Jun
17

A trans-Hudson tunnel by any other name

By

Someone will have to fight for the tunnel if Gateway is to become a reality by 2025.

It’s been 20 months since Gov. Chris Christie canceled the ARC Tunnel project, and its replacement has yet to move forward. Billed as a better solution than the deep-cavern terminal underneath Macys, the Gateway Tunnel has been put forward as a key element in any high-speed rail plan as well as a solution to the trans-Hudson bottleneck. Yet, we’re no closer today to seeing the Gateway Tunnel materialize than we were a year ago.

Recently, region transit advocates and Gateway Tunnel proponents have started to open a dialogue on the tunnel. No one denies the need for it, but it will take a great deal of political maneuverings to see it realized. “What should be clear is that nobody, nobody is debating that we need this,” Amtrak board member and former Port Authority Chairman Anthony Coscia said.

So what’s the problem? Why has this project gone nowhere? Money seems to be the answer. Steve Strunsky of The Star-Ledger has more on the effort to draw out support for the tunnel:

What is still far from clear, however, is where the money will come from to fund the Gateway project’s estimated $13 billion to $15 billion cost. Estimates for the ARC project were $9.8 billion to $14 billion when Christie bailed out on it in late 2010, saying New Jersey taxpayers would be unfairly stuck with the tab for overruns. He has not ruled out support for the Gateway plan, which he has said would better serve commuters.

So to boost the general public’s awareness of Gateway, stimulate interest among potential participants and help the project pick up steam in Washington, D.C., Trenton and Albany, proponents hosted what they said was the first forum to bring together representatives of the three rail agencies and others likely to share in its benefits and costs.

Coscia’s remarks capped the morning conference, which was held at the Princeton Club in Manhattan. It was hosted by the Regional Plan Association, a planning and transportation think tank, and the General Contractors Association of New York, whose members stand to work on the Gateway project. “Yes, we’re contractors — we build infrastructure,” said the association’s managing director, Denise Richardson. “But we also live in the region.”

For now, as Strunsky notes, a lot of the same people are bringing up the same talking points they’ve been rehashing for nearly two years. Meanwhile, in the halls of power — in D.C. and Trenton and Albany — a resolute nothing has happened. Outside of a token Senate appropriation, no one has taken the lead on this project from a federal standpoint, and Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo seem to be engaged in a battle of who can say less when asked for comment on Gateway’s future. “We’ll see where it goes,” New Jersey’s State Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson said on gaining Christie’s support for the tunnel.

As the days and weeks and months tick away and the ARC Tunnel becomes a distant memory, the Gateway saga reminds me of the point MTA Chairman Joe Lhota made last 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 funding partner. That is far, far easier said than done.

At this point, in a major election year, any real progress on Gateway will both be on hold until after November and depend heavily upon the outcomes of the key races. The region’s trans-Hudson rail capacity isn’t going to increase by itself though, and while everyone seems to recognize the need for more tunnels, no one has been willing to do much about it. How utterly disappointing.



Categories : Gateway Tunnel

67 Responses to “A trans-Hudson tunnel by any other name”

  1. John-2 says:

    Gateway actually has the potential to bring in more states than just New York and New Jersey, since it theoretically would allow through-running high speed rail from Boston to Washington, D.C.,, as well as possibly making it easier to run New Haven trains into Penn Station once East Side Access at Grand Central is completed (since — as mentioned in Friday’s thread about Lhota’s request for better cooperation — it would make it easier to through-run trains from Penn to N.J. for midday storage if there were four tracks under the Hudson instead of only two).

    You would think all that would make it easier to get multi-state cooperation. But it seems like the more people there are at the table, the more likely there’s someone either thinking everyone else is trying to scam them (by saddling one state or one federal or state agency with the bill), or some rep at the table really will be trying to pull a scam by getting something for their state for nothing. So odds are this will, at best, yield another multimillion dollar feasibility study that in the end, goes nowhere due to the lack of trust.

  2. Miles Bader says:

    BTW, what’s wrong with a deep cavern station underneath Macy’s? Sounds pretty nice to me … let’s go eat Korean!

    • Bolwerk says:

      It was single-handedly responsible for most of the cost excesses (and overruns?) of ARC. Also, it was inconvenient to most other transit.

      And, IMHO, climbing hundreds of feet to leave your train is something that should not be inflicted on commuters generally.

      • Marc Shepherd says:

        There was nothing inconvenient about the proposed station beneath Herald Square. It offered excellent transit connections to the 1/2/3/B/D/F/M/N/R/Q trains, arguably better (and certainly no worse) than the subway connections at Penn.

        And of course, it was not as if NJT was going to abandon Penn: passengers who preferred to be closer to Eighth Avenue, or who needed through trains to LIRR or Amtrak, could have continued to use Penn.

        Although the platforms would have been deeper, high speed escalators would probably have gotten passengers to street level a lot faster than the Penn’s crowded staircases allow today.

        ARC did have a few serious flaws, but connections weren’t the problem.

        • Alon Levy says:

          ARC was inextensible without shutting down Water Tunnel 1, and on top of it had nothing to connect to. The existing station can connect to GCT (ARC could connect to ESA before they buried TBMs in the middle, but it would’ve only led to Long Island rather than to the Harlem Line).

          And deep-level caverns cost a lot. Why do you think the Fukutoshin and Oedo lines were so expensive?

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            After 42 years of construction Water Tunnel 3 is on time and on budget, There’s no reason to believe it won’t be completed in 2020. Soon after it’s completion Water Tunnel 1 will be closed down for inspection and maintenance. Rational people would put off building around Water Tunnel 1 until it’s closed for inspection etc.

            I have no idea where they abandoned the TBMs. The MTA and it’s contractors are capable of spectacularly stupid things but I suspect they didn’t abandon the TBMs where they would be in the way of any likely future construction. Even if they are in the way, they can be removed.

          • Bolwerk says:

            They cost a lot of added inconvenience.

            I dunno, though, is connecting to the Harlem Line that desirable? Connecting to GCT is, but doing it with ESA seems acceptable to me.

          • Bruce M says:

            Interesting you should bring up Tokyo’s latest subway lines. Any idea how much those cost to build on a per-mile basis vs. 2nd Avenue?

            • Miles Bader says:

              Interesting you should bring up Tokyo’s latest subway lines. Any idea how much those cost to build on a per-mile basis vs. 2nd Avenue

              Fukutoshin line: The Shibuya-Ikebukuro segment cost about $2.5 billion for 9km, including stations etc., so about $500 million / mile.

              Oedo line: Wikipedia says: “Originally budgeted at ¥682.6 billion and 6 years, the construction ended up taking nearly 10 years and estimates of the final cost of construction range from the official ¥988.6 billion to over ¥1,400 billion yen, making it the most expensive subway line ever built.” Using the average of those figures, that’s about $15 billion for 25 miles (with 38 stations), or about $600 million / mile.

              2nd ave subway: Wikipedia says about $17 billion for 8.5 miles, or about $2 billion / mile.

              The Fukutoshin and Oedo lines are famed for their high cost, but they’re still only about 1/4 of the 2nd avenue subways’s cost, per mile.

              [The also very recently built Minato Mirai line (in Yokohama) cost about $1.2 billion / mile! ... but it is shallow cut-n-cover, in a relatively "open" location, and the high costs were apparently for other reasons... It's also very short, so I suppose the cost is relatively more affected by certain sorts of overheads..]

          • AlexB says:

            By the time ARC would have been finished, they could shut down the water tunnel. In the long run, having deep cavern stations at Penn and Grand Central probably makes building track easier than doing it closer to street level with all the utilities. After those two stations were operational, the East Side Access station could eventually be connected to the Harlem Line and ARC. Even if that took even more decades to accomplish, at least the capacity problem would have been solved. Those two stations would have together formed the modern backbone of the regional system for the next century.

            • John-2 says:

              When ESA finally opens we will get a good look at the workability of a deep cavern station under rush house New York conditions. ESA may not open for another seven years, but considering how slowly the Hudson River project is moving, there’s a pretty good chance nothing will be finalized there by 2019, either.

              • Adirondacker12800 says:

                People commute into Manhattan using a deep cavern station, tens of thousands of them an hour at peak, and have been for over a century. The tracks for PATH at the World Trade Center are very very deep.

            • Alon Levy says:

              ESA was so deep there was no way it could connect to the existing Metro-North tracks. That was on purpose.

              New York already has a backbone for its transportation system, with Penn Station. It needs fixes; it does not need a multilevel cavern underneath to separate NJT from Amtrak’s turfs.

              Deep-level subways look easier because they avoid the utilities, but they still need to be dug out somehow, and if it’s too big to do by TBM, expect costs to go up really fast. The most expensive subways in the world ex-New York are the ones that need to go under preexisting subway networks. That’s Crossrail (the most expensive subway in the world ex-New York), or in another era the RER A (the world record holder until the Jubilee line extension in the 1990s, if I’m reading the French inflation tables right).

              • Miles Bader says:

                That was a problem for the Fukutoshin line too—if you look at a vertical map of the line, it’s not level at all, because of all the other subway lines it had to dodge…

                [The Fukutoshin line also ended up hitting archeological artifacts and there were delays to properly excavate and preserve them.]

          • Andrew Smith says:

            Where does Japan rank, in general, on the construction costs table?

            Are the numbers Miles cites below about as good as any high-wage country can do on deep tunnels in similar conditions or do other countries beat Japan?

            • Alon Levy says:

              For urban subways, it’s the most expensive non-English-speaking country. In general, if it requires urban land, it will be expensive in Japan, because of both high land prices and a NIMBY-friendly process. If it doesn’t, it won’t be – Shinkansen construction costs aren’t that high relative to the amount of tunneling that’s required.

        • Bolwerk says:

          It was deeper than Penn, and seemed to me the walking distances were greater (laterally and vertically). The major problem with connections, however, was the lack of any to Penn itself. That made no sense. (IIRC, it did not connect to the 1/2/3?).

          And of course, it was not as if NJT was going to abandon Penn: passengers who preferred to be closer to Eighth Avenue, or who needed through trains to LIRR or Amtrak, could have continued to use Penn.

          This is really silly. You’d either make a transfer at Secaucus or wait longer at your own station to avoid going a block or two. If you aren’t carrying baggage and are able-bodied, that’s probably a tremendous waste, even if the block or two is a major inconvenience by itself.

          The whole thing was an abortion.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            It intimately connected to the existing Penn Station. Passengers would have been able to connect to any of the West Side subways and the existing tracks.

            • Bolwerk says:

              My definition of “intimate” would be a cross-platform transfer or, at worst, going up a flight of stairs.

              • Adirondacker12800 says:

                You can’t have 100,000 people an hour using the same platform.

                • Bolwerk says:

                  Going by the possible numbers seen at Times Square or Grand Central, we could easily divide that many people between 2-3 platforms on 4-6 tracks. The claim that there is a need for a massive complex is absurd.

                  • Adirondacker12800 says:

                    Grand Central serves four lines and the Shuttle on 9 platforms. Times Square serves 9 lines and the Shuttle on 17 platforms. People don’t loiter on the platforms because their train arrives every few minutes during rush hour. Penn Station serves 20 or more lines depending on how you want to allocate the locals and the expresses. On very low frequencies compared to the subway at rush hour.

                    • Ben says:

                      Grand Central serves the 4/5/6 on two island platforms and the 7 on a single island platform. In addition, the shuttle has two island platforms, according to the wikipedia article, which sounds right (I haven’t taken it in a while). Similarly, Times Square/Port Authority has a grand total of 7 island platforms (pairs for each express-local line, plus one for the 7), plus the three side platforms for the shuttle. Obviously there’s a difference between commuter rail passenger traffic patterns across a platform and subway traffic patterns, but if you’re going to count each platform edge as a separate platform, why not just say “9 tracks” and “17 tracks” and have done with?

      • Miles Bader says:

        Hmm, while I guess I have a mild preference for shallow stations, I’ve never really found deep stations particularly inconvenient. A few minutes on an escalator, whatever… [those lonnnnng escalators are often kinda cool!]

        • Andrew Smith says:

          I think you underestimate the time costs of deep stations.

          The long escalators are cool, when you’re seeing a station for the first and only time. But they’re huge time sinks, particularly here in the U.S. where we run our escalators slow. A really long escalator can take two minutes at the U.S. speed of about .5 m/s. — or about 17 hours a year for commuters. (Western European escalators apparently averages about .75 m/s while Russia has some that move at .9 m/s.)

          Not a deal killer if there are great reasons for a deep station but it is a genuine factor to consider.

          • There’s a psychological factor involved as well which I believe is an underappreciated element of mass transit planning. When I lived in DC and had to use the Woodley Park Metro stop everyday, I H-A-T-E-D the long escalators. It seemed to take far too long to get to ground level, and my impatience and the impatience of other travelers was clearly evident.

          • Bolwerk says:

            I hear geography makes deep stations necessary sometimes in Russia (and DC?), but New York is blessed to be able to achieve shallow stations. At least, our stations generally shouldn’t be deep unless there is a transfer involved or we’re doing it wrong.

            Perhaps the deep stations are one more (really crazy) automobile subsidy. I doubt anything else really pushes agencies to favor them.

          • Miles Bader says:

            Sure, but that’s really my point: it’s just one factor, and hardly a fatal flaw. Bolwerk, judging from his many comments on them, clearly hates deep stations with a passion (it’s never been quite clear to me why, though), and tends to overemphasize their negatives… :]

            • Bolwerk says:

              I don’t have a problem with them if they’re necessary due to some design constraint. But I’m generally not a fan of embracing the more expensive, less efficient option as the status quo.

              Making the SAS as deep as it will be was a bad decision.

  3. Justin Samuels says:

    This will happen when the freight train that goes directly from NJ to NY happens. In other words, NEVER!

  4. jim says:

    The project was set up to include everything but the kitchen sink so as to bring the other potential stakeholders to the table: Moynihan for New York, new platform tracks with semi-autonomous operation for NJT, two new Portal bridges, Secaucus expansion, even, recently, talk of reviving the Secaucus Loop to allow Main and Bergen Line trains to get to Penn Station.

    That tactic has failed. None of the other potential stakeholders have brought money. And Amtrak can’t get $15B all by its little ownsome.

    Amtrak needs to rethink and descope. Come up with something that is affordable without New York or New Jersey or the Port Authority or whoever kicking in large sums.

    • lawhawk says:

      The absolute minimum on the project is the new Hudson River tubes and the Portal Bridge replacement. Those two steps are absolutely critical and essential to maintaining and upgrading NEC traffic flow. It eliminates the bottleneck going into NYP and the 2-track Portal Bridge that frequently opens to boat traffic wreaking havoc for NEC as well as NJT schedules.

      Even the map Ben provided above includes a litany of items that aren’t essential to upgrading actual traffic flow.

      Secaucus Transfer doesn’t need further expansion. It is more than adequate to handle existing and future traffic particularly considering that it still sees a fraction of the traffic originally envisioned. It has sufficient platforms on the NEC level to handle in- and out-bound traffic without the need to expand (which would mean additional tracks/platforms).

      The talk about a one-seat ride from Bergen into NYP is just that – talk. NJT can’t afford to maintain existing trains to Hoboken (Serving Lower Manhattan through West Village/Chelsea, and Jersey City/Hoboken) and provide additional Main/Bergen traffic to NYP. It doesn’t have the operational budget to make that happen, and it has taken to cutting service. So, if NJT decides to put in 1-seat rides to NYP from Main/Bergen, it would be at the loss to Hoboken. That’s not a winning move for NJ commuters who actually travel within NJ.

      Moreover, the 1-seat ride eliminates the need for Secaucus in the first place (the whole idea was to allow transfers to NEC from Main/Bergen/PJ/Pascack).

      • Bolwerk says:

        They should just build the minimum and drop the fluff. No Penn South, no Moynihan.

        And, I dunno, Secaucus isn’t a horrible thing. Not all NJT trains will be able to go to Manhattan even with two more tracks, so having the option to transfer between lines remains a good idea.

        • lawhawk says:

          Secaucus Transfer is one of the reasons that NJT can’t afford to do other projects. It’s a white elephant that continues to cost the agency on debt repayment due to how the $80 million projected cost ended up close to $1 billion including interest on debt.

          It sees a fraction of the commuters that were originally intended, which means that it has more than sufficient capacity to handle Amtrak stops (though, it probably could use additional parking now that the Edison Park and Ride adjacent to the station is maxed out in capacity). Secaucus wasn’t built with parking originally, which led to its severe underutilization. Parking is once again the real constraint, not track or platform capacity.

          • Bolwerk says:

            Well, I agree it was a badly thought out project, but it’s here to stay now, so it may as well be useful – and can be, I suppose.

          • SEAN says:

            Yeah Secaucus has it’s problems, but if the town took advantage of what that could be, SJ could see massive passenger increases. This would include a REAL DOWNTOWN with local shops & businesses wich Secaucus lacks, increases in housing in the area & structured parking.

            • al says:

              The Secaucus Junction is surrounded by wetlands. They can build a loop, but not a downtown. That would bring out the environmentalists and ACE.

              • Alon Levy says:

                Secaucus has wetlands on one side. On the other it has a truck stop and warehouses.

                • lawhawk says:

                  They’ve built the Xchange condo/residential project on the other side of the station (across from the NJTurnpike). That’s as close to a multi-use project as you’ll find near the Transfer. But there’s no chance for any kind of downtown because the Transfer is hemmed in by wetlands, freight yards, and the NJ Turnpike.

        • al says:

          Expand Lautenberg Station. No Moynihan beyond access improvements. Build new Portal Bridges, signals and renew electrification. Get NJT, Amtrak, LIRR and Metro North on board with through running. Current North River Tunnel max frequency approaches 30 tph. It can be as high as 50 tph with new signals and better station track management. NY Penn has the tracks to handle the load. Each train has 5 min slot to enter, clear and depart in a through run strategy. 5 tracks in direction should be enough. LIRR and Metro North would need to retrofit equipment (retractable 3rd rail shoe, overhead power).

          • Alon Levy says:

            Is there anywhere in the world where mainline rail gets 50 tph, even without stations? I know one tunnel that gets 32 (the RER B-D interline) and a line in Switzerland that gets 7 trains in 4 minutes two times an hour, but nothing at 50 tph.

  5. Andrew Smith says:

    First, fix the problems that make this sort of construction five to ten times more expensive here than in the bits of Europe with the most efficient systems.

    Then worry about tunnels.

    To anyone who cares about public transit, fixing the system has to be the only area of concern, a life-or-death issue that crowds out all the specifics of individual projects.

    An efficient design/bid/construction system gets you ten times the infrastructure programs.

  6. AlexB says:

    For all of ARC’s problems, one of its obvious benefits was it’s clarity of purpose – to bring more NJ Transit commuters to the region’s core. It was designed to do this very single-mindedly: tunnels and a station that will be built and used by NJ Transit only, not subject to bargaining with Amtrak or the MTA. Most critics point to the depth of the station, but 150 feet is not that different from most similar projects in the modern era, or even many DC metro stations. Located slightly east of the existing Penn, there would have been direct transfers to the 1/2/3, N/R/Q, and B/D/F/M, where the existing Penn only provides direct connections to the 1/2/3 and A/C/E. Does anyone who reads this blog really think that a more expensive project that involves as many stakeholders as possible and requires the eventual demolition of an entire block of midtown really seem more feasible? It might be a better design, but there are simply too many people who could stop the Gateway project at any stage. I wish every project were designed thoughtfully and everyone showed up with the mindset that the effectiveness of the regional transportation network is the first priority. That won’t happen and unfortunately, I think we have to push for more capacity before great planning and accept the most bureaucratically constructable projects possible.

    • Bolwerk says:

      The only parts of Gateway that are needed are the ones lawhawk mentions: the tunnels and the the Portal Bridge. Those shouldn’t be a turf war, though maybe better use of Penn Station to exploit the advantages of the new tunnels could be.

    • Alon Levy says:

      Yes, the purpose of ARC was to maintain agency turf boundaries. That doesn’t make it good – on the contrary.

      • AlexB says:

        I specifically didn’t say ARC was the best solution to the problem, just that it was likely more buildable than Gateway. I could very well be wrong about this, but I imagine that in a hypothetical world, ARC could still get off the ground and built a lot faster than Gateway simply because it’s all under one agency’s roof.

        • Bolwerk says:

          Wrong or not, the probability already collapsed. NJ’s governor decided to be one of those “people who could stop the…project at any stage” so he could waste money elsewhere.

          Though, the irony is the salvageable parts of ARC are the salvageable parts of Gateway.

          • Alon Levy says:

            Actually, I think Gateway is a bit more salvageable – the tunnels already connect to Penn.

            However, I increasingly believe that the correct approach is to build the new tunnels to the north rather than to the south of the existing pair, to allow a straight connection to the northern pair of the East River Tunnels. LIRR trains should continue west or turn instead of going to the yard; in general, it’s a bad idea to have yards in an expensive CBD.

    • lawhawk says:

      The capacity of the ARC was grossly overstated when you consider that the trains going into the new station needed someplace to go – outbound using the same two tracks. There’s no thru-storage in Sunnyside or tail tracks because of where the station was to be located.

      That meant that the tunnel would have run into the same problems the existing tunnels do – if a train breaks down, all hell breaks loose and there’s no spare capacity to handle the overflow.

      In other words, if ARC were built, and one of the NJ Transit trains broke down in the ARC tunnel, the result would be the same exact problems we see now – massive delays and problems backing up on to the NEC.

      The Gateway proposal is a significant improvement precisely because it actually adds capacity on the NEC main line. Yes, NJ Transit doesn’t get its own infrastructure (and how exactly would NJ Transit afford the infrastructure when it can barely keep its operational budget afloat), but the NEC would get twice the capacity, and NJ Transit would benefit from increased slots (though not as many as they claimed they’d get via ARC).

      • AlexB says:

        Regardless of whether the tracks both connect to the same station (Gateway) or not (ARC), it would be chaos on the NEC if either set of tunnels were to break down. They would have more flexibility with Gateway, but it would be a disaster no matter what.

  7. Adirondacker12800 says:

    Billed as a better solution

    Gateway will cost more and have less capacity than ARC. I guess “better solution” depends on your point of view.

    • AlexB says:

      Gateway has the same overall capacity as ARC, just not for NJ Transit.

      • Adirondacker12800 says:

        No it doesn’t. Two sets of two tracks into two interlockings has more capacity than four tracks into one interlocking. I’ve seen estimates as low as 34 trains an hour. ARC would have had 48-52 depending on which chart you looked at.

        • John-2 says:

          How were they going to get 48-52 trains an hour reversed out of the deep cavern station under 34th Street? You can’t through-run them to Sunnyside, which would mean either cutting your AM rush inflow to send trains back to New Jersey, or built a station with more platforms than Penn so you don’t have to use one of the tunnels for reverse direction rush hour trips.

          Connecting two new tunnels up to Penn Station allows trans-Hudson traffic the same option as with the East River tunnels, in that three of the four can be for peak direction trains, while one is reserve both for long-distance through-running trains and to park NJT trains in Queens until the PM rush.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            26 in the new station and 26 in the old station. Or 25 in the new station and 23 in the old station, Depending on which chart you looked at.

        • jim says:

          The 34 tph estimate was assuming that no additional platform tracks would be added to Penn Station and that NJT would continue to turn all but a handful (those that would fit in Sunnyside) of its trains at Penn Station. It wasn’t a tunnel capacity issue, rather a station track and operational practice issue.

          If the whole of Gateway (South Penn and Moynihan, too) were, by some financial miracle, built, then one would expect a trans-Hudson capacity on the order of 50 tph. That’s the apples and apples comparison to ARC.

          If a radically descoped (but affordable!) version of Gateway is built, then trans-Hudson capacity will be closer to 34 tph. But that’s an apples and oranges comparison to ARC.

    • Alon Levy says:

      Gateway is run by an agency with worse cost control.

  8. Matthias says:

    A question–what is a “swift interlocking”? I’ve also noticed on these drawings that the alignment is parallel with the existing NEC up until Secaucus, where it dips to the south. Why the detour?

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