (Package B) – to a Clark Construction/Stacy and Witbeck Joint Venture.

In November, the project became fully funded when President Biden announced US$16.4bn in federal grants for NEC projects, including up to US$4.7bn for the Frederick Douglass Tunnel Program. The rest of the project’s budget will be funded by contributions from Amtrak and the State of Maryland for a total budget of approximately US$6bn.

The third and final construction contract to fit out the Frederick Douglass Tunnel will be awarded in 2025/2026. Amtrak will also soon select a Delivery Partner for the project.

Construction of the new tunnel is being delivered through the Construction Manager At-Risk (CMAR) delivery method, which improves project delivery time and allows design, pre-construction and other work to proceed simultaneously.