Senate Committee approves $20M for Gateway planning


When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie canceled the ARC Tunnel, a few projects rushed in to the fill the void. We know the 7 train to Secaucus won’t happen any time soon, but Amtrak’s Gateway Tunnel seems to have legs. Projected today to cost $14.5 billion and still an optimistic decade away from seeing the light of day, Gateway is nonetheless moving through Congress.

As NorthJersey.com’s Karen Rouse reported, the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a $20 million grant for preliminary design and engineering work. The measure still must clear the full House and Senate, but transit advocates are cautiously optimistic. “It’s the most promising rail project at the moment,” Veronica Vanterpool of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign said. That’s not saying much as after preliminary engineering work, the price tag for Gateway has jumped by $1 billion and the estimated completion date has moved from 2020 to 2025.

Gateway is of course part of an intercity high-speed rail network that could change long-distance commuting patterns in the northeast. It’s not quite a solution to commuter issues that current plague New Jersey Transit. Plus, someone will have to come up with those billions of dollars, and New York and New Jersey aren’t rushing to embrace this project. It may not have much of a long-term future, but for now, planning may move forward.

Categories : Asides, Gateway Tunnel

36 Responses to “Senate Committee approves $20M for Gateway planning”

  1. SEAN says:

    Well it’s a start. If NY & NJ aren’t willing to put up money for such a vital project, then we will fall behind states like Texas in job creation.

    • Alex C says:

      The “Texas Miracle” is smoke and mirrors. Minimum wage jobs “added” not counting those lost. Texas is the last state you want to mirror. They’re a step from being a third world country.

  2. John says:

    It’s a much more realistic project than the 7 to Secaucus. Unlike that, the Gateway actually adds capacity to the tunnels and Penn Station.

  3. jim says:

    The question is going to be if it can be cut up into affordable chunks each of which incrementally adds functionality. $15B is a lot of money for anyone to come up with.

    • Marc Shepherd says:

      I don’t really think so. The largest components of it (the Portal Bridge, the tunnels, the expansion of Penn Station, and the track connections on either side) are pretty much indivisible. Omit any of them, and the project delivers so little value that it is hardly worth doing.

      For instance, Jim (below) described how little benefit you get, if you only build a one-track tunnel. And despite him saying it’s “relatively cheap” to build that way, you’re still talking billions for a project that would provide no NJ Transit relief whatsoever. That won’t fly politically, and shouldn’t. And assuming you build two tubes, you have to build all of the other connections, or you wind up with tunnels no one can use.

      That’s just how it is with tunnels. Without track capacity connecting to them on either side, they’re useless.

      • Bolwerk says:

        I don’t really think so. The largest components of it (the Portal Bridge, the tunnels, the expansion of Penn Station, and the track connections on either side) are pretty much indivisible. Omit any of them, and the project delivers so little value that it is hardly worth doing.

        I dunno about that. The Portal Bridge is apparently necessary to expand and modernize NEC service. But at least two NJT commuter lines do not use the Portal Bridge, and these probably are the ones with the highest growth potential, and it’s not like more slots couldn’t be squeezed out of the NEC even without the Portal Bridge replacement.

  4. Eric F says:

    So it’s $15 billion to add 2 tunnels and add some platforms to an existing station, but Christie was wrong to say it would cost more than $9 billion to build 2 tunnels, an entirely new deep cavern station, new storage yards and a Secaucus loop track complex? The only thing consistent in the vendetta against Christie is the poison content in the venom.

    • Alon Levy says:

      ARC was not under Amtrak’s control. Put Amtrak in charge of something and the costs will mushroom.

      I mean, by the same token, a commuter tunnel of that length would’ve cost around $250 million in Madrid.

      • Marc Shepherd says:

        The other transit agencies in the region have not exactly covered themselves in glory. One would be very foolish to believe that ARC would have come in on-budget, regardless of who had built it.

        In that sense, Christie was entirely correct: the odds of the project meeting its budget were essentially zero, and New Jersey would have had to pay the overage. You can argue that that’s pretext, and it is, but his concerns were valid.

        I assume you realize that Gateway’s $15 billion cost is for more than just a tunnel

        • Alon Levy says:

          Yes, I know it’s more than just a tunnel. That said, most of the stuff other than just the tunnel doesn’t really need to be there. 21 tracks are enough for a station of Penn’s traffic level. The two subway stations at Penn move about the same number of people per day with 8 tracks.

          My problem with Christie is not whether the project would’ve been on budget or not. It’s that he listened to people who explained exactly what was wrong with the ARC cavern, and his take-home lesson was to cancel everything and divert the money to roads. He’s not interested in improving government; he’s interested in grandstanding.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            The subway trains, in normal service patterns, never switch tracks. The vast majority of subway passengers get on the next train to arrive. The train doors open people get on and off and the train doors close. Suburban trains don’t do any of that. Ask Mlynarik to explain to you why two stations served by two pairs of tunnels has more capacity than one station served by four tunnels.

          • ARC utility had eroded so badly that the “take-home lesson,” regrettable as it was, still was a risk or penalty we New Jersey rail advocates were willing to take. We stand by our belief that the “killing” was a good one. Meanwhile, we’d argue that Gateway has a better “long-term future” than ARC does.

            And remember, many of ARC’s supporters swore that it would be “decades” before another plan was advanced, strongly implying that it would be years before another plan was even offered. It’s early yet, but we’d question the wisdom of such prognostication.

        • Al D says:

          I don’t think that Christie did the right thing either, and the recent revelations about his misinformation campaign show it. Instead, since he claims to be the can do Gov., he had the chance to re-envision the project, morph it into Gateway or something more fiscally prudent and logisitically sensible. But instead, he wanted the $ to repair those thousands of dinky little creek crossing bridges on side roads that are used by no more than a few hundred cars a day.

  5. Larry Littlefield says:

    “So it’s $15 billion to add 2 tunnels and add some platforms to an existing station, but Christie was wrong to say it would cost more than $9 billion to build 2 tunnels, an entirely new deep cavern station, new storage yards and a Secaucus loop track complex?”

    They are assuming it will cost a lot more because it will be done far in the future. That, and perhaps bureaucracy costs at 33% of the total had already been absorbed by ARC.

    • Eric F says:

      I’m pretty sure sunk ARC costs were not even touching the billion mark!

      If you’re telling me that the estimates are not in constant dollars but have an inflation projection component, then I take my hat off to the econometric forecasters of the train planners. Those guys are geniuses.

      • Nathanael says:

        They have an inflation projection component. Some jerk-ass Republican inserted a provision in a bill recently requiring rail projects to use “year of expenditure” dollars, even though they’re meaningless.

  6. jim says:

    The problem is that two additional tracks across the Hudson create more capacity than either Penn Station or the trackage west of the Hudson can handle. So if you just build that, only a trickle of extra trains can cross the Hudson. To enable a flood of extra trains, you need more capacity on both banks.

    NJT’s ARC solved the problem by building a new station under 34th St. (“in Macy’s basement” :)) on the New York side and by two Portal bridges and the Secaucus loop on the New Jersey side (as well as new yard space in Kearney to store all the extra trains they were going to run). NJT then reduced the cost by a billion or three by eliminating access from the new tunnels to the existing Penn Station.

    Amtrak’s Gateway solves the problem by building an extension to Penn Station between 30th and 31st Sts. on the New York side and by building two Portal bridges and a Secaucus bypass on the New Jersey side and four-tracking from the Portal bridges to Dock East. Amtrak then adds another billion or two by building Moynihan Station as well, to keep New York State happy.

    In theory, one could build a minimal Gateway by constructing only one new track across the Hudson. The additional traffic that would enable could be absorbed by the existing Penn Station (even with existing operating practices) on the New York side and by adding an additional Portal bridge and three-tracking to Dock East on the New Jersey side. This would be relatively cheap, particularly if they don’t build Moynihan, but would provide only for additional trans-Hudson capacity for Amtrak with nothing left over for NJT and Amtrak has apparently committed to Sen. Lautenberg (in return, presumably, for his working to get them the engineering money) that Gateway will provide additional capacity for NJT.

    It’s that commitment which is the fundamental cause of the high cost. I don’t say it’s a bad commitment. More NJT trains into Manhattan is a positive good. But it’s what drives the $15B cost.

    • Alon Levy says:

      Why would a single-track tunnel only create more capacity for Amtrak? Under NJT’s current operating practice, there’s much more peak than reverse-peak traffic, with extra trains absorbed into yards. A single-track tunnel would permit NJT to run additional peak trains using either more yard space or more reverse-peak runs. It’s Amtrak whose traffic is relatively symmetric.

      • jim says:

        NJT doesn’t have much yard space east of the Hudson: 18 trainsets in Sunnyside and what can be held in the A and E yards in Penn proper (maybe half a dozen). Most of the trains that come east in the morning have to go west as soon as they’re unloaded, to free up their platform space. NJT is almost as symmetric as Amtrak — except the symmetry is between revenue and deadhead. The current Amtrak/NJT agreement limits Amtrak to two tph WESTbound between 8AM and 9AM.

        It isn’t a question of the capacity of the tunnel(s). If you don’t add capacity to Penn and just do minimal capacity increases between Penn and Newark (eliminating the double-tracked segments, basically) — and that’s how you end up with a cheap option — then you get to add maybe half a dozen tph symmetrically between Newark and NYC. Those dozen extra movements per hour can be handled by one tunnel. So building two is overkill.

        If Amtrak builds a new tunnel or tunnels it will be in the context of NEC HSR, to provide the additional capacity into New York that NEC HSR will need. Half a dozen tph will get mostly or wholly absorbed by the requirements of NEC HSR.

        • Nathanael says:

          So convert the LIRR to overhead cat and run the NJT trains through to Port Washington or whereever.

          Or, for a politically less difficult problem, run ’em through to New Haven, as a down payment on the “Metro North to Penn Station” plan.

          Seriously, if yard space is the issue, THROUGH RUNNING is the answer….

  7. Alon Levy says:

    In related news, New York is inaugurating a 3-km water tunnel between Brooklyn and Staten Island, somewhat narrower than a single-track low-speed bore. The cost: $250 million.

    It’s not that Americans are fundamentally incapable of cost control. It’s that they don’t care enough when it comes to transportation (something must be done, no expense spared!), and so they end up putting Amtrak in charge.

    • al says:

      That TBM has a ~12 ft diameter. For rail tunnels, you want a tunnel diameter at least twice as much. Since its in soft soil, it might be even more. There are other considerations, like if you want to go with prefab tunnels floated to and then dropped into a trench, or a multiface machine that can bore 3 tunnels (one for traffic in each direction, and an access/ventilation tunnel in between) at once.

    • Nathanael says:

      And tunnel cost does increase faster than the diameter, because the risk of tunnel collapse increases faster.

  8. UESider says:

    ok, but how many times do we “study ” something before we actually go and just do it?

    not sure this actually means anything will happen except simply ‘studying’

  9. UESider says:

    and spending on the studying…

  10. Spendmore Wastemore says:

    Other than Alton L here, I never see the costs questioned. The attitude seems that the cost of x project is immutable, as if one is buying coal. Proponents and detractors never ask “what *exactly* is xx$Billion being spent on?”

    Something as mechanized as final assembly of a car still has sharply different costs at different manufacturers. In construction there’s far more variability in the number of hours and layers of markup needed to accomplish a task, yet costs are discussed as if fixed. Put the same job out to bid in a recession vs a full employment economy and there is a big difference in the bid … or there would be if Davis-Bacon were amended to balance the work of J.Shmoe taxpayer with J.Shovel construction worker.

    • Phantom says:


      We should not authorize any new major projects until costs are rationalized

      We are being robbed blind

      Gov Christie made the hard but correct call

    • Alex C says:

      You realize the costs aren’t magically going to go down over time, right? They will only keep going up. Delaying construction just means you’ll end up having to pay even more later on when you desperately need to do the project.

      • Phantom says:

        The costs in NY are higher due to bad Labor Law and pervasive corrupt practices.

        You seem to say that it is impossible to reform these things.

        I reject this. Reform is possible. With reform, costs can be lower and budgets can begin to hqve a meaning.

        If we can’t fix any of hesr things, we don’t deaerve anything.

  11. Bruce M says:

    According to an article in Reuters about Exxon: “The Irving, Texas, company reported a first-quarter profit of $10.65 billion, or $2.14 per share, up from $6.3 billion, or $1.33 per share, a year earlier.”

    They will make in six months enough money to pay for this tunnel and then some. How long will it take for Amtrak and the government to come up with the money to pay for this project? Puts things in a different perspective, doesn’t it?

    • Bolwerk says:

      Back when railroads were making that kind of money, the government taxed them to build roads. And road users ever since have been indigent socialists!

    • Phantom says:

      That doesn’t put anything into perspective. Exxon is a very large and very international company that has immense capital investments.

      It’s ROE is less than those of internet companies.

  12. Al D says:

    The way to get this project is done is to eliminate Christie from the process. He can pay Amtrak to use the additional capacity instead. Bad decision on his part just killing the project.


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