Lhota: Why can’t we all just get along?


In a sense, the New York region’s rail transportation has stalled out. New York City Transit and PATH cooperate only in a minimal sense of the word while the LIRR, Metro-North, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak would seemingly rather be caught dead than sharing or fighting together for precious funds and resources. So we’re left with infrastructure that doesn’t expand. We can add a few tunnels and some stations, but truly transformative projects do not happen.

Recently, after years of talking about the ARC Tunnel and now a Gateway Tunnel, the region’s transit leaders have started to take notice of this problem, and MTA head Joe Lhota has begun to speak out against it. At the RPA’s conference earlier this week, he issued a call for unity. “Right now, we’re as Balkanized as you can possibly imagine,” he said. “We need to find a way to coordinate that.”

Transportation Nation’s Jim O’Grady had more:

New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joe Lhota told a conference of transportation professionals that the only hope for moving more people under the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey is for the area’s commuter railroads to set aside their traditional enmity and work better together…

Lhota tossed out three ideas, each aimed at boosting capacity at Penn Station in Manhattan…He said the station’s 21 platforms should all be made to accommodate 10-car trains, which would mean lengthening some of them. He also said that the railroads using the station—Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and Long Island Rail Road—should do a better job of sharing platform and tunnel space…

Lhota’s third suggestion was the most ambitious. He said the three railroads—plus the MTA’s Metro-North line, which connects Manhattan to Connecticut and several downstate New York counties—should use each other’s tracks. In other words, trains should flow throughout the region in a way that sends them beyond their historic territory. For example, a train from Long Island could arrive in Penn Station and, instead of sitting idly until its scheduled return trip, move on to New Jersey. That way, trains would spend less time tying up platforms, boosting the station’s capacity.

For many transit advocates in the area, these are common-sense proposals that have been on the table for years, if not decades. Barring a new tunnel — and that may still be at least a decade away — these ideas may help alleviate some of the rail problems plaguing the area. The other problem, of course, is one of funding, and to that end, Lhota wants some political action as well.

“There’s been an absence of leadership on transportation in this country since the creation of the Port Authority,” he said. “I would imagine you know that both the president and former Governor Romney come to the New York metropolitan area and raise hundreds of millions of dollars. Not once is anybody talking to them while they’re in New York about the critical need for transportation. We’re losing that effort. So we may be losing this entire political campaign. We need to make it a big issue.”

If we want to see needed upgrades, improvements and expansions any time soon, that we do. That we do.

26 Responses to “Lhota: Why can’t we all just get along?”

  1. John-2 says:

    The problem in New York, when it comes to both interstate and inter-jurisdictional agencies and governing bodies, not only does everyone have their own pet concerns, but everyone has the mindset that the other side is trying to scam them whenever some cooperative effort is proposed. This is a welcome step by Lhota, but it’s going to require not just the MTA to be open about joint operating agreements, but for the other parties also to come to the table with the idea they’re going to share their resources in a way that best benefits the region.

    • Larry Littlefield says:

      “Everyone has the mindset that the other side is trying to scam them whenever some cooperative effort is proposed,”

      Which given the nature of the people who control our state and local governments is a perfectly reasonable thing to assume.

  2. al says:

    Through running sounds good, but the equipment need retrofitting for it to work. NJT need high voltage catenary. Metro North has under running 3rd rail shoes. LIRR has top running 3rd rail shoes. There are signaling issues too.

    The only trains I can see through running right now are 25/12kv compatible NJT/MetroNorth trains through NY Penn over Hells Gate, and the dual mode ALP-45DP NJT ordered for the cancelled ARC service.

    • Walter says:

      The new M8s can be fitted with either under or over running third rail shoes. They can run on the New Haven’s catenary to New Rochelle then would need to either use Amtrak’s catenary or expanded third rail to Penn Station. As long as their route has only one kind of third rail, they can essentially go anywhere (but could not, for instance, go from the Hudson Line directly to the LIRR).

      I believe the Hell Gate Line, being a successor of the New Haven Railroad, uses Amtrak’s 60hz catenary, so the M8s should be able to run to Penn Station depending on where the catenary changes to the old Pennsylvania system. Since Amtrak runs on three different catenary systems, and the M8 can already run on two, I’m sure the M8s could be made to also accept Pennsylvania catenary, especially if a new order of cars was made for New Haven to New Jersey service.

      • al says:

        The M8 can handle the work, but don’t constitute the majority of the Metro North New Haven fleet yet. Even when it does, it will require LIRR turning over the slots to NY Penn. The LIRR have lots of relatively new M7 that will limit the catenary/3rd rail fleet size for another 30 yrs. The vehicle that has the greatest flexibility are the NJT diesel and catenary ALP-45DP. They can haul trains in all electrified and nonelectric zones.

        • al says:

          “…Even when it does, it will require LIRR turning over the slots to NY Penn…”
          Even when it does, it will require LIRR not using certain tracks so that different 3rd rail issues hinder different equipment.

          • Ben says:

            Actually, the M8 is supposed to use the LIRR third rail, using a reversible shoe—easier, apparently, than changing over 25Hz catenary (which starts roughly at the bridge and runs to D.C.) to 60Hz. Hence the need to extend LIRR third rail up over the Hell Gate bridge in order for New Haven Line trains to run into Penn, but no need, as far as I’ve heard, to change over third rail equipment in Penn Station or underneath the East River.

            • Andrew Smith says:

              Has anyone ever done a study of how much through-NYC demand there might really be?

              It sounds great in theory to link LI and NJ, but if you go to any station in this region that isn’t NYC you basically need a car when you get there. Might work if there was true hassle-free rental (I’ve heard Zipcar is pretty easy), but as things stand now, I cannot see too many scenarios where the door to door time would be as fast/cheap with train/light rail/bus/taxi as with cars, even in rush hour (which is amazing given what a pain it is to get from NJ to Long Island).

              Would the benefits in getting trains into and out of Penn justify through traffic even if there wasn’t any actual through traffic?

              If there aren’t good numbers on NYC, are there numbers for, say, Philly that might be indicative of something? I lived around Philly both before and after SEPTA made everything go through and, except for getting to the airport from north of the city, I cannot think of anyone who ever went through Center City.

              • chris says:

                Whether or not anyone goes through is irrelevant. If a train is going from NJ to LI, even if everyone from NJ gets off at Penn Station, there will still be a bunch of people getting on at Penn to go to LI, just like there is currently many people who will get on at Penn to go to LI on the LIRR.

              • Alon Levy says:

                No formal study, but I added up the commute flows that would benefit from this. I forget whether they’re somewhat less or somewhat more than 100,000 people. Most of those are not commuting to sprawlburbs, but to Brooklyn, Queens, and Newark.

                None of those secondary downtowns has Manhattan’s transit mode share (Newark’s is 30%, and if I remember correctly Downtown Brooklyn’s is 50%), but if you provide a congestion-free route for people who commute through Manhattan, you can expect close to 100% mode share. People don’t drive from Long Island to Newark for fun.

  3. Michael says:

    Having trains pass through Manattan rather than stop, wait and return is long overdue. The only major limitation is the 2 tracks between Penn station and NJ which are already at capacity. But from Penn Station to LI there are 4 tracks and many NJ transit trains already continue on to the yard in Long Island City. These trains should continue providing service to at Jamaica for transfers to the remaining LIRR trains. Similarly, LIRR trains should extend through Secaucus to Newark for transfers (capacity permitting).

    If NY, NJ and Connecticut could create a common contactless transit card, then Penn station could be reorganized from the current fractured layout to a unified station with universal ticketing, shared platforms (south side to LI, North side to NJ). Also at least all stations within NYC and to Newark should be switched to fare control gates.

    Longer double decker trains are a must.

    The city must also develop a master plan to get a second manhattan station on the west side for NJ Transit. While the east side access is beneficial to LIRR, a west side station on the Penn tracks would give all trains access.

  4. SEAN says:

    At the RPA’s conference earlier this week, he issued a call for unity. “Right now, we’re as Balkanized as you can possibly imagine,” he said. “We need to find a way to coordinate that.”

    I couldn’t say it better. We are getting to the point where our transit agencies will need to get together just so we can get funding from Washington for needed infrastructure projects. This includes things like bus & railcar purchases as well as bridge reconstruction & new stations for the commuter railroads.

  5. alen says:

    most of these tracks were built over one hundred years ago by different companies which is why they are so different. They were never meant to be used as one system. In some cases someone would get funding for a railroad close to an existing line just so they could put them out of business with lower fares.

    the consolidation into one system didn’t happen until the 1960’s

  6. Eric F says:

    I heard the PATH lines was shut down for about 4 hours yesterday between World Trade and the Jersey side, including during the height of rush hour. Worthy of a post?

  7. Alon Levy says:

    They should start by integrating fares and ticket machines. That doesn’t require changing the schedule in any way. (Next easiest thing to do is through-run NEC trains.)

    • SEAN says:

      Exactly! What do you think the “Train to the Game” service to the Medowlands is. It’s esentially through running from New Haven to Secaucus. The goal is to have this service full time & not just durring football season.

  8. Kareem says:

    It’s odd that that a solution to the transit problem in New York might come from St. Louis of all places. Our transit authority was designed from the get go to cover both Missouri and Illinois counties, and while the Bi-State Development Agency has gotten a bit far afield from what it was created to do (a interstate compact between MO & IL for the economic development of Metropolitan St. Louis), it outdoes MTA in major respect: it’s jurisdiction doesn’t stop at the Hudson.

    PANJ, NJTransit and MTA should be one multimodal agency that covers road, rail, air, but those responsibilities are shared between those agencies and you have deal with the myriad of issues in crossing a river by transit. It’s hard to conceive that you would have to make three system transfers to get to NJ.

    BSDA is lacking in other ways (being the driver of economic growth, notwithstanding), but we cracked the single metropolitan transit system. Why didn’t NJ/NY?

    • mike d. says:

      It wouldn’t work. Government is far too smart to merry PAMYNJ / NJT & MTA together just to save time and money.

    • orulz says:

      It doesn’t have to be unified into one agency for through routing to work. Look at Tokyo. They have:

      JR East
      Tokyo Metro
      Toei subway
      (did I miss any?)

      … and through routing arguably works better there than anywhere else in the world. Basically when a train moves from one company’s jurisdiction to another, they just switch crews.

      • Miles Bader says:

        + Minato Mirai Railway (Yokohama, through-routed onto Toyoko line)
        + Saitama Railway (through-routed onto Nanboku line)
        + Rinkai line (through-routed onto JR Saikyo line)
        + Tsukuba express
        + etc, etc, a bunch of smaller or one-off lines

        The Toyoko line is interesting, because it’s through-routed on both ends in different cities … and once they finish the Fukutoshin-Toyoko connection, it will end up being through-routed on up to five lines end-to-end: Minato Mirai in Yokohama onto the Toyoko line, through Tokyo on the Fukutoshin line, onto the Seibu Yurakucho line, and then the Seibu Ikebukuro line into Saitama!

        [That’s a particularly long linear sequence, but the actual interlining structure in the Tokyo area has a lot of branches—it’s not uncommon for lines to interline with multiple other lines. E.g. the Toyoko line also interlines with the Hibiya line (which then interlines with Tobu on the other end), the Meguro line splits onto the Nanboku and Mita lines at Meguro, etc.]

      • Tsuyoshi says:

        Yes, you missed Sagami. They have a couple lines in Kanagawa, and are apparently constructing a connection to JR, to run through to Shinjuku.

        I would assume that the bureaucrats regulating the rail industry in Japan are responsible for “encouraging” this kind of cooperation. Regulatory agencies typically have a lot more power in Japan than they do in the US, and they force nominally competing businesses to cooperate like this all the time. Keep in mind that all of those, with the exception of Toei, are profitable businesses.

        Due to nothing other than groundless optimism, I believe through-running between New Jersey and Long Island will happen somehow, someday, but the political mechanism will have to be very different.

        • Miles Bader says:

          Why would they need much “encouragement”? It’s very much to the railways’ benefit to interline, as it results in a more attractive service for passengers.

        • Bolwerk says:

          I wouldn’t say the U.S. has toothless regulatory agencies. FRA, hello?

          And like Miles says, there is always impetus to cooperate in the railroading world. The guy who owns the tracks to Memphis and the guy who owns the tracks to Boston aren’t in perfect competition to sell their product like two neighbors who each own 100 acres of barley crop. They own vastly different properties with access to vastly different markets, and typically any railroad has capacity to spare. It makes sense to sell your competitor track use when you’re not using it (and, yeah, is probably mandatory too).

  9. Tom says:

    How about better connectivity between Metro-North and LIRR by extending some LIRR diesel trains to Stamford CT via the Hell Gate Bridge?

    Doing this would:
    – connect Metro-North’s busiest line with all LIRR lines (except Port Washington)
    – connect Shore Line East commuter railroad (which already serves Stamford) with LIRR
    – allow a new Co-op City stop (now promised for sometime next decade after Metro-North’s New Haven Line begins running selected trains into Penn Station via Hell Gate)
    – provide access from New Haven Line stations to JFK (via AirTrain at Jamaica
    – create a faster and more direct route between Long Island and Boston/Springfield via Amtrak


  1. […] week. To improve the region’s transportation options and access to the city core, we all will have to learn to work together. Cuomo and Christie will have to join forces, and Washington, DC, will have to be a significant […]

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