Home ARC Tunnel ARC the Third: Amtrak’s Gateway to New York

ARC the Third: Amtrak’s Gateway to New York

by Benjamin Kabak

Amtrak's Gateway Tunnel addresses many of the criticisms leveled at the ARC Tunnel.

Since Gov. Chris Christie first announced plans to put a hold on and then cancel the ARC Tunnel, New Jersey’s Democratic Senate delegation has been at odds with the state’s Republican executive. Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez have criticized Christie for sacrificing $3 billion in federal funding as well as the opportunity to expand rail access to New York City. Today, the two Senators have announced a plan to achieve greater cross-Hudson rail capacity while working with Amtrak and bypassing Christie’s control entirely.

Enter the Gateway Tunnel. This tunnel that Amtrak believes will take ten years to construct could be another answer to rail crisis the ARC Tunnel had been designed to address. It is similar to ARC’s Alt G plan and modeled on numerous Amtrak studies. Based on numerous reports, it may cost anywhere from $10-$13.5 billion, and once or if completed, it will allow 21 more trains per hour — 13 New Jersey Transit trips and eight Amtrak trains — into New York. The dearly departed ARC Tunnel would have allowed 25 more New Jersey Transit trains into the dead-end deep cavern underneath 34th St.

While the Gateway Tunnel expansion would allow fewer trains into the city, the new proposal addresses the biggest concerns ARC supporters — and opponents — had with the previous project. As Jim O’Grady for Transportation Nation and WNYC has reports, “Whereas ARC was supposed to terminate at platforms under Macy’s, a block east of Penn Station, Gateway would end a block to the south, nearer to street level. The block—West 30th and West 31st Streets between 7th and 8th Avenues—now mostly holds small businesses like restaurants, bars and a repair shop for musical instruments.” Metro-North too would be able to service the new Penn Station South. (For more from today’s unveiling of the Gateway Tunnel, check out this pdf.)

A satellite view of the New York side of the proposed Gateway Tunnel. (Via The Star-Ledger)

O’Grady had more on the early plans and the hopes that the Gateway Tunnel could usher in high-speed rail in the area as well. He writes:

A staff member for an elected official familiar with the project said Amtrak, which is taking the lead on the tunnel, would have to assemble properties on the Manhattan block to make it feasible. He said on the New Jersey side, Gateway would use a hole that construction crews had already started digging for the ARC Tunnel at Tonnelle Avenue near Secaucus…

An important part of the work would be to raise the Portal Bridge, a notorious bottleneck between Kearny and Secaucus over the Hackensack River. Trains must now slow to cross the 100 year-old bridge, or stop altogether while it is moved to let boats to pass by. A modernized bridge, along with a new tunnel’s added capacity, would speed up Amtrak’s service along the Northeast Corridor and help set the stage for future high-speed rail, should it ever arrive.

Meanwhile, Mike Frassinelli of The Star Ledger, who broke the story late last night, reports on how the Gateway Tunnel may conflict with New York City’s plan to send 7 train to New Jersey. The Senators and Amtrak are putting forward this proposal as an alternative to Bloomberg’s subway-based idea, and the federal officials hope to send the 7 not across the Hudson but to Penn Station. He writes:

Some transportation officials think the Gateway plan makes more sense than expanding the No. 7 subway line from New York City to Secaucus Junction, an idea floated over the last three months by the staff of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Under Amtrak’s best-case scenario, the No. 7 line would also be extended to Penn Station, between 31st and 33rd streets, two blocks west of the Empire State Building.

During the afternoon press conference announcing this tunnel, current Amtrak board member and former Port Authority head Anthony Coscia denied a conflict with the 7 extension. “Regardless of whether the 7 extension happens, in order for there to be high-speed rail in the Northeast corridor, Amtrak would still need to build this project,” he said.

According to Frassinelli, Lautenberg, the more vocal critic of Christie’s politicized move to block the ARC Tunnel, has been working with Amtrak since the fall. “New Jersey is facing a transportation crisis,” he said. “Our commuters are fed up with train delays that make them late to work and endless traffic that traps them on our highways when they want to be home with their families. When the ARC tunnel was canceled, it was clear to me that we couldn’t just throw up our hands and wait years to find another solution.”

By turning away from state-based solutions and relying instead upon a federal rail provider who would ideally use a mix of infrastructure dollars and private investment for this project, Lautenberg can effectively cut Christie out from the bulk of the decision-making. Although New Jersey and New York will likely be asked to add some money to the pot via New Jersey Transit and the Port Authority, if Amtrak takes the lead, it — and not New Jersey’s reticent governor — will be in charge of securing the finances and arranging construction.

Right now, as O’Grady notes, the parties have yet to figure out financing and haven’t set construction plans. Amtrak is requesting $50 million this week for an engineering study and hopes to rely on work previously completed for ARC. Even as questions remain, though, rail proponents who have recognized the cross-Hudson congestion are thrilled that Gateway is on the table even if it is ten years away.

“This is not ARC,” Martin Robins, director of Rutgers’ Voorhes Transportation Center, said to The Star-Ledger. “In some respects, it is a lesser project. But it is still a very significant project. There will be benefits that will reverberate throughout New Jersey. This can be a wonderful alternative.”

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Marc Shepherd February 7, 2011 - 3:43 pm

Clearly, a project like this was going to be proposed at some point, so it might as well be now. Construction (if it happens) is years away, and by then who knows what will happen?

The main problem all of these projects have in common, is that they need to be compelling enough to survive the careers of the politicians who sponsor them. ARC was 20 years in the making, and Christie was able to cancel it in a matter of months. By the time this proposal is ready to get built, a completely different set of people will be in power.

We’ve seen this happen over & over again. Mayor Giuliani was a big supporter of the LaGuardia Airport subway access project. It died when he left office. Governor Pataki was a big supporter of a JFK Airport connection to Lower Manhattan. Once he was gone, it was quietly dropped.

Benjamin Kabak February 7, 2011 - 3:46 pm

I’m on board with your overall point, Marc, but a minor nitpick. You say:

Mayor Giuliani was a big supporter of the LaGuardia Airport subway access project. It died when he left office.

It died after he left office when powerful NIMBY forces in Astoria killed it dead. I have more on that story here. I do think that these projects must be able to outlive politicians who propose them though.

Chris G February 7, 2011 - 3:57 pm

Which is why I believe in killing NIMBYs. Ok. I’m joking, but the point is valid.

BBnet3000 February 7, 2011 - 4:30 pm

I’m also for killing NIMBYs, but the kill facility better not be in my neighborhood.

Alon Levy February 7, 2011 - 5:01 pm

Why not? It provides jobs.

MaximusNYC February 9, 2011 - 12:19 am

BBnet3000: Touché!

Bolwerk February 7, 2011 - 3:47 pm

So, is this gonna be another means to disallow through running – either to Long Island or to GCT? Moronic! 7 to Secaucus is smarter than that. (I’m hoping I’m wrong, since it mentions MNRR could use it. However, MNRR could theoretically come from east or north, and it doesn’t mention what means MNRR would take to get there.)

The Senators and Amtrak are putting forward this proposal as an alternative to Bloomberg’s subway-based idea, and the federal officials hope to send the 7 not across the Hudson but to Penn Station.

Besides, it sounds like the local feudal lords are drawing lines between the fiefs anyway. Why can’t both these ideas be implemented together to save some $ on both? I doubt Secaucus or Penn call for anymore than half of the 7’s traffic. Red <7> could go to one, green (7) could go to the other. Or something.

Chris G February 7, 2011 - 4:02 pm

I took the MNRR comment to mean their Port Jervis service.

Bolwerk February 7, 2011 - 4:08 pm

Oh, good thinking. I was thinking of it terms of that whole well, maybe if we get LIRR to GCT, we can get MNRR to Penn… dynamic. Of course, any could still be right.

Chris G February 7, 2011 - 4:12 pm

I know of some MNRR guys from another forum who say the Park Ave Tunnels are at capacity during rush hour but when east side access comes, they’re looking forward to running some New Haven trains into Penn and also Hudson line down the west side into Penn.

Bolwerk February 7, 2011 - 4:20 pm

AFAIK, it’s a pretty underused stretch of rail, so it makes sense. New Haven to Penn has also been discussed.

Chris G February 7, 2011 - 4:01 pm

I was waiting for you to pick this story up when I saw it earlier.

I am glad to see it being worked on and although I do feel many will use this and the 7 extension against each other to the benefit of no one I do think both will be required before long.

I also think that path should fall under the subway system and be the same price. We should have about 4 subway tunnels under the Hudson and at least 3 separate rail tunnels. I believe although it’ll never happen that EWR and JFK should be connected underground by a 1 stop in the middle in lower manhattan very fast train. Turn/Y it from JFK to LGA and under the sound into Westchester. Sure this is all a pure NIMBY hell, but a large interconnected region is what we require.

So for this project it seems to fix my biggest issue with ARC. That of the ability to run through.

Now if only we could get MNRR/LIRR/NJT/AMTRAK on the same power source…

Beamish February 7, 2011 - 4:08 pm

So…will New York State pick up their fair share of the funding this time? Or will they get to double dip Port Authority funding and get extra Federal guarantees?

No matter, AMTRAK has shown themselves over the years to be functionally incompetent in executing a Capital Program. I fully expect this project will collapse under the political pressures of each State trying to get the most while spending the least and with a Federal budget that is just as bankrupt as both States.

The project belongs solely with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Not only do they have the means to issue bonds and collect revenue from overall regional transportation infrastructure they are an agency whose founding purpose was to build a rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey. They have yet to deliver on that project and it is time they should.

Bolwerk February 7, 2011 - 4:16 pm

New York carried its share all along, at least financially. PA money was going to it. That easily covers New York’s share. What New York failed to do with cooperate to make the project as workable as possible.

It sounds like the Gateway project is to be funded by some mix of federal funds, Amtrak discretionary funds, and maybe PA money…all of which means, again, New York is contributing more than its fair share (and so is New Jersey, for that matter). And if the feds were to spend another few dozen billion or so it on some other regional transportation projects, perhaps they’d pick up their fair share.

As for Amtrak, I don’t know if you’re right about incompetence or not. On one hand, things screw up under Amtrak. OTOH, Amtrak has to deal with a lot of top-down mandates from people who don’t want Amtrak to succeed, at least not without their cronies running away with some money bags on their arms.

Beamish February 7, 2011 - 7:54 pm

The Port Authority money was a double dip AND there was no straight New York State share. It was $3 billion from the PA – $1.5 billion per State BUT it also came with a guarantee that the PA would spend ANOTHER $1.5 billion in NYS exclusively since most of the construction for ARC was “in New Jersey”. Gee…I guess I imagined all the shaft traffic and vent house impacts analyzed in Manhattan and that GIANT cavern to be built under 34th Street.

After the Port Authority share there was $3 billion from the Feds…who had to promise another $3 billion to NYS. Lastly there was the $2.87 billion plus all over-runs paid by NJ Transit.

Bottom line – New York State was paying nothing and getting $4.5 billion in other guarantees so that New Jersey could build a tunnel to bring a million people into New York so they could pay New York State income tax.

Oh…then there was the BILLION DOLLARS for the Portal bridge conveniently left out of ARC even though it was essential and fully funded by NJ Transit and the Feds.

ARC, no mater how vital to the regional transportation network (and that is VERY), was a funding joke from day one. That is why it was killed.

Bolwerk February 7, 2011 - 8:21 pm

Why should there have been a straight New York State share? It was a tunnel for New Jersey Transit – not one to be shared by Amtrak or LIRR. $1.5B from a pot that could have been spent elsewhere in NYS seems eminently fair. I mean, I guess you could complain and say NJ shouldn’t invest in something that benefits NJ because it might benefit New York a little too, but then you forgo a lot of economic growth for New Jersey. I could buy there should have been a bigger Port Authority share too – hell, I think that’s obvious. I also could buy costs should have been controlled better earlier in the process.

I lack your optimism that ARC wasn’t killed for political points, however. It was poorly thought out in many ways, but nothing was done by the NJ administration to address its shortcomings. Work was started on the NJ side, and an effective leader, as Republikans often imagine themselves to be, ought to have been able to muscle it into Penn Station rather than that cavern – saving a lot of money in the process.

Adirondacker12800 February 7, 2011 - 9:41 pm

It would benefit NY too. It would have freed up capacity in Penn Station so Amtrak could run more trains. It would have freed up capacity in Penn Station so Metro North could run trains from the Hudson and Harlem lines into Penn Station.

Alon Levy February 7, 2011 - 9:51 pm

First, you mean Hudson and New Haven lines.

Second, as soon as ESA opens, the East River tunnels’ traffic will drop so far below capacity that it will be stupid not to run some New Haven trains into Penn. In addition, it will be easy to electrify the Empire Connection and run some Hudson Line trains into Penn.

And third, independently of ESA, Penn itself doesn’t have a capacity problem. Current traffic levels are at 67 inbound tph on 21 tracks, i.e. one train per track per 19 minutes. Traffic that doesn’t go through the North River tunnels is not at capacity.

Anonymoose February 7, 2011 - 10:57 pm

“In addition, it will be easy to electrify the Empire Connection and run some Hudson Line trains into Penn.”

I thought the Hudson trains were 3rd rail only powered? And what about the LIRR MNR third rail incompatibilities?

Alon Levy February 7, 2011 - 11:31 pm

If all that’s desired is service to and from Penn Station, it’s not a problem. Hudson Line trains would keep using Metro-North third rail, LIRR trains would keep using LIRR third rail, and New Haven Line trains would use catenary.

For through-running, dual-voltage trains are required. Those already exist, and reconfiguring existing trains to take multiple voltages should not be very expensive.

Matthias February 12, 2011 - 11:28 pm

I’m confused about something–if current tunnels allow 67tph, and ARC would have allowed 25tph, how will the new ones only allow 21tph? It seems like 2 tracks should have the same capacity as 2 tracks.

Bolwerk February 8, 2011 - 12:06 am

Not sure those things are huge benefits. Despite what Alon said, I don’t think there is going to be a lot of demand for west side MNRR service, unless MNRR access induces it. That would take time.

Chris G February 8, 2011 - 8:31 am

There is the justification for west side access on MNRR. Enough commuters coming down from Yonkers/Croton/Points North connect to the west side currently via long walks/bus/shuttle.

But the real reason MNRR will want west side access to Penn is because like the North River Tunnels into Penn, the Park Ave Tunnels into GCT are at capacity during rush hours. East side access will allow slots into Penn for the New Haven line trains (not all) to open more Park Ave Tunnel slots and West Side Access into Penn will do the same.

Its all about increasing total service levels and opening capacity.

Not that either of these for GCT matter to the new Hudson River crossings because as Alon says, Penn is not at capacity. Only the North River Tunnels.

Bolwerk February 8, 2011 - 10:32 am

There’s justification, sure, but there doesn’t seem to be much need to prioritize it (except it will be easy and cheap anyway).

What I think is interesting is, what could happen now that MNRR and LIRR will be easy to transfer between? Theoretically Hicksville to White Plains rail commutes will be possible, if long.

Alon Levy February 9, 2011 - 6:35 am

What would happen: in the short run, more people would use transit to get to secondary urban centers like Newark and Jamaica. Suburban edge cities like White Plains and Stamford would take longer.

Right now the total market of people commuting across Manhattan to secondary centers is pretty big – around 150,000 people if I remember right – but almost all of it consists of people working in the secondary centers. But over time, more people who work in the edge cities would respond to the service by considering relocating to inner suburbs with easy service, increasing the transit mode share. It would also be easier to provide TOD replacing the garage mahals.

Beamish February 8, 2011 - 10:59 am

There was no muscling it into Penn Station without increasing costs (see my comments below about Weehawken) – which is the exact reason the project was canceled: ALL cost over runs would be on the shoulders of the taxpayers of the State of New Jersey.

The cost split was inequitable and the budget a joke. That is why the project died. No other reason.

Bolwerk February 8, 2011 - 12:02 pm

Lose the cavern and billions would have been saved. Muscling it into Penn Station would have not been a net increase in costs, even if that ventilation problem (that I’m not familiar with) was a problem. You’re the only person I’ve seen claim that the grade was too steep for getting into Penn because of the location of the ventilitation shaft, and the safe money is, even if there’s a grain of truth to that claim, the problem clould be solved with better equipment — like proper EMUs.

The explanations I heard for the cavern were that MNRR wasn’t cooperating on GCT access and the city had some idiot hangup about a seawall that would be harmed if Penn Station was reached properly. I still haven’t heard a good reason why why NYC or NYS should have been paying out of pocket for the leisure of NJ commuters, but I think they should be ashamed of themselves for not even trying to accommodate the project so it could be done affordably and intelligently for New Jersey — that should have been their contribution.

Nyland8 September 14, 2011 - 11:25 am

The fact is, Beamish, that New Jersey stood to have disproportionate benefit from the project – and should therefore shoulder the lion’s share. If the jobs are in NYC, and the nightlife is in NYC, and New Jerseyans want to go to NYC, then making it easier benefits New Jersey. When real estate prices jump in towns readily accessible to New Jersey Transit trains to NYC, and downtown businesses at those station locations see increased revenues, then more taxes flow into Trenton to pay for the cost of ARC.

Christie’s vision of shouldering more costs might have been in focus, but his lack of being able to see and measure the benefit to his state was myopic in the extreme. The reason New Jersey has so much of the wealth and the high real estate values that it has, is because it draws that money from being a suburb of the financial center of the world.

NYC doesn’t need New Jersey – it is New Jersey that needs New York City.

Joe Steindam February 7, 2011 - 4:15 pm

If the “South Penn Station” platforms are close to or at the same grade as the existing Penn Station tracks, then it should be feasible (although difficult) to connect the tracks at their east end to the East River tunnel. Or maybe the South Penn Station could be the basis for a new East River Tunnel exclusive for Amtrak/HSR in the future (Even with ESA coming online in the near future, LIRR and Amtrak must already be testing the limits of the East River tunnel). Or the new tracks can be just for NJT operation, which would allow Amtrak greater use of the existing platforms.

The truth is we don’t know enough about this project, except that Amtrak is the primary mover, and it will allow some capacity for NJT. If there is a track connection between the two tunnels on the Manhattan side (allowing trains using either tunnel to access either Penn Station or these new platforms), then this is an improvement over ARC.

John-2 February 7, 2011 - 4:29 pm

Since Amtrak is involved and since they’re talking about this being part of their high-speed rail project, there’s got to be some sort of through-running involved, if the idea is to open the entire Boston-Washington corridor up for HSR.

While the initial price is high, the advantage here over ARC is that setting up a possible HSR line along the corridor gets at least Massachusetts, Connecticut and/or Rhode Island (depending on the final route), Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia and even Virgina in on the possible benefits, along with New Jersey and New York. ARC was limited to just the two states on either side of the Hudson, so any support for a project in the $10B-plus range was going to be limited.

Joe Steindam February 7, 2011 - 5:19 pm

Some of the comments above suggested that through routing wouldn’t be possible, my opinion was that Gateway would definitely allow through routing.

Alon Levy February 7, 2011 - 5:46 pm

The track chart that Ben links to shows Penn South as a stub-end terminal. However, there’s a connection from the new tunnel to the existing station and from the old tunnel to the new station.

John February 7, 2011 - 6:09 pm

I don’t think through routing would be a big deal. I mean, how many trains wouldn’t stop in New York?

Alon Levy February 7, 2011 - 6:32 pm

It depends on what “Stop” means. All trains should make station stops in New York, but as few as possible should terminate at Penn or Grand Central.

Alon Levy February 7, 2011 - 5:00 pm

The LIRR runs 41 tph through the tunnel, which will go down dramatically with ESA. Capacity given current signaling is about 48, and with better signaling it would be 60.

Joe Steindam February 7, 2011 - 5:20 pm

Thanks for the data, Alon. Just out of curiosity, where do you get this data?

Alon Levy February 7, 2011 - 5:34 pm

41 comes from gazing at LIRR schedules. (I may be off by 1-2 trains – I checked the schedules over a year ago, and they may have slightly changed.)

48 and 60 come from two tunnel pairs times standard capacities. The current fixed-block signaling can do about 24 abroad, and the North River Tunnel achieves 25 (barely), so that’s the current number. The with-better-signaling number comes from the capacity of Europe’s emerging standard for signaling, ETCS, about which you can read on SBB’s website (it’s the same link provided in my 5:30 pm comment below).

Donald February 7, 2011 - 4:46 pm

This is a much better idea than extending the 7 line. With Amtrak taking over the project, we can one day have TRUE high speed rail service on the northeast corridor. But that cannot happen if the 7 trian is using the tunnel.

Nyland8 September 14, 2011 - 11:32 am

The 7 Train never intended to use the tunnel. The 7 Train is prepared to bore its own tunnels – and the TBMs are already in the ground. The cheapest, fastest way to increase New Jersey commuter distribution throughout Manhattan subway lines is to run the 7 Train to Secaucus Transfer – and it needn’t interfere with any federal Amtrak projects at all.

Al D February 7, 2011 - 5:08 pm

There are going to be lots of eminent domain matters judging by the artile picture of So. Penn, but as a “modified ARC”, much of the ground work is already laid.

Benjamin Kabak February 7, 2011 - 5:12 pm

In the wake of Kelo as well as the Columbia Manhattanville and Atlantic Yards cases, there won’t be problems with use of eminent domain for a true public work.

BBnet3000 February 7, 2011 - 5:29 pm

The government taking land and not using it for a developers private gain?

Is there any precedent for this novel idea to use government power for public good?

Beamish February 7, 2011 - 8:03 pm

The problem with ARC and even this Gateway project was never and will not be private land acquisition it will be Political land use.

The true preferred ARC alignment had its primary vent shaft in Weehawken. This would have allowed a tunnel through good rock that was no so deep that they could not make Penn Station. The Mayor of Weehawken absolutely refused to have the vent structure in Weehawken. NJ Transit caved to these political demands, moved the shaft south just into Hoboken. This moved it into worse rock and rather than bear the extra cost of a shallow tunnel through the sea wall they went deeper. By going deeper and further south they could not longer make the grade to get into Penn Station and the deep cavern option was chosen.

So, tell me…how does AMTRAK magically make that kind of political interference go away? They have no power of condemnation themselves and if the State of New Jersey would not buck politics for proper engineering on their own dime why would they ever do it for AMTRAK?

Alon Levy February 7, 2011 - 9:18 pm

Railroads have the right of condemnation, though I’m not sure whether it applies to Amtrak or just the freight railroads.

Anonymoose February 7, 2011 - 11:02 pm


Amtrak can’t eminent domain land that’s owned by a rail carrier, a State, a subdivision of a State, or a government agency.

Benjamin Kabak February 7, 2011 - 11:08 pm

I don’t think New York would object to taking the land and transferring to Amtrak for a very minimal amount.

Beamish February 8, 2011 - 10:54 am

They cannot take land in New Jersey – the geology under the river has not changed nor has the resistance from Weehawken.

PeakVT February 10, 2011 - 11:47 pm

Why was the mayor of Weehawken so opposed to a vent shaft, which I assume would be partially disguised as an ugly building? And how did a mayor of a postage-stamp sized municipality manage to persuade/force the complete re-engineering of a project that would serve several times the population of the objecting municipality every day? Of course, there may be reasons why NJT wanted to agree to move it, such as avoiding through-running or more money for a politically-connected construction industry. Still, it seems to be such a bad idea to move the tunnel that the request would have been rejected.

Alon Levy February 7, 2011 - 5:30 pm

I just rode Amtrak back from Providence. The train sat still in New Haven for over an hour and a half. Let’s see if Amtrak deigns to give me even a partial refund, as would be standard throughout Europe.

More on-topic, this project has very little to do with HSR. Portal Bridge (funded separately) is a speed booster, and having a decent station throat is underrated, but overall the project is a capacity booster. It’s not a bad thing to boost capacity, but high average speeds on the few trains for which there’s capacity today are possible without a second tunnel. And let’s not even get into the capacity stretching that would come from installing better signaling on the existing line.

John February 7, 2011 - 6:11 pm

As with the airlines, they probably won’t refund you automatically, but if you ask they might give you something. Probably not cash though.

Gary Reilly February 7, 2011 - 6:49 pm

This is the sort of announcement I was hoping to see come out of the wreckage Christie left behind.

If the administration (and even Mica, for that matter) is serious about supporting inter-city HSR this is a good place to start. The NE Corridor is the best place in the US for a demonstration of true HSR.

And even though there may be room to expand service through the existing tunnels, it is vital to have some redundancy in a key interstate link like this.

Alon Levy February 7, 2011 - 9:22 pm

The only station usable for NY-Boston service is the same as before. The new tunnel pair is located right next to the old tunnel pair – too close for redundancy in case of a major unforeseen disaster, though too far to use the existing easements and ROW to save money.

A good place to start for any passenger rail revival is a complete gutting of all FRA rules that are different from the rules in Europe or Japan.

Michael Schaeffer February 8, 2011 - 3:53 pm

I second the gutting of FRA Rules!!

Scott E February 7, 2011 - 8:25 pm

Well, any improvement is better than none at all. Is this better than ARC? Very possibly, if “Penn Station-South” fits in cohesively with the current Penn Station. Hopefully it’s not as confusing as the north and south wings of the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Track designations will undoubtedly become weird (Tracks 1-22 as they are now, and south of track 1 would be track A, then track B, etc, just like at Newark Penn). And I still can’t figure out how Moynihan fits into anything.

Regarding #7 to Penn (maybe Moynihan is the connector?), it is also a good idea – for the city. It finally gives a one-seat subway ride between the two rail stations. 7-to-Secaucus is a nice idea, and part of me supports it, but another part is concerned on how it will dramatically change the character of the neighborhoods it serves. We talk about growth spurred by subway stops added within NYC, imagine what happens if you now connect it with a suburb! Outlet malls and Wal-Marts galore at the New Jersey 7 stop (considering the length and popularity of the possible termini of the 7, I’m of the belief you can’t run spurs to both Penn and Secaucus).

John Paul N. February 8, 2011 - 12:26 am

I still feel one ulterior motive in killing the original ARC was that NJ Transit would have had to commit to providing more service to NY, whether they had the equipment or not. So, what new or expanded service is Amtrak planning? NEC service on a 10-15-minute headway? More long-distance trains? And do they have or plan to have the equipment for that? From that learning commercial: “Saying it and doing it are two different things.”

Alon Levy February 8, 2011 - 2:46 am

Amtrak is planning on full HSR in the Northeast, with peak traffic of 3-4 tph and 1:30 NY-Boston and NY-DC travel times. At least, that’s what it’s saying. My own personal belief is that it’s deliberately made as expensive as possible – the cost projection is $117 billion, and some easy speed boosters, like straightening the Metuchen curve, are omitted in favor of expensive urban tunnels – in order to convince people that the less ambitious Master Plan is good enough.

BoerumHillScott February 8, 2011 - 6:50 am

The block that “Penn Station South” will be built on has 4 or 5 buildings in the 15-20 story range, plus a church. In addition, the plans show the platforms extending under 2 20-30 story buildings across 7th Ave.

I think the monetary and political cost to acquire these buildings will be a deal-breaker.

Benjamin Kabak February 8, 2011 - 8:26 am

The monetary and political costs to acquire those buildings won’t be any more or less than the eminent domain costs it would have taken to build ARC. Based on the state of government takings jurisprudence today, that just won’t be a problem, period.

BoerumHillScott February 8, 2011 - 8:51 am

I thought ARC was going to only take a few small buildings for entrances and ancillary buildings.
This would be one or two orders of magnitude greater.

I have no doubts that the courts would side on the project, but it only takes a handful of people to stir up enough trouble to weaken the political support.

Given the age of the neighborhood, it would probably also be easy for opponents to play the “historical preservation” angle.

Doing some “back of the napkin” calculations, it looks like the land area needed is around 250,000 sqft. The overall FAR looks to in the neighborhood of 5, for a total floor area of over a million sqft. At a price of $1000 per sqft, property acquisition costs would be north of $1 billion, not including legal, demolition, and environmental remediation costs.
Not a deal-breaker given the scope of the project, but not minor either.

Eric F. February 8, 2011 - 8:56 am

Random Observations:

1. This project does not have the “Secaucus Loop” or the deep cavern station, and yet Amtrack’s back of the envelope is $13.5 billion. Please make a note of this before dismissing Cristie’s notion that the ARC budget was low-balled.

2. The new tunnels seem to extend just east of 7th avenue. That would allow easier pedestrian access, as it avoids conflicts with 7th avenue traffic.

3. It seems like the new tracks would not run to Secaucus station. Am I reading that correctly? The NEC is already 4 tracks at Secaucus, so I’m not sure why the new trackage wouldn’t link up just west of Secacus station. Presumably, when you have the choice, you’d run your Amtrak trains on the southern trackage and avoid Secaucus. Perhaps you’d do the same on NJT’s super expresses to Princeton/Trenton

4. This project scales back the Portal crossing from 5 tracks to 4 tracks. The ARC-Portal combo would have built a new two track and 3 a new track span.

5. This project would make Penn Station a way better experience.

5. This project would be a wonderful addition to regional and even national infrastructure. I have the unsettling feeling, however, that it’s nothing but vapor.

Al D February 8, 2011 - 9:27 am

An observation to your 1. Probably because it’s Amtrak sponsored and the NJT Main, Bergen County and Pascack Valley Lines are of no interest to Amtrak. Additionally, I’m guessing that Amtrak would work with NJT to engineer in the connecting track(s), but that would up to our beloved, transit-lovin’, no money, accounting tricks NJ Gov. Chris Christie. It would be interesting pit him against the prime benefactors of that connection, the rich, northern Bergen County elite and see who wins that one.

Steve February 8, 2011 - 10:06 am

Regarding #5 part 2 (whether this proposal is vapor): I can’t help thinking you’re probably right. But I will say that it sounds less like vapor than the 7 to Secaucus, which would require figuring out how New Jersey would contribute to MTA operations funding. This proposal is at least only a capital project.

Eric F. February 8, 2011 - 10:36 am

One observation I left off, which would be my third #5, is that I thought Ray LaHood’s absence from the presser was a little odd. Not sure why the administration wouldn’t want to associate itself with the project from day one, if they really wanted to advance it.

Bolwerk February 8, 2011 - 12:07 pm

At this point, there’s a good chance they don’t. I doubt Obama/LaHood score political points improving the infrastructure for the epicenters of American finance, immigration (legal anyway), guidoism, Judaism, homosexuality, and blackness. Especially after that clown in Trenton shook his dangly bits at them after federal money started flowing.

Eric F. February 8, 2011 - 1:16 pm

I think you and I probably have very different Netflix queues.

Bolwerk February 8, 2011 - 2:40 pm

Presumably. I don’t really watch movies/TV.

Alon Levy February 8, 2011 - 3:11 pm

Meh. They gave billions to HSR in California, the epicenter of Hollywood, the environmental movement, immigration (both legal and illegal), the gay rights movement, and the Chicano movement, and the butt of conservative eliminationist humor.

Bolwerk February 9, 2011 - 5:03 pm

Eh, well, Hollywood does have the distinction of being the most conservative institution in the USA. Maybe after the press or military, anyway.

However, a notable difference, even if you accept the premises that Kalifornia is all those things,* is they “graciously” kept the money. If I were in LaHood’s shoes, I’m not sure I’d be pushing to give billions of dollars to someone as irresponsible as Christie either. That doesn’t mean NJ won’t get more money through appropriations and bidding, but at the very least I can see why the administration would distance themselves from projects in the region for now.

* Not sure I do. San Francisco, maybe, but wider CA is more like Florida than Massachusetts

Alon Levy February 10, 2011 - 3:01 am

The conservatives do not think Hollywood is right-wing. They hate its breathing guts, no matter how militaristic its movies are. So they’d hardly support giving its home state more money…

Bolwerk February 10, 2011 - 1:29 pm

The “conservatives” are too right-wing to be conservative at this point. I dunno, those cats have a strange ability to get away with eating their own. The press pretty much pays them to bash the press and accuse it of colluding with their enemies.

Anyway, I think that’s besides the point. These places are disliked by such people because they are culturally independent and project a sense of other-ness (from the fantasy Real American). It may have been a deliberate move on Christie’s part, but his actions have moved ARC from something politically supportable to something the Obama Administration, and LaHood, could be uncomfortable spending their political capital on.

Eric F. February 8, 2011 - 9:03 am

I think adding a dashed line for a 7 extension is clever, but the 7 would take a fairly circuitous route to get to 42nd and Park. Going east via 11th avenue seems very time consuming.

John-2 February 8, 2011 - 9:44 am

You’d really be creating the Hudson Yards equivalent of the Nassau Loop when the M ran through to Bay Parkway. Theoretically, you could go from Penn Station to Grand Central via the 7 with a one-seat ride, but few riders getting off at 33rd between Seventh and Eighth are going to ride 3-4 blocks in the wrong direction and then ride back again. The tunnel from Penn to 34th St. at 11th Ave. would basically be a glorified shuttle, taking passengers to and from Hudson Yards but having little connection as far as ridership goes with the rest of the 7 line’s route.

MaximusNYC February 9, 2011 - 12:45 am

The 7 extension seems like the least sensible part of this project. There are already 2 major subway lines connecting to Penn, with the big Herald Square nexus a block away. As you say, the 7 would be nothing but a glorified shuttle, probably used by fat tourists too lazy to walk from Penn to Javits. And for any 7-line destination beyond Javits, they could take a 7th Ave. or 8th. Ave train and transfer to the 7 at Times Square.

Rather than extend the 7 to Penn, or to Seacaucus, I’d rather see them extend it down the west side of Manhattan, perhaps as far as 14th. Unlike the other 2, that’s an area of NYC that is actually underserved.

Bolwerk February 9, 2011 - 5:04 pm

A one-seat ride to GCT isn’t all that bad an idea.

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