Home 7 Line Extension Lhota dashes dreams of a 7 train to Secaucus

Lhota dashes dreams of a 7 train to Secaucus

by Benjamin Kabak

The Mayor Bloomberg-inspired plan to extend the 7 train underneath the Hudson River to Secaucus has captured transit dreamers’ imaginations over the past few years, but the odds have long been stacked against it. The subway expansion would require interstate cooperation and billions of dollars that aren’t readily available. Useful? Yes. Practical amidst the current political and economic climates? Probably not.

Today, while speaking at a meeting of the New York Building Congress, MTA Chairman Joe Lhota threw an ice cold bucket of water on those dreaming of such a subway plan, as Transportation Nation reported this morning. The extension, he said, not going to happen in our lifetime. It’s not going to happen in anybody’s lifetime…The expense is beyond anything we’re doing.”

From the cost of construction to the need to build railyards and shops in New Jersey to the more pressing needs within the city, Lhota was unequivocal in his stance. “I’ve told the mayor this, I can’t see that happening in our lifetime,” he said. The Mayor, in his response, seemed to accept the MTA head’s assessment. Calling Lhota a “realist,” Bloomberg said later that he hopes it “happens within someone’s lifetime. Those people may not have been born yet whose lifetime it would be.” Ain’t that aiming for the stars?

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Larry Littlefield April 3, 2012 - 1:12 pm

The key to this reality — Long Island.

That’s where the huge money has been spent to better connect people from the suburbs to the Manhattan CBD. And that’s where the growth in Manhattan workers who want to live in the suburbs should be.

The problem is the kleptocracy that is the LIRR and much of Long Island politics, the backward looking nature of the people in charge there, and their troglodite reaction to the onset of urban decline there as the more and more of the housing stock reaches 50 years old.

This really is a key moment for a very large part of our state.

Frank B April 3, 2012 - 1:43 pm

Good. A waste of money when our own people who ACTUALLY PAY New York State taxes are forced to take a bus to the subway.

7 to Secaucus was a poor idea from the get-go because it does NOTHING to expand true inter-city traffic, save for cutting some NJ Trains from going directly to NYC and having them terminate in Secaucus, which I imagine wouldn’t have been too popular of an idea.

Gateway tunnel, here we (hopefully) come!

Frank B April 3, 2012 - 1:45 pm

Also, if there is any subway extension anywhere, it should be built to IND/BMT loading gauge for capacity purposes.

Just putting that out there, Bloomberg.

Bolwerk April 3, 2012 - 1:51 pm

I think all new construction is built that way. The IRT-specific adaptations are the narrower platforms and I guess the signal trip arms are on a different (cab?) side. I imagine both are relatively cheap to change, if ever a conversion is desired.

Still, the 7 just happens to be about the best option if this scheme is accomplished, and converting Times Square to Queensboro Plaza to IND dimensions is probably nearly impossible.

Clarke April 3, 2012 - 7:19 pm

Less about the stations or platforms than the Steinway Tubes. The 7 barely fits in there as it is.

Bolwerk April 3, 2012 - 1:46 pm

What’s the problem with that? If some riders can get to the east side without going to Penn, some NJT trains necessarily become redundant to Penn.

Douglas John Bowen April 3, 2012 - 2:11 pm

Whether the 7 to Secaucus is good or “poor” is one thing, but let’s get some details straight. No NJT trains would have terminated at Secaucus Junction. And some of us Jerseyans who would (have) use(d) the No. 7 also pay New York State taxes. Actually! It’s true!

Beyond that, we Jersey rail advocates will continue to work on Gateway Tunnel, as we would have regardless of the 7’s chances. We don’t do laundry lists. We seek opportunities as they rise and (yes, indeed) fall.

We weren’t aware that the & was ever sold as a solvent for intercity traffic, “true” or otherwise.

Bolwerk April 3, 2012 - 2:25 pm

Not at Secaucus, but I assumed more NJT termination at Hoboken would be a given. Obviously this didn’t move along far enough to really ever (need to) be addressed, but it seems like a no-brainer to me. Unless Hoboken lacks capacity?

No matter what, termination at Penn is about the worst option.

civita April 3, 2012 - 6:51 pm

Larry, It’s not just about suburbs. The density in the cities in North Jersey — Hudson County, Newark, Paterson, and Passaic — is much higher than that in Long Island. They’re more akin to Queens than to Nassau County. These should be prime markets for mass transit services into the Manhattan core. Any pragmatic planner recognizes that they should be a priority over the suburban sprawl in Long Island.

Larry Littlefield April 4, 2012 - 6:53 am

The Secaucus connection is to serve the suburbs, not Hudson County.

Alon Levy April 7, 2012 - 5:17 pm

What Larry said. New Jersey Transit’s commuter rail doesn’t really serve the dense parts of Jersey. It doesn’t go anywhere near Jersey City or the northern parts of the county. It serves Hoboken, but on a stub-end. The trains to Paterson are not electrified. The trains to Passaic are not electrified, and do not serve downtown Passaic, which is on the abandoned Erie mainline. Secaucus Junction is a prime spot for future TOD – the number of people living in the area should be deep into the six figures – but is now surrounded by storage, trucking sites, and a swamp.

Commuter rail actually does an okay job at having lines to the dense parts of Long Island, i.e. Hempstead and Long Beach. The service quality is meh, but still better than anything NJT offers.

IanM April 3, 2012 - 1:33 pm

Good. Realism is not a bad thing when making decisions about expensive infrastructure. In any case, this idea always seemed completely wacky to me. What problem would it solve? It popped up after the cancellation of the ARC tunnel, but it doesn’t serve at all the same purpose, which was to increase intercity and commuter rail capacity. If I’m on a NJTransit train bound for either Penn or Hoboken, an easy connection to the 7 might be nice, but it doesn’t allow me to do anything I couldn’t already do through existing transfers – so how does it actually increase capacity? Only if it means NJTransit is actually running more trains in their schedule – which is determined completely separately and isn’t happening – would capacity be affected, and even in that case it does nothing to relieve congestion (train congestion, that is) at Penn Station. What am I missing?

NJTransit, LIRR and AmTrak need more capacity under the Hudson. That’s the problem that we’re dealing with, so that’s the problem we should solve, IMO. An idea like this just sounds like a good way of spending a huge amount of money while failing to address the real issue.

IanM April 3, 2012 - 1:41 pm

Just NJTransit and AmTrak, I should have said. LIRR obviously doesn’t need to go under the Hudson, duh, though it’s part of the issue of crowding at Penn.

Bolwerk April 3, 2012 - 1:44 pm

It would have solved the problem about as well as ARC, without the cavern under the west side, so it would have been billions$ cheaper. Either option means a two-seat ride to the east side.

Douglas John Bowen April 3, 2012 - 2:18 pm

I guess you good folks don’t cross the Hudson Ocean much, do you? Focus in a little tighter than Secaucus Junction, and you might find communities with some of the densest populations per square mile in North America, indeed rivaling (if not beating) various borough neighborhoods. I understand the political value of “there be dragons” thinking, but not all of the Garden State is an empty swampland.

Once again, concur that trans-Hudson intercity capacity needs addressing; no argument from most Jersey rail advocates on that score. But for many of us, it was not an automatic “either/or” proposition.

Fiscal and political objections, fine, we get it. It certainly is understandable that New York-(based) taxpayers paying New York city/state taxes would seek better subway options for any or all of the four/five boroughs. And we’d certainly acknowledge that New Jersey is still in the dark about its way-too-suburban-oriented situation and the future (similar to how Larry Littlefield portrays Long Island’s current situation above). But that doesn’t make the No. 7 a bad idea in itself.

Finally, chairs and exdirects of MTA and MTA NYCT come and go. Who knows what the next one will think? Who knows what else might change? For now, though, on to the next thing.

Bolwerk April 3, 2012 - 2:29 pm

I don’t see a problem with the NY political establishment here. It did help bungle ARC, but it hasn’t had a chance to bungle this. If this matters to New Jersey, New Jersey can embrace the major New York stakeholders and get it done. I doubt Cuomo would object, Bloomberg is for it, and Lhota just doesn’t see where the money is going to come from.

Bolwerk April 3, 2012 - 1:38 pm

Well, New Jersey under Chris Christie isn’t going to move on this. Obviously, the city shouldn’t be paying for it beyond the state line.

It’s a great idea, but if we’re blowing that much money on something, there is lower-hanging fruit.

NJRes April 3, 2012 - 1:50 pm

Sigh… I knew this wouldn’t pan out, but it was nice to dream of some capital investments in the NJ mass transit infrastructure. Unfortunately, NJ is getting crushed under the weight of the Christie administration.

TP April 3, 2012 - 2:14 pm

“Of course New Jersey would like it because they think they’ll be able to get across the river for $2.25,”

Lhota is from Long Island so of course he wants nothing to do with New Jersey. We live in a region with a shared labor pool that runs across state borders and this attitude is totally counterproductive. It’s a shame the petty differences run so deep with so many.

NJRes April 3, 2012 - 2:22 pm

Doesn’t have to be $2.25… just having the system grow outside its current borders would be great. I’d be happy paying an elevated fare, similar to Westchester’s BxM4C.

Chris G April 3, 2012 - 2:23 pm

I think it is time to get with Philadelphia and just split up and annex NJ.

I know this sounds funny, but as long as NJ has their own politics and their own out of touch government, this plan will never happen. The risk to the project after years of study just isn’t worth it nor is figuring out revenue sharing etc which NJ would want a part of.

pete April 3, 2012 - 2:27 pm

Albany is worse.

NJRes April 3, 2012 - 2:34 pm

Too bad neither state has their capital in a region that any an economy.

Larry Littlefield April 3, 2012 - 3:18 pm

I know, NYC and the downstate suburbs could join New Jersey!

But we’d make the rest of the state keep Sheldon Silver, or no deal.

Al D April 4, 2012 - 9:06 am

People say that Jersey City is the 6th borough

Jeff April 4, 2012 - 10:54 am

In the same sense that people consider Staten Island the 5th borough though… So don’t know if that’s a good thing.

Michael April 3, 2012 - 3:44 pm

Connecting NJ Transit Hoboken Terminal and the LIRR Atlantic Terminal stations with a new Downtown line and station would be vastly more beneficial than a 7 line extension to Secaucus.

If LI and NJ commuters going to downtown can be kept off the subways in Midtown, you would free up a massive amount of space on these subways. Also this would free up space on the Path system and save many NJ commuters from a Transfer to Path at Hoboken.

Also, NJ transit trains that continue to the long island city sunnyside rail yard should provide through service to Jamaica. If capacity is strained due to limited track capacity, then all train movements through the Hudson and East River tunnels should be carrying passengers.

marvin April 3, 2012 - 4:06 pm

Good ideas. Double decking such a tunnel under the hudson would allow for subway service to staten island via bayonne.

Eric April 4, 2012 - 10:25 am

Agreed but this would likely be even more expensive (twice as many underwater tunnels)

Alon Levy April 7, 2012 - 5:23 pm

The underwater tunnels are actually a smaller deal than building the station in Lower Manhattan between all the building foundations. All of this has been done before, on much smaller budgets than New York would spend on this, but proportionately, a new underground CBD station would be very difficult.

Phantom April 3, 2012 - 4:27 pm

Until costs and union abuses that cause them are brought under control, we shouldn’t be considering any new major projects. It pains me to say it, but we can’t keep feeding the beast.

John-2 April 3, 2012 - 5:13 pm

It does make sense for Lhota to put his marker down now that massive amounts of MTA money is not going to go into this project, so that no sort of late-Bloomberg term momentum ramps up to the point city officials start talking about some 50-50 financial split.

New York would benefit by having uni-directional access to Hudson Yards, but by far the biggest gainers would be N.J. commuters, who would gain easy access to the Grand Central area on the east side for the first time. If the project is ever going to have a future life, the officials in New Jersey are going to have to be the driving force, both on an implementation and a financial level.

marvin April 3, 2012 - 6:56 pm

“…gainers will be NJ commuters”

The metropolitan area will be benefitting – as long as we view things as an us vs them, our area will be in slow death mode. Employers need qualified workers who can live where it is pleasing to them. Cultural institutions need attendees. NY needs less congested streets. All this benefits everyone.

This is not to say that turnstyles in NJ could not charge a double fare on the way in(and possibly one on the way out) as a premium fare to those not paying city taxes.

Phantom April 3, 2012 - 7:38 pm

There are reverse commuters who live in NYC and who commute to NJ

And there are plenty, like me, who live in NYC and have friends and family in NJ and who catch flights out of EWR. Cross river mass transit helps us too.

John-2 April 3, 2012 - 11:16 pm

This is not to say that turnstyles in NJ could not charge a double fare on the way in(and possibly one on the way out) as a premium fare to those not paying city taxes.

Which is the point. While it would make sense for the MTA to shoulder some of the burden of adding exits to the 7 train at Times Square or Grand Central to deal with the new influx of passengers headed east on 42nd St. in the morning and west in the evening, and the Port Authority might chip in on the additional rail care purchases, in no way should any Secaucus connection be anywhere near a 50-50 financial split. Aside from the option of higher fares, New Jersey also has to put more $$$ on the table at the outset, because its citizens are the ones standing to benefit the most.

Alon Levy April 7, 2012 - 5:28 pm

It benefits everyone, but NJ much more so than NY. There are more commuters crossing the Hudson east in the am than west, and New York is also more diverse when it comes to having choices of where to draw commuters from. (North Jersey can’t really switch to being suburbs of Philly, and few parts of Central Jersey can.)

Larry Littlefield April 4, 2012 - 6:55 am

A 50-50 split is unfair. Virtually all the benefits would go to New Jersey, which doesn’t want to pay.

What is actually required is a special taxing district for North Jersey, with higher rates the closer you get to rail stations. Christie killed it because South Jersey would have paid but not benfitted.

Bolwerk April 4, 2012 - 9:26 am

Christie killed it because South Jersey would have paid but not benfitted.

That’s like saying the SAS doesn’t benefit Upstate. Expanding North Jersey’s economy gives South Jersey a bigger economy to leech from.

TP April 4, 2012 - 9:39 am

Exactly. There’s no wall between North and South Jersey, and the 2 of them are even more integrated than NYC and Upstate, because New York’s a much bigger state with lots of rural space between our metros. People who live in close-in North Jersey work in NYC; people who work in close-in North Jersey live in Central Jersey or exurban Northwest Jersey; people who work in Central Jersey live on the fringes of South Jersey, etc etc.

The guy building condos for NYC-bound commuters in Secaucus lives in a McMansion in Wall Township by the shore. There are spillover impacts everywhere.

An EDC endorsement for the 7 to Secaucus, but … :: Second Ave. Sagas April 11, 2013 - 12:23 am

[…] rail capacity problem, albeit one focused exclusively around a subway ride. Despite Joe Lhota throwing a bucket of very cold water on this hot idea last April, it’s come roaring back in the form of a feasibility study […]

MTA throws cold water on a tunnel to NJ :: Second Ave. Sagas April 11, 2013 - 1:45 pm

[…] issued a similar statement. “It’s not going to happen in anybody’s lifetime,” he said. “the expense is beyond anything we’re doing.” Of course, one of my complaints about […]


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