Home ARC Tunnel At Penn Station, the ghost of ARC lives on

At Penn Station, the ghost of ARC lives on

by Benjamin Kabak

Penn Station simply cannot handle an increase in train capacity.

It’s been over two months since New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pulled the plug on the ARC Tunnel project, and the fallout from his decision is still raining down upon the region. While the 7 line extension to Secaucus made headlines in mid-November, all has been quite on the cross-Hudson front. Still, the problems ARC was designed to address and the problems that plagued the ARC project live on.

Two stories — one grander than the other — kept the ARC tunnel in the news this week. First, The Post’s editorial board used the MTA Inspector General’s report on the MTA’s construction cost overruns as proof that canceling ARC was the right idea. Their logic is spurious at best.

“You can’t blame New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie if he feels some satisfaction over news out of the MTA,” Alexander Hamilton’s former paper said. “A new report by Inspector General Barry Kluger found that the transit agency’s major development projects — the Second Avenue subway, the LIRR link and the Fulton Transit Center — are five years late and $2 billion over budget. But they’re all too far along for MTA Chairman Jay Walder to kill them. Which is precisely what Christie did to the Hudson River commuter tunnel, before it slipped into the overrun abyss.”

The Post claims that the problems plaguing the MTA — “lack of oversight and bureaucratic infighting” — are the same as those that would have descended on ARC, and because of those concerns, Christie was right to cancel the project. To me, it would have made far more sense for Christie to address those two concerns and figure out a way to bring the project under budget before killing it. He chose not to tackle those problems, and the way he made his decision should not be applauded.

Meanwhile, the problems ARC was designed to address are alive and kicking. Penn Station has not turned into a panacea of through trains, and the crowded rail hub is facing capacity concerns. As part of an ongoing series detailing concerns about our region’s aging transportation infrastructure, Andrew Grossman of the Wall Street Journal went in depth into the Penn Station problems. He writes:

NJ Transit, LIRR and Amtrak must get 170 trains loaded on 21 platforms in four hours, moving more than 120,000 commuters and long-haul travelers out of Manhattan. It is the nation’s busiest station. If all goes according to plan, a train opens its doors on a platform every 60 to 90 seconds, picking up or dropping off about 900 passengers—the equivalent of two full Boeing 747s.

In 2010, 6% of peak-period NJ Transit trains were late through November, with delays more common on most of the lines that run in and out of Penn. Sometimes the failures are catastrophic and perhaps unavoidable, as following the late-December snowstorm that delayed scores of trains for days. But other delays—malfunctioning signals, overhead wires knocked down by trees that the railroad can’t afford to trim—can be chalked up to factors like human error, poor planning or a lack of funding.

Penn Station is one of many choke points in the aging transit system moving people around metro New York. In an era defined by states’ austerity and tapped-out transit authorities, much of the fundamental infrastructure is outdated and overcrowded. And there’s little prospect of it getting much better without politically unpalatable steps being taken, such as higher fares and tolls or a major reallocation of taxpayer dollars.

All of the trains arriving and departing Penn Station, which opened a century ago, come from two tracks toward New Jersey and four tracks toward Long Island. All must arrive on one of the 21 tracks, but many trains can’t fit on some tracks with shorter platforms. By contrast, Grand Central has 46 tracks—and far fewer delays.

A late Amtrak train impacts a New Jersey Transit train which impacts a Long Island Rail Road train which impacts an Amtrak train. It is a problem that many had hoped ARC would solve and now, as Grossman notes, transportation planners are “scrambling” to find better solutions. New Jersey Transit is at the mercy of Amtrak, but the MTA is trying anything it can find to improve the situation.

The authority, says Grossman, “is investigating whether it can run trains through Penn and into New Jersey, shaving precious minutes off the amount of time each spends on a platform, freeing up some capacity. It’s also looking at running some Metro-North trains into Penn once a project to provide LIRR access into Grand Central Terminal is finished.”

Eventually, something is going to have to give. New Jersey and New York will have to figure out a way to work together to address the region’s cross-Hudson rail capacity concerns. The two states will have to work hard to keep costs on the ARC successor project to a reasonable level and will have to battle overruns. The economic impact of planning and building nothing is too severe for us to wait much longer.

You may also like


Boris January 5, 2011 - 2:01 am

Does anything legally prevent Amtrak from running Trenton-New Haven commuter trains? It would basically take some responsibilities off NJ Transit and LIRR and lighten the load in Penn Station by encouraging transfers at Secaucus and a potential new station in Astoria, Queens.

John Paul N. January 5, 2011 - 6:43 am

Amtrak hasn’t been interested in running “commuter” service ever since they withdrew their Clocker service.

Christopher January 5, 2011 - 12:22 pm

They run the commuter service in Northern California. The funding for it comes from the state, however. Something similar could be done in NJ.

Bolwerk January 5, 2011 - 2:28 pm

That’s about the only way Amtrak does commuter service. It sometimes acts as a contractor for a state commuting agency (Virginia Railway Express is an example, IIRC).

Alon Levy January 5, 2011 - 12:31 pm

Amtrak’s not allowed to run money-losing trains on any route shorter than 750 miles unless it seeks state funding first. But if it wants to run another excursion train through Montana, it can immediately do so, with federal funding.

Astoria is a meh transfer station – it’s too far out. It’s good for local service to Astoria, but if you want a better transfer, build one at Sunnyside.

Bolwerk January 5, 2011 - 2:06 am

To me, it would have made far more sense for Christie to address those two concerns and figure out a way to bring the project under budget before killing it.

Great idea, but it would require leadership skills!

Bruce M January 5, 2011 - 2:35 am

I’m curious if anyone knows what the alignment of tracks 20/21 are, and if space could be carved out to the north of those two tracks to add tracks 22/23? It seems they aren’t quite underneath 34th Street. If there’s room, could it be a cheaper alternative and provide the option of shifting LIRR operations over to give more room to NJT and Amtrak?

Scott E January 5, 2011 - 7:23 am

I’m told there is an abandoned track (either north of track 21 or south of track 1, I’m not sure) that use to serve the Farley Post Office. It’s got a relatively short, but existing platform at Penn. If anyone has any information on it, that might be a little bit of help. Does anyone here know anything about it?

Subutay Musluoglu January 5, 2011 - 11:24 am

You are refering to the Diagonal Mail Platform, which is located on the ladder track that accesses NJT Tracks 1-4. It is meant to be reopened under the long term Moynihan plan and use it for Empire Corridor service.

SomeGuy32 January 5, 2011 - 9:56 am

no tracks come close to 34th st – track 21 is under 33rd.

John Paul N. January 5, 2011 - 6:40 am

I had been thinking if there was another ulterior motive behind the ARC cancellation. I’m thinking Chris Christie doesn’t want NJ to provide more rail service if he thinks the new service will lose (more) money.

I also question whether through routing would be as good a solution as suggested. If the majority of traffic is either inbound (morning) or outbound (evening), how would non-reverse peak passengers benefit, other than better train dwell and passenger loading/unloading times? As I see it, new platforms should be the higher priority over constructing new power rails for through service deep into Newark or Jamaica. I would support through routing specifically if the NJ Transit Northeast Corridor line (up to Jersey Avenue) is the service that connects to the LIRR/MNRR, as that is where the large companies are based.

Has there been any mention of switch reconstruction in Penn Station in any of the ARC and Moynihan Station projects?

Alon Levy January 5, 2011 - 12:35 pm

New platforms are far, far more expensive than constructing new power rails into Newark or Jamaica, or retrofitting trains with dual-voltage motors.

jim January 5, 2011 - 9:14 am

NJ Transit, LIRR and Amtrak must get 170 trains loaded on 21 platforms in four hours

Let’s do the math: 170 trains in 4 hours is 42 trains in one hour. That’s two train per platform per hour.

The reporter should have asked someone why it takes half an hour for a train to clear a platform.

Joe Steindam January 5, 2011 - 10:35 am

We all know the answer, all the services that enter Penn Station end there. This means that not only do all passengers leave the trains, but there are scheduled turn overs on staffing too. Even Amtrak trains that technically run through Penn Station (Regional and Acela) have scheduled dwell times at Penn Station for at least 15-20 minutes.

If Through-service is a viable option, it should be considered, but I really doubt it is. Apart from the difficulties of coordinating trains between 2 commuter rail agencies, the platforms at Penn Station feel ridiculously tiny and narrow. I wonder if you could even have commuters waiting on the platform to board quickly, like on the subway, because I don’t think the platforms are big enough to allow quick entry and exit.

jim January 5, 2011 - 11:37 am

all the services that enter Penn Station end there

Some do, some don’t. Even the ones that end there don’t have to take so long at the platform. LIRR at peak runs five trains an hour per platform. It unloads a train and then runs it through to the west side yard; it brings a train in from the west side yard, loads it and runs it on its way. Amtrak does schedule 15 minute dwells on Acelas, partly because of crew changes. Regionals, though, it only schedules 7-minute dwells. Amtrak, of course, doesn’t have as many passengers to load/unload per train as the commuter rails.

The platform hog is NJT. It isn’t getting passengers on or off the trains; it isn’t even getting passengers on or off the platforms (if a full, 12 bi-level car, NJT train pulls in on tracks 9 or 10, which have the fewest, narrowest escalators and staircases, the expected time for all passengers to clear the platform is 5.6 minutes). It’s getting the train reversed back out through the tunnels to NJ. Through running would fix that, if there were a place to run the trains through to. There’s no additional room in Sunnyside yard.

Anonymoose January 6, 2011 - 12:45 am

Then why don’t we expand Sunnyside yard?

Bolwerk January 5, 2011 - 2:33 pm

Some platforms should be combined, with tracks removed, to make it a through station. LIRR and NJT should both through run to maximize throughput – it only benefits both railroads, and their customers.

The only services that might have an excuse for dwelling longer are Amtrak services, and there just aren’t _that_ many of these.

Peter January 5, 2011 - 9:19 am

If the NY Post is so concerned with cost overruns on publicly-funded projects, why didnt they do an expose on the massive waste of money obliged by the closure and replacement of the MTA-NYCT Walnut Bus Depot and aborted construction of the unsuccessful wastepaper de-inking plant in the South Bronx a number of years ago, so that the Post could construct their new color printing plant?

The Moynihan “Station” is naught but a shopping mall. That it is at the same location as a transportation facility merely allows politically connected speculators to bring pressure to bear on City, State and Federal officials, to give away public assets in the dubious guise of civic improvements.

petey January 5, 2011 - 10:26 am

post + christie = rightwing love fest. nothing different could be expected from murdochites.

Edward January 5, 2011 - 9:32 am

What about having some Amtrak trains terminate at Grand Central, like they used to in the past? No all trains need to go from Boston to DC via NYC; many riders from Boston or points north are coming to NYC, not traveling all the way to DC. Even if 10% of these trains were to travel down the Hudson River/New Haven lines to Grand Central, it could lighten the load at Penn Station. Any thoughts?

Joe Steindam January 5, 2011 - 10:26 am

Amtrak probably isn’t interested. They previously used Grand Central only for service using NY’s Empire Corridor. With the opening of the Empire Connection, Amtrak didn’t need to use Grand Central, and because Amtrak has limited money to operate multiple stations in the same city, all operations will probably remain at Penn Station. I bet Amtrak will never resume operations from Grand Central under it’s current configuration (as a terminal station not connected to the Northeast Corridor).

Larry Littlefield January 5, 2011 - 9:37 am

“New Jersey and New York will have to figure out a way to work together to address the region’s cross-Hudson rail capacity concerns.”

I have a suggestion. A public statement by the Governors that you shouldn’t live in New Jersey if you work in New York, because accomodation will not be provided if more people choose to do so.

Another option: reconfigure the tracks to terminate all NJT trains in New Jersey. Run a seatless shuttle between there and Penn Station, cutting dwell time and allowing far more passengers to pack in on the train.

Eric F. January 5, 2011 - 11:50 am

“I have a suggestion. A public statement by the Governors that you shouldn’t live in New Jersey if you work in New York, because accomodation will not be provided if more people choose to do so.”

And given that you won’t add lane miles to enable increased freight capacity into NYC, how about NJ doesn’t allow anything to be shipped into NYC? Eat what you can grow in Central Park.

Bolwerk January 5, 2011 - 2:38 pm

What would make more sense is better utilization of the lanes already available. Stop wasting them on POVs and focus them on truck freight – which, for the forseeable future, is going to be a vital means to get goods between both states – and perhaps buses.

AlexB January 5, 2011 - 10:31 am

I get very confused when I read about ARC and the way commuter and long distance trains can and should operate. I’ve heard the following:
– Building a whole new station with a new tunnel is the only way to increase capacity to the levels necessary (the official line of the government).
– LIRR, Amtrak, and NJT waste a lot of time (and capacity) by letting trains sit at the platform for unnecessarily long amounts of time and not through-routing the trains. The cooperate minimally.
– The main problem is that the ancient platforms can’t handle enough people and long enough trains. Simply extending platforms and building a lot more escalators and stairs would help a lot (increase capacity).
– The tunnels currently move 25 trains per hour, the supposed maximum. With proper signaling technology and minimal time at each platform, they could handle close to double this number.

Which of these is true and which is false?

The way the argument has been framed is that we can renovate Penn Station (new signals, platforms, exits, passageways, etc) for let’s say 1 to 2 billion (totally made up number), causing lots of disruption to existing services. This would possibly increase capacity by 25-50% (also totally made up number). Or, with 9 billion, you can build a who new modern station and new tunnel, doubling capacity, with no disruption to anybody, but also with no connection to the existing system. Is that basically how this breaks down?

Is there a credible move to increase renovation efforts now that ARC is dead?

Alon Levy January 5, 2011 - 12:43 pm

Taking the four things in order:

1. Wrong.

2. Right.

3. Partly right – the platforms are narrower than is ideal, but are wider than subway platforms. Staircase placement is a bigger issue, though.

4. The best mainline rail signaling in existence, ETCS Level 2, is capable of 32 tphpd. But this is rare even on crowded commuter lines; usually 30 is the upper limit. This is achieved even with less than perfect timetable adherence, e.g. in Paris, where on-time performance is about on a par with Metro-North.

I’ve heard of signaling systems that can achieve nearly 50 tph, but these are for greenfield driverless metros at rather low speeds. Outside these, Moscow achieves 40 (still at lower speeds than should be acceptable for a line that hosts the Acela), but it’s unique, whereas 30 is much more common.

Bolwerk January 5, 2011 - 2:41 pm

You could add:

3a. There’s also that whole matter of boarding being an unnecessarily slow and difficult process.

Are the narrow stairs deliberate so they can check every ticket? Such a moronic design flaw!

Alon Levy January 5, 2011 - 9:12 pm

I don’t think they are. On the commuter trains they punch tickets on the trains, not at the stations.

Bolwerk January 5, 2011 - 10:08 pm

They punch them aboard Amtrak too. But they also check them before you go down to the platform. Not a big deal, except they could probably clear the slot faster if they just let people distribute themselves along the platform like pretty much every train station on the planet allows.

Scott E January 6, 2011 - 8:36 am

Slow and difficult process? Somewhat. Look at the door positions on the trains. NJT (single-level) has doors at the ends and (usually) in the middle of each car, quite sufficient. LIRR only has two sets of doors, and inconsiderate passengers taking the first row always block everyone else from making their way to seats. They also have a clumsy system of hinged doors between cars. NJT bi-levels have four sets of doors, per car, per side, though they are narrow and the ones at the end of the cars aren’t particularly useful. Amtrak only has end-doors, and in my limited experience, they only board via one door and passengers walk all the way down the train, airplane style.

Boarding could certainly be made easier by optimizing the cars and boarding process, not just the platforms.

Bolwerk January 6, 2011 - 4:11 pm

I sometimes wonder if just employing a rapid transit model would be better in the long run, with standees and everything.

I suppose it would be hard to balance for riders who need to go far afield though.

AlexB January 5, 2011 - 10:38 am

PS: The proponents of increasing capacity/efficiency via a series of incremental measures are often criticized for imagining ideal scenarios where every train is on time and there are no other issues. Another part of the argument for ARC was that it created a redundancy in NY-NJ trackage that no amount of increased efficiency could compensate for.

John January 5, 2011 - 10:45 am

The original ARC option still wouldn’t have solve the problem of there being double the capacity for cross-river trains under the East River than there is under the Hudson in and out of Penn Station, thanks to the “Journey to the Center of the Earth” terminal under 34th Street that was part of the plan (and resulted in the bulk of the original cost and cost overruns that killed the project).

Any new plan should take into consideration making the new Hudson tunnels useful as part of an overall through service for an expanded Penn Station, and not a stand-alone plan simply for NJT, with a terminal that provides no options for mid-day storage other than to route the trains back out to a yard in New Jersey.

Eric F. January 5, 2011 - 11:47 am

The issue is correctly noted as a regional one, and yet the attack is on Christie for not forcing NJ to shoulder massive costs for it. Is that attack founded on logic or ideological bias? Let’s pretend that Christie is a Democrat, and thus we can be free to ignore him personally. NJ is a state of around 8 million people. It does not have $20 billion to spend on ARC. The purported financing plan for ARC put in place by Christie’s predecessor, who left town just before it mattered, was laughably insufficient to actually fund ARC. It’s duct tape and bubble gum, setting up the Port Authority and Turnpike Auithority to fall into bankruptcy. It had no chance of covering what are clearly inevitable massive overruns. If you don’t address that point, you don’t have a counterpoint. You cannot conjure money out of indignation or desire.

ARC also demonstrates how out of balance this region’s planning has become. I like ARC! But the fact is that you could add massive capacity to vehicle crossings for a fraction of what ARC would cost. I’m an old guy, much older than the whippersnappers on this blog. No trans-Hudson vehicle capacity has been added in our lifetimes. That is poor planning, not some victory of commonsense. There is more than one way to cross a river.

I think the region needs Penn Station relief, but NJ can’t afford it by itself with a circa 2011 cost structure imposed on the solution. Ideally, someone will be inspired to rip up a bunch of red tape enviro statutes and build a third relief tunnel to Penn, knock down a block next to Penn to add a dozen nice wide, lengthy platforms, and build a train storage yard in the Jersey swamps. This is a matter of crictical interstate import and the feds should fund it.

Bolwerk January 5, 2011 - 3:02 pm

The issue is correctly noted as a regional one,

The region was indeed paying for it too. Both the feds and PA were making massive contributions that should have covered the bulk of the costs.

and yet the attack is on Christie for not forcing NJ to shoulder massive costs for it.

There are all kinds of problems with what Christie did, but not many have to do with his objection to cost overruns. They have to do with his Neanderthal behavior. The feds already aren’t inclined to fund transit, much less in the northeast, and Christie peed away an opportunity to at least try and negotiate something better.

Is that attack founded on logic or ideological bias?

Both. However, the ideological bias in question is Christie’s.

Let’s pretend that Christie is a Democrat, and thus we can be free to ignore him personally.

Why would that make a difference? The fact that he’s a Republikan isn’t what made his behavior oafish. However, his oafishness might both explain his behavior and the fact that he’s a Republikan.

NJ is a state of around 8 million people. It does not have $20 billion to spend on ARC. The purported financing plan for ARC put in place by Christie’s predecessor, who left town just before it mattered, was laughably insufficient to actually fund ARC.

Where is this $20B figure coming from? The cost overruns were estimated to be $6B or so, and most of that on a potentially expendable part of the project.

It’s duct tape and bubble gum, setting up the Port Authority and Turnpike Auithority to fall into bankruptcy. It had no chance of covering what are clearly inevitable massive overruns.

Cite? Whoever seriously proposed the PA or NJTP would fall into bankruptcy? Near as I can tell, they’re both simply spending the money elsewhere.

If you don’t address that point, you don’t have a counterpoint. You cannot conjure money out of indignation or desire.

Eh, the problem is Christie didn’t address that point. Instead of coming up with an actual solution using the resources available, he simply canceled the project without even pretending to try to find a viable alternative.

ARC also demonstrates how out of balance this region’s planning has become. I like ARC! But the fact is that you could add massive capacity to vehicle crossings for a fraction of what ARC would cost. … There is more than one way to cross a river.

Why would it be cheaper to add POV capacity than rail capacity? It would take several times, probably more than a factor of 10, more lanes of car traffic to equal the amount of traffic that one track on a bi-directional rail routing could provide. That, of course, means considerably higher construction costs. Perhaps multiply the tunnel section of ARC by a factor of, say, 4?

Of course, all that ignores the massive traffic jams on both sides of the river that encouraging more POV crossings would just exacerbate.

I suppose we could make better use of the infrastructure we have by discouraging or restricting cars and using the freed capacity for buses and/or light rail, but even though that would move more people it would be a political shitstorm.

Ideally, someone will be inspired to rip up a bunch of red tape enviro statutes

I don’t think environmental statutes are a big part of the problem. Something is going on once projects are started that cause costs to rise. Environmental impact matters should have been done by the time it started.

and build a third relief tunnel to Penn, knock down a block next to Penn to add a dozen nice wide, lengthy platforms, and build a train storage yard in the Jersey swamps.

That’s silly. Just build two more tunnels into Penn and the problem would be solved more adequately than any other way.

This is a matter of crictical interstate import and the feds should fund it.

Fat chance of that. NJ and NY exist to fund highways in West Virginia or Alaska, as far as the feds are concerned.

Eric F. January 5, 2011 - 4:25 pm

I recognize that you hate cars. You must really hate all those Beach Boys songs about racing and such. Not every trip is a suburb to Manhattan commuting trip. You can see backups at the river crossings for miles on Sunday nights full of people of all races and classes returning from social trips. Those trips are not easily replaceable by transit, and as most of them don’t involve a Manhattan destination, they can be facilitated without additional above ground road capacity or parking on Manhattan. This may be hard for you to believe, but there are millions of people in this region who live, work, love and play without spending much time on the sacred island of Manhattan. Sorry, but I don’t have a cite for you.

Bolwerk January 5, 2011 - 5:36 pm

I do hate the Beach Boys, but hating cars makes no sense to me. Cars are misutilized, and I don’t like that.

And kindly don’t put words into my mouth. I never came close to implying everyone lives in Manhattan. However, the proliferation of bottlenecked trips, of every modal type, to Manhattan is clearly a large part of the reason more rail capacity is needed last decade – and hundreds of thousands of vehicles do make their way to Manhattan, playing a huge part in the general traffic issues plaguing the region. Likewise, rail bottlenecks cascade throughout the region.

Those backups you see for miles are because there are more people using the roads than there is available road space for them. It’s as simple as that. I didn’t imply those trips were replaceable by transit; I don’t even see why they should be replaced. Simply charge what it costs to use the space, or what it costs to keep traffic moving smoothly, rather than subsidizing traffic that makes necessary goods and services more expensive for everyone. If you don’t hate cars, you agree!

Caelestor January 5, 2011 - 8:15 pm

Nobody should hate cars, they’re useful for buying groceries and going to trips in far-flung areas. However, mass transit is the most efficient way to get people to work, esp. in a dense city like NYC, and thus should be improved considerably to make the entire region more productive.

Jerrold January 5, 2011 - 2:26 pm

“………the transit agency’s major development projects — the Second Avenue subway, the LIRR link and the Fulton Transit Center — are five years late and $2 billion over budget. But they’re all too far along for MTA Chairman Jay Walder to kill them.”

It sounds like those idiots at the Post WISH that those projects could be killed.
Aren’t we lucky that they are not the people running the MTA?

Bolwerk January 5, 2011 - 3:03 pm

I don’t see the Fulton Street center as very excusable myself. Not saying it should be canceled at this point, but it’s pretty sad how many beautiful buildings they destroyed to put up that monstrosity.

Edward January 5, 2011 - 3:20 pm

Put up what monstrosity? All is see is painted plywood, a filthy subway platform, and a ton of inactivity at B’way and Fulton.

Jerrold January 5, 2011 - 3:46 pm

That’s right, it was the UNDERGROUND “rat’s nest” that badly needed reconfiguring. The planned above-ground building is probably not necessary to construct, since after all it is just a large subway station complex and not some kind of commuter rail hub.

Bolwerk January 5, 2011 - 5:40 pm

Yes, it amounts to an overbearing headhouse. It may not be the most egregious example of its type, but it is the worst type of public works project – one that eliminates housing and economic activity.

Bolwerk January 5, 2011 - 5:37 pm

Heh, touche. But the rendering is pretty butt fugly. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F.....roject.jpg

Subutay Musluoglu January 5, 2011 - 3:34 pm

And which beutiful buildings would you be referring to?

Eric F. January 5, 2011 - 4:21 pm

One of the points of the project is to create a focal transit point for downtown. That goal is compromised by preserving the Corbin Building on the south end of the block, as the building will obscure the station’s visibility. Preservation of the building also entails the expenses of keeping it shored up. It’s a nice enough looking building I guess, but it seems too narrow to be of much practical use in the modern office market. I think the site would be better off withou it.

Bolwerk January 5, 2011 - 5:44 pm

That entire block was full of gorgeous, old-fashioned, ultimately irreplaceable buildings. The architectural style might have been beaux-arts in some cases.

Subutay Musluoglu January 5, 2011 - 7:42 pm

I believe five buildings were were taken down for the Transit Center. If you were looking at the site today from across Broadway, starting on the NE corner of Bdwy and Fulton, the first building (and the largest) was a two story non-descript structure that was essentially a strip mall. I believe this building also went all the way back on Fulton up to the first building visible today (another series of stores). The next building (2nd) to the south was a one story clothing store. Then came a one story Modell’s Sporting Goods store(3rd). The next building (4th), which may be what you recall as historic, was a 12 story dark masonry building that was in the same sliver style as the Corbin Building. The Landmarks Preservation Commission looked at this structure and did not deem it worthy of preservation. Beaux-Arts? Not really. Then came a three story TGIF restaurant (5th), and then finally the Corbin Building, which was subsequently landmarked and will be preserved and integrated with the overall Transit Center project. And let’s not forget the World of Golf across the street at the SW corner of Broaadway and Dey, where the Dey Street Headhouse will be located – another two story non-descript strip mall taht was taken down. Feel free to go to the Fulton Street Transit Center home page and peruse any of the archived presentations there, going back to 2004, many of which contain photos of the site before demolition. I looked at the “Briefing for Prospective Contractors” dated January 4, 2007, Slides 11 and 15.


Bolwerk January 5, 2011 - 9:05 pm

You seem to be looking down Broadway, not Fulton.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that the buildings should have been preserved simply because they were old. But it’s kind of hard to avoid the conclusion that the buildings had uses, such as retail and housing, that their replacement (a giant headhouse that might have some garish retail) cannot replace.

Subutay Musluoglu January 6, 2011 - 4:37 pm

This was originally an ARC post – I guess I made a mistake in trying to address your original comment, which had nothing to do with ARC. I was describing Broadway from the SE corner of Fulton to the NW corner of John – that would be north to south, or if you prefer, left to right, if you were facing it from across the street (Broadway). I never described it as looking as down Fulton other than to say that the first building extended down Fulton. The images in the presentation are indeed looking down Broadway, north to south, left to right, with every building I described clearly visible. Granted that the image is at an angle, and not from the direct perspective I described, but I’m not sure how much more clearer it could have been described.

Your original comment referred to beautiful buildings. You then thought that maybe they were Beaux-Arts. Now you are saying retail and housing. Well, which is it? None of the structures that were taken down had residences. As for the merits of the headhouse, which is what you are really opposed to, I will offer this: It is a signature gateway structure befitting a great city, providing an entrance to, and facilitating easy transfers in between, a complex of separate and distinct stations. It is a vast improvement over the present condition, which has persisted ever since all the component stations were haphazardly connected at different times with no serious attempts at unifying them in a manner that allows for easy, hassle free transfer. Think of the Times Square grouping a decade ago before all the work there (that is, if you were around here back then). Is it running late? Yes. Over budget? You betcha. Could it have been better managed? Without a doubt.

And as for the stores that had to close, they surely sufferred hardships. Of course the landlords made out pretty well with their MTA buyout payments before the great crash. But all of Lower Manhattan has suffered, since even before 9/11. There has been persistent double digit occupancy rates in the commercial real estate market down there going back to the mid-90s. Improving the Fulton Street complex will only help make things better in the long run. This is a city. We are constantly renewing. That’s how it goes. But keep it in perspective – it’s not like they took down Penn Station again, or evicted hundreds of families for a highway, which we have countless past examples of all across this country.

Bolwerk January 6, 2011 - 10:29 pm

AFAIK, Fulton Street west of the Seaport was built in beaux-arts for the most part. Whatever buildings were knocked down east of Broadway on Fulton probably followed that style, or perhaps something with neo-classical or mildly gothic revival overtones – and I admit, I looked for pics before I even posted, but couldn’t find any. I haven’t lived there in almost five years now; maybe the neighborhood has changed, or maybe I’m misremembering where things were. But regardless of style, the buildings east of Broadway tended to be a few stories high, and either commercial or mixed use. Regardless of previous use, now there will be a headhouse of absolutely no use to commercial or residential tenants.

Now, I have absolutely no objection to knocking down buildings and replacing them with a “signature gateway structure befitting a great city.” I have no problem with the maze of Subway connections being fixed, though maybe I would have prioritized the money for the SAS or something. I do have a little problem with that signature gateway building looking like a giant butthole. But I have a much bigger problem with that structure not even being useful. The useful part will be below the headhouse.

This isn’t the first time this happened, either. The Myrtle-Wyckoff headhouse could have been much more useful. Shit, WTF is with that glass? And it’s even uglier than the Fulton scheme. With a bit more sense, the MTA could probably make a few bucks for station maintenance renting out real estate above stations it owns.

AlexB January 5, 2011 - 3:25 pm

So, if the existing Penn Station can have more capacity added to its platforms, would it be possible to just double the tracks into Penn, connecting to the existing track setup? Or, is there something about the necessary grades or 7 extension that precludes that option?

jim January 5, 2011 - 4:14 pm

Yes. A couple of caveats. There would need to be some rationalization of the tracks between 10th Ave. and the Penn Station platforms: so it wouldn’t be quite “the existing track setup.” More importantly, while additional trans-Hudson tunnels would make it possible for more NJT trains to get into Penn Station, there’d still be nowhere for them to go once they got there except back across the Hudson into Jersey. To do that, they’d have to cross in front of trains coming from Jersey. For that to happen, there’d need to be long enough gaps between the incoming trains for the outgoing trains to cross. So although current signaling in the tunnels would allow 50 tph to cross the Hudson, in practice some lesser number would actually work. There was some modeling done early in the ARC process which suggested that on the order of 34 tph was the practical ceiling. At 34 tph, the choreography of train movements is robust enough that small glitches can be recovered from. As the number of trains increases, the situation becomes less stable. Doubling trans-Hudson capacity leads to about a 50% increase in Penn Station capacity. Probably the model should be redone, but the principle is sound enough.

It was, by the way, this sort of model result which, at least in part, led NJT to want to build its own station as part of ARC. That way, doubling trans-Hudson capacity doubled the number trains they could bring into Manhattan.

Chris January 5, 2011 - 8:46 pm

Let’s look at the two key issues and see what can be done:
1. Not enough Cross-Hudson rail capacity.
2. Not enough tracks at Penn Station to stage trains.

Sooner or later (and preferably sooner), we will need to add extra Cross-Hudson rail traffic capacity. Some questions come to mind:

What regulations can be loosened (other than safety) to facilitate building new tunnels?

How can we bring those tunnels into NYP outside of Amtrak control (so that Amtrak outages do not affect ALL traffic in/out of NYP)?

Can the new tunnels be aligned in such a way, so that they can service the main level of NYP and a potential expansion of NYP to add more tracks? (This alignment should also support through running to LI *and* provide for potential links to Grand Central LIRR ESA.) We need a way to allow for more local control over part of this major railroad choke point.

What would it take to provide for through running to GCT? Is there a way to bypass the other tunnels, pipes, etc. that currently block the way between connecting GCT and NYP?

Regarding Penn Station itself, more questions come to mind:

Are there ways that we can take some tracks out of service (AARGH!!!!) and build upper and lower level platforms for more service in the same area? (If we can’t add platforms to the side, we have to think of vertical additions.)

Currently, we’re limited to thinking of ways to expand NYP capacity. What would happen if we could push for the Tappan Zee bridge replacement to get built quicker, and arrange for some West of Hudson River trains (Port Jervis, Pascack Valley?, and possibly CSX West Shore line – new service) to reach NYC and terminate at GCT? Could some New Jersey trains take an alternate, Northbound loop to reach NYC if the new rail link were built?

Looking at tunnel capacity and a new Northern rail crossing, could we get the second track easement along the West Side of Manhattan, and connect to NYP without using the rail tunnels? (a by product – we could open a new 125 street station in West Harlem….)

Just some ideas….


Alon Levy January 5, 2011 - 9:27 pm

#2 is not a problem, given rational operating practices. As Jim says, turning trains at Penn involves complex moves. So don’t turn trains at Penn – send them onward to stations where there’s more room for turning them. If the trains split east of Penn to the Northeast Corridor and the various LIRR lines, then there will be room to turn trains at the outer east-of-Hudson terminals and at Jamaica.

The cost of through-running is measured in administrative headaches more than in money. Trains would need to be reconfigured to allow for dual-voltage operation, or catenary would need to be extended on the inner parts of the LIRR; both have costs measured in the tens of millions, not billions.

If you want trains from west of the Hudson to cross to Manhattan on a bridge, make it the GWB and not the Tappan Zee. The GWB was built in such a way that the subway could be extended across it; the space has since been used for extra lanes, but they can be appropriated. It could extend the IND as an el on Route 4. Loops are going to be underused – people have alternatives to detouring on a train through the Tappan Zee, like driving or taking a bus across the GWB or Lincoln Tunnel.

Chris January 6, 2011 - 6:33 am

This is where I disagree with Alon….

The GWB is already above full capacity – taking away capacity will bring non-rail transit to a stand still. There is no way to bring trains down to water level from that location, as one needs about 2 miles of running space to bring a train down 100 feet. Nor is there enough room with the redeployed space to connect new rail with existing trackage to the train stations…. It would be more realistic to use one of the three bores of the Lincoln tunnel for new rail use…. It is a water level connection – conveniently near existing rail lines. But we’ll never see that idea come to fruition, as we’ll never be able to take that link away from auto usage….

The only way to do things in a congested, built up environment is to squeeze things into areas which are not built up. We shouldn’t be shocked that it takes much more money (adjusted for inflation) to build new transit infrastructure now – rarely can we find unused or redeployable space for new infrastructure.

Alon Levy January 6, 2011 - 11:43 am

The trains don’t need to go all the way down. In Washington Heights, the A is well above sea level – that’s why there’s such a large elevation difference between the A and the 1 at 168th. The GWB was built to allow subway access on the lower level, though the lower level was eventually built just for cars.

You’re right that the GWB is very congested, but if the trains are well-patronized, then the diversion of demand from the car lanes will reduce congestion instead of increasing it. Taking 4 lanes from the lower level would cut capacity by about 5,000 people per direction, but the A’s capacity is closer to 20,000-25,000.

AlexB January 6, 2011 - 11:43 am

I am curious where GWB drivers are going. If they are going to lower Manhattan, taking away car lanes and replacing them with the subway or commuter rail would be a great benefit. Even if they are going to the Bronx or New England, dedicated bus lanes would be a great way to take those cars off the road.

Remember, if a road is at capacity, the most cost effective way to fix the choke point is to move riders to bus or rail. Increasing road capacity will not fix anything. The amount of roads and bridges that are necessary would be extreme.

paulb January 6, 2011 - 12:24 pm

Where did you learn that there was some subway planning for the GWB? I’ve always wondered why there was no stub over the bridge for the 1 or A lines, but every time I looked into it it just seemed like it never came up at all in the development of the bridge.

Eric F. January 6, 2011 - 1:27 pm

I can totally see people on this blog advocating knocking out several GWB lanes to add a subway line that goes to midtown via Wash. Heights. There seems to be little understanding that NYC is not a destination to many people but rather a massive obstacle to regional travel and commerce. The notion of building a new vehicle crossing would be treated about the same way as Andrew Cuomo suggesting that NY should start its own space program. I think we’re already at the point where people look at the GWB or the Lincoln Tunnel the way people now look at the pyramids in Egypt. What society could have builty these strange objects?

Alon Levy January 6, 2011 - 8:04 pm

Actually, Manhattan is a destination. The largest concentration of people who drive to Manhattan jobs is in Bergen County and the rest of the GWB catchment area. There are about 250,000 people there who work in Manhattan and don’t take a train – they drive or maybe take a bus. I don’t blame them – I’d take a bus if the alternative was Secaucus Junction – but it’s useful to build an alternative.

For all your rhetoric about how there has been no expansion in cross-Hudson capacity, the last time there was a road expansion was in 1957 while the last time there was a rail expansion was in 1910.

Eric F. January 7, 2011 - 9:17 am

Manhattan is both a destination and a de facto obstacle.

Wasn’t the GWB expanded after 1957? Anyway, I advocate for both. I really wish there was some balance. I don’t understand this hatred people have towards motor vehicles.

Alon Levy January 7, 2011 - 9:56 am

You’re right, it was expanded in 1962. I forgot, and looked only at the Lincoln Tunnel.

For people in the GWB catchment area, Manhattan is more a destination than an obstacle. As of 2000, 70,000 Bergen and Passaic County residents worked in Manhattan, versus 14,000 in the Bronx, Westchester, Connecticut, and Long Island. Another 9,000 worked in Brooklyn and Queens and would be well-served by the subway.

Those 14,000 extra residents should get more attention, which is why I support regional rail electrification and through-running, but in the short(er) term, they’d get some space on the GWB freed by drivers who go to Manhattan.

AlexB January 6, 2011 - 11:34 am

If I understand what you are saying, 34 tph is the current maximum of trains coming into Penn (regardless of the number of tracks leading to the station) because trains have to turn around and cross in front of each other. Is that the maximum if they are being through-routed to Sunnyside Yards or even Grand Central (via some new connection)? It seems they could increase the maximum tph if trains don’t have to turn around.

jim January 6, 2011 - 1:00 pm

they could increase the maximum tph if trains don’t have to turn around

Yes. The problem is where to through-route them to. There’s no more room in Sunnyside yard and there are significant physical constraints on expanding it much. Running through to Grand Central just postpones the issue. It might be possible to rehab abandoned yards in the Bronx, but that raises environmental justice issues.

There’s some opportunity for inter-commuter rail cooperation: trains from Jersey run through as counterflow trains to New haven; trains from New Haven run through as counterflow trains to Jersey. But there’s less demand for counterflow trains, so there’s still some trains need to find a place to go.

Anonymous January 6, 2011 - 1:09 pm

This may be a stupid question, but why can’t we expand in Sunnyside? Construction of mostly-industrial land in Queens oughta be less expensive than jam-packed Manhattan.

Alon Levy January 6, 2011 - 8:00 pm

It’s still expensive to construct in Queens. Queens may not be Manhattan, but it’s not Croton-Harmon or Ronkonkoma or other suburbs where trains should be terminating.

al January 8, 2011 - 1:26 am

Sunnyside yards are surrounded by a combination of industrial and residential neighborhoods. There is quite a bit of loft conversion and office tower and residential development slated for the area. There is even a nascent proposal to deck the yards over for a GCT/Atlantic Terminal style mixed use development. And yes the bedrock is close to the surface in that part of Queens.

If you are going to add much more capacity at Sunnyside, it will have to be vertical by adding a lower level to the existing yards and packing in more track on existing space. Once ESA is complete (later this decade), there is space at the northeastern part of the yard to build a 10 (maybe 15) train capacity expansion to the yards. That is if it isn’t slated for something else already.

AlexB January 6, 2011 - 11:48 am

Can you please clarify: It IS actually possible to build a new tunnel that connects directly with Penn Station, despite the grade of said tunnel of the location of the 7 train extension??? I thought a huge part of the reasoning for ARC, including the deep station and huge swing to the south, was because it was the only buildable tunnel???

jim January 6, 2011 - 12:51 pm

Yes it is. In fact, ARC was going to build a connection to the existing Penn Station as well as a connection to the new 34th St. NJT terminal, up to, IIRC, 2007. The grade on the connection from the 12th Ave interlocking to Penn Station would have been 2.7%, which is high, but not a deal-breaker. ARC dropped the Penn Station connection to save money, not because it wasn’t buildable.

AlexB January 7, 2011 - 7:42 pm

Thanks. That’s very interesting. 2.7% is very steep.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines January 6, 2011 - 9:14 am

[…] Ave Sagas Assessess ARC Fallout, Nassau County’s MTA […]


Leave a Comment

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More

Privacy & Cookies Policy