Amtrak has selected a joint venture of Kiewit and J.F. Shea Construction Inc. to build its planned Frederick Douglass Tunnel in Baltimore. 

The contract, which the passenger rail carrier announced Feb. 6,  is valued at more than $1 billion, an Amtrak spokesperson says. It is the second of three major contracts for the railroad's $6-billion program to replace the 150-year-old tunnel.

The two-tube, 2-mile-long structure will replace what had been known as the Baltimore & Potomac tunnel. The replacement is planned for a site just south of Baltimore Penn Station on the Northeast Corridor. It would serve electrified Amtrak and Maryland Area Rail Commuter (MARC) trains.

The project has been renamed for the famed abolitionist, a Maryland native. According to Amtrak, the new tunnel is needed to improve passenger rail service through Baltimore.

 The 1.4-mile, brick-and-masonry B&P tunnel has experienced excessive water infiltration, and its sinking floor requires frequent maintenance. The existing tunnel also has tight curves which necessitate a 30 mph speed limit, causing bottlenecks, Amtrak says.

A spokesperson for the contractors did not immediately respond to ENR inquiries.

Luigi Rosa, Amtrak assistant vice president, said in a statement that the joint venture “brings extensive experience with tunneling projects around North America.” The contractors have previously teamed on projects including the $500-million Dig Indy Tunnel System wastewater tunnel project in Indianapolis and the ongoing $6.9-billion expansion of California’s Bay Area Rapid Transit system under San Jose. 

In addition to construction of the tunnel, the plan includes replacing five bridges and constructing new rail infrastructure. The work is subject to a project labor agreement, and officials have estimated 20,000 jobs will be involved in construction. 

Last year, Amtrak selected a joint venture of Clark Construction with Stacy and Witbeck for another of the program’s construction contracts, which covers work on the tunnel’s southern approach and a new West Baltimore MARC station. Officials say they expect to award another construction contract, covering tunnel fit out, sometime in 2025 or 2026. Amtrak also expects to select a project delivery partner soon to coordinate execution of the construction manager at-risk program. 

Frederick_Douglass_Tunnel_map_ENR.jpgMap courtesy of Amtrak

The full program is scheduled for completion in 2035.

Funding for the work is being split among the Federal Railroad Administration, Amtrak and Maryland. In November, President Joe Biden announced $16.4 billion from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for Northeast Corridor projects, including up to $4.7 billion for the Frederick Douglass Tunnel program.