Home Gateway Tunnel Amtrak and its forward-thinking $300 million Gateway gamble

Amtrak and its forward-thinking $300 million Gateway gamble

by Benjamin Kabak
Amtrak Chair Anthony Coscia is betting $300 million that the reserved Gateway right-of-way will one day turn into the Gateway Tunnel.

Amtrak Chair Anthony Coscia is betting $300 million that the reserved Gateway right-of-way will one day turn into the Gateway Tunnel.

There is a question hovering around Amtrak’s Hudson River tunnels that no one really wants to ask. Faced with the wake-up call that was Superstorm Sandy and the lingering fallout from Gov. Christie’s decision to cancel the ARC Tunnel, will we act on additional trans-Hudson capacity before it’s too late? Will we even know when it’s almost too late to act? A rational society would have started work on Gateway or a similar project three years ago, but welcome to America in 2015, where only Amtrak seems to be driving forward with eye on a potentially calamitous future.

The backstory is simple: Even before Sandy, Amtrak’s tunnels were nearing the end of their life. The North River Tunnels opened for passenger service in 1910, and the need to supplement them so top-to-bottom overhaul doesn’t severely disrupt Northeast Corridor travel has been a pressing concern for a while. The ARC Tunnel plan was supposed to lighten the load so that most New Jersey Transit traffic would shift out of Amtrak’s tunnels. A few years after Christie’s move, Sandy dumped a load of corrosive saltwater into the tunnels, thus pushing them ever closer to A Problem.

What that Problem — with a capital P — may be is still open for debate. Barring a total catastrophe, the solution will likely require shutting down one of the two tubes for some period of time, thus reducing trans-Hudson capacity from 24 trains per hour to around six. That’s a Problem, and even the threat of such a future — which isn’t exactly too hard to imagine — should spur action.

Lately, it has in fact spurred some action but from an unlikely source. Amtrak is taking the charge, and the national rail agency is using every ounce of political support it can muster to push through Gateway. As a recent piece in Crain’s New York detailed, the agency’s leaders think they just might be able to succeed. Andy Hawkins had more on Amtrak’s Chair Anthony Coscia’s attempts to drag this project from an idea to reality. The story begins with Coscia stating, “We’re doing it” and goes from there:

Mr. Coscia said Amtrak could begin the environmental review process this fall, and has already spent about $300 million on preparatory work and land acquisition, even though the estimated $15 billion needed for the larger Gateway project, which includes the tunnel, has not been lined up.

“We’re taking precious resources and spending it on a project we don’t have all the money to build,” he said. “It’s either a very silly decision or a very critical one.”

He’s betting on the latter. By his reckoning, a tunnel has to be built sooner or later, and sooner is better. The two heavy-rail tunnels connecting New Jersey and New York are more than 100 years old. and are showing their age. Twenty-four trains pass through the tunnels each hour—20 from New Jersey Transit, four from Amtrak—and officials predict that within 20 years, one or both tunnels will need to be closed for repairs. That would reduce capacity to six trains per hour, because trains traveling in opposite directions would need to wait for the lone remaining tunnel to clear…

Mr. Coscia said Amtrak has sketched out a potential financing package that includes federal funds, infrastructure bonds and Amtrak’s own cash. He said it would premature to discuss who might contribute what. However, the project’s numerous stakeholders can be expected to chip in. They include the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, New Jersey Transit, New York City, the states of New York and New Jersey, the federal government and of course Amtrak.

As Hawkins notes in his article, Gateway is both incredibly necessary and incredibly daunting. It would increase capacity across the Hudson River at a time when transit absolutely must expand to support growing the East Coast, and without Gateway, the worst-case scenario is pretty bad. Meanwhile, Amtrak has to scope the project and assess the costs of land acquisition on both sides of the river as well as a new or expanded terminal in Manhattan and plan for potential connections eastward and northward.

As we’ve seen, massive transit projects in the East Coast happen in half-decades (or longer) rather than in any sane timeline, and Gateway will be no exception. At a time of major political divides in Congress, Amtrak needs all the support it can get. It’s promising that the agency is going out on a limb to spend money today for something it may not be able to build tomorrow. At least they’re thinking about the future when few other agencies, both local and national, are. Can they deliver? It, of course, remains to be seen, but it’s not particularly hyperbolic to state that New York’s economic future may depend on it.

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104 comments

Alon Levy July 20, 2015 - 12:30 am

…they’ve spent $300 million on this disaster already?

We’re doomed.

Well, maybe not we. I don’t know if I’m going to live in the US. But the rest of you guys here, certainly.

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Personnel July 20, 2015 - 1:00 am

What’s wrong with this project? I thought this was better than ARC?

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Personnel July 20, 2015 - 1:03 am

Ah, I found out…it will probably take just as long as the project on the East River, which has been a complete disaster all this time. New York is doomed indeed.

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Joey July 20, 2015 - 3:39 am

I doubt $300m was a reasonable price for it, but the tunnel box would still be useful for connecting new Hudson tunnels to Penn’s existing tracks (and also continuing them through to GCT).

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Ryan July 20, 2015 - 6:48 am

Your stated position, which is “do nothing until costs can be brought down,” is even more unreasonable than this thing’s $15 billion price tag.

But, you know what? Let’s have it your way, and close both tunnels tomorrow for long-term repairs. Everyone can go to Hoboken and take PATH over. Shutting both tunnels completely should let us power through repairs faster. Maybe that’ll bring the cost of the new tunnels down too when how necessary they are is clearly proven for all to see. OR maybe it won’t impact the price tag at all, but at least we’ll have overhauled tunnels.

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Alon Levy July 20, 2015 - 10:54 am

First, the price tag can be brought down significantly by dropping Penn South. It’s not like with SAS, where the high cost is a puzzle. At least as far as I understand the article, Amtrak’s $300 million is not for a trainbox, but for design and engineering, which includes the unnecessary Penn South component.

Second, can we let go of the meme that the preexisting tunnels have to be shut down for long-term maintenance? They can and do run single-track on weekends. It’s cheaper and easier to do post-Sandy repairs if one of the tunnels can be shut down longer-term, but it’s not strictly necessary, and the many billions for the new tunnels are a multiple of the net present value of the extra maintenance costs.

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eo July 20, 2015 - 11:58 am

The article is wrong. The $300MM was spent on the box. Amtrak has no extra $300MM for land acquisition or other preparatory activities. If they did they would not be borrowing for the Siemens locomotives … The money came from Sandy relief funds and went into the box between 10th and 11th. There is no money for the box between 11th and 12th. Two years in a row Amtrak got $15MM for Gateway appropriated by Congress thanks to Schumer, but you cannot design anything with $30MM. Not in year 2015 …

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Alon Levy July 20, 2015 - 6:29 pm

Apologies :-/.

Do you know why the box is between 10th and 11th? I imagine they’d want to tunnel west to east, which means setting up shop on the Jersey side, as was the case with ARC. No?

Joey July 20, 2015 - 6:37 pm

I think the main goal of building that segment of tunnel now was so that the Hudson Yards development wouldn’t have to be underpinned to build it later.

Nathanael July 24, 2015 - 10:53 pm

Ding ding ding — we have a winner. The air rights had already been sold; the Hudson Yards development between 10th and 11th was getting built; so it was imperative to build the tunnel under it before the development got built. This is the only way to connect new tunnels to the existing Penn Station.

This is why the 11th-to-12th tunnel box was lower priority. But it still has to get built before the air rights over THAT parcel get built over…. I’m hoping Schumer & Gillibrand will make sure it happens before the buildings go up on top of it.

eo July 21, 2015 - 10:47 am

It is just a cut and cover tunnel that has been called the box by some, not a TBM launch box. If the Gateway ever happens, its TBM will be launched from NJ. The initial cost was $185MM, but then went up some and that was from 10th to 11th Avenues, but not including under 11th Ave. The short segment under 11th Ave was added for another $50-60MM, most of which came from the Feds, some from Amtrak, some from MTA and NJT probably never paid their share. So that is how one gets to $300MM give or take a few millions.

Spendmor Wastemor July 20, 2015 - 7:35 pm

$300,000,000 for an empty box?

Maybe New York City should just be sawed off from the USA and floated over to Venezuela.

Bolwerk July 21, 2015 - 6:33 am

Where the fuck are you people getting the $300M number from?

Amtrak’s political muscle was best displayed in 2013 when it won $185 million from Congress to build a tunnel box from 10th Avenue to 11th Avenue in Manhattan. The box is a massive underground concrete-and steel-structure that would encase the tunnels and serve as the foundation for buildings under construction in the Hudson Yards project.

(source)

Granted, $185M still seems rather high, but a lot of it is likely land acquisition.

EN July 20, 2015 - 12:07 pm

The tunnel box is either already built or close to done. The $300 million likely includes that cost but you can hardly draw a conclusion from that article.

Do you know the extent of the work that has to be done that you can say all the work can be done over weekends? Are you also trying to say the new tunnels aren’t necessary if a full shutdown isn’t needed? Regardless of the shutdown, we need more trans-hudson capacity.

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Nathanael July 20, 2015 - 5:44 pm

The $300 million was almost entirely for the “tunnel box”.

Alon Levy July 20, 2015 - 6:36 pm

I don’t know the extent, but in technical documents about why they need long-term shutdowns, they do not say they need it, just that it would be easier to do maintenance that way. See here.

I know that additional capacity is required, but that’s a very different argument from “we need new tunnels for maintenance.” Adding capacity is service expansion, and this can be evaluated on the basis of cost per rider. If you compare a reasonable ridership projection with the proposed budget, the cost per rider will turn out to be a large multiple of that of Second Avenue Subway Phase 1. SAS Phase 1 is $25,000 per projected weekday rider. Current NJT Penn Station ridership in both directions is 135,000 per weekday; double that (since you’re doubling capacity) and you get another 135,000 riders, which at SAS’s cost means it’s worth spending $3.4 billion on the project.

EN July 20, 2015 - 11:39 pm

At the same time, they never say all the work can be done strictly with weekend outages. There might be some things that need a long term outage. The report is only a structural assessment and excludes electrical and mechanical systems. Taken together, long term outages may be inevitable, especially considering many of the electrical systems run through the duct banks they are saying to replace. Amtrak had been looking to rehab the tunnels even before Sandy. The additional damage probably put additional strain on the tunnel. But without additional information, everything we’re both saying is conjecture.

Forgetting the fact that cost per rider should not be the only factor, you’ve said it yourself in the past “Second Avenue Subway is not that bad per rider, because it serves such a dense neighborhood; it has the lowest cost per rider in the US.”

While I completely agree construction costs are out of control, it’s an unfair comparison. The economic benefits also have to be taken into account. Eliminating one of the largest bottlenecks in the country will benefit riders from Boston to DC who may never visit NYC.

Amtrak isn’t billing this strictly as a maintenance project. Their project website states as much, with the first benefit listed as “new capacity”. http://nec.amtrak.com/content/gateway-program

Alon Levy July 21, 2015 - 12:43 am

New Hudson tunnels are irrelevant to intercity rail. Amtrak can comfortably triple the passenger capacity of the Acelas by running longer trains and transitioning to EMUs; today, the Acelas have just five cars with passengers, with a total of about 300 seats, vs. 1,000 on four-abreast international export HSR trains and 1,300 on five-abreast Shinkansen. The platforms that serve Acela trains from New York south are all long enough or can be easily lengthened because their platforms are above-ground in relatively clear areas. The Regionals have around 500 seats, but are not at capacity except during holiday rushes.

Commuter rail is where the real capacity crunch is. NJ Transit already runs pretty long trains – 12 cars at the peak, if I remember correctly (Acelas are 8 and should be 16) – and there are so many suburban stations that lengthening all their platforms would be difficult.

I compare costs per rider with SAS because its per-rider construction costs aren’t low by international standards, only by American ones. But I recognize that sometimes, higher costs are acceptable – I draw the line at $40,000, give or take, which I think is what the projection for SAS Phase 2 is. That’s why I say that bare Hudson tunnels are worth $5 billion; a connection to GCT is worth extra, but I don’t know how much, without somewhat more detailed ridership projections than “take current NJ Transit ridership and double it.”

AG July 21, 2015 - 9:49 am

Well actually – a part of the overall Gateway project is because Amtrak is planning for true High Speed Rail. They can’t do that with the current system.

Bolwerk July 21, 2015 - 9:57 am

Gateway doesn’t add anything except capacity. It won’t change how Amtrak can or cannot do HSR. The track segments that need to be boosted to HSR specs are outside major cities.

Alon Levy July 21, 2015 - 12:27 pm

That’s not 100% true; bottlenecks within major cities cost trains a lot of time. But Gateway won’t do anything to fix such bottlenecks; it’s more important to speed up interlockings and such, which Gateway can’t help with because it does nothing for through-trains that go to Boston.

AG July 21, 2015 - 12:59 pm

True… though there is no one thing needed for HSR… It’s going to make many steps. Gateway is an absolutely integral part of it though.

AG July 21, 2015 - 12:51 pm

that’s not what their plan says via their site… according to them – no Gateway – no HSR possible. congestion has a lot to do with it.

http://nec.amtrak.com/high-speed-rail

Joey July 21, 2015 - 2:16 pm

AG: And if Amtrak told you that their trains ran on time, would you believe that too?

Amtrak’s “vision” for HSR involves fully dedicated tracks along the entire NEC. This is not only unnecessary, but wasteful – the capacity of a high speed line maxes out at around 12 tph, whereas lower speed lines can exceed 24 tph. So any lower speed urban infrastructure dedicated to HSR would have half of its capacity wasted.

To be clear, I do think that more trans-hudson capacity is necessary in the long run, but as Alon mentions, for now it’s more about regional than intercity capacity.

AG July 21, 2015 - 2:38 pm

“AG: And if Amtrak told you that their trains ran on time, would you believe that too?”

Exactly what is your point? So you are saying Amtrak is lying about why they want Gateway??? What? They rent out usage to NJ Transit… They are not building this for NJ Transit though. They want Gateway as a major piece for their whole plan for the NEC. Gateway is not some joint project as it stands (though of course everyone has to collaborate) in the same way ARC was a NJ Transit project. Are you saying that is a smokescreen or something?
Also there is a reason every other REAL HSR in the world has it’s own dedicated tracks. I’m perplexed to where you come up with your idea that they could somehow use existing infrastructure for HSR.

Bolwerk July 21, 2015 - 2:58 pm

Amtrak probably isn’t lying, since it probably believes what it says.

Anyway, boosting peak service at all probably does require new tunnels. That’s definitely not a lie. But those tunnels aren’t going to speed up future HSR service, at least not significantly. Notwithstanding Alon’s comment, the HSR-relevant improvements would come on long stretches of track in places like Connecticut, NJ, and Maryland.

AG July 21, 2015 - 3:18 pm

Well yes… As the studies they posted show – it will be much easier to increase speed from NY to DC. They are moving in steps up to 160 mph in certain sections without building an HSR line. NYC to Boston is much more difficult for them. The new train sets they are buying to replace Acela over the next few years are supposed to be able to handle both… Or so that is the goal they state.

http://amtraknec.devcloud.acqu.....rridor.pdf

Btw – plans for stops at GCT and White Plains Airport were killed due to cost.

adirondacker12800 July 21, 2015 - 3:11 pm

If the Trenton Express isn’t sitting on track 12 that means the Acela to/from Boston can use track 12.

Joey July 21, 2015 - 4:09 pm

AG: Many HSR systems share track with conventional rail in urban areas. This is particularly true in Europe. Many of the exceptions are for unrelated reasons – for instance, Spain and Japan have a track gauge difference between legacy and high speed trains. It makes sense to have dedicated high speed track in areas where the trains can actually travel at high speed.

AG July 21, 2015 - 5:45 pm

I don’t dispute that. However I still don’t get your point. Amtrak says Gateway is essential to having a functional HSR as well as increasing overall capacity along the NEC. Seems like you are trying to say they are just trying to get money and don’t really need Gateway…. They were planning for this even when ARC was being done. Parts of it changed when ARC was cancelled – but fundamentally it is the same idea. I’m not sure what the confusion or contention is.

Joey July 21, 2015 - 6:22 pm

New tunnels are necessary for increasing NEC capacity. They’re not necessary for increasing intercity capacity in the immediate future. And there’s no reason they should come with a multi-billion dollar new station south of Penn which will require leveling an entire city block.

The best solutions require interagency cooperation, rather than either Amtrak or NJT building something purely for their particular needs.

AG July 21, 2015 - 10:58 pm

Sounds good… Not reality though.

Joey July 22, 2015 - 3:39 am

So in reality, we piss away $10b on useless infrastructure?

Alon Levy July 22, 2015 - 11:10 am

Exactly what is your point? So you are saying Amtrak is lying about why they want Gateway??? What?

Yes. Amtrak is lying. Amtrak lies about other things, too: for example, it says (or used to say) on its website that no intercity rail system in the world operates without government subsidy. It takes ten minutes of Googling to find profit and loss statements from France, Germany, and Japan showing the opposite, but nobody seems to be willing to make this effort, even though all the information is available in English.

It also fibs about its punctuality, by measuring OTP only at the terminus and then inserting a long schedule pad segment right before each line’s terminus (the Acela is scheduled at 45 minutes Providence-to-Boston vs. 36 Boston-to-Providence).

Going farther back, Amtrak fired David Gunn in 2005 for prioritizing maintenance over the Bush administration’s goal of on-paper profitability, but once the stimulus discussion began in 2009, it released a document, a precursor to the NEC Master Plan, saying it needs $10 billion because of deferred maintenance.

This is a wasteful, incompetent, and fraudulent entity, and by asserting it needs $117 billion to do what could be done in $10 billion it’s fleecing the public out of $107 billion.

Bolwerk July 22, 2015 - 12:45 pm

Who cares whether Amtrak or anyone else is lying? Everybody lies, doubly so when representing government/corporate interests.

The distinction is useless. Of course they’ll want to sell it as good for HSR because that is way sexier than just more commuter rail. The fact remains Gateway’s tunnels remain useful for boosting capacity, and Penn Station South is poo.

adirondacker12800 July 22, 2015 - 2:45 pm

New catenary for 1,000 track miles at 5 million a mile is 5 billion. New tunnels in Baltimore is gonna be a few billion. Throw in a few bridges and it’s ten billion. Then there’s Gateway.

Bypassing all the squiggly parts in Connecticut isn’t going to be cheap.

Alon Levy July 22, 2015 - 11:39 pm

Brand new catenary is not $5 million per track-mile, let alone upgrades to existing catenary (either constant-tension, or different voltage/frequency).

adirondacker12800 July 23, 2015 - 2:43 am

In very round numbers New Brunswick to Trenton is coming in at 5 million a track mile. Though some of the money being spent isn’t being spent between New Brunswick and Trenton. Though once they are done with that, there will only be 900 miles left. 900 at 4 million a mile is 3.6 billion.
Kinda pointless to hang constant tension catenary over Class 5 or 6 track or even Class 7. Or leave the superelevation good enough for 125/135. Or when demand appears because service has improved be stuck with short infrequent trains because the substations aren’t up to increased demand. Or have an old bridge

Joey July 23, 2015 - 4:51 am

The numbers I’ve seen for sane electrification costs are $1-2m/mile. That’s when there is not catenary there to begin with. So perhaps Amtrak would have us believe it costs $3m/mile to take down the old wires and get rid of some old rusty transformers?

Nathanael July 24, 2015 - 10:56 pm

Alon: it’s turning out that the bases for the overhead gantries which support the catenary on the NEC are rotten. Replacing them is adding up fast.

Nathanael July 24, 2015 - 11:00 pm

Alon: after Sandy, they will not be able to do all the repairs with weekend shutdowns of one tube. Long-term shutdowns are going to be absolutely necessary.

Because of salt damage, they have to rip out nearly all of the concrete lining and replace it. For *starters*. Then there’s the signalling work. If you try to do this only on weekends, you have 104 working days per year. Before you finish the project, the continued corrosive-salt damage will start causing tunnel shutdowns all on its own. Unscheduled shutdowns.

It’s true that even a shutdown of a single tube is just fine for Amtrak, it only hurts NJT.

Bolwerk July 20, 2015 - 2:27 pm

Eh, I’m an EU shitizen. I have freedumb of movement. I just stay in the USA because of the illustrious Second Amendment. \o Ne me marche pas dessus! \o

I don’t think what they’ve already spent money on has been that inappropriate. A $150M (?) – whatever it was, I don’t think it was a $300M by a long shot – box might be, as Joey says, overpriced. Land acquisition? I’d need to know where to comment with certainty, but if it’s just what is necessary for the tunnel landings, everything is probably within the realm of what is necessary with or without Penn Station South.

Bright side: at least maybe there is political pressure to do tunnels first, then the Penn Station South part. Maybe a teabagger president will be elected at just the right moment to pull the plug, hopefully without being stupid enough to pour concrete back into the 10-figure holes.

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lop July 22, 2015 - 5:04 pm

I’m not sure amtrak will release the details you want. At least we can enjoy being amused by the redactions:

https://www.amtrakoig.gov/sites/default/files/reports/oig-a-2015-002_redacted.pdf

“However, the contractor submitted a $REDACTED million pricing proposal for construction, which was $REDACTED million more than the $REDACTED million maximum the company set aside.”

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Nathanael July 24, 2015 - 11:08 pm

There is definitely pressure to build the tunnels without Penn South.

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BoerumBum July 20, 2015 - 9:11 am

Go ahead with the tunnel overhaul and don’t allow NJ Transit to use the remaining 6 TPH capacity until they pitch in for the new tunnel. Yes, most people might call that “extortion”, but in New Jersey, that’s called “negotiation”.

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aestrivex July 20, 2015 - 11:18 am

Exactly.

Not a popular solution on this blog considering previous debates about Nassau County but nonetheless it is the logical conclusion — when the state of New Jersey fails to come up with money for necessary improvements to expand capacity and provide maintenance for existing capacity, the only fair solution is to respond by systematically eliminating NJT service until the system is at capacity again. Quite harsh, but the state of New Jersey is free to elect better public officials if they don’t like it; the rest of the region should not be made to suffer for New Jersey’s mistakes.

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SEAN July 20, 2015 - 2:24 pm

I understand your sentiment, but if you in effect banish NJT trains from Penn what positive outcomes do you achieve?

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BoerumBum July 20, 2015 - 2:30 pm

A public outcry from NJ voters that results in gubernatorial fat trimming.

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SEAN July 20, 2015 - 2:46 pm

Good turn a phrase there.

You got to be careful in regards to unintended consequences. By banishing trains from penn station, riders may leave the system & may not return. This brings me back to my original question above.

Eric July 21, 2015 - 5:46 am

What are they going to move to? They can’t exactly drive their cars into Midtown.

Nathanael July 24, 2015 - 11:08 pm

It would be nice to cut some fat off of NJ’s governor, but I don’t think that’s legal.

adirondacker12800 July 20, 2015 - 2:55 pm

If it wasn’t for NJTransit and SEPTA paying Amtrak to use their tracks there wouldn’t be a Northeast Corridor. Amtrak doesn’t let them use it for free.

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johndmuller July 28, 2015 - 8:43 pm

Apparently, NJT pays $100M/year to Amtrak for track fees; that sounds pretty negligible compared to the kind of money we’re talking about for ARC/Gateway.

On a similar subject, apparently the people in MD think Amtrak charges too much for electricity, so they may be heading back to diesel. Their Gov. Hogan is also apparently a piece of work, cancelling a subway in Baltimore and cutting back the states funding of the Purple line in the DC suburbs to virtually nothing (about the same $100M as above – that must be the Tea Party standard, kill a tunnel and cap rail at $100M, while rerouting the $ to road projects).

I don’t know if the $100M in NJ includes electricity. Isn’t there also something about Amtrak’s electricity rates involved with the MBTA’s non electric comuter lines?

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LLQBTT July 21, 2015 - 9:19 am

NJ came up with the money. It’s now being used to repair the Pulasksi Skyway.

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adirondacker12800 July 20, 2015 - 1:30 pm

who says Amtrak isn’t going to hit up the Port Authority and the Turnpike for money like NJTransit did for ARC?
New Jerseyans pay Federal taxes. Lots and lots and lots of Federal taxes. That never manage to find their way back to New Jersey. If you wanna play that game New Jersey can stop funding roads in the vast unpopulated places out west and Medicare and food stamps in red states and agricultural subsides and….

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SEAN July 20, 2015 - 2:33 pm

That’s political russion roulette.

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Bolwerk July 21, 2015 - 6:20 am

You can make a pretty good case for limiting domestic federal spending to the social safety net and a few other boring things (defense, commerce/finance regulations, environmental regulations, etc.). It’s in-built macroeconomic policies like those that have staved off Greece-like economic conditions even in our shittiest states. The EU, Greece anyway, is getting a dose of American poverty, but America has yet to get a dose of EU macroeconomic intransigence.

I’d say some choice infrastructure should matter, like an intercity rail network, but the USA has proven chronically terrible at managing such things. Maybe it’d be nice if the feds could adopt common standards, but it’s not like the FRA helps things.

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Nathanael July 24, 2015 - 11:09 pm

We have somehow failed on finance regulations. 🙁

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AG July 21, 2015 - 9:55 am

“New Jerseyans pay Federal taxes. Lots and lots and lots of Federal taxes.” The same goes for every state on the NEC (except Rhode Island). The NEC is the largest economic bloc in the nation… Yet getting funding is tough because of representation in the senate being even across the board. People on this thread forget this is not just about the NYC metro area. Gateway is needed for HSR along the NEC. That is the main reason Amtrak wants it. If I’m not mistaken – Boston-NYC-Philly-DC Amtrak has a higher share than airlines. That is a big deal. God forbid the current tunnel needs to be shut. Billions and billions in economic activity are at stake while politicians waste time.
The NJ Transit issue is separate. NJ Transit needs additional capacity and should be willing to pay for part of this too.

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Alon Levy July 22, 2015 - 11:20 am

I have no idea why you’re excluding Rhode Island. As of 2010, it’s the biggest net tax donor in New England (go here and look at the spreadsheet link at the end).

It’s also interesting how, if Gateway is so crucial for the entire Northeast, the region’s coterie of Senators isn’t batting for the project. The Northeast has a lot of population, but it also has a lot of tiny states. How come New Jersey’s the only state that seems to care? Could it be that – gasp – Amtrak’s claims are false, and new Hudson tunnels are largely only of use to commuters?

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AG July 22, 2015 - 6:19 pm

If you think the other states don’t care then you aren’t paying any attention.

Bolwerk July 22, 2015 - 6:34 pm

If I were snarky, I might point out that not even NY and NJ seem to care. :-\

Nathanael July 24, 2015 - 11:10 pm

New York’s Senators have actually been the ones going to bat for Gateway. Not New Jersey’s, who haven’t done much of anything for it.

Bolwerk July 25, 2015 - 8:40 am

I wonder if that’s because it’s New York that takes the more immediate hit if suddenly the better part of 100,000 financial managers can’t get in one day.

Though, in the long run, they’d adjust by moving to Long Island, Westchester, etc.. Even the city.

AG July 25, 2015 - 2:07 pm

You are right… All up and down the NEC officials recognize it’s importance to their own economies – and why it needs continual improvement. That’s part of how Amtrak won the “right” to use operating profit from the NEC only on the NEC rather than to the rest of the system. You are also right than NJ officials seem to be the quietest. Though there are some vocal ones.

adirondacker12800 July 25, 2015 - 4:57 pm

Just because the New York media ignores New Jersey doesn’t mean people haven’t been saying things.

lawhawk July 20, 2015 - 9:20 am

The $15 billion price tag includes what exactly these days? Or is it $20 billion? Or more? It’s so hard to tell, when it depends on who you speak to and what they include. Does it include Portal Bridge replacement? The Penn Station move to Moynihan?

That matters immensely. The tunnels themselves are indispensible as is Portal, but each can and should be done independently so that these projects can get underway instead of waiting until funding for everything is lined up.

Portal would be a billion dollars and change by itself to build a replacement to the obsolete and faulty swing bridge and includes flyovers and new track between Secaucus and Newark. That plan has been in the works for years, but has been tied to the tunnel work.

For the tunnel, I don’t think new land acquisitions are necessary above and beyond what was acquired under ARC. So much of that cost relates to actual construction of the tunnels, which would likely be TBM-built. And those costs should be brought down in line to what is spent over in Europe.

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eo July 20, 2015 - 11:49 am

The original Portal plan is dead. Currently only 2 track replacement bridge is planned at cost of about $1B. No flyovers, no new tracks between Secaucus and Newark. For these you would need another $3B ($1B for another 2 track bridge, $2B for a few miles of tracks in the middle of a swamp which are hard to build due to environmental issues).

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lawhawk July 20, 2015 - 3:33 pm

Source?

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AG July 21, 2015 - 9:57 am

huh? Amtrak’s website says they plan to replace the Portal as part of Gateway.

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AG July 21, 2015 - 10:02 am

Here are the details from Amtrak. The Portal Bridge replacement is a part of Gateway.

http://nec.amtrak.com/content/gateway-program

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AMH July 20, 2015 - 10:04 am

This makes me really proud of Amtrak. It’s difficult for them to show bold leadership when they’re hamstrung by Congress, but they should get these things built, and then charge NJ through the nose to use them.

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Hank July 20, 2015 - 11:22 am

“Too Late” was 1999, with the expected construction timetable.

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Publius July 20, 2015 - 11:29 am

Instead of building new tunnels, why don’t we build big railroad terminals on the Jersey bank of the Hudson, where land acquisition costs and construction expenses would be cheaper, and just use ferry boats to carry passengers across to Manhattan?

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eo July 20, 2015 - 11:45 am

Because people do not like to switch modes, especially to ferries which are at the mercy of the weather. There is a good reason why NJCentral and Erie-Lackawana lost much more money than Penn Central with their NY operations — they had to subsidize ferries. Penn Central did not …

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Publius July 20, 2015 - 1:14 pm

Um, joke??

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Bolwerk July 20, 2015 - 3:43 pm

He’s not joking. I can’t speak for other people, but I don’t want to get off a train in Hoboken, walk to the waterfront to catch a ferry, and then schlep across town to my destination.

Already the commuter rail transfers guarantee some people a 3+ seat ride if they need to take the subway.

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Boris July 20, 2015 - 6:58 pm

Avoid transfers by using ferries that can carry trains. I think all current such ferries in the US carry freight only, but there are multiple European and Asian passenger examples.

Brooklynite July 20, 2015 - 7:39 pm

The trains would have to be short, the ferries massive, and the terminals on the Manhattan end enormous. It’s not happening.

outside the box July 20, 2015 - 7:47 pm

maybe a series of gondolas originating at a NJ station (Hoboken?) and going to street level at:

*convention Center
*Penn Station
*Herald Sq
*Times Sq
*Grand Central
*Rock Center
*Citicorp
*Carnegy Hall
*East 57th Street

Could better serve users than a grand new station.

Consider that users have to get to Penn Station and once at Penn Station it is 5-10 minutes plus to get to platforms.

Such an array of gondolas would save this time factor while depositing people at a new easy to use NJ terminal.

LLQBTT July 21, 2015 - 9:22 am

We can have an entire gondola network in NYC if we can connect this with the Brooklyn Gondola. Call it +Select Gondola Service+ or SGS. There can be ticket inspectors in every third gondola car. At least it would have dedicated travel lanes!

Alon Levy July 21, 2015 - 12:55 am

Yes, and those ferries are being replaced with multi-billion dollar tunnels.

Eric July 21, 2015 - 5:59 am

To be fair, those countries can afford to build tunnels. The US can’t afford to build much of anything.

Bolwerk July 21, 2015 - 10:03 am

If Germany and Denmark can afford Fehmarnbelt, the USA can afford Gateway and could certainly afford the fraction of Gateway necessary tunnel under the Hudson.

Alon Levy July 21, 2015 - 12:57 pm

I don’t know – Copenhagen-Hamburg seems an order of magnitude less important to me than New York-area regional rail (and intercity rail, but as noted above, Gateway does nothing for intercity trains). The construction costs are lower because it’s not the US, but the benefits are lower as well. New Hudson tunnels can realistically fill 24 tph at the peak, in addition to keeping the old tunnels full; the Vogelfluglinie’s plan is 3 tph per direction.

Bolwerk July 21, 2015 - 3:21 pm

Two of those trains in each direction are expected to be freight, at least according to Wikipedia.

The economics could be different too. At €350M/km, they probably expect something at least near the break-even point.

g July 20, 2015 - 11:55 am

Sounds like a good way to entice NJ residents to move to LIRR or Metro North territory.

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SEAN July 20, 2015 - 2:16 pm

Property taxes are another way to achieve that.

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Nathanael July 20, 2015 - 5:46 pm

The NY State government might actually support it, then. 🙂

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Bolwerk July 21, 2015 - 6:28 am

It wouldn’t matter, since LI would never allow it. It’s land use policy, which neither NJ and NY pay much attention to at the state level. It’s not like there is a suburban housing glut in this region.

NYC had a de facto housing glut in the 1990s, when people claimed fallow buildings and industrial spaces. AFAIK, the rest of the region never did.

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JS July 20, 2015 - 11:38 am

It is very important to conceive of this project not simply as an Amtrak project, but rather a regional project that has even greater consequence for NJ TRANSIT (and, to a certain extent, Metro-North and LIRR).

The Gateway investments made so far have been supported by special, one-time Federal grants, including Sandy Relief funds. For the most part, these investments have not come directly from Amtrak’s annual Capital Grant from Congress.

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John-2 July 20, 2015 - 1:01 pm

I get the feeling this is going to be like Caltrans insistence in the 1980s and early 1990 that it work take a decade to extend passenger rail into Los Angeles’ far-northern suburbs because of all the work involved. When the January 1994 Northridge quake hit, knocking out the Interstate 5-Cal 14 interchange and shutting off vehicle access to downtown L.A. to tens of thousands of drivers, all the red tape on the rail link was thrown aside and it took Caltrans all of one week to get the passenger service up and running.

Same deal’s likely here. Politicians have no love of rail tunnels or rail station holes in the ground because people can’t see tunnels or rail station holes in the ground. So they’re ineffective monuments to the pols and usually take so long to build some other pol gets to take what little bows there are for the work. But if one or both of the existing Hudson River tunnels were to go out, the wrath of the commuters and others now facing a surge in car traffic would come down on those same pols at the city, state and national level unless something was done now! Get the situation to that dire a shape and suddenly, everything would move rapidly towards getting Gateway completed, and much of the usually red tape that ties up building anything in New York would be mangically eliminated.

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Rob July 20, 2015 - 1:34 pm

“Even before Sandy, Amtrak’s tunnels were nearing the end of their life.” If there is any evidence of that, I would like to see it. And what abt the East River tunnels? Are they part of this discussion?

“Twenty-four trains pass through the tunnels each hour”. Hardly. Perhaps for 4 hrs out of 24, and weekdays only. Sticking more precisely to the facts would be admirable, but I know that is not the journalist’s strong suit. [or were those coscia’s words?

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SEAN July 20, 2015 - 2:10 pm

Can you show proof that there are less than 24-trains per hour? Don’t forget about dead head moves.

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Bolwerk July 20, 2015 - 2:33 pm

The peak direction peak capacity is what is relevant. The most critical economic function of those tunnels is getting NJ commuters in at rush hour, not the handful of Amtrak trains that enter or exit every hour.

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g July 20, 2015 - 2:54 pm

As the successor agency Amtrak owns the tunnels. I am sort of doubting they’ll say” Oh we really don’t need to run any NEC services through Manhattan during rush periods to make up for NJT’s total lack of foresight”.

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Bolwerk July 20, 2015 - 3:40 pm

Rightly so too. Amtrak’s responsibility is to Amtrak’s mission.

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JJJJ July 21, 2015 - 12:42 pm

Maybe Amtrak should stop wasting capacity with so many tiny trains

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adirondacker12800 July 21, 2015 - 3:13 pm

They can just go down to Amfleets-R-Us and get some more?

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Alon Levy July 22, 2015 - 11:31 am

First, the Acelas are used inefficiently. See here.

Second, let’s say they need new rolling stock (they sort of do, the Acelas need to be reefed yesterday). They’d need it regardless of whether they intended to double frequency or train length.

outside the box July 20, 2015 - 2:44 pm

needed:

*a second route connecting the northeast to the mid-atlantic
*the ability to take North River tubes out of service without destroying service into Penn Station

idea:

Build the NY harbor rail link from Brooklyn to SI with connections in NJ to the Main line was well as the freight lines

-When a north river tube needs to be out of service, have the remaining one tube operate in the rush hour direction with the other trains getting to Penn via Brooklyn and Staten Island. Note: there are 4 tracks operating into Penn from LI/ the north (and soon 2 into ESA) as opposed to just two from NJ/the south. The north also has 4 tracks into GCT when NJ/the south have no equivalent.

-Supplement this with an extension of the A train over the GWB and out to Patterson with transfers to all northern NJ lines

You have now:
-provided for a back up to the north river tubes
-finally provided for a through rail line
-added new and need transportation option to the area

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Joe Steindam July 21, 2015 - 11:28 am

Both the cross-harbor link and the additional north river tunnels are needed projects, it’s not really an either-or scenario. But cross-harbor is needed for freight, and putting overhead catenary in the cross-harbor tunnel will preclude a lot of the freight uses of the tunnel.

Next, the route to Penn Station via the Cross-Harbor tunnel is very long, and not an ideal commuter rail corridor. A rough estimate of the route is 30 miles between the EWR rail link station (where NEC trains would diverge) and Penn Station, versus 12.6 for the existing route. The Bay Ridge Branch isn’t conducive to moving trains at high speeds due to the condition of the corridor and development very close to the ROW, so taking this route to Penn would add on a lot of extra time to the trip to Penn Station. This would be ok if the train was making stops at additional job centers, but the route doesn’t really connect to any, except Port Newark. It could provide access to NYC subway transfer (like the proposed TriBoro Rx) but the frequency would be terrible in a commuter rail format.

Third, the Morris and Essex trains that access Penn Station can’t use this routing without reversing direction at Secaucus or Hoboken and again at EWR, which is probably not feasible without causing significant route delays further down the line, and would be absurdly long for any commuter.

The cross-harbor tunnel has value in providing a way to move goods and freight onto geographic long island without sending everything via trucks that our bridges and highways can barely handle (from a weight perspective). While it can’t match the amount of freight volumes that move via truck into NYC and LI today, it will help get the heaviest of goods off the road, and improve the quality of roadways between NY and NJ as a result. Passenger transit should be focused on moving people to the central business district as much as possible, and that remains Manhattan island, which means an additional pair of North River tunnels is the best bet for addressing additional passenger rail capacity from the west.

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outside the box July 20, 2015 - 7:38 pm

Is there any thought to returning Amtrak to the under capacity Grand Central terminal (which will soon have LIRR service)?

Yes having one terminal is nice, but given the other issues and costs maybe this should be considered.

How about sending trains from Grand Central over the GWB by converting 2 lanes of the bridge, approaches and cross bronx? (yes some double decking of the cross bronx would be needed as an offset, but the unused side tubes in Manhattan could serve non-through traffic.

Manhattan, LI (esa) and nothern users would be well served while NJ users could use an upgraded Secaucus, Newark or Liberty station(s).

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Eric July 21, 2015 - 6:06 am

I think it would be better to send the C subway over the GWB – the GWB was actually designed for that.

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