Home ARC Tunnel Report: ARC Tunnel will cut 15-30 minutes off NJ commute times

Report: ARC Tunnel will cut 15-30 minutes off NJ commute times

by Benjamin Kabak

An interactive map from the RPA shows by how much commute times will be reduced with the ARC Tunnel. Click the image to view the interactive map.

As New Jersey politicians and rail advocates work to convince Gov. Chris Christie to restore the ARC Tunnel, the Regional Plan Association and Sen. Frank Lautenberg have released a study touting the benefits of the project. According to the latest report, the tunnel will have a significant impact on the commute times from New Jersey to Manhattan. It will double the number of households within a 50-minute train ride to the city, cut travel time by 15-30 minutes and shave up to 35 percent off many commutes.

“The ARC Tunnel will not only allow more New Jersey residents to work in New York, but it will significantly cut the amount of time it now takes to get to Manhattan,” the Senator said in a statement. “Make no mistake: With the ARC Tunnel, commutes will be shorter, but without this tunnel, commutes will become intolerably long.”

In an effort to highlight the impact that a transfer-ride ride into Manhattan for riders on the eight New Jersey Transit lines that current require a transfer to reach the city, the RPA explored how the timetables would change with this new one-seat ride in place. It is the companion piece to a study released earlier this year showing how ARC will lead to an $18-billion increase in property value. “The benefits of ARC are far-reaching and well-defined,” Bob Yaro, president of the RPA, said. “The project will increase the reliability of NJ Transit trains, reduce traffic and greenhouse gas emissions, create jobs, drive economic growth in the right places and boost home values. Perhaps most significantly, ARC will cut commute times for NJ Transit riders on average between 15 and 30 minutes per day.”

By comparing the Spring 2010 train schedules with trends in NJ Transit operations and the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement, the RPA assessed savings on a station-by-station basis. Travel between Trenton and New York City would speed up by nearly 20 minutes, and the ride from Orange to the Big Apple would take 36 minutes less than it does now. Those coming in from the North Jersey Coast would see travel times reduced by over 45 minutes. (Information by each station is available on this interactive map.)

Currently, Gov. Christie and the Federal Transit Administration are undertaking a two-week study of the ARC Tunnel’s finances, and on October 21, the two sides will again meet to determine the fate of the tunnel. Lautenberg urged them to find a solution.

“We are already at near capacity with the current 100 year-old tunnel,” he said, “and demand for rail service in New Jersey to midtown Manhattan is expected to double over the next two decades. If New Jersey is to remain competitive for jobs in New York in the future, we must build this tunnel. If this project is cancelled, New Jersey’s transportation system will become a parking lot — isolated from job opportunities in Manhattan. Jobs that would have gone to New Jerseyans will instead go to people in Connecticut, Westchester County and Long Island. We can’t let that happen.”

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Marc Shepherd October 15, 2010 - 3:27 pm

Honestly, I don’t think the governor of NJ cares about any of this. He just wants the state’s financial contribution to be capped. He won’t decide based on commuting improvements that take effect long after he is out of office.

Avi October 15, 2010 - 3:33 pm

Marc, any cost overruns will also take place long after Christie is out of office. What Christie really wants is to use the 2.7b to pay for road work without having to raise taxes.

Chris G October 15, 2010 - 3:40 pm

The issue with the new tunnels is to increase capacity much more than it is to speed up commutes.

Marc Shepherd October 15, 2010 - 4:01 pm

Right, but it also adds one-seat rides to lines that currently do not have them. That is the major source of the speed-up. (Reduced congestion is the other source.)

Eric F. October 15, 2010 - 3:50 pm

Does this take into account the time that it takes to get out of the station, 18 stories underground?

In any event, no one is disputing that a one-seat ride is faster than a transfer. The issue is whether the plan is achievable without bankrupting the state (further). I’d also ask whether we can get a better plan for less.

Kid Twist October 15, 2010 - 3:54 pm


Chris October 15, 2010 - 4:48 pm

This seems like more good reason why fare increases should be the primary way of financing the new construction. If there’s resistance to that, it’s probably a sign that people prefer making the train cheaper to making it better, and that making it better shouldn’t be a focus of public policy.

paulb October 15, 2010 - 4:51 pm

Meanwhile, I just saw an item that today the Swiss have completed the drilling operation on the world’s longest rail tunnel, 35.5 miles long, the goal of the project being to move freight via it rather than trucks.

Brandon October 15, 2010 - 9:20 pm

Im hoping that the cross-bay rail tunnel to Long Island will eventually be built. The price of goods on Long Island is terribly high and the lack of rail freight is probably a contributing factor.

Plus all the truck traffic on Long Island, which is significant.

Alon Levy October 15, 2010 - 9:29 pm

Yes, and they did it for barely more money than what ESA or ARC comes out to.

Kris Datta October 16, 2010 - 8:22 pm

That’s truly impressive. Why can’t we get stuff done that cheaply back here?

MichaelB October 16, 2010 - 8:43 pm

That’s a question I’d really like to know the answer to. Construction costs are multiples of what they are anywhere else. If we could get them down to reasonable levels, funding new infrastructure would actually be quite feasible.

Alon Levy October 16, 2010 - 10:58 pm

I have some guesses, mostly related to how the contracting process works. But if I knew how to reliably get costs down, I would be starting my own construction company, not commenting on blogs.

Tsuyoshi October 15, 2010 - 6:01 pm

I think funding with higher fares would improve the process of building transit, but transit competes with driving. So you need higher tolls and higher gas taxes in order for it to work properly.

ajedrez October 15, 2010 - 6:34 pm

Forgive me for my ignorance, but how could this project save people as much as 45 minutes off thei commute on a line that already goes into Penn Station? Is it because there will be more capacity for trains?

Rob Durchalo October 15, 2010 - 9:33 pm

It won’t. The time savings are purported to be round trip savings, not one-way savings. While the additional tunnel and station capacity will reduce congestion, the savings each way will most likely be in the range of 5 minutes, maybe seven for trains that no longer have to stop at Secaucus for connecting passengers.

Alon Levy October 15, 2010 - 9:39 pm

I have the same question with 22.5 minutes substituted for 45.

ajedrez October 17, 2010 - 12:50 am

The Secaucus Junction station would still remain open, wouldn’t it?

Alon Levy October 15, 2010 - 9:35 pm

Sorry, but this is Cato-grade crap. If you assume best practice with ARC versus current practice without, then sure, ARC saves a lot of time. If you instead compare best practice to best practice – i.e. transfers that are timed and cross-platform, etc. – then the time savings are trivial. If you go further and compare current best practice to current best practice if ARC is mothballed and the $8.7 billion is spent on other improvements, then ARC has negative net time savings.

I get that the person who got Secaucus named after him and the local infrastructure hackhouse want the region to keep building train tunnels for 3 times their normal-world cost. They have different interests from the rest of us: what we think are costs, they regard as revenue. What I don’t get is why normal people buy any of this.

J B October 17, 2010 - 11:33 am


paulb October 16, 2010 - 12:17 pm

The latest signaling systems allow more trains. Do the existing tunnels have these?

The Wikipedia article about the Gotthard tunnel notes that the Swiss voted for a change in national transportation policy to start such projects. I’m not sure if this means a referendum or a parliamentary vote, but whatever, I doubt an effort to make this sort of thing a national policy would be successful here.

There certainly is room to spend that money in other places. I rode the Harlem line up to Dover Plains on Thursday and the train was bouncing all over the place. I don’t think the awful ride would be considered acceptable on a train in any other first world country.

Alon Levy October 16, 2010 - 1:47 pm

It was a referendum. And the national policy thing would be perfectly acceptable in the US, if American construction costs were brought down to Swiss levels.

The existing Penn Station tunnels do not have very high-capacity signaling. They use fixed blocks, which limit trains to about 24 tph, rather than moving blocks, which allow about 30.

Adirondacker12800 October 16, 2010 - 7:27 pm

Nobody has developed working moving block system. No responsible operator will ever use it. It’s in the same category of transit wet dream as PRT. And even at 30 trains per hour they would still have to build a new set of tunnels.

Alon Levy October 16, 2010 - 10:40 pm

Nobody, except the Berlin S-Bahn, the RER, and a bunch of subways. Possibly also the Chuo Line, I’m not sure – it runs 30 tph peak (to a two-track terminal, no less).

And yes, a new tunnel would be needed anyway. But I’d much rather they used the full available capacity instead of cry for more when the two tunnels hit 45 tph between them.

guest October 17, 2010 - 3:59 am

christie is going to kill arc, the $ will go to roadwork. by twisting his arm maybe nj will get another choo choo line or extension out of it but thats it. he’s your pro-car governer.

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