To cross the Hudson, a one-seat ride & a 3rd plan


More one-seat rides means a more crowded tunnel.

In addition to increased cross-Hudson capacity, one of the primary benefits New Jersey commuters would have derived from the ARC Tunnel concerned travel speeds. As New Jersey Transit, its equipment and its lone Hudson river crossing are configured, riders along the Raritan Valley and North Jersey Coast Lines do not enjoy one-seat rides into New York City. Through a combination of equipment upgrades and capacity increases, commute times would have dropped and property values would have increased.

With ARC off the table and its replacement years or even decades away, New Jersey Transit officials are trying to deliver on that one-seat promise without a new tunnel. Earlier this week, NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein pledged that he would work to make the one-seat ride a reality along the Raritan Valley and North Jersey Coast Lines. Larry Higgs from the Asbury Park Press offers up a little bit more:

In both cases, NJ Transit officials will go forward with equipment purchases that were part of the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) tunnel project, canceled by Gov. Chris Christie in October over concerns about cost overruns the state would have had to absorb. “One of the issues is acquisition of more bilevels,” Weinstein said. “There are 100 on order and we’ll go forward with that.”

The first of 36 dual-mode electric and diesel-powered locomotives, which will be essential to providing one-seat ride service on rail lines now served by diesel locomotives, is scheduled to be delivered to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s testing facility in Colorado, Weinstein said.

“I don’t think anything precludes a one-seat ride,” he said. “We’re going forward with the dual-mode locomotives. There are issues we have to work out at some point to provide a one-seat ride.”

Beyond Higgs’ story, news reports don’t add much to this revelation, and I’m curious as to where it will go from here. The main problem is that the Hudson River tunnels cannot handle increased traffic, and if New Jersey Transit is promising new one-seat rides along certain routes, it will likely have to take away some river crossings from other routes. That’s not going to be too popular among commuters.

Meanwhile, an alternative to Amtrak’s Gateway alternative is making the rounds. As Higgs also reported earlier this week, New Jersey rail advocates have proposed yet another plan to build a tunnel. He reports:

The plan, outlined by Joseph Clift, a member of the Regional Rail Working Group and a past Long Island Railroad planning director, would put off building some of the more potentially expensive parts of the Gateway project to a second phase. As a first phase, the group proposed building a new two-tube tunnel, a new bridge next to the existing Portal Bridge and a second set of tracks on the Northeast Corridor line from Kearny to the Hudson River to relieve bottlenecks.

Gateway’s plans to build a “Penn Station South,” consisting of seven tracks and four platforms under Manhattan’s 31st Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues, would be deferred to a second phase under the group’s plan. That phase would include Gateway’s proposal to construct two new sets of tracks between the Passaic River and west of Secaucus Junction, a second set of platforms at that station and some new bridges.

“It is a much more accomplishable project,” Clift said. “You would have a project that is more affordable (to start) because all the Manhattan property cost (for Penn Station South) goes away.”

Funding would come from a variety of sources. New Jersey would reapply for the $3 billion in federal funds it sacrificed when Gov. Chris Christie canceled ARC while the Port Authority would contribute its billions as well. New Jersey and Amtrak would contribute money as well.

With all this talk though of replacement plans and one-seat rides, I have to wonder if too many cooks are stirring the cross-Hudson soup. New York is working on formulating a plan for the 7 line extension with New Jersey while Amtrak is requesting $50 million to start planning on NEPA work on their Gateway Tunnel. This third proposal throws yet another variable in the mix and could garner support from state officials in New Jersey. At some point, the region will need a concerted, unified and funded effort if cross-Hudson rail expansion is to be realized any time soon.

38 Responses to “To cross the Hudson, a one-seat ride & a 3rd plan”

  1. Alon Levy says:

    This sounds better. Thanks.

    The correct USDOT response to any grant application by Jersey is, “Put a no-going-back clause in the legislation for it and we’ll be happy to.”

    • Aaron says:

      How do you enforce that, given that, last I heard, Christie was still trying to illegally keep the ARC money that he had been already allocated? DOT would be buying a lawsuit – fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice…

      If I were holding the purse-strings at DOT, I would be loathe to allow Christie access to the cookie jar for another large project. Having the language there doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t fight it in court, and Christie’s already shown himself to be a dishonest and disingenuous partner in these matters.

  2. Jason says:

    Once phase 1 is complete, where does that new tunnel connect to on the nyc side? Will it be useless until phase 2 is constructed?

    • Bolwerk says:

      The plan for Gateway was to accommodate trains into regular Penn Station, to provide redundancy, and “Penn Station South.” Only a few of the southern Penn Station tracks would be accessible to Gateway’s tunnel though.

  3. Scott E says:

    Perhaps I’m reading into this too much, but Mr. Clift, a past LIRR program director, advocates more tracks to bring NJ Transit to NY Penn Station, without an expansion of the station itself. This is best done with thru-running trains from Long Island to New Jersey. Is this seriously under consideration?

  4. Re: one-seat rides from New Jersey: The North Jersey Coast Line trains now using the Northeast Corridor, and terminating/originating in Long Branch, N.J., would be the better candidates for NJT’s new locomotives, enabling those trains to use Bay Head as the O/D terminus instead. Though schedules might need some adjustment, the trains seeking use of the crowded Hudson River tunnels in essence would largely be the ones that already have same. Bottom line: It’s do-able.
    Raritan Valley Line train seeking access to New York Penn, by contrast, would generate the problems outlined by Mr. Kabak, at least on the weekdays. Weekends are another matter, and we New Jersey rail advocates are looking into that.

  5. PeakVT says:

    So the RRWG is proposing nothing more than splitting the Gateway proposal into two phases? That’s likely to happen already.

    I have a map of most of the trans-Hudson proposals here.

  6. Marc Shepherd says:

    With all this talk though of replacement plans and one-seat rides, I have to wonder if too many cooks are stirring the cross-Hudson soup.

    The only way to have fewer cooks, is for someone to admit that the other guy’s idea is better — or at least, to admit that the other guy has a higher probability of getting to the right answer. I am not sure which guy that would be.

    Right now, it may be better to have a lot of ideas floating around, until it becomes clear which one has the best chance of getting built.

    • Christopher Stephens says:

      I agree. Now that ARC is dead, people seem more ready to admit how desperately flawed it was (the poor design of the Manhattan side of the project should have been enough to kill the project much earlier). If there had been a variety of plans proposed, let’s hope that the cream rises to the top and the best, and most realistic, plans can be funded and built.

      • There was absolutely nothing stopping anyone in power in New Jersey from redesigning the Manhattan end of the project. There were years to go before anything had to be built there, and the project could have been, at least, paused or pushed back to accommodate a design change and environmental review. One flawed part of it wasn’t nearly enough to sacrifice 20 years of work and $3 billion in federal funding. That is short-sighted, revisionist history.

        • Christopher Stephens says:

          One of the reasons Christie gave for killing the project was that there was no support, financial or otherwise, from New York. You don’t think that part of the failure of New York to support the plan was that the New York end of the tunnel was a complete, un-fixable mess? This isn’t just “one flawed part” of the plan. The point of the tunnel was to get New Jersey workers into midtown Manhattan. The design left them a hundred feet below the street with no immediate access to any mass transit. That’s not something you fix with a design tweak. And if that’s the best they could come up with after 20 years of planning, it’s good that they got taken off the job – look how many other, better plans have been floated since ARC got killed.

          • Considering there’s no sense of how much these plans costs or how they’re going to be funded or even if they’re feasible, it’s awfully tough to say they’re better plans. Mostly, they’re repackaged ARC alternatives that don’t carry nearly the same benefit to New Jersey commuters as ARC did. That’s other, not better.

            • Christopher Stephens says:

              Since ARC wasn’t feasible or (fully) funded either, it seems that they rank about the same for now, but with more potential, having learned from ARC’s mistakes. With any luck, this time a fatally flawed plan won’t get rushed through in order to support the flagging gubernatorial re-election campaign (an issue I don’t recall seeing addressed here, cough cough).

              • The panelists on Tuesday night made an interesting point about the funding. ARC was supposedly not fully funded based on projections that only Chris Christie saw and not a full audit of the project. There was no effort made to reach a better funding solution with the feds, and the project was simply canceled, largely so the governor could make a national point. Work had started and the NEPA review had been conducted. We can’t discount that. I think calling it fatally flawed just plays into Christie’s political hand.

              • AlexB says:

                It was fully funded. Just because Chrystie claimed otherwise doesn’t make it true.

            • Alon Levy says:

              Ben, I’ll bite: what does Penn Station-only lack that ARC Alt P-Cavern had?

              • Track capacity for one.

                • Alon Levy says:

                  Um, no. Track capacity is the same in both cases. Look at a track map and tell me which conflicts would arise from the following arrangement:

                  1. Trains using the new tunnels or the southern half of the East River tunnels use tracks 5-9.

                  2. Trains using the old tunnels or the northern half of the East River tunnels use tracks 14-19.

                  It involves switching moves that constrain station throat speed, but no loss of capacity.

                  Just because people who can’t build a tunnel at less than a factor-of-5 premium over standard first-world construction costs say something doesn’t make it true.

              • AlexB says:

                Was Alt P-Cavern the selected option?

                • Alon Levy says:

                  Yes. Alt P was originally Alt P-Cavern-plus-Penn. Due to budget escalations and severe ignorance of best industry practices, they dropped Penn. Joe Clift is proposing that they revive the idea but drop the cavern instead.

          • AlexB says:

            The Port Authority was going to pay for a third, which means New York roughly paid for a sixth of the project (roughly $1.5 billion) since New York probably contributes about half of the Port Authority budget.

            The location of the project 150 feet or so below street level, on 34th st between 6th and 7th avenues is much derided, but not really that bad. There are a number of well used subway stations in NY and the world that are that deep. It would have connected directly to the Herald Square subway stop, which Penn currently doesn’t do. I don’t think the depth of the station was ideal, but it honestly wasn’t that big of a problem.

            • Alon Levy says:

              Usually, subway stations are built that deep only in one of two cases:

              1. If they are intended to serve a political purpose, for example as a bomb shelter or for troop movements. (For examples: Russia, China, Singapore.)

              2. If they have to cross under many subway lines. (For examples: Tokyo, London, Paris.)

              In the first case, the government makes a decision not to care that deep caverns are extremely expensive. In the second case, it has no choice. Neither applies to ARC, which can connect directly to Penn.

        • Marc Shepherd says:

          There was absolutely nothing stopping anyone in power in New Jersey from redesigning the Manhattan end of the project. There were years to go before anything had to be built there, and the project could have been, at least, paused or pushed back to accommodate a design change and environmental review. One flawed part of it wasn’t nearly enough to sacrifice 20 years of work and $3 billion in federal funding. That is short-sighted, revisionist history.

          Yes and no. I agree that Christie did not act like someone who was genuinely interested in finding a way to get the project built.

          But don’t forget, the ARC designers themselves said that the cavern below Macy’s basement was the best design, and that other designs coming directly into Penn Station were not realistic. This aspect of the design was criticized for years before Christie canceled it, and the designers continued to hold their ground.

          A change as dramatic as that would have required a fresh round of environmental reviews, which would have taken years.

  7. jim says:

    The original Gateway plan was an unconstrained proposal. That meant there was something for everyone. It included both completing Moynihan Station and building Penn South. What happens during funding negotiations is that proposals become descoped. If one starts off with a very fully scoped proposal, one has a lot of room for descoping. Think of RRWG’s Phase I as a possible descoped version. It’s unlikely to be the final version, though, because that will emerge as people who actually control funds condition the use of those funds on particular elements surviving.

    There was some capacity modeling done for existing Penn Station as part of ARC Alt. G. It assumed that NJT trains would continue to Grand Central, but then deadhead back into New Jersey for midday storage and also assumed that Metro North trains would occupy platforms at Penn prior to deadheading back to Grand Central for midday storage. With that operational pattern, the models showed instability above, IIRC, 34 combined NJT and Amtrak trains entering from New Jersey during the AM peak hour. To the extent that the conditions of that model are comparable to the conditions that would exist after RRWG’s Phase I, Phase I would allow for 8 Amtrak trains and 26 NJT trains per hour. Figure the NJT allocated as 2 Raritan, 8 NEC, 10 NJCL and 6 MEL. That’s a marked improvement over the existing 8 NEC, 8 NJCL and 4 MEL peak, and would allow full use of the planned buy of dual mode locomotives.

    • Alon Levy says:

      The thing is, the operational pattern assumed was suboptimal. The optimal pattern would be to minimize turnbacks at Penn Station, and instead combine NJT and Metro-North operations to the maximum extent allowed by the two-track Alt G tunnel. Done right, the project would be limited to the capacity of the access tunnels, which is about 48 tph with current signaling.

      • jim says:

        I’m not defending the operational pattern assumed for Alt. G. But, usefully, it has a lot of similarities with the operational pattern that would hold in an unexpanded Penn Station with a new Hudson tunnel. An NJT train would enter a Penn Station platform, continue to Grand Central and then come back; during this time a metro North train or two would occupy the platform: viewed from the tunnel, this is indistinguishable from the NJT train entering the platform, dwelling there a bit long and then coming back out. The somewhat longer effective dwell reduces capacity some; the delay in crossing enhances capacity some (the first part of the peak, there’s no trains trying to cross). To a first approximation, these cancel out, so we can use the results of this model to approximate the results of modeling operations in an unexpanded Penn Station with a new tunnel.

        It would obviously be better to actually model those operations: the behaviour of the eight Amtrak trains per hour probably affects the result :). One hopes that if Amtrak gets their $50M (can they get it out of the returned Florida money?), one of the things they’ll do is such a model — capacity without Penn South, capacity with Moynihan, capacity with everything. But absent that, the old Alt. G model is the best we’ve got and using it is better than trying to pull numbers out of the air.

        • Alon Levy says:

          In one way, there’s a major difference: Alt G without through-running requires moving switches back and forth more so than Alt P-Sans-Cavern. Those could reduce capacity.

          But I don’t know – it could be they were implicitly assuming a wretched operating plan, with a lot of at-grade conflicts between eastbound and westbound trains. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were deliberately biasing the report against an alternative that would require interagency cooperation.

          I used to think dwells were a huge problem, but then I timed rush hour LIRR trains, and it turned out it was a trivial issue. Doors on LIRR trains stay open for about a minute and a half, not much more than on the subway or the 42nd Street Shuttle.

  8. Henry says:

    Wait, do people still think the 7 line extension to Secaucaus is a viable plan? The 7 line is already congested with Queens commuters – any further extension would require bigger platforms and more trains to handle the additional ridership.

    Also, is it possible at all to build platforms immediately below the existing ones at Penn? Or is there something in the way that would require building a huge cavern?

    • PeakVT says:

      New platforms at NYP aren’t needed if run-through operations are instituted.

      • jim says:

        Run-through operations aren’t a panacea. There’s much less demand in the counterflow direction. Running an empty revenue train is worse than deadheading it, since you have to pay the onboard staff. There will still be trains coming into Penn Station that have nowhere to go except back where they came from (unless someone can find yard space east of the Hudson available for midday storage).

        • AlexB says:

          you only have to through run to a place where there is more capacity to turn trains around, not to the opposite end of the commuter line. you can turn trains at sunnyside or jamaica in LI or newark in NJ.

        • PeakVT says:

          But it is a way to increase throughput in the very cramped space of NYP, right? Right now the capacity restriction is the North River Tunnels. If new Hudson tunnels that connect to NYP are added without changing the basic operations of NJT and LIRR (and MNR in the future), then the platforms/interlockings become the capacity restriction. With run-through operations, the tunnels become the capacity restriction again.

          I guess my general point here is that operational practices shouldn’t be driving capital projects in one of the world’s densest, most expensive cities. If buying and demolishing real estate can be avoided by changing operations, operations should be changed.

          • Woody says:

            Not to worry about the cost of clearing the block between 31st & 32nd Streets, 7th & 8th Avenues. If Amtrak didn’t already own about half of it, Vornado or some other real estate developer would have by now assembled the site for another office tower. Amtrak will lease the rights for a skyscraper above Penn South, if the economy ever seriously recovers.

            On 7th Ave, a couple of maybe 1920s buildings await a reincarnation. Then two (2) Roman Catholic Churches back to back. Well, I see the Catholic Church closing schools and churches when their ethnic neighborhoods change. In this case, the Church will be glad to get some serious money out of it. Then assorted bars, a BBQ restaurant, a XXX DVD porno shop, a parking lot, etc. By the time they’re ready to empty the block, the overhead development rights will likely pay for clearing it.

            So don’t fret about the cost of Penn South. Any station anywhere in NYC — not just the one deep beneath Macy’s basement — will cost about as much or more.

  9. Donald says:

    Are the feds going to give NJ money to build the rail tunnel if they don’t return the $271 million that they are still sitting on? If the feds are smart, they would deduct $271 million from whatever money thry give to NJ for the tunnel.


  1. […] Avenue Sagas looks at yet another plan for a trans-Hudson tunnel that’s making the rounds — wonders […]

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