Tunnel replacement projects promise jobs, better conditions for SMART members

May 4, 2023

Image credit: Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons”

Funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law helped jumpstart two enormous projects on the East Coast in January, creating jobs for SMART sheet metal workers and bettering the working conditions of SMART Transportation Division members. In Baltimore, SMART TD Alt. National Legislative Director Jared Cassity joined Amtrak officials, President Biden and others to kick off the B&P Tunnel Replacement Program. The Civil War-era tunnel will be replaced by the brand-new Frederick Douglass Tunnel, increasing reliability, capacity and speed from 30 mph to a peak of 110 mph. Not only will this save commuters time on the largest rail bottleneck between Washington, DC and New Jersey; thanks to a new project labor agreement (PLA), both SMART sheet metal workers and SMART Transportation Division members working at Amtrak stand to benefit.

“The sorely needed replacement of the B&P Tunnel represents one of the largest infrastructure projects in the region,” SMART General President Joseph Sellers said at the time. “It will improve the lives of Amtrak riders and the SMART TD members who work those trains, and the PLA covering the project will ensure the job is completed by highly skilled workers — lifting local communities up in the process.”

The PLA, negotiated by Amtrak and the Baltimore-DC Building and Construction Trades Council, will cover the replacement of the Warwick Bridge and is the first of its kind under a 2021 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Amtrak and North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU). The MOU will pertain to Amtrak’s major civil engineering projects moving forward, including the remaining phases of the B&P Tunnel Replacement Program, and will help put SMART sheet metal members to work on critical infrastructure jobs across the country.

The project will also improve working conditions for SMART TD Amtrak employees. The B&P Tunnel is Amtrak’s oldest tunnel on the Northeast Corridor, and it has endured a range of age-related maladies, including excessive water infiltration, structural deterioration and delays that impact more than 10% of trains during the week. Now, thanks to the receipt of funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — as well as a $450 million contribution from the state of Maryland, which will combine with Amtrak’s intended commitment of approximately $750 million — the SMART TD members on those trains can look forward to performing their duties with significantly less hassle.

“Our members are ready to take on this work, and we as an organization are ready to bring in new members and elevate the working class throughout this nation.”

Further north, $292 million in infrastructure funding is spurring the completion of the Hudson Tunnel modernization project, which will rehabilitate the old North River Tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey, build a new tunnel and improve reliability for the 200,000 passengers who traverse the tunnel each weekday. President Biden visited New York City to champion the project on January 31, 2023, where he noted that this phase of the project would create 72,000 jobs.

“Yesterday in Baltimore, I announced that we’re building [the B&P Tunnel project] under the new project labor agreement. And we’re making sure there is [a PLA] here as well,” Biden said.

Funding for the modernization project faltered under the previous president’s administration. But thanks to the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in 2021, construction can resume in earnest for this crucial phase. This alone put tens of thousands of union members to work — and once the tunnel has been fully modernized, it will vastly improve working conditions for SMART Transportation Division members working at Amtrak and regional transit systems.

“Since the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we’ve seen time and again how important critical infrastructure projects are for our members — both the sheet metal members who work on these projects, and the transit workers who keep our country moving every day,” said General President Sellers. “We applaud the pro-labor leadership of Congress and the Biden administration in putting these funds directly towards projects that benefit working people.”

In addition to New York and Baltimore, the AP reports, infrastructure law funding will spur work on the Brent Spence Bridge, which connects Kentucky and Ohio; the Calcasieu River Bridge in Louisiana; a commuter rail project in Illinois; the Alligator River Bridge in North Carolina; a transit and highway plan in California; and roadways in Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Mississippi.

“Funding from this law — along with renewed investment from private companies — is creating a level of opportunity across our country that is almost unheard of,” SMART Assistant to the General President Darrell Roberts remarked. “Our members are ready to take on this work, and we as an organization are ready to bring in new members and elevate the working class throughout this nation.”