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Rail officials push 15-year plan to boost Northeast Corridor

Rail officials push 15-year plan to boost Northeast Corridor

WASHINGTON — As Congress eyes an infrastructure package, a coalition of transportation agencies and Amtrak on Wednesday released a 15-year plan of rail improvements for the congested Northeast Corridor that would boost daily train routes and significantly speed travel on Acela express lines.But the roadmap by the Northeast Corridor Commission, created by Congress in 2008 and comprising eight states and the Transportation Department, is contingent on Congress passing a big spending package.Amit Bose, deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration and a co-chair of the commission, described the plan as a “mobilizing force” for transit change. He said the proposed upgrades along the 450-mile rail corridor would not only create 1.7 million new jobs but also support new travel patterns away from greenhouse gas-emitting cars “as our economy returns to full strength.”It’s unclear how much of the $66 billion proposed for rail in the Senate bipartisan infrastructure deal ultimately would cover the $100 billion, 15-year regional plan, though analysts believe it could be a good start. The bipartisan deal, backed by President Joe Biden, falls short of his original proposal of $80 billion for rail over eight years, of which $39 billion would have gone to the corridor.Senate Democrats’ companion $3.5 trillion budget agreement announced late Tuesday did not include extra money for rail.“The corridor supports more than 800,000 daily passenger trips between the greater Washington D.C. and Boston regions,” said Kevin Corbett, president & CEO of NJ Transit, also a commission co-chair. “It is imperative that together we seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to replace aging assets, add rail capacity, improve performance.”Under the plan, many long-sought projects aimed at unclogging traffic and improving safety in the busy corridor would be fast-tracked to begin construction by 2025, including an $11 billion effort to repair and rehabilitate the century-old Hudson River tunnels into New York City, which typically see 200,000 Amtrak and New Jersey Transit passengers each weekday. The tunnels have seen notable deterioration after Superstorm Sandy flooding in 2012.Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has already signaled support for the project, which had been blocked by the Trump administration as too costly, after touring the aging tunnels last month.Also on the list is the 148-year-old Baltimore & Potomac Tunnel, a major chokepoint for MARC and Amtrak trains near Baltimore Penn Station. Trains must slow to a crawl at 30 mph in the two-track, 1.4-mile tunnel, where a high saturation of water in the soil beneath often causes its aging floor slabs to sink. Under a $4 billion plan by Amtrak and Maryland, new replacement tunnels would allow trains to travel up to 100 mph.Other projects include expansions to stations in Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York City as well Providence, Rhode Island; Stamford, Connecticut, and along Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s rail line, to meet projected growth in passenger traffic.All told, the commission’s plan by 2035 would add 60 million new rail trips annually, boost daily Amtrak service by 33% and commuter railroads by up to double, and reduce travel time on Acela from Washington to New York by 26 minutes and New York to Boston by 28 minutes.It estimates travel time savings valued at nearly $140 million annually in the Northeast Corridor, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 2.9 million car trips annually between New York and Los Angeles.“The investments in infrastructure laid out in this plan will lead to more modern, reliable, and faster trains, expanded service, and a better customer experience — that will benefit customers, economies and local communities along the entire Northeast Corridor and beyond,” said Stephen Gardner, Amtrak’s president.Amtrak has stressed the wider benefits of upgrading the corridor as it seeks to build out its nationwide service. Currently one-third of all Amtrak trips pass through New York City, making it an important gateway for new routes to other parts of the U.S.The commission has welcomed Congress’ proposed spending so far as a starting point, stressing that saved travel time and environmental benefits accrue from the synergies of completing its over 150 proposed projects — not just a few big ones if money runs short.Jeff Davis, a senior fellow at the Eno Center for Transportation, said he expects many of the commission’s initial projects will get the money it needs. He notes that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has pledged to find congressional money for the over $11 billion Hudson River Tunnel project, while another $20 billion or so under the bipartisan compromise deal is likely to go to the Northeast Corridor.“For the first time, we have a unified region behind a plan,” said Mitch Warren, the commission’s executive director. “It’s a big step forward for the corridor.”

Pfizer to discuss COVID-19 vaccine booster with US officials

Pfizer to discuss COVID-19 vaccine booster with US officials

Pfizer says it plans to meet Monday with top U.S. health officials to discuss the drugmaker’s request for federal authorization of a third dose of its COVID-19 vaccineBy HOPE YEN Associated PressJuly 12, 2021, 9:31 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleWASHINGTON — Pfizer says it plans to meet with top U.S. health officials Monday to discuss the drugmaker’s request for federal authorization of a third dose of its COVID-19 vaccine as President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser acknowledged that “it is entirely conceivable, maybe likely” that booster shots will be needed.The company said it was scheduled to have the meeting with the Food and Drug Administration and other officials Monday, days after Pfizer asserted that booster shots would be needed within 12 months.Pfizer’s Dr. Mikael Dolsten told The Associated Press last week that early data from the company’s booster study suggests people’s antibody levels jump five- to 10-fold after a third dose, compared to their second dose months earlier — evidence it believes supports the need for a booster.On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci didn’t rule out the possibility but said it was too soon for the government to recommend another shot. He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA did the right thing last week by pushing back against Pfizer’s assertion with their statement that they did not view booster shots as necessary “at this time.”Fauci said clinical studies and laboratory data have yet to fully bear out the need for a booster to the current two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson regimen.“Right now, given the data and the information we have, we do not need to give people a third shot,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we stop there. … There are studies being done now ongoing as we speak about looking at the feasibility about if and when we should be boosting people.”He said it was quite possible in the coming months “as data evolves” that the government may urge a booster based on such factors as age and underlying medical conditions. “Certainly it is entirely conceivable, maybe likely at some time, we will need a boost,” Fauci said.Monday’s planned meeting between Pfizer and U.S. health officials was first reported by The Washington Post.Currently only about 48% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. Some parts of the country have far lower immunization rates, and in those places the delta variant is surging. Last week, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said that’s leading to “two truths” — highly immunized swaths of America are getting back to normal while hospitalizations are rising in other places.Fauci said it was inexplicable that some Americans are so resistant to getting a vaccine when scientific data show how effective it is in staving off COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, and he was dismayed by efforts to block making vaccinations more accessible, such as Biden’s suggestion of door-to-door outreach.Gov. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., agreed Sunday that there is a vaccine resistance in Southern and rural states like his because “you have that more conservative approach, skepticism about government.”Describing his efforts to boost vaccinations in his state, which is seeing rising infections, Hutchinson said “no one wants an agent knocking on a door,” but “we do want those that do not have access otherwise to make sure they know about it.”The grassroots component of the federal vaccination campaign has been in operation since April, when supplies of shots began outpacing demand. It was outlined and funded by Congress in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill passed in March and overwhelmingly is carried out by local officials and private sector workers and volunteers.Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., blasted opposition to vaccination efforts from some GOP lawmakers as “absolute insanity.” He said House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California and others in the party need to speak out against “these absolute clown politicians playing on your vaccine fears for their own selfish gain.”Fauci appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union,” ABC’s “This Week” and CBS’ “Face the Nation”; Hutchinson spoke on ABC, and Kinzinger was on CNN.

Pfizer to discuss vaccine booster with US officials Monday

Pfizer to discuss vaccine booster with US officials Monday

Pfizer says it plans to meet with top U.S. health officials Monday to discuss the drugmaker’s request for federal authorization of a third dose of its COVID-19 vaccineBy HOPE YEN Associated PressJuly 11, 2021, 7:43 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleWASHINGTON — Pfizer says it plans to meet with top U.S. health officials Monday to discuss the drugmaker’s request for federal authorization of a third dose of its COVID-19 vaccine as President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser acknowledged that “it is entirely conceivable, maybe likely” that booster shots will be needed.The company said it was scheduled to have the meeting with the Food and Drug Administration and other officials Monday, days after Pfizer asserted that booster shots would be needed within 12 months.Pfizer’s Dr. Mikael Dolsten told The Associated Press last week that early data from the company’s booster study suggests people’s antibody levels jump five- to 10-fold after a third dose, compared to their second dose months earlier — evidence it believes supports the need for a booster.On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci didn’t rule out the possibility but said it was too soon for the government to recommend another shot. He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA did the right thing last week by pushing back against Pfizer’s assertion with their statement that they did not view booster shots as necessary “at this time.”Fauci said clinical studies and laboratory data have yet to fully bear out the need for a booster to the current two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson regimen.“Right now, given the data and the information we have, we do not need to give people a third shot,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we stop there. … There are studies being done now ongoing as we speak about looking at the feasibility about if and when we should be boosting people.”He said it was quite possible in the coming months “as data evolves” that the government may urge a booster based on such factors as age and underlying medical conditions. “Certainly it is entirely conceivable, maybe likely at some time, we will need a boost,” Fauci said.Monday’s planned meeting between Pfizer and U.S. health officials was first reported by The Washington Post.Currently only about 48% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. Some parts of the country have far lower immunization rates, and in those places the delta variant is surging. Last week, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said that’s leading to “two truths” — highly immunized swaths of America are getting back to normal while hospitalizations are rising in other places.Fauci said it was inexplicable that some Americans are so resistant to getting a vaccine when scientific data show how effective it is in staving off COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, and he was dismayed by efforts to block making vaccinations more accessible, such as Biden’s suggestion of door-to-door outreach.Gov. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., agreed Sunday that there is a vaccine resistance in Southern and rural states like his because “you have that more conservative approach, skepticism about government.”Describing his efforts to boost vaccinations in his state, which is seeing rising infections, Hutchinson said “no one wants an agent knocking on a door,” but “we do want those that do not have access otherwise to make sure they know about it.”The grassroots component of the federal vaccination campaign has been in operation since April, when supplies of shots began outpacing demand. It was outlined and funded by Congress in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill passed in March and overwhelmingly is carried out by local officials and private sector workers and volunteers.Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., blasted opposition to vaccination efforts from some GOP lawmakers as “absolute insanity.” He said House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California and others in the party need to speak out against “these absolute clown politicians playing on your vaccine fears for their own selfish gain.”Fauci appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union,” ABC’s “This Week” and CBS’ “Face the Nation”; Hutchinson spoke on ABC, and Kinzinger was on CNN.