A new study released by the Federal Railroad Administration lays out numerous options for high-speed rail investment in the nation's heavily-populated Northeast corridor.

The report, issued this week and compiled from a variety of reports and stakeholder data, is designed to explore a variety of options for growing rail service between Boston and Washington, D.C. The packed rail corridor between them includes the cities of New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, some of which are expected to see population growth of well over 150,000 between now and 2040.

The study presents the possible plans on a multi-tiered system, with four levels of investment lettered A-D and 15 possible approaches possible within the four levels. The "A" tier represents a modest improvement to the existing Northeast corridor network, while "B" represents an expansion of service. Tier "C" includes an expansion to certain destinations just off the current network, while the "D" level would involve a full-blown dedicated regional high-speed rail network.

The report compares the fifteen possible alternative plans against a baseline "no action" plan, which involves maintaining the current network in a state of good repair. From there the options grow steadily more intricate until the 15th level, which involves a major increase in capacity and high-speed trains capable of 220 mph. The top investment levels also include enhanced regional service to destinations like Danbury, Conn. and Nassau, N.Y.

The alternatives often overlap in some respects, but still warrant separation, the report states.

"Each is sufficiently distinct to permit quantitative evaluation, enabling the analysis of key differentiating variables, including capacity (in terms of train frequency and seat availability), ridership, trip time, operational impacts, network expansion capabilities, connectivity, economic impacts, and costs," it reads.

The study points out the especially important position of New York city on the Northeast corridor, as 85% of trips either begin or end in New York or Boston, and only 9% of trips begin either north or south of New York and finish on the other side of the city.

While high-speed rail investment has been a controversial topic in Washington, politicians and officials on both sides of the aisle have agreed that the Northeast corridor is a key area for rail investment.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Republicans last year blasted California's high-speed rail project as a "boondoggle," arguing that federal money would be better spent in the Northeast. The White House has endorsed a nationwide investment in high-speed rail. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said high-speed rail lines would likely be financed by a combination of federal funds, private investment, and state and local dollars, including bonds.

The plans will continue to be evaluated and pared down to a more actionable menu, according to the report.

"In the next phase of the alternatives development process, the preliminary alternatives will be comparatively evaluated to understand their transportation and environmental benefits and impacts," it states. "Screening criteria will be applied to guide the process for identifying the best service and network options to be used to develop the reasonable alternatives."

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