May
05

Gateway, ARC, Sandy and the ticking clock

By

Right now, a new tunnel is nothing but a line on a map.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over three and a half years since New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie unilaterally canceled the ARC Tunnel. Yet, it’s a decision that keeps coming back to haunt the entire region. Amtrak has proposed picking up the slack with their Gateway Tunnel, but that’s decades off. Now, questions have emerged concerning the region’s ability to cope with aging infrastructure and no replacement plans in place.

The latest comes to us from Amtrak. As the two Hudson River tunnels creep up there in years, the national rail agency has warned that age will become a major issue sooner rather than later. Amtrak’s chief put their life expectancy at “less than 20 years” and urged everyone involved to start funding — and then building — Gateway.

Dana Rubinstein had more:

The end may be near for the New York region’s cross-harbor rail tunnels, with no good alternative in sight. “I’m being told we got something less than 20 years before we have to shut one or two down,” said Amtrak C.E.O. Joseph Boardman at the Regional Plan Association’s conference last week at the Waldorf Astoria. “Something less than 20. I don’t know if that something less than 20 is seven, or some other number. But to build two new ones, you’re talking seven to nine years to deliver, if we all decided today that we could do it.”

Tom Wright, the Regional Plan Association’s executive director, described Boardman’s remarks as “a big shock.” “I’ve been hearing abstractly people at Amtrak and other people at New Jersey Transit say for years the tunnels are over 100 years old and we have to be worried about them,” he said. “To actually have Joe put something concrete on the table, less than 20 years … Within my office, there was a level of, ‘Wow, this is really serious.’”

In addition to age, as Rubinstein notes, Sandy damage is going to play a big role in this tale. The Amtrak tunnels, by some accounts, suffered approximately half a billion dollars in damage during the storm surge, but unlike, say, the Montague St. Tunnel, Amtrak can’t just take one of their cross-Hudson out of service for a few months to make repairs. That would reduce capacity from 24 trains per hour to just six, and as Amtrak owns them, the people who would suffer the most from single-tracking would be New Jersey Transit riders. Thus, it all comes back to ARC as without ARC, New Jersey Transit is beholden to Amtrak’s whims.

An Amtrak spokesman later tried to walk back Boardman’s comments. “As you know the Hudson River Tunnels are more than 100 years old and were filled with salt water during Super Storm Sandy, which can be very corrosive,” Craig Schultz said. “Amtrak is working with an expert to assess the condition of the tunnel structures since the storm, and that work is ongoing. I think the point Mr. Boardman was making in his comments at the RPA Assembly is that damage from Sandy accelerated what was already an urgent need for additional tunnel capacity between New York and New Jersey. We expect that the tunnels are going to need major rehabilitation, which can only happen with prolonged service outages permitted by a new tunnel.”

So where do we go from here? As with all of these major infrastructure projects, Gateway needs a champion, and right now, it doesn’t have one. It needs money, and right now, it doesn’t have it. Will we wait to fund it until it’s too late or will someone come to their senses before we have to live in an era when six trains per hour can cross the Hudson River? The clock is ticking.



144 Responses to “Gateway, ARC, Sandy and the ticking clock”

  1. Brandon says:

    “Yet, it’s a decision that keeps coming back to haunt the entire region.”

    If we had built it, we would have sunk many billions of dollars into a dead-end tunnel that would absolutely not serve Amtrak. What would we have done then when Amtrak had to shut one of their tubes down for the Montague Rehab treatment?

    • If Amtrak has to single track its own Amtrak-only tunnels, the capacity issues disappear if NJ Transit isn’t using those tunnels. The problem is that most of the traffic through Amtrak’s tunnels is not Amtrak trains.

      • But with ARC NJTransit would not have used the basement station exclusively…if I remember correctly, it would only handle 18 trains per hour, and NJT runs 20 in the 5pm hour today, so you’d not only be prohibiting service expansions, you’d have to trim back a couple trains during their peak of the peak period. And even you gave what was left of the main station back to NJT to use during the rush hour, you’re still not leaving much room for all the service expansions ARC and son of ARC are allegedly supposed to bring along (i.e. dual-modes from Bay Head, WORMland, Raritan, more Midclowns, etc.)

        • lop says:

          If ARC had capacity of 18 trains per hour and NJ transit runs 20, then ARC + 6 trains per hour from one Hudson tube running would give room for 20 NJ transit trains and 4 Amtrak trains yes? So take a year after ARC is finished to rehab the Hudson tubes one at a time before expanding NJ Transit service.

          From what I’ve read a completed Gateway is better than a completed ARC. But is Gateway in fifteen years better than a completed ARC if one of the Hudson tubes has to be shut down immediately a few years from now?

          • Nathanael says:

            Gateway is at the same level of design as ARC was, and will cost less.

            Let’s not worry about the past; let’s just campaign to get Gateway built ASAP.

            I fear that the complete descent of the US into third-world status has already happened, and that our political system is so broken that we won’t be able to get Gateway built before the existing tunnels have to shut down.

            But I hope that we can build Gateway ASAP — it’s just a matter of getting our governments to *spend the money, hire the people, and do it*.

            • Larry Greenfield says:

              This makes sense to me. The fundamental need for public transit access to and from NYC is a lot like the need for water for NYC. If we can undertake a huge, expensive and multi-year water project, we can undertake the tunnel project. Both are required for continued life here in NYC.

              • Larry Littlefield says:

                Another cross Hudson tunnel is like water for Northern New Jersey, not NYC. ESA is like water for Long Island.

                • Henry says:

                  The tunnel that would actually be water for NYC would be the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel, but that’s not happening in any of our lifetimes.

                  • Chris says:

                    All true – the tunnels to Manhattan benefit the suburbs, and should be paid for by suburban money. With that being said, NYC should be moving heaven and earth to help the suburbs build their tunnels, as it would lock in Manhattan (and maybe parts of Brooklyn and Queens) to be the business core of the region.

                    In short, all roads should intersect conveniently in Manhattan, so that the near in suburbs (parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx) benefit disproportionately by suburban investment in the core….

                    • AG says:

                      Chris – Brooklyn, Queens, and The Bronx are not “suburbs”… they are a part of the city of New York.

            • Alon Levy says:

              Gateway’s budget is higher than ARC’s. Amtrak is involved, after all.

              • Bolwerk says:

                Ah, yeah, but wasn’t that largely because of “Penn Station South”? That is part of the project that can be jettisoned.

                • AG says:

                  I agree! Hopefully the planners will.

                • Alon Levy says:

                  Yes, Penn Station South is the main part of the problem, but the Amtrak involvement is precisely the idea that More Tracks Are Always Needed, complete with separate spaces for separate railroads.

                  • SEAN says:

                    Tell me again why we need seperate spaces?

                  • This seems like a great case of using an “emergency” need to supplement the existing North River tunnels to split Gateway into Phase One and Phase Two, with the tunnels being built first to meet the urgent need and the Penn Station South delayed “until funding becomes available.” Then when the tunnels are built, hopefully they will realize that they can manage without the additional tracks.

                    • Nathanael says:

                      Thankfully that seems almost certain to be what’s done.

                    • Alon Levy says:

                      The problem is that the optimal bare-bones tunnels are to the north of the existing pair, to match with the northern pair of East River tunnels. The optimal project that includes a Grand Central connection is to the south of the existing pair, with tracks 1-5 continuing to new Grand Central tunnels.

                    • johndmuller says:

                      Could they build one tube on the north and one on the south? {I know that the tunnel box they are building is for 2 on the south, but I don’t know if they need similar provisions to reserve the space on the north – also, they could add the 2nd southern tube later I suppose.}

                      The possible connection from the south to GCT:
                      I presume it to start out under 31st St;
                      Is it to the upper levels or the LIRR levels;
                      If upper levels, how to get by the shuttle & 1 line;
                      What about the water tunnel issues;
                      Additional tube(s) under East River?

                    • johndmuller says:

                      (Sorry, meant 7 linw above)

                    • @johndmuller: Start from Gateway, taking over the existing stub tracks on the south side of Penn Station. Parallel the LIRR passing over the water tunnel and under the IND/PATH/BMT at Herald Square. Rise to curve north under Park crossing above the LIRR and underpinning the 4/5/6. Thread above the 7 and below the 4/5/6/S stations at 42nd, there’s an empty level between them (IIRC this is the part that made the ARC planners nervous enough to kill “Alt G”). Continue through the area that is now the food court (errm, “Dining Concourse”) at Grand Central. Connect to two or more of the tracks on the lower Metro North level. Proceed on existing track to Harlem and Westchester.

                      Not exactly cheap or easy, but much more useful than a dead-end cavern.

                    • johndmuller says:

                      Thanks threestationsquare / Anon256, I’ve never seen all the ups and downs ins and outs explained together before.

                      I had read somewhere about the gap (I think it was at one point planned to be for PATH to get to 42nd/GCT), but I wasn’t sure it was still in play, or it it was workable for connecting to MN trackage. Exact figures for depth from ground level (or even, for that matter, what is the ground level there) are difficult to find and not always consistent.

                      The lower level tracks in GCT are some distance below the lower level floor; perhaps enough that the connecting passage could fit at least almost and maybe completely beneath the food court, especially if the GCT tracks involved were lowered as necessary. Perhaps the gap between the IRT lines forces a particular elevation.

                    • Alon Levy says:

                      One on the north and one on the south is possible, but a bad idea. The East River Tunnels aren’t like the four-track subway mainlines, in which tracks would go WB-WB-EB-EB: from north to south, they go WB-EB-WB-EB, with a duckunder converting the line to WB-WB-EB-EB in Queens. The southern pair faces the North River Tunnels. If you build one track to the north and one to the south, you can’t use them very efficiently – you’re either reconfiguring the entire approaches awkwardly, or building two single-track lines. And a double-track line has far more capacity at lower cost than two single-track lines.

            • Henry says:

              I’m sorry, Gateway will cost less? Gateway has projected costs of $15B vs. ARC’s $8B, and that’s largely because Gateway requires surface acquisition for a Penn South. Say what you want about the impact of service quality that a deep-bore station has, but property acquisition is not an insignificant cost.

              • Nathanael says:

                Property acquisition doesn’t count. You get it all back by reselling the air rights.

                • Alon Levy says:

                  That assumes there’s demand for class A office space in the area, which is the only thing that can pay the extra construction costs of building above rail tracks.

                  • Nathanael says:

                    There obviously is.

                    • Nathanael says:

                      Evidence: the projects going up over the rail junctions immediately to the west of Penn Station.

                      Building over a rail junction is substantially worse than building over a station. With a station, at least the tracks are lined up parallel to each other with big gaps between them for platforms. A rail junction requires really convoluted straddle bents and whatnot.

        • lop says:

          Also, did ARC really have a capacity limit of 18tph?

          http://www.njtransit.com/tm/tm.....SE_ID=2433

          ‘The ARC program includes two new single-track railroad tunnels between New Jersey and New York, additional Penn Station capacity under 34th Street in Manhattan, and signal and track improvements along and adjacent to the Northeast Corridor.

          The project will double the number of commuter rail tracks between New Jersey and New York and double peak-period trans-Hudson train capacity from 23 trains per hour to 48.’

          Would 7 tph of the increased capacity been squeezed into the old tubes?

        • Joe says:

          The alignments that have been proposed to replace ARC are 1000x better since they’re at or a single level below the current Penn Station level. Our modern conception of “build deep because it’s cheap and non-disruptive” is incredibly short-sighted from numerous perspectives – ease of use, resiliency, sustainability (forced ventilation), maintenance (escalators), etc. Second Ave should have been cut and cover where possible, resorting to depth only where necessary. You can make the argument of “oh, it never would have happened if we hadn’t gone deep.” Is a tunnel better than no tunnel? Tough call. A number of our great public works projects were delayed numerous times for decades – the early water tunnels, the first subway, etc. I’d prefer to wait another 10 or 20 years if then next 200 prove more useful.

          • Eric F says:

            I agree 100% with Joe. My thinking is to spend a known — albeit huge — amount on Manhattan real estate, rather than spend a speculative and ever-increasing amount on time, engineering, etc. to avoid surface disruption and go deep underground. The deep cavern stuff sounds great, but the execution on East Side Access and even the 7 extension is showing that the execution is a time and budget killer.

            • John-2 says:

              Gateway, by having trains passing through Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland use it also has the potential to get regional support from those states (along with nearby ones with residents who’d also use it, like Virginia, Maine or New Hampshire) in a way the ARC wouldn’t — you could theoretically explain to people in those states how the Batcave under Macy’s was going to open up NJT slots for faster travel through Penn Station. But no one outside of New Jersey commuters or reverse commuters from NY to the Garden State were ever going to use ARC, which meant if the costs spiked odds were New Jersey was going to be on its own.

              The ‘carrot’ with Gateway is a high-speed route people all along the Northeast and mid-Atlantic corridor can use. The ‘stick’ here is warning those same people — including D.C. pols outside of the NY-NJ area — that they could have their own Manhattan Bridge situation on their hands when it comes to inter-city rail travel, if they do nothing to deal with the aging Hudson River tunnels.

              • Bolwerk says:

                That argument isn’t going to fly. None of those states have political cultures that far-sighted, least of all the feudal dump Virginia, which has all the bad qualities of New Jersey combined with all the bad qualities of Texas. Just imagine a state where the politicians actually make Chris Christie look sorta sensible. The truth is the vast majority of the benefits to Gateway go to New Jersey (and secondarily to New York) – which is actually a good thing, because Washington may be more inclined to dismiss things that mainly benefit New York.

                Gateway will be won the way ARC was won: by routine Congressional horsetrading. And it’s only going to do so much for HSR, if indeed it does anything.

                • John-2 says:

                  It certainly won’t do much for HSR in the Greater New York area, due to land acquisition costs. The most likely thing that will get the attention of elected reps from other states is the ‘stick’ of NE corridor trains facing the same sort of delays and roundabout/alternate routing NYC subway riders have faces over the years, either due to Sandy or the past Manny B and Willie B closures.

                  That’s the likely reason Boardman threw the “20 years” mention in — as much to grab the attention of people in Washington who control Amtrak’s purse strings as it was to grab the attention of local residents and pols in New York and New Jersey. A trip from, say, New Haven to Washington that suddenly requires either a long delay through New York, or schelpping from Penn to Newark Penn via PATH will get people from states other than New York and New Jersey interested in fixing the cross-Hudson tunnel problem.

                  • Bolwerk says:

                    Washington explained: if there is a D next to their names, you get “Well, that’d be nice, but we have more pressing priorities.”* If there is an R, “Hurr trains = socialism, debt, welfare hurrr libruls!”

                    The route to Gateway funding is a line item in a massive appropriations bill. Just like anything else that only benefits 1-2 states.

                    * pandering to win the next election by looking austerian

                • Henry says:

                  Virginia is actually fairly pro-rail and has been expanding extremely popular state-funded rail routes. Texas is also eh, in that they’re at least entertaining the idea of a Texas Triangle HSR again (although Southwest will kick and scream if that happens). At least neither is Wisconsin.

                  • Bolwerk says:

                    Well, you sort of have a point. They both have political cultures that tolerate local initiatives, which can be rail for all the state cares. The difference with Virginia is it is a pretty unitary state, whereas Texas tends to devolve most planning. For that reason, I would not expect HSR in Texas happening any time soon. (Actually, in terms of constructing urban rail mileage over the past ~2 decades, TX may be pretty ahead of much of the country.)

                    But the problem is that same ideology prevents them from supporting big picture federal initiatives, rail or otherwise.

                  • AG says:

                    That Texas HSR is supposed to be a private enterprise. I fail to see how they will get enough ridership to remain viable. Unless the “private” status is a pretend.

                    All Aboard Florida (not HSR) is also supposed to be totally private. They are not HSR and apparently the parent company owns the tracks.. So I could see where they could be viable. That Texas HSR.. How could they as a private entity spend the money for an all new system without subsidy doesn’t make sense to me.

              • AG says:

                Talk of HSR… What of that Japanese company that was willing to build it from DC to Baltimore as a “gift” for the NEC to get high speed rail. Would that have used Gateway?

                • lop says:

                  They’re pushing maglev for a section of track that might be too short for it to get up to full speed before it has to start slowing down. Unless you rip the rails out of gateway and put in maglev tracks how would it use gateway? Also, were they building it for free, or offering to finance it on generous terms?

                  • AG says:

                    Well I don’t know… that’s why I’m asking if it was to use Gateway or not.
                    I don’t recall the details.. I just recall there was some financial incentive the Japanese were offering.

                    I guess I’ll have to go back and look at the press coverage.

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      It’s hard to say, and I think doesn’t matter. Gateway provides some redundancy for the other tunnels, which is what matters. The tunnel approach is where trains need to begin slowing down anyway, and this is fine as we can presume that all trains will stop in New York. So it may not even be necessary for the tunnel to be built entirely to HSR standards (and depending on grades, may not be possible). And we know HSR is impossible in Queens and questionable/expensive in Connecticut.

                      The tunnels are mainly about adding capacity. The rails that make HSR be HSR are going to be in the exurbs and hinterlands, not urban cores.

      • Douglas John Bowen says:

        Even if one accepts this point without challenge, that doesn’t negate the flawed nature of ARC, which got worse and worse as each year passed.

        Blame New Jersey’s governor all one wants. But lots of New Jersey rail advocates believe the governor made the right decision, even if for questionable reasons or rationale.

        And while Europe and Asia might be ahead of the U.S. on infrastructure maintenance and repair, New York is ahead of most of the U.S. on many levels. This issue is serious, maybe even critical, but instant despair is not (yet) warranted.

    • AG says:

      Gateway is “better”… but ARC had something tangible in the ground. The question is IF Gateway gets done… can we really wait that long? Hopefully so..

  2. Alex says:

    They’ve sounded the alarm. Maybe that’s what needed to happen to get someone’s attention. Maybe Governor Cuomo will leap to our rescue the way he did for the Tappan Zee. Maybe I’ll also buy a lotto ticket. The odds would be better. But seriously, as little as Cuomo cares for transit, he did at least demonstrate that when you have a powerful political champion, you can get a massive infrastructure project pushed through in a reasonable amount of time. Schumer spoke up and called out Christie. I know, I know. But our odds are at least better with him than with Cuomo.

    • Eric F says:

      It’s costless for Schumer to call out an “R” in another state. I don’t see him attacking Cuomo or vice versa. My understanding is that many of the deign limitations imposed on ARC were due to NY/NYC being utterly uncooperative. ARC was viewed as Jersey’s dance, and NY would barely let itself get out of the way for it.

      • Alex says:

        Oh I totally agree that ARC was far less than ideal and that Gateway is probably a better plan overall. And I’m not suggesting that Schumer attack Cuomo, just that he puts his political clout behind getting Gateway moving forward at a less than glacial speed. If not him, then SOMEONE. Anyone?

  3. Chet says:

    There are just no words to describe how short-sighted this country has become and how incredibly cheap so many of its citizens are.

    A national VAT of just 5% would raise over a trillion dollars a year. Do it for 15 years and put a 1/3rd to infrastructure and the other 2/3rds to retiring about half of the national debt.

    • Eric F says:

      Or how about taking 1% of the EXISTING 3 trillion dollar budget and doing something actually useful with it? That’s 3 trillion every year, how about allocating 30 billion to infrastructure on that basis. I for one would be very happy for a tradeoff that saw a 1% cut in everything else government does in order to get a useful slug of money for what the government is actually supposed to be doing.

    • Alon Levy says:

      First, a national VAT of 5% would raise about half a trillion a year.

      Second, I don’t think you realize how enormous such a tax hike is. All of Bush’s tax cuts combined were, at the time, about 2% of GDP, and look at what they did to the US deficit. What you’re proposing is more than 3% (consumption is about two thirds of the US economy, (2/3)*5% = 10/3%), and if two thirds goes to reducing the deficit, it’s more than 2% of GDP’s worth of fiscal austerity.

      • Chet says:

        Actually, I do realize how big a tax hike it is. Most European nations have VATs of 18 to 24%, so 5% is quite small in comparison.

        Also, with a VAT in place, the income tax changes with the first several thousand dollars in income (probably around the first $10,000) not being subject to any income tax.

        • Bolwerk says:

          The most beneficial tax scheme for those below the 1‰ (~= 0.1%) is the one we had before the neo-liberals/neo-cons/Randians took over circa 1981: high marginal taxes on high incomes, including on unearned income, perhaps with the caveat that corporate/business taxes actually stay low to encourage re-investment. It’s more trickle-down than trickle-down!

          Democrats (and the dwindling but then still-extant population of “moderate Republicans”) in the 1980S sold out their own constituents when they horse-traded away people’s ability to write off high local taxes from federal taxes.

          • The US still has the most progressive tax system in the developed world (the top decile makes 34% of the income and pays 45% of the taxes, while e.g. in Germany the top decile makes 29% of the income and pays only 31% of the taxes); the lack of VAT is a big part of this. The trouble is the tremendously inefficient and de-facto regressive way the US government spends the money, with so much going to rent-seeking corporate and other special interests. Healthcare is perhaps the most notable example (the US government spends the same amount per capita on healthcare as the UK but only covers a third of its citizens while the UK covers them all), with Defense not far behind, but the grossly mismanaged infrastructure projects we discuss here (Gateway/ARC, ESA, Tappan Zee, EWR PATH, etc) are definitely no exception to this trend.

            • Nathanael says:

              The US tax system is actually a lot less progressive than the rest of the developed world in one *very particular* place — taxes on the obscenely rich, the 0.1%, the multibillionaires.

              The tax rates of the 0.1% are often *lower* than the rates on the top 10%.

              Most people don’t know this.

              • Anon256 says:

                The statistics I’ve been able to find suggest that the top 0.1% earn about 9% of the national income and pay about 16% of the federal taxes. Still looking for data that include state/local (sales etc) taxes, or comparable data from other countries, but at first glance that suggests an average rate comparable to the rest of the top 10%.

            • Bolwerk says:

              What Nathanael said, basically. Taxes on earned income are high. Presumably the super-wealthy make their money off capital gains and dividends.

              But what you described pretty much has the same effect as what I described.

        • Alon Levy says:

          Those European nations actually spend that money, instead of suddenly taking a 3.3% fiscal austerity shock (with exceptions like Greece, which aren’t worth emulating).

          • Bolwerk says:

            Pretty much the whole EU did austerity. Even Germany did, and the effects of that are masked only by exports creating a strong current account surplus.

            • Alon Levy says:

              Germany barely did any austerity! It only supports austerity for others. Likewise, Belgium took more than a year to form a government, so it couldn’t even agree on an austerity budget.

              • Bolwerk says:

                Germany certainly cut spending, though it attempted to balance it with other maneuvers like by having the state negotiate shorter workdays in lieu of layoffs. But they have GOP-esque delusions about demand. They never quite say this, but they act like everything would be fixed if everyone simply exported more than they imported.

        • Chris C says:

          But Euro nations (like the UK) don’t have state and local sales taxes and things like hotel taxes. There is just VAT.

  4. Eric F says:

    One of ARC’s big downsides is that the Manhattan terminus would be a true terminus and would not tie into any through running tracks. As a result, NJT couldn’t store trains in Queens, but would have to rely on on site storage in the terminal itself, coupled with whatever it could troop through the tunnels from a new storage yard in the Meadowlands. For that reason, I’m dubious on the posted TPH figures.

    All that said, ARC would be WAY better than nothing.

    And all that said, Ben writes “Amtrak has proposed picking up the slack with their Gateway Tunnel, but that’s decades off.”

    Why? Why is a needed project that no one objects to and apparently is required on a more or less emergency basis to simply keep existing capacity in place “decades” off? This country sent a man to the moon in a tin can strapped to a glorified bottle rocket in less than 10 years. Why does digging a tunnel to an existing station take “decades”? It didn’t take the Pennsylvania Railroad decades to build their set of tunnels using mules and guys with picks and shovels.

    • Alon Levy says:

      First, the Pennsylvania Railroad wanted to build a station starting in 1892, started construction in 1903, and opened everything in 1910.

      Second, Amtrak’s budget is insane. Not adjusted for inflation, the cost of Penn Station and its approaches was $114 million (link), which in today’s money is about $2.7 billion. That’s for two whole blocks of Manhattan (at a time when real property values were a lot lower, granted), and six approach tunnels. Today, two approach tunnels are north of $10 billion.

      Likewise, the cost of the Dual Contracts, in inflation-adjusted dollars, was about $80 million per kilometer, not all underground. The nearly all-underground IND was about $120 million per kilometer.

      Both sets of numbers, adjusted for wages, are lower than today’s costs in New York (and higher than today’s costs in non-English-speaking developed countries). At the time the IND was built, the US was one sixth to one fifth as rich as today; costs today are closer to thirteen times IND levels. At the time Penn Station was built, the US was about one eighth as rich as it is today; costs today are four times as high for one third the amount of tunnel. Whereas in most of the world, infrastructure becomes more affordable as the economy grows – that is, costs rise more slowly than incomes – in the US the opposite has been the case.

      Hence, long construction times.

      • Eric F says:

        Great details, thanks.

        Note a couple countervailing points. The PRR didn’t have eminent domain powers. It also had to finance it’s plan in private capital markets, which were rather undeveloped at the time. Putting together private financing for an enormous speculative project is a lot harder and more time consuming than the average person understands. People (not saying you) tend to assume the availability of capital, and the world just doesn’t work that way. The Feds can just more or less will money into existence and can effectively take whatever property they want in order to dig in a straight line.

        Amazing that Gateway would cost more than ARC when it doesn’t have the loop feature to bring in Bergen County trains. And of course no deep cavern.

        Does Gateway roll up the Portal replacement project and/or widening of corridor to Newark to get it’s costs up (but more realistic)?

        • Larry Littlefield says:

          I think roll ups are part of the problem. Yes you should put forward the entire cost to get the entire benefit. But you should also be allowed to move forward with components that have independent benefits, as for the tunnel alone.

          • Eric F says:

            Absolutely. In fact Portal could have been replaced already. Portal replacement adds capacity, improves reliability and allows for increased speeds. The SEC-EWR leg allows for higher capacity and better reliability/

            • lawhawk says:

              The Portal Bridge replacement was estimated to cost anywhere from $800 to $1.2 billion, and it should have been undertaken separately from the Hudson River tunnels. The problems there are far more acute and cause far more delays than issues in the tunnels themselves. It would eliminate a major bottleneck, and allow trains to run at higher speeds through the Meadowlands, especially the Amtrak service.

              By rolling it into ARC or Gateway, it has virtually guaranteed that it doesn’t get done anytime soon.

              That has to change.

              • SEAN says:

                Wait – if you seperate The Portal Bridge replacement from a new cross Hudson tunnel, aren’t you just shifting the bottleneck until that new tunnel gets constructed? With that said, the bridge needs to be replaced regardless of what solution is agreed apon & hopefully opened within a reasonable amount of time.

        • The PRR may not have had emminient domain powers, but they also didn’t have to deal with half of the political crap today’s projects have to go through. If you told the PRR back in the 1890’s that they would need to shell out money on an Enviornmental Impact Statement they’d laugh their socks off.

          The process that projects have to go through these days are just as insane as the costs of the projects. We need to go back to the days where we just build stuff.

          • Spendmor Wastemor says:

            An EIS is part of the problem, in this case it’s mostly about bureaucrats protecting their turf. Somehow it’s hard to see Manhattan and New Jersey as pristine wilderness, perhaps they have to certify that there are absolutely no bison or endangered turtles roaming the current Penn Station.

            But the bigger deal is things like Davis Bacon and organized crime, the latter of which has a compound effect on jackass quality work at a higher rate. Look at NYCs crane collapses engineered by corrupt unions putting meatheads on the tower cranes.

            • Bolwerk says:

              You realize the space you occupy is still called an “environment,” right? An urban EIS is a completely different animal than a rural EIS.

              Not to say there aren’t problems with how EISes are done. They are definitely abused by NIMBYs and other obstructionist stakeholders, and they maybe are too boilerplate. Conceptually, however, they are very desirable.

              • Spendmor Wastemor says:

                Sure, but things like noise, impacts of buildings on area livability should be covered in the planning process. One would hope.

                • lop says:

                  Social and economic impacts on local communities is a part of an EIS.

                • BenW says:

                  Yeah, they are. In the part of the planning process where they have to state the impact of the project on the surrounding environment.

        • lop says:

          Some early railroads were built in part by using state and federal eminent domain powers, in some cases not taking the land itself but only placing an easement on it to allow the railroad to run. It’s been an issue in some of the rails to trails linear parks in that the easement no longer applies now that the railroad is gone. There was a case about that recently. More often they were just given free public lands. In addition many were financed using government bonds, not private markets. And for the ones that weren’t, they were often given exclusive charters to operate along a corridor, so were government sanctioned monopolies. When financed by private interests railroads did have some trouble, and many projects did stop and restart more than once before construction completed, but the step back in government financing happened because by 1900 there was a well developed market to finance American railroads, often by British interests, and often funneled through JP Morgan in no small part due to his father’s work in London. As for the PRR itself, it was a well known major player by the time construction on the tunnels and Penn station began, and would have a relatively easy time attracting investors for projects as needed. The history there is fascinating, and you cast a misleading picture of it.

          • Eric F says:

            I understand that the PRR was not exactly a start-up. But even with the context you are providing, you’re talking about a tall order. PRR needs to employ a third-party banker and place USD debt with British investors presumably because there isn’t enough available private capital domestically to finance the project. All in an era before you can a place NYC-London phone call. Sounds challenging enough to me.

    • SEAN says:

      Why? Why is a needed project that no one objects to and apparently is required on a more or less emergency basis to simply keep existing capacity in place “decades” off? This country sent a man to the moon in a tin can strapped to a glorified bottle rocket in less than 10 years. Why does digging a tunnel to an existing station take “decades”? It didn’t take the Pennsylvania Railroad decades to build their set of tunnels using mules and guys with picks and shovels.

      Simple – too many interest related to the car industry hold sway in congress & state governments & not enough for transit. This is despite the increasing importance transit plays in mobility for everyone regardless if one uses it or not.

      FYI with todays mindset, we wouldn’t have a man on the moon as it doesn’t relate to tax cuts to the 1% nore the war machine, overthrowing governments & the like.

  5. Larry Littlefield says:

    How long did it take to build the original tunnels? That’s how long it would take if all this political, union, consultant, corporate and other crap got cleared out of the way.

    If this is really a crisis, the solution is obvious. A one-track tunnel to serve the existing interlockings on each side. That would allow each of the existing tunnels to be shut down for repair in turn, facilitate maintenance, and allow some increase in capacity.

    And if this were really a crisis, it would be built in two years for $1 billion. Why won’t they? Because they want NYC to pay for it.

    After the one tunnel was built, perhaps the Flushing Line could be extended to Secaucus. New Jersey would build the extension, perhaps with a special temporary tax on areas near rail stations that would benefit, but New York would pay to operate it — covering operating deficits. That, and the cost of the existing Flushing Extension, is more than enough of a contribution for NY.

    • Chris says:

      I do not advocate extending any of the NYC subway lines into NJ, as interstate railway law would supersede NYS’s laws regarding the subway. Instead, why not expand the PATH lines? Much less legal hassles to do so, and giving the PATH a connection via new tunnels from Hoboken thru Weehawken to GCT would be perfect….

      Then….

      Add new tunnels NOW between NJ and NYP, doing exactly what the LIRR has going for it at GCT. However, plan for a run-through between NYP and GCT. Yes, there will be minor problems with shoe under/shoe over third rails. But in the long term this would be a resolvable issue…..

      • johndmuller says:

        What exactly are the legal issues? The IND evidently planned for running A or C trains over the GWB, which was itself designed to carry heavy rail. Perhaps revisiting this plan is in order.

        There is already some unused width in the ‘median’ of the lower level, so as a worst case taking a lane from each direction down there would yield enough space for the railbed; the upper level could have a reversible lane a la the Tappan Zee so that overall peak direction capacity would not be reduced. No doubt other (and perhaps better) accommodations or reconfigurations are possible.

        As disruptive as this would be, it is a lot more ‘shovel ready’ than anything other than (many many) ferries as a way to move more people across the river.

    • Spendmor Wastemor says:

      An EIS is part of the problem, in this case it’s mostly about bureaucrats protecting their turf. Somehow it’s hard to see Manhattan and New Jersey as pristine wilderness, perhaps they have to certify that there are absolutely no bison or endangered turtles roaming the current Penn Station.

      But the bigger deal is things like Davis Bacon and organized crime, the latter of which has a compound effect on jackass quality work at a higher rate. Look at NYCs crane collapses engineered by corrupt unions putting meatheads on the tower cranes.

      • lop says:

        ‘Somehow it’s hard to see Manhattan and New Jersey as pristine wilderness, perhaps they have to certify that there are absolutely no bison or endangered turtles roaming the current Penn Station.’

        Any construction in the Hudson could disrupt shipping channels and kick up a lot of nasty stuff on the river bottom. That’s a big part of why ARC dropped the connection to the existing Penn Station.

    • Spendmor Wastemor says:

      It should take considerably less time to build now than then. The technology of tunneling, methods of management and communication have all improved since that time. What’s gone is the will get things done right.

      The nation today would rather pay some to sit on SSI in free housing on food stamps with others “freed from job lock” so they can “write poetry” rather than do actual work.
      The hippies are firmly in charge and are bitterly complaining now that they’ve got what they wanted.

      • SEAN says:

        And what is that exactly?

        • Spendmor Wastemor says:

          A society where accomplishment is despised as privilege and politics replaces productivity.

          • Nathanael says:

            You’re completely confused. The Republicans have bamboozled you.

            Paying people SSI (a pittance) or food stamps (not enough to live on) is fine. The Republicans want you to worry about that, because the Republicans want to keep you from paying attention to the real problem.

            The problem is that our nation now gives special breaks to trust fund babies and Wall Street bankers. Seriously.

            http://www.usatoday.com/story/.....n/5242173/

            http://dailybail.com/home/outr.....r-hit.html

            The worship of gross wealth and privilege is really the problem.

            We’d be way better off with the hippies in charge. The hippies are now mostly running organic farms and grocery stores; the hippies turned out to be productive businesspeople.

            Instead we have obscenely rich thieves in charge, and they are real monsters.

            • Eric says:

              So why is transit planning so much more sensible and efficient in Texas or Utah than in San Francisco?

              • Bolwerk says:

                I don’t know about Utah, but in TX it probably isn’t. TX’s land use policies are moronic. TX does control construction costs well though.

              • Low Headways says:

                It also turns out, oddly enough, that many hippies are also NIMBYs.

                But perhaps it’s more a generational thing. The boomers got theirs (“theirs” being mostly highways and existing rail infrastructure), so shouldn’t we all just shut up and be content with ours?

              • lop says:

                What makes the transit planning more sensible and efficient in Texas or Utah?

              • Alon Levy says:

                I don’t think it’s actually true that transit planning is more sensible and efficient in Texas. In Houston, it sort of is – sort of, because they’re building the Universities Line last, and downgrading the Uptown Line to BRT. But in Dallas – have you seen what kind of boonies they build light rail to? They seem to exist to make BART to Livermore look good.

                • SEAN says:

                  What kind of “boonies” are you referring to?

                • Eric says:

                  Dallas has overbuilt its light rail system (on the background of higher than expected ridership on the initial segment). However, it is easy to imagine those extra stations becoming foci of TOD someday as they now are in places like Charlotte. Also, the construction costs seem to have been quite reasonable.

              • AG says:

                Well for one thing – Utah and Texas are cheap… San Fran is not. San Fran is also much more crowded than anywhere in those states… It’s not even close to apples and oranges. In any event – San Fran has more comprehensive public transport than anywhere in either state.

              • Nathanael says:

                San Francisco is a special snowflake in the worst possible way.

                http://www.sfweekly.com/2009-1.....n-the-u-s/

                http://www.sfweekly.com/2011-0.....-eskenazi/

                http://www.sfweekly.com/2014-0.....er-budget/

                Joe Eskenazi, who is certainly a left-winger, has been raging against mismanagement and corruption in San Francisco for years.

                Perhaps the problem is that SF attracts very rich poseurs to power — people who want to look “socially responsible” but don’t actually care about *results*.

                This isn’t typical. Hippie left-wingers in other cities tend to actually care whether things *work*.

    • Douglas John Bowen says:

      If I’m reading Mr. Littlefield correctly — apologies if I am not — he’s saying New Jersey is playing the waiting game in hopes that New York (City) will pay the main freight. Mr. Littlefield is correct! But some Jerseyans see the wisdom in putting Jersey money into play for any cross-Hudson tunnel. We’ll see how long it takes for that wisdom to spread widely enough.

    • Nathanael says:

      “How long did it take to build the original tunnels? That’s how long it would take if all this political, union, consultant, corporate and other crap got cleared out of the way.”

      It took seven years. Nowadays you might get it down to six.

      It really needs to get started ASAP.

  6. John Doe says:

    LOL…this country’s transit system & infrastructure is laughable!! Europe and Asia are light years ahead of us, they realize the need for a sound network. We have our heads in the sand and will lose out in the end. oh well.

    • SEAN says:

      Not only that, they are healthier than we are & aren’t on a regiment of perscription medications either.

    • Justin Samuels says:

      The federal government will not have a huge grand involvement in transit. New York could expand it’s own transit network, though. That’s up for City Hall and Albany to decide.

      As far as relieving pressure on the NJ transit routes, that’s really for NJ to pay. Oh, Christie was a jerk and canceled ARC (which was really flawed anyway).

  7. Chris says:

    First…. A cynical statement – if a tunnel fails, and Amtrak restricts use to ONLY its trains, it will mean that Metro North will finally be able to access Penn Station without worrying about NJT getting in its’ way.

    The big problem was that Christie was willing to kill ARC for his longer term political ambitions. The man has no concept on how valuable the Cross-Hudson connections are to New Jersey in the present and in history. The river was the main barrier that got in the way of Jersey businesses and labor accessing the larger New York City market.

    Over 100 years ago, when the Pennsylvania Railroad decided to build its tunnels, it avoided having other railroads get a free ride by not building a bridge. (The bridge building charter they had required them to share the bridge with the railroads that terminated in Jersey City, Hoboken, and Weehawken.) The New York Central’s decision to enter New York City from the North sealed the Pennsy’s decision to Tunnel, as they had no major partner with whom to share expenses for the bridge.

    Was ARC the right plan – probably not. But it was better than nothing. But now we need something better, and for it to be developed quickly. We need not 2 new tunnels, but 4. And we need an expansion of NYP, and run through connections between NYP and GCT via deep tunnels. Only when we can integrate the interstate rail connections across the East, Harlem and Hudson rivers can the NYC region have the land transportation network needed for the 21st century….

    Chris

    • Eric F says:

      I like your 4 idea, but it looks like the tunnel box only allows 2 tracks to be built without disrupting Hudson Yards. Personally, I’d prefer 3 tracks, so that inevitable disabled trains and maintenance plans would have little or no effect on operations.

      • Chris says:

        Eric –

        Sadly, you are right. But I would like to replace the existing tunnels over time as well. (I don’t know if this is possible, but….) I’m concerned about how long they will last, given their 100+ y/o life so far, and whether the building techniques they used then will provide for another 100 year life without complete rebuilding….

        Chris

    • eo says:

      Let’s be realistic and not greedy here. We are not getting 4 new tunnels. Two will be more than enough.

      Gateway is better than ARC, but ARC was better than nothing and we are not getting Gateway any time soon. The soonest the political push can start is 2017 when Christie is out of Trenton, but most realistically it will start when East Side Access opens and the difference in quality of service from Long Island and New Jersey becomes obvious. By latest counts that would be 2021 or 2022. Give politicians another 5 years to work out the horsetrading and you are talking about funding being in place and work starting only in 2027. If we are optimistic and they build the thing quickly in 8 years it will be 2035. ARC must be looking much better now …

      The only way I see something happening sooner would be if one or both tunnels collapse due to delayed maintenance or maybe if the Portal Bridge falls into the river. Were that to happen though that would devastate substantial portion of the Northern NJ tax base because I guarantee you that the banker or lawyer who lives in Princeton or Millburn will not put up with a bus/ferry/PATH ride to Manhattan. No, the bankers and the lawyers are going to move to Westchester and Long Island (if ESA is completed by then). This move will not occur overnight, but even the 7-8 years necessary to build a new tunnel will see the majority of it complete as once the route to Manhattan is gone, NJTransit probably cannot fill with customers even one train per hour between Trenton and Secaucus. 7-8 years later when you have build your new tunnels to replace the collapsed ones there would be nobody left to ride the NJTransit trains.

      • Douglas John Bowen says:

        This ARC critic respectfully agrees with this timeline assessment, but not the pictured gloomy outcome. As rickety (and costly) as it is, Portal Bridge gets lots of Amtrak attention, precisely because. And while this Jersey appreciates the outline of perceived threat to Millburn and Princeton, that is what eventually will drive New Jersey to support Gateway with something more than just words — even if the clear disadvantage of being cut off from Manhattan, relative to Westchester and Nassau, weren’t in play.
        The “gloom and doom” type of analysis held sway from the 1970s through now (still going on, but much more muted) when it came to NYC Water Tunnel #3. Yes, the threat of infrastructure failure was real (and remains real in part for Brooklyn and Queens). But the 1980s TIME magazine portrayal of New York (Metro) In Collapse just isn’t likely. We may stink when compared to Europe, but when compared to the rest of the States we’re doing all right.

        In the strictest sense, perhaps ARC (at its final point) was better than nothing, but ARC was really, really flawed, and kept getting MORE flawed with each year. So assuming its final iteration was a done deal is a risky assumption — nothing says it couldn’t have become even worse.

        No regrets here for opposing, and helping to kill, ARC as it became more and more deformed. None.

        • SEAN says:

          We may stink when compared to Europe, but when compared to the rest of the States we’re doing all right.

          In the abstract that maybe true, but in reality that’s little comfort for the reality that we are ill prepared if one of our transit links gets severed for any length of time. Just look at what happened with the F train derailment last Friday. If that happened say under the Hudson, the mess would have been so much worse. And yet Sandy should have been the wake up call to get projects like Gateway off the ground, but such as life.

      • Chris says:

        Let’s think of what existed in the PRR days….

        Did any of NJT’s non Pennsy routes enter Manhattan? I do not have the info in front of me, but I’d suspect that the Pennsy kept its competitors out of its tunnels. Ferries and the H&M (PATH) tubes were the only way to cross the Husdon.

        So, if we had tunnel failure, would Hoboken be able to pick up the slack with PATH service and additional ferry service? We no longer have the option of using the terminal near Liberty State Park – tracks were pulled up years ago.

        Sadly, I agree with the dates noted above. I’ll likely be dead and buried before we see new tubes crossing under the Hudson. But I don’t believe that 2 tubes will be enough. NJ needs to make it easier for its riders to reach both East and West sides conveniently. And this doesn’t look like it will happen.

        C

        • Eric F says:

          Jersey Central ran to what is now Liberty State Park for connecting ferry service. Lackawanna ran as far as Hoboken.

          • Nathanael says:

            Well, maybe we’ll go back to that when Amtrak has to shut the tunnels down for maintenance.

            Hoboken still exists and can support the NJT services… Lots and lots more ferries would be needed, and it would be a lot slower commute.

  8. Spiderpig says:

    Well, this was pretty horrifying when I read about it yesterday, and I don’t even live in NJ. Something needs to be done before catastrophe.

  9. Rob says:

    Total amtrak bureaucrat PR BS. So then the East River Amtrak/LIRR tunnels and all the IRT and BMT tunnels of the same age must also abt to fail. Gimme a break. Just another play for our $.

    And as noted, and as an most any honest industry expert willing to go public would tell you, ARC was a terrible plan, and deserved to die.

    • Considering the repairs currently underway or scheduled for the East River tunnels and the ongoing effort to build ESA, I’d say that your skepticism is highly misplaced.

    • Hurricane Sandy had much less impact on the East River Tunnels than they did on their North River counterparts. Only two of the four East River Tunnels flooded at all (the other two took on no water), and they pretty much replaced most of the signalling system in those two lines right after the hurricane (as NJTransit took a while to get back up to full steam, they were able to do considerable work on the tunnels immediately after the storm).

      • Nathanael says:

        In short, they closed those two flooded tunnels for repairs. They need to do the same to the North River tunnels…. but there isn’t another pair to divert the trains to.

        So sorry, NJ commuters, when the tunnels fail, you’ll have to take PATH and ferries…

    • g says:

      Like the Montague Street Tunnel which is closed for a year for total rehab and will inevitably roll into other NYCT tunnel closures…all due to Sandy.

      I predict NJ will ignore this until Amtrak publishes plans to close one of the Hudson Tunnels and all hell breaks loose. Should be interesting to watch PATH and the PABT accommodate 150K additional rides on a daily basis for a year or more.

      • SEAN says:

        I predict NJ will ignore this until Amtrak publishes plans to close one of the Hudson Tunnels and all hell breaks loose.

        That’s a complete understatement if you ask me.

        Should be interesting to watch PATH and the PABT accommodate 150K additional rides on a daily basis for a year or more.

        A year or more? The PABT can bearly handle it’s current bus volume & most of them are full as it is. PATH needs to upgrade the signal system for aditional capasity. Both combined may not be enough to carry another 150K per day unless the Lincoln Tunnel was reserved for only busses.

        • g says:

          I was kidding. The PABT is already well over capacity and PATH is close to it as is. The signal upgrade will buy PATH another 50K rides a day when it supposedly comes online in 2017. The PABT is going to look like post-Sandy for a year when this happens.

          The options at that point will be far less than good. Dedicate another tube in the Lincoln Tunnel for buses only during rush (sure to drive the motorists wild) and figure out some way to terminal them on the streets, add high capacity ferry service from Hoboken to WFC and further burden NYCT trunk lines, or tell everyone to learn how to dog paddle.

          • Nathanael says:

            Once Amtrak has to shut down one of the tubes — which will happen soon enough — the ferries seem to be the only option which would actually add capacity quickly. Since the local politicians seem to be unduly fond of ferries, I would expect the result to be gobs of Hoboken-39th St. ferries. And lots and lots of commuters walking down 40th St.

            • Nathanael says:

              This is basically regression, going back to the days when everyone had to cross the Hudson by ferry…

            • g says:

              That’s true, there will be a lot of 39th bound ferry traffic also. Though if they are bound for east midtown they may opt for WFC to subway over walking across most of the width of Manhattan after their train ride plus ferry boat adventure, particularly if the weather is bad.

          • lop says:

            Isn’t the bus terminal the big capacity crunch right now, not the bus lane in the tunnel? You have to do something with the buses after they drop everyone off, might be better to take a second lane to send the buses back to Jersey in the morning rather than both inbound. You can only block off so many streets for bus drop offs anyway.

            • g says:

              I think the inbound XBL reaches saturation because of the configuration on the Manhattan side and issues with capacity at the PABT, IIRC.

  10. Elvis Delgado says:

    Benjamin Kabak wrote: “Will we wait to fund it until it’s too late or will someone come to their senses before we have to live in an era when six trains per hour can cross the Hudson River?”

    If this is not just a rhetorical question, I’m afraid I know the answer. It’s the former.

  11. Quirk says:

    The comments section have really degraded over the past month. Where are those smart people with eloquent thoughts/comments? I’ve noticed there a couple of individuals that don’t provide useful information to the discussion and frankly, sound like obnoxious single unemployed 35 year olds.

    I miss the good days of this blog.

    • pete says:

      I agree. It used to be at most a dozen smart posts on each bong entry. Its now degrading into political talking point noise.

  12. Chris says:

    Sadly, America doesn’t have much foresight anymore, as we overextended ourselves after WW2, and we’re now paying the price for unplanned, underbudgeted maintenance for infrastructure built 50-60 years ago. Many of these structures are beyond their projected life span (e.g. Tappan Zee Bridge) and are either being replaced or having major overhauls – if we’re lucky.

    In the case of the 2 North River tunnels – we’ll be lucky to avoid failure before construction of new tunnels is complete. And I hope that we have that luck – but given our politics, I doubt it….

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